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Sanctions: a good idea, but I can't see it happening

Believe it or not there are still those who think there's too much regulation in the City. The Adam Smith Institute, one of Margaret Thatcher's fave think tanks, is one. Today it will publish a report calling for the Financial Conduct Authority to be strangled at birth. It also wants the Prudential Regulation Authority neutered and turned into a sniffer dog that will find problems and hand them over to an almighty Bank of England.

Several broad principles should be established by the latter which should then tear up the rule book in the hope that a newly chastened City will abide by them.

Well, it's different.

Trouble is, we've actually had broad-brush, principles-based regulation for some time. It's true that the Financial Services Authority's rule book is still rather thick. It has been guilty of box ticking and it did miss the worst abuses in the run up to the financial crisis.

But the City regularly used to whine that a principles-based approach meant a lack of guidance for bankers who apparently couldn't distinguish right from wrong.

The institute's suggestion of leaving everything with the Bank would also be disastrous.

The testimony of Paul Tucker, the Bank's deputy governor, before the Treasury Select Committee, has already raised some very serious questions about the latter's suitability for even overseeing the two new agencies.

Where it is on stronger grounds is in its call for senior executives and auditors to face sanctions for failing to spot transgressions.

There's mileage in that. Senior management at Barclays have repeatedly said they did not know their traders tried to fix Libor interest rates and the regulators agree.

So they weren't corrupt, just incompetent. Those who even now call for regulators to be reined in should read the recent speech by Robert Jenkins, of the Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee, who says the rulebook could be torn up (like the institute wants) if banks agree to hold more than double the capital required by the latest agreement reached in Basle.

Throw in financial sanctions on executives, and auditors, as the institute suggests and all of a sudden we might have something approaching a "safe" banking system that could make a credible return for shareholders without having to call on taxpayers were things to get sticky again.

Sadly, such eminently sensible proposals are going to be dashed on the rocks of senior bankers who lead their industry only in terms of the scale of their greed: Mr Jenkins says to make his ideas work they'd need to take a pay cut.

Sadly, such eminently sensible proposals are going to be dashed on the rocks of senior bankers