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We heard a measured contribution from the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). He talked about local discretion and variation, but also about consistency. I am not sure whether in the end he came to a different view from that expressed by other Members—that the Sentencing Council regime is to balance clear guidelines for consistency with judicial discretion.

I am always glad to hear from the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) because she brings much experience to bear. I am always grateful when I hear her defending legal aid lawyers and legal aid, and I hope we may see her vote accordingly when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill comes back from the Lords, hopefully in a substantially amended form. She gave a vote of confidence in the judiciary—all credit to her—and talked about the great advances in dealing with domestic violence offences. Perhaps she will also join the Opposition in condemning changes to domestic violence courts where they are being closed as a result of the court closure programme. I hope they will be replaced and the regime expanded. I note that she said that IPP sentences were a good idea in theory. If so, surely we should work towards making them more effective in practice, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said about the judiciary, which as a practitioner he has much experience of, and about the Supreme Court—I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber. I agreed with him less when he was scoring points about the previous Government’s regime. It is convenient on these occasions for Government Members to forget the 43% fall in crime that occurred under the previous Government, and it is convenient for him to criticise us for the early release schemes but not address the IPP sentences or the 15% discounts when he says that he agrees fully with the Government.

I heard from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) the voice of the victim, not the voice on behalf of the victim. His points were well made, particularly the fact that the victims of burglary and many other crimes are predominantly on low incomes and come from poorer parts of society. That is why the Opposition will do everything we can to see that punishment is appropriate and reoffending is prevented, and detection and sentencing are absolutely vital for that.

The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who is now in his place, made a clear case, and one that should be heard in this House, for the reduction in prison numbers. I praise him for that, even if I did not always agree with him. I agreed absolutely when he talked about the need for effective community punishments and the previous Government’s record on reducing youth custody by 30%. He raised the subject of young adults and 18 to 24-year-olds in prison, which I know the Prison Reform Trust is currently looking at. It is a neglected area. However it is to be dealt with, whether it is through NOMS—the National Offender Management Service—or whether it is through the Youth Justice Board, it is an area to which we urgently need to turn our attention. I agree with him about cuts in magistrate training, but it is also about the sentences and orders that magistrates can commit to. The magistrates in my constituency, both those on the lay benches and the district judges, know their powers very well, but sometimes

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they find that they are simply not available to them, as is the case with drug treatment orders, which is a source of great frustration to them.

All I can say about the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is that I enjoyed his speech very much—I will leave it at that. He talked about the constitution and fettering discretion, but he should also look at the increase in mandatory sentencing and the restrictions on the rights of sentencers in bail matters, because we regard those as worrying trends.

I enjoyed the speech made by the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), which was on behalf of victims and reminded us that the protection of the public is crucial to the criminal justice system. I also enjoyed the speech made by the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), particularly when he talked about restorative justice, on which I think there is much cross-party consensus, with the caveat that it is not a soft option but must be properly resourced. His comments, and those of the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), offered the insider’s view on the Sentencing Council. It was interesting to note the points of difference, but they gave a fairly strong endorsement of many of the things that that body does, such as the research and work on consistency.

I thought that the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) gave a liberal—he almost used the word himself—speech, and there is no shame in that sometimes. [Interruption.] Well, we will see. He spoke as a non-lawyer with sympathy for lawyers and for courts, even saving a court himself, which is a rare thing to hear from those who are not lawyers, so I pay tribute to him for that.

We heard a warning at the end of the debate from the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that interference in the sentencing process, which we sometimes hear from the tabloid press, is not a good idea. Against that, the influence on sentencing policy and trends that the general public, and even the press, bring from time to time, is welcome.

Just as with criminal justice more generally, all sides of the House need to state clearly that we should have no reservations about putting people in custody when that is necessary for public protection. Equally, however, we should look at alternatives that will provide punishment but might also provide better options for rehabilitation. When looking at sentencing policy, we should combine those two essential aims.

This debate is about transparency and consistency. I believe that the Sentencing Council is delivering that, together with the common sense and expertise of citizens and juries, and of the judiciary, who have been praised on all sides of the House today. If we have that balance—we have gone a long way towards achieving it—it will be an area in which there can be consensus, and we can feel assured that at least in that area of the criminal justice system, we are achieving a system that the public want. The public can then feel confident that we will deliver solutions to crime that are just, fair and, when they need to be, punitive.

