Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:26 am on 1st November 2022.
I beg to move amendment 40, in clause 47, page 68, line 9, after “of” insert “free of charge”.
This amendment makes reference to the provision of free of charge cash access services in Schedule 8.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause stand part.
Amendment 41, in schedule 8, page 150, line 27, after “service”)” insert
“free of charge or on the payment of a fee”.
This amendment changes the definition of cash deposit services to include both those which are free of charge and which require the payment of a fee.
Amendment 42, in schedule 8, page 150, line 29, after “service”)” insert
“free of charge or on the payment of a fee”.
This amendment changes the definition of cash withdrawal services to include both those which are free of charge and which require the payment of a fee.
Amendment 16, in schedule 8, page 151, line 36, after “concerning” insert
“both free of charge and paid access”.
Amendment 17, in schedule 8, page 154, line 12, after “appropriate” insert
“and must include the provision of free of charge cash access services”.
Amendment 18, in schedule 8, page 154, line 18, leave out from “is” to the end of line 22 and insert “—
(a) an absence of free of charge cash access services in a locality in a part of the United Kingdom, or
(b) a circumstance which limits the ability of persons in any locality in a part of the United Kingdom to—
(i) withdraw cash from a relevant current account, or
(ii) place cash on a relevant current account.”
New clause 10—Access to cash: Guaranteed minimum provision—
“(1) The Treasury must, by regulations, make provision to guarantee a minimum level of access to free of charge cash access services for consumers across the United Kingdom.
(2) The minimum level of access referred to in subsection (1) must be included in the regulations.
(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
New clause 11—Duty to collect data on cash acceptance—
“(1) The FCA must monitor, collect and publish data in relation to levels of cash acceptance amongst retailers and service providers within the United Kingdom.
(2) The FCA must publish a report, as soon as practicable after the end of—
(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and
(b) every subsequent 12-month period,
on levels of cash acceptance amongst retailers and service providers within the United Kingdom.
(3) The FCA can, by written notice, require a retailer or service provider to provide to the FCA information that it may reasonably require for the purposes of exercising its duties under subsections (1) and (2).”
New clause 12—Access to cash: Guaranteed minimum provision for small businesses—
“(1) The Treasury must, by regulations, make provision to guarantee a minimum level of access to free of charge cash access services for small businesses across the United Kingdom.
(2) The minimum level of access referred to in subsection (1) must be included in the regulations.
(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma, and other hon. Members here today. It is a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes cannot be with us, as he has played a large part in constructing these amendments. I know that other hon. Members will want to participate in a debate on free-of-charge access to cash. I look forward to hearing what they have to say. At the moment, depending on what the Minister has to say, it is my intention to press the amendment to a vote, but I will listen to the Minister’s comments.
It is important to give some examples about the reduction in free access to cash. People sometimes wonder where the constituency of West Dunbartonshire is. We are bound by Glasgow to our east, where we become an urban element of the west of Scotland. We move further west through Clydebank, into Dumbarton and through the Vale of Leven, becoming suburban and then semi-rural, to the base of Loch Lomond itself. The community has a diverse demographic, with a range of deprivation that also impacts on people’s need to access physical cash.
In the last four years in West Dunbartonshire—I am sure this experience is mirrored not only in Scotland but the rest of these islands—we have seen a drop of 27% in access to ATMs, or automated teller machines. That is three ATMs, coupled with closures of local bank branches. We are a population of more than 90,000, but we seem to have only three or four bank branches left, which is extraordinary. My constituents face being forced to travel across a range of areas, including sometimes into the city of Glasgow, to access cash. My hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes and I think it is vital to protect our constituents and the constituents of all other Members, too, in making sure that they have access to free-of-charge cash, notably for the most disadvantaged groups and the elderly.
Let me declare a non-pecuniary interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Estonia. Estonia is usually used as an example of what a digital state should be. After the fall of the Soviet Union it picked itself up and ran with a full digital agenda. One of its biggest learnings was that no one should be left behind in the race to digitalisation, critically in relation to access to cash. For the Estonian Government, and the Estonian Parliament, making sure that any financial system is not only fit for purpose in the digital age but that it takes everyone with it, including access to services and free access to cash, was their big learning curve. They believed that they failed in that process to begin with.
