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Ruth Kelly: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why in 1997 we took immediate action to set up the FSA. We also set up the comprehensive financial services compensation scheme, and the financial ombudsman service to help people with speedy resolution of their claims. Confidence in the financial services industry will be restored by an effective regulatory system that is updated adequately to reflect movement in the industry. As for the subjects that my right hon. Friend mentioned, workplace advice, for instance, is very close to my heart. We are consulting on ways to make that work better so that employees can receive appropriate advice in the workplace. We shall keep under review—as, indeed, will Adair Turner as head of the Pensions Commission—all ways of promoting pensions in the workplace.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I represent a large number of victims, many of whose lives have been ruined as a result of this matter. The shadow Chief Secretary asked the Minister about the Government Actuary's Department, which saw

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Equitable's returns and gave it a solid rating every year—both before 1997 and for four years after that, at which stage the deterioration in the company's balance sheet became apparent. Surely the Government Actuary's Department is to some extent culpable. How much responsibility should it carry?

Ruth Kelly: The Government Actuary's Department acted as advisers to the regulator. I have already set out the inadequacy of resources given to life insurance regulation over a prolonged period. It was natural that the regulator, when completely under-resourced, should rely on 20 Government actuaries for support. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the case after 1997. We took immediate action as a Government to set up the FSA; we have doubled the resources to life insurance regulation; we have increased the skill levels for carrying out life insurance regulation; and we stand ready to make any changes on the back of Lord Penrose's recommendations.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Like many Members, I have waited a long time for this report to be announced to Parliament. I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement today of an independent review. I believe that I have understood her point about the failure of the regulatory system pre-1997, but for the benefit of Conservatives Members who were in government before then will she once again reiterate—I know that she has done so several times already—the point about the regulatory system? I am very angry on behalf of the constituents who have written to me when I hear such an announcement and what Lord Penrose said in his report.

Ruth Kelly: As a result of Lord Penrose's report, the House will want to take time to reflect on whether it was appropriate to have a light-touch regulatory system for the protection and care of long-term pensions held by millions of people in this country. Lord Penrose says:

He adds that, primarily, the company was the

and that

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Did my hon. Friend have a chance to read the Financial Times over the weekend, in particular the comments of its respected City analyst on pensions? He said that

That is the voice of a reputable, independent expert from the City. Would my hon. Friend care to comment?

Ruth Kelly: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but he must agree that Lord Penrose's central finding was that the company was the author of its own misfortunes. It paid out £3 billion more in bonuses than it could afford

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over a prolonged period. That has clearly had a differential impact on policyholders, depending on when they joined or left the company. In this case, however, it is very much the society itself that is under the spotlight.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Lord Penrose has accused the management of the company of manipulation, concealment and serious omission. Is not that just another way of describing the current state of the actuarial profession? I am sure the whole House will welcome my hon. Friend's announcement of the report by Derek Morris on the actuarial profession. Can she tell us when she expects to receive that long overdue and much to be welcomed report?

Ruth Kelly: I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's detailed point, although Lord Penrose suggests that the actuarial profession is in need of review. However, I can tell him that the review process should be completed by spring next year.

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Points of Order

5.26 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, of which I have given prior notification to Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday afternoon, it appears that I was the subject of not one but two points of order from Labour Members. On Friday morning, I received a letter from the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Henderson) informing me that I was to be the subject of a point of order on the previous day. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman took issue with a visit that I made to his constituency as a shadow Health Minister, at the invitation of local residents and of Mr. Douglas Carswell, the excellent Conservative parliamentary spokesman in that constituency. The hon. Gentleman was told about my visit, as is my custom—a courtesy that has never been extended to me by any Labour Ministers or Liberal Members of Parliament visiting my constituency.

In Mr. Speaker's response to that notified point of order, he referred to a convention about Members being involved in colleagues' constituencies or those of other Members. However, when my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) pointed out that I was visiting as a shadow Health spokesman and that it was common practice during the previous Conservative Government for Labour Front Benchers to ask questions about the constituencies of other Members, Mr. Speaker said that that was an entirely different matter.

There thus seems to have been a degree of confusion as to what hon. Members can or cannot do outside their own constituency. Given the practice, especially of the Department of Health, of answering questions tabled by my hon. Friends and me by saying that information is not collected centrally, thereby requiring us to ask for information about individual constituencies or primary care trust areas, it would be exceedingly damaging to the availability of information to Opposition Members if we were unable to ask such questions. Perhaps, Madam Deputy Speaker, you can give us some—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I think that we have heard the point of order that the hon. Gentleman is making.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich) (Lab) rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I first respond to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)?

I really have nothing to add to the rulings that Mr. Speaker gave on Thursday, when he said that these things are best dealt with between Members and not on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Gale: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Mr. Speaker had occasion to rebuke me for seeking to raise this point of order earlier during what I had forgotten was an answer to an urgent question, not a ministerial statement, for which I unreservedly apologise.

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Earlier this afternoon, a Minister of State quite disgracefully criticised civil servants in her Department for failing to inform her until yesterday of matters that she should properly have heard about in January. Madam Deputy Speaker, you would immediately rule that it is up to Ministers to take responsibility for what they say—I understand that—but could you reaffirm the convention that Ministers should take responsibility for their actions, and the fact that it always has been the convention of the House that Ministers do not come to the Dispatch Box and criticise civil servants who do not have the opportunity to answer for themselves?

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I invite you to go somewhat further than my hon. Friend suggests in extending the protection of the Chair in the Chamber to civil servants who are unable to protect themselves—indeed, they are unable to speak for themselves—when attacked by their own Ministers? Surely that is something for which the occupant of the Chair can rightly and honourably take responsibility. Today, we had the most disgraceful example of a Minister of State dumping on her own officials. Surely that is unacceptable.

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