Consideration of the recommendations of the Crowther Committee for major reform of the law relating to consumer credit has reached an advanced stage. Their implementation would require complicated new legislation and my officials are now consulting various interests on a number of important technical points which arise.
While welcoming the Government's decision a year ago to remove hire-purchase restrictions, may I ask my right hon. Friend how long it will be before the consumer is protected by the obligation to disclose true rates of interest and the cost of credit? Will my right hon. Friend consider urgently amending the legislation to achieve that result?
In view of the apparent growth in the amount of misleading information about the true cost of credit, would the Minister also bear in mind that the Crowther Report highlighted the state of confusion and fragmentation in consumer credit law? Will he consider taking the earliest possible action to give the consumer better protection in this respect?
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Younger Committee on Privacy is also believed to be about to recommend the creation of a credit commissioner? Will he please recognise the urgency of the situation, particularly bearing in mind the fact that, with the rapid rate of inflation under the present Government, more and more people can afford to live only on credit?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House are getting tired of the humbug and cant of hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies opposite, who are suddenly and very belatedly taking an interest in the protection of the consumer? They are all—with the exception of the hon. Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who asked one of the Questions and who came in too late to vote against the retention of the Consumer Council—seeking to convey the impression that they want to protect the consumer. Is this not utter humbug?
Since my right hon. Friend talks about more complicated legislation, will he bear in mind that there are many right hon. and hon. Members and a number of people outside who think that we could do with less complicated legislation? Will my right hon. Friend think again before introducing such legislation at an early date?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has slept on this report for 15 months and that if that has been an uncomfortable posture for him, it has led to even more discomfort for housewives who have been denied the protection that they would have had if the report had been implemented? Is he aware, further, that it is not good enough to do what he did last time and use the shambles of the Government's legislative time table as an excuse for bringing forward no proposals? While we understand why the Government cannot legislate at the moment, that is no reason why, 15 months' later, the right hon. Gentleman should not have given a detailed indication of the Government's intentions so that some firms could act in anticipation.