With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 64 to 154.
Lords amendment 155, and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Lords amendments 156, 161 to 163, 169 to 172, 175 to 180 and 182 to 184.
The second group of amendments introduce substantial changes that will ensure that consumers get a fair deal. They will drive up competition and improve outcomes for consumers. Amendments 63 to 134 introduce a new competition-focused, utility-style regulator as a separate legal entity established under the FCA.
The Government have concerns about the payment systems market, with particular problems in three main areas: competition, innovation and responsiveness to consumer needs. Under the current arrangements, there is nothing holding big banks, payment scheme companies and infrastructure providers to account for consumers. The regulator will therefore have strong powers and objectives: to ensure that the operation of payment systems promotes fair and open competition in banking; to promote innovation in payment systems, for the benefit of consumers; and to support the interests of end users.
The regulator will have bespoke objectives and powers to address problems particular to the market for payment systems, allowing for the benefits of close co-ordination with the FCA. Once a payment system is brought into scope, the regulator will have powers over the system’s operators, infrastructure providers and providers of payment services using the system.
The payment system regulator will be equipped with a broad range of regulatory powers, enabling it to address the significant issues causing problems in the market for payment systems. To open up access and encourage greater competition, the regulator will be able to intervene and require changes to any anti-competitive fees or terms and conditions of an agreement for access to regulated systems. It will have powers to require the provision of access to payment systems. The regulator will also have competition powers exercisable concurrently with the Competition and Markets Authority.
My hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom, who is in her place, will be pleased to know that the regulator will examine the case for full account number portability within 12 months of its establishment—although, with the successful seven-day switching service, which was launched by banks in September, hon. Members should know that they do not have to wait until then if they want to switch their account quickly.
I have listened to my hon. Friend carefully, and others have made that point previously, but I do not share those concerns. I think that the regulator will move on that swiftly. The changes that have so far been made to payments, such as the switching service, are already making a real difference.
Ultimately, if the payments system regulator determines that the current ownership structures need to be broken up to achieve adequate competition, it will have the power to require disposals of interests in operators of the regulated systems. It will also have the power to enforce Competition Act 1998 prohibitions against anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominance and to make market investigation references to the Competition and Markets Authority.
The amendments create a competition-focused regulator in this key market.
I very much welcome the role that the payments regulator will have. For the avoidance of doubt, though, can the Minister confirm that part of its scope will be credit interchange fees and that it will have a role in potentially regulating their level over time?
Yes, I can confirm that. Although it remains for the regulator, once set up, to deem the regulated systems, we envisage that that will be part of its scope. My hon. Friend will know that the issue is being considered right now through a proposed European Union initiative. We would expect the regulator to take that into account as well.
What analysis have the Government undertaken of the impact of designating card payment systems for regulation? If the system will not come in until spring 2015, is there not a genuine danger of blight in terms of planning the way forward?
Before we made the final decision to create the regulator, a full consultation was carried out. We received input into that consultation from many stakeholders, and that formed part of the analysis of how the regulator could carry out its function, as well as the importance of having such a regulator. We expect not only that the regulator will be fully up and running in around 2015, but that once the Bill receives Royal Assent the FCA will begin the process of setting it up early next year. The FCA has resources that can be called on, and it has already started working on exactly how the regulator would operate, so I think that it will be able to start at least some of its work sooner than 2015.
Amendments 135 to 152 establish a special administration regime to be known as the financial market infrastructure, or FMI, administration. Inter-bank payment and settlement systems are integral to the efficient operation of the financial system, processing transactions worth hundreds of billions of pounds a day. Currently, if such a system becomes insolvent, it will typically enter the normal administration procedure and the administrator will be under a duty to look after the interests of the company’s creditors without regard to the implications for the wider UK economy. In those circumstances, the continued operation of crucial payment and settlement services could be threatened, which could have a significant adverse impact on the market and the wider economy. The amendments will ensure the continuity of crucial service provision of recognised inter-bank payment systems and security settlement systems in a time of crisis by imposing a duty on an FMI administrator to maintain the company’s crucial services during administration.
The key features of FMI administration are: the FMI administrator is placed under a duty to maintain the company’s crucial services during the period of FMI administration; the Bank of England is given the ability to apply to the court to place a relevant company into FMI administration and has conferred on it a power of direction over the FMI administrator; powers are granted allowing for the property, rights and liabilities of the relevant company to be transferred; and restrictions are established on early termination of contracts for the supply of certain goods and services to a company that has entered FMI administration.
I now turn to payday lending—a subject about which many Members in all parts of the House rightly feel very strongly. The Government are deeply concerned about consumer detriment in the payday market and committed to taking action to protect borrowers from the harm that these lenders can cause. I know that this concern and commitment to act is shared and supported by Members in all parts of the House. This Government have already taken decisive action to overhaul regulation on the payday lending sector, with the Financial Conduct Authority taking on its broad new powers in relation to consumer credit from April next year.
However, the Government will do more. We want to put an end to the unfair costs of borrowing from payday lenders and to prevent the spiralling costs faced by those struggling to repay.
We welcome the change, but it will not start until January 2015. Our amendment (a) says that it should start from October 2014, because people spend the most, and often build up the most debt, in the period up until Christmas. Therefore, what is the harm in bringing the date forward by three months?
If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will answer her questions when I consider the amendment she mentions.
There is a growing evidence base, including lessons from other countries, that a cap on costs is the right way forward for consumers. That is why the Government tabled an amendment in the other place to require the FCA to impose a cap on the cost of high-cost credit and short-term loans—not just an interest rate cap but a cap on all fees and charges, including default charges and roll-overs.
My hon. Friend asks a reasonable question that I am sure many Members would be concerned about. The cap should be set by the FCA at a level designed to protect consumers. I hope that when I go on to talk about the process, that will give him a bit more definition regarding his concerns.
I do not really understand what the Minister says about a cap protecting consumers. Before we had these payday lenders who get so much opprobrium, the alternative was very often door-to-door loan sharks who would break your legs if you did not pay them back. The great feature of the payday lenders is that they do not do that. What assurance can he give that any caps we impose will not force people back into the hands of unscrupulous and illegal lenders instead of the payday lenders, who at least work within the law?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. A number of charity groups involved in the debt advisory sector share those concerns. However, most of them agree, especially in the light of emerging evidence from other countries such as Australia and from certain parts of the United States, that it is possible, if researched properly, to set a cap at a level that can protect consumers but at the same time prevent extortionate costs. That will be the job of the FCA when it looks at the matter, and I know that it will take it very seriously.
