Opposition Day — [17th Allotted Day] — Banking

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 15th January 2014.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health) 2:05 pm, 15th January 2014

I will not give way because many hon. Members wish to contribute. Clearly, those structural weaknesses remain in the banking sector and the Government should be doing more to address them, both in the UK and globally. I would like the British Government to take a lead on addressing banking reform, not just in this country, but across Europe and across the globe.

The banks also have a social obligation to taxpayers. I said that the Labour Government’s action was costly to the public purse and important to secure people’s savings, but I do not believe, unlike the hon. Lady, that we perverted the course of capitalism, because the alternatives would have been disastrous. However, banks should be doing more to help the Government meet their social needs and the wider social needs of society—those for whom it does not feel as if the recession is yet over. That is why the proposal from my hon. Friend Chris Leslie to have the bankers bonus tax to fund a compulsory jobs guarantee is absolutely right and why I think he gets it. It is also right that the bank levy should also be increased, specifically to fund the expansion of free child care for three-year-olds and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 25. The Government try to make out that this is the same pot of money. We are talking about two very different socially responsible measures that will ensure that the banks start to repay what they owe to society

Finally, bank lending and access to bank services are important if the banks are to take on socially responsible roles in securing the recovery and helping local communities.

Let me turn first to lending to small and medium-sized enterprises. I despair when companies come to see me as their Member of Parliament and set out perfectly viable business propositions to which, before the banking crisis, banks would have fallen over themselves to lend money, and yet they cannot even get a foot through the door. We must ensure that the Government’s attempts to get banks lending start to work, because it is just not happening at the moment. Indeed, the most recent data show a huge drop-off in bank lending to small businesses, which should cause some concern to the Treasury.

There are still too many communities without good access to banking services, and branches continue to close. That is a huge problem not just in rural communities, but in some of the most deprived urban communities. It is very much a social justice issue. People should have good access to banking services within their community. Perhaps there is a greater role in that regard for the Post Office. One scheme under the previous Labour Government was to increase the number of free cashpoints in our most deprived communities. It was outrageous that people in some of the poorest areas were charged to get cash out of machines. The previous Government were absolutely right to install 600 free cashpoints in such communities. However, some of those measures have stalled under this Government, and there is a lot more that we should be doing to ensure that the most deprived communities have proper access not just to free cashpoints but to a full range of banking services.

In conclusion, we need a vibrant and socially responsible banking sector, and ensure that bad practices are ended. The Government must recognise that banks have an important role in our communities, offering services and lending to businesses, and they must face greater competition. The Government and the banks must recognise that it is far from business as usual. It is time for proper banking reform.