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I want to speak to Lords amendment 25. The Minister was not terribly clear in his opening remarks about whether it concerned consumers as individuals or whether it would be interpreted more widely, to address the branch networks that the main clearing banks operate. When he winds up, I urge him to say something about the significance of having a nationwide branch network to ensure that all communities can be financially included.
This issue came to my attention in July, when I received a letter from HSBC, which wanted to close its branch in Shildon in my constituency. Shildon is a town of slightly more than 10,000 people, many of whom have been banking with HSBC for a long time. Many local businesses—600 of them—bank at the Shildon branch. It is much cheaper for everybody to have a local branch than to get on the bus, go down to Bishop Auckland, put money into the bank or take it out, and then come back again. The round trip on the bus costs £4. It is absolutely ridiculous that people should face such barriers. We mounted a great campaign and a huge petition, but of course HSBC has paid no attention whatever to the needs of the people of Shildon. I happened to come across a man at the Labour party conference who revelled in the title of “Director for wealth management”, and who was apparently the person responsible for the branch network. It is true that there is not a lot of wealth to manage in Shildon; none the less, people in Shildon need a proper banking service, just like those in other parts of the country.
As well as thinking about that need, we need to think about the impact on the rest of us. Let us suppose that somebody who lives in a perfectly well-banked part of Durham wishes to make payments in Shildon, belong to an organisation there or make transactions with people there. It is far easier and better for everybody if they know that there is a proper national network of bank branches. I urge the Minister to comment on the branch network in his closing speech.
I remind the Minister that over the last four years taxpayers have given the major banks a considerable amount of support through subsidies and guarantees, yet although they are too big to fail, they are not too big to fail their customers, which is exactly what they are doing. HSBC claims in its slogan to be “the world’s local bank”, but it is not very local in my constituency.
We were fortunate to have the divine intervention of the Bishop of Durham, who seems to have succeeded in reaching parts of the Government that we were unable to reach, but I want the Minister to understand that if we are to build a successful economy in the north of England, we need to support small businesses and the communities that are currently being marginalised. If we do not do that, and if we simply concentrate on investing in high-tech, high-success areas, we will end up with pockets of success in a sea of deprivation. That is not the kind of country that we want to live in.
We want to see one-nation banking that will provide an opportunity for everybody to avail themselves of banking services. In a modern economy, people simply cannot function without a proper bank account. Without one, they cannot have a job, get a good deal from the utility companies or receive money from other people. A bank account is now an essential part of modern life, and I hope that the Minister will take this matter to heart, talk to the FCA about it and say more to us about it this evening.