Editorial: No more gentleman's agreements in the Square Mile

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The Independent Online

It is not as if any more evidence of shady practices at Britain's banks was needed to illuminate the culture of arrogance, greed and disregard for the law that played so central a part in the financial crisis. Yet still such evidence comes.

Last week, the Financial Services Authority launched an inquiry into the mis-selling of insurance to business. Some 90 per cent of the sales of "interest rate hedging" considered in the watchdog's preliminary inquiry broke at least one rule. Even if the sample is not entirely typical, so high a failure rate points to astonishingly widespread misconduct. If the scandal costs the banks even the £2bn of compensation pencilled in by the more bearish commentators it will hardly make up for the bankrupt companies and ruined lives.

Then there is the Libor-fixing scandal. Barclays has already paid £290m for its attempts to rig the interest rate used to value millions of contracts across the world. Royal Bank of Scotland's fine, to be made public this week, is expected to come in at nearer £500m. The Chancellor's insistence that taxpayer-owned RBS must find the US portion of the penalty – perhaps £300m – from its investment bankers' pay packets is only reasonable. That Libor-fixing is only now to be made a criminal offence, however, only emphasises how far the law has trailed behind developments in finance.

Amid such ructions, there could be no more apposite time for the Banking Reform Bill to go before Parliament, as it did yesterday. Or, indeed, for its rules on the separation of retail deposits and buccaneering investment banking to be beefed up. Any institution that fails to observe the required ring fence will be forcibly broken up, the Chancellor said yesterday.

Quite right. The financial industry remains a crowning asset of our economy. But the 2008 crisis, and the revelations of malpractice that just keep on coming, are proof that it cannot be left to regulate itself. Attempts to change the culture of banking from within are commendable. But the law must have more bite, too.