As members know, yesterday the APPG on Banking held a debate in Westminster to further the quest for better 'access to justice' or as Nick Gould says 'access to law.' In such a vast chamber it seemed as if the debate was not that well attended but that is wrong.
Twenty MPs from all over the Country attended and spoke – some of them in the fiercest terms about the unethical and even criminal conduct of some of our banks in their relationship with their SME customers. Words like “theft”, “pillage”, “scandalous” and even the word “Mafia” were used by MPs to describe bank conduct. These are words frequently used by the victims of bank abuse but until recently they were not so vehemently used by our elected representatives who are generally far more diplomatic than some of us.
If any top bankers were watching the debate I think they will have been shocked to realise the level of anger some MPs have on behalf of their constituents.
I'm not going to highlight all of the strong points made in the debate (there were so many) but at one point Calum McCaig MP said that while he was in the chamber, he had received a message from a constituent who has had dealings with RBS GRG and he said that “in the dealings his lawyer has had with RBS, the bank’s lawyers have said that these things are water off a duck’s back and that a bit of bad publicity now will not change how it operates.”
I'm not sure yesterday's debate will be “water off a ducks back” to the bankers (you'll note I'm saying bankers not banks because it is individual people working for banks that cause so much grief and misery). I think that unless we are dealing exclusively with psychopaths and sociopaths, some senior bankers may have to start recognising now that the elected representatives of the people are determined to stop bankers 'pillaging' SMEs.
“Pillaging” was a word used by Michelle Thomson MP when she asked “When did we sign up to this? When did we sign up to a taxpayer-owned bank pillaging the assets of our SMEs—the so called life blood of our economy—or creating a system where victory emails are sent when another department of the same bank asset-strips?” This was endorsed by Steve Baker MP who said “In this House we often hear strident language. The hon. Lady used the word “pillage”. I entirely agree that it is wholly appropriate to describe some of that behaviour as a pillage of those companies, and I hope the Minister will bear that in mind.”
Over the last nine plus years I've been involved in investigating bank abuse, yesterdays debate was without doubt the most positive example I've seen of democracy at work and I would encourage everyone to read the full transcript of the debate:
Or watch it here – starting at 13.03pm:
Although the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Kirby, did not “give way” to the MPs present, he has, as the APPG have confirmed, left the door open and this will go to the next stage George Kerevan has asked for:
“......The next stage is to have an inquiry, which will be conducted jointly by the APPGs on fair business banking and on alternative dispute resolution, in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and with the support of the Federation of Small Businesses. I hope that the Minister, if he nods his head violently enough, will give evidence at that inquiry.”
To which Simon Kirby said “I would be delighted.”
So the door is open and I know I speak for all SME Alliance members when I say we will be happy to supply information, evidence and research for a future inquiry.
We would like to thank: George Kerevan MP, Calum Kerr MP, Norman Lamb MP, Patrick Grady MP, Stephen Gethins MP, Mike Weir Mp, John Howell MP, Richard Arkless MP, david Hanson MP, Steve Banker MP, Philip Boswell MP, Jonathan Edwards MP, Mark Williams MP, Anna Turley MP, Michelle Thomson MP, Kirsten Oswald MP, Callum McCaig MP, Hannah Bardell MP, Roger Mullin MP, Peter Dowd MP for supporting the debate, their constituents and the SME sector. As always we'd like to thank Heather Buchanan and her team.