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Grand Committee

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2023

Grand Committee

Tuesday 7 March 2023

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, I start with the usual warning: if there is a Division in the Chamber, we will adjourn immediately and resume after 10 minutes.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Committee (7th Day)

Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Debate on Amendment 168 resumed.

Amendment 168 is the lead amendment; the other amendments are grouped with it. People can debate any amendment within the group.

Amendment 168 is the lead amendment; that is absolutely right. I think we had got on to Amendment 199. Is that correct, Minister? Are you happy with that?

I apologise; I am completely confused.

The due diligence system reintroduced for companies under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act is world-leading in its intentions. However, we have to finish the job to end our financing of deforestation. The GRI Taskforce has been unequivocal in its advice that financial actors should conduct deforestation due diligence too for their own sake as well as for everyone else’s. In the meantime, as somebody mentioned last time, Britain’s financial institutions are contributing $16.6 billion to businesses implicated in deforestation.

This is a huge global issue. Experts say that we must end commodity-driven deforestation by 2025 if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. At present, as a result of those investments, climate-critical tropical forests are shrinking. This is absolutely appalling. The UN’s high-level climate champions have begun to refer to deforestation as the new coal in investors’ portfolios. There should be no investment in companies involved in deforestation. It is quite simple.

The amendment responds powerfully to the GRI Taskforce’s advice. It has significant cross-party backing in the House of Commons. The Government are inclined to go for a weaker policy against the advice of their own expert task force on deforestation. I hope that the Minister will do all she can to persuade her colleagues in the other place to support Amendment 199 before Report. Rishi Sunak has promised that the UK

“will be the world’s first net zero financial centre”.

His support for Amendment 199 is an obvious step on the way. I thank the WWF, Greenpeace, Global Witness and Mighty Earth for their excellent joint briefing. I call on all noble Lords to support Amendment 199.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 168 and 201. I refer to my interests as a trustee of defined benefit and master trust pension schemes.

The loss of financial stability can occur quickly. History shows us that risks that crystallised and caused that instability were often insufficiently captured by regulators and that actions to mitigate their impact were not taken in good time. It would be extraordinary for any Government to believe that financial regulators could deliver the objectives of competitiveness and sustainable growth without embedding in that delivery the finance sector’s response to climate risk.

Climate change brings immense risk, but it is not specifically factored into either the regulatory capital risk requirement for banks or the solvency requirements for insurers. We already see the weaknesses: banks and insurers still retain exposure to fossil fuel investments and a significant number of the largest UK banks do not have interim targets to cut funded emissions. I could quote many other statistics to confirm that weakness.

As the Bank of England stated in the executive summary of the Results of the 2021 Climate Biennial Exploratory Scenario, its assessment is that UK banks and insurers still need to do much more to understand and manage their exposure to climate risks. The Bank admits that there is a lack not only of managing that exposure but of understanding it. That makes Amendment 168 important in calling for a PRA review of capital adequacy and solvency capital requirements, having regard to the full implications of climate change physical, transitional and liability risks and for financial stability.

Failing effectively to factor climate risks into regulatory requirements tolerates the failure of firms that make unwise bets on the continuation of “business as usual”. Inevitably, it necessitates government intervention, socialising of losses and consequences for taxpayers. When a similar amendment was sought previously, the Government argued that the CBES work that I have just referred to would assess the implications of climate change risks for investment, stranded assets and financial stability. However, we have heard from speakers in this debate, including my noble friend Lady Worthington, and read from informed commentators worrying concerns with the work, reinforcing the need for the PRA to review its risk assessment approach and modelling. In a Policy Exchange publication, the former chief economist of ING Group put those concerns succinctly when he concluded that

“central bank scenarios have been based on assumptions and models which ignore or downplay crucial elements of climate risk and critical triggers, tipping points and interdependencies between climate, economy, politics, finance and technology”.

As has just been referred to, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, promised that the UK would create the world’s first net-zero financial centre. However, London recently lost its position as Europe’s most valuable stock market to Paris. The London market is more heavily exposed to unpredictable sectors such as mining and oils and we now see the issue of listings emerging as a problem.

Achieving a net-zero financial sector requires regulators having the necessary mandate and accountability. The finance sector’s practices, as a major investor in companies and as an insurance underwriter, have a vital role to play in the transition towards zero carbon. In an area with which I am familiar, the closure of private defined benefit pension schemes has been followed by an accelerating trend for trustees to enter buy-out financial agreements with insurance companies, paying premiums in return for individual annuity policies covering members, with assets and liabilities transferring to insurers.

Buy-in is also occurring, such as the record-breaking £6.5 billion buy-in recently by the RSA pension scheme. That market saw a £30 billion transfer in 2022 of pension liability to insurers. It could exceed £40 billion in 2023. There were many billions that preceded 2022 and the trend means that there will be many more in 2024. Auto-enrolment means that billions of pounds of defined contributions are being invested each year. The market is consolidating into fewer master trusts, some set up by vertically integrated finance companies that also manage the assets in those trusts, and individual pensioners. Tomorrow’s pensioners will be much more dependent on insurer stability. That clearly reinforces the need for the PRA review and for raising the bar on the investment duties of asset managers, as Amendment 201 seeks, by requiring the FCA to publish guidance on the consideration by investment managers of the long-term consequences of decisions, the societal and environmental impact of investments, standards of conduct in governance and transparency of reporting.

The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association reports that it continues to see a common lack of understanding within financial services on the extent to which ESG factors form a core component of investors’ fiduciary duties. The Principles for Responsible Investment Association similarly identified that lack of understanding and recommended further regulator guidance. As a jobbing trustee, for want of a better phrase, there is a part of me that wonders to what extent there is such a lack of understanding, rather than a reluctance to understand, but there is a problem. The investment association found that only 14% of members incorporated ESG across their entire portfolio in 2019, while 44% said that it accounted for less than 25% of their portfolio.

The Government want to see more productive investment by the financial sector. For government to direct how citizens’ private assets are invested would displace fiduciary duties which rest with trustees, providers and asset managers and raise issues of state liability, political expediency trumping best interest and litigation. Amendment 201 could assist regulators, providers and asset managers in considering decisions on productive investment consistent with fiduciary duties and identifying the barriers to aligning these. We can perhaps address some of those barriers on another amendment later in the Bill.

However, the ability of trustees to discharge their ESG and climate risk duties to greatest effect has a clear dependency on how regulators expect asset managers to discharge their duties. We cannot do ours well unless asset managers do theirs well, too. It also depends on central bank scenarios and the regulation of the finance sector’s response to climate risk, because it will influence attitudes and the value of different assets. The whole eco- system needs improvement in both transparency and due diligence. The two amendments that I speak to, on the PRA reviewing its whole approach to modelling, regulating and embedding climate risk, and the contribution that asset managers are required to make to mitigating climate risk, both have merit and are badly needed.

My Lords, I will address the amendments just addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and others, which are intended to discourage investment in fossil fuels. There are two routes to net zero: one is to phase out demand, which is the route that we have adopted in this country. My noble friend Lord Deben, who is not here today, provides guidance and forecasts to the Government on how to phase out that demand to meet net zero by 2050. That is the sensible way of doing it. The alternative is to try to phase out supply. If fossil fuel producers invest in more production capacity for those fuels than is needed for declining demand, they will lose money. They may even be left with oilfields that have not been fully depleted —it could not happen to a nicer bunch of people.

I am really touched that so many green noble Lords and noble Baronesses are determined to protect the oil industry from losing money. That is not their real intent, of course; that is to discourage investment and reduce it as fast as possible, if need be by reducing the supply of fossil fuels faster than we reduce demand for them. If they achieve that, we will have a shortage of fossil fuels. We will have rising prices with those shortages and will have done to ourselves exactly what Putin has done at the moment. Is that what they want?

Noble Lords pretend on the first argument that they want to save the banks and the industry from being left with stranded assets. As I say, it is touching that they should be so concerned about them, but why do they think they are better at forecasting the future demand and supply balance for fossil fuels than the oil companies and others whose business it is, or others in the City whose business it is to try to work out whether it is worth investing? I used to be an energy analyst in the City; it was my job to try to forecast these things. In some years, I was the most highly rated analyst in the City on these matters, presumably because I was making long-term forecasts and no one could tell that they would prove wrong. But the idea that the PRC knows better than people in the City—

I find the noble Lord’s contributions really very valuable. But on supply and demand, for him to label us people who just do not want fossil fuels is so incorrect. We need more energy, but it does not have to come from fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry is supported to an extent.

It has been supported by Governments, through subsidies, through tax breaks, through decommissioning tax reliefs—any number of routes for support exist. So I say to the noble Lord: please do not try to categorise the noble Baronesses who have spoken on this issue as people who do not like fossil fuels. What we do not want is for fossil fuels to be needlessly supported in the future when they are patently no longer able to support themselves.

I agree with the noble Baroness. I do not want to support fossil fuels. If she looked at the tax revenue levied on the production and consumption of fossil fuels, she would see that it is enormous. To describe that as a subsidy or support is very strange. But to the extent that there is anything that is a subsidy, I am with her: let us remove it, but that is not what these amendments do. They simply aim to make it more expensive to invest in fossil fuels. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Castle—whatever it is; bouncy castle—is upset at being described as being against fossil fuels. I would have thought that she would be positively flattered. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is offended at being told that she is trying to discourage the production of fossil fuels; I thought she was. I am simply saying let us stick to the CCC’s recommendations of phasing out demand and we can leave the supply side to look after itself. We should not pretend that we know better than the industry what is likely to prove excessive or insufficient.

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I could say a little about stranded assets; I think we have had this exchange before. If stranded assets transpire—from where I am sitting, I think that is inevitable—what assurance can he give that the cost of those stranded assets will not be socialised?

Clearly, the Government ought to deal with that problem. These amendments do not deal with that problem. If there is a problem, if the noble Baroness thinks that BP or Shell will go bankrupt and be unable to pay for the liabilities it incurred, we should take steps to deal with that situation. I do not think it is likely but if she thinks it is that serious, she should table amendments that would deal with that, but these amendments do not. They simply make it more expensive to invest in things which we are going to continue consuming, according to the Government’s own plans and the CCC’s own projects and recommendations, in considerable quantities until 2050.

I will interject on behalf on the amendment I drafted, as the noble Lord has completely mischaracterised what we are attempting to do here and has narrowed the debate into a very narrow conversation about oil and gas assets. We are talking here about climatic risk across the whole economy. It is not just oil and gas operators; it is anybody who has any money wound up in any of the sectors that will be affected by the physical risk, the risk of transition and the societal risk when we finally realise that science does not negotiate with oil and gas companies, financial regulators or anybody who pretends to be able to predict the future. We have poor modelling, we have terrible risk assessments, and the PRA and the Government need to issue better guidance so that we can understand the risks we are facing. Let us not reduce this to a narrow discussion about oil and gas interests.

I read the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness. Proposed new subsection (1) refers to

“group undertakings engaged in existing fossil fuel exploitation and production … group undertakings carrying out new fossil fuel exploration, exploitation and production”.

If this is not about fossil fuel exploration, that is not very clear from her amendment. I am dealing specifically—

Hang on, I must have the right to reply to the previous intervention before I take the next. I am not dealing with things other than fossil fuels. I am talking just about fossil fuels. It seems to me that the noble Baroness’s amendment is about fossil fuels, in large measure. My arguments have not been responded to because they are fundamentally logical. They are the whole basis of government and CCC policy. But I give way to the noble Baroness now.

The amendment lists certain sectors which are likely to be most affected. It does not in any way say it is limited to those sectors, and I think it is egregious to assume that this is a narrow amendment when it is, in fact, a very broad amendment.

My remarks are narrow. The noble Baroness’s amendment may be broad. Can we agree on that and deal with the aspect of fossil fuel investment?

We ought to allow the industry to invest as long as we are phasing out demand. If it invests too much, it is its problem. If it invests too little, it is our problem.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I support many of the amendments in this group. My Amendment 241A is in this group. I have added my name to Amendments 201 and 237, which require FCA guidance about long-term returns for occupational pension investors. I think that is very important when considering climate change and is very relevant to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lilley. I have also added my name to Amendment 235 as I think it is equally important for institutional investors in the UK to be equipped with some green taxonomy so that we have some standards by which we can measure the impact of climate investment.

As regards the issues raised by my noble friend, particularly, perhaps, in relation to Amendment 168, when I read that amendment it seems to me to be calling for a review. It calls for the FCA to review and perhaps guide pension schemes and insurance companies, which have very long-term liabilities, on assessing the long-term risks of investing in assets such as fossil fuels. There is a widespread opinion suggesting that over the long term, whether that is 20 years or 30 years —those timescales are relevant for Solvency II and the annuity books of insurers, for example—there is a significant danger in relying on the continued thriving of those large energy companies.

