LIBOR inquiry team: let's give it a chance

Lord Lawson of Blaby

At last we know the identity of those charged with holding banks and bankers to account.

At last we know the identity of those charged with holding banks and bankers to account.

We had to wait a while for the full membership of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (to give the LIBOR inquiry its full title) to be announced. It finally appeared on the Parliament website late last night. The five MPs on the joint House of Commons/House of Lords committee were announced last week and several toys were immediately thrown out of various prams by people who were not picked. Rumours about the five peers on the Commission started circulating last week but were only confirmed last night. So now we know the full line-up:

  • Andrew Tyrie MP (Con), Chairman
  • Mark Garnier MP (Con)
  • Andy Love MP (Lab)
  • Pat McFadden MP (Lab)
  • John Thurso MP (Lib Dem)
  • Lord Turnbull (Ind)
  • Baroness Kramer (Lib Dem)
  • Lord Lawson (Con) (pictured above)
  • Lord McFall (Lab)
  • The Bishop of Durham (Ind)

Are these the right people? Will it be effective? Tricky questions to answer.

tyrieImmediately the five MPs were appointed last week John Mann (Lab) and Andrea Leadsom (Con) expressed their anger at not being included. Mr Mann even threatened to set up his own parallel inquiry although he hasn't so far followed through on that. Both MPs are on the Treasury Select Committee (also chaired by Andrew Tyrie, right) so have been heavily involved in the initial Parliamentary investigations involving Barclays bosses, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority. Would they add much?

If you stick with a ten member committee drawn equally from both Houses then it becomes a question of who they could replace and, in doing so, bring greater expertise, depth and experience to the inquiry. In John Mann's case I struggle to see what more he would offer than either of the two Labour MPs he could have been appointed in place of. Pat McFadden is a former minister of state in the business and enterprise department so brings inside knowledge of how Whitehall works. Andy Love has a similar trade union background to John Mann but has been on the Treasury Select Committee longer and is a well-known champion of mutuality in the financial sector. I can't see what extra Mr Mann has to offer.

Andrea Leadsom is a different matter. She had a long career in corporate banking, including six years as financial institutions director at Barclays in the 1990s, before entering Parliament. She undoubtedly has experience and knowledge to bring to the table but probably no more so than her fellow Conservative MP Mark Garnier. I wonder if there was a thought that having someone who worked at a senior level in Barclays on the committee might not play well with public opinion? Undoubtedly she would be more effective than, say, the Liberal Democrat MP John Thurso who is very likeable but not the most incisive political operator.

The Lords look an impressive line-up, whatever you may think about the future of the upper house. An ex-Chancellor (Lawson, pictured top), a former permanent secretary to the Treasury (Turnbull), the most effective chair of the Treasury Select Committee in recent years (McFall), a former banker with experience of working in the USA (Kramer) and a Bishop. The latter appointment is the one than has raised the most eyebrows and does, at first sight, seem slightly odd. Having looked at the background of Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, and thought about the remit of the Commission I think he may turn out to be a very useful member of it.

The Commission's brief is to report on:

  • professional standards and culture of the UK banking sector, taking account of regulatory and competition investigations into the LIBOR rate-setting process;
  • lessons to be learned about corporate governance, transparency and conflicts of interest, and their implications for regulation and for Government policy.

The Bishop of Durham's CV suggests he might have quite alot to contribute on the broader issues having worked for ten years in the international oil industry before being ordained and written extensively on corporate morality since. There is an irony in that the most vociferous critics of the appointment of a bishop are those - mainly on the left - who believe that the financial sector needs a very stiff dose of morality.

My initial recation to the team was rather lukewarm but having looked harder at the backgrounds and track records of the members I am prepared to give it a chance. After the fierce political controversy surrounding its creation it will certainly need to deliver, especially in being seen to hold bankers to account. The charge sheet just got longer too with HSBC's antics over laundering drug money.

Having got the membership sorted out the enquiry needs to get to work quickly as it has to report by 18 December this year, ahead of the publication of the Banking Reform Bill which is set to enact the recommendations of the Independent Banking Commission chaired by Sir John Vickers that reported earlier this year. Those who advocated a judge-led enquiry might ponder for a moment the tightness of this timetable as recent judge-led enquiries haven't moved at anything like this speed – Leveson's press standards enquiry seems to be meandering on and keeps getting distracted by issues that aren't central to its brief and the Chilcott inquiry into the Iraq War has (for a variety of complex reasons) disappeared into the far distance.

 

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