POLITICS

David Cameron 'Treating Us Like Mugs' Over RBS Bonuses - Labour

15/01/2014 12:23 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT

David Cameron has been accused of treating Brits like "mugs" after announcing the continuation of a £2,000 cap on cash bonuses at the Royal Bank of Scotland, while doing nothing to stop individuals getting bumper bonuses through share awards.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told the BBC's World At One that Cameron was "treating us like mugs", while Labour's shadow treasury spokesman Chris Leslie derided the Prime Minister's pledge as "sophistry" and "warm words".

Leslie added: “David Cameron has refused to rule out approving bonuses of up to 200 per cent at RBS. It looks like he and George Osborne would approve such a request at a time when ordinary families face a cost-of-living crisis and bank lending to businesses is falling.

“A cap on total remuneration is a complete red herring because RBS is cutting another 2,000 jobs in its investment bank and many executives were paid bonuses worth more than 100 per cent of their salary last year."

The Prime Minister's remarks come after pressure mounted on the government to stop the state-owned bank paying out bumper bonuses.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron said: "I can confirm today that just as we have had limits on cash bonuses of £2,000 at RBS this year and last year, we will do the same next year as well."

He added: "If there are any proposals to increase the overall pay, that is pay and bonus bill at RBS, at the investment bank, any proposals for that, we will veto it."

Under new European laws, any banker earning over €1m would fall under the cap, while RBS had 93 bankers who were paid over £1 million in 2012, compared with 428 at Barclays and 204 at HSBC.

Lord Oakeshott, who served as the Lib Dems' Treasury spokesman in the Lords, called on the chancellor to block the move, writing on Twitter: "They failed Britain by failing to lend last year. We own the bank,so just say no."

Lib Dem MEP Sharon Bowles, chair of the European Parliament's committee on economic and monetary affairs, told HuffPostUK: “The intention, indeed expectation, of the Parliament's legislators was that bailed out banks would not be allowed to give bumper bonuses. The logic was that first priority should go to paying back taxpayers.”

“I understand that the argument will be raised about the importance of performance for the benefit of taxpayers, but the fact is the situation IS different.”

RBS is expected to invoke an EU rule that allows it to pay bank bonuses of up to double their employee's salary if they have shareholder approval, according to the Financial Times. This would be twice as much as the newly imposed EU bank bonus cap allows, which the chancellor initially fought through the courts.

The Royal Bank of Scotland is set to face a tough time if it applies to lift the bank bonus cap given that it is still far from profitable and was recently accused of "killing off" many small businesses with its punitive business support practises.

Shadow treasury chief secretary Chris Leslie said: "At a time when families face a cost-of-living crisis and bank lending to business is falling, it cannot be right for George Osborne to approve a doubling of the bank bonus cap.

"It shouldn't have taken the EU to act to rein in excessive bonuses, but there has been no action from the Chancellor here in Britain.

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"As the majority shareholder, the government should reject any request from RBS to increase the cap. We will put this to a vote in the House of Commons as part of our opposition day debate on the government's wider failures on banking."

However, Tory MP Mark Garnier, member of the Treasury Select Committee, said banks would seek to get around attempts to cap bonuses by increasing bankers' basic salaries, echoing the argument made by the Treasury in its legal challenge against the EU rules last year.

"What Chris is suggesting is driving up the base costs of the banks, thereby driving up the regulatory capital which ultimately will make the banks more unstable," Garnier told the BBC Today programme.

The Tory MP also described bonuses as "compensation for enterprise".

Previously, Osborne attempted to save RBS from an EU attempt to cap senior bankers' pay at £471,000 by starting the process of splitting it up into a "good" and "bad" bank early.

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