Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill — Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 26th November 2013.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 9:15 pm, 26th November 2013

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord McFall, for raising this very important issue again. The Government wholeheartedly agree that consumers must be protected when they borrow from payday lenders and use other high-cost forms of credit. Payday lenders are causing unacceptable consumer harm and the Government are committed to putting that right.

As noble Lords will know, the Government have taken decisive action to protect borrowers by fundamentally reforming the regulatory system governing these lenders. This House strongly supported the Government’s proposals to transfer the regulation of consumer credit to the FCA during the passage of the Financial Services Bill last year.

The Government have ensured that the FCA has robust powers to protect customers of high-cost lenders. It will thoroughly assess every lender’s fitness to continue to trade. It will put in place much higher standards that firms will have to meet, and those requirements will, for the first time, be binding on firms. It will proactively monitor the market, focusing on the areas most likely to cause consumer harm. The FCA has a broad enforcement toolkit to punish breaches of the rules: there is no limit on the fines it can levy and, crucially, it can force lenders to provide redress to consumers.

The FCA takes up its new regulatory responsibilities in this area on 1 April next year. But it has already demonstrated that it is serious about cracking down on high-cost lenders. Its draft rules, published on 3 October, restrict some of the practices that cause most consumer detriment, and have won widespread support. But we are convinced that further action will be needed to ensure that this market functions in a way that is in consumers’ interests. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have announced that they will bring forward an amendment to this Bill at Third Reading to require the FCA to use its powers to cap the cost of payday loans.

I will not pre-empt our discussion at Third Reading but I would just like to make a few key points on the need for a cap on the costs of credit. The Government have always kept the case for a cap under review as the market has evolved. With growing evidence, including from other countries, in support of a cap, we believe that now is the right time to give the FCA a clear parliamentary mandate to take action under the powers we have given it to implement a cap on total costs.

The FCA has an important job to do: it must ensure that it designs a cap that works in UK consumers’ best interests and fits the UK market. To do that, it needs to consider the evidence thoroughly, including drawing on the valuable work being undertaken by the Competition Commission to investigate the fundamental problems in the payday market. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has already pointed out, we do not intend to wait until the Competition Commission has finished its work and have committed to implementing the cap in January 2015.

The Government’s commitment this week sends a strong message to lenders: “Do not to wait for the authorities to act, raise your game and start charging and treating your customers fairly now”. We will have a full debate on the government amendments at Third Reading—