June 17, 2013 / 6:03 AM / 7 years ago

RPT-NEWSMAKER-Tyrie brings eagle scrutiny to British banking reform

By William James and Matt Scuffham

LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) - Andrew Tyrie is a Conservative lawmaker, but this week fellow party member and finance minister George Osborne will be taking a deep breath as Tyrie’s cross-party committee on British banking reform unveils its final report.

Osborne, who created the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards after Barclays was found to have manipulated global interest rate benchmarks, is expected to adopt many of its recommendations to try to rein in risky banking practices.

But that will not happen before each line of what is expected to be a 600-page report has been scrutinised by Tyrie - the group’s leader renowned for his attention to detail.

“Dealing with hundreds of authors over the years, he’s certainly one of my most clear-headed, fastidious and painstaking,” said Tim Knox, director of the Centre for Policy Studies - a think-tank for which Tyrie has written extensively.

“It always ends with the best of humour but he’s quite prepared to argue half the night over whether a comma should be a semi-colon - which is reflective of the seriousness with which he takes his work.”

Tyrie was blooded in British politics during the era of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when he served as an adviser to then-finance minister Nigel Lawson.

“I think that he combined a very clear understanding of economics with very good political judgment and, as he is showing today with the commission, a huge capacity for hard work,” Lawson, a member of the commission, said

PRAGMATIC

Before teaming up with Lawson, Tyrie alternated between academia with stints at Oxford and Cambridge universities, and a short period at British Petroleum. He later left the tutelage of Lawson to work as a senior economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

A return to politics came later when, at the second attempt in 1997, he was elected to parliament. Tyrie represents a rural constituency in the south of the country - a traditional heartland of support for the Conservatives.

Tyrie has proven to be fiercely protective of his political and intellectual independence. When a BBC report suggested he had changed his critical view of Conservative growth strategy as a result of party pressure, Tyrie fought for and won a public retraction from the state broadcaster.

Overlooked for a frontbench role in 2010 when the Conservative party formed a coalition government, Tyrie instead turned his focus to winning the chair of the Treasury Select Committee (TSC), a cross-party group of lawmakers which oversees the work of the finance ministry.

Tyrie’s work on the TSC made him the obvious candidate to head the Banking Standards Commission, on which five TSC members sit, supplemented by five members of Britain’s upper house including Lawson and Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the Anglican church.

“He realises that if he tried to impose his opinion they wouldn’t take too kindly. So he tries to coax an agreement, an agreement based on the evidence,” Lawson said.

Commission members agreed early in the process that they didn’t want to put forward any proposals without the full backing of members.

“There are some big, big personalities on the commission, very strong personalities, and Andrew has been taking everybody with him. That’s an important point,” said commission member Mark Garnier, a former investment banker.

“BEING CONTROVERSIAL”

Tyrie’s work has not been constrained to banking and finance during his political career. In 2005 he formed a parliamentary group looking at Britain’s involvement in “extraordinary rendition” - whereby prisoners are transported to be questioned abroad without legal process.

The group has been credited with casting a light on Britain’s role and turning political and popular opinion.

Similarly, Tyrie went out on a political limb to vote against his party’s wishes on a climate change bill in 2008. He said a commitment to decarbonise Britain’s energy industry would put the country at an international disadvantage.

“He has no fear of fighting received opinion and being controversial, but is incredibly careful to be scrupulously accurate,” think-tank director Knox said.

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