[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair] — backbench business — Banking Competition

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:47 pm on 12th July 2012.

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Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury) 4:47 pm, 12th July 2012

Before the Division, I was talking about banking being seen as a respectable job that people vied for and expected would be a lifetime career, if they were lucky enough to get a start in the industry. That is certainly how things were when I was considering my career—not that I ever actually considered a career in banking. I do feel, however, for the decent, honest, hard-working staff of the banks, and that has been echoed by Members from across the House, and particularly by my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) and for Islwyn.

I feel for those decent, hard-working people who have seen their industry and work force castigated and vilified. Bankers now appear to be even less popular than politicians and the media—we would once have found that hard to believe—and that is despite the fact that the individuals, the ordinary workers in the banks, have done nothing wrong. Indeed, as we have heard, many of them probably did query at whatever level they could the hard-sell sales targets that they had to achieve, but because of decisions taken by others, they now face guilt by association and they are the ones on the front line who have to deal with the public.

I also feel sorry for the front-line staff who lost their jobs in the aftermath of the banking crisis. Those people did not walk away with millions of pounds and, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn, if they did get a bonus, it was part of what they had to work to achieve in order to make a decent wage by the end of the month. Those people did not walk away with multi-millions, and indeed, as I know from some of my constituents, many have been unable to secure permanent employment since. That makes it all the more galling when those who made the bad decisions—the wrong decisions—are able to leave with massive pay-offs, and that is also why the public are so angry.

What more should the Government be doing? This debate is about banking competition, and we have heard a little about that. We have also heard, in one of the interesting threads running through the debate, about mutuality and different forms of common ownership of the banking system. Over recent weeks and months I have found it absolutely fascinating to hear about the number of converts to the principles of mutuality and that form of common ownership. That is very welcome. I do not want to sound a discordant note, but that level of support for and understanding of the principles of mutuality would have been helpful a number of years ago, when the media and other commentators were urging people to become customers of particular banks in order to get a windfall on demutualisation. Many of us argued against that, saying that it was short-termism of the worst sort. We said that a day of reckoning would come, and we have now seen that happen.

However, mutuality and co-operation must not be just for a time of crisis or to fill a gap when the private sector has failed or stalled. They offer a successful alternative business model, which should at least have a level playing field. Opposition Members remain disappointed that the Government did not accept the strong case made during the campaign run by the Co-operative party, called “The Feeling’s Mutual”, which focused on the need for remutualisation of Northern Rock. That sent the rather unfortunate message that the Government did not have much faith in the mutual sector in reality, despite the warm words in policy documents and the coalition agreement, which stated that the Government would bring forward detailed proposals to ensure a strong and growing mutual sector. Again, I hesitate to sound a discordant note, but I do not think we have seen evidence of such proposals yet. I recognise, though, that the building societies White Paper, which we had been waiting for, was published this week. I will go through that with interest. I see the Minister nodding. I am sure that he knows, from our time together on various Bill Committees, that we will indeed scrutinise it closely.

Many hon. Members have pressed the Government on a range of issues relating to financial services, including the capping of interest on loans, financial inclusion, financial education and access to finance. We have heard about many such issues today.