Following on from the previous question, surely the Minister agrees that we can do better than offer people a choice between having their legs broken and interest rates of several thousand per cent. Government Ministers accepted that logic in their recent announcement about an interest rate cap. Surely it is possible to bring in a system that gives some measure of protection to the consumer without driving them into the arms of illegal loan sharks.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is certainly possible to have a better system than the current one. There will be a number of changes, including the moves towards a cap and the change of regulator from the Office of Fair Trading to the FCA, which set out in October some of its planned measures with regard to continuous payment authorities, roll-overs, advertising and affordability. Those are all part of a package that will help to protect consumers in the sector.
I am sorry to say this to the Minister, but he has not replied to the point made by my hon. Friend Mr Stuart. Of course, the Government can do what they like—they can set a cap—but the Minister must respond to the point that the Government cannot legislate against sin. The fact is that people are desperately hard up. If we legislate or put a cap on one thing, the evil moves to another, almost worse practice. The Minister must make some effort, in the real world, to answer my hon. Friend’s point.
I thank the Minister for giving way so liberally on this issue. He mentioned the FCA’s role not just in setting the cap, but in other critical arrangements, such as roll-over, continuous payment authorities and proper administration of the high-cost credit sector. Does he think that that goes far enough? If we are going to get this sector right, many organisations think that the consumer needs more protection.
The measures that the FCA has already suggested, and on which it is currently consulting, go a long way to protect consumers in this sector. Of course, the FCA has broad powers in this area and there is nothing to prevent it from considering future measures as it learns more about aspects of the market. For example, the hon. Gentleman may know that the Competition Commission is currently looking into this sector. It is due to report back with its preliminary findings next May and a final report around November. It will look at the sector for about 18 months in total. I am sure that the FCA will take that into account and see what further measures it could take, if necessary, with the broad set of powers it already has. I hope that is of some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.
Designing the cap on the cost of credit is a job not for the Government but for the independent and expert regulator. Nor is it right that the detail of a cap should be enshrined in primary legislation, given that the industry it is intended to bind is so fast-moving and innovative.
Lords amendment 155 makes clear the FCA’s overarching objective in this endeavour: it must make rules to impose a cap to protect consumers from excessive charges imposed by high-cost, short-term lenders. This language echoes the FCA’s consumer protection objective. The FCA must make rules to advance one or more of its operational objectives, namely consumer protection, market integrity and competition. That applies to the rules to implement the cap, just as it does to all FCA rule-making. The FCA’s competition duty also applies. It must consider how the rules affect the ability of the market to serve consumers’ interests.
As we have heard, introducing a cap is not without risks or potential adverse consequences, including reducing access to credit for some individuals who find themselves in financial difficulty. The FCA will not be able to eliminate those risks, but it will seek to manage them. It will be important that the FCA strikes the right balance in designing and setting the cap.
Given that the Government have moved belatedly on this issue—I hope it will make a big difference, notwithstanding the risks mentioned—will the Minister pay tribute to organisations such as Sharkstoppers and Movement for Change and the many community activists around the country who have highlighted the dangers posed by the payday loan industry, which is getting people into thousands of pounds’ worth of debt? The Government have listened to those voices, so will the Minister pay tribute to them?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we as a Government have spoken to many stakeholders, including hon. Members, on this issue. Many people have done a good job and deserve credit for looking at the evidence in more detail.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way one very last time. I am not sure that I agree with him that it is not for Parliament to decide roughly where the cap should sit, because if we set it too high it will be meaningless and if we set it too low we will drive too many people out of the loan market. What will the Minister do if the FCA pitches the cap in a different place from where the Government think it ought to be? Would he want to come back to Parliament to take another look at the situation?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I think that the FCA, acting independently and looking at the evidence, is the right organisation to set the cap. I do not think that politicians setting the cap would be as productive; actually, it could be counter-productive.
I now turn to the cost-benefit analysis that the FCA will have to conduct, which I think will help reassure Members that it will approach the task in the proper way. The amendment specifically requires that the FCA must consult the Treasury before it publishes and consults on any draft rules. To reflect the importance of keeping the rules current and effective, the FCA must report, each year in its annual report, on any rules it makes under its capping powers.
Finally, it is worth spending a moment on the issue of defining payday lending in primary legislation. Putting a narrow definition in primary legislation could lead to unintended consequences. Lenders may just try to circumvent the definition. The amendment therefore allows the FCA to specify precisely which types of high-cost, short-term loans are captured when it makes its rules to effect the cap.
Amendment (a) to Lords amendment 155, which was tabled by Cathy Jamieson, relates to data sharing. I am grateful to her for raising that important issue and the Government fully agree that urgent action is necessary to tackle it. The whole system needs to improve to support responsible lending. Lenders must make proper assessments of an individual’s ability to repay before they lend, based on accurate, timely and comprehensive information on their outstanding loans.
The FCA plans to put strict requirements on firms to undertake affordability assessments to ensure that a borrower can afford to make sustainable repayments. The FCA is not stopping there. It has warned the industry that it must improve the way in which data sharing works, including how quickly lending data are made available. The chief executive of the FCA, Martin Wheatley, has made a commitment to me today in writing that if the industry fails to improve, the regulator
“will not hesitate to act”.
The Government wholeheartedly endorse the message to the industry that the FCA will act if it does not respond quickly enough. This matter is a priority for the FCA. It is committed to improving the way in which data are shared and lending decisions made.
I therefore believe that amendment (a), although well intended, is not necessary. I hope that on the basis of those reassurances, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun will not feel the need to press it.
The hon. Lady also tabled amendment (b) to Lords amendment 155, which relates to the timetable. The Government want the cap to be in place as soon as possible. That is why we are taking this opportunity to introduce legislation that requires the FCA to impose a cap on costs. The FCA will then be able to get on with implementation without delay. Let us be clear that the Lords amendment provides a statutory backstop date for implementation. The cap must be in place by
I will share with the House what Martin Wheatley told me today. I understand that he has published the letter on the FCA website. He wrote that
“it is very important that we are clear with you on the practical implications of any further shortening in the timetable, the principal one being that we believe it is impossible to have as strong a cap based on a shorter deadline. This cannot be the intended outcome from a consumer protection standpoint”.
I believe that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has received a copy of that letter. I received it only just before I stood up to speak at the Dispatch Box.
I hope that Members from all parts of the House agree that a compromised outcome for consumers would not be the right result. The FCA’s current timetable for implementing the cap is ambitious, but deliverable. Crucially, it enables the FCA to draw on the findings of the Competition Commission’s current investigation of the market, which I referred to earlier. It is vital that the FCA can benefit from the Competition Commission’s insight into the market when designing the cap.
