UK Markets closed

Libor Rate Faces Review Amid Barclays Scandal

(c) Sky News 2012

An urgent independent review into the inter-bank lending rate is to be set up by the Government next week following the interest rigging scandal.

The review will consider the future operation of the Libor rate and the possibility of introducing criminal sanctions, a Treasury source said.

Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) - the first bank to be exposed in the scandal - has been summoned to appear before the Treasury Select Committee next Wednesday.

Prime Minister David Cameron said issues like whether bank bosses would be questioned under oath would have to be "carefully considered".

He said: "There’s no need to make a snap judgement, but I think it’s very important above all that the government takes all of the actions necessary – holding bankers accountable, making sure they pay their taxes, making sure there’s proper transparency, making sure the criminal law can go wherever it needs to to uncover wrongdoing, all of those things need to happen.

"On the issue of inquiries...let’s think this through, let’s get this right, that’s what I’m determined to do and that’s what we will do."

The inquiry announcement comes as Ed Miliband called for a full-scale public inquiry into banking culture and practices as the City was rocked by two major scandals in the space of a week.

The Labour leader said the industry was plagued by an "institutional corruption" that could only be eradicated by introducing a tough new code of conduct and jail sentences for immoral bankers who abuse the system.

His comments were echoed by Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King who demanded a "real change in culture" as Britain's lenders were left reeling following a week blighted by controversy.

Mr Miliband pushed for a 12-month probe to "find out what is going on in the dark corners of the banks" after the FSA uncovered "serious failings" in the sale of complex financial products to small businesses, just days after the rate-rigging affair emerged at Barclays.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Miliband said: "There hasn't been a proper reckoning for what happened in the banking crisis. The bankers told us - it's all fine, we've cleaned everything up. But I'm afraid that doesn't hold water anymore."

Calling for a systemic look at the customs and practices of the industry, he added: "We've got to have an open, independent inquiry with hearings to find out what is going on in the dark corners of the banks.

"Some of it clearly was illegal, but it goes well beyond that.

"There is a problem with how people operate. This isn't just about regulation, it's also about culture and ethics."

Mr Miliband said the inquiry - set up with cross-party support - would be asked to draw up a bankers' code of conduct going beyond the "narrow" professional standards enforced by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Calling for the worst offenders to receive prison sentences, he added: "It should be about probity, honesty, integrity. Bankers should be struck off if they do the wrong thing...this is not a victimless crime."

Sky’s Business Correspondent Alistair Bunkall says: "The government is under pressure to announce a Leveson-style independent inquiry. 

"Instead they’ve gone for an independent review into the particular sector of banking that has been affected by this scandal: the LIBOR rate.

"The advantage of this will be speed and cost. Both the Prime Minister and Governor of the Bank of England say they know what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. 

A full-scale independent inquiry would be lengthy, but it would be transparent and in-depth, and that would help satisfy an angry public.”

Sir Mervyn said he believed a Leveson-style inquiry was not needed, but slammed conduct in the industry.

He said: "From excessive levels of compensation, to shoddy treatment of customers, to a deceitful manipulation of one of the most important interest rates and now news of yet another mis-selling scandal we can see we need a real change in the culture of the industry."

He added that hard-working bank staff have been "let down" and that banks now needed "leadership of an unusually high order".

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) revealed earlier that Barclays, HSBC (LSE: HSBA.L - news) , Royal Bank of Scotland (LSE: RBS.L - news) and Lloyds Banking Group (LSE: LLOY.L - news) had agreed to pay compensation to customers who were mis-sold interest-rate hedging products.

Some 28,000 of the products have been sold since 2001 and may have been offered as protection - or to act as a hedge - against a rise in interest rates without the customer fully grasping the downside risks.

The findings come after Barclays was fined £290m by UK and US regulators for manipulating the rate at which banks lend to each other, and echoes the costly payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal that emerged last year.

Banks are facing the threat of a criminal investigation over fixing the interbank lending figures that affect millions of homeowners and small firms.

The Treasury has started to look at strengthening criminal sanctions for those responsible for market abuse after the FSA exposed the dealings at Barclays on Wednesday.

Serious Fraud Office investigators are in talks with the regulator over the scandal, while pressure is mounting on Barclays chief executive Mr Diamond to stand down.

Mr Miliband described the Barclays fiasco as "the unacceptable face of capitalism," and called on Mr Diamond to step down.

David Cameron had said the Barclays' chief executive had "questions to answer", but Mr Diamond, who was head of the bank's investment arm at the time of the allegations, reportedly told a meeting of analysts at US bank Morgan Stanley (EUREX: DWDF.EX - news) that he would not resign.

The American banker, who waived his bonus for 2012 in light of the claims, has agreed to appear in front of the Treasury Select Committee to account for his bank's actions.

HSBC and taxpayer-backed RBS are among several other lenders being investigated by the City watchdog for trying to influence the Libor and Euribor interbank lending rates to boost their profits.

Meanwhile, RBS boss Stephen Hester waived his 2012 annual bonus following the IT fiasco that caused major problems for thousands of NatWest customers.