I hope that, when reflecting on the amendment, the Government realise that there is a huge opportunity to maintain access to cash for a range of reasons. We can talk about our constituents, and predominantly those who are elderly or from disadvantaged groups who use cash on a more regular basis. We can also talk about small and medium-sized businesses, a lot of which have moved to digital transactions. When Members go to a small shop in their own constituencies, they will notice that a lot of transactions have moved to digital due to the pandemic, but shops still have a substantial amount of cash that comes through their doors. One of the big problems that shops also have—not just free access to cash for those consuming their products—is depositing their takings at the end of the day. They are finding that very difficult as well. Businesses rely on consumers who use cash, especially in disadvantaged communities.
I am mindful of what the NM Group said in its submission:
“Cash remains an important form of payment for millions across the UK, particularly during times of economic hardship.”
The narrative of the cost of living crisis is used across the House, so there is clearly an agreement that people are facing economic hardship and that access to cash during that time is critical. That is why we think amendment 40 is important, as are the other amendments in this group.
We should also note that the payment method with the lowest economic friction, providing businesses and members of the public with a crucially important alternative, is cash. It is an important way for people to manage their finances, especially those in a disadvantaged group or those who are elderly who do not use digital money. I also note that the figures published by LINK, UK Finance and the Post Office show that around £10 billion in cash is withdrawn each month. That is £120 billion per annum in physical cash from ATMs, or from bank counters and post offices. The volume of withdrawals from the LINK system alone equates to about two withdrawals per month for each adult member of the UK population.
To bring my thoughts to a conclusion, we need to also be mindful of some of the infrastructure. UK consumers can access cash from over 55,000 ATMs, 11,500 post offices and certain bank branches—if they are not closing down in our local communities. The number of post offices is actually shrinking; there are no longer two or three post offices in a community—there is maybe only one. Over 90% of cash withdrawals take place at actual ATMs. The critical issue around free cash deposit and withdrawal services within the amendment is extremely important.
The access to cash review in 2019 noted that we cannot sleepwalk into a cashless society. That reflects back to what I was saying about the Estonian learning about digital infrastructure: it can leave a substantial number of people behind. That was the reality for Estonia. Cash continues to be important. Contactless payments and online banking can make it easy for some people to live entirely cash-free. However, given the volumes of cash in society, its usage remains extremely high. That reminds us that we do not live in a cashless society. The LINK network still handles around 1.6 billion transactions a month—that was the average in 2021. On average, adults still withdrew over £1,500 a year. During a global pandemic, cash was still being physically used. It is important to listen to the Minister and the Government’s view on it, although it is my intention to press the amendment to a vote. I look forward to hearing what others say.
I apologise to the hon. Member; I am getting my procedure a bit mixed up, Mr Sharma, so I wonder whether you could clarify something for me. I have amendments 16, 17 and 18, on the issue of free access to cash. When will it be convenient for me to come in?
They are in this group, so you may speak to them in this debate.
Thank you, Mr Sharma. I do not want to add too much to what the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire has said. He has articulated well the reasons why the original clause and his amendments are vital to our communities. The stark reality is that cash is still an important part of our local economic infrastructure, and more so for my communities, where we have seen two bank closures in the last 18 months. Many have had free access to cash taken from them. That is compounded by other infrastructure challenges, such as the lack of public transport and the inability to access free cash services elsewhere.
The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire are interesting and strike a balance in seeking to ensure that our communities can access a vital service, mainly cash. I listened with interest to him explaining the rationale behind his amendments, because I think we agree. We have to remember who these measures are ultimately targeted at. I often think of people with vulnerabilities who utilise cash as part of their budgeting. They use it every day, and for them it is a vital part of being able to continue to sustain themselves. Although the technological revolution over the last few years in particular might be great for some, for others it is not. For the communities that I represent and the areas where people are really trying to get by, cash plays a vital role in ensuring that people can function and manage their finances and their affairs. It is therefore vital that we have a strategy in place.
The amendments proposed by the hon. Gentleman, particularly the element of keeping the service free of charge, is important, particularly for communities like mine. We all talk about acute pockets of deprivation, but I remind the Committee that I represent the fourth most deprived ward in the west midlands. For many people, paying for ATMs is simply unacceptable. It takes away from them a vital part of the means they need to subsist and survive. Ensuring that we have a strategy to keep access to cash free for those who rely on it every day is vital. If we do not, we create a cycle whereby, because people have to pay out to access the means by which they survive, they use less and less of their income.