The FCA is already getting on with gathering the evidence and detailed analysis that it needs. It will consult in the spring on its draft proposals, at around the same time as the Competition Commission is due to publish its provisional findings. Consultation will take place over the summer and the FCA plans to make the rules in the autumn of next year. Again, that is likely to be at about the same time as the Competition Commission issues its final report. The cap will come into effect, at the latest, by the beginning of January 2015.
Notwithstanding the points that the Minister is making, many consumers and campaigners on this issue will be concerned about what he has said about the time scale. The Government have dragged their heels on this issue for a number of years and could have taken action well before the date that has been set. I would like to see a cap before this Christmas. I agree with other hon. Members that it is crucial that the cap is in place before next Christmas. One of the campaigners from Swansea whom I met, a woman called Serai, got into more than £1,000-worth of debt with one of these lenders after taking out a very small loan to help pay for her kids’ Christmas presents. This is a crucial point, so I hope that the Minister will give a little more hope to the many campaigners who would like to see the cap introduced before next Christmas.
I will say a little more about the timetable in a moment, but it is a bit unfair of the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government have had years to introduce the cap, when the Government whom he supported had 13 years to introduce a cap and did nothing.
A number of steps must be taken before the cap can be implemented. All of those steps are important and if they are rushed, it will put consumer protection at risk for the sake of speed. There must first be evidence gathering and analysis. That is critical in getting the cap right. The FCA will draw on the evidence that the Competition Commission has collected. It might also have to get information from lenders and others in the market to get on with its work as quickly as possible. Yesterday, the Government laid secondary legislation before Parliament that will allow the FCA to seek information from the industry. That will support the design of the cap and the cost-benefit analysis that the FCA must issue.
The second and most vital part of the process is the consultation with interested parties on the proposals and their impact, as set out in the cost-benefit analysis. The final component that is necessary for the successful implementation of the cap is that lenders must be given a short period in which to update their systems and processes to meet the new requirements and become responsible, compliant lenders. Difficult though that is, we are not prepared to compromise on the process because that could lead to poor outcomes for consumers.
I need to plough on; I am sorry.
I thank the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for giving me the opportunity to set out the FCA’s plans for implementation. I hope that has provided reassurance that the FCA is committed to taking action as soon as possible, and that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
In summary, the Government believe that a cap on the cost of payday loans is necessary better to protect consumers from excessive spiralling costs, working alongside regulatory interventions that the FCA is already proposing to clamp down on the causes of consumer harm in the payday lending market.
Amendments 162 and 163 will provide significant benefit to consumers and financial services businesses that have been affected by poor practice in the claims management industry. Claims management companies have a legitimate role in helping consumers claim compensation, but a minority have acted irresponsibly. Despite the threat of suspension or cancellation of authorisation, some CMCs act speculatively and submit illegitimate claims that clog up the system and ultimately impose costs and delays on consumers. The amendments will give the claims management regulator power to impose financial penalties on CMCs that are guilty of misconduct.
The Government’s amendments provide a new form of redress—including financial compensation for consumers affected by a poor service from CMCs—by introducing a mechanism for the cost of handling complaints to be recouped from the industry. Together, the amendments will help ensure that the claims management industry acts more responsibly, and where it does not the regulator and Office for Legal Complaints can take action.
The Government agree with Lords amendments 153 and 154 that provide the PRA with a secondary competition objective and the FCA with competition powers that are exercisable concurrently with the Competition and Markets Authority. The Government are committed to improving competition in our banking sector to drive up consumer outcomes. A secondary competition objective for the PRA was recommended by the PCBS, and the Government accepted it. That objective will ensure that the PRA remains above all the watchdog for financial stability, but we will require it to play a more proactive role on competition.
If the Minister had had the pleasure of sitting on the Bill Committee, he would know that I tabled an amendment to suggest we cap the market share that banks could have in certain markets. What will he do if, perhaps by 2020, we have not seen a great increase in competition and still have too few banks with too high a market share? Does he think further action by Parliament would be needed?
My hon. Friend will know that the Government have introduced many initiatives to increase competition in the banking sector. Just today we heard that Tesco Bank will enter the current account market next year, creating hundreds of jobs in Scotland. That is welcome news, and other innovations such as current account switching also help to engender more competition. I do not think any of us know what the situation might look like in the future, but I am sure a future Government will take that into account in 2020, and beyond, and see whether any further measures are required.
The Treasury Committee and the Banking Commission are extremely grateful that the lion’s share of the proposals on competition have been implemented. We think that will be a step forward, and the Treasury Committee has been pretty active in that field for more than three years. As I alluded to earlier, one recommendation has not been acted on by the Government, and I would be grateful if the Minister explained why. Perhaps it can be best summarised in this way: what additional benefit is conferred by the FCA’s strategic objective that is not provided for through the operational objectives of the FCA?
My hon. Friend will know that the FCA currently has an objective to promote competition, and I know that he supports that. The Government have accepted the recommendation from the commission to give this secondary objective to the PRA, so those two objectives for the key regulators—the FCA and the PRA—will make a difference. If my hon. Friend has some further suggestions for the future, I will certainly take a closer look at them.
The FCA’s consumer panel, which represents the interests of consumers, is well placed to communicate its views to the PRA, and in the other place the Opposition have called for a role for the FCA’s consumer panel. Following constructive debates in the other place, I am pleased that the Government have been able to include amendment 156, which delivers the Government’s commitment to ensure that the FCA’s consumer panel can provide its views to the PRA effectively. This was warmly welcomed on both sides in the other place and by the chair of the consumer panel.
The amendments will simplify day-to-day operations for building societies, other banks and all the other entities that I have mentioned. They will enable banks and other institutions to compete on a more level playing field and improve things as suggested in the Bill and by the commission and others. I commend them to the House.
I will develop my arguments in a moment, but I give notice that at the appropriate stage we will seek to divide the House on both of the amendments that we have tabled in this group.
I shall start with the payments system regulator, because I was somewhat surprised by the number of representations on the Bill from the industry, even at this late stage, including on the payments system regulator. The Minister has responded to interventions on that point, but I hope that, when he has the opportunity to respond later, he will address some of the questions raised by the industry, such as the concerns expressed by VocaLink. Although it has said that it is broadly supportive of the regulator and welcomes the change in the Government’s position, it is none the less very keen to ensure that there is no planning blight—a gap between the point at which the legislation becomes law and the time at which the system would be fully operational.
