Equitable Life

Deputy Prime Minister written question – answered on 6th November 2001.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will refer to the parliamentary ombudsman the cases of those civil servants who took out additional voluntary contribution policies with the Equitable Life Assurance Society in 1999 and 2000 under the civil service AVC scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

No. The Cabinet Office, as managers of the civil service AVC scheme and acting on behalf of the civil service as employer, has wished to see that the appointed scheme providers remain suitable for AVC investment. To that end, the Cabinet Office appointed Bacon and Woodrow some years ago to provide expert and professional advice in this role. Bacon and Woodrow have conducted regular reviews of the civil service AVC providers and their continuing suitability for the civil service AVC scheme, as well as providing advice on specific developments. The Cabinet Office has acted throughout on the independent advice of Bacon and Woodrow. It believes it has met its responsibilities as manager fully and properly.

The civil service AVC scheme, provides members with a choice of provider and wide choice of investment route. AVC investment carries the same risks as any other investment and benefits are not guaranteed.

In acting on independent advice from Bacon and Woodrow, the Cabinet Office has been acting in the same way as other pension schemes affected by the problems of Equitable Life. It has not been in a privileged position and has not had access to information which is not available to the pensions industry more widely. There is a clear difference between the role of the Cabinet Office as managers of the civil service AVC scheme and the regulatory role carried out elsewhere in Government. The Cabinet Office believes it has exercised its duty of care responsibilities fully and properly.

The Government, in their wider role, announced on 31 August an independent inquiry into Equitable Life, to be headed by Lord Penrose. This will look at the circumstances leading to the current situation at Equitable Life and identify any lessons to be learned for the conduct, administration and regulation of life assurance. The inquiry will report to Treasury Ministers.

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