By Jonathan Davies

MPs have accused HSBC executives of incompetence over claims they were unaware of tax activities which helped hundreds of clients avoid paying tax by using its Swiss arm.

Former head of HSBC's private banking division, Chris Meares, claimed he didn't know what staff "were up to", but Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Margaret Hodge said he was "either you're completely incompetent in your oversight duties or you knew about it".

Ms Hodge also called for ex-HSBC risk chair Rona Fairhead to quit as the chair of the BBC Trust.

"When things go wrong in the public sector on your watch you resign. No one has deigned to accept responsibility," added Ms Hodge.

She said that Ms Fairhead's performance at HSBC raises serious questions about her ability to lead the BBC Trust.

"I think the government should sack you," Ms Hodge said.

Ms Fairhead said that proper structures were in place during her time as head of the audit committee at HSBC.

"I think it is reasonable for non-executive directors in an oversight role to rely on the structures in place provided the policy is there [and] the people look like they're on top of the risks," she said.

But Ms Fairhead did accept that the banking landscape changed dramatically while she was in the position.

"As [HSBC] acquired more businesses, it became more complex and there were a huge number of standards on money laundering and tax that we were complying with," she said.

"We got to the stage where a 130-year-old, 140-year old structure was no longer fit for purpose."