POLITICS

Budget 2013: Chuka Umunna Says Cheating Bankers Should Be 'Behind Bars'

18/03/2013 11:59 GMT | Updated 20/03/2013 11:55 GMT

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Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has called for bankers who may have been involved in the Libor rate-rigging scandal to be "put behind bars" in order to restore public trust and "effect a culture change" in the financial sector.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK ahead of Wednesday's Budget, Umunna says he "agrees" with members of the public who complain about the lack of prosecutions in the City of London since the 2008 banking crash.

“I think, ultimately, one of the principal ways that we will effect a culture change in the financial services sector, which we need, is when people are put behind bars for what is attempted fraud and criminal practices on a grand scale,” says the Labour MP.

“The SFO [Serious Fraud Office], in particular, is looking at the attempted manipulation of Libor rigging,” he explains, referring to the recent scandal over the manipulation of the crucial London inter-bank lending rate.

"I would be very surprised if there were not prosecutions that flow from the attempted rigging of Libor… I am reasonably confident that the SFO should be able to bring prosecutions. Individuals could end up being imprisoned."

The shadow business secretary also says he is "a fan of a financial transactions tax" but adds that it can't be implemented "unilaterally", without the support of major financial centres such as the United States. To do so, he argues, “would be completely self defeating”.

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Umunna is keen to woo business, both big and small: he says a Labour government would use the £230bn procurement budget to "back British industry... to become world beaters”, conceding that there "was a problem in 2010 that we went into that general election without there being clear, distinctive voices in business of all sizes backing us.”

In a wide-ranging interview with HuffPost UK, the Labour MP for Streatham also:

* Criticises business secretary Vince Cable for “tinkering” with piecemeal measures that don’t constitute “the kind of ‘Big Bang’ treatment the economy needs”;

* Says he "would trust Ed [Miliband] with my life";

* Defends Ed Balls, claiming the shadow chancellor is "100% onboard with the industrial strategy I have been advocating”;

* Dismisses chatter about his own leadership ambitions as "unhelpful";

* And describes David Miliband as "hugely talented…it's a bit like having a striker on the subs bench and that's why I would like to see him come back".

Simon Chouffot, from the Robin Hood Tax campaign, welcomed Umunna's intervention: "Bankers operate by a different set of rules to everyone else - they have not been held to account for causing the largest crisis of a generation and ripping off the public in the years since.

"Where they have broken the law they should face the same penalties as the rest of us, but they should also be made to pay for the damage caused to our economy and society."

Read Mehdi Hasan's full interview with shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna here.