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Consumer Credit Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 23rd June 2005.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 8:55 am, 23rd June 2005

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Taylor. I am sure that it will be a pleasure for all of us to serve under your wise chairmanship.

I shall keep my remarks short. The arguments have been rehearsed many times, so they do not bear repeating too many more times. There is a substantial measure of agreement about the Bill and its value and importance. It is long overdue, so it is good that it comes now. None the less, it does not cover two areas with which there are significant problems. The first is data sharing, which seems to be at the root of the problem for many people who get into real difficulties taking on debts with substantial numbers of lenders. They end up with cumulative debts that they cannot manage, yet that information has not been shared adequately.

A solution could be achieved through voluntary agreement by the industry, perhaps with a steer from the Minister to push it in the right direction. The banking code is there to achieve such things; I believe that Which? put forward a sensible, practical suggestion that there could be a standard wording in credit agreements to allow borrowers to consent to the sharing of information in return for commitments as to how it would be shared and the limitations on that. What does the Minister have to say on that? If there were some encouragement from him, there might be some progress. The issue has been talked about for a long time, but no progress has been made.

The other issue that is not covered in the Bill is the calculation of interest. It is great that there is a single APR on credit cards, but that is pretty meaningless in terms of achieving greater transparency if there are 10 different methods of calculating interest. No one can tell from the single APR what the interest cost will be. Unless there is a move toward a scenario in which one can see the cost of credit in pounds and pence, or there is a measure of agreement, perhaps through the banking code, on a single method of calculating interest, there will still be a complete lack of transparency in terms of borrowers understanding how much credit will cost them. I would welcome a response from the Minister on how he sees those outstanding issues being tackled.

I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Wealden about lack of clarity, specifically surrounding the test of unreasonableness and how it will be interpreted. It seems to me that it will end up being interpreted by a court, so that courts will be giving guidance rather than Parliament. That is not an attractive proposition.

However, we are happy with the programme motion, given that it has been debated so often. I would welcome a response from the Minister.