Five questions answered on the new banking reforms

Are we right to jail reckless bankers?

The government has today said it will back most of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Commission for Banking Standards (PCBS). We answer five questions on the plans for reform.

What key recommendations is the government planning on implementing?

The key changes are:

There will be a new criminal offence of reckless misconduct by top bankers resulting in a possible jail sentence.

If a bank has been bailed out bankers bonuses could be repayable. Bonuses are also to be deferred by up to 10 years.

If any bank breaks any rules, the burden of proof shall lie with the relevant senior bankers to show that they took all reasonable steps to stop it happening.

What recommendations are the government not taking up?

The government did not agree to employ a much tougher leverage ration for banks, limiting the total amount of loans and investments a bank can make relative to the amount of capital the bank holds in order to absorb losses on those assets.

This would ultimately toughen limits on banks’ risk taking.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has decided instead to stick to the lower level agreed and set out by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel.

The government has also refused to abolish its holding company for its stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, called UK Financial Investments. It said: "UKFI is staffed by highly expert professionals with extensive experience in the banking sector".

What else has Osborne said?

Today he said: “The government is determined to raise standards across the banking industry to create a stronger and safer banking system.

“I am pleased to say that the government will implement its main recommendations. Where legislative changes are required we will amend the Banking Reform Bill which is currently before Parliament.

“Cultural reform in the banking sector marks the next step in the government’s plan to move the whole sector from rescue to recovery and ensure that UK banks demonstrate the highest standards, and are able to support business and drive economic growth.”

What other changes will be made?

The Prudential Regulation Authority, which is responsible for ensuring excess risks do not build up within the banking system, will be given an extra job of ensuring competition among banks.

Is the government considering any changes in the way the Royal Bank of Scotland is handled?

The government did say it would consider the PCBS’s suggestion of splitting the Royal Bank of Scotland into a ‘good’ high street bank - that can be quickly sold back to the private sector – and a ‘bad’ bank which should be kept and existing problematic loans worked out. 

Guests listen to speeches at the "Lord Mayor's Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London" at Mansion House on June 19, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.