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UK Parliament faces vote on bank investigation amid sharp partisan division
LONDON (AP) ¯¯¯ Legislators in Britain's House of Commons engaged in a noisy and bitter debate Thursday ahead of a vote on how to investigate the banking industry in the wake of an interest rate manipulation scandal at Barclays.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking approval for his plan for what he calls a "swift and decisive" investigation to be carried out by a panel of lawmakers and wrapped up by the end of the year.
However, opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has accused Cameron of failing to understand the depth of public concern and called for a longer judge-led inquiry, though he has suggested this could follow the shorter probe.
Parliament has been stirred into action by the rate-setting scandal disclosed last week that cost Barclays bank $435 million in fines and has added fuel to public anger at the banking industry, whose executives face mounting accusations of being overpaid and unethical.
The build-up to Thursday's vote has been bitterly partisan, with lawmakers from both Labour and the Conservatives accusing their opponents of long cozying up to the banking industry.
Miliband's proposal for a longer probe was defeated in the House of Lords, but the Commons has the last word in vote later Thursday.
As the debate opened, Treasury chief George Osborne and opposition Labour Party lawmaker Ed Balls traded accusations.
Balls demanded that Osborne withdraw charges that as a former Treasury minister he was somehow involved in the Barclays scandal.
Osborne responded that he would take no lessons in integrity "from a man who smeared his way through 13 years in government."
Deputy speakers intervened repeatedly begging members to stop shouting and drowning out speeches.
In addition to the fines, British regulators also announced last week that Barclays and three other big U.K. banks had agreed to a settlement of complaints that they had sold interest-rate protection products, some of them complex plans linked to derivatives, to borrowers who didn't understand or need them.
That has added to lawmakers' sense of urgency.
"People want to know that crime in our banks and financial services will be pursued and punished like crimes on our streets," Cameron said Wednesday.
Members of Cameron's Conservative Party note Labour was in power when two big British banks were rescued by taxpayers. Miliband counters that Conservatives, including Cameron, were demanding even lighter regulation before the 2008 crash.
Cameron stoked partisan emotions earlier in the week by saying he wanted to see Balls put on trial.
"No one would like to see him in the dock of a courtroom more than me, but the job here is to get on with it, find the answers, and put them into law," Cameron said.