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Equitable Leg Before Wicket

After a long, long wait Equitable Life victims had been given the impression that they would finally get their answer to whether the Government will bow to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s pressure and offer them compensation before Christmas.

But it appears that yet again the Government is to drag its feet and add further delays to the process.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister pledged to report on the Equitable Life affair ” before the house rises for Christmas”.

But this morning in the Commons Leader of the House Harriet Harman announced another delay.

The appalling Government behaviour over the Equitable Life affair was summed up in a committee meeting earlier this week.

Economic secretary to the Treasury Ian Pearson sat in front of the public administration committee on Tuesday, but failed to impress MPs by batting away all their questions as he was unable to comment in advance of the Government’s official response next week.

Perhaps that is why he was christened the “Geoffrey Boycott” of the Treasury by Labour MP David Heyes. A “dull but safe pair of hands”, according to Heyes.
Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham did well to restrain herself when Pearson admitted to “drifting off” a couple of times while reading her 500-plus page report .

Yes, it is a long read, but then a “decade of regulatory failure” probably merits a few pages of explanation.

The joke really was an insult to Abraham’s work and to the million-plus policyholders who have lost money in the fiasco.

It is also particularly galling given Abraham’s report was delayed time and again due to stalling tactics from the Government and FSA, including the Government filing a 500+ page response to her draft report.

Committee chairman Labour MP Dr Tony Wight made no secret of his loyalties by stating for the record that he sided with the Ombudsman.

Abraham said she hoped the fact Pearson sat through the session with a copy of the Penrose Report, which blamed Equitable’s management for its downfall, placed squarely on top of her own, was not a clue to the Government’s response.

Labour MP Gordon Prentice said policyholders would have “smoke coming out of their ears” over the discrepancy between the Government’s slow and reluctant response to Equitable Life victims and its swift compensation of British savers in Iceland banks.

But Pearson argued the difference was the importance to financial stability of rescuing Icelandic savers.

Summing up the session, Wright congratulated Pearson on his gameplay – noting that the Treasury was fortunate to have someone so genial and affable to come along and tell the committee nothing at all.

He said the committee was looking forward to a “Bothamesque” response from the Government.

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