Government vows to regulate banks

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Chancellor Alistair Darling stressed today that the Government, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority are all committed to strengthening bank supervision.

Mr Darling was speaking after appearing to pour cold water on plans for a Europe-wide banking regulator which are being discussed in Brussels today.

Last night, the Chancellor showed little enthusiasm for the proposals in his annual Mansion House speech to the City and focused on the need for UK banks to reform internally.

In contrast, Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King said that an overhaul was needed because the system had failed.

Today, during a visit to Sheffield, Mr Darling was asked whether the Government and the Bank of England were "singing off the same hymn sheet" when it came to regulation.

He replied: "Absolutely."

Mr Darling said: "The Bank of England, ourselves and the Financial Services Authority are committed to strengthening our supervisory system in this country.

"We've got to learn the lessons of what's happened over the last couple of years.

"I've made it clear that we'll be introducing legislation this autumn to toughen up the system to make sure that not only do we protect the general public but we make sure the wider economy is protected so we're not faced with a banking crisis like this in the future.

"It's very, very important and we're all committed to doing that."

The Chancellor was speaking after performing a three-point turn in a hydrogen powered car during a visit to the cutting edge technology firm ITM Power.

Mr Darling manoeuvred around the company's car park after stalling the converted Ford Focus as he pulled out of the workshop.

ITM Power is pioneering technology which could see ordinary households using hydrogen cars powered from small local fuel stations.

Yesterday, Mr Darling warned the banks that they must take a longer-term view and examine the health of the financial system as a whole.

"We need a change of culture. Their focus must be long-term wealth creation, not short-term profits," he said.

"They must recognise their duty to shareholders is best fulfilled by acting in the interests of their customers and all - not just some - of their employees. And ensure staff are rewarded for long-term success - not for failure."

But, in his speech, Mr King stressed the need for reform in order to regain the trust of the general public.

He said: "There's no support in this country and no case for excessively bureaucratic regulation.

"But change to the structure, regulation and indeed culture of our banking system is necessary. Blaming individuals is no substitute for acknowledging the failure of the system of a certain type of banking.

"We have a real opportunity now to put that right and regain the trust that's been lost."

And while he cautioned against hurriedly putting together a new system of regulation, Mr King said it was unclear how the Bank would meet its new responsibility for financial stability without more powers to force institutions to submit to its requests for behaviour change.

The Bank of England has so far taken unprecedented action to kick-start the economy as it has slashed interest rates close to zero and embarked on a £125 billion strategy to boost the money supply.

Mr King suggested that every regulated bank should be required to produce a plan for the "orderly wind-down of activities".

"That would provide the information to the authorities, the absence of which made past decisions about the future of institutions difficult," he said.

"Making a will should be as much a part of good housekeeping for banks as it is for the rest of us."