Interest Rates

Part of New clause 3 – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 13th July 1988.

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Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield 6:15 pm, 13th July 1988

I was coming to that. It is not being kept properly under control at the moment. At the moment supply imposes more credit on consumers than they want or need.

The National Consumer Council has provided the answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). It wants better protection for consumers and it has stated that fact clearly in many papers and statements over the past year. However, none of those documents relates directly to the new clause, so I will not refer to them in detail.

The Director General of Fair Trading also wants better protection for consumers and in his annual report he makes precisely the point made in new clause 3. In his annual report, Sir Gordon Borrie states: For credit to be used successfully"— hon. Members should notice that Sir Gordon, like Opposition Members, wants credit to be used successfully because it has a major, important and beneficial role to play in an economy provided that it is used successfully— there are two vital prerequisites—first both parties must know what they are letting themselves in for; and second credit must be both given and taken responsibly. This means that, if there are to be improvements, both lenders and borrowers must be better informed and both must demonstrate the highest standards of moral responsibility. Better information is precisely what new clause 3 is about. The Opposition entirely agree with Sir Gordon Borrie, and the new clause is a first step towards a better informed consumer market better able to judge, discern and choose between available credit. New clause 3 will also assist the ability to make demand the arbiter of credit rather than supply. At present, supply dictates and credit is effectively on the loose.

If Conservative Members are not prepared to listen to me, to Sir Gordon Borrie or to the National Consumer Council, they might listen to what The Times stated this morning. The Times comments on the latest figures on bank lending. While welcoming the improvement in the figures in industrial borrowing, it describes the present state of affairs graphically as a candy floss society busy spending its way towards the next balance of payments crisis. That is precisely what is happening, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer sits back and believes that an adjustment of a half per cent. here or there in the base rate is sufficient to make amends. It is not. The least that the Government can do is to accept the logic of our case, accept the dangers inherent in the present situation, and accept our new clause to provide consumers with at least basic information about the rates of credit that are available to them, to enable them to make informed choices rather than uninformed choices, as they are doing at the moment.