HC Deb 29 January 2004 vol 417 cc376-7
7. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con)

If he will compensate Equitable Life policy holders. [151548]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly)

As I said in my written answer of 26 January, the Treasury intends to publish Lord Penrose's report in full as soon as possible. I shall make a full statement to the House at that time.

Ann Winterton

Does the Minister recall the Chancellor, when he was in opposition, criticising the then Government for delaying payments to elderly, distressed savers following the failure of financial regulators in the Barlow Clowes case? If Lord Penrose reports that regulators failed investors in Equitable Life, will the Chancellor take the very same action that he advocated so vociferously when he was shadow Chancellor?

Ruth Kelly

The hon. Lady may choose to prejudge Lord Penrose's report, but I will not. I am afraid that she must be patient and wait until it is published.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op)

Does the Minister agree that the problems with Equitable Life stem from bad management and a loose regulatory regime under the previous Conservative Government? Would she care to outline what steps this Government have taken to avoid any repetition of the situation?

Ruth Kelly

My hon. Friend will know that the Government took action to set up the Financial Services Authority, the financial services compensation scheme and the financial services ombudsman. On the detailed matter of Equitable Life, I am afraid that he, too, will have to await Lord Penrose's report.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con)

Lord Penrose's report will deal with whether the Treasury has fallen down in its job as regulator of the industry. However, we have the extraordinary situation in which the Treasury has the power to edit the report before it is published. The Financial Secretary says that it will be published in full, but she has also made it clear that it will be edited for legal reasons—as she puts it. I do not think that that will do. The situation is worrying hundreds of thousands of Equitable Life policyholders and annuitants, for whom the report is the only hope of justice. Some of them have told me that what is going on is like handing the man in the dock an advance copy of the judge's summing up for him to edit. A fortnight ago, I told the Financial Secretary that she could allay those concerns easily by handing the full report to the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Treasury—he is in the Chamber now—who could check whether the editing would be reasonable. I ask her once again: why will she not hand the full report to the Chairman of the Treasury Committee?

Ruth Kelly

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is making allegations that he cannot sustain; he is also prejudging the content of the report. I have informed the House on several occasions that we intend to publish the report in full at the earliest opportunity. He must await the publication of the report.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab)

It is perhaps a reflection on my constituency that I have many constituents who have been caught up in the whole Equitable Life debacle. They, too, are awaiting the publication of the Penrose report. I hope that the Minister will accept that my constituents are concerned because they are not especially well off and several have lost a great deal of money. Could the whole process be speeded up so that they can get a resolution to the difficulties that they face?

Ruth Kelly

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and of course I sympathise with the distress suffered by many Equitable Life policyholders. Naturally, we will publish the report as soon as possible.