Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:40 am on 12th June 2009.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) 10:40 am, 12th June 2009

It would depend on the circumstances, but I would be happy to drop the hon. Gentleman a line setting out a response to that point in more detail.

We are living through extraordinary economic times. The global economy is forecast to contract this year for the first time since the second world war. We have seen a worldwide financial crisis more severe than for generations. Against that backdrop, the strengths of the mutual sector have been highlighted, and we have seen mutual organisations playing an important part. We have also seen mutuals suffering alongside other institutions, as several hon. Members have pointed out, but the availability of an alternative model during the difficulties that we have experienced in recent months has been valuable, and the importance of that alternative model has been highlighted in a way that has not been the case in the previous few years.

There was a time when lots of demutualisations were taking place, and it looked as though the value of the mutual sector was not well understood. It is better understood now, for several reasons—and my right hon. Friend has drawn attention to some of them—but not least because of the backdrop of the very serious difficulties that others in the financial services industry have experienced.

In response to the crisis, the Government have taken a range of steps to reinforce the financial system and prevent its collapse, which was on the cards in the autumn of last year. We have also provided direct support for the economy, and we have seen data this week showing that those steps have had the desired effect. We have also cleaned up the banks, enabling them to restructure and increase lending. In the Budget, we also introduced measures to prepare to make the most of the opportunities of the upturn.

At every stage, we have been acting with other countries, because the issues faced by the mutual sector and the financial services industry more generally are being tackled around the world, given the global nature of the crisis that we have been through. That is why we have taken action to strengthen the whole financial system and to restore the flow of credit, which is critical to the success of the economy. We recognise that although banks are the main source of credit in the economy, they are not the only source. We need to build a financial system for the future and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will lay out the Government's thinking on the future shape of financial regulation before the summer recess.

Against that backdrop, and given the problems that we have seen with access to credit for families and businesses, the importance of the mutual sector and the significance of its potential contribution is clearer today than ever. So the provisions in this Bill will stand credit unions and other co-operative financial institutions in good stead to be part of the renewed financial services industry, meeting Britain's needs as we grow out of this crisis. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to see the importance of the mutual sector reflected in Government proposals for financial services regulation in the future.

The problems that we have seen in the credit crunch have trickled down to households across the country—pensioners worried about their savings, young couples struggling to find a mortgage, and people facing redundancy or the repossession of their home. Issues of personal finance have been pushed to centre stage, and the potential contribution of the mutual sector has also been highlighted. We have been able to commit to additional funding to boost the capacity of citizens advice bureaux in these difficulties to provide local face-to-face debt advice. In several instances, that will involve pointing people to the opportunities offered by their local credit union. We have also committed an extra sum of money to increase the provision of free telephone advice from the National Debtline service.

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