HC Deb 18 November 1974 vol 881 cc882-3
14. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent discussions he has had with the Life Offices Association regarding protection of policyholders.

Mr. Shore

I met the Chairman of the Life Offices Association on 9th and 28th October and officials of my Department have had a number of recent discussions with LOA representatives.

Mr. McCrindle

On what authority did the Secretary of State declare on 29th October that from that moment additional protection was being extended to policyholders? Did he obtain from the Life Offices Association an undertaking to surcharge policyholders of all companies so as to build up a fund to meet these contingencies, or did he have in mind that legislation which he is to introduce would be retrospective, in which case should he not have added, in making his statement, that what he said was subject to the will of the House?

Mr. Shore

I am fairly certain that I used those words in the statement I made. It would certainly not be my habit to be discourteous to the House or to make assumptions about the permission of the House before I had gained it. The guarantee I gave that it would become effective from 29th October is, of course, entirely subject to the approval of the House, but I am hopeful that the House will be kind enough to give me the consent I need.

On the other matter, the Life Offices Association, as I think I have remarked previously, is divided on the proposal and it has become necessary, therefore, for us to have a statutory scheme, whereas at one stage it was possible that it would be a voluntary one.

Mr. Roper

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the Life Offices Association has decided in principle unanimously to oppose the scheme he put to it?

Mr. Shore

I do not think I can confirm that, but I will certain check on the matter. If that is so, I must say I would be surprised because in the talks I have had in the past few months with representatives of the life assurance industry there has been a willingness to accept the fact that these are extremely difficult and exceptional circumstances and that help was needed on an industry basis to face the problems.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you think that on the general matter of supplementary questions hon. Members should declare their interests?

Mr. McCrindle

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I suspect that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is drawing attention to me, I unhesitatingly declare my interest in the life assurance industry and I apologise for any discourtesy to the House.

Mr. Speaker

It has never been a convention of the House that during Question Time interests should be declared.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I have no interest in this matter at all? Does he agree that during the debate we had on another matter of insurance two years ago—the V and G case—it was quite clear that the industry not only was incapable itself of policing the matter but did not wish to do so? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore accept that in this very dangerous matter of life assurance he is quite right to proceed on the basis that the industry, with all the best will in the world, cannot protect the interests of the policyholders as much as it would like, whatever it may wish?

Mr. Shore

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman because that is a fair-minded statement of the situation in the insurance industry.