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9 Nov 2004 : Column 586W—continued

Better Health Global

Mr. Alan Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps her Department has taken to investigate the activities of the Better Health Global group of companies in (a) Ireland, (b) Belgium, (c) Australia and (d) Canada; and if she will make a statement. [195837]

Jacqui Smith: The Department does not have authority to investigate the affairs of companies which are registered and trading in a foreign jurisdiction and does not comment on the affairs of live companies that are not the subject of insolvency proceedings.

Mr. Alan Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions her Department has held with the Crown Prosecution Service about the conduct of the directors of Better Health Global Ltd. and the BHG Group of companies; and if she will make a statement. [195839]

Jacqui Smith: None.

Correspondence

Mr. Allen: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will review the correspondence from the hon. Member for Nottingham, North regarding the case of Mr. Frederick Jones of Neston Drive, Bulwell, Nottingham, following the judgment in Meadows v. North London Securities. [196286]

Mr. Sutcliffe: I would like to thank my hon. Friend for bringing this case to my attention. You will understand that I am unable to intervene in individual cases such as this, which must be resolved by agreement between the parties or by recourse to the courts.

As my hon. Friend is aware I have written to John Vickers, Chair of the Office of Fair Trading, alerting him to the complaints made to me about this lender by a number of hon. Members.

Credit Contracts

Helen Southworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will set an upper limit on interest rates for consumers taking out credit contracts. [196390]


 
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Mr. Sutcliffe: The DTI commissioned research into the effect of interest rate ceilings in France, Germany and the USA, which found that: lenders do not provide credit for small loans repayable over a short period, excluding some low-income consumers from the market or leading others to take out larger loans than they need; the choice of products is reduced, limiting competition; some low-income consumers will take out credit on products that have extra charges that are not included in the interest rate calculation, but which low income consumers are particularly likely to incur, such as late payment charges; and the percentage of consumers who admitted to having borrowed from unlicensed or illegal lenders was twice as high in Germany and France as in the UK.

Helen Southworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she is taking to ensure that customers taking out credit agreements have clear, comprehensive and understandable information on (a) interest charges, (b) other charges and (c) penalties. [196391]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The White Paper "Clear, Fair and Competitive—The Consumer Credit Market in the 21st Century" set out the Governments' plans to increase the quality and transparency of information available to consumers about the costs and other terms of credit at all stages in the contractual process.

To that end, Regulations have already been made governing the advertising of consumer credit; the provision of pre-contractual information; and the form and content of credit agreements.

The Consumer Credit (Advertisements) Regulations 2004 which came into force on 31 October this year—require lenders to present a balanced picture of the costs of a product; and establish the typical APR as the prime comparator.

The Consumer Credit (Agreements) (Amendment) Regulations 2004 will require lenders to disclose full details about interest and other charges in the credit agreement. Penalties are illegal under consumer credit law. Interest charges will need to be listed under the prescribed "Key Financial Information" heading. Other charges will need to be listed under the "Other Financial Information" and "Key Information" headings. The Consumer Credit (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2004 require the lender to provide similar information in advance of the agreement being made. Both of these Regulations come into force on 31 May 2005.

The Government have also announced their intention to introduce a Bill as soon as parliamentary time permits that will include proposals to require creditors to provide debtors with regular information about the state of their accounts throughout the life of the agreement, including:


 
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It is proposed that failure by a creditor to provide the required information may mean that the creditor cannot enforce the agreement or recover interest in respect of the period of their failure.

EU Regional Development Aid

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions she has had in respect of the future round of EU Regional Development Aid. [196787]

Ms Hewitt: I and my ministerial colleagues are in regular contact with Ministers from other member states, representatives of the European Commission, and Members of the European Parliament regarding the reform of the EU Structural and Cohesion Funds. At the same time, we meet regularly with stakeholders in the UK and their representatives to explain the Government's position on reform of the funds.

EU Committees

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many times during the Greek presidency of the EU the Standing Committee on the Approximation of the Laws relating to Construction Products met; when and where these meetings took place; which UK Government expert was present at each meeting; what recommendations the Committee produced during that period; what actions were (i) proposed and (ii) taken by (A) the EU and (B) the UK Government as a result of the Committee's recommendations; and if she will make a statement. [195572]

Keith Hill: I have been asked to reply.

The Standing Committee on Construction met once during this period on 13–14 May 2003 in Brussels. The UK Government experts present were Tariq Nawaz and Stephen Phillips.

Recommendations produced by the Committee during this period were in the form of agreements to proposals and consultations of the Committee and are contained either in the minutes of the above meeting or the exchanges of correspondence which have been made available in the Library of the House. The actions proposed and taken by the EU and the UK Government as a result of the Committee's recommendations are contained either in the minutes of the meeting or in the correspondence referred to above.

Loan Debts

Mr. Allen: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what her policy is on loan sharks; and if she will make a statement. [195772]

Mr. Sutcliffe: Loan sharks are moneylenders who operate illegally and unregulated outside the current Consumer Credit Licensing regime.

Illegal loan sharks prey on vulnerable consumers and their sometimes brutal methods of obtaining repayment can cause great suffering and hardship in communities.
 
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To tackle this problem on 6 September 2004 I launched the Loan Shark Pilot, which will be operated by Birmingham and Glasgow Trading Standards Department. Both Departments have established teams of investigators who will investigate complaints received from members of the public about illegal money lenders.

The Government have committed £2 million over a period of two years to the project. A campaign has commenced in both cities advertising the presence of the illegal money lending teams and they have both been inundated with calls from members of the public. The teams are already investigating more than 40 live cases. The Birmingham team has recently announced that one arrest has been made.


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