I welcome the early reintroduction of the Consumer Credit Bill in this new Parliament. It is a good framework. I add a word of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Minister, who is still with the Bill and has managed to get it before the House. Some of us have put a lot of work into the Bill, which made good progress during the previous Parliament with contributions from Opposition Members. We got a shape and a framework, and we now have a chance to get it right, as the Minister put it, and to improve it.
I agree however with Charles Hendry about the timetable for implementation. We are reforming an Act that was passed in 1974 and we need the Bill to become law quickly, because delays while people wait for stronger regulation condemn thousands of the poorest and most needy in our communities to increasing, crippling debt burdens. We cannot wait for ever to get it perfect; we need some action to give people protection while their debt builds up daily.
In July 1999, the Government first stated their intention to bring the Consumer Credit Act 1974 up to date so that there would be better protection of consumers. With the publication of the White Paper, "Modern Markets: Confident Consumers" in July 2001, the then Minister, Melanie Johnson, announced a public consultation with these words:
"Our credit laws are over thirty years old and need a radical overhaul to protect people in today's credit market. This is a top priority for the government."
It was a top priority in 2001, and the years are starting to tick by. She then stressed:
"Consumers need to know what they are letting themselves in for when they sign up for credit. The expensive catch shouldn't be hidden in microscopic text. It should be explained up front by the lender. We will need to take action to protect vulnerable customers who are preyed on by rogue traders and make sure that consumers get clearer and understandable information so that they know exactly what they are getting into before they sign on the dotted line."
We all assent to that, but we need to get on with it. I make that plea to the Minister. We should not just reintroduce the Bill but get it through Committee—properly scrutinised; I will argue for it to be strengthened—and on to the statute book so that there is some action out there to protect people.
Five years later, we have had widespread consultation and the White Paper, which has all been welcome. A consensus has built up around the Bill, which is why we are where we are today. Yet for the poorest in our society, such as those in Leeds, West, who are forced to borrow for the basics from doorstep money lenders or to go to the cash-converter shop in Armley in my constituency, the situation is worsening as we speak, deliberate and debate. Their debts are compounding and unfair relationships are deepening into increasing and real desperation. That is why we need regulation and good regulation quickly.