Outlook: Insider dealing

AS CITY leaks go, that of NatWest's planned bid for Legal and General was a pretty spectacular one. By early Thursday afternoon, every man and his dog seemed to know about these supposedly secret talks, Legal & General shares had leapt 10 per cent, and someone, somewhere had made a killing. But actually this is just the outsized tip of a giant insider-dealing iceberg. Virtually every deal of size seems to leak these days and a fair number of the minor ones do too.

There is an almost unprecedented climate of loose talk in the City, to a degree that even quite sophisticated advisers, brokers and bankers seem to have quite forgotten the laws on insider dealing and market abuse still exist. It follows that there is also a quite unprecedented degree of insider dealing.

It has always been hard to know what to do about this so-called "victimless crime". Insider dealers are notoriously hard to catch and even harder to prosecute. But what is certainly true is that the authorities seem largely to have given up trying.

This is odd, since in the heyday of the Thatcher years, insider dealing and the Government's determination to crack down on it used to be front- page news. Ministers were concerned that with the privatisation bandwagon rolling, they might get tainted by City sleaze. The present lot seem either not to care, or to have forgotten it even exists.