It makes sense. We have been taken by surprise too many times in the financial world by supposedly very small long-term risks which materialise in a cliff-edge event that people had not been prepared for. Whether or not the review concludes that there should be any change, it is appropriate that this review should be carried out, so I support the amendment, but I understand the points made by my noble friend. Perhaps, on a shorter-term timescale, given the need for fossil fuels and the work that is being done by those large companies to try to transition to more green energy, that is an issue that needs to be carefully weighed up by any investor who is considering the potential returns from their investment.

In the interests of time, I will now speak to my Amendment 241A. I hope that my noble friend will be interested in this amendment and, indeed, that other Members of the Committee might consider that there is merit in this proposal. It is a relatively modest reform. It would be deregulatory. It supports the transition to net zero and nature preservation and it would encourage innovation. I hope it would garner more of our domestic institutional asset base to be used for the kinds of investments that all of us who are concerned about the long-term impact of human activity on the climate and nature would want to see happen.

I thank the Public Bill Office and Susannah Street, as well as Peers for the Planet, for their assistance in trying to ensure that the amendment is in scope of the Bill, which was quite a feat. It is a probing amendment; I am not wedded to the wording, but the principle of the proposal would make it easier for funded occupational pension schemes to join together to establish fund managers under a lighter-touch regime that already exists in order to invest in and support climate and nature protection. We all know that there is a growing need to find the funding to rebuild, repurpose or have new infrastructure for low-carbon and nature-friendly projects. Indeed, nature’s impact on and interaction with climate change and net zero is increasingly recognised. These issues feature in the other amendments I have attached my name to, so I hope that the scientific and political consensus that we need urgent action might help my noble friend and the Committee recognise that this could be a win-win for pension funds to get better long-term returns, for pensions to be perhaps better than they otherwise might be, and for the economy.

Much of the investment needed to reach net zero will be in very large long-term projects. It is not always easy to find the money. Normally, perhaps, with a Government who were in a much stronger fiscal position than most western Governments now are, we might look to the majority of this being funded by government, but that is less likely at the moment. Yet we have in this country this enormous pool of long-term assets that is currently being encouraged to invest in assets with a much lower expected return or so-called safe assets—gilts and corporate bonds, for example—shunning long-term growth with equities and projects such as the one I have in mind for this type of approach. Only 100 schemes or so have more than £5 billion worth of assets. Even with the kind of forecast consolidation, it is unlikely that we will have very many of the £5 billion-type scale that is normally suggested to be required to put forward a prudent, risk-diversified portfolio of such infrastructure and other protective investments.

My amendment would facilitate asset pooling for the smaller pension funds as well, so they can all join together in FCA-authorised investment managers specifically for pools of pension assets to benefit from and contribute to the benefits for green growth and sustainable long-term returns for the specific purposes set out in proposed new subsection (3) of my amendment. The Local Government Pension Scheme is already starting to do this, but private schemes would have to use commercial fund managers, which often either deters such investing or incurs much higher costs, whereas big schemes such as USS and NEST are already looking to invest or have the expertise to do so, but they are not joined with the smaller schemes.

I hope that the currently existing lighter-touch regime that the FCA offers in its occupational pension scheme firm rules, which currently apply only to fund management firms that are wholly owned by one pension fund, could be applied to a combination of pension funds that are investing for their own purposes in the various schemes that belong to it. It is not commercially available or available to other members of the public, but it is for long-term pension investing.

I would be grateful if my noble friend considered this modest reform, or, if she feels that there is some flaw in the wording of the amendment that could be changed and still facilitate this, I would be happy if she, or indeed any other noble Lords, wanted to meet to discuss it. As I said, it is deregulatory, it supports the aims of net zero and nature preservation, it would encourage innovation and it should provide better diversification and therefore long-term risk reduction for a number of occupational pension schemes which otherwise could not take advantage of it.

My Lords, I support the objectives behind all these amendments. I was going to direct my remarks specifically to Amendment 237, but I want to make a narrow but important point of qualification. I support the principle, but I cannot stop myself responding to the discussion we had earlier, led by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, about fossil fuels. The important point about fossil fuels is that there are massive externalities—external costs—which are not caught in the market, and, unless we do something now, our children, and their children, will pay the price. It is not just a question of moving the market now; we need to stop using this stuff, which is poisoning the planet.

I was not disputing that; I was saying that we accept that we have to find the route to net zero, but the question is: should we phase out demand for fossil fuels, as the noble Lord’s last sentence indicated, or should we phase out supply? Which does he prefer?

Both. I am not really being given that choice but, as I said, it was just a narrow point.

My question on Amendment 237 is: would you take investment advice or guidance from the Secretary of State? Is the Secretary of State even authorised to provide investment guidance or advice? I am troubled by the involvement of the Secretary of State, and I hope that we could perhaps consider a different wording if we wish to raise this on Report. If the Government want something to happen—net zero—as a matter of public policy, they have to accept the risk themselves and not pass it on to private individuals. I am talking about pension schemes, and the underlying point is that the money in a person’s pension scheme is their money, provided to them to be used in accordance with their wishes to provide them with a retirement income. Part of that retirement income depends on solving climate change—that is clear. I do not doubt the importance of taking these issues into account; I simply question the relevance and role of the Secretary of State in that process.

Over many years’ involvement with pension funds, I have seen that, when people see the massive amount of money involved, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, they see that the economic power is there, but it is there on behalf of the members’ interests and not, in principle, as a means of implementing government policies—however worthy. They might be in alignment, but the leading factor should be the members’ interests.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton. Since the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, appeared to be directing a question at me about whether I oppose fossil fuels, I will take a moment to answer that. Do I think that pulling up carbon which has been stored in the ground over hundreds of millions of years, which was a crucial part of delivering the Holocene that gave us 10,000 years of incredibly stable climate in historic terms, and then pumping it into the atmosphere needs to be stopped with great speed? Yes, I oppose pumping out that stored carbon.

More than that, the fact is that extracting, transporting, burning and getting rid of the waste products from that fossil fuel causes huge damage to the health of people on this planet. One in five premature deaths that occur on this planet is as a result of burning fossil fuels—that is based on a study in Environmental Health in 2021. So do I want to do something urgently to make this a healthier planet for people? Yes, I do. However, that is not what any of these amendments are about. These amendments are to the Financial Services and Markets Bill, and all of them are about trying to stop the crashing of the financial markets, which are also crucial to our security and health in different kinds of ways. That is what all these amendments address.

It is really interesting that we have here a set of amendments which we might, collectively, for the purposes of Committee look at how we can hone and shape—I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. But what we have in Amendment 168 are directions to the PRA to review capital adequacy requirements. That is about the security of firms. In Amendment 201, we have directions to the FCA to direct personal pension providers. Picking up on that point, I note the figures from the Pensions Regulator’s most recent survey of defined contribution schemes, which found that more than 80% did not allocate any time or resources to managing climate risk.

Then in Amendment 233, we have sustainable disclosure requirements, so that companies would report to investors what risks they are taking with their money by not dealing with all the sustainability risks which relate to the fact that we are exceeding planetary boundaries—not just on climate but on biodiversity, the loss of ecosystems and novel entities, and on phosphate geochemical flows. All these things are taking risks with people’s money, which is what we are talking about. Amendment 233 might indeed guide us in the direction of each major company having to have a chief environmental officer, who should be of equal status and importance to a chief financial officer because it is about ensuring the sustainability of the company, as well as the sustainability of this earth. Going on to Amendment 235, we are directing the Treasury to provide government guidance on how we achieve all of this.

That is an overview but I want to pick up one specific point. I would have signed Amendment 119, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and others in a full cross-party group, had there been space. When people think about forest risk commodities, they often start by thinking, naturally enough, about timber but, if we look at some statistics, palm, beef and soya production collectively amount to 36% of global deforestation. When Orbitas, an investment body, surveyed 24 capital providers in 2020, all of which had high levels of tropical commodity exposure, not one had screened their loan books and/or investments for agricultural transition risks. I want to major on that point while we debate this today, because if we look at Indonesia, 76% of unplanted forest concessions and 15% of existing palm oil assets could be at risk—that is, financial risk—should Indonesia adopt what is seen as its essential plans to meet its Paris climate commitments.

I said that we need to look at all aspects of planetary boundaries being exceeded. We also must include water risk. Fresh water supplies rely heavy on fossil water aquifers—in the American high plains, in Mexico, in eastern Europe, in Egypt, in Arabia, Iran and China. All agricultural production of food—the big sectors globally and financially—is utterly dependent on fresh water supplies, which are not being replenished. That is a huge financial risk as well as a risk to when any of us can eat in the future, at a basic level.

Finally, I focus on Amendment 168, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington, Lady Drake and Lady Sheehan. I would like to work with them ahead of Report because, as others have highlighted, this focuses particularly, though not exclusively, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, on fossil fuel exploration, exploitation and production. We must broaden this out to look at the agricultural sector, because it is an area of enormous financial risk. I draw on the work of the investment group FAIRR, which looks at the extremely high financial risks. The majority of the largest protein producer companies are at high risk for greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water and waste. Over 60% of them saw soya feed from areas at high risk of deforestation and have still not set deforestation targets. Fewer than one in five meat, egg and dairy firms is adequately managing the pollution of waterways from manure. Just ask the people of Herefordshire about that if you want to know more.

FAIRR finds that the volume of waste produced by the 70 billion animals processed each year is equivalent to the volume of waste produced by twice the entire human population on this planet. Only 18% of global meat and dairy producers track even partial methane emissions, even though annual methane emissions from global capital and livestock make up 44% of anthropogenic methane emissions.

We are talking about the future of our life on this planet. We are talking about a liveable planet. That is inescapable. However, today we are talking about ensuring that we do not see the next financial crash. Let us remember the last financial crash, when the cash machines were within hours of stopping working. We must do something to stop the next financial crash from being at the point where the size of the carbon bubble, the level of stranded assets across a range of sectors—fossil fuels, animal agriculture and other areas—is such that it suddenly hits the markets. The markets are not counting this now. They must count this in if we are to have a sustainable financial sector.

My Lords, I will not repeat what my noble friend Lord Lilley said earlier, other than to say, speaking for myself and, I suspect, for my colleagues, that we do believe in net zero. That is a target. It is not an immediate diktat, but it is a target that I guess almost everybody in Parliament has accepted.

My noble friend is right that key in the judgment of those of us who have worked in the commercial sector, as I did before I came to Parliament nearly 50 years ago, is that we live in a free society. The answer to this problem is to phase out demand. It is easier to phase out demand than to phase out supply. If they both have the same effect in the end, you might as well take the easier and cheaper route, which does not involve subsidy to remove activity. We live in a free society and unless it is absolutely vital, it should be based not on government diktat, but on competition.

I will also comment on Amendment 199 on forestry. I had better declare an interest; it is hardly a forest, but there are 40 acres of woodland adjacent to my property. It is a wonderful hobby for me to have become someone who now understands woodland, at least; I could not claim that it is a forest.

I have travelled a great deal in south and south-east Asia. I have seen what might be classified as deforestation for palm oil in parts of south-east Asia, but I have also seen palm oil being treated absolutely correctly in parts of south-east Asia. There is a life for any timber, which is fine if you replant afterwards. I just think there needs to be some sensitivity towards that situation. To my mind, this amendment is a hammer beyond belief; it goes too far.

On Amendment 201, I declare an interest as a trustee of the parliamentary pension fund. I am privileged to have sat on that body for some years now. Those who served in the other place will be members of it. We have just issued our annual report and, if I had thought of it sooner, I would have brought a copy for every noble Lord here. Since we are meeting tomorrow, I will ensure that the clerk sends everybody a copy, so that your Lordships can have a look at this interim stage, as we begin to take actions to meet some of the requirements that are listed here. Never forget that the primary purpose of that organisation is to provide a decent pension for the individuals concerned. We are not there to be pioneers who take a less than adequate return in the interests of total policy. We follow; we do our best and I think we are doing reasonably well, but others must make that judgment.

I totally support Amendment 232. I do not understand why National Savings & Investments has not yet produced something green for the ordinary person to invest in. I have grandchildren. I promise this Committee: the minute something comes out, I shall be investing in it for my seven grandchildren—I think it is that many. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will take that as a positive comment.

Finally, on Amendment 241A, I recognise that my noble friend Lady Altmann—I do not wish to embarrass her—is the most knowledgeable person in this House on the pensions industry. She is a great pioneer: some of the ideas that she has come up with have been very successful; others, frankly, were flyers that did not take off. I take this amendment seriously. I do not think it is constructed in the right way at the moment, but there is merit in it and it is well worth further work.