5.40 pm

The Solicitor-General (Mr Edward Garnier): I think that I am the 16th contributor to the debate, and it is not surprising—indeed, it is welcome—that although

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the debate is entitled “Transparency and consistency of sentencing”, and we are required by the motion to have

“considered the work of the Sentencing Council and the transparency and consistency of sentencing”,

contributions from right hon. and hon. Members have dealt with a number of wider issues within the criminal justice system. I congratulate the two Deputy Speakers who have chaired our debate on permitting such a liberal approach to the terms of the motion, which has allowed a number of informed and informative contributions.

I confess I thought that at some stages in the debate, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) who, at least this afternoon, speaks for the Opposition on such matters, had been sentenced to a period of solitary confinement. For considerable periods he was the only Labour Member who thought it appropriate to remain in the Chamber. He, poor fellow, had no liberty and no discretion about whether to sentence himself to time in the Tea Room or somewhere else. It was a pleasure to see him sitting there silently for much of this afternoon. He has assisted us greatly with two contributions. Many people will no doubt find assistance from reading, with great care, what he had to say, in tomorrow’s Hansard. His praise for our judiciary and the criminal justice system was of considerable value, and the sentiment was shared across the House. I think he said that there was no room for complacency. If he did say that, he was right to do so.

From listening to the speeches of Government Back Benchers, I think it is fair to say that while there is universal acceptance of the high quality of our judiciary, from the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, to the lay magistracy, there is no room for complacency and plenty of room for public comment. There is plenty of room for Members of Parliament—indeed, there is a duty on them, when it is appropriate—to make stinging comment, often in offensive terms. It is the right and duty of a Member of Parliament to speak up for his constituents or for a particular group of citizens who have strong views. It is right that my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Shipley (Philip Davies) come to this place not to agree with everything that goes on, but to disagree and explain why they disagree. The Government and the Opposition can make judgments about their contributions and reach a rational conclusion about whether to agree or disagree with them. I am grateful to both of them, and indeed to all Members who have taken part in the debate.

As I said, it is not surprising that our debate has been spread widely. We have considered the work of the Sentencing Council and whether it is a constitutional abomination that is interfering with the freedom of Englishmen. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) that in some senses I hope it is interfering with the freedom of Englishmen who commit crimes and deserve to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment or, if their offences are not so hideous, to non-custodial disposals.

I know that my hon. Friend is a man who thinks a great deal about a great many things, and it is clear that he has thought a great deal about the difficult constitutional issues that are revealed in any discussion of the separate roles of Parliament, judges, juries and the Sentencing Council. None the less, I disagree with his conclusion if it genuinely is that the Sentencing Council is an affront to the liberty of Englishmen.

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During the passage of the legislation that the last Government introduced setting up first the Sentencing Guidelines Council and then the Sentencing Council, I expressed the view that there was a danger that those bodies would interfere with the discretion of the judiciary. I said that both as a Member of Parliament and as someone who has sentenced people—until I came into government in 2010, I used to sit as a Crown court recorder, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips). I think if my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border were to sit either as a spectator in the public gallery or alongside the judge—or even, dare I say it, if he were to imagine what it must be like to sit in the dock and hear a judge promulgate a sentence—I do not think he would be in any doubt whatever that our judiciary is not fettered in the way that I feared it might be, and the way he perhaps implied it was, by the guidance of the Sentencing Council.

Time and time again as Solicitor-General, I have appeared in the Court of Appeal criminal division referring what I consider to be unduly lenient sentences to the Court for review. I remind the House that I do that not as a member of the Government but as an independent Law Officer protecting the public interest. When I do so, I am constantly reassured that the Court of Appeal reminds the judiciary and the public who are in court that the sentencing guidelines are simply that—guidelines. When it is just to depart from them, the judiciary must do so. When it is just to show mercy, it is right and proper that the court should do that.

In cases such as the riots, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred, it is right that sentencing judges in London, Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester can go beyond the range of sentences recommended in the guidelines for affray, robbery, burglary of shops, arson or whatever it may be. The Court of Appeal and the Lord Chief Justice have said that given the context in which the crimes were committed, it was entirely proper that the sentencing judge should go beyond the sentence that might normally be expected for, let us say, the theft of three bottles of water, a cardigan or a pair of trainers from a shop.

