Orders of the Day — Consumer Credit Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 9th June 2005.

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Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks Labour, Ochil and South Perthshire 5:27 pm, 9th June 2005

At the risk of repeating what others may have said already, let me say that I welcome the Bill. The existing legislation is more than 30 years old, and in that time we have seen many fundamental changes in our attitudes in society and to our attitudes to borrowing money and consumer credit.

Credit cards have become a way of life in the United Kingdom. Many of us are quite capable of managing our credit card debts, but others are not. In 2004, Citizens Advice Scotland published debt research entitled "On the cards", which showed a 64 per cent. increase in card debt since 2001, with the average debt in Scotland approaching £13,500. I believe that part of the reason is the order in which credit card payments are made. Customers are given the impression that they are paying off the high-interest debt first, or at the very least are not given the opposite impression. In fact, they are paying off the lower interest first. Most responsible credit card providers would recognise that every customer would prefer to pay off the debt with the highest interest first: that is only logical. The only reason for leaving the high interest to be paid off later is a desire to make more money at the customer's expense.

I do not believe that we can trust the market to reform itself, or to reform the system alone. We cannot rely on those who seek to make a profit from lending money to make and implement changes, and to regulate themselves adequately. I should like the Bill to give the Office of Fair Trading power to impose fines without limit—which the Financial Services Authority already has—and to include a requirement for statements of account to be issued on short-term loans lasting less than 12 months. I should also like to see restrictions on high payment protection insurance offered on short-term loans, which has already been mentioned today.

The Bill's aim, however, is clear. The credit industry is needed to assist those with long and short-term financial needs, and indeed to assist modern life in general. We all use cards and we all use credit. There is a need to modernise and to adapt in order to provide a significantly more responsible market. The credit industry makes hundreds of millions—perhaps billions—of pounds. I doubt whether legislation such as this, or many of the suggestions made by Members today, will damage the industry; in fact, they can only serve better to protect the British public.