§ 23. Sir G. Nabarro
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to what extent the aggregate hire purchase debt has grown annually up to May, 1970, May, 1971, and May, 1972; and what forward estimate he has made for 1972 to 1973.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Emery)
Total instalment debt owing to finance houses and retailers increased by £26 million between May, 1969, and May, 1970, and by £90 million between May, 1970, and May, 1971. Figures for May, 1972, are not yet available, but during the 10 months to March, 1972, there was an increase of £301 million in seasonally adjusted terms. I expect a further substantial increase during the next 12 months.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
My hon. Friend scrupulously avoids referring to the fact that the total debt is now of the order of £1,600 million at the latest known date and is accompanied by a serious decline in the balance of payments. Is it not possible that these two are linked, even in spite of the fall in unemployment? What trend in the total hire purchase debt is expected by my right hon. Friend during the next few months?
§ Mr. Emery
Of the £1,678 million out standing at the end of March, £348 million was on industrial machinery, farm equipment and commercial vehicles and not actually of the consumer sort to which my hon. Friend has referred. I think it would be fair to say, as I said in my reply, that we expect this debt to increase, which is a way of showing to the consumer the necessary increase which is demanded in consumer spending to assist in dealing with the problems of unemployment.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that other forms of credit doorstep selling are also increasing, but they do not give to the consumer the protection of the Hire Purchase Act or the protection which over a year ago the Crowther Committee thought the consumer should have? Did not the hon Gentleman see reported in the newspapers only last week the case of such a credit firm going bankrupt and, because such arrangements were outside the hire pur-chase agreement, the consumers are still having to pay the finance house, although they have never received the goods and never will? Will the hon. Gentleman understand that the Government's indolence in extending consumer protection is really unacceptable?
§ Mr. Emery
My right hon. Friend and I have said that the Government accept the need for major reform. I know that my right hon. Friend intends to make a statement about this in the very neat future. There is no desire to be in any way indolent in this matter as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. That is definitely not the case.