Nearly nine out of 10 Britons want bankers put in jail if found guilty of fraud or manipulating financial markets, a new survey claims.
The figures in a new YouGov/Avaaz poll reveal that 89 per cent in the UK, 89 per cent in Germany and 90 per cent in France, want “criminal sanctions, such as jail sentences”.
More than three-quarters of the survey samples in Germany and France want EU-level penalties to be set, compared with only 41 per cent in the UK, where a majority say individual countries should set their own tough laws.
The poll is published as a committee of Euro MPs in Brussels vote on Tuesday on proposals for new EU-wide laws defining financial market abuse and insider trading and setting criminal penalties.
Any agreement in the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee on setting penalties will then pass to the full European parliament for another vote which would then require backing from EU governments.
Meanwhile, Avaaz, the global campaign group, is delivering a 720,000 signature petition to the MEPs on Tuesday calling for rigorous sanctions against bankers.
The petition calls for “strong legislation against market abuse, including criminal sanctions for bankers who ride roughshod over regulations or break our laws”.
Avaaz campaign director Alex Wilks said: “People across Europe want to see bankers behind bars. They are massively rewarded for their reckless gambles and get off far too lightly when caught: 720,000 people are today urging MEPs to agree that no banker is too big to jail.”
The online opinion poll involved 3,700 people in the three countries last week – 1,760 in the UK, 1,007 in Germany and 994 in France.
It showed that, even where banks rather than individual bankers were found responsible for large-scale fraud or market manipulation, a vast majority of people want the bankers to face prison.
A total of 70 per cent in the UK, 60 per cent in Germany and 56 per cent in France said the main punishment should fall on the bankers themselves, with only 19 per cent, 23 per cent and 26 per cent respectively saying a fine against the banks should be the key sanction.
The survey also found that 64 per cent in Britain (67 per cent in Germany and 49 per cent in France) felt their government listened mainly to “big banks” when considering laws and regulations on banking.
When asked which, if any, of the five biggest banks in their country had committed the worst abuses of the financial system, 19 per cent of the UK survey sample picked Barclays, followed by RBS (12 per cent), Lloyds (3 per cent), HSBC (2 per cent) and Santander (1 per cent). Another 36 per cent said they were all equally to blame. Only 1 per cent said none were to blame, and the rest didn’t know.
Labour MEP and vice-chairman of the economic and monetary affairs committee Arlene McCarthy commented: “The financial sector cannot be trusted to self regulate. Fines have proved ineffective and have not changed the culture in the banking industry.
“We are therefore extending the law to, for the first time, impose tough EU wide criminal sanctions and jail time.
“It will cover all benchmarks and indices as the Libor manipulation shows that abuse is still rife in the banking sector.”