It seems to me that we need to bear in mind the context in which the Sentencing Council does its work. Yes, the situation has changed from what happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago, when we relied only on the Court of Appeal to set out guidelines. However, now that we have the council I am, if not an enthusiastic convert, a convert who is prepared to say that its work, and previously that of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, has demonstrated its worth.

I should like to echo those who thanked Lord Justice Leveson—I am thinking particularly of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. Lord Leveson’s work on sentencing is in addition to his ongoing inquiry into the press and his work as an ordinary member of the Court of Appeal. He has to fit in sitting days in the Court of Appeal and deal with the work of the Sentencing Council in addition to his work on the Leveson inquiry, so I hope it will not be suggested that that judge, let alone any other judge at that level, shirks in his public responsibilities. He is working extremely hard and producing good work.

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However, the fact that the council produces those guidelines does not mean that we must agree with them. Members of Parliament can disagree with them, as can members of the public who read about sentences in their local or national newspapers. We can form our own views, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said at the outset, Members of Parliament must be a little careful when we express such views, because the public expect us to have opinions based on fact, not simply on conjecture or rumour, or on a bad report of a case that we read in the newspaper. When Members of Parliament disagree with a sentence that a Crown Court judge has arrived at, we are under rather more of a duty than the young reporter or the ordinary member of the public to do our best to find out the facts.

One good way of finding out the facts is to ask the House of Commons Library to do the research for us. Another good way of increasing our knowledge of what the Crown Courts and other sentencing courts do is to go and sit in them, which I did in opposition. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends and the few Labour Members in the Chamber to go to their local Crown court to see what happens. Friday is a very good day to do so because it is often the day when the sentencing lists are dealt with.

I take what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said about cases sometimes being dealt with by one judge at one instance and then being referred to another judge, but by and large, I like to think that happens only when they are dealing with cases in which there is a guilty plea followed by a sentence. The sentencing judge on a guilty plea is in just as good a position as the judge that received the plea. The important thing to bear in mind—this is a piece of advice that the Court of Appeal constantly gives, and my right hon. and learned Friend and I constantly give it to the Crown Prosecution Service, which we superintend—is that the factual basis on which the plea is made is established. Sentencers cannot sentence in a vacuum. It is essential that the facts of the case as admitted or as found by the jury are clear, so that the sentencer knows precisely on what basis he is sentencing.

Mr Buckland: Will the Solicitor-General reassure the House that the basis of pleas are reduced into writing—that they are court documents? Transparency is an important part of that process, as has been emphasised by all courts, including the Court of Appeal, for some years now.

The Solicitor-General: I am sure my hon. Friend is right about that—he will know that from his experience both as an advocate and as a sentencer. It is utterly frustrating to have to analyse sentencing remarks that are based if not on conjecture, then on a total lack of knowledge of the facts. Advocates—those who appear for the Crown and the defendant—have a duty to ensure that the court is given the facts.

Advocates also have a duty to ensure that the court is advised about the relevant sentencing law and powers. One of the problems, or unintended consequences, of the raft—I was going to say the flood—of legislation passed by the Labour Government was that those Acts had something to do with amending the criminal justice system. The previous Government were not so silly as to call every one of those 64 Acts of Parliament a criminal justice Act, but I can assure the hon. Member

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for Hammersmith that 64 pieces of legislation passed between 1997 and 2010 affected the way the criminal justice system worked. It is completely—I will not use an unparliamentary expression—confusing to have to sit there and try to work out which piece of legislation deals with which type of offence and whether that legislation is in force, not yet in force or out of force.

Let me take the example of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is almost as thick as this great tome—the wonderful “Vacher’s Parliamentary Companion”—in my hand. Before this Government came into office, I asked a parliamentary question of the previous Government, and it was quite clear that they had simply mismanaged the conduct of that piece of legislation. About a third of it was repealed before it even came into force. Another third was not in force by the time the previous Government left office. Individual bits of the remaining third were brought into effect, and we are now having to repeal them—I am talking, for example, about the IPP legislation. Other bits were also brought into force by the previous Government, but they then realised they needed to repeal them.

