HBOS Reading: Independent Review

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:03 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy) 5:03 pm, 18th December 2018

Thank you very much for chairing this debate, Sir Christopher, and I thank Kevin Hollinrake for securing it.

As Jim Shannon suggested, this is a debate that we have had a few different times on a few different but related topics. I also thank the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton for his diligence and for continuing to raise these issues. I hope that he continues to do so until we get a suitable resolution, preferably from the Government taking action in relation to this issue.

I will just say a few things from the point of view of the Scottish National party and explain our position on this issue. However, I will start by saying that it is absolutely necessary for the economy that banks lend to small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is absolutely necessary for the economy that SMEs can have a good relationship with banks, but that is never going to happen if banks are not trustworthy and are not proving themselves to be trustworthy. If there are issues such as the one that we are considering, the best thing that banks can do is to be as transparent as possible about past issues, to make it clear that they cannot possibly happen again in the future. And if banks such as HBOS-Lloyds were to do that, it would be less likely that other banks would do similar things in the future and make the same mistakes. So, the transparency issue is important on many levels, not least for gaining the support of the public and SMEs for banking institutions.

The way that the cover-up has happened, and the lack of transparency, has meant that the pain has been elongated for those people who have gone through this process. Instead of the banks holding their hands up and saying, “Yep, we made a number of mistakes; here they are and here is the redress that you deserve”, they are trying, at almost every opportunity, to hide things. I do not think that is a very sensible way forward for the banks.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned some of the people who had come forward and who had to work incredibly hard, in order to have their voices heard and their problems raised. I will just take this opportunity to thank those people, too, for the hard work that they put in to make sure that these issues saw the light of day, albeit not yet in the way that we would have liked them to see the light of day. Nevertheless, those people have worked incredibly hard to bring that about and I thank them for it.

The SNP has been clear that we want to see as much transparency as possible in the internal review documents that have been produced, which means ensuring that they are published so that we can see the full position. I know that there are issues about the positions taken in the internal review, but the more of those documents that are published, the better the access to justice there can be for those people who are campaigning.

I will also highlight the fact that the decisions that were taken around a lack of transparency have meant that the public purse has had to pay a disproportionately high cost in relation to this issue. It has meant that any investigations that have taken place have cost more money than they should, because the evidence that was requested has not been provided to them. That is a pretty damning indictment.

The other major issue that I will highlight is the pressurising of people to settle and to sign non-disclosure agreements, which is an abhorrent practice; it just should not happen. To ensure transparency in the future, it is really important that people are able to talk about what happened to them, so that it cannot happen again to anybody else and so that people are not allowed to get away with committing fraud such as this again.

The SNP has called for several policies that would help in the future on this issue. We have repeatedly called for the reinstatement of the reverse burden of proof; the SNP has been incredibly strong on that. Our manifesto also talked about strengthening whistleblowing legislation for those people working in banking organisations, and I will continue to make the case to the Minister that the existing legislation needs to be strengthened.

Lastly, we have pushed hard for a permanent commercial financial dispute resolution platform, an argument not dissimilar to the cases that have been made today. It is so important that SMEs and those individuals whose lives have been ruined do not have to go through an immoral and financially unviable court process to get the redress they should receive, and the Government can take action on that today.