New calls for BCCI report's publication

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LORD JUSTICE Bingham's appointment led to renewed pressure on the Government to publish his report on the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

The report is believed to have exonerated senior Cabinet ministers, including John Major, as the former Chancellor, over their role in the collapse of BCCI, in spite of earlier criticism that they had failed to act on staff warnings.

Leaks of his report, to be published next month, suggest that it will severely criticise the Bank of England, but describe the role of ministers as 'exemplary'.

His report is unlikely to draw the Government into a damaging controversy. It could have been highly damaging if it had questioned the competence of key ministers at a time when they were fighting to maintain confidence in their handling of the economy. Although the appointment was seen as recognition of wider judicial experience, some Labour MPs said it might be seen as a reward for avoiding criticism of the Government.

Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, who has campaigned for victims of the collapsed bank, said: 'The Government's timing is rather strange. It would have been better if the announcement had been made after the report was published in full. It would have avoided the inevitable controversy for the Lord Chancellor having appointed him the new Master of the Rolls. Given this new appointment, the publication of the Bingham report is now of vital importance.'

Paul Boateng, Labour's spokesman on the Lord Chancellor's Department, praised Lord Justice Bingham's intelligence, but said the civil courts 'show increasing signs of strain, not least in problems of access, delay and underfunding of the legal aid system'.