My Lords, this is a cross-party group on the environment. It has no amendments led by Labour, but I have signed Amendment 199 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on outlawing someone carrying out a regulated commercial activity that directly or indirectly supports deforestation risk commodities, unless relevant local laws are complied with.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and thank Global Witness for its support on this amendment. My party is committed to securing the highest sustained growth in the G7. That means modernising our economy and financial regulation. We cannot deforest our way to sustainable growth nor a robust financial system.

Leaders across the City of London, along with BNP Paribas, Legal & General, Unilever and Tesco, are supportive of the measure proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Sir Ian Cheshire, former chair of Barclays and head of the Global Resource Initiative task force, has written to the Minister to remind the Government that the task force concluded its work in May 2022 by reiterating the need for new legislation to provide due diligence obligations for financial institutions equivalent to those that will be in place on supply chain companies under the Environment Act 2021. The Minister has previously argued that enhanced risk reporting eliminates the need for this amendment but the GRI task force has already rejected that argument. Sir Ian’s letter put this issue to bed when he wrote that risk reporting mechanisms, such as the task force on nature-related financial disclosure and voluntary net-zero pledges, are insufficient to prevent deforestation financing.

This expert backing and the desire of the British public to eliminate the scourge of deforestation are key reasons why this amendment has such considerable cross-party support. It would allow us to be global rule-makers, not rule-takers, when it comes to our financial system; I urge the Minister to take it seriously. Beyond Amendment 199, this group contains a lot of common-sense amendments that highlight the expertise of this Committee.

My Lords, I welcome this chance to continue this Committee’s important debate on amendments concerning green finance. As I stated in a previous Committee session, the Government are committed to fostering sustainable finance in the UK and will shortly publish an updated green finance strategy to that effect.

I will speak first to Amendment 168 from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. It is of course correct that all models have their limitations in depicting the real world but the Bank of England’s models have considered the views of experts in the field; they therefore do not need to be directed to do so. The scenarios used in the climate biennial exploratory scenario, or CBES, were formed by the Network for Greening the Financial System, an international network of central banks in which the Bank of England plays a prominent role. The scenarios have been produced in partnership with leading climate scientists, leveraging climate-economy models that have been widely used to inform policymakers—not to mention being used by and continuing to be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These scenarios are updated continually by the Network for Greening the Financial System, which also ran a public survey welcoming feedback on its most recent iteration of climate scenarios.

It is also not the case that CBES is the PRA’s only tool to manage climate risk. It is actively using its position as a supervisor to ensure that firms are not materially undercapitalised for climate risks, setting out its expectations in its supervisory statement published in 2019. Furthermore, the PRA is an active member of two of the leading international standard setters: the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors. The Bank is actively participating in both forums to ensure that the regulatory frameworks for the banking and insurance sectors address potential gaps in the management of climate-related financial risks. This work will flow through to our domestic framework and at the same time ensure international co-operation on what is fundamentally a global issue.

I now turn to Amendment 199 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which is supported by other noble Lords in this Committee. The Government agree that the financing of illegal deforestation is a serious global issue that must be tackled. However, this amendment would involve implementing a new and untested regulation that would impose a broad supply chain rule on all regulated financial services firms. It would currently be very difficult, time-consuming and expensive for UK financial services firms to ascertain whether firms or products that they invest in are exposed to forest risk commodities in compliance with local laws.

In introducing this amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred to the provisions in the Environment Act 2021. These provisions will apply to the supply chains of large UK corporates. However, UK-based banks and fund managers engage in lending and investment activities with companies in jurisdictions across the globe, not just commercial activity in the UK. There are currently no consistent, equivalent disclosure requirements to those that will be set out under the Environment Act 2021 in jurisdictions across the globe. Given that, capturing the activity of all of their customers and supply chains would not be as simple as adding an extra stage of disclosure to the regime set out in the Environment Act 2021, as had been suggested. However, I assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to addressing this issue and will work with the financial services sector and those with expertise in tackling deforestation to consider how we can make further progress.

Before the Minister moves on to another amendment, I put a question to her on Amendment 199 on deforestation. I hope she is coming to answer it.

The question was about the regulations under Section 17 of the Environment Act 2021 that are supposed to be forthcoming. I asked the Minister when she thought they might be ready.

I will have to get back to the Committee on that point. I had picked up the noble Baroness’s other point, which was also referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on the letter from Sir Ian Cheshire on this issue. I looked closely at his report and the recommendations in it. I am happy to place a copy of that letter and my response to it in the Library so that all noble Lords have access to them.

I was going to add something about the importance, in seeking to address this issue, of co-ordinating action internationally. This is necessary to reduce the financing of illegal deforestation and not simply drive it into other jurisdictions.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referenced the work by Sir Ian Cheshire’s task force and its references to the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, the TNFD. The Government accept that that will not solve this problem on its own but it is important to recognise it as an important building block in creating an international solution. As I have pointed out, other jurisdictions do not have disclosure regimes. The TNFD is an attempt to create a global standard on nature-related disclosures that could be an ingredient in making progress in this area. The UK is the largest financial backer of the TNFD. We support its work to develop a global framework for reporting on nature-related impacts, dependencies and risks, within which deforestation is being considered. Once the task force launches its final recommendations in September 2023, the Government will consider bringing these standards into the UK disclosure framework.

Finally, on deforestation, in response to Sir Ian and the noble Lords who raised it today, as I set out, we are looking at what we can do further in this area. If noble Lords would like to meet to take those discussions forward, I would be very happy to do that.

Before the Minister moves on, could I reiterate the strength of feeling across the Committee on deforestation? It is not just about the 12% of global carbon dioxide that is released by burning and cutting down forests; it is also about the destruction of the carbon sink. It is a double whammy. This is an issue that we can and must solve. We have a report by the Government’s own appointed head of the GRI, Sir Ian Cheshire, who clearly lays out how we move forward on this. I wonder why the Government will not accept the findings of their own reports.

I say to the noble Baroness that I absolutely agree. I appreciate the point that the issues concerning deforestation are about not just nature and biodiversity but our ability to tackle climate change. That is why we are such strong supporters of the TNFD’s work, for example. She mentioned Sir Ian Cheshire’s report. I said to the Committee that I have read that report and looked at it very carefully. I do not think that we are in disagreement in wanting to find solutions to this problem. Sir Ian’s report also sets out that work needs to be done to ensure that the solutions that we identify are effective. For example, he refers to ongoing work in other jurisdictions such as the EU and the US on disclosures that would be building blocks towards making the progress that we all want to make. The Government do want to make further progress on this issue and I understand the strength of feeling, so I commit to this Committee to take those discussions further and see where we can build consensus on it.

I thank the Minister. On behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, I accept the meeting. I know that he cannot be with us today, sadly. The final point that I leave with the Minister is that Sir Ian Cheshire was very clear in his letter about why he thought the UK should be acting. It is because, as a financial sector, we really matter. We may have 1% of the global emissions footprint but, in terms of the deforestation footprint and the money that passes through London, it is substantial.

The Government understand and agree with those points. That is why we are also seeking to find a way forward on this work and have driven considerable work at a global level to try to tackle deforestation. I hope noble Lords can take some heart from our commitment on that.

On Amendment 232, also from the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, my noble friend Lord Naseby will be pleased to hear that NS&I’s retail green savings bonds, which I think have been available for a couple of years, are integral to the continued successful delivery of our green finance programme. We clearly have more work to do in promoting them, so the NS&I will continue to promote them and encourage retail investors to help finance the fight against climate change and other environmental challenges.

The Government committed to publishing a biennial impact report by September 2023, which will detail the environmental impacts and social co-benefits of the green financing programme’s spending. This will include available reporting on greenhouse gas emission reductions of projects financed by the green savings bonds and green gilts. The upcoming impact report will complement the programme’s first allocation report, published in September 2022. These annual allocation reports detail how funds raised from sales of green gilts and green savings bonds contribute to different green priorities such as clean transport and renewable energy.

Amendment 232 proposes publishing an assessment of the scope for future green financing. Decisions on future green financing ambitions are based on eligible green spending commitments and will be taken each financial year as part of wider decisions for the Treasury’s budget. Financing decisions are also influenced by gilt and retail savings market conditions and consultations with investors. Reporting on the future scope of green financing in advance, rather than at the beginning of each financial year, could create the risk that future spending requirements and conditions in the gilt and retail savings market are disregarded. That would make the successful delivery of the green financing programme more challenging.

I turn to Amendments 233, 235 and 236 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Hayman, which concern sustainability disclosure requirements, green taxonomy and transition plans. Sustainability disclosure requirements—SDR—are designed to provide an effective and co-ordinated reporting framework for sustainability information. This is already being taken forward at pace. The FCA recently consulted on new sustainability-related disclosure requirements for all regulated firms and more detailed rules for asset managers and asset owners.

The Government’s 2021 road map made it clear that disclosure of transition plans will be a part of SDR. The Government launched the independent Transition Plan Taskforce in April 2022 to develop a gold standard for transition plans. The task force has since made huge progress, having just consulted on its recommendations, framework and guidance, with the final framework and guidance to be published later this year, alongside additional sectoral guidance.

The FCA has already implemented the guidance from the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures for transition plans for asset managers and asset owners, on a “comply or explain” basis. It is continuing to work closely with the Transition Plan Taskforce to develop and implement its recommendations.

As I reaffirmed to noble Lords in a previous debate, the Government are committed to implementing a green taxonomy as part of their sustainable finance agenda and, as I set out in my Written Ministerial Statement to the House on 14 December 2022, the Government will provide an update as part of the green finance strategy. We are clear that the value of a taxonomy rests on its credibility as a practical and useful tool for investors, companies, consumers and regulators in supporting access to sustainable finance.

Noble Lords have only to look at the implementation challenges the EU is facing, including on data availability and reporting, coherence with regulatory frameworks, and international interoperability, to see that this is a complex exercise. We have been clear in the UK that, with the support of our Green Technical Advisory Group and with public consultation, we will take the time to get the taxonomy right to ensure that it is usable and effective.

On Amendments 201 and 237, the Government and regulators are taking steps to improve the UK’s regulatory framework to support more effective stewardship. We have already discussed in Committee the Financial Reporting Council’s world-leading Stewardship Code 2020. This asks trustees and managers to disclose how they have considered environmental and social factors, including climate change, in their investments. The Department for Work and Pensions’ recent stewardship guidance for pension scheme trustees came into effect last October.

In addition to these existing initiatives, the DWP, along with the FCA, the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Reporting Council, has already committed to a review later this year of the regulatory framework for effective investment stewardship, to ensure that it is consistent across market participants and financial products. I recognise that this is a complex issue and recognise the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, about the specific framing of the amendments. This is an issue that would warrant further discussion before Report.

On Amendment 241A, tabled by my noble friend Lady Altmann, UK pensions have been at the forefront of tackling climate risk and will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role. The Government are working hard to drive consolidation among pension schemes so that they deliver increased scale, better value for money and improved access to investments such as green infrastructure. As part of this drive, the DWP recently published a consultation on a value for money framework for defined contribution pension schemes. Furthermore, the pooling of Local Government Pension Scheme assets, from the 86 funds into eight asset pools, has already led to £380 million in net savings to March 2022; these are projected to exceed £1 billion by March 2025.

We are also working hard to lower the barriers for individual pension schemes to invest in green. The DWP is reforming the treatment of performance-based management fees to enable individual pension schemes to invest more easily in assets such as green infrastructure.

Finally, when it comes to the noble Baroness’s amendment, we are aligned in wanting to see more of this pool of capital able to be directed in the way we have discussed in this Committee. It is important that we lower barriers to such projects and solutions. We do not see the benefit in creating a distinct, lighter-touch regulatory regime to support pooled investments in green projects. There may be risks in reducing regulatory oversight in this way.

The UK’s world-leading regulatory standards are important in providing market participants with the confidence to invest and we should be cautious about changes that could undermine that confidence. I say to my noble friend Lady Altmann and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Drake, that we want to think about how we can make progress in this area. While the specific amendments suggested might not be the right way, we should continue to put our thinking caps on when it comes to how we can guide progress in this area.

With that, I hope that, for now, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, is able to withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords will not press their amendments when they are reached.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s reply to this varied group of amendments covering a range of issues that fundamentally speak to the need for the financial sector to take a more serious look at how it can help prevent the exacerbation of environmental challenges, including climate change, and invest in solutions at scale.

I was encouraged to hear that the Government are about to produce their green finance strategy. I wonder whether it might have been a good idea to have done that before the Bill, as then we might have had—

We produced our green finance strategy in 2019 and we provided a green financing road map in 2021. I very much hope that before we reach the end of the Bill noble Lords will have sight of the refreshed green finance strategy.

