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MM Profile: Lord Flight

Howard Flight 480 Conservatives

Unashamed in his support of the City of London and concerned about the cost of over-regulation, Lord Howard Flight is a diminishing breed of British politician.

Just this month he questioned the viability of the Retail Distribution Review and how it will affect access to advice and has been seen as something of an IFA champion since first entering Parliament in 1997.

He says: “When I was in the Commons I was frequently speaking in support of IFAs and, not in a nasty way, I was known as Mr City. There was a view on all sides of the House that I knew as much as anyone on my territory.”

The support is forged from a lifetime working in financial services, spending more than 20 years with Guinness Mahon and Guinness Flight Global Asset Management.

Throughout his commercial career he retained his interest in politics working as an assistant to future chancellor Norman Tebbit in 1970 and first running for parliament aged 26 in 1974.

He was elected as a Conservative MP in 1997 and over the next eight years held every shadow Treasury brief except shadow chancellor.

Howard Flight profile 220

As shadow Treasury economic secretary he led opposition to the Financial Services and Markets Bill which created the FSA.

He opposed removing responsibility for regulating banks from the central bank and is pleased it is being re-instated through the current Financial Services Bill.

In March 2005 his political career came crashing down when he was recorded at a private meeting backing deeper cuts to public spending than proposed by the party.

The comments were seized upon by Labour as an example of a secret Tory agenda to cut spending and Flight had the “unpleasant” experience of being barred from standing for the party at the upcoming general election.

But he believes he has been vindicated as the current Government struggles to get to grips with the deficit.

He says: “It was a great mistake politically because if the Tory party had been much more committed about excessive public spending from 2005 onwards then it would have been in a much stronger position for the 2010 election.”

Leaving parliament Flight took up a string of directorships from friends in the City before being ennobled following the 2010 election.

In the Lords his expertise is being put to good use as financial services has become a hot political issue following a string of banking scandals.

The current priority is the FS Bill, which has been approved by the Commons and is being debated in the Lords, continuing in mid-October after the Parliamentary recess.

The bill is proposing the biggest upheaval to financial regulation for more than a decade with the abolition of the FSA and creation of the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulatory Authority within the Bank of England.

Considering the scale of the bill Labour has raised concerns that it is being rushed through without proper scrutiny after a quick passage through the Commons with few amendments.

Lord Flight says: “One of the reasons our constitutional structure works well is that the Lords has more time to go through it in committee stage more thoroughly and, by and large, it has more people participating who know about the subject. It’s getting a fairly good grilling in committee stage.”

Such a grilling takes time and with more than 200 amendments in the Lords, many still to be debated, is there a danger the bill could drag on and delay the Government’s timetable?

Lord Flight says: “There is a timetable but it will take as long as it takes and there are a lot of amendments still to be dealt with. It could last until the first week of November but it could go further. I expect more amendments to come from the Government.”

Top of his list of his priorities is the proposal for the FCA to publish early warning notices of firms under regulatory investigation before they have been found guilty.

He believes this could lead to “lynch-mob” justice and ruin careers of executives who have done nothing wrong and face a public shaming.

He says: “It is like finding someone guilty before a fair trial. Any executive named would almost certainly be obliged to stand down and their career pretty much ruined while they may be completely innocent.”

Lord Flight believes there is a warning shot from across the pond when the New York Financial Services department criticised Standard Chartered for breaching sanctions on Iran while the investigation was ongoing.

As the bank’s share price plunged Bank governor Sir Mervyn King asked regulators to “refrain from making too many public statements until the investigation is completed”.

Chancellor George Osborne was believed to be seeking assurance form US regulators while Fitch Ratings said the accusations and market reaction damaged the bank’s reputation and its franchise will suffer.

Flight says the episode shows how such notices can hit share prices and damage other stakeholders such as pension funds and investors in major institutions.

He says: “The Standard Chartered timing is perfect. There is a great irony of the chancellor and governor criticising the New York regulator for behaving in the very way the changes in the bill are paving the way for here unless they’re stopped.”

He has written to fellow Lords he believes could support his amendment but is unsure whether he can muster enough to force the Government into a change.

Lord Flight also wants the PRA to adopt a policy objective of encouraging competition in the banking sector and make the regulatory approval process easier.

He is a non-executive of Metro Bank, which obtained a banking licence in 2010, but he is concerned how the regulatory changes will affect the process.

He has proposed an amendment to the FS Bill so that only the PRA has to authorise new banks, rather than the FCA as well, and believes he has good support.

He says: “The banking system has the sort of problems you always get with a cartel and so as part of circumstances for the PRA they must have the object of more competitive banking.”

He also has amendments on the transferability of bank accounts, the disclosure requirements of the Financial Ombudsman Service, limits to regulators’ product intervention powers and working with the European Union.

The scope of the bill is enormous with much at stake. Many IFAs will be happy to have someone in the Lords fighting their corner so strongly on a number of important issues.

Howard Flight profile 220

Born: June 1948

Lives: Westminster, London

Education: 1959-66 Brentwood School, 1966-69 Magdalene College, Cambridge, 1969-71 MBA at University of Michigan

Career: 1970-73 Investment adviser, N.M Rothschild & Sons, 1973-76 Manager, Cayzer Limited, 1976-79 HSBC Merchant Bank Hong Kong and India, 1979-86 Investment director, Guinness Mahon & Co., 1986-1999 Joint managing director, Guinness Flight Global Asset Management, 1999-2003 Joint chairman, Investec Asset Management, 2002-2007 Director, Panmure Gordon

Political Career: 1997- 2005:MP for Arundel & South Downs. Held positions in the shadow Treasury team including economic secretary to the Treasury, paymaster general and chief secretary to the Treasury. Entered the Lords in 2010.

Likes: travelling, India, collecting, writing, classical music, gardening, DIY

Dislikes: People bearing grudges, seeing Britain in trouble or performing below its potential

Drives: Renault Espace and Renault Modus

Favourite Book: The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow

Favourite film: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Musician: Elgar and Handel

Career ambition: To go on working and be politically involved as long as I can but I don’t lust after any particular office

Life ambition: I’m happy with my lot

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be: a doctor

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