HC Deb 26 June 1972 vol 839 cc992-4
20. Mr. Sutcliffe

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action the Government have now taken towards implementation of the chief aims of the Crowther Report on consumer credit.

31. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, when he intends to implement the recommendations of the Crowther Report.

32. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether a consumer credit ombudsman will be created as recommended by the Crowther Committee.

Mr. Noble

Consideration of the recommendations of the Crowther Committee for major reform of the law relating to consumer credit has reached an advanced stage. Their implementation would require complicated new legislation and my officials are now consulting various interests on a number of important technical points which arise.

Mr. Sutcliffe

While welcoming the Government's decision a year ago to remove hire-purchase restrictions, may I ask my right hon. Friend how long it will be before the consumer is protected by the obligation to disclose true rates of interest and the cost of credit? Will my right hon. Friend consider urgently amending the legislation to achieve that result?

Mr. Noble

I can assure my hon. Friend that this is exactly what we are doing. The Committee's recommendation in respect of disclosure of the true cost of credit is extremely complicated. This is only one aspect of the subject, and consultations will have to take place.

Mr. Luce

In view of the apparent growth in the amount of misleading information about the true cost of credit, would the Minister also bear in mind that the Crowther Report highlighted the state of confusion and fragmentation in consumer credit law? Will he consider taking the earliest possible action to give the consumer better protection in this respect?

Mr. Noble

Yes, my right hon. Friend and I have told the House that we hope to legislate comprehensively in this subject.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Younger Committee on Privacy is also believed to be about to recommend the creation of a credit commissioner? Will he please recognise the urgency of the situation, particularly bearing in mind the fact that, with the rapid rate of inflation under the present Government, more and more people can afford to live only on credit?

Mr. Noble

Yes, I recognise the urgency of this matter. It is also necessary in this complicated subject to get the answers right.

Mr. Edward Taylor

In view of the consultations which are taking place, can my right hon. Friend say whether it will be possible to legislate in the next Session of Parliament if the Government wish to do so?

Mr. Noble

That is our hope, and I hope that it will continue to be the case.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House are getting tired of the humbug and cant of hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies opposite, who are suddenly and very belatedly taking an interest in the protection of the consumer? They are all—with the exception of the hon. Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who asked one of the Questions and who came in too late to vote against the retention of the Consumer Council—seeking to convey the impression that they want to protect the consumer. Is this not utter humbug?

Mr. Noble

I think that very many people in the House and in the country will draw a distinction between protecting the consumer and the Consumer Council.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Since my right hon. Friend talks about more complicated legislation, will he bear in mind that there are many right hon. and hon. Members and a number of people outside who think that we could do with less complicated legislation? Will my right hon. Friend think again before introducing such legislation at an early date?

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has slept on this report for 15 months and that if that has been an uncomfortable posture for him, it has led to even more discomfort for housewives who have been denied the protection that they would have had if the report had been implemented? Is he aware, further, that it is not good enough to do what he did last time and use the shambles of the Government's legislative time table as an excuse for bringing forward no proposals? While we understand why the Government cannot legislate at the moment, that is no reason why, 15 months' later, the right hon. Gentleman should not have given a detailed indication of the Government's intentions so that some firms could act in anticipation.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Gentleman is being unreasonable. It would have been impossible to produce anything approaching comprehensive legislation 15 months ago.