View from City Road: A Large step towards improved regulation

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The Independent Online
The Securities and Investments Board's plans last month for improving securities market regulation were so full of different options that it was hard to know where the SIB was leading. In contrast the proposals last night by Andrew Large, the chairman, for toughening City enforcement are refreshingly straightforward.

Lots of people would like to see a City version of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which is probably a bad idea if it is simply a transplant. But the key lesson from the US, as Mr Large acknowledged, is that the SEC is a much- feared investigative body that can levy enormous fines.

Because its powers are strong, the SEC can talk on equal terms to the criminal prosecutors and become involved in plea bargaining. Indeed, public respect for the SEC is high enough for its penalties to be regarded as a suitable alternative to the courts in many cases.

That is not possible in the UK, where the SIB and its satellite City bodies suffer from their weak enforcement powers, the SIB's inability to levy fines and fragmented responsibility between ministries.

The Blue Arrow case, which was a fiasco in court, was widely regarded as ideal for civil regulators rather than the criminal law. But if it had been left to the regulators at the time, there would have been little public respect for the outcome - whatever that might have been - simply because they are widely regarded as toothless.

Mr Large's shopping list for the Treasury legislators includes a few fangs that the SIB urgently needs, especially the power to fine offenders until it really hurts - a weapon in the SEC armoury. The Treasury should find time to legislate.