Part of Financial Services and Markets Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 7th December 2022.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I welcome the fact that the Government have finally announced that they will bring forward access-to-cash legislation, but this Bill does nothing to protect face-to-face banking or free access to cash, which is our main concern and is what the most vulnerable in our society depend on.
Since 2015, on this Government’s watch nearly half of the UK’s bank branches have closed. It is inevitable that banking systems will continue to innovate—no one is denying that—but the failure to protect these services risks leaving millions of people behind. My amendment would empower the Financial Conduct Authority to review communities’ needs for and access to essential in-person banking services. To be clear, I am not saying banks should be prevented from closing underused branches—far from it. I explained this thoroughly in Committee but will say it briefly again now: vital face-to-face services could be delivered through a variety of models, such as shared banking hubs, which are already being set up across the country to provide cash services.
In Committee, the Minister was again very persuasive and convinced me to withdraw my new clause. He said he accepted the underlying need for action and that solutions would be brought to the table. I believed him, but despite warnings from Age UK, Which? and the Access to Cash Action Group—which does fantastic work in this area—that vulnerable people are at risk of being cut off from the services they desperately rely on, the Government have completely failed to engage on this important issue, and this time I will not be making the same mistake: I will not withdraw my new clauses. The Government need to demonstrate they will not simply abandon those who are struggling to bank online.