Andrew Holt finds that Lord Hunt of Wirral is an inspired choice to push the CII's code of ethics and standards

If you said the CII had embraced the talents and knowledge of a man who had been in power during the Conservative Government's famous years of sleaze and sex scandals you would have to question the institute's judgment.

But when you mention that man is Lord Hunt of Wirral than any concerns wither away. Throughout a fruitful career he has successfully demanded the highest of ethical standards, whether it be in politics, when others were succumbing to the worst sexual shenanigans, in the law or insurance.

So rather than being a liability, his role within the CII to impose the best standards and ethics within the sometimes flaky ethics insurance world, is an inspired one.

His passion for the industry very much begins with the need to promote the highest professionalism. "We are not just a great industry we are a great profession. There is an increasing realisation of the importance of having more skills and qualified professionals working within insurance," says the chairman of the CII's professional standards board.

Typical of a man with top class political skills, Lord Hunt is full of masterly sound bites on the insurance industry and its wider ramifications.

"The insurance industry is the diamond in the crown of the British economy," he says. And the vision statement: "I would like us to consign our reputation for pessimism to the dustbin of history and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead."

Highest standards

Huge opportunities await the industry, enthuses Hunt, if it is fully acknowledged for having the highest recognised professional and ethical standards.

"It is incumbent on every member of the institute to meet the high standards set by the profession and maintain the reputation of the industry by following the code of ethics and conduct.

"I am delighted the way the members have accepted the code and are complying with it and operating with integrity."

But such good intentions do not exist in a vacuum, as this message is being taking to the country through a series of roadshows. They begin on 2 November in London, followed by 16 November in Birmingham; 28 November in Manchester; 25 January in Liverpool; 9 February in Leeds and 15 February in Bristol.

"The roadshows will highlight the importance of the code of ethics and conduct and to explain the steps being taken by the CII to demonstrate professionalism.

"They will explain the strategy for increasing the knowledge and skill of the market through education, qualifications and the maintenance and improvement of competence," says the managing partner of the national law firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs.

Lord Hunt is bestowed with much charm, but not the slippery type usually associated with politicians. He comes across as wise and thoughtful, a solid traditional gentleman who believes in, and practices, fair play, honest and integrity.

In short he is a forceful campaigner for all that's good in our industry.

In this sense the CII had made an inspirational appointment.

"We have in the past had a reputation for pessimistic and unrealistic attitudes and at last year's conference we tried to bring to everyone's attention the opportunities that lie ahead," he admits.

On the back of this, the professional standards board has a clear remit and has approved a new set of disciplinary procedures. "The target will now be to make sure that everyone more than achieves the standards of competence we have set out."

But what of the FSA's regulatory environment? Does this enhance such a code? "The industry welcomes the ability to demonstrate that it has the customer right at the heart of its activities," says Hunt diplomatically.

Box ticking

"What I object to is when we descend into a 'box ticking' environment with petty, bureaucratic and administrative regulations."

And the 'treating customers fairly' initiative? "I have to say the jury is still out. The regulators keeping saying they believe in light touch regulation, but so far we have not seen that."

The CII has a tradition of using highbrow statements as its conference theme. Last year's saw Churchill quoted, and it is something close to Hunt's heart. It was Churchill's view that "pessimists see difficulty in every opportunity, optimists see opportunity in every difficulty".

"That is something I believe," says Hunt. "A difficulty mastered is an opportunity won. There are tremendous challenges not least the increasingly regulated marketplace. So the objective will be to strengthen the industry,"

Like most financial institutions the CII and Lord Hunt want to show that the development of young people is critical for the future benefit of the industry.

"We have to demonstrate that this is an exciting industry with huge opportunities ahead. And we want to attract the brightest and best people.

"We want people to be proud of the industry. And although I would say this, the policies of the CII are working: the increased membership, increasing activity, increasing emphasis on professionalism and integrity. The real challenge is to constantly improve the relationships with customers, that provides high quality advice."

Lord Hunt has been in the insurance industry all his life, but it has been his principled politics that have made the man. As a proud One Nation Tory - what Lady Thatcher famously called the No Nation Tories - Lord Hunt began his young political life as chair of the British Youth Council, which covered all political and church groups.

He then became passionately involved in Europe and entered politics as a European in a party that, at the time, was heavily in favour of the European Union.

"I grew up in the European wing of the Conservative Party," he admits.

He was subsequently an MP for 21 years and a minister for 16 serving under Margaret Thatcher.

So what did he make of Lady Thatcher's later opposition to the EU? "Well, don't forget that Margaret Thatcher signed the Single European Act, Ted Heath took the country into EU and John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty.

The three major treaties which run, and are the heart of, the EU.

"What has gone wrong since is the idea that we can formulate a constitution. Therefore, I have been disappointed in the last few years but I am still a strong European."

Bogged down

"The whole idea of the constitution was to form a simple and clear statement of the importance of the EU and it has become bogged down in bureaucracy, verbiage, so much so that it has become incomprehensible.

"We have to get back to basics and realise the vital nature of the EU is to create a peaceful and prosperous Europe."

He still remains fully committed to the EU. "I am delighted we will have two more countries: Bulgaria and Romania, in two years' time."

He had many major political tests which have more than helped him deal with tests within insurance.

"The most testing times politically were: the Falklands war where I was John Nott's parliamentary private secretary; being made coal minister halfway through the miners' strike; Margaret Thatcher asking me to bring in the poll tax; and John Major asking me to bring in the code of conduct in public life known as the Nolan Commission Report."

He admits though: "It was always challenging working with Margaret Thatcher. I didn't agree with everything she said, but I greatly admired her leadership qualities."

Having survived his years with the Iron Lady, Lord Hunt is well equipped to deal with most challenges he is likely to face within the CII.