We have also had representations from other sectors of the industry, including Visa and MasterCard, on the need for a level playing field and ensuring appropriate and clear definitions of which payment systems come under the regulator, taking into account the broad range of players that facilitate payments for consumers and businesses. Further representations have been made about the need to look in detail at the whole system and the challenges of establishing the PSR, creating the right skill set and ensuring that it operates correctly. The work load of the regulator will also need to be taken into account as part of its remit.
The Minister said that he believed that the FCA had the resources to ensure that the system will be set up on time and will make progress as planned. I contrast that to the approach on payday lending, and I shall move on now to considering that issue.
At the outset, I must say that we welcome the Government’s U-turn on the issue of capping the costs of the controversial payday loans. [Interruption.] I hear Mr Newmark saying that that was not a U-turn. I gently remind him that the Government have repeatedly refused demands to deal with legal loan sharks. They now appear to have been dragged, kicking and screaming to their current position as a result of pressure from Labour and countless other campaigners, including many of my hon. Friends in the Chamber today who will no doubt wish to speak.
I am sure we all agree that the abuse of payday lending is a scourge, and has been a scourge for many years, on our constituents’ lives. The hon. Lady seems to have a form of selective amnesia. Perhaps she can explain to the House why, during 13 years in power, Labour did absolutely nothing to deal with this pernicious form of payday lending.
I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would explain why the Government opposed Labour’s amendments. I will come on to talk about the explosion of the payday sector, particularly in the past couple of years on this Government’s watch. [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head and saying, “Oh come on.” We have the opportunity now to tighten up legislation. That is what I wish to do.
I apologise for omitting to mention my membership of the national committee of Movement for Change, which has been campaigning on this issue, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Does my hon. Friend share my surprise at the continual chuntering from the Government Benches? As she rightly says, there has been an explosion in the past few years on this Government’s watch, and they have been dragged, kicking and screaming to this point. I have seen an explosion of these stores on high streets across Cardiff, and an explosion in cases of people who have got into trouble with payday lenders.
My hon. Friend makes valuable points, which I will come on to address.
The Government opposed the proposals initially, but eventually gave in and passed their own amendments in the other place. The FCA has so far failed to use its powers to introduce a cap. There were concerns that unless pressure was applied it would not necessarily have been able to speed up new powers, and we could have seen a further delay in real-time monitoring across the high-cost loan sector. That is why, some months ago, the Leader of the Opposition promised to introduce a cap. He also suggested an extension to a levy on payday lenders’ profits, which would be used to double the level of Government funding for alternative low-cost providers, such as credit unions, for those struggling with the cost of living crisis.
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that, had there been an agreement earlier, some of the people still waiting for protection that will not appear until early 2015 would be protected by now. I share the view of my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty that the sector’s visible expansion in recent years is remarkable. In many years of living in my city, I have never before seen such proliferation of this kind of lending, let alone the advertising on television.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Members in all parties will have seen the sector’s expansion on their high streets. I do not normally refer to the Daily Mail, but it published an article on the increase in payday loan advertising, which is a concern. I am cautious about the process of normalisation, particularly children and young people seeing these businesses on our high streets and in advertising.
We must remember the extent of the problem of payday lenders charging interest rates of up to 4,000%, for example, on temporary loans taken out by desperate families who often have nowhere else to turn. Someone commented earlier that so-called legal loan sharks did not break the legs of those who borrowed from them like illegal loan sharks perhaps would, but we have to understand that the many desperate families who turn to these services to borrow, sometimes for the basic necessities of life, often end up broken in different ways.
Up to 5 million families plan to borrow money from payday lenders in the next six months; as we have heard, between 2009 and 2012 the market more than doubled to about £2.2 billion; more than one third of those who take out a payday loan do so to pay household bills, such as gas and electricity; 1.5 million households spend more than 30% of their income on unsecured credit repayments; and personal debt is expected to rise to 175% of household income by 2015—that is the concern about what is happening to families in the real world.
I am sure the shadow Minister watched the recent item on “Newsnight” on this issue with great interest. One of the major issues now is that those who take out these payday loans damage their credit rating and then cannot access mortgages down the line. Is that not an issue we must challenge, if we do not want to store up major troubles?
That is an important issue that ought to give us more food for thought. In certain circumstances, families might need to borrow on a short-term basis and be perfectly able to pay it back on time without it causing them long-term damage, but they would want to know, before taking out such loan, that it could damage their credit rating.
I want to return to those who perhaps suffer most from the payday lending sector. Despite changing their tune and bowing to pressure from the Opposition and campaigners at the sharp end, the Government have not gone far enough to protect hard-working families from falling into unmanageable debt. That is why, even at this late stage, we have tabled our amendments. On the first, which relates to data sharing, I am sure the Minister will be aware of the concerns set out by StepChange Debt Charity about how the FCA’s proposed responsible lending rules fail to make payday lenders use real-time credit data in their loan decision making. It says that evidence from its clients suggests that payday lenders often use out-of-date credit data and therefore fail to pick up on whether borrowers have existing payday loans. Understandably, it then makes the point that lenders cannot be sure they are lending responsibly.
As we have heard repeatedly, multiple payday loans from different lenders are a major cause of debt problems. Two thirds of StepChange clients reporting financial difficulties with payday loans have been granted overlapping payday loans from different lenders. It also argues that the regulator’s responsible lending rules transpose Office of Fair Trading guidance into binding rules but continue to allow payday lenders to make loans without using that up-to-date information about borrowers’ existing financial commitments. That is obviously causing particularly severe problems for those who get into difficulty with multiple payday loans.
We should listen to what StepChange tells us about the growing problem of people being lent one unaffordable loan after another as they struggle to pay off the loans falling due. It tells us that more than 30,000 people contacted it for help with payday loans in the first six months of 2013—almost double the figure for the previous year. The average amount owed on payday loans by its clients has risen to more than £1,600, creating severe financial difficulties for those clients. In some circumstances, even a whole month’s income would not cover the repayments. It also tells us that a typical client with payday loans now has three payday loan debts and that one in five have five or more with different lenders.
Therefore, it is clear that different payday lenders granting overlapping loans is a major cause of payday debt dependency and that current procedures are not working. It is thus sensible for the FCA to require payday lenders to make use of up-to-date credit information on a borrower’s short-term commitments when they decide whether to issue or extend a loan. Payday lenders have long claimed to be working towards a system of sharing credit data in real time. They have been talking about it for more than two years, but there has been no solution.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. We have heard the Minister say at the Dispatch Box that the Government are now committed to tackling this issue, whether belatedly or not. This is such a good opportunity to show that we can all be as one in the House and to take action where there is still clearly a problem, as she is so amply setting out.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about my comments. I am simply putting forward the views brought to us by the people at the sharp end who have experienced the worst problems from payday lending. I pay tribute to those people again for doing so. I agree that it would be wonderful if we could secure some further consensus on these problems and send a clear message to the industry, particularly on advertising. The advertising spend of the top five payday lending brands apparently stands at about £36 million a year. That seems to suggest that they are investing heavily in attracting new borrowers at the same time as being not quite as willing to invest in responsible lending.