At a time when we are dealing with an acute cost of living crisis and people’s incomes are stretched, it is vital that the main source that they can use to survive is not tagged with a condition that makes it harder for them to access it. I agree with the philosophy, so to speak, behind the hon. Gentleman’s amendments. This is about enabling people to just survive and do the basics that they need to do. It is as simple as that.
I think of a constituent who came to my constituency office the other week. She could not access an ATM and was absolutely distraught. Her bank branch had just been closed and she did not know where to go. She was distraught and we had to help her out. That is at the forefront of my mind when I think of these amendments and what the Government are trying to achieve through their policy and strategy documents.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister—I am afraid that he has had a bit of a shopping list from me, which I know his officials will have noted down—to ensure that cash is kept at the forefront of the Treasury’s thinking. I appreciate what the clauses are meant to achieve, but I hope that the Minister will take note of the intention behind the amendments, even if the Government decide not to support them, and ensure that the issue is brought to the forefront.
For many of my constituents, this is about how they survive, and our constituents are ultimately the people whom we are here to serve. The Minister and I have had conversations about this, so I know that he is aware, but it is particularly vital that our constituents can survive at the moment. One of the ways in which we can ensure that is by not hampering them in their basic means of survival by tagging them with a condition or charge. Will the Minister consider that?
I agree with the basis for and philosophy behind the amendments. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire will continue the dialogue that appears to have started today. We have some important issues to address in this part of the Bill.
It is a wonderful moment when there is unity on both sides of the Committee. SNP and Conservative Members, as well as—I hope—my Labour colleagues, are coming together to ask the Government not just for access to cash, but for free access to cash. I believe that much of the Bill arises as a direct result of Members of Parliament doing our constituency work and understanding our constituents’ concerns.
My hon. Friend’s amendments are an extremely important part of the debate, and I hope that the Government accept them. I should point out that when I sat on the Treasury Committee several iterations ago, we held an inquiry about free access to cash. We got agreement that all machines that charge for withdrawals should say so up front rather than right at the end. Although that transformed some of the problems, we are now discussing access to cash itself. It is funny how these things evolve but the issues remain the same.
I thank my hon. Friend, who I understand is currently serving as the interim Chair of the Treasury Committee.
My amendments 16, 17 and 18, together with new clauses 10, 11 and 12, address access to free cash, which is indisputably important in our society. Ten per cent. of UK adults—5.4 million people—continue to rely on cash to a great or very great or extent in their daily lives. One in five people says that they would struggle to cope in a cashless society, and that struggle would disproportionately affect those on lower incomes, the elderly and people with physical or mental health difficulties.
Without Government intervention, we are losing free access to cash in our society. In my constituency, the number of free-to-use ATMs has declined by 36% in the last five years, while the number of pay-to-use ATMs has increased by an extraordinary 22%—there is money to be made somewhere. The problem is not confined to Mitcham and Morden: since 2015, the UK has lost more than half its branch network—5,003 branches—at a terrifying rate of 54 branches each and every month.
Through my amendments, I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to the notable decline in the provision of free-to-use ATMs. Since August 2018, the UK has lost 12,599 free-to-use ATMs—a decrease of nearly 24%. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of ATMs now charge people for access to their own cash. It is no wonder that more than half of consumers experienced one or more issues accessing cash at a bank branch in the past year.
Who are the losers in this cashless society? The access to cash review unsurprisingly revealed that those earning less than £10,000 per year were 14 times more likely to be dependent on cash than those earning more than £30,000 per year, and yet they are the residents of the areas where free access to cash is hard to come by.
Take Pollards Hill in my constituency, where a ridiculous clause in the lease prevents the new Co-op from opening a free-to-use ATM because of two paid-for cash machines further down the row of shops. Residents are taking out small sums of money in order to control their budgets, some of them at just £10 a time, but they are charged £2 to take that out—a 20% charge for every single payment. They literally have to pay for access to their cash. Surely the legislation must be tightened to avoid imposing additional costs such as that on the most hard-pressed.