That is great, but my point still stands. It would have been good to have had the refresh before the legislation so that we could have incorporated any findings into the Bill.

On my amendment on the assessment of risk in relation to capital requirements, it is not the case that everything is fine in the world of climate modelling. It really is not. If you spend time with climate scientists who are empirical scientists out in the field witnessing the impact of climate on the natural world, they will tell you that the models are not in line with what they are witnessing. That tells you that we have not got a handle on the speed and pace of change in the physical world thanks to decades of unmitigated emissions of greenhouse gases and the never-ceasing increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Naseby, may well say that it is fine and that we are just going to look at demand. We have been doing that for about 30 years. It has not made a jot of difference. The reason for that is that we have an economic system based on an incumbent power that is very adept at keeping demand for its product healthy and at finding new sources of demand for its product, so we absolutely need to cut with both sides of the scissors. We need constraints on demand and constraints on supply; otherwise, we will carry on with this merry dance and the emissions in the atmosphere, which are what matters, will continue to rise.

I believe that the finance sector is not the place to solve this. We need political will across all member states to pass the legislation necessary to drive capital into solutions and to stave off the continued licensing of extraction. That will take time, but it needs to be done.

In the meantime, if we walk into believing that the finance sector has got this—“Don’t worry; the models are all fine”—we will be making a grave error. These models are not sufficient; they do not take a whole host of measures into account. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, is not here, but he is an expert in these matters and he will tell you how flawed these models are. How can they be sufficient when many of them conclude that a global increase of around 3 degrees will take roughly 5%, 10% or 15% from GDP? That is ludicrous. Do not forget that an average global increase of 3 degrees means warming at the poles at three times that rate and hugely different regional impacts. That is not a safe place to be.

If our financial system goes about its business believing that we have got this—it is all fine, as the models tell us it is okay—it is grievously wrong. That means that all our pensions, investments and economies rest on a false sense of security and certainty. That is why it is important that we keep pressing our regulators and financial sector to look again at whether these models are sufficient, and that we talk to empirical scientists.

There was a conference of the World Meteorological Organization this week, where it was announced that a new global monitoring system would be built to help us get a handle on what the biosphere is actually doing. A huge amount of new science needs to be done before we can, in any way, be complacent that we have this risk under control.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I would like to learn more about how we keep the assessment of risk under close scrutiny and whether she could share with me the list of experts who have been asked to give their opinion on this, so we can look at whether it is sufficiently broad to give us a full picture of what is happening.

I turn to the other amendments, which noble Lords have spoken to far more eloquently than I can. I am grateful to the Minister for her response and know that individual noble Lords will pick up on different aspects of it. It is absolutely clear that a sequence of events needs to happen to have clarity over where capital markets should be moving in relation to solutions. We need fiduciary duty to be clarified. We need taxonomies and transition plans. I am encouraged that the Government are increasingly focused on this, but is the Minister confident that they have all the powers that they need? If she is not, why not use the Bill to take the powers that would enable the Government to take the actions that they know they will need to?

Many of these amendments are concerned that the powers that need to be taken are not there. I encourage the Minister to reflect on this and maybe to give noble Lords her further thoughts as we approach Report. With those comments, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 168 withdrawn.

Amendments 169 to 175 not moved.

Clause 51 agreed.

Schedule 8: Cash access services

Amendment 176

Moved by

176: Schedule 8, page 162, line 7, at end insert—

“(1A) When exercising its functions under this Part, the FCA may issue a direction to a designated person, for the purpose of establishing a banking hub.(1B) A designated person must comply with a direction under subsection (1A).(1C) A “banking hub” is a facility which—(a) provides cash access and other basic banking services,(b) is facilitated jointly by multiple providers of such services,(c) contains private consultation spaces for users of cash access services, and(d) is established for the purpose of ensuring reasonable provision of cash access services where there would otherwise be a local deficiency of such provision.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require designated persons to comply with direction given by the FCA for the purposes of establishing banking hubs.

My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate and we now come to a very important group of amendments regarding access to cash and other physical banking services. Noble Lords may recall that this issue attracted a lot of interest at Second Reading and, in my view, is fundamental to financial inclusion. I remind noble Lords of my interests in the register.

I am speaking to Amendments 176 to 178 in my name. I also put my name to Amendments 180 to 184 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I very much look forward to hearing him speak. In addition, I am sympathetic to nearly all the other amendments in this group, which have similar aims.

My amendments are interconnected and cover face-to-face services, which the Bill does not specifically cover. Amendment 176 would require designated parties to comply with a direction given by the FCA to establish banking hubs. In short, my amendment provides, first, a high-level definition of a banking hub and, secondly, a power for the FCA to require one to be established. Without these, there is a real risk of inadequate face-to-face services being provided under the label of “banking hub”, which is not yet defined, or of no services being provided at all, despite all the warm words and promises.

I have long been a supporter of community banking hubs, as high street bank branches are disappearing at an alarming rate. To put this in context, there are currently some 5,000 branches in the country. By comparison, there were some 20,000 branches 30 years ago. Indeed, since the Bill entered Parliament on 20 July 2022, there have been 390 bank branch closures. Some estimates suggest that as many as 4,000 of the branches which still exist could close in the coming years, leaving an unrecognisable banking landscape about which customers have had no choice and no voice. It has just disintegrated before their very eyes.

Looking ahead, there could be as many as 2,000 shared banking facilities, generally referred to as community banking hubs. The importance and benefits of banking hubs, based on a full-service model—which my amendment sets out—include, first, allowing people who need or wish to speak to someone or to access physical banking services to do so. This may include people who need help and advice on complicated matters, such as loans and mortgages, or on issues such as powers of attorney, probate and third-party signature, when a family member becomes incapacitated or passes away. At moments of great emotional stress—I speak from personal experience here—people need a real human being to talk to and to navigate them through unfamiliar territory. They do not want to do this over the phone, online or in a distant town.

Secondly, for many people banking hubs could be a lifeline. We know that 5 million people still rely on cash, particularly to budget week to week. There is also a big overlap between those 5 million and the millions who are digitally excluded, deprived or otherwise vulnerable. We should not restrict the ambition of the Bill just to withdrawing cash.

Thirdly, and equally importantly, many shops are suffering. It is a challenging time on the high street. Banking hubs have been shown to improve footfall and make it easier for businesses to bank locally. Early evidence suggests that they have been welcomed in the locations where they have been installed and piloted. There is also early evidence of regeneration of the high street and of the service to individual customers. For example, the Financial Times reported that in Rochford, a local hairdresser can now stay open longer because it can bank its cash in its own town rather than having to travel. Also, Cambuslang has reported increased footfall at both the banking hub and the post office. Looking to the future, as we must, we should be using a national network of shared banking hubs to work with communities to help all our citizens to prepare to use digital services.

While there is clear potential for a major new national network of banking hubs, progress to date has been, I am sorry to say, glacially slow. We currently have a grand total of four, despite LINK, the UK’s largest cash machine network, having recommended 38 locations to receive a banking hub. There are two problems standing in the way, which this amendment addresses.

First, at present the legislation has nothing in it saying what a banking hub is. My amendment provides a broad definition that includes access, which is very important, but goes wider. Why is this important? Well, what I am calling a full-service banking hub would have a dedicated banker from your bank to offer support and advice as well as the full range of basic transactional services. There have been instances where banks have said that they are providing a banking hub when, in effect, it is a chair at the back of a church hall.

One of the big four high street banks, whose blushes I will spare—though I do not know why—set up a pop-up community service after the branch had closed. In reality, the service was advertised by a chalkboard and some flyers. It was a member of staff with a desk, a laptop and nothing else, in a small room at the back of a community centre. The banking rep could not do anything with cash, there were no cheque or printing services, and the rep could help only with very basic queries, not with actual transactions. In my book, that simply is not a banking hub.

We are told that we can expect a policy statement from the Treasury, which Amendment 181 calls for, among other things, but what guarantees do we have that it will actually provide the services that communities need? Could I ask the Minister when that policy statement will be published, what it will cover and whether we will have an opportunity to scrutinise it before the legislation reaches the statute book? I have given her notice of that question.

Secondly, given the very slow progress to date on the rollout of banking hubs, it is important for the FCA to be able to require delivery from the designated body. Delivery is a problem; as I said, of the 38 banking hubs recommended, we have only four so far. Yes, the chain of those involved in delivery is complex, with many suppliers and banks involved, as well as the Post Office, but the FCA needs to set out a clear target for rollout from the designated co-ordinating body, because without this requirement there will be endless arguments about who is responsible for what will happen, time will drag on and many communities will be left without a service.

Briefly, Amendment 177, which complements Amendment 176, relates to access to other banking activities often associated with a current account that the FCA considers to be significant. I believe that the legislation is too narrow as currently framed, as it covers only cash and would allow this to be delivered through fully automated services without real-life people present. That is not in line with the industry’s findings from the successful Rochford and Cambuslang pilot schemes that I have already talked about.

I readily acknowledge that the Bill is helpful in providing a framework to protect basic access to cash services so that the high street will still have ATMs and deposit services, which millions of people and shops rely on. However, consumers withdrawing and paying in cash also need other basic services delivered face to face. I have already talked about this, why they need it, the complexity, et cetera. If you do not have digital skills, access to broadband or appropriate devices, you often cannot use online services and increasingly face being cut off from basic financial services. The FCA must be given the powers to oversee this issue.

The amendment would give the FCA the authority to take other essential face-to-face transactions into account when it supervises banks. I am sure that none of us in this Room wants people who need face-to-face support to be left behind by an unambitious Bill. Indeed, the Bill is an ideal opportunity to protect those face-to-face services as long as they are needed, supporting millions of consumers, including the elderly and vulnerable groups, such as those with mental health problems, physical disabilities or long-term health conditions. To be absolutely clear, I am not stuck in the past. I am talking not about a bank branch on every corner but rather about protecting the core services we expect from our financial services and which many people would struggle to function without.

Amendment 178 relates to the closure of cash access services and preventing gaps in services—or banking deserts as they have been called. I have already talked about shared banking facilities and the benefits they bring to individuals and small businesses but, and this is critical, when the last bank branch announces that it is going to close, a gap rapidly opens up and leaves people simply cut adrift from vital financial and banking services. Although the existing voluntary arrangements are an improvement on what came before, they are simply not allowing for replacement services to be put in place anything like quickly enough.

The truth is that delivery is not fast enough because the incentive, frankly, is not there. In my view, the current voluntary arrangements lack teeth. I know there are some valid reasons why it is quite tricky. After all, it is a new network of services and it takes time to get these things right, particularly in relation to staffing and premises, but this is simply not acceptable for those communities where a service is recommended but not delivered. We should not accept a gap in service and nor should the FCA. The solution is simple, and this amendment would achieve it. It would give the FCA the explicit power to stop branches closing until the alternatives are in place, thereby protecting consumers, businesses and the high street.

Finally, on Amendments 180 to 182 and 184, I will simply underline the critical importance of free-to-use cash access services being in the Bill. In September 2022, there were nearly 13,000 fewer free-to-use ATMs in the UK than there were in August 2018—a decrease of nearly 25%. In contrast, there has been a much smaller decline in the number of pay-to-use ATMs. People living in the most deprived areas find it hard to access cash without incurring charges; to compound this, those on lower incomes understandably often withdraw smaller amounts of money more frequently and are disproportionately affected by flat fees, which are often in the region of £1 to £2 per withdrawal.

We need a change in mindset. Of course banks are commercial entities and will be driven by commercial imperatives—I get that, I really do—but, as legislators, we need to start regarding essential banking services, without which it is impossible for people to function in their daily lives, as more akin to an essential public service to which all are entitled and which allows everyone to be full citizens and part of our society. At its heart, we need to treat this as a social policy issue. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in day seven of Committee on the Bill. I again declare my financial services interests as set out in the register. I agree with almost all of the amendments in this group. Indeed, I have put my name to Amendment 184, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I will not say anything more about that; I will leave him to introduce it far more eloquently than I could.

However, I will speak to Amendments 186, 187, 189 and 239 in my name. I wish to talk about the accessibility of financial services and products, as well as access to them. Sometimes those two things are the same; sometimes they are not. I hope that I can bring that point to life with these amendments. In essence, what we are talking about here is a Bill that sets out some very good principles on access to cash. Cash still matters; it matters materially to millions. However, that is only one side of the coin. Without looking at the acceptance of cash, we might as well say, “What currency has cash if there’s no place to spend it?”, hence the need to look at access to and acceptance of cash if we are really to take the opportunity that this Bill presents us with.

