Equitable Life Debate

Neil Parish welcomes the compensation measures being introduced and calls on the Minister to explain when recipients will receive that compensation.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I do not know that I necessarily thank the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) for how he has introduced this debate. For 13 years, the Labour Government prevaricated about doing anything about Equitable Life. To be blunt, many policyholders believed that it was the Labour Government’s policy to wait long enough that they would not have to pay out to so many people. He has stood up and criticised what we as a Government are trying to do to put that right, yet his party lived through probably the most profligate times that any Government ever lived through and did absolutely nothing about the problems with Equitable Life.I sat on a European inquiry on this issue, because Equitable Life sold policies not only in this country but in the Republic of Ireland and Germany. The problem was that it was mis-selling—it mis-sold the product by saying that these were with profits insurance policies when, of course, the profits it predicted were never going to be met. Every time we inquire into the matter, we find that all the people who used to manage Equitable Life have mysteriously disappeared and that the new bunch of people running it had no knowledge of what was happening before. We never seem to be able to pin down exactly who was to blame among all the people who were valuing those policies.The whole issue now rests on the question of whether the policies were mis-sold and whether the company acted outside the legislation. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the previous Government had plenty of time to look for and find a way of compensating those who had lost money. Why did they refuse to accept the ombudsman’s report? Why did they go to virtually every court they could find to avoid paying any compensation?Mr Donohoe: I should like the hon. Gentleman to address one issue. What was in his party’s manifesto and why does he think that this Government have acted under the auspices of that particular entry in the manifesto?Neil Parish: The manifesto referred to compensating people who had policies with Equitable Life and lost money, and what we are now introducing is a package of measures to compensate them. Whether we can compensate them 100% or not is a difficult question, especially in the financial circumstances that we inherited from the previous Government. I made the point at the beginning of my speech that the hon. Gentleman’s party had the opportunity, when tax receipts were flowing into the Treasury and when there was plenty more money sloshing around in the economy, to make those payments. That was a much less painful time than now, when we have to take into account the financial situation in which we find ourselves. The Minister will explain exactly what we are doing.I agree with the hon. Gentleman that people want to know exactly when they will receive compensation. I hope that we will hear about that from the Minister. Many of us would like to see as much compensation as possible. In fact, we would like to see greater compensation, but we have to realise that the funds are competing against everything else for which the Government have to find money, at a time when we have inherited such incredible debts. I am sorry to say it, but I find it almost unbelievable that the hon. Gentleman can stand up and accuse this Government of not honouring their pledges when, as I have said, the previous Government had plenty of time to do something about the issue. What we have done is to put together a package of measures that will find ways of compensating people.This is about when and on what date the policies were sold. Some of those issues are sensitive and I imagine that people who bought policies before 1992 are concerned, because they were also mis-sold policies. The issue has been painful for many of my constituents and many others throughout the country because of the money they have lost, but the one thing we have failed to talk about in this debate is that we have to be absolutely certain that this will never happen again. Lessons must be learnt, because this has caused so much suffering for people who were putting money away for their retirement. Do not forget that all Governments—Conservative Governments in particular—always want people to save for their retirement in order to look after themselves. In this case, people lost money, which is to be regretted.I am happy to have spoken in the debate and will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. The coalition Government have introduced a package of measures that will give people compensation after 13 years of a Labour Government who failed.| Hansard