I believe that the need for access to cash is growing. Age UK highlights that one in five older people still relies on cash for everyday spending. The cost of living crisis has seen households reliant on cash counting out the pennies to ensure that they can make ends meet—it is no wonder that in August, the Post Office handled its highest total of cash ever. The evidence is overwhelming and I believe that there should be a societal duty on the Government to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society have free access to cash and are not left behind.
It is not just me who has such concerns. Dr Davies, now the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, stated on Second Reading that he hoped the Government would commit to protecting free cash withdrawals and deposits, presumably in light of Prestatyn losing TSB, Barclays, HSBC, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland in recent years, initially leaving the town’s high street without a single bank or cash machine despite being a major regional shopping centre.
The hon. Member for Havant has seen at first hand how damaging the removal of access-to-cash provision has been for his most vulnerable constituents, having launched campaigns against TSB, NatWest, Barclays and HSBC in recent years, and having raised his concerns with HSBC about the potential impact on the elderly, who might not be able to access online banking and are reliant on face-to-face services. The hon. Member for Orpington has seen Nationwide, Santander and Barclays close in Petts Wood. He pledged to hold the latter to account in support of those residents who do not use mobile or online banking. Well done to that Member!
The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, in advance of the closure of the HSBC branch in Bourne, shared concerns with his constituents about the impact on his elderly constituents whom he said relied on the bank as a vital service in the town centre.
The hon. Lady is making a fantastic speech—let me say that straight out of the gate—but may I clarify that her proposed access-to-cash solution is for the Treasury to make an intervention on the regulator?
I do not believe that the regulator, the FCA, will force through free access to cash unless we legislate for that. As Members, we are responsible for that. I suppose I am trying to say that hon. Members are doing their job excellently by highlighting concerns in their constituencies. Even though we have been through a very rough time in politics and a lot of our constituents are unhappy about the turbulent times we have entered, many of them still have faith in democracy, party politics and our system because Members do that sort of work. I believe that we need to follow through when we are given the power to do so.
I have more. The point was even more strongly expressed by the hon. Member for West Bromwich West, who made a powerful speech. Following HSBC’s decision to close its branch in Wednesbury, he gave this message to his constituents:
“The argument of go to West Brom is not good enough! I am determined to fight this”— good on him!
The hon. Member for North Warwickshire described the impact on local residents as “obvious” when the Lloyds Bank branch closed, leaving Coleshill High Street without a bank branch. As an MP for a rural constituency, the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye detailed her concerns to our witnesses last week about her constituency being able to access cash free, and about the distance her residents would have to travel otherwise.
I do not doubt that my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Wimbledon, shares my concern about the loss of cash machines and bank branches in Morden town centre, which we share. One of the only remaining free-to-use ATMs is hidden in a Cashino—an arcade. That is extraordinary.
Government Members need not worry: the new Chancellor shares their view. He was pictured in the Alton Herald just last November celebrating the arrival of a new free-to-use cash machine in his constituency. I say to the Minister: do not worry. If these amendments pass, the Chancellor is right behind you.
Given what appears to be an overwhelming consensus on the issue, I hope Members on both sides of the Committee acknowledge that the Bill needs to be amended to ensure not only that there is access to cash but that there is free access to cash. They will be lauded in articles in their local newspapers and posts on Twitter and their social media for passing these amendments.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, who is just awesome. Is awesome a parliamentary word? It should be. On a personal level, let me say how much I enjoy being on the Treasury Committee with such incredible Labour women. It is brilliant—inspiring.
To follow on from a couple of points that my hon. Friend made, I hope the Minister’s response will touch on the baseline geographical distances between free cash points. It frustrates me immensely that in one of the poorest estates in my constituency, the ATM charges £1.50 every time people use it. We would like some details about the geographical distances between the places where people can access free cash.
We should also look at why businesses do not take cash. As my hon. Friend said during the evidence sessions, it is often because there is nowhere for them to deposit it. If we are to make access to cash free, which I completely support, we should also help businesses to take cash. There is no point having free cash if it cannot be used. Bank or other branches should accept cash, and we should look at the geographical distances.