Moving on, my Amendment 186 is about the need for “Accessibility of financial services and financial products”. It is what anybody should be able to rely on. Probably the best way to explain the intent of this amendment is through an example. For years, card payment machines were very accessible. They had raised numbers and a dot in the middle of the “5” key so everybody could use those machines independently, inclusively and accessibly. Now, we see a worrying and extraordinary rise in the use of flat-screen card payment machines. They are impossible for me to use. They are impossible for millions to use.

A worrying principle—I hope my noble friend the Minister will agree that it is such—underpins this. Through technological update, change and rollout, things that were previously accessible are now inaccessible. I do not believe that anybody in your Lordships’ House or elsewhere in the country wants that to be the case when it comes to financial services and products—surely not when it comes to any services or products. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? What do the Government intend to do to ensure that all financial services and products are indeed accessible for all users?

I move on to Amendment 187 on access to banking services, and a number of issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, touched on. With this amendment, I want to highlight the issue of acceptance of cash. There are a number of ways in which one could have gone about trying to assure its acceptance, such as imposing an obligation on retailers or on those of a certain size or kind, or on retailers offering a particular service. One of the major issues with acceptance of cash, specifically for small businesses, is what they do with that cash once they have it. It cannot be that cash becomes burdensome and expensive, particularly for small and micro-businesses. It cannot be that they have to spend an hour at lunch or the end of the day potentially closing their premises to drive to the next town or village to deposit the cash.

In Amendment 187, I suggest that all high streets of a specific size should have banking services which include deposits—

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, will forgive me for interrupting him, I am afraid that there is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes, but perhaps the noble Lord will resume his speech when the Committee resumes.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, could I just have the attention of the Committee for a second? The 10 minutes are now up but we know that there will be another vote, almost certainly immediately after the result of this one has been declared. Perhaps it would be better if the Committee did not properly resume until after that vote is completed, if that is agreeable to noble Lords.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, my Amendment 187 seeks to draw together the need for access to cash and acceptance of cash, but in no sense places burdensome requirements on retailers or financial services providers, in terms of the provision in local communities, by virtue of what is now possible through shared banking hubs. As we heard earlier in the debate, since the Bill entered Parliament on 20 July 2022, 390 bank branches have closed. Can the Minister say how many shared banking hubs have opened in that time? If we plot a similar trajectory for this year, which seems reasonable on the data we have available to us, and suggest a similar, if not slightly higher, number of bank branches closing, how many shared banking hubs will be open by 31 December this year?

Amendment 187 would provide access to banking facilities on every high street and give the Treasury the power to determine the size and scale of that high street to enable provision across the country for individuals and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises for deposit and withdrawal for the benefit of the community, the economy and our country.

Moving to Amendment 189, if we consider not only the need for cash but the current geopolitical circumstances we find ourselves in, it would seem a very good idea to classify the cash network as critical national infrastructure. I thank my noble friend Lord Naseby who has put his name to this amendment, which simply states that the cash network should be critical national infrastructure because of economic reasons. I believe we can move positively to a digital financial future where everybody is included. It is one heck of a transition, but I believe we can get there. Even when we reach that point, for reasons of reliance, there may well still be a need for cash. The level of the cash network could be determined by the Government, but having a cash network would seem to be a thoroughly good idea for reasons of resilience, unless the Minister can suggest an alternative second or third line of resilience, which I would be delighted to hear.

Finally, my Amendment 239 asks the Government to consider an access to digital financial services review. This is critical and timely. It would build on the great work that was done with the Access to Cash Review published in 2019. It would have many of the same aims, but in no sense the same specificities. If the logic was good for an access to cash review, which I believe it was, does my noble friend agree that the logic for an access to digital financial services review is equally good? I suggest that the review should look at issues around access to digital payments, online platforms, mobile applications, skills and, crucially, connectivity.

It is probably best to look at this in terms of an example. Imagine a mobile application, the best digital payments application ever created. However, I do not own a smartphone, so that digital payment is not being made. Imagine the same application, but it is not accessible. That digital payment is not being made. Imagine I own a smartphone and I have that app, but I am in an area of low or no connectivity. I could have the best digital skills, the best smartphone and this best app, but the payment is not being made. Imagine I have the app, the smartphone and the connectivity, but I do not have the digital skills. That payment is not being made.

It is those issues and more that we urgently need to look into with an access to digital financial services review, which can come up with recommendations for the Government to put into practice for the benefit not just of individuals but of micro-businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, local economies, communities, cities and our country. The logic was good for an Access to Cash Review; I believe it is good for an access to digital financial services review.

To conclude, we need access to cash, as well as acceptance of cash; access to banking services on every high street; cash as critical national infrastructure; and an access to digital financial services review. Will my noble friend the Minister channel a retro TSB marketing campaign and, for all these amendments, be the Minister who likes to say yes?

My Lords, I have Amendments 179 and 190 in this group. I am not very enthusiastic at all about the provisions for cash access and distribution in the Bill. I am far from clear that a heavy-handed regulatory solution, which is what we have in the Bill, is necessary to preserve cash access and distribution, but, if we have to have it, I believe that the powers in the Bill should be time limited, which is what my Amendments 179 and 190 seek to achieve. Under these, the powers would expire in 10 years, unless the Treasury brought a statutory instrument giving a later date.

This is not a hard-nosed sunset clause, because we genuinely do not know what the future will be like. What we do know is that, before Covid, the use of cash was on a long-term downward trend and the use of debit cards had already overtaken cash. Covid then accelerated those trends so that, by 2019, debit card usage was 50% higher than the use of cash, and the latest data for 2021 shows that debit cards were used three times more often than cash. UK Finance forecasts that, by 2031, cash will account for only 6% of transactions while debit cards will account for more than half.

I do not deny that some people are more comfortable using cash than other payment options, and I accept that digital exclusion exists. It may well be a proportionate response to the current need for cash to protect its availability in the way that the Bill does, but I find it hard to see why we should set cash up on a pedestal as though it is some form of human right.

There is a large cost associated with cash provision. The Access to Cash Review found that it costs around £5 billion per annum. That is ultimately borne by all users of banking services, with the possible exception of holders of basic bank accounts, which do not cover their costs anyway and are already loading costs on to other users. As the use of cash continues to plummet, the cost will become disproportionately high because most of the costs involved are fixed.

I am certain that the future is digital, and the real need in the medium term is not to build shrines around cash points but to incentivise the financial services sector to make digital payment systems more accessible and inclusive. The best fintech brains should be put to work on this, and the banks need to see that it is in their interests to support innovation. This is where the regulators should be putting their efforts, rather than working out where cash points should be.

For this reason, I quite like the idea behind my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Amendment 239, which calls for a review of access to digital financial services, although I am not sure that now is quite the right time. I am also not sure that a review should result in decisions made by government. We need to incentivise the providers of financial services to provide answers for this, rather than thinking that government can dictate how things will work in practice as society changes.

Some of the other amendments in this group, in particular those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, seek to cling to an idea of high street banking that has already been overtaken by events. Bank branches closed because people stopped going to them; I predict that the new hubs will go the same way. The future is digital—that is what we should be trying to encourage. Making banks shoulder the costs of branches or hubs that are little used will simply increase the costs of the banking sector. This will end up harming consumers because costs will be passed on to them or, in some cases, providers may decide to withdraw from servicing particular sectors. In trying to preserve high street provision, the outcomes for consumers are not good.

I do not believe that it is responsible to legislate to preserve a version of the past unless there is clear evidence that the benefits outweigh the costs. I doubt that the cost-benefit case could, in truth, be made at the moment for maintaining branches or paying for the setting up of hubs, but I am absolutely certain that, when we look back in 10 or 20 years’ time, we will be amazed that we even thought that standing Canute-like against technological and societal change was the right thing to do in this area.

My Lords, I recognise the good intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, in introducing her Amendment 176. However, the tide is running out for cash. We are not the most advanced country in this area. It is now almost impossible to use cash in Sweden. What does my noble friend the Minister know about how the authorities in countries such as Sweden, which have largely dispensed with cash in daily life and where retailers are not prohibited from refusing to accept cash, support those who have no bank account, debit card or credit card?

I sympathise with the aim of this amendment. I regret the disappearance of the bank manager, but I doubt that this is an area where the Government should be too prescriptive. Where there really is demand to meet a bank manager, surely the market will respond and one or more banks will locate a manager where he or she is needed.

I support Amendments 179 and 190, to which my noble friend Lady Noakes has already spoken so ably. Her amendments recognise the reality of the disappearing role of cash.

I have sympathy for the aims of Amendments 180 and 181 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, as I think it important that banks continue to provide in- person banking services where there is demand for them.

I sympathise with Amendments 238 and 239 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. The way the KYC rules are interpreted by banks and credit card providers is completely absurd and disproportionate. It really is ridiculous to have to prove one’s existence to an institution with which one has had an active business relationship for many decades. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the Committee whether she agrees that a review of the KYC rules is absolutely necessary?

My Lords, I shall be brief. I have put my name to Amendments 180, 182 and 189.

I have a couple of points to make on Amendment 180. First, proposed new subsection (2) is on essential in-person banking services. My wife and I were just in a position in which we needed a face-to-face meeting with our joint-stock bank. The nearest one is eight miles away, which is not exactly around the corner. It was extremely difficult to find the right person in that particular bank, despite the requirement being created by that bank. I am sure that others have had that experience. There is a need to have the ability to have reasonably convenient face-to-face meetings with knowledgeable people who are prepared to work on Fridays, when the rest of us are working. In our case, we work only four days a week—they are just long days—but that is by the by.

Secondly, proposed new subsection (4), to be inserted by the amendment, refers to “applicable local authority areas”. We must never forget that we now have a combination of district and single-tier authorities. The difference is that it can be many miles from one town to another in single-tier authorities.

Apart from that, I hope that my noble friend the Minister takes very seriously the points made in the amendments of my noble friend Lord Holmes. They are well worth listening to and analysing.

My Lords, I support the general thrust of the amendments on access to cash and the availability of real banks, if I can put it that way. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the future is digital and that our effort should be to incentivise the financial sector to make it easier for those people who, at the moment, lack the confidence to use digital methods. I accept that she is right, up to a point; we probably are moving to a cashless society. So far, however, the financial sector has shown itself to be rather backward in coming forward with innovative solutions for people who lack confidence.

Secondly, there is enough evidence around to suggest that, at the moment, enough people—millions of people—use cash. They often use cash as a way of budgeting at a very difficult time. I would be loath for us to take action that disenables them from doing so. One of the concerns about access to cash is not just that the number of machines is being reduced but that the amount of free access to cash is, I understand, also reducing. Some of this is to do with the way that fees are charged by the LINK facility. I will not put the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, on the spot, but there are issues around the way in which that policy has developed over the past few years, as it seems to be putting pressure on some of the cash providers. This, again, needs to be looked at.

I was very struck by an article in the Guardian today about a 91 year-old who

“discovered that her pension and benefits payments had been stopped and her direct debits cancelled after a Barclays agent recorded that she had died and closed her account.”

I realise that hard cases cause bad law but her experience brought home to me many of the problems that are being faced. She

“informed Barclays that her husband had died. She asked for his name to be removed from their joint account and replaced with that of her daughter … who has third-party access to her account. Instead, she was marked as deceased and the account was closed. Her pension and benefit payments were returned to the Department for Work and Pensions and her direct debits were stopped. She discovered the mistake when she returned from a family Christmas to find her phone line and energy supply had been cut off and a sheaf of letters from companies and the council demanding payment.”

The article continues, as she then

“made two trips to her nearest Barclays branch and was told on both occasions by staff that she was recorded as dead. The bank refused to discuss the case with her daughter because her third-party authority had been revoked when the account was closed.”

This recalls the experience of my wife and I, who had power of attorney for our parents. Once they have died, you lose that power of attorney; it becomes very difficult to have any interaction with the bank at all, and the bank itself is often unsympathetic when you try to discuss this.

In Mrs Roper’s case, the account was eventually reopened and the payments restored after intervention by the Guardian. However, as the article states:

“Roper’s ordeal highlights the obstacles facing vulnerable customers who do not have access to online banking. A Barclays customer for 65 years, she is unable to cope with the automated menus on the customer service phone line and, since her local branch closed, she is forced to take two buses to the next town to withdraw money and manage her account. The only available appointment to request the account change was at a branch 23 miles away where staff did not know her. She brought the required documents, but the bank refused to proceed with the requested name change because she could not recall her little-used pin number. She was told her to make another appointment when she had remembered her pin.”