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the amount of money such companies are investing in advertising. Many Members will have noted how much investment those companies are putting into advertising in football. Fans are targeted, which I think is particularly heinous, and a number of organisations have campaigned against that. Does she agree that football clubs should resist that type of advertising, which will put their supporters into great debt?
My hon. Friend tempts me to talk about football, which is one of my favourite topics. I will resist that temptation, except to say that I share his concerns about that.
Returning to our amendments and what the industry could do, I understand that there are differences of opinion about how best to tackle the problem. As we have seen, however, technology is available. The Veritech software is, I understand, used in 14 states in the US. Arguably, lenders would have the resources to bring that in if they wanted to. If lenders will not do something voluntarily, surely it will make sense to require them to do that, because in the meantime consumers are falling into debt. The Government should therefore act as soon as they possibly can.
Interestingly, we have heard that this issue is not just about the impact on consumers. The 118 118 company has told us that it believes the introduction of data sharing would enhance levels of competition, arguing:
“It is probable that if real time data was available, and lenders could be more confident in their lending decisions, many more of them would be attracted to this market segment. We would hope and expect that the FCA would be very cognisant of this point in view of its explicit competition objective”.
That is an interesting view. Where lending is being done, we want to know that it is being done by reputable companies, backed up by the proper technology and proper principles.
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic case to show why real-time credit checking is so important in this industry. Does she agree that, in any other industry where money was being lent, the lenders would want to know about any other obligations that the people being lent to had. Is it not curious that this industry seems not to want to know what others are lending to their customers, and does this not reflect their irresponsible approach to their consumers?
My hon. Friend, who has campaigned for many years on this particular issue, makes a very good point again. It seems to me to make perfect sense for anyone who is lending money to want as much information as possible to ensure that the correct decision can be taken. Our amendment would mean that the FCA would have a duty to introduce a system for sharing credit data so that payday lenders could not continue to evade their responsible lending obligations.
Stephen Doughty made a very good point, which was relevant to my beloved Newcastle football club. Unfortunately, Wonga is one of its major sponsors. Does Cathy Jamieson agree that there should be far greater restrictions on advertising, particularly advertising by payday lenders in parts of the country where many individuals are vulnerable to them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, whose comments were slightly more supportive than I expected them to be. He made a good point about his beloved football club. I am sure that he agrees with what I said earlier about the amount that is spent on advertising, and the worrying way in which it is normalised by being associated with football clubs and similar organisations. That particularly affects children and young people, as well as perhaps those with on lower incomes.
The Minister referred to the challenges that would be faced if amendment (b) were passed and the date of implementation were brought forward. I am well aware that Martin Wheatley of the FCA set out those challenges even before writing the letter from which the Minister quoted earlier. He said that the Minister was
“aware of the challenges that we face in bringing a price cap into force by January 2015.”
The Minister said in response:
“The Government is…committed to ensuring that you can access the information you need to design the cap. The Government will bring forward secondary legislation to allow you to collect information to support your new duty as soon as possible.”
I heard him say that those regulations have now been laid. However, this strikes us as a matter of political will. If he wants the price cap to be introduced, and if he is willing to make the necessary resources available, it seems reasonable for us to press the case for the introduction of the cap by October 2014 rather than January 2015, especially as that would help us to prevent even more families from falling into the clutches of the high-cost credit market this Christmas.
Will the Minister tell us what will be done to speed up the process of the secondary legislation to which he referred? He described January 2015 as a “backstop”, but it was not clear to me whether he genuinely believed that the cap could be introduced earlier, and I think it reasonable for us to press for that to happen.
The Minister will be aware that organisations such as Which?, while welcoming the introduction of a cap on the cost of credit, suggest that it should apply to all credit products. Members have already raised the issue of authorised and unauthorised overdrafts, which, according to research findings, are often just as expensive as payday loans. It has been reported that borrowing £100 for 31 days costs £30 with a Halifax authorised overdraft and £20 with some Santander accounts, and that borrowing the same amount for the same period from a payday loan company costs between £20 and £37. Some of the banks may not feel particularly comfortable about that comparison. An unauthorised overdraft is even more expensive. I am told that in the case of the Halifax reward account and the Santander everyday account, a £100 unauthorised overdraft can cost £100 in charges. I wonder whether the Minister has taken that into account during his discussions with the FCA.
The specific examples that I cited had been reported to me, but I understand that in many instances high charges are applied even if people slip into an unauthorised overdraft for a very short period.
“In designing the cap we will, as far as possible, seek to minimise potential avoidance measures. It is possible for firms located in other EEA Member States to provide a payday lending service through the internet to UK consumers within the Electronic Commerce Directive. This is not something that the FCA can mitigate.”
What assessment has the Minister made of the extent of that problem, and what can be done to reduce that? As we take things forward, it will be important that we do not simply move people from one payday lending system on to something else that could be equally difficult.
I want to say a few words about the relationship between the banks and the payday lending sector, and to focus on the question of the banks lending to the payday lenders. During the consideration of the Bill in the other place, Lord Mitchell raised this issue, and his understanding was that Barclays lent Wonga over £250 million. When he investigated that further, he discovered that the sum was apparently much higher. He raised concerns about the mission and the guiding principles of the bank and asked whether lending money to the payday lenders so they can then lend it at higher rates to people who need loans is the right thing for the banks to be doing. That raises the question of what the banks’ responsibilities are to those on lower incomes, and also the issue of the banks’ relationships with the credit unions, for example.
I feel that we must press the amendments we have tabled to a Division. I hear what the Minister has said and I have heard the comments and concerns raised by the FCA about the timetable, but I think it is reasonable to press for this to be done as quickly as possible. The Minister has said that January 2015 is the backstop date—the latest point when it could happen. I think it is reasonable for us to bring that forward and to press the amendments on data sharing to a Division.
On payday loans, I only want to make two very quick points. First, we need to be very careful that EU regulation does not drive a coach and horses through anything we might try to do domestically. I also want to reinforce the point that it is extremely important not to displace what we may disapprove of in the formal sector into the informal sector of very nasty loan shark practices. This will require a great deal of supervision and care.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not, because I promised the Chair that I will speak for only three minutes. The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to make her own speech in a moment, and she has been a doughty campaigner on this subject for some time.
