Co-operatives and Mutuality

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:07 pm on 30th June 2011.

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Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour, Islwyn 3:07 pm, 30th June 2011

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was coming to that. This culture is very much engrained in the valleys. My mother, my grandmother and all my aunties and uncles had Provident. However, this is not just about Provident; it is also about paying off the money for the television through the slot in the back. People put a pound in, and they had 10 hours of television. In that way, they could pay off their television. It was always a nightmare, because the pound was guaranteed to run out just at the conclusion of “EastEnders”, and we would never know what the cliffhanger was. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that once the television had been paid off, the firms would come round and say, “The carpet’s looking a bit bald. Do you fancy a new one? What about a new washing machine.” They would then sign people up.

This problem of high-cost lending still exists. I cannot believe that I am going to admit this in a Westminster Hall debate, but I actually watch Jeremy Kyle; I am ashamed to admit it, but I have watched his show. As I was waiting for the all-important DNA tests and the lie detector, the adverts came up. One was for a company called Wonga.com. It was wonderful; Wonga was revolutionising same-day lending. I thought, “This is marvellous.” The advert said, “You’re in control.” I thought, “This is brilliant.” Then, however, I looked at the APR, which was 4,125%—pure, utter profiteering.

I did not think any more about the company. Then, however, I got on the tube on Monday morning, and there was an advert for Wonga.com, saying, “You’re in control.” The APR was more than 4,000%. I cannot get away from this company. I was watching “Match of the Day” and the press conference after the match. There were adverts for Barclaycard, but the Blackpool players also had the word “Wonga” right across their chests. Such things give the company the legitimacy that it does not deserve.

There is a way of out this. Yes, we can have legislation, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, who has done a lot of work on the issue, and I am sure she will speak about it later. However, there is a more intrinsic way forward, so let me move on to credit unions.

The other day, I went to Islwyn Community Credit Union with my hon. Friend Mr Thomas—I will not talk about our earlier visit. We talked about how the credit union had lent a total of £1 million to the most vulnerable people. To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for East Hampshire, the people at the credit union said it was all very well lending money at competitive rates and allowing people to save, but that people did not know about credit unions. Provident, Safeloans and Shopacheck will knock at the door, and people can go to Wonga, Ocean Finance or someone else, but they do not know about credit unions. People are hearing about them by word of mouth and they are hearing about getting more protection points.

The other day, I was proud to visit Trinant school—I must give it a plug. If anybody wants to see a credit union, they should go there to see the children’s enthusiasm.

The pupils have formed their own saving scheme, which is run along the lines of the Islwyn Community Credit Union. Those children have saved £600. The scheme has 56 members. One of the wonderful things about the scheme is not only that the children are saving, but that they are so enthusiastic that they are going home to their parents to tell them about credit unions. They are promoting credit unions in that way. This is an excellent project.

When the Minister sums up and talks about credit unions, I hope he will talk about Wales. Everybody in Wales has access to a credit union, and I really think the coalition Government should have that as an aspiration more widely. We should also take legislative obstacles down. I would ask the Minister to lower the minimum age necessary to join a credit union, which is presently 16—the same as the minimum age people need to be to serve as a company director. If we take such steps, we can promote credit unions, good lending and good saving.

I turn now to the mutualisation of the banks. I have been accused of banging on about the banks, but, like many Members, I am disappointed that Northern Rock will be sold privately. I hope the Government can look at introducing a mutual element, because we need that in society. In the middle of the banking crisis, there was one bank that did not need bailing out and which had run its business ethically: the Co-operative bank. When we look at the banking sector again, I hope the Co-operative bank is one of the examples we look to and learn from.