Orders of the Day — Consumer Credit Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 9th June 2005.

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Photo of John Battle John Battle Labour, Leeds West 1:30 pm, 9th June 2005

I agree, as would the majority of lenders in the business. They want to drive the worst lenders out of the marketplace, and would support a programme in which people must provide accurate, up-to-date information about their ability to repay so that repayment judgments can be made before they are lent money. We must then implement a panoply of financial advice, including on budget management. We must make sure that programmes are available in schools and neighbourhoods so that people can learn to manage their budget. Ironically, society is much more willing to discuss sex than debt—it is the great no-no. Part of the problem is that people will not admit how much they are in debt, and are ashamed of their debts.

As the Minister knows, we have had lengthy discussions about unjustifiably high interest rates. I still believe that the Government should serve notice in the Bill that if lenders exceed a market rate they will be penalised. The Minister said that interest rates will be kept under review, but I would like a reserve power to be introduced. If he thought the rate was too high he could draw on that power instead of being in a position where rates might be reviewed by his successors in the next 30 years. I would like to hurry that along, but it is open to debate. The Minister will wish to make his own arguments, so perhaps we should clarify the position at a later stage.

In conclusion, the concept of an unfair credit test must be clarified. We should introduce a responsible lending test for lenders so that the poor are not driven further into debt without protection. There should also be a reserve power to cap interest rates in future. I welcome the Bill, which provides a good framework. Much good work has already been done by Members of all parts of the House, and the Bill has widespread support. We must, however, make some of its definitions clearer. We must make sure that it is not an impotent measure in the background; but most importantly, we must put it on the statute book quickly so that people have redress and protection. Some individuals are enduring unsustainable debts and pay the highest price of all to borrow money for basics for their families. They should not be forced to live in financial misery for a single day longer.