What we require from the House, therefore, is an understanding that legislation needs to be thought about. We need, of course, to consult—this is what the Sentencing Council does—the people who have to apply it and the people it will affect. We need to work out what we will get if we pass what I call early-day motion legislation—expensive appeals; judges telling my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor that statutory construction is hell; and a huge lack of public confidence and satisfaction in the justice system.

Stephen Phillips: My hon. and learned Friend may remember—I wonder whether he agrees with this—that, in March 2006, Lord Justice Rose, speaking of the 2003 Act, which most of the judiciary consider to be the worst criminal justice Act of all time, said:

“Time and again during the last 14 months, this Court has striven to give sensible practical effect to provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a considerable number of which are, at best, obscure and, at worst, impenetrable.”

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it was not the high point of Labour’s justice policy?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. and learned Friend is too kind. I will also say this: Lord Justice Rose is a very great man.

Rehman Chishti: On that point, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the 3,000 new offences brought in by the Labour Government had little effect in reducing

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crime? It was simply a case of legislation being made for the sake of making legislation, rather than making a real difference to people’s quality of life.

The Solicitor-General: I do agree. We made the same points during the passage of the 2003 Bill, as it then was, and subsequently.

Mr Slaughter rose

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman has been very lucky—he has been allowed two goes. I have two more minutes, so he will just have to sit there and wait.

In the final minutes remaining to me, I want to thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith for his contributions, which were utterly valuable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed contributed thoughtfully and with all the experience he has gained as the Chairman of the Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has now gone. I am afraid that I had to cut him short because I thought his remarks were straying into an area we should not stray into until the case he wanted to talk about is completed. I mentioned the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Gainsborough. I am sorry I do not have time to deal in detail with the points they made, but I commend them on the forceful way in which they put them across. It is important that Members of Parliament do not just sit there like lemons, but get up and speak for their constituents.

Furthermore, if Members have particular experience —my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and I have both been victims of several burglaries, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry)—we should use that personal experience. However, we should also use our professional experience, and a number of lawyers have brought to the House their experience as lawyers and as Members of Parliament. Their work as Members of Parliament is all the better for it. I am thinking of my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and for South Swindon, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I apologise for not commenting in detail on the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael). I also wanted to comment on the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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Carers and Online Banking

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Vara.)

6 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): These days, we seem to talk a lot about banks and banking, and for many in the House it is nice that there is a profession slightly less popular than ours. Since notice was given of this debate, I have had right hon. and hon. Members ask me what it was about, and when I explained it, many of them gave examples of similar problems raised with them by their constituents. I am glad, therefore, to have been able to secure this debate.

All Members on both sides of the House value, and know the value of, carers in this country. There are almost 6 million carers in the United Kingdom—a staggering one in 10 people—and according to Carers UK over the next 30 years their number will increase by 3.4 million. That is about a 60% increase. Some 1.25 million carers care for more than 50 hours a week. Indeed, carers are estimated to save the Government between £67 billion and £87 billion a year, and a 2011 report by the university of Leeds for Carers UK estimated that the economic value of the contribution made by carers in the UK is £119 billion per year. Bearing in mind our current deficit, those are staggering figures.

Before being elected, I worked in the hospice movement, and time and again I would see carers’ hard work and dedication. I remember one father saying that if he got up for his child eight times in a night, he would think that he had had a good night’s sleep. As MPs, we know the value of carers and the challenges that they face, whether from those who visit us in our surgeries or from the visits that we make to organisations representing them.

Being a carer is about long hours and hard work, and because they are often caring for loved ones, it is sometimes deeply emotional. They are an army of people whose dedication and compassion we should cherish. It is in that vein and spirit that I asked for this debate. In a decent country such as the UK we should do all that we can to help improve the lives of carers and make things as easy as possible for them. I am delighted, therefore, that the Government have committed an extra £400 million to supporting respite support for carers, and I looked forward to that money reaching the people who need it.

A few months ago, two constituents of mine, Mr and Mrs Dransfield, came to one of my surgeries. It was their story and the fact that their experience is not isolated that persuaded me to raise this issue today. Annie Dransfield is the full-time carer of her 32-year-old son, who suffers from cerebral palsy and mental health issues. Like carers up and down the country, she helps and supports her son to manage day-to-day activities that I, for one, am fortunate enough to be able to do unassisted. For her son it is different. Annie has to help around the house, sort papers out and deal with other household issues. She also has to take management of his finances. In February 2009, she applied to be her son’s deputy through the Court of Protection. This was duly approved, and as a consequence she was given access to her son’s bank account at the local Halifax branch. The arrangement helps her son to be financially

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independent, as the money that he is given is paid into his account and she merely ensures that it is managed correctly.