I want to speak briefly about part 5 of the Bill, which is the part that creates the payments regulator. This implements a recommendation the Treasury Committee made two years ago. It is worth explaining the origins of our recommendations.
The Payments Council—which is dominated by the banks and other firms involved in the payments system—decided in 2011 to abolish the cheque, without providing any explanation of how it would provide an adequate replacement. That was a profound mistake, and the Committee decided to investigate. The justification for that decision looked pretty threadbare and the abolition also carried a considerable consumer detriment both for charities and for a lot of people who use cheques. I did 20 radio and TV interviews on this subject after the report was published. I asked each of the interviewers whether they had a chequebook; 19 of them said they did and they very much wanted to keep it. I think that brings home the value of cheques. This does not affect only the elderly; quite a large group of people want to keep some kind of paper-based transaction system for the time being.
Under pressure the Payments Council did a U-turn and cheques have been retained. The Treasury Committee also looked at how such a crass decision could have been taken in the first place. We concluded that the explanation lay with the structure of the Payments Council itself. Frankly, it has been little more than a poodle of the industry, and it certainly could not reasonably claim to act on behalf of consumers. A reasonable case can be made, however, that it is a monopoly controller of a crucial banking service. We recommended that that responsibility for the payments system be brought within the ambit of regulation, and we gave an outline of how that should be achieved. Amendments 63 to 134 would implement that central recommendation of our report. It is now up to Parliament to ensure that the FCA is much more responsive to the needs of consumers and competition, on this and a good number of other issues, than was its predecessor. I warmly welcome this part of the Bill.
I regard payday lending as a new industry. We have heard talk about how Labour did nothing for 13 years, but in the 23 years
I worked in a citizens advice bureau—I left in 2010—I did not see people with payday loans. I think we saw our first person with a payday loan in 2010. It was always the home credit industry that people came to us about. The payday loan industry—and, in particular, the way in which it targets its market—is a new thing.
I wish to speak to amendment 155, which relates to the importance of a high-cost payday lender reporting in real time to a third party. The industry is really keen to embrace new technology when it suits it to do so. It has phone apps, and it advertises on television and online. New technology is meat and drink to it. However, it is less keen to operate a real-time database. It has had two years in which to do so voluntarily, and it still cannot come to an agreement on it.
Part of the reason for that could be that the industry is not keen on guidance. A lot of our payday lenders have American ownership. When I was at a conference recently, I was harassed by some of those American owners asking me what the rules were. I started to explain the guidance, but they were not interested. They just wanted to know about the rules. If something is not written down, they do not want to do it. They do not want to be the first, or just one of a few, to do something. For that reason, this provision needs to be mandated.
The present reporting system, involving a period of 30 to 60 days, is completely inadequate for a short-term, high-cost loan. A constituent who came to see me recently had taken out 14 payday loans in a week. Yes, that was irresponsible borrowing. I could see that he had been desperate, but it was also irresponsible. The system allowed him to do it. Had the lenders had a real-time database when they agreed to those loans, we could have got them for irresponsible lending. Their excuse, however, was that they did not know how many loans he had already taken out. The lack of a database gives them an excuse to lend irresponsibly, without penalties.
We also need to consider the responsible customers who pay back their loans on time and for whom taking out a payday loan is a perfectly rational decision. Perhaps their fridge is broken and needs to be replaced urgently, and they are expecting some money at the end of the month. Taking out such a loan in those circumstances could be more sensible than going to a company such as BrightHouse. Those responsible customers get no credit for paying back on time, however, because there is no database and because it is not mandatory to report their repayment record. In fact, on occasions, they are penalised for taking out a payday loan. We need a system that will help people to build up a record of creditworthiness, to allow them to get into the mainstream credit market.
As we have heard from my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson, the present system can deter new entrants to the market. Companies tell me that they would like to get into the market, and that there is a gap for providers of loans between £500 and £1,500 taken over six months to a year at an interest rate of around 30%. However, the business risk is too great, because there would be no way of knowing whether their customers already had payday loans and when they had taken them out. Entering such a market would add to their business risk, and they also worry that raising their rates would involve a degree of reputational risk.
The Government should look again at this matter and consider mandating the introduction of a real-time database and reporting to a third party. That is important if we are to protect customers and lenders. It is also important if we are to help people to move into a credit stream with lower interest rates, and to help new entrants to move into the market, which we all agree is vital.
I rise to congratulate the Minister on the excellent introduction of an independent payments regulator. I am amazed that this absolute game changer has not received more press attention, because our banking system still, on today of all days, faces the threat of being undermined in the eyes of consumers by its appalling behaviour. Today, Lloyds bank has been fined £28 million for its appalling treatment of retail customers—that is the biggest fine for retail misconduct ever. I stress that the reason for that, as the investigations by the Treasury Committee and the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards showed, is a profound lack of competition in the UK banking sector. Even worse, we even have the last great remaining closed shop, because the Payments Council regulates the banks, yet the banks own the Payments Council, and the banks both clear through and own the payments infrastructure. So there is no incentive to innovate and no self-regulation, and there is a deliberate suppression of competition. What the Minister has done by introducing an independent payments regulator is open that can of worms. The regulator will be a real game changer for the competitive outlook in the UK in future, and I wish to explain why that is.
The proposal is for the payments regulator to look at access to the payments system. As we know, the big clearing banks access the payments system directly, but challenger banks such as Virgin Money, Metro Bank and Aldermore have to go through an agency clearer. If its systems break down, those banks cannot serve their customers. Not only that, but because these banks have to go through the clearer to access the payments system, they get charged up to 10 times or 20 times as much as the clearers have to pay for one payments transaction. It is an absolute closed shop and it is appalling.
The payments regulator’s first job will be to examine access to the payments infrastructure and to say to the big banks, “You have to give direct access to every player.” The big banks argue, “You can’t do that because we all mutually underwrite one another’s payments.” As with any other clearing system, however, it is perfectly possible to leave a deposit up front and then to be called for more margin should you be running out of money, so the reason given for not allowing other banks direct access to the payments system is a completely spurious one. That will be item No. 1, and dealing with it will, in itself, create a completely different playing field for all those who want to come into the banking sector.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful point. Does she agree that a parallel situation would be having the big six electricity companies owning the grid and not allowing any other supplier on to it?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are huge parallels between the banking closed shop and the energy closed shop. That is something
I have been picking up, and I was recently in the media with him addressing this very subject.