I got a bit frustrated when banks were closing branches in my constituency, because they said, “Well, the other one is only one-point-however-many miles away, so it’s fine.” I said, “It is not easy for people to get to.” There is sometimes an assumption that everyone is able to drive and has the mobility to go around and find a free cash machine, but that is not always possible. Can we look at geographical distances, at businesses accepting cash and at ensuring branches accept cash so that businesses can pay it in? My hon. Friend made a powerful speech on cash access and the principle that people’s access to their own money should be free.
I will speak to clause 47 and the various amendments tabled to it by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden and the hon. Member for Glenrothes, who cannot be here because of a personal commitment. I pay tribute to him and all the work he has done so far. While we sympathise with the principle behind amendments 41 and 42, we believe that the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden would better achieve free cash access. Before I continue, I pay tribute to her for all her work on financial inclusion. She is not stopping her fight for justice, and she talked about this being a societal duty. She also has a ten-minute rule Bill that seeks to persuade the Government to give free internet access to children on free school meals. I pay tribute to her work.
We are delighted that after years of delay, the Government have brought forward some legislation to protect access to cash. The industry, particularly the major banks, should be applauded for coming together to help protect cash services at the end of last year, which put this legislation on a statutory footing. However, the delay in bringing forward the Bill has cut off whole sections of society from our economy, including millions of the most vulnerable, the poorest and older people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden pointed out. It has also damaged smaller businesses that rely on cash.
On top of this, almost 6,000 bank branches have closed since 2015 on this Government’s watch, and the Bill does nothing to protect essential face-to-face banking services, which the most vulnerable in our society depend on for financial advice and support. I know we are discussing new clauses 4 and 5 later, which will protect access to essential in-person banking services, so I will stay focused on cash for now, but I do not feel that we can have this debate without talking about face-to-face banking services, or the lack thereof.
It is inevitable that payment systems will continue to innovate, but a recent report from the RSA that I am sure the Minister is aware of found that 10 million people still depend on cash and that the pandemic, which saw an acceleration in the digitisation of payment systems, has made it increasingly difficult for many of us to pay for the goods and services we need—especially people from a lower socioeconomic background.
The Bill is a welcome step in guaranteeing access to cash, but clause 47 goes nowhere near far enough in ensuring that cash is available for those who depend on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden pointed out how so many people in her constituency—where I was born, I am proud to say—still rely on cash, especially free cash. The Bill makes no commitment to protect free access to cash. That is what we are worried about. That is why we support amendments 16, 17 and 18, as well as new clause 10, which were all tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden. They would provide a guaranteed minimum provision of access to free cash.
Protecting free cash access has never been more important, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Data collected by the Post Office has shown that the use of cash in recent months has increased. As the cost of living crisis deepens, the poorest in society are increasingly turning to cash to manage their budgets on a week-by-week, often day-by-day basis. Data collected by the consumer group Which? found a notable decline in the provision of free-to-use ATMs in recent years.
In July 2022, there were around 12,000 fewer free-to-use ATMs in the UK than there were in August 2018. That is a decrease of nearly 24%. Does the Minister agree that forcing the poorest in society, who are increasingly reliant on cash, to pay for access to cash in the middle of the worst cost of living crisis on record risks further deepening financial exclusion in our country? Is this the kind of society we want to live in?
I am sure the Minister knows of Natalie Ceeney, chair of UK Finance’s Cash Action Group. During the Committee’s evidence session, she made it absolutely clear that the Government have a societal duty to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the UK have free access to cash.
Which? warned that if these clauses do not make it clear that they will protect free cash withdrawals and deposits, the entire objective of this part of the Bill will be undermined. Which? is right to stress the importance of free cash withdrawals and deposits. That is crucial to securing cash acceptance. There is little point in the most vulnerable having access to cash if they have nowhere to spend it. That is why Labour will support new clause 11, which would place a duty on the FCA to collect data on cash acceptance.
During her oral evidence, Natalie Ceeney also warned that we have to ensure that the Bill
“covers small businesses as well as consumers. Small businesses, typically…pay for their cash access.”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee,
Increasingly, small business owners also have to travel long distances to deposit. That is a dangerous disincentive for them to accept cash. Natalie Ceeney also pointed to Sweden, where shops have largely stopped taking cash. If the UK wants to avoid a similar outcome, we must ensure that small businesses can deposit cash easily. That is why we will push new clause 12 to a vote. It would guarantee minimum provision of free cash access services for small businesses.