As we all lead increasingly busy lives, so our daily activities have had to change. As a consequence, many of the services offered by various institutions have maximised the use of new technology to help us. Online banking is a good example of that; indeed, it is something that I have come to rely on. So it was that Mrs Dransfield decided to use online banking for her son’s account. She has explained why it is so important:

“As a carer, the ability to access my son’s accounts online is invaluable. It means I don’t have to make the journey to his bank to give him his money each day and it also gives me peace of mind. If he loses his money, or does not realise how much he has spent and has nothing to get home with or buy food with, he can call me and in less than two minutes I can transfer some extra cash into his account so that he can get home safely or get something to eat”.

To give him some independence and responsibility, Mrs Dransfield’s son has a cash card account that she keeps topped up from his current account. That helps him with his daily routine, giving him the motivation to get up, go out and walk to get some cash.

That arrangement worked extremely well, until one day Mrs Dransfield tried to access her son’s account and found that she was blocked from doing so. The cash machine also retained his card when they tried to use it. Naturally, she contacted the bank, only to be told that it was illegal to have two online usernames, despite Mrs Dransfield’s having the authority to manage her son’s account. This started a long and time-consuming battle with her bank to have her access reinstated. The bank refused to back down. As a result, the case was referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which concluded that Annie was correct. In November, the FOS ordered the bank in its adjudication to reinstate her online access. The ombudsman found that the bank has obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make “reasonable adjustments” and that the fair outcome would be for the bank to restore her online banking in full. In addition, the ombudsman said that the bank should pay £300 for “unnecessary distress” and that the only thing preventing access was the bank’s policy and systems. I am sure that we would all agree that that was a sensible verdict.

Staggeringly, the bank ignored the Financial Ombudsman Service’s verdict. Feeling desperate, Annie found that her only option was to turn to the media. Thankfully, The Mail on Sunday took up the story. It was only then that the bank took action and permitted her access to the account again. However, what is shocking is that, as I understand it, that resolution is not being rolled out to other carers: the actions that the bank took to authorise a second log-in will not be replicated for other customers who desperately need the service.

Of course, I am highlighting what has gone wrong—I am aware there are great examples of things that banks do—but this issue is clearly causing a problem to many carers around the country. I therefore wonder whether the Government might be able to raise the issue with the banks, to ensure that they act responsibly and provide an accessible service to all customers. They should remember that those customers are accessing their own money, and it is their legal right to do so. The practice of not allowing such access is bordering on discrimination,

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in not recognising the Equality Act 2010, in accordance with the FOS ruling. Carers spend hundreds of pounds going through the legal process of gaining power of attorney, or similar authority. Therefore, it seems illogical that the same legal document permitting access to a person’s bank account does not allow access to the service online.

The case that I have raised is not just an isolated incident. Even though Annie has resolved the issue with her bank, she has been told that it was a special allowance for her. She has therefore not stopped campaigning for the facility to be rolled out to other carers in similar situations. I have spent the afternoon with her and her husband. They are a great couple and have fire in their belly when it comes to their campaign—that is a warning shot to the banks, but perhaps also to my hon. Friend the Minister. Annie is also a member of the Carers UK Leeds branch and a governor of the mental health trust, so to say that she knows what she is talking about would be an understatement. As such, she has heard of hundreds of similar cases around the country. Changes to the current practice would have a huge impact on carers and the people they care for. It would be wonderful if a bank took the lead in creating a better system for carers and customers, but I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue in the House today, in the hope that the Government can assist. Carers should not have to spend their valuable spare time, when they are not looking after the people they care for, going through a complex bureaucratic complaints procedure.

In conclusion, banks should make better provision for carers and take into consideration the needs of their customers. They should therefore ensure that arrangements are in place to assist customers with mental health issues, and that staff with specialist knowledge of these requirements are available to assist when necessary. There seem to be a lot of good words coming from the banks, but carers up and down the country are still facing many serious problems. I believe, unless the Minister can tell me otherwise, that what we need is a stronger code of practice to assist carers. It would also be most helpful if he would be willing to meet a delegation to discuss this matter. After all, time is precious for all of us these days, but it is particularly so for carers.