Giving direct access to the payments infrastructure to all banks will reduce the barriers to entry, so I want further to congratulate the Minister on accepting the Treasury Committee’s recommendation that the PRA should have a specific competition objective. That is key, because the barriers to entry do not just relate to access to the payments system; there are regulatory barriers to entry. In other words, “If you are small, you cannot become a bank. Until you become a bank, you cannot become big. Therefore, you cannot ever become a bank.” We have created an environment where there are massive barriers to entry, so the payments system changes will really start to unravel that closed shop.
Importantly, I wish to put in one plea for full bank account portability. I know that the Minister has absolutely agreed that one of the first jobs of the new payments regulator will be to undertake a full cost-benefit analysis of account number portability. That would mean that if I want to switch banks in future, instead of waiting for even seven days, having to change all my direct debits, standing orders and bank account details, and having to be issued with new credit cards and cheque books and so on, I would simply be able to have my bank account details re-pointed at a new bank and so everything would remain the same. It would be instantaneous account switching.
When we move our mobile phone account number now, we can take our phone number with us. In a world where we had full number portability, we would also be able to take our bank account details with us. That would be a radical game changer for competition. New entrants could come in and attract new business on the promise that if a consumer does not like them they can always move somewhere else tomorrow. Banks would lie awake at night wondering how to retain their customers through excellent customer services rather than what next they can fleece them with, which happens all too often now.
Competition is not the only issue. There are two other items I wish to mention. The first is about resolution. We have put in all this effort to try to ensure that, in future, a bank cannot fail. We have increased capital requirements and changed the regulatory structure, which is all to the good. None the less, we know that in future, as sure as eggs are eggs, a bank will fail. What bank number portability will do is to give an instant means of resolution to avoid ever seeing again queues of people down a street trying to get their money out of a bank that they are concerned about.
If we in the UK become the first country to introduce full bank account number portability, we will be leading the world. By creating a shared infrastructure for payments, we will create a massive business opportunity for UK plc. I congratulate my hon. Friend, the Minister, but urge him to go even further and to support, when the time comes, the prospect of full account number portability.
Like my hon. Friend Yvonne Fovargue, I rise to speak on amendment 155. The Minister has acknowledged that data collection is at the heart of effective regulation. Like many Members on both sides of the House, I welcome the Government’s conversion to capping the total cost of credit, but we need to recognise that it is not a silver bullet.
When I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity, through the private Member’s Bill ballot system, to prepare the High Cost Credit Bill back in July, I brought together Members from both sides of the House—I am pleased to see that one of them, Damian Hinds, is in his place—and all the major consumer voice and debt advice organisations, such as Which?, Citizens Advice, StepChange and the Centre for Responsible Credit, to try to develop a holistic approach to the regulation of payday lenders, with appropriate interventions at every stage of the relationship that lenders have with their borrowers from advertising right through to debt collection. At many points in that relationship, the issue of real-time data collection is absolutely vital to tackle multiple lending. We know that multiple lending is the source of many of the problems that people face. Unable to repay one loan, they are forced to resort to taking out additional loans, moving from a single unaffordable debt to multiple loans, creating completely unmanageable debt.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield has pointed out, the current reporting framework for credit reference agencies of 30 to 60 days simply cannot protect people from the problems that result from multiple lending. Only real-time data collection can effectively do that.
Secondly, we have the impact on the market. As part of the debate on payday lending, many people have argued that we cannot solve the problems by regulation alone and that we need a wider range of more affordable products. That is absolutely right, and real-time data are key to that too, because they will enable lenders to assess risk.
At a recent hearing of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, one of the lenders selected by the Consumer Finance Association as a representative of the industry said:
“We do not know in real-time what loans the customer has with other lenders.”
He said that they would
“love to know that information.”
It is impossible for lenders properly to evaluate risk, set interest at manageable levels and develop new products. As other Members have said, the opportunity that real-time data would provide for new entrants to the market is also crucial.
Above all, real-time data are essential to ensuring affordability, which is at the heart of the measures needed to protect people. The industry works in a distorted market. We know that: success is measured by the time it takes to get money into somebody’s bank account, not by the ability to repay. It sounds perverse that many lenders are not primarily concerned about ability to repay. As the OFT has highlighted, up to 50% of payday lending revenue comes from 28% of loans—those that are unaffordable—so providing real-time data is at the core of shifting the business model for payday lending from speed of lending to affordability and is the key to protecting people from spiralling and unaffordable debt.
I mentioned the recent Select Committee inquiry, which will report soon. My hunch is that it will say something along the lines of the report we published two years ago—that real-time data collection is critical to transforming the payday lending industry. We have heard from a number of Members that debt advice agencies are clear that we need real-time data collection and sections of the industry also want it. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson, has pointed out, the industry has been slow to respond. It has been considering the issue for two years and has failed to find a solution that all participants will buy into. As the industry has failed to produce an initiative, it is our responsibility to step in and secure real-time data collection.
I would cite in support of that assertion the response of the Financial Services Consumer Panel to the Financial Conduct Authority’s consultation on its proposals on payday lending. As Members will know, the Financial Services Consumer Panel is the statutory body that monitors how far the FCA fulfils its statutory objectives for consumers. It is a critical voice in this debate. The panel has said that
“better creditworthiness assessments must be underpinned by real-time data sharing capabilities.”
On affordability, it has stated:
“In order for this information to be available we believe the establishment of real-time data sharing is vital.”
It has also stated:
“In addition to limiting rollovers, the Panel also feels that real-time data sharing is essential in ensuring people do not end up with excessive numbers of loans at the same time.”
It goes on:
“The speed at which loans are granted is often cited as the reason for” unaffordability and rollovers, and:
“Real-time data sharing would overcome this and should be something the FCA encourages…There are examples of other jurisdictions, such as Florida…where this has been achieved.”
Indeed, the Minister cited Florida as an example earlier.
The panel comes to the conclusion that it strongly calls for the establishment of real-time data sharing and I hope that the Government will listen to that.
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. It has been a good debate and a number of important issues have been raised, so I want to take a few minutes to respond.
The shadow Minister, Cathy Jamieson, started by making a number of points on the payments system regulator. One issue she raised was whether there could possibly be a gap before the payments system regulator came into full force. That is a reasonable question and of course we will do all we can to minimise that.
It is worth pointing out that although the Payments Council, to which my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie referred, has not always done a spectacular job as an industry body, particularly on cheques, it has recently put in place some useful innovations under the influence of the Government, such as the current account switching service. It is also developing a mobile phone database. We have been assured that such initiatives will continue and will not slow down because of the plans to set up a payments system regulator.