The Minister is likely to respond that we must wait for the Government’s access to cash policy statement. If he does, will he confirm when that statement will be published? Does he not agree that, if the Government are truly committed to protecting free access to cash services, there is no reason not to make protections for free access explicit in the Bill?
I will speak first to clause 47, before turning to the many amendments and new clauses proposed by hon. Members.
Although the transition towards digital payments brings many opportunities, the Government’s view is that cash remains an essential payment mechanism for many, particularly those in vulnerable groups. I am particularly familiar with the work of Age UK in this respect. Protecting access to cash for those who rely on it is a priority for the Government, and clause 47 delivers on that.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden highlighted not just her own concerns about the issue but, rather thoughtfully, those of all hon. Members, to which I should add mine as well.
I thank my brilliant researcher, Dan Ashcroft, for finding the great comments of all the Conservative Members. It was harder to find anything from the Minister, so it is good to find out what he believes about free access to cash.
As part of the research for this debate, I looked at the prevalence of free-to-use ATMs in the constituencies of members of the Committee. My quite rural constituency is somewhat bereft compared with the embarrassment of riches, surprisingly, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, which has a staggering 120 free-to-use ATMs, reportedly. That puts many of us to shame.
That was the figure supplied to me; I will happily correct the record if that is not the case.
I am astounded that there are 120. I would be grateful if the Minister could show us a map of where they are, because I certainly have not found them. What can I say? We like our cash in Hull.
Until this moment, there has been no substantive legislative framework for access to cash. No regulatory authority has the legislative responsibility or powers to ensure that cash withdrawal and deposit facilities are available for people and businesses to use. We should not underestimate the degree to which the Government are moving on this important issue.
Clause 47 addresses cash access in statute for the first time. It introduces schedule 8, which sets out a legislative framework granting the Financial Conduct Authority responsibility to seek to ensure that there is reasonable provision of cash deposit and withdrawal services across the UK. It also gives the regulator the powers it needs to fulfil that responsibility.
The hon. Member for Wallasey talked about the pioneering work by the Treasury Committee. We should all celebrate this clause; we should celebrate the achievement of this House in significantly moving forward the protection for access to cash. We just need to remember that what we are talking about here is a very small increment—from the statutory protection of access to cash, to the precise terms on which that is agreed. I understand that there may be different views on that, but we should not allow that to detract from the significant advance on access to cash that the Bill represents.
The Treasury will publish a policy statement in due course, and doing that “in due course” is the right thing to do. There will be the right moment to do it—
The hon. Lady is very good at anticipating what I would not say. Perhaps she is going to finish my sentence for me.
Well, we have certainly spent enough time together. “In due course” is very vague, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Can he not give us any sort of timeline? I have not had a straight answer to this question for a few months now—to be fair, I recognise that it was not him in that chair, but his predecessor.
I am a big fan of taking one step at a time, and the step in front of us today is to pass clause 47 and put it on the statute book—to make that very significant advance in the statutory protection of access to cash. I look forward to continuing my tenure and engaging with the hon. Lady, and it seems appropriate for us to bring forward the policy statement very rapidly once Royal Assent has been achieved, taking this important topic step by step.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle nodded vigorously at the obligations on the FCA to collect more data. I think that that is absolutely right. One challenge, as cash potentially diminishes over time, is to ensure that we nevertheless have the right and detailed datasets in order to continue to protect our constituents.
Without wishing to return to a previous debate, one way we could ensure that the FCA collects data is to ensure that it has regard to financial inclusion.
The hon. Lady has made that point powerfully, and I assure her—notwithstanding the disappointment that I seem to continue to cause to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn—that that has lodged very firmly with the Government and is something I would hope we can continue to discuss before Report.
The provisions introduced by clause 47 are vital to support those who continue to use cash. With that, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.
Let me now turn to the amendments. Amendment 40 would change the description of schedule 8 in clause 47 to refer to free-of-charge cash deposit and withdrawal services. Amendments 16 to 18, in the name of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, concern free access to cash. There is a commendable focus on this issue from Members on both sides of the Committee, and we heard the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West about his constituents and their vulnerabilities.