6.11 pm

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): I should like to begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for securing a debate on this issue and for setting out so clearly the circumstances that carers face and the problems that might exist with the banking system. I am also grateful to him for setting out the difficulties that Mr and Mrs Dransfield have faced and telling us of their determination to address them. I sympathise with the difficult circumstances that can be faced by many carers, who make an increasingly important and valuable contribution to our society by supporting those who may be less able, for various reasons, to live an independent life.

The Government are committed to improving access to financial services, and in particular to bank accounts. It has been amply demonstrated that having a bank account is an essential aspect of modern life for any

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individual. My hon. Friend set out those circumstances clearly in the context of his constituents. It is clear that many individuals might need the assistance of a carer to help them manage their money, including people with a disability as well as the elderly.

I hope that it will be helpful if I briefly set out the regulations that apply in this area. Banks’ and building societies’ treatment of their customers is governed by the Financial Services Authority in its banking conduct of business sourcebook. The sourcebook includes a general requirement for firms to provide a prompt, efficient and fair service to all their customers. That includes older people, the disabled, and those who lack capacity to manage their account on their own. In addition, like all service providers, banks and building societies are bound, under the Equalities Act 2010—which my hon. Friend mentioned—to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they deliver their services. This may include allowing for a carer or deputy to act for the disabled person.

It is of course right that banks and building societies have put in place measures to protect their customers and themselves from fraud. They clearly need to satisfy themselves of their customers’ identity, both for commercial reasons and to meet their obligations under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. Before a bank or building society can let someone manage the account of another person, it must have proof of the name and address of the account holder and of the person who will have legal responsibility for managing the account. It must also see evidence of that person’s authority to control the account holder’s money. When a carer has been given formal authority to manage another person’s finances through a power of attorney or court order, or by acting as a deputy, this can be proven through official documentation. However, when a person does not lack capacity to take decisions about their affairs but requires assistance to access their account, the situation can be more difficult. I accept that the case described by my hon. Friend falls into the former category.

It is worth noting that most banks offer their customers a range of channels through which to access their bank accounts, including by telephone or in a branch. It might well be that these channels are better suited to allowing access to a bank account via a deputy carer or other representative. I also note that the British Bankers Association has provided on its website information on banking for those with less capacity.

I nevertheless agree with my hon. Friend that older people, the disabled and their carers should be able to benefit from the convenience of an online service. With online banking, it is even more important that security measures are in place to prevent unauthorised persons from accessing consumers’ accounts. There is no opportunity for a member of the bank staff to verify the identity of a carer or representative acting on behalf of a customer. Customers have a duty to protect the security details they are given in order to minimise the risk of financial crime. This may preclude sharing their log-in details with their carer.

My hon. Friend set out the unique difficulty faced by those who need the assistance of a carer to access their bank account. As with the application of identity checks more generally, there is a balance to be struck between maximising security for customers and facilitating access

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for customers who need the help of a carer. The services offered by banks and building societies are evolving all the time, and I would urge the industry to ensure that account is taken of this issue in the development of online services.

I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey once again for bringing this issue to the attention of the House and the Government. I have taken note of his comments about the campaign on this issue. I am sure this is not the last we will hear of this matter either from my hon. Friend or, indeed, from others. I, for one—and the Government as a whole—would be interested to hear from individuals facing some of these difficulties and from banks and building societies about how, in the course of improving their services, they are approaching the issue of permitting access for those who require the assistance of a carer. Treasury officials will pick up in their discussions with current account providers the very points that my hon. Friend has made this evening.

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I am sure that our hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who leads on these matters but is unavailable today, would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, Mr and Mrs Dransfield and others as the matter develops to look at proposals to address this concern. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we will continue to monitor this issue in the context of improving access to banking more generally and in the context of the Government’s actions to support carers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. He has set out clearly and very well the concerns of his constituents. I assure him that his words have been heard clearly by the Treasury, and I am sure that they will have been heard clearly by banks and building societies as well.

Question put and agreed to.

6.19 pm

House adjourned.