Orders of the Day — Consumer Credit Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:53 pm on 9th June 2005.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 1:53 pm, 9th June 2005

I agree with much of what John Battle said. On the question of timetabling, it is important to put the Bill on to the statute book and to implement it speedily. It took many years to implement parts of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and implementation this time around must be much quicker so that we can deal with the serious concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He gave a moving account of what it is like to live on a low income, struggling to cope and facing harsh interest charges. I also agree with much of what Charles Hendry said.

I thank the Minister for his kind words of welcome. He must be delighted to be dealing with the issue for a second time, and will have a sense of déjà vu. I congratulate him on making sure that the Bill has been introduced speedily in the House, as it is important that we make progress. I did not participate in debates on the original Bill, but in the last Parliament I was a member of the Treasury Committee, which conducted an inquiry on the credit card industry and practices that have caused genuine concern to pressure groups and the public. When the original Bill was introduced, Mr. McFall, the former Chairman of the Treasury Committee, said on Second Reading that it was scandalous that it had taken so long to introduce draft legislation in Parliament. The Minister is not to blame, because the delay occurred before he took up his portfolio.

It has taken far too long to introduce new legislation. The 1974 Act is more than 30 years old, and since its introduction there has been a revolution in the availability of credit and the range of credit products. As the hon. Member for Wealden pointed out, there has been a dramatic growth in the number of credit cards that are available. There was one in 1971, but more than 1,300 today. Borrowing on credit cards has gone through the roof. The legislation is therefore no longer fit for purpose. The new measure is long overdue and it is good that it is before Parliament today. Because the 1974 Act is no longer fit for purpose, consumers, including the most vulnerable, have been left unprotected, which is unacceptable. Today's press report that RBS NatWest has experienced an increase in arrears, following similar warnings by Barclays, HBOS and HSBC, is a timely reminder of what happens when interest rates go up. It is always the most vulnerable who are hit first. The market is not operating properly and that must change.

Before applying our minds to the legislation, we should state the principles that we will follow. The availability of credit is a good thing. We all need credit from time to time, and some people always need it. Different people need it to a different extent and for various periods of time. We must, however, avoid the paternalistic temptation to prevent people on low incomes from gaining access to credit, as they need it as much as the rest of us. We must ensure that lending is responsible so that those people do not get into difficulties.