Equitable: Government Actuary to be quizzed

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The Independent Online

The Government completed a major climbdown over Equitable Life yesterday, extending the Parliamentary Ombudsman's remit to investigate the Government Actuary Department just four months after it said such a move would not be possible without complex primary legislation.

The Government completed a major climbdown over Equitable Life yesterday, extending the Parliamentary Ombudsman's remit to investigate the Government Actuary Department just four months after it said such a move would not be possible without complex primary legislation.

The move comes three days after the Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, announced her intention to reopen her inquiry into the regulation of the troubled life insurer, asking the Government to extend her jurisdiction.

Ms Abraham came under pressure to examine the GAD after Lord Penrose's report into Equitable, published in March, suggested the department had been at the heart of regulatory failings affecting the society.

In a statement issued yesterday, Douglas Alexander, a Cabinet Office minister, said: "In response to a request from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the Ombudsman), I have agreed to extend her jurisdiction to include the role of the Government Actuary's Department in relation to the prudential regulation of insurers prior to this function being transferred to the Financial Services Authority in April 2001. This will enable the Ombudsman to conduct a full investigation into Equitable Life. The amendment to the legislation to make this change will be made as soon as possible."

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservatives' Treasury spokesman, who led the campaign to ensure an investigation of the GAD, said the Government's denial until now that such a move would be feasible, was "incompetent at best, or something much more serious at worst". However, he added that the move was "better very late than never".

The board of Equitable also welcomed the news. Charles Thomson, the chief executive, said: "Everyone now wants a fair, fast and final inquiry."

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