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[That this House condemns the policy of high street banks to sell off their non-branch based ATM machines; notes that many have been replaced by ATMs which charge an average of £1.50 per withdrawal; further notes that fee-charging ATMs are disproportionately located in poorer areas where few people can afford to travel to free alternatives; is concerned that this is a particular problem for people whose state benefits are paid into their bank accounts, and who are therefore charged simply for receiving their benefits; is disappointed that the Royal Bank of Scotland has not done more to alleviate this problem since it acquired Hanco, which operates around a quarter of all fee-charging ATMs; concurs with the Citizens Advice Bureau and the National Consumer Council, who have criticised the Royal Bank of Scotland for effectively levying a tax on the poor through their actions; further concurs with Gamblers Anonymous, who have criticised Hanco for locating an ATM in an amusement arcade in Glasgow; and calls on the Royal Bank of Scotland and other high street banks to guarantee the future of free withdrawal facilities at ATMs in disadvantaged areas.]
The motion refers to the despicable conduct of the Royal Bank of Scotland, in the guise of Hanco, in charging people £1.50, and sometimes more, in the poorest areas of my constituency. It is attacking the elderly and the poor. There is no problem in the rich parts of the constituencyATMs are not put in those areas because people there can afford to travel to the free ATMs. Is it not time that we had a debate on this matter,
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that these finance companies were brought to book, and that rules were established on ATMs, particularly those in areas where the poor and elderly live?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend raises a very serious point. We are all concerned about this problem, especially as it affects poorer peopleespecially the elderly, those without cars or those on low incomeswho, as he implies, may not have the necessary transport to get to a bank to draw out money free of charge. That is a serious matter that the Minister concerned will want to consider carefully.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The value-added league tables published today show very clearly not only that grammar schools have been more effective than comprehensive schools but that selective education systems, such as the one in my borough of Trafford, achieve better results than comprehensive systems across the country. May we have a statement from the Government setting out how they might change their policy in order to withdraw some of their discriminatory policies against grammar schools? In particular, can grammar schools be allowed to expand where they are successful and parents want it, as other schools can?
Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have encouraged diversity. Indeed, specialist schools, although criticised when they were first proposed, have been hugely successful. What we see across the board under this Government is the record investment that is going into schools, with the recruitment of tens of thousands more teachers and classroom assistants, investment in IT equipment, and a steady rise in standards compared with the dismal record of Conservative Governments. I should have thought that that was the issue that the hon. Gentleman should focus on; it is certainly that on which the electors will decide when it comes to the general election.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I found the Leader of the House's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) deeply disappointing. Has he seen early-motion 488, which concerns "Jerry Springerthe Opera" and was tabled by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and signed by several Members, including me?
[That this House regards with dismay the decision by the BBC to broadcast Jerry SpringerThe Opera on BBC2, causing widespread offence to Christians and those of other faiths by its mocking portrayal of Jesus Christ, Holy Communion and some of the central tenets of the Christian faith; condemns the show's juvenile and offensive use of repeated profanity in an attempt at humour; further notes that it is particularly serious that the show should have been transmitted by the publicly-funded national broadcaster and questions whether it places the Corporation in breach of its Charter; laments the arrogant dismissal of Christian concerns by the content of programmes aired by the BBC; and calls on the Government publicly to rebuke the corporation for its attack on the religion adhered to by over 70 per cent. of the UK population and for its lowest common denominator approach to ethics in its attempts to chase ratings.]
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Anyone who saw that programme will have been dismayed by its unremittingly juvenile, offensive and blasphemous content. Is it not the case that the BBC, as its ratings go downhill, is taking the lowest-common-denominator approach to that? Does not this House have a role to play in reacting to that, not dismissing it as did the Leader of the House in his reply to my hon. Friend?
Mr. Hain: I understand the passion with which my hon. Friend expresses his point. I do not seek to dismiss anything but I do not think that it is for me, as Leader of the House, to pronounce on a specific programme or to set standards. That is a matter for the BBC, which needs to bear in mind feelings in the House of Commons and among the public. I am sure that the director-general will register my hon. Friend's point.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Is it possible to hold a debate on the consequences of maladministration in the tax credit system, especially its effect on many of my constituents and others, who were overpaid by the system through no fault of their own and are now having money recovered from them? Does the Leader of the House appreciate that people who are by definition on low incomes find it difficult when that income is reduced still further by having to pay back money that they have spent in good faith on the upkeep of their families?
Mr. Hain: Of course the Government are concerned about any instances of maladministration but I am not sure about the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. Surely he should praise the Government's introduction of tax credits, which have benefited millions of hard-working families and individuals. If I am right, the Liberal Democrats did not support or vote for that proposal. The electors will want to bear that in mind because millions of people on low incomes have benefited. In addition, people have been brought into work when perhaps it would not have been worth their while to work previously. That has led to high employment and a lower cost to the public purse for benefit payments.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate on Darfur, western Sudan? Given that the African Union force is clearly not preventing the mass murder of innocent civilians in Darfur, that violence now afflicts the internally displaced persons camps, and that the Janjaweed militias continue to run riot, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a debate in Government time in the main Chamber would allow hon. Members to argue that the international community has a moral duty to act now, not through a monitoring force but by the despatch of a substantial peacekeeping force, which alone will allow us to stop the slaughter there before it is too late?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman is a more passionate spokesman on those matters than anyone else on the Conservative Benches and the House welcomes that. He makes an important series of points and the Government acknowledge them. We shall certainly bear them in mind and I shall ensure that both the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary are aware of the points that he has raised today.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am aware that a Committee of the House can investigate complaints by hon. Members about the answering of written parliamentary questions. However, owing to my latest experience, may I ask you to review whether the procedure assists us in implementing Standing Orders?
On 8 November, I tabled a named day question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but as it had not received a reply at Prorogation, it fell. I was obliged to retable the same named day question in the current Session. I did that on 6 December. It is important because the question relates to the possible cause of the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth. I asked the Secretary of State,
I have phoned the Department and said that I now require the answer. It has had two months in which to reply to a simple, factual question, yet it continues to deny me an answer. I ask not only whether the Department, through your offices, will answer my question, but whether you will personally take another look at the way in which Members' questions are answered across Government. We have named day questions for a purpose and I should like to believe that some improvement will occur.
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