My hon. Friend is right. My constituency is neither rural nor a city; there are new-build towns that are in between, with surprisingly poor access to broadband in some places. We are asking people to use those services instead of visiting a local branch. That is not always practical—not least for those who are perhaps not as tech-savvy as others.
It is not just a matter of ATMs. The whole infrastructure that supports access to cash will be at risk if we move towards a cashless society too quickly. Without intervention from the Government it will be the elderly, the least well-off, rural communities, struggling high streets and small businesses that will pay the price. We see that happening in other countries that have made the transition too quickly. That is the driving force behind my private Member’s Bill to ban ATM charges and protect access to cash, the Banking (Cash Machine Charges and Financial Inclusion) Bill. In principle I do not believe people should have to pay for access to their own money. Long gone are the days when people’s employers handed them a pay packet at the end of the week, and the banks would not much like it if we all decided to keep our cash under the mattress. We have little choice but to keep our money in banks, and that money generates profit for banks, so we should not be paying to get access to it.
As LINK chips away at the funding formula for ATMs and more and more people use contactless and digital payment methods, there will be far fewer ATMs and more of the ones that are left will charge us for the privilege of withdrawing our cash. I do not want to stand in the way of progress towards a cash-free society, but I do want to shift the burden of that transition away from consumers and on to banks, who after all are the long-term beneficiaries of a cash-free society. We will never reap the rewards of those savings when they come, so let us have them now by requiring the banks to continue providing free access to cash where there is still a demand for it.
I was glad that the Labour party adopted the aims of my private Member’s Bill. For me, and for the Labour Front Bench, the rejuvenation of the high street is not just about helping small businesses; it is a social issue as well. I have noted that there is a growing cross-party consensus on the issue. Huw Merriman—he is not here for the debate, but I have notified him that I shall be mentioning him—has a private Member’s Bill on ATMs, the Minimum Service Obligation (High Street Cashpoints) Bill. I agree with Luke Graham, who is here today and who, with his private Member’s Bill, the Banking and Post Office Services (Rural Areas and Small Communities) Bill, has highlighted the responsibilities that banks have to the consumers who bailed them out during the financial crisis. In addition to what is being done by Members of this House, a range of organisations have raised the same concerns. They include Which?, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Association of Convenience Stores.
I recently met the chair of the independent access to cash review, and I know that the review is considering in detail some of the issues I have touched on in the debate, so I look forward to seeing what comes out of that. However, in the context of bank branch closures up and down the country, and with high streets and rural communities facing ever greater challenges, the Government must take a serious look at the issue now. I hope that the Minister will reflect on what I have said.