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British premier urges greater responsibility from banks

Gordon Brown called banking a unique sector that, when it fails, poses a high cost.
Gordon Brown called banking a unique sector that, when it fails, poses a high cost.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gordon Brown calls on members to reduce their sources of instability, such as volatile oil and commodity prices
  • Brown: "Financial institutions should order their businesses in a way that contains the cost of failure"
  • Meeting also focused on the "urgent problem" of how to pay for climate reform
  • Finance Minister Alistair Darling said it is important for countries to make some progress before the U.N. climate change conference
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St. Andrews, Scotland (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told a meeting of G-20 ministers in his home region in Scotland Saturday that the public must be protected from the failure of the banking system in future.

He also called on members at the gathering at St. Andrews, Fife to reduce their sources of instability, such as volatile oil and commodity prices.

"Nobody doubts that we will have failed collectively if the post-crisis financial system that eventually emerges looks more or less like the one that brought the world economy to the brink of attack," Brown said.

"The reputation and legitimacy of the banking system has taken a severe beating" over the past two years, Brown said, leading the public to question whether a bank's risks and rewards are fair to taxpayers, shareholders, and bank employees.

"This is a unique sector that, when it fails, it poses such a high cost to the wider economy and damage to society that government intervention becomes essential, so the taxpayer has had no real choice but to step in to keep the system afloat," he added.

"It cannot be acceptable to the general public that the benefits of success in the sector are reaped by the few but the costs of its failure are borne by all of us."

Those at the meeting need to discuss how to protect people from bank failure, Brown said. Financial institutions should order their businesses in a way that contains the cost of failure, he said.

"But what we need to consider is whether, in fact, we need to go further in terms of mitigating the costs to the rest of the economy and to society if the risks of banking failures do, nevertheless, materialize once again," he said.

Saturday's meeting, at a hotel close to the famous golf course at St. Andrews, also focused on the "urgent problem" of how to pay for climate reform, Britain's Finance Minister Alistair Darling said.

He said it is important for countries, whether or not they disagree on the issue, to make at least some progress before the United Nations' climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month.

The reputation and legitimacy of the banking system has taken a severe beating
--Gordon Brown

"If there isn't an agreement on finance, if there isn't an agreement on contributions to make sure we can deal with this problem, then the Copenhagen agreement is going to be much, much more difficult," Darling said.

"We won't have a final word today, because that's properly for the United Nations in Copenhagen, but I do think we need to make progress to show that we're willing to come to the table to play our part and to do whatever we can."

Also Saturday, those at the meeting planned to discuss maintaining support for their respective economies until they can recover from the downturn, Darling said.

"We continue to do that because, whilst clearly confidence levels have returned, we're still in a position where there's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of risks that need to be negotiated," he said.

"Just as we've shown in the last 12 months we can make a real difference when we're determined to do so, we also, I think, need to agree (on) a framework that will allow us to ensure that we have growth over the next decade, because with growth will come jobs and will come the increasing prosperity upon which the people we represent depend," he added.

Darling said G-20 countries must not accept years of low growth and employment, "but instead we raise our sights, we raise our ambition, and we build on what we've been able to do just in 12 short months."