HC Deb 09 December 1999 vol 340 cc979-80
8. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

What plans he has to increase consumer protection within the banking system relating to cash withdrawals. [100532]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn)

We consider that consumers should be told in advance of any charges that they may face when they use cash machines, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has written to the British Bankers Association to make that clear. We hope that the trade will reach a voluntary agreement. If it does not, my right hon. Friend will consider using his powers under the Prices Act 1974 to require price transparency.

Mr. Baker

I agree with the point about price transparency, but does the Minister share my concern about the proposals for the introduction of further charges by banks, particularly Barclays, for making withdrawals from cash dispensers? Is it not ironic that those same banks are closing branches, including one in Ringmer in my constituency, and therefore making the use of competitors' cash machines even more necessary? Will he prevent the banks, if possible, from introducing further charges? If he cannot lean on them to persuade them to abandon their greed, will he take action to prevent them from introducing such charges?

Mr. Caborn

We do not believe that that is the right way to go. We are looking to the British Bankers Association and the trade itself to produce a voluntary code, and competition will make sure that the customer gets a reasonable deal. If we find that there has been any deviation from that, we shall use the powers at my right hon. Friend's disposal to ensure that the consumer gets the best deal.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am sure that the Minister appreciates that the Post Office network will close down if the Government continue with their policy of doing away with the payment of benefits through post offices. Will he look carefully at the charges being made on people who simply want to use a bank to cash their giro in one go? The banks are clearly putting up their charges and the Post Office is the cheapest way of delivering that service. I believe that the Minister will not want to inflict on the Post Office network damage similar to that which his colleagues in the Department of Social Security are about to cause. He needs to take action before it is too late.

Mr. Caborn

First, the systems that are in place are being automated and, secondly, because of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, the performance and innovation unit is looking at many of those issues. We shall come back to the House in the not-too-distant future to answer the serious questions that he raises.