I am afraid that this is all too common. When we talk about encouraging people to use online facilities, I recall my mother in her last year or so. She was very frail. Even using phones with big numbers, not smartphones, became very difficult. With banks and other financial services, we know who the policy people are; they are often the same young people who work in government developing policy. I accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is right about where we are going as technology moves on. However, we are talking about forgotten millions of people here. So far, because I do not see the financial sector responding, we need some safeguards in the Bill. Before Report, I hope that we can coalesce around one amendment that will really enable us to ensure that there are strong responsibilities on the regulator to encourage best practice here.

My Lords, I want to speak to my Amendments 185 and 188 in particular, as well as on the broader points made by other amendments in relation to access to cash and basic banking services. I declare an interest as London’s Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience and the chair of the London Resilience Forum, not least because the London City Resilience Strategy highlights the risk of moving to a cashless society.

First, Amendment 188 concerns the importance of cash to national resilience. It is of critical importance that the Government have due regard to what might happen in some crisis situations were we to become an entirely, or almost entirely, cashless society. Comment has been made on the march towards a cashless society in Scandinavian countries, including by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, but we should also note that these countries have not only greater equality and lower financial exclusion than the UK but, in formal government guidance to their populations on preparedness, they recommend that their citizens have some cash for use in an emergency.

The Norwegian Government’s English language public information leaflet on personal preparedness says:

“Most of us are completely dependent on electricity in our everyday lives: for heating, light, cooking, hot water and running electrical appliances and devices. Storms, natural disasters, sabotage, technical problems, terrorism or acts of war can result in many people’s electricity or water supply being cut off.”

The digital world in which we live, which is reliant on electricity, creates huge risks as well as opportunities. The world is in many ways less resilient to shock than it was previously as a result. You only have to look to the recent cyber incident that Royal Mail experienced, with weeks of not being able to send international post, to understand the real risks of a world in which individuals, companies, sectors and countries become overly reliant on digital finance and digital infrastructure.

On a national basis, everything from a major power outage to a rota power outage—your Lordships will know that local resilience forums were asked to plan for one this winter so this is not a hypothetical situation—whether this is through shortages, hostile cyberattacks or a major storm, could restrict the ability of individuals, businesses and government to function. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, that access to cash should be viewed as part of the national critical infrastructure.

The scenarios in which an overreliance on digital banking, with an absence of cash as a back-up, becomes an additional complication or risk in an emergency situation are not far-fetched. This is a genuine threat to our country’s resilience and to our national security in an unstable world. I therefore ask Ministers to consider including this amendment and would suggest that, as a minimum, the ongoing work that the Government are undertaking on the national risk register considers what additional risks might emerge in relation to emergency situations in which cash was no longer available.

There is limited reference to this issue online. In my attempt to get more extensive examples or comments to back up my points, I did not find much of note to cite relating to the UK. This actually made me more concerned, not less. The reality is that it is not far-fetched to have a scenario in which we could lose access to digital finance or payments systems for a number of days—or weeks—on a national, regional or sub-regional basis. The reason cash has lasted so long is that it is, in essence, resilient. That is not the only reason for keeping cash but we need, as a country, to avoid sleepwalking into losing the resilience that it can provide. If you spoke to people working on resilience in Sweden, for example, I think they would also note that it presents additional problems. This is not about preserving history, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggests, but about preserving our resilience.

Amendment 185 in my name, which is on the regional experience of cash provision, is intended to highlight the need for us to understand and plan, through the FCA, for cash provision—not just on average, or on the whole, but in relation to whether provision has a regional and potentially sub-regional imbalance. This would enable any regional disproportionality that exists to be addressed. I am particularly concerned that we have large areas, both rural and within cities, that no longer have banks. I know, for example, that the entire constituency of Bradford South no longer has a bank. Like others, I am particularly concerned about the risks of there being a lack of cash and basic banking services for the most vulnerable in society. Others have already spoken on this point and given detailed statistics illustrating it, so I will not dwell on it.

In conclusion, I commend those noble Lords who have tabled specific amendments covering free access to cash and access to basic banking services. It is not a coincidence that Amendment 182 has cross-party sponsors and I commend my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Tyler and Lady Altmann, for their work on it. I also commend those in the other place, particularly the honourable Member for Mitcham and Morden, who have pushed for this matter to be addressed. Quite simply, free access to cash and basic banking services must be guaranteed. At the heart of British personal banking lies free access to your own money. It is outrageous that if you are poor, you are more likely to have to rely on charged-for cash machines. This legislation provides an opportunity to address the issue, as well as ensuring that we safeguard our country’s resilience.

My Lords, I will not detain the Committee for very long but perhaps I could say one or two things. Briefly, I come at this by thinking about rural sustainability and rural business. I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition.

Before I say anything on that, a month ago I had my wallet stolen on my way into Parliament and I learned a lesson: do not keep all your cards in your wallet but have some different ones. I was, to use a theological term, absolutely stuffed that morning. Fortunately, I had a member of staff at home. I went back and cancelled the cards then phoned up my bank, which said, “Yes, come up—we can give you some cash”. When I got up there, I was told, “No, the system’s got it wrong and we aren’t able to give you cash here”. I then had to get someone to take me six miles to get some cash. When I eventually got into London for some meetings, I went to four places before I could find somewhere to buy lunch because I had only cash. This is actually quite a complex thing.

Actually, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: there is a huge change going on—of course there is. But how are we to work with that, not least if we are going to think about levelling up? In my diocese, for example, if I go into Citizens Advice in poor areas in Stevenage, they tell me that people sometimes positively get rid of their credit and debit cards because they do not know how to control money. There are some real issues here about financial literacy and discipline to help people with saving and so on.

Going back to the rural issue, much of this stuff depends on rural businesses having broadband. Large rural areas of our country are not-spots, where there is no access. Some places do not even have good access on a direct phone line, certainly to do some forms of banking. I therefore think that we are in a transition period. We certainly need protections in place for the foreseeable future as we try to work out how this goes and how we take it forward.

I was recently in the small rural town of Ampthill in my diocese in Bedfordshire. A whole group of people talked to me afterwards; they got on to this subject and said how it really affects small start-up businesses at the moment. I hear that we have to think about how we should take this forward but, over the coming years, we need some sort of provision to guarantee some basic levels of service so that we can help rural sustainability, rural businesses and individuals who live in those areas.

My Lords, I rise briefly to offer the Green group’s support for the general sense of direction here on both the provision of cash and the review of resilience. It is not an accident or a convenience that those two things have been brought together, as the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, just made clear.

We come back to a fundamental question: what is the financial sector for? If it is there to serve the real economy and real lives, it must meet people’s needs in both good and bad times. That applies at the individual level and the national one. The system must be able to stand up to not just financial shocks but the kinds of shocks that we know about in this age of the climate emergency, the nature crises and the threat of pandemics.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, was speaking, I was reflecting on being in Lancaster in 2016 about a week after Storm Desmond. I saw a city in shock. I saw what happened when they lost electricity for a day and a half or so. Digitisation and the disappearance of cash have come a long way since 2016 but people were absolutely desperate. They were not able to meet their basic needs, which surely must be part of the financial sector’s responsibility.

I broadly agree with the general tenor of everything that has been said but I want to make one strong point of disagreement with what most people have said. There is an idea that this is a transitional phase and that, once we have gone past the generation where people have not had digital in the prime of their life, the phase will end and everybody will then be able to use digital. I was going to tell exactly the same story as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, did. I will not repeat it but I will draw a further lesson from it. It is a story about a 91 year-old lady. She may have been able to cope with the telephone system and the buttons at 70 or even 80. I know someone in this situation; he is an older gentleman who finds it harder and harder each year to navigate the complications of digital.

None of us in this Room knows what our capabilities will be in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. Just because you can do something now, you cannot guarantee that you will be able to do it in 20 years’ time. In terms of national resilience and meeting everybody’s needs, we genuinely have to make sure that, long into the future—potentially for ever if we look at that kind of scale—there will always be somewhere where you can walk up to a person and say, “This is my problem. I need you to help me sort it out”. That person needs to have the resources, knowledge, skills and power to sort out that situation for you because, ultimately, only having a person who looks you in the eye, sees the problem and deals with it will really meet everybody’s needs.

I have one final thought. There is sometimes a feeling that we have to have maximum efficiency and meet the needs of the majority, and tough luck for the rest. If we have a system that meets the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society—this is often said about public transport systems but it applies far more broadly—we have a system that is good for everybody in our society.

My Lords, since I have not spoken in Committee so far, I should remind noble Lords of my interest as a former chairman of a bank and a current shareholder. However, I am not going to defend the service levels of banks, which I recognise need improvement.

On these amendments, I point out that, while I understand the rationale behind the desire to maintain access to cash, everything has a cost. We need to consider the cost of what is proposed as well as the benefit. My noble friend Lady Noakes is right that the shift towards digital and away from cash has snowballed over the past few years. It is not just customers who prefer not having to carry cash around. Many small businesses, clubs, associations and societies find it much easier now to have a low-cost terminal with which they can process membership dues, fees or even small transactions. It makes the accounting so much easier and avoids having to deal with collecting and disbursing large amounts of cash.

The move towards digital is happening across the whole economy. People talk about keeping branches open but there are many branches where only a handful of people come in during the week. When you think about the cost of maintaining the building infrastructure, as well as the staffing, security and systems, the cost per transaction becomes astronomical. Those costs have to be borne by somebody; they are borne by the other bank customers in higher fees, charges and interest rates. Nothing comes without a cost so we have to consider what the appropriate cost-benefit answer is.

As many noble Lords have said, clearly there are people who find it difficult to use digital technology and need access to cash, but there are other ways of—

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord but I am afraid that there is another Division in the Chamber. The Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes and we will resume with the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, when the moment comes.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

I was making the point that maintaining open bank branches as a solution to this problem is potentially a very expensive way of solving the problem and that the cost would be borne by other bank customers. We need to accept that there may be better ways of serving the genuine needs of those who cannot cope well with the digital economy and may need access to cash. Clearly there are potential solutions using other shops or post offices in localities to provide access to cash where that can be done, but another solution that many banks are adopting is the development of mobile banking branches. A mobile branch that visits a village once week may not be as good as a permanently open branch but at least it gives access to cash and the costs become much more affordable and socially acceptable.

We need to be cautious about assuming that maintaining the structure of the past is the right way to meet the genuine needs of those who have difficulties. We need to avoid fossilising a structure that is no longer fit for purpose. If this debate had been happening 20 years ago about telecoms, we might have wanted a law that said there had to be a telephone box in every high street. If we had had this debate 100 years ago, we would be requiring there to be a horse trough in every high street. There have to be other ways in which we can meet the genuine needs of those who have special needs without the blanket approach of insisting that highly costly and inappropriate branches remain open in places where there is no demand for them.

My Lords, I enthusiastically support Amendment 186. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, spelled out extremely articulately the importance of banking hubs and how that name could often be prosecuted for mis-selling. Even banks themselves, in terms of the service that they offer when you go into the few that are still open, can be accused of having only the minimum service required.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, told a heartbreaking story about a 91 year-old but you do not have to be 91 and have a heartbreaking story. Things can just go wrong; your card can stop working or whatever. When you try to solve it on your phone and it does not work, you then go into the bank and, to be honest, you are treated as though you are wasting the bank’s time and as though you have done something wrong. The staff often cannot solve the problem and ask, “Why don’t you solve it online or on your phone?” The answer is that I would have done so if I could have done. In other words, I do not think that it is necessarily a special needs problem, as the noble Lord just said. I think it can happen to anyone. Sometimes, you need human intervention to sort out your banking.

I am also interested in supporting those amendments that would allow access to cash, including Amendments 180 and 181 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I especially like Amendment 189 from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and its attempt to make cash critical national infrastructure in the UK; I also support Amendment 189A, which is headed “Access to physical banking services”.

I suppose I am concerned about noting that the importance of cash relates not just to those who struggle with their phones or other technology. This discussion sometimes implies that some of us are just Luddites who cannot cope or do not want to embrace the full excitement of new technology and digital futures. I want to emphasise that I can see the advantages of a cashless society. Mainstream cashless transactions carry certain information about payment participants, what was purchased and when, which can be a huge barrier to money laundering and tax avoidance. That is genuinely important but, for individuals as consumers, it can also mean—this may be slightly different to what others have emphasised—that it helps people with budgeting because they have electronic receipts and can see both what is going in and what is going out. I am rather enthusiastic about those technological steps forward; I do not in any way want to hold back the march of progress, in the way that some have implied.

However, precisely because cashless transactions mean that information about payment participants is available to financial institutions and banks in a different kind of way, they can also give those organisations huge surveillance capability and invasive powers in ways that we did not see so much in the past. It is then not about you taking cash out but about everything having to be recorded. This means that people are not able to do the things you could with discretion. It should be noted—this is not entirely being paranoid—that, in China, financial surveillance is used to censor and restrict people’s freedom to express opinions against the state.

