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Financial Services

Volume 541: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2012

In the Financial Services Bill, the Government are establishing a new financial conduct authority with additional powers to protect consumers and promote effective competition. On the day on which banks are writing to customers who were possibly mis-sold payment protection insurance, we are ensuring that banks will be open about any unarranged overdraft charges and interest payments on savings accounts.

I thank the Chancellor for his response. As families and individuals try to get on top of their debts, will the Chancellor outline whether the Government believe that new legislation is required to ensure that credit markets act in a responsible rather than predatory manner towards customers?

We are introducing legislation through the Financial Services Bill. It creates the financial conduct authority, which will have additional powers and will, I think, be a powerful champion of consumers. Rather than wait for legislation, we are taking action with the industry’s agreement to introduce a seven-day ban on store card retail incentives so that people cannot take out a store card and immediately get a special offer with it in the shop; and we are stopping excessive card charges being hidden on statements.

What is the Chancellor going to do about the exorbitant interest rates being charged to vulnerable consumers by pay day lenders, which are now so ubiquitous on our high streets up and down the country?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are practices in that industry that we want to see stopped—and I would highlight two in particular. The first is the rolling over of loans, which we are working with the industry to stop; the second is the ongoing use of continuous authorities to take money out of bank accounts, which people might not be aware that they have granted to a pay day loan company or anyone else. We are dealing with those specific abuses and, as I say, we are creating a new powerful consumer champion in the financial conduct authority.

The Financial Services Authority agreed to publish a review of its own conduct in the run-up to the failure of RBS only after considerable pressure from the Treasury Committee. It really should not be that difficult to get some answers out of a regulator.

Does the Chancellor agree that accountability to Parliament would be better served if the Financial Services Bill were amended to require the new regulator, the financial conduct authority, to respond to similar such reasonable requests from the Treasury Committee?

Of course we will listen to any proposals put to us. Clauses 69 to 76 include a new requirement on both the new bodies we are creating—the prudential regulator and the financial conduct regulator—to make a report when a regulatory failure has occurred. That trigger will be set out in the legislation, so we are providing additional powers to require reports when things go so badly wrong, as they did a few years ago.

The financial service from which my constituents most need protection is high-cost lending. The Chancellor’s remarks so far go nowhere near far enough in protecting consumers. We need a range of caps and we need some properly enforced regulation of advertising. When is the Chancellor going to do something about this?

I completely understand the concern about excessive and very high interest charges, which have been a problem for many years. I think it is better to tackle the specific abuses. The Government are conducting a review of the cost of credit to consumers, but by tackling very specific abuses such as the roll-over of loans and the use of continuous authority, we think we are getting to the really hard cases and abuses that we want to see ended. I have to say—this was certainly the view of the previous Government, too—that although it could be worth looking at, simply introducing a cap might have the effect of pushing a lot of people into a completely unregulated black economy. I am not sure that any of us would want to see that.

I remind the Chancellor of the excellent suggestions in the Treasury Committee’s report on the objectives of the successor body to the FSA, as they would certainly help consumers. Will he take the opportunity provided by the current legislation to give effect to those recommendations?

As I have set out before, we have listened carefully to the Treasury Committee and made all sorts of amendments to the Bill to take account of its recommendations, including changing the FCA’s remit to include competition. The Joint Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) also proposed similar recommendations. We have listened to Parliament; thanks to those suggestions, we have made changes that we think will improve the Bill; and the Bill is now before the House and soon to be debated.