The Government do not believe that it is appropriate for legislation itself to stipulate that access to cash must be free. Let me try to explain why, because I understand the consternation of some hon. Members. This very significant step forward having been taken to protect statutory access to cash, the Government are concerned that taking a blanket approach might have unintended consequences and leave us stuck with legislation that is too prescriptive. In turn, that might stifle innovation by industry to support cash access. For example, ensuring the free provision of cash for certain vulnerable consumers is quite different from ensuring provision for business customers, which could be delivered through different solutions.
The provisions in schedule 8 ensure that legislation provides appropriate flexibility now and in the future. Consistent with a lot of the debate that we have heard about the independence of regulators and the regulatory model being baked into financial services regulation since the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, the Government believe that the FCA is best placed to deliver a sustainable, agile and evidence-based approach to managing cash over time in order to respond to the needs of people and businesses. The FCA has the flexibility and powers to do that.
As part of the FCA’s responsibility, the regulator will be able to have regard to matters it considers appropriate, which can include the cost to end users. The FCA will need to think about withdrawal and deposit, local and national provision, and the needs of vulnerable individuals and businesses, which may present different considerations. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, the FCA will continue to undertake analysis to inform its approach. It is currently developing its regulatory approach to access to cash and will issue a formal consultation, which Members will be interested in and to which they will no doubt respond in due course.
Amendments 41 and 42 would amend the definition of cash access services in schedule 8 to include both free-of-charge and pay-to-use deposit and withdrawal services. However, the current definition in schedule 8 is already wide enough to capture both those services, so the amendments are simply not necessary.
Let me turn to new clauses 10 and 12, which would require the Treasury to make regulations to specify a minimum level of provision for free cash access services for consumers and businesses. Again, we feel that the FCA is best placed to ensure that people have access to cash, and the new clauses risk undermining the FCA’s ability to take account of detailed evidence in considerations and to execute its powers to protect access appropriately through time.
Lastly, new clause 11 is designed to place a legislative duty on the FCA to monitor cash acceptance by retailers and equivalent service providers. Although the Government are sympathetic to the intention, we do not view the new clause as appropriate at this stage. Such a duty would extend well beyond the FCA’s remit of regulating the financial services sector, and it could risk placing a disproportionate regulatory burden on many businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, which may need to provide transaction information to the FCA for the purpose of monitoring cash acceptance. I consider those to be significant issues with new clause 11.
I will conclude on this important area, on which there is a high degree of consensus on both sides of the Committee. The Bill reflects the priority that the Government place on protecting access to cash for those who need it. Let me reiterate that the provisions are a significant step forward and have never been seen before—in the history of money, I would say, but that probably overstates it—under this regulatory framework. However, it is also important that the Bill allows the FCA, with the appropriate flexibility, to monitor and respond to trends in cash usage as they develop through time, which is the approach that we take in so many other areas of financial services regulation. As I said, the Government will publish our policy statement in time for the FCA to conduct its role under the statute. For those reasons, I ask hon. Members not to press amendments 40 to 42 and 16 to 18, and new clauses 10 to 12.
Before I call Martin Docherty-Hughes, I inform the Committee that I will take one vote on amendment 40. There will be no other vote on this group.
Thank you, Mr Sharma.
It was interesting to hear what the Minister and Members on the Government Back Benches had to say—I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden on the litany of exasperation from the Back Benches, which I thought was well played. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for West Bromwich West agree with the vast majority of what I had to say, and I go back to what the Minister said about the statutory protection of cash. If that is the truth, 27% of free ATMs in West Dunbartonshire would not have closed in the past four years.
I am usually minded to push my amendments to a vote. I seek some reassurance from my colleagues on the official Opposition Benches that if I do not push my amendment to a Division, all the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden will be moved. The Clerk may want to give some advice to the Chair on that issue, because I know that if I withdraw my amendment, I can bring it back on Report. I look for some clarification on that issue first.
The advice is that if you withdraw your amendment, I will take one of the three amendments from the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden.
Just to clarify, Chair, will you take 16, 17 or 18, or will you take the whole bunch?
I think I am getting my assurance that one of those amendments will be pressed to a vote by the official Opposition, so in order to make sure that we have a coherent and agreed process, I will not push my amendment to a Division. However, I make it clear to the Government that I have not heard anything today that means that free access to cash will be safeguarded for my constituents, and I will probably bring my amendment back on Report. I look forward to voting with my colleagues in the official Opposition. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.