Rowland rules serenely at tame Lloyd's meeting

Magnus Grimond

Sir David Rowland's final confrontation with the names who have, at times, made a snake pit out of his four-and-a-half-year period as chairman of the Lloyd's of London insurance market was a tame affair yesterday.

The 700 or so mainly elderly investors who turned up to the annual general meeting in London's Barbican concert hall were generally in no mood to be obstructive.

The smooth Sir David, upon whom the mud of the past few tumultuous years at Lloyd's resolutely fails to stick, will have been pleased by the well- oiled way in which yesterday's gathering passed off.

Only the presence of Sally Noel, the former model and confidante of the 1960s pop group Small Faces, who has become something of a feature at these events, livened up the proceedings. One of the few moments to disturb Sir David's otherwise unruffled composure was her opening words "congratulating you on getting knighted, when in other countries you would have been indicted".

Names were even less pleased when Ms Noel accused Lloyd's of propping up the Conservative Party by saving two of its MPs from bankruptcy. Praying in aid the dictum of Neil Hamilton, the former MP for Tatton who even Lloyd's could not save, that an Englishman was innocent until proven guilty, she accused the insurance society of blocking names' pursuit of justice by bankrupting them.

But what really got their goat was her request that Lloyd's contribute to a business justice and ethics foundation to stamp out the "fraud" which is endemic in corporate culture.

"We need support from captains of industry in upholding standards of morality and decency..." she began, but her words were drowned in sea of slow hand-clapping and barracking which would have done the Millwall terraces proud.

Sir David, who retires later this year, would give nothing away about the identity or even the length of the shortlist for his replacement, other than that a selection of candidates would be in place by the time of the election in October. He reiterated repeatedly there was no question of names' unlimited liability being threatened, although he added: "We don't have a lot of evidence of new traditional names wanting to join the market. It ain't there."

Support for this comes in evidence from the Association of Lloyd's Names that up to two-thirds of its members are considering converting their interest in the market to one which will in future limit their liabilities.