Noble Lords might think that that would never happen in a democracy but, in a later amendment in my name—when I say later, I mean if it ever arrives; it is Amendment 241B, should anyone like to note that, because I do not suppose that anyone will be here to listen to my speech on it—I was inspired by payment processing in fintech companies, such as PayPal, and the move towards everything being cashless, with a cashless society and everything being digitised. This has meant that PayPal, for example, can close down accounts on the basis of politics; in fact, it has done so, so I am not just being paranoid.

There also tends to be a casual assumption that those who want to keep their financial transactions private—that is, by using cash from time to time—might be up to something dodgy, as though the only reason someone might want to be free to choose to use cash is if they are involved in embezzlement or tax fraud. Today, it has been much friendlier than that; people just assume that you are technologically incompetent and old-fashioned, so cannot keep up. We just have to be a bit careful about this. I have also noticed a trend where financial services are judging how individuals are making their purchasing decisions—judging their use of money in a way that they may not have done if were not quite so detailed.

Recently, I was interested that HSBC—my bank—was involved in a report that condemned people’s decisions about how much they spent on gambling and was backing affordability checks. I know that I disagree with some noble Lords in the Room on gambling—I can already see them—as I think that is a legal leisure activity and that you should be able to do what you want. The idea that the bank is saying that it has customers who spend too much on gambling, a perfectly legal leisure activity, and then gives a breakdown of them, indicates that rather than being a dispassionate financial service it is getting involved in things in a way that it perhaps should not. I have never gambled, but my bank could well send me a note about how much I am spending in TK Maxx, saying that has all gone a bit mad.

When we had cash, we took the money out, we spent it on what we wanted and nobody could see. A cashless society creates a slightly different situation. Amendment 186 on accessibility and Amendment 184 on levels of cash acceptance, along with the whole issue of digital exclusion and financial inclusion, are very important but do not quite capture some of the broader political trends associated with this issue.

I am also very sympathetic to the notion of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. On the one hand, cash is not a human right—I do not want to get stuck on that, as I am never keen on regulations lasting for ever; a time-limited sunset clause is a good idea—but I am anxious that we do not forget the political trends surrounding this by simply treating it as a technical issue.

My Lords, if I may come in briefly, I am very sympathetic to the aims of noble Lords who wish to see cash access and banking services available to those who need them and do not use or rely on digital. However, I agree with the aims of the Bill: international competitiveness and growth. I do not think that this Bill’s powers regarding the financial markets and services sector should be used in a blanket way to impose an obligation on service providers to provide a service whose use, by all accounts and evidence, is on the decline.

Not only do I support the two amendments from my noble friend Lady Noakes, but I think we should pay attention to the overall aims for the regulators in this Bill, which are international competitiveness and growth. I urge the Minister to focus on the real problem of access to cash and banking services for many people, and, where there is a problem or gap, to focus the efforts and use the powers of government on trying to deal with the declining number of users in our society—albeit a real group—rather than use the law to impose obligations in a blanket way on the sector, contrary to the aims of competitiveness and growth. As noble Lords have explained, such a move could undermine the competitiveness of the banking sector.

The noble Baroness appeared to be suggesting that the provision of services, including the cost, should be done by the Government and that the private sector should collect the profits. Could she clarify whether she was saying that?

I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. No, I was saying that, when we use the law, we should be very careful not to impose the costs on providers if the aim of the law is to encourage competition. There are reasonable aims which are agreed to by the whole of society. It is a reasonable aim for society to require and want cash access. My heart agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, as she powerfully moved her amendment, but we should draw a line between a blanket restriction on providers of these services and finding how government can help and encourage other providers of services to do it. I was just talking to other noble Lords in the Lobby about this. I know of voluntary groups, market groups and social providers which are out there helping such groups and finding ingenious solutions to meet the gap, where there is one.

My Lords, surely we have a situation in which the market is failing. In essence, the banks are not interested because they take the same view as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: that this part of the market is dying. They do not want to be involved because they want to be in a dynamic, new market. Faced with that and the 7 million people who use cash each year—in the current cost of living crisis that many people face, cash is used as a budgetary tool—what can we do if the market is clearly not providing? From our point of view, legislation is the only lever we have because none of the regulators seems that interested. Government departments are not; they are engaged in removing cash as much as possible. What is the alternative?

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I do not have an answer—I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord—but this Bill is not the place for that. Its aims and purposes are to make the UK sector more nimble and competitive internationally so that it can move ahead in a post-Brexit world and we can all benefit from a successful financial sector. Putting caveats, restrictions and obligations on a sector can add costs to customers, consumers and all who use these services. However, I think that that is a good aim and is good to do. We should have a special committee to see how we can encourage use, short of using the law as a big stick on one sector of providers. There are many ways that have opened up in the market that are already providing use, which I can discuss later.

My Lords, this is a key group for the Labour Party politically; it contains four of our amendments. Amendment 180 would require His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA to publish a review of the need for

“access to essential in-person banking services”

and to ensure

“a minimum level of access”

to them.

Amendment 181 would require HMT to

“publish a policy statement setting out its policies in relation to the provision of essential in-person banking services, including … support for online banking, and maximum distances people can expect to travel to access services.”

I would be interested to know the Minister’s view on the reasonable distance for an elderly or disabled customer to have to travel to speak to someone from their bank.

Amendment 182 is perhaps the most important. It would compel HMT to

“guarantee a minimum level of access to free of charge cash access”.

Amendment 184 would require the FCA to

“monitor and report on levels of cash acceptance across the UK.”

I set out the crucial importance of free access to cash at Second Reading so I will not do so at length a second time; well, that is what it says here. Nobody has more interest in being speedy than me, or perhaps the Minister, because we have to be here for every minute of this Committee. We are almost in our 27th hour but this group is different from anything else that we have discussed. The rest of it—I cannot think of a polite way of putting it—is about activity that takes place for people like us. Quite a number of people work in the finance industry; we are looking at the nuances of it and how politicians should be involved.

However, the issue of cash is about our society. It is about the poorest and least competent people in our society. Technology has been a substantial disruptor. It is a disruptor that particularly applies to finance. It has allowed financial transactions to become extraordinarily efficient and has created a whole new customer base of people who are comfortable with technology. They have access to a whole new marketplace. We know that the dynamics of that have probably been benign for society.

However, the other problem is that it has created a divide in our society. I ran an organisation that used to have a lot of cash; I am all too familiar with the tremendous impact of approaching a cashless society. In all the knowledge in the world, the last bits are the most expensive bits. Yes, the cost of transactions goes up and so on and so forth, but we cannot afford to create the divide in our society that is emerging. We must support all parts of our society seriously. We must recognise that, in their lives, people sometimes need all banking services. We must recognise that some people simply cannot envisage how to budget without physically seeing it in separate pots. It is clearly a natural reaction if you are running out of money. You can see it there and have confidence because you know that, if you go into the grey world of accounts, banks, overdrafts, loans and things like that, all sorts of horrible things happen. For that group in society—it is probably 10% of our society so it is a substantial number of people—we must find a way of maintaining the public service. We must achieve a minimum service.

The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, said what all providers of service say: if you are not ultra-efficient, you load the inefficiency costs on to other customers. It so happens that being ultra-efficient does not do much harm to your profit line either. Big businesses such as banks pursue the maximisation of shareholder value. It is in the law. They are supposed to do it, for Christ’s sake. We should not be surprised when they do but I rarely see them turning into charities. We have got to find ways. We do not have to keep all the branches open; even I can work that out. We have to be much more inventive in how we service this need, which is still large, but the way we must do that is by creating duties on the purveyors of financial services as well as rights and constraints.

It is proper for the law to create duties to look after the poorer members of our society. That is why so many people have said that it is important for a variety of needs—resilience and so on—that we maintain it. The banks must play their part. They have enjoyed massive exploitation—I do not use that in a pejorative sense—of information technology, probably more so than any other section of our society. They must recognise that there has to be a cross-subsidy in this situation because we must restore financial equity to all our society.

My Lords, as we have heard in this debate, the nature of banking is changing. In 2021, 72% of people banked online, and 57% on their mobile phones. Meanwhile, 85% of payments were made without cash, up from 45% a decade earlier, and 86% of UK adults used contactless payments.

I will check for the noble Lord because I do not have that level of detail in my notes. They say that “85% of payments” were made without cash, not “the value of payments”, but I should double-check to clarify for him.

In the light of these innovations in the way that we bank, the Government recognise that it is incredibly important that people are not left behind—we have heard that in today’s debate. Many people still rely on physical services: in particular, millions of people still rely on cash and need access to withdrawal and deposit services.

Working with industry, the Government are already undertaking positive action to support cash access in this context. For example, existing initiatives subsidise free-to-use ATMs in remote and deprived areas. Following changes in the Financial Services Act 2021, there is a new ability to have cashback without purchase services, enabling withdrawals to the penny that people request. Communities can ask LINK to assess whether additional cash services are needed, with several major banks and building societies funding new shared services. As a result of that initiative, over 70 communities are due to get new cash deposit facilities.

In that context, it is important not to underestimate the significance of the provisions contained in the Bill. It is the first time, in UK law, that we are protecting people’s ability to access cash. The Bill provides the FCA, as the independent regulator, with the responsibility and necessary powers to ensure reasonable provision of withdrawal and deposit services.

In evidence to Parliament, the regulator said that it anticipates taking account of reasonable access to free cash services for personal customers—subject to due process, which includes a requirement to consult on its rules. In using its powers, the FCA will utilise the wealth of data that it has collected, including on access at the regional level, and it must have regard to local deficiencies in cash access services and the Government’s policy statement.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about the policy statement. It is currently being developed, and we expect it to be published after the Bill completes its passage. It is important that it takes into account the latest available data and evidence ahead of its publication.

I have clarification for the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on the statistic that I used, so I shall not need to write. I can confirm that 85% of the number, not the value, of payments were made without cash.

While we are getting clarifications in flight, may I ask my noble friend the Minister about the 86% of people using contactless? Are 86% of people using contactless all the time or are they making one payment a year? If someone from the Box is able to answer that in flight, that would be helpful.

That request has been noted. Reading the statistic in my notes, I would say that 86% of adults have used contactless payments, rather than it being a comment on how much they use them as part of their payment mix. If I am wrong, I hope that the people supporting me will tell me.

I talked about the policy statement and the significance of the measure that we are taking in the Bill. We have heard from the Committee that not everyone agrees with that approach. In legislating to protect access to cash, the Government have sought to provide that reassurance for those who rely on cash for a number of different reasons.

We have heard why it can be important for accessibility and for people to manage their finances. We have also heard about privacy concerns. However, we have not sought for the legislation to be prescriptive on the cost, type of facility or range of services offered at facilities. We are seeking to ensure that this primary legislation allows for innovation and flexibility, as the needs of people and our communities evolve over time. I think those advocating for greater access to services also recognised the need for that flexibility and change in needs over time. It is for those reasons that the Government do not support Amendments 176, 178, 182 and 185 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Tyler and Lady Twycross, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.

I turn to Amendment 184, also from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and emphasise that in addressing access to deposit facilities the Bill also addresses a crucial factor in supporting cash acceptance by businesses. However, the Government do not think it is necessary or appropriate to place a duty on the FCA to collect data on cash acceptance. That goes well beyond the FCA’s remit over the financial services sector.

I turn to Amendments 179 and 190 from my noble friend Lady Noakes. As I have said, despite long-term trends towards digital it is important to note that cash use, and therefore the need to access it, is not expected to vanish. Indeed, UK Finance forecasts that cash will represent around 6% of payments in 2031. In that context, the Bill provides the FCA, with respect to cash access services, and the Bank of England, with respect to wholesale cash distribution, with proportionate and agile regulatory frameworks that are designed to stand the test of time. The Government therefore consider any sunsetting of these provisions to be unnecessary.

I turn to Amendments 177, 180, 181, 187 and 189A, which all relate to access to banking services. I have already mentioned some of the positive actions being taken by industry to support customers regarding cash. There is also a range of initiatives to help people continue to access everyday banking more generally, including via local Post Office branches, community outreach locations and mobile banking services. Several noble Lords also mentioned the new shared banking hubs, 38 of which have been announced in communities across the country. Four have opened their doors. I do not have further details on timescales for my noble friend Lord Holmes but I think I recognised, in a previous debate in this Committee, that the pace of rollout to date has not been as fast as some would like. I am sure that we will continue to press on that.

While the Government do not intervene in commercial decisions to close bank or building society branches, all firms are expected to follow the FCA’s guidance to ensure they carefully consider the impact of planned closures on their customers. That guidance was recently strengthened and sets out clear expectations on firms to put in place alternatives, where this is reasonable, to ensure that customer needs are met. If firms fall short, the FCA can and will ask for closures to be paused or for other options to be put in place.

