Here is my speech in the debate on the provision of money transfer account services by banks and the impact of recent decisions to close services.
17 July 2013
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) and to the Minister. I have a Select Committee meeting at a quarter to 4 and hope that they will accept my apologies for having to leave.
I want to comment briefly on two things. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) referred to the position taken by Ministers at the beginning of July; but unfortunately, I am going to disappoint him. I have received a letter dated 10 July from Lord Deighton, in response to representations that I made in June on behalf of constituents. He said:
“I hope your constituents will be able to secure banking facilities from another bank, or make alternative contractual arrangements, rather than close. I cannot oblige the banks to make facilities available. The choice of business customer is a commercial decision for banks to make.”
He simply refers to the fact that the Office of Fair Trading will examine support for small and medium-sized enterprises later in 2013.
As for the 12 August deadline, which businesses in my constituency face, I received a letter from a Mr Duale of the largest organisation that transfers money to the Somali community—other Members may have received the same letter—and it pointed out how just a few weeks after the international Somalia conference in London, when we pledged £180 million of support, the damage implied by the decisions that have been made could do damage that would outweigh that increased support.
Other hon. Members have talked about the effects elsewhere. I have constituents in various organisations who are very concerned about the impact in countries all over the world. My constituent Mr Shah of Zak Money Exchange, Ilford lane says that the business could close and that eight employees would lose their jobs. He raised the same concerns that others have raised: why cannot the nationalised banks do more? Barclays may have got into trouble, and we have heard about Mexican drug barons and money laundering, but why cannot other banks do something?
Barclays’ reputational damage in this country is an issue. I suspect that many people who will be affected by what is happening will have bank accounts—their own commercial bank accounts for their small businesses, or personal accounts. It is not good for Barclays’s reputation if the perception arises among millions of British people that they have a down on the poor and on migrant communities. Barclays should consider that carefully.
As for Western Union, there is a wider issue to do with the relationship between the United States, the US authorities—perhaps in particular US jurisdictions—and their way of dealing with extraterritoriality. We have the potential through the forthcoming European Union-US negotiations, which are to do with trade and international co-operation, to exert pressure back from the European side. Britain is more significant than many European countries in such matters, but we should not ignore the potential to raise with the US authorities, at all levels, the effect of their behaviour globally on communities in the UK, in the wider European context and worldwide. That is a matter for another debate—perhaps tomorrow—but I want to highlight the need for us to be more robust about the issues.
It is true that we need to eradicate money laundering, crack down on terrorist and drug financing, and all the rest. However, an alternative to the present arrangements is that people will start to take money in suitcases through airports and smuggle it across borders, making themselves vulnerable to being taken prisoner—to hostage taking, banditry and piracy. That is a bigger global threat than some of the other problems that are cited.
Yasmin Qureshi: I should like to comment on the point about fears of money laundering and drug dealing. People in my constituency—I do not know about other parts of the country—who use small companies to send remittances are hard-working people who earn very ordinary amounts of money. They send very ordinary amounts: £50, £100 or £150. They do not send thousands and thousands of pounds, and therefore those small businesses feel insulted that somehow they are being tarnished by the suggestion that they are laundering money.
Mike Gapes: People are right to feel that way, because it appears on the one hand that Barclays and on the other that the Government do not care. The Minister says, “This is a commercial matter and we are not going to get involved.” However, Barclays, without giving reasons to people in small money exchange firms, is simply saying, “Sorry, we are no longer prepared to deal with you.” It is not saying that those people have done anything irregular or illegal; it is saying only that the facility is no longer available. That is terrible.
In a wider context, we have been criticising the banks for their failure to support small and medium-sized enterprises; yet it seems in this context that the Government are not prepared to get off their seat and do anything to help the poorest communities globally and the people in Britain who are trying to transfer money, which, as has been said, is a larger amount than the international development assistance that is transferred from states to countries and people in the poorest countries in the world. Instead, the Government say, “This is nothing to do with us. This is simply a commercial arrangement.” I am sorry, but that is not good enough.