CITY AND SUBURBAN
A singular bank statement for Mr Hattersley's adviser
, ere is the instructive story of the here Old Westminsters and the Poor Old Lady, or the dog which did not bark in the daytime. It begins at Westminster School, Where once upon a time there were two clever little boys, called Charles Williams and Nigel Lawson. Charles's father was a boctor of Divinity and his mother was a Cazenove. Nigel was no doubt the more clever, but Charles was easily the more athletic, and when they both went up to Christ Church, Oxford, Westminster's sis- ter college, he captained the university at cricket. Nigel was then led astray Into financial journalism, and disappears from our s — tni y for a while. Charles went Into business, then into banking, then into Bari/1gs — one of the few directors of that less than radical bank to be a Labour Party activist and parliamentary candidate. From B.anngs the Callaghan government plucked 1.1.11n to be chairman of the Prices Commis- Where his writ ran over the High Street banks. Then the government fell, its ,ThrY successor shot Mr Williams's horse Henrytoin under him, and he went off to run n. Ansbacher. Now whatever might be said about Ansbachers, Barings it isn't. It could be called a middle-bracket issuing house with an inconstant record and Periodic bouts of ambition. Mr Williams caught it in ambitious mood, made his January made deals He stayed there until 18 LannarY, when he resigned, in order (as the board then said) to pursue his other busi- ness interests. These interests have since iclIn. e to include an association with the ritish Printing & Communications Cor- poration, under Robert Maxwell. Other interests were signalled, this year, by his 111„clusion in a list of life peers nominated by ',ULe leader of the Labour Party. He is now Lord Williams. For the party, he has been advising the Shadow Chancellor, Roy Hat- t,,,,erisley• His hand is seen in the sequence of rimy statements which Mr Hattersley has been producing through the summer. In Particular, the plan for a National Invest- ment Bank is thought to be Lord Wil- liams's brainchild, and the City, jumping to Conclusions, assumes that if such a bank Were set up Lord Williams would be the first choice to run it.
11 his stately progression of events has come to be punctuated by a sequence of noises off, coming from the direction of Ansbachers. All was not well there, it now appears, at the time of Lord' Williams's departure. Laidlaw, the New York secur- ities house which Ansbachers bought at about this time last year, turned out to be losing money hand over fist. The figures for the full year to 31 March showed that Laidlaw and other losers had so drained Ansbachers that almost all the capital had been lost, and the £3 million that remained was covered only by goodwill. Fortunately, the principal shareholders — the Belgian group of Pargesa and Banque Bruxelles Lambert — stood by Ansbachers and enabled it keep its doors open by subscrib- ing for a £36-million issue of new capital. At that time the board said that the interim dividend, paid in the winter, should not have been paid, that there were not the funds to cover it. Two directors, neither of whom had been on the board at the time, were asked to report: they included Richard Fenhalls, Lord Williams's succes- sor as group managing director. Their report has now been sent to shareholders. They say that Ansbachers' interim state- ment for the half-year to 30 September last did not give a true and fair view, that it should have shown a substantial loss and not a profit, and that its language was unrealistic. They say: 'Summarised in- formation was supplied to the board by the then Group Managing Director [Lord Wil- liams] in relation to the results of the company to 30 September 1984 which omitted facts which in our view should have been made available to the board, and without which the board was not in a position to form a true and fair view of the affairs of the company on a consolidated basis.' They considered whether any direc- tor had acted without an 'honest belief that there were profits when there were not, and specified that they found no evidence of this in the case of certain identified directors. They find no motive of personal gain, and in view of that finding and of the company's interest in not reopening ,a matter of past history, they recommend that no action should be taken against any director arising out of the payment of the interim dividend. Lord Williams, commenting on this, has pro- tested that he was never invited to give evidence to the two-man inquiry, and that he has been treated unfairly and contrary to natural justice. If so, he is not the only banker, commercial or official, to be so treated just now.
ow for the other Old Westminster and the non-biting dog. Nigel Lawson finds himself chivvied from every side, most fiercely of all over Johnson Matthey Bank- ers. He has never lacked the urge to fight, or the instinct for the jugular. How has he missed his chance to bite back? Why not characteristic toothmarks on the Shadow Chancellor and his chosen adviser, the ennobled banker in the deeper shadows behind him? A sense of fairness? The old school tie? Perish the thought. Mr Law- son's difficulty is his posture of defence. Don't bite me, he says, just watch me bite the Bank of England, and if you bite it, too, I won't stop you. So now we begin to get reports that Ansbachers was a mistake for the Bank to set beside Johnson Matth- ey Bankers — that there, too, the Bank's supervisors missed what was going wrong. That is the converse of the truth. The Bank looked at Ansbachers' figures, looked at them again and blew the whistle, forcing through the changes of management — and finally persuading the Belgians to come to the rescue. Good supervision averted a banking failure. No doubt it averted others — some four or five of them in the last few years, so the City believes. Watching banks is like watching spies — only the misses make the headlines. A pity, then, that the Chancellor has not told any part of this story; a pity that he cannot stop growling at the Old Lady. She is a faithful old thing, really, and he has more deserv- ing enemies.