The fierce controversy over dual pricing by insurance companies reared its head again at Biba's annual conference this week when its leaders voiced fears of a hidden agenda by some insurers to put brokers out of business.

In a open debate, punctuated by complaints from broker delegates of alleged undercutting by insurers' direct channels, Biba chairman Simon Bolam and chief executive Mike Williams, spoke out in their defence.

"Is there a hidden agenda in matters of insurance to put us out of business?" Williams bluntly asked the conference hall.

He said brokers currently have half of the personal lines business and a large share of the commercial market, but many brokers felt insurers are biting the hand that feeds them.

He said: "Many brokers have told me that this is their deep suspicion. We obviously take these fears very seriously indeed."

However, he stressed: "We have talked to senior executives of insurance companies and received tremendously powerful assurances that this is not on their agenda."

He added that some had taken the step of putting together packages of support on IT and marketing to reinforce their commitment to the broker channel.

But delegates appeared to remain unconvinced.

One delegate, who said he was boss of a virtual health insurer, said: "There appears to be a confused attitude on the part of insurers over whether they want to sell over the internet or to brokers."

He asked whether insurers wanted to sell branded products or encourage brokers to give consumers best advice and provide a wide range of products.

Simon Bolam also used the phrase "hidden agenda", and asked if there was a hidden motive behind some insurers' dual pricing behaviour.

He told delegates that while he trusted the assurances given to him on the issue, he was afraid the shakers and stirrers of the insurance industry were not committed to brokers, and questioned whether they were "playing games with us".

Not a single insurer was prepared to comment during the debate.