The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of George Kerevan George Kerevan Scottish National Party, East Lothian 4:36 pm, 26th May 2016

Wait for it. This afternoon, the Chancellor promised us a better markets Bill to improve competition. We on the SNP Benches are in favour of that and will give it what help we can, depending on what is in the Bill. It is a matter of record that, in the UK, we have the most monopolised banking system in the western world. Four big banks dominate, with 80% of the market share. If we want genuine competition and better markets in finance, we need to have six, eight or 10 banks of a similar size. Until we have that, there will be no better markets or better competition.

Here is a tale: the two main regulatory bodies set up by this Government and this Chancellor to ensure more competition and better markets in finance—the Competition and Markets Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority—have failed to deliver. Why is that? There is a suspicion among SNP Members, and I suspect among Government Members, that those regulators are perhaps looking over their shoulder at the Chancellor and asking themselves, “Does the Chancellor really want us to close down, intervene in or break up those banks? Maybe we are being told to say one thing and to do another.” That is why, when we look at the small print of the Bill, we will want to see whether this is just shadow boxing and a subterfuge that allows the Chancellor to get up and say, “I’m in favour of competition, but actually—shush, shush—don’t do anything about it”, or whether it will really have teeth to take on the big banks.

I want very quickly to look at some of the things that are going on. The FCA has brokered a deal with the big banks on arbitration for small businesses who have suffered mis-selling and been bankrupted. Unfortunately, the FCA has turned a blind eye to the fact that the big banks are now signing up solicitors across the UK, including in Scotland, so that those solicitors, who are on the banks’ books and waiting for work, will not take up the cases of small businesses who feel that the arbitration process has gone against them and want to take the banks to court.