Edward Leigh – 2021 Speech on Equitable Life

The speech made by Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, in the House of Commons on 21 January 2021.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for the way that he introduced the debate, and I am proud, with him, to be a sponsor of it.

This has turned into a saga, which has now been ongoing for decades. The facts of the original case are well known; we have seen them demonstrated again and again. There were dubious practices. This was a company that was too big to fail. Perhaps, as my hon. Friend said, there was a conspiracy to stop matters coming to light before they did. There was a culture of manipulation and concealment.

In addition to the Treasury’s own 2004 report, there have been other reports: the report from Lord Penrose in 2001, and a report from Ian Glick and Richard Snowden. All those showed lessons to be learned, both in terms of corporate culture in financial services and in terms of the state’s role in overseeing the sector sufficiently. Everyone acknowledges that the company was primarily at fault, but the state has a role and a responsibility in regulating financial services. All business today is conducted on the understanding that ultimately, the law and the state ensure an honest and transparent playing field.

More than a decade ago, in 2010, George Osborne announced a £1.5 billion package in compensation. These payments were to begin in mid-July of 2011, but by the end of 2011, many of my affected constituents had not received a penny. Not only were there delays in payments, but some payments were made for incorrect amounts—sometimes wildly inaccurate. These were caught not by the Treasury, but by policyholders themselves. There is also a lack of transparency over how policyholders can verify the amount they have received is correct.

The Equitable Members Action Group has pointed out:

“There is serious doubt over the accuracy and reliability of the methodology used by the Treasury to calculate what’s owed.”

The Treasury insists that there were no mistakes. If so, how can Government explain inaccurate payments? One hundred and sixty complaints of inaccuracy in payment were upheld, yet EMAG reports only eight received recalculations. The Minister needs to explain how this happened.

We must remember that many hundreds of thousands of policyholders were affected by this scandal. The Government scheme offered only partial compensation. I know that full compensation would be expensive, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said, let justice be done and let there be full transparency. People need to save for their retirement. Living off their state pension affords little comfort, and most people do not realistically expect to be able to live off it. Very few young people even think about their retirement. But these policyholders did save for their retirement. They are now getting on, and they are elderly and often vulnerable.

Over the years, I have received terrible, sad letters from many of my constituents, some of them received as much as 10 years ago. Some of them will now, I am afraid, no longer be with us. As one said, and this was nearly 10 years ago:

“This is a matter of urgency.”

Another said:

“Sadly my husband died four years ago without the assurance that…he…would ever be recompensed.”

One wrote:

“I am 89 years old, now a widow.”

So I repeat the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East: let us have an inquiry from the PAC, let us have the full light of transparency on this and let justice be done for some of the most elderly and vulnerable—and responsible—in our community.