The hon. Lady mentioned VocaLink and concerns about payment service providers and who will be designated as part of the payments system and therefore be regulated. As she knows, and as set out in the clauses, the Treasury will designate the systems. To provide clarity we set out in the other place and elsewhere during the consultation the kinds of systems that we expect to be designated, which will be the main interbank systems, international card schemes such as BACS, CHAPS, Faster Payments, LINK, Cheque and Credit, Visa, MasterCard, and Amex. I hope that is helpful.
A number of hon. Members spoke to the Opposition amendment on data sharing, amendment (a), including Yvonne Fovargue, who I know has considerable expertise from her experience at Citizens Advice, so I take her comments very seriously indeed. Paul Blomfield referred to his private Member’s Bill, which, as he said, had cross-party support in the House. What hon. Members, including the shadow Minister, said on the subject of data sharing is very important and I agree with all the concerns they articulated, especially the importance of real-time data collection and the difference that it can make. I share all their concerns and I agree with the benefits of consumer protection that data sharing can provide. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun mentioned StepChange, a charity whose representatives I have met a number of times. I discussed the matter with them and they, too, raised a number of important points. I agree with their analysis.
We all agree about the benefits of sharing information. The question is what we can do about it. The good news is that, because we agree, the Government have discussed the matter with the regulator, the FCA, which made a clear commitment that it plans to take action. It has already started down that course and is working with the industry on this. In the letter that I referred to at the start, the FCA said clearly that if the industry does not help to bring about the sharing of information sooner rather than later, it will not hesitate to make rules. It already has the powers to make such rules.
“If the industry cannot overcome the obstacles, and we are best placed to bring about data-sharing we will not hesitate to act.”
The chief executive of the FCA and the Government understand the importance of this. We can all agree on its importance and the need to take action quickly. I do not consider it necessary to pass any legislation as action is already being taken.
I have had discussions with the FCA about this. We expect that by the end of next year the process will be set up, but there are a number of issues to be dealt with before that can be confirmed with more certainty. That is the time scale that the industry is working towards.
Let me move on to some of the other issues that were raised in relation to high cost credit. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun mentioned excessive bank charges, and I agree with her concerns. The Government are concerned about default charges across the unsecured lending market, not just the payday loan market. The Government are strengthening regulation for consumer credit across the board by giving responsibility to the FCA. The FCA recently committed to consider carrying out a thematic review of market practice in relation to fees and charges, once it has full regulatory authority over consumer credit.
I will turn briefly to the timetable for introducing a cap on the total cost of payday lending, which we discussed earlier. As the shadow Minister said,
“It is very important that we are clear with you on the practical implications of any further shortening in the timetable, the principal one being that we believe it is impossible to have as strong a cap based on a shorter deadline. To such a tight timetable we would be forced to perform less analysis on the methodology and level for any cap, and so would be forced to set the cap at a more conservative level (that is, higher) to reflect the inherent legal risks. This cannot be the intended outcome from a consumer protection standpoint.”
It would be foolish for this House to ignore the FCA’s view, as I am sure we all share the objective of having a cap that works and protects consumers.
We know that 1 million families in this country have already said that they will pay for Christmas this year with a payday loan because of the cost of living crisis they are facing. The Minister is talking about delaying the introduction of any form of cap until 2015, so there is a real question about the impact that might have next Christmas, which will be the default position of not supporting the proposed amendment. Introducing even a conservative cap before next Christmas might do something to lessen the damage that those toxic types of lending are doing to people, given that the cost of living crisis will continue for the year ahead.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. As she will have noted from the letter I just quoted from Martin Wheatley, one of the concerns about a conservative cap is that it would be open to much greater legal risk. It would serve nobody in this House if there was some kind of legal challenge to a cap and how it works if the process has not been followed properly and if some people believe that the FCA has not followed its own rules, particularly on the time for consultation. Had the hon. Lady been here at the start of the debate, she might have heard that the Competition Commission’s investigation into payday lending, which is already under a tighter timetable than it usually has—it is normally around two years, but it has agreed to make that 18 months—will report in November next year. I think that everyone would agree that it is very important that the FCA takes into account the results of that investigation.
“would be forced to set the cap at a more conservative level (that is, higher) to reflect the inherent legal risks.”
I believe that she has a copy of the letter.
I will finish by answering an important point the shadow Minister made about the possibility that lenders from elsewhere in the European economic area will be able to passport their services and avoid UK legislation. She is entirely right to make that analysis, because that is indeed possible under the EU commerce directive and the single market in financial services. There are mitigations, although the situation is not ideal. Under the EU consumer credit directive, there is not a cap but there are certain rules that all lenders within the EU need to follow. Of course, there is nothing to prevent the UK regulator from contacting the comparable authority in another EU-based country to see whether there is any way in which pressure can be put on indirectly through the two bodies working together.
Lords amendment 63 agreed to.
Lords amendments 1 to 40 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 35,37 and 40.
Lords amendments 42 to 62 agreed to.
Lords amendments 64 to 154 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 149 and 150.
Before Clause 13
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 155.—(Cathy Jamieson.)
Question accordingly negatived.
Lords amendments 155 to 184 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 162, 163, 169, 171, 172, 173 and 175.
Motion made, and Question put, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 41;
That Sajid Javid, Nic Dakin, Cathy Jamieson, Amber Rudd and Ian Swales be members of the Committee;
That Sajid Javid be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Sajid Javid.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier this afternoon I was alerted to a tweet from the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Brandon Lewis, which referred to his parliamentary written answer to me on parking charges. It states:
“when Mr Denham was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government…he noted that it was…Government policy to encourage councils to “creatively” and “extensively” make use of parking charges”.—[Hansard, 10 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 161W.]
That is a gross distortion of the evidence given at the time. As the submission makes clear, the word “extensively” was not used as a description of Government policy, but as a description of fact about the activities of local councils. The word “creatively” was not used in relation to parking charges, but as an approach to improving accountability and responsiveness in service delivery. I have a fairly thick skin, but such a deliberate and cynical misrepresentation is surely out of order. Will you, Madam Deputy Speaker, advise me what steps I can take to have it put right?
Obviously, the contents of comments on Twitter are not a matter for the Chair, but if this has occurred, it is an extreme discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that the Treasury Bench has taken note. Ultimately, Ministers are responsible for what they say, but perhaps in future the Minister could say it in a written answer and be accountable to the House. That way, I could making a ruling; otherwise, I cannot. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman’s point is on the record.