Part of Financial Services and Markets Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 7th December 2022.
The hon. Gentleman is right that this is not just about bank branch closures; it is also about pressures in the Post Office. It is possible to provide some of the services through the Post Office, but we have a duty to preserve some of the banking hubs to ensure that the Post Office does not get overwhelmed. I am sure the hon. Gentleman has travelled around his constituency, and anybody who walks around their constituency will see the need for bank branches, banking hubs and post offices for our most vulnerable constituents. I am also surprised that the Bill has so little to say on financial inclusion more broadly, despite my hon. Friend Emma Hardy flying the flag for financial inclusion with her brilliant amendments.
The co-operative and mutual sector also plays an important role in delivering financial inclusion. The Bill’s measures fall short of the Labour and Co-operative parties’ shared ambition to double the size of that sector in the UK. That is why I have tabled new clauses 4 and 5 requiring the regulators to report on how they have considered mutual and co-operative business models. In Committee, the Minister said that given that appropriate arrangements are already in place for regulators to report, that the FCA and Prudential Regulation Authority already produce well combed-through annual reports and that there is no deficiency in the level of engagement with the sector, such a measure is simply unnecessary. The sector was shocked by the Minister’s ill-informed response. It pointed to the FCA’s most recent annual report, published in July, where there is not one mention of the needs of co-operatives, mutuals, building societies or credit unions, while in the latest PRA annual report, building societies are just lumped in with standard banks. Every single business leader that I have spoken to, from Nationwide to the firms represented by the Building Societies Association, have called for the FCA and the PRA to report separately on these specific business models. Either the Minister believes he understands the needs of British mutuals and co-operatives better than the sector itself or he should support my amendments.
What is perhaps most striking, however, is how little the Bill has to say about green finance. Over a year ago, the present Prime Minister promised to make the UK the world’s first green financial centre, but on Monday the CBI warned that the Government are “going backwards” on building a greener economy. CBI director-general Tony Danker said firms need more action from Government on green finance. I therefore hope the Minister will support my new clause 6 requiring the Treasury to publish an updated green finance strategy with a clearly defined green taxonomy, as well as new clause 24 tabled by Chris Grayling introducing greater protections against deforestation. The Minister has said he is going to produce such a strategy imminently, but we look forward to hearing a timeline, because we are now very suspicious of the word “imminently” and want to hear clear dates and times.
In Committee, the Minister and his Conservative colleagues seemed astounded when I said that the Government and Minister were complacent about green finance. They took such issue with that that I felt I had to provide some evidence in my speech as to why I said it. The Government’s own independent Green Technical Advisory Group told them last month that they had to send a rapid market signal or we would risk falling further behind Europe, which launched its taxonomy back in 2020. In 2020 the Government legislated through a statutory instrument for a legal deadline of
The highlight of the Committee stage was when I received an early birthday present from the Minister: he gave me a copy of the “Global Green Finance Index” to read, which I read from cover to cover. It is scintillating. I thank him for the interesting read, but has the Minister read his Government’s own policy document, “Greening Finance”? If not, I have a copy here for him. The report says that the country is committed to consulting on the UK’s green taxonomy in the first quarter of 2022. No one will disagree that we are well beyond the first quarter of 2022. The reason I used the word complacent is that we are dealing with a Government who have missed their own deadlines and their own targets on green finance. If that is not complacency in action on green finance, I do not know what is.