I turn to Amendments 188 and 189 from the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, and my noble friend Lord Holmes on resilience and CNI. As I have said previously, the designation of CNI is sensitive and, as such, it is not made public, but I reassure the Committee that the Treasury is committed to ensuring the operational and cyber resilience of the UK financial system, including through the designation of CNI.

In terms of operational resilience, responsibility for the UK finance sector’s network is primarily for firms themselves but the Government do have an important role to play. We work in close co-operation with financial regulators, the National Cyber Security Centre, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, industry and our international partners to improve resilience to cyber threats, reduce vulnerabilities and ensure that the sector has the information it needs to defend itself. The Bank of England regulates designated payment systems for financial stability purposes. This includes LINK, which operates the UK’s main ATM network. The financial regulators’ policy statement on operational resilience came into effect in March 2022. It clarifies and sets new expectations for financial firms to improve their operational resilience.

On this theme, I turn to Amendments 186 and 239 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who is a champion of access and accessibility. A number of noble Lords made comments around how, if banks are required to put in place alternative provision when they decide to close bank branches, we can ensure that that is truly accessible. When it comes to digital payments, the Payment Systems Regulator has launched a call for evidence on the future direction of payments regulation, and we would welcome representations to it.

On digital connectivity, in 2020, the Government announced a £1 billion deal with mobile network operators to deliver the shared rural network and reach 95% coverage. There are also commitments around the rollout of high-quality broadband. On digital skills, we have in place a pledge to ensure that all adults who have low or no digital skills can take up a level 1 qualification free of charge.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, we were addressing the question of when alternative service provision is put in place and the accessibility of that service provision.

I have addressed the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans about connectivity. He also made a point about customers needing, for example, a smartphone to make payments or access online banking. The FCA has stated that it expects payment service providers to offer solutions that work for all groups of people. It encourages all firms to consider the impact of their solutions for customers. The regulators’ guidance recognises that not all customers will have mobile phones or a reliable signal and that viable alternatives should be provided in these situations.

All service providers, including banks and building societies, are bound under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments where necessary. Many of them support access to digital services through initiatives to distribute devices, teach skills, or facilitate support networks.

As my noble friend Lord Holmes highlighted, moving towards digital can create opportunities for accessibility but it can also create barriers. It is important that we embrace these technological changes in ways that reduce those barriers, so his point about ensuring that interfaces, including ATMs and point-of-sale terminals, are accessible is really important.

Would the Minister indulge me for a moment? I have been intrigued by her discussion of the role of digitisation. I refer to Amendment 184, tabled by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, on the duty to collect data on cash acceptance.

When teaching monetary economics, the first thing that you ask students to understand is, “What is money?” Money is something that is generally accepted in discharge of a debt. That is the definition of money. The issue of cash acceptance is therefore vital as society develops in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, outlined so clearly. What will happen is that, for the section of society who rely on cash—several million people—their cash will no longer be money. It will no longer be generally acceptable in payment of a debt. In those circumstances, the digital instrument will be crucial. However, if the digital instrument is issued only by companies, namely banks, to those who are customers of the banks, who have some basic criterion, it is surely the responsibility of the state to issue a digital instrument that is available to all citizens.

That being the case, to get to that stage, we need to know how cash is generally accepted. Therefore, the amendment, which contains a duty to collect data on cash acceptance, is vital for the development of future policy with respect to cash and digital instruments. The Minister rejected the amendment by saying that it is not the FCA’s responsibility. Can she tell me which department of government has this responsibility to collect data on cash acceptance?

My Lords, there are a number of ways to tackle the issues that the noble Lord referred to. There are various statistics around payment methods used by consumers in the UK; I quoted some at the start of my speech. The Government have not mandated service providers to accept certain forms of payment; that is not the approach we intend to take to ensure that people continue to have access to cash or money. I have said that, in supporting businesses’ access to deposit services, that will support people’s ability to use their cash as a form of payment.

The noble Lord also raised the question of a digital form of money. That is a question that the Government have looked at very carefully. We launched what I think was a joint consultation between the Government and the regulators, looking in more detail at the question of a central government digital currency and how to take forward that work, as well as considering questions such as those from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about privacy issues in a world of having a digital form of money versus having cash as a form of money.

I understand the importance of having a picture and the data that allows us to understand what is going on. I do not think that the data is necessarily the gap here; it is about how you provide for the ongoing use of cash in a society where rapid changes are being made. Our approach to that has been through legislating in this Bill on access to cash withdrawal and deposit facilities.

I was just talking about the importance of the accessibility of payment interfaces, including ATMs and point-of-sale terminals. I am pleased that UK Finance and the RNIB have developed accessibility guidelines for touch screen chip and PIN devices, as well as an approved list of accessible card terminals. The Government’s disability and access ambassador for banking, Kathryn Townsend, also encourages a consistent consumer experience and engagement with deaf advocacy groups.

My Lords, I do not want to delay the Committee or the Minister but, on ATMs, I referred rather incoherently to the interchange fee paid by LINK. Will the Minister take back the issue that this is having a big impact on the viability of providing free cash by the companies that do so? This partly seems to be down to the ownership of LINK and the influence of banks in relation to it, but does she accept that there can be very profound effects when you lose free access to cash and have to pay for it? I was told this morning at a meeting with NoteMachine —one of the companies that provide cash—that six out of 10 withdrawals are for £10 because people are using it to budget. The problem is, if you no longer have access to free cash, you then have to pay £1.50 for it. That is a huge rate. These are some of the practical issues that I hope the Minister will be prepared to take away between now and Report.

Even accepting that the Minister may not be prepared to accept any of these amendments, it seems that at the moment we do not, despite FCA guidance, have a guarantee that the financial sector as a whole is going to change the way it operates. This is the problem that we face. If anything, its policies are driving cash out without recognising the impact on some very vulnerable people.

On interchange fees, decisions regarding the operation and funding arrangements for an ATM network are taken by the parties involved. The noble Lord will know that LINK has commitments to protect the broad geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs and is held to account against those obligations and commitments by the Payment Systems Regulator. It has specifically committed to protect free-to-use ATMs more than one kilometre away from the next nearest free ATM or Post Office and free access to cash on high streets, and it supports free-to-use ATMs in deprived areas through its financial inclusion programme.

I recognise the point that the noble Lord has made. Coming back to the provision in the Bill, while I understand that different amendments have been tabled to look at how it could be enhanced or altered, it is important to acknowledge that legislating to protect access to cash is the Government recognising the point that the Committee made and taking action to address it. We want to have flexibility in how that is delivered, but we are providing for it in primary legislation and I hope that principle is welcomed, even though there are different opinions about how it could best be delivered.

Drawing towards the end of my remarks, I was going to note specifically on accessibility that that question was considered by the most recent Financial Inclusion Policy Forum. As I was saying to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, while the Government do not support these amendments, I hope that noble Lords recognise the action that is being taken through the Bill and elsewhere, because the Government take these issues seriously. It is right to consider the outcome that we are all trying to deliver in a changing world: accessible financial services. That can mean a range of things, such as for people on low incomes being able to budget their money or for accessibility when it comes to disability, age or other factors. The way we have tried to approach access to cash in the Bill is by looking at delivering those outcomes in a flexible way, so I hope that at the moment the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, is able to withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords do not press their amendments.

My Lords, it feels some time now since we started this group of amendments. I thank the Minister for her measured response in which she tried hard to reflect quite a wide range of views on the issues we have been talking about. I also thank all other noble Lords who have contributed. This has been a fascinating debate. There has been a reasonable degree on consensus in places, but by no means full consensus, and I certainly understand that.

I want to refer to a very important comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. He said that this group is different and is about whether we want a divided society. Another noble Lord said—I am sorry but I cannot remember who it was—that banks are not charities. I think we all understand that but it is for us as legislators, a point I made in my opening speech, to decide on the sort of society that we want. That is actually what this group of amendments is about.

I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and others, and I assure your Lordships that I am not stuck in the past. I make most of my payments by holding out my phone. However, a very helpful point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, which was that there are times when I do not want to pay like that. I still want to use cash sometimes, even though I can hold my phone out, and it is rather important that I have that choice.

I want to explain what my motivation was for my set of amendments on setting up community banking hubs, which must be turbo-charged. The pace is not good enough. I am sorry if I did not make this clear, but it is not because I want to see the high street as it was 20 years ago. I understand what has happened, the technological advances and the benefits that they have brought. When I talk about community banking hubs, in some places they would be mobile banking hubs, a very important point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell.

However, we cannot have a situation where some five million of our fellow citizens are left behind because they do not have the digital skills, the access to the devices or the broadband. The point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, particularly regarding rural communities, was extremely important. I also agree with him that we are in a transitional period. It is quite a long transition because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, we might feel fine now but how will we feel in 20 or 30 years’ time? All sorts of things may have happened to us that will make it much harder to use digital services, which is all that we are being offered at the moment. I do not want to see those people left behind.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made some incredibly powerful points. I shared the experience that he related about having to deal with powers of attorney and other things after our fathers died. It was very hard and very emotionally draining. It was jolly hard to comply with the bank. We could not find all the bits of paper that it wanted. However, that branch is not there anymore, so we would have found it even harder.

I also had in my mind a situation that happened about six months ago. I was walking around my local town centre, Crouch End, going from cashpoint to cashpoint because something that I was doing required me to pay cash. Not one of those cashpoints was working. They had either been ripped out or were not working. By the end I had a group of people walking around together in a huddle because they needed cash. They tended to be older people, and one or two were almost in despair. One lady was almost crying because she did not know how she would get the cash that she needed to get through the weekend. That is my motivation here. It is not to preserve in aspic the high street branches that we had in the past.

I hope that it is possible on Report to coalesce around an amendment that will ensure free access to cash and basic banking services for those who need them, albeit delivered in a very different way from that which we are used to. Fintech is part of the solution. Community banking hubs could help to equip those of our fellow citizens who have not got the skills at the moment. That is another very important role for them. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, made points about the accessibility of financial services and critical national infrastructure. I do not know why I did not put my name to his Amendment 186 regarding a review of access to digital services, which I support. That is critical for how our society is developing.

My final point is in response to the very thoughtful contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor. I was very grateful for her contribution because she said that what she did not want to do was place anything on financial services providers to get in the way of the prime aim, as she saw it, of promoting economic growth and competition. I fully understand that that is a very important aim of the Bill, but for me, it is not the only aim. We do not get many opportunities to put forward the sorts of things we have been talking about. For me, it is about the sort of society I want to live in, and having greater fairness. I very much hope that when we get to Report, we can table an amendment that I hope that, if not everyone, the vast majority of noble Lords feel they can sign up to. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 176 withdrawn.

Amendments 177 to 179 not moved.

Schedule 8 agreed.

Clause 52 agreed.

Amendments 180 to 182 not moved.

Amendment 183 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendments 184 to 189A not moved.

Schedule 9: Wholesale Cash Distribution

Amendment 190 not moved.

Schedule 9 agreed.

Clause 53 agreed.

Schedule 10 agreed.

Clause 54 agreed.

Schedule 11: Central Counterparties

Amendments 191 to 195

Moved by

191: Schedule 11, page 213, line 3, leave out “financial”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would enable the Bank to direct a central counterparty’s parent company to establish a separate holding company as a parent of the subsidiary, rather than requiring that holding company to be a separate financial holding company.

192: Schedule 11, page 213, leave out lines 23 and 24

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment at page 213, line 3 and omits the definition of “financial holding company” as it is no longer required.

193: Schedule 11, page 231, line 3, at end insert—

“(ia) paragraph 34(6)(d),”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that paragraph 34(6)(d) of Schedule 11 is read as including onward bridge central counterparties for the purpose of being able to convert liabilities owed by a central counterparty into securities issued by an onward bridge central counterparty.

194: Schedule 11, page 234, line 2, leave out from “cover” to end of line 4 and insert “the CCP’s potential future exposure in the event of default by those members”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would correct the definition of “initial margin requirements” so that it refers to the counterparty exposure that would arise if the clearing member lodging the initial margin defaulted.

195: Schedule 11, page 285, line 6, after “paragraph” insert “121 or”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that paragraph 127 of Schedule 11, regarding the admissibility of statements made to investigators, applies to statements made to investigators appointed under paragraph 121 of Schedule 11 as well as to those appointed under paragraph 122.

Amendments 191 to 195 agreed.

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed.

Clause 55 agreed.

Schedules 12 and 13 agreed.

Clauses 56 to 65 agreed.

Amendment 196 not moved.

Committee adjourned at 7.40 pm.