I am grateful to you, Mr Hollobone, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. It was a pleasure to be here this morning to listen to the important speech made by my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend Ged Killen. I support his continuing efforts to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our communities through his campaigning on this important issue.
My hon. Friend has already outlined many of the concerns. I will not repeat all the arguments, but will focus on a few key areas: charges, closures and the reliance of many people on ATMs as essentially “the last bank in town” on main and high streets in towns and villages in all four nations of the United Kingdom.
Since my election to this place in 2017, a number of issues have been raised with me in my role as the local MP. One is the impact of Tory austerity on the people I represent in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. That impact has been made worse by the fact that many of the ATMs available in our community charge residents to access their own money and by the closure of three RBS branches. Forcing people to pay to withdraw their own money is crazy and, in these tough times, so unfair and unjust. I call on ATM providers to think again about the impact on those who have to survive on low incomes and low wages. Those people have to turn the pennies inside out and the pounds upside down to survive, to keep a roof over their head and to keep their families warm and fed. We all have a duty to speak up for them in the House.
The figures speak for themselves. From January to July 2018, 1,300 free-to-use ATMs disappeared, at the disgraceful rate of about 250 a month. According to analysis by Payments UK and the Bank of England, the number of people who rely almost entirely on cash has risen by more than half a million in the past two years to 3 million. Like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West has raised this issue in Parliament, through his private Member’s Bill introduced under the ten-minute rule, which has my full support. I will continue to work with him and others on the Opposition Benches on these issues.
The issue of ATM closures goes to the heart of the debate this morning. My hon. Friend was very clear in his speech that we cannot sit back and watch the programme of closures. I thank Which? for its research on this issue, which has shown that the number of closures of free-to-use ATMs is highest in rural areas. That stands to reason: ATM providers think that fewer people will complain and make a big deal of it. Well, they cannot get away with that, not on my watch, not on my hon. Friend’s watch and not on the Opposition’s watch. I know that most hon. Members here today will not allow it, either.
All colleagues will know that Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is made up of towns and villages across North Lanarkshire in central Scotland. We have main towns and small villages, and I am proud to represent every one of them and all those who live in them. I am determined to stand up for their right to access their own money, in their own community, free of charge.
This debate speaks to the crisis facing our high streets and main streets. All Members of the House will recognise, as they go about their business in their constituencies, that an increasing number of pubs, businesses, post offices and banks are closing. That is why I am hugely supportive of Labour’s five-point plan to support and save Britain’s high streets, outlined by the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey, at Labour’s recent conference in Liverpool. The five points are, first, to ban ATM charges and stop bank closures and, importantly for me, stop post office closures; secondly, to improve local bus services and provide free bus travel for under-25s; thirdly, to deliver free public wi-fi in town centres; fourthly, to establish a register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority area; and, fifthly, to introduce annual revaluations of business rates, ensure a fair appeals system and review the business rates system to bring it into the 21st century.
For many people in my area, the ATM is indeed the last bank in town. If someone does not have a car to travel to the closest branch of their bank, or if they cannot afford the cost of bus travel, they rely on access to an ATM to be able to pay bills and survive. Members of the House will know that Crown post offices are branches directly managed by Post Office Ltd, which is wholly owned by the Government—or should I say by the people who elected every Member of this House. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the postal workers who campaigned in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Saturday for the national day of action to save our post offices. I was proud to campaign with postal workers in Scotland; I am proud of my brothers and sisters in the Communication Workers Union.
As part of the “modernisation” programme, Post Office Ltd has been involved in the privatisation of Crown post offices. The Post Office closes down the Crown post office and looks for a retailer to take over the counter. We are paying £31 million—it is Government money—to subsidise our post offices. That is not good enough. I am delighted that the next Labour Government will stop the franchising of Crown post offices by introducing a new condition into the Post Office’s funding agreement—that no further Crown post office branches will be closed. That will be an important step forward and is so necessary.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West for his leadership on this issue and for introducing the debate today. I will fully support him as he continues his endeavours.