Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Opposition Presses Its Summer Offensive Senior Leaders Put off Vacations to Lob Charges at Major Government

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Opposition Presses Its Summer Offensive Senior Leaders Put off Vacations to Lob Charges at Major Government

Article excerpt

BRITAIN'S Labour opposition, backed by the small Liberal Democrat center party, has warned Prime Minister John Major that it will use his handling of the BCCI affair to spotlight what they have called his administration's "arrogance" and "complacency" in broader areas of policy.

The August holiday season usually produces a lull in the nation's political pace, but this year senior figures of the government and opposition parties are breaking precedent by staying at their posts to continue the debate.

The most potentially embarrassing of the accusations leveled at the Major government and at the prime minister personally concerns the Bank of England's closure on July 5 of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

A leaked copy of an auditors' report on the bank was published in British papers Monday. It reveals that the Abu Dhabi government, BCCI's 77 percent shareholder, knew of the massive fraud long before it was reported to the Bank of England earlier this year.

This prompted Roy Hattersley, Labour's deputy leader, to ask the government whether the bank was "allowed to slide to slow collapse rather than risk causing offense to a friendly government." He accused Major of having acted with "ineffectual complacency."

Labour also charges that Major promised the House of Commons a full and open public inquiry into the circumstances of the closure, then went back on his word. Last week the prime minister confirmed that Lord Justice Bingham is to conduct a secret investigation into BCCI.

Labour's Hatterley contrasts the British government's "secretiveness" about BCCI with the "much more open approach" of the authorities in the United States, and insists there are "still more serious facts to be revealed" about BCCI.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, says that the Bingham inquiry should be given more sweeping powers and demands that it be held in public.

Conservative Party chairman Chris Patten defends the decision to hold the BCCI inquiry behind closed doors, with the media absent. "All information will be available to the inquiry, and ministers will answer questions put to them," he says. …

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