Insurance Post

Equality Bill, Equitable Life and pleural plaques still hang over the insurance industry - not to mention regulation

Parliament may have risen for the summer recess but there is plenty of unfinished business as far as the financial services sector is concerned, especially the insurance industry. Four key issues stand out and will need to be carefully monitored over the summer,
The Equality Bill. This has finished its committee stage in the House of Commons but still has to go to the House of Lords. Insurers did not get the blanket exemption they wanted during the clause-by-clause consideration but, equally, the sector's critics didn't get anything nasty inserted. There are still some possible pitfalls to face in the Lords, mainly over the problems older people have getting adequate and affordable travel insurance and the industry's attitude to people who are HIV positive. Both these topics have been the subject of inconclusive skirmishes so far but have the potential to run out of the industry's control, something the Association of British Insurers does seem to be sensitive to.
• Equitable Life. This just drags on with MPs getting angrier and angrier at the delays in agreeing any sort of compensation. It came up again on the very last day of the sitting when Lib Dem Susan Kramer got a last minute topical question which dragged another stonewalling Treasury minister - Liam Byrne - to the dispatch box. He point blank refused to put any deadline on the work being done by Sir John Chadwick on working out a package of ex gratia payments to policyholders which just infuriated MPs of all parties even more. This may reflect badly on the government most of all but it does keep the past failings of the life insurance sector in the public's eye as well.
• Pleural Plaques. This asbestos-related condition has been the subject of bitter dispute between the insurance industry and sufferers for several years. With the Scottish courts having agreed that sufferers should be compensated, campaigners were hoping that the government would extend this law to England and Wales but Justice Secretary Jack Straw has stalled, saying the issue needs more research. This will be welcomed, quietly, by insurers.
• Regulation. This, of course, is the big one but has actually barely troubled Parliament yet, at least in legislative terms. The first tranche of reforms has been promised for later in the autumn but there is a lot of debate to be had before then. There is a sense that some of the legislative debate is almost taking place in a vacuum with the Tories having signaled their intention to follow a very different path should they win next year's General Election. This certainly doesn't mean the industry can relax, more that they should focus their attention elsewhere such as the European Union where a very mixed bag of regulatory reform is making serious progress.
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