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Mr. Sutcliffe: That will depend on how we implement the provisions following discussions with the industry. We have outlined the OFT's role on the basis of its
 
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experience. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we discussed it in Committee, the OFT already grants licences.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) rose—

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am happy to give way, but I want to make some progress, because most of the amendments are technical. We have spent some time on this amendment because of the introduction of the new concept of irresponsible lending.

Mr. Hollobone: It is right for us to spend some time on that important issue, but I commend to the Minister the work of the citizens advice bureaux. Most of the complaints received by Kettering CAB concern the indebtedness of local people and it has built up a substantial body of evidence that would help him to define irresponsible lending.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I acknowledge the work done by citizens advice bureaux and other advice agencies. The hon. Gentleman will know of the Government's intention to allow the financial inclusion fund to give advice face to face and of our wish to find ways of helping people early to deal with the debts that they incur. He also knows of the regulations following our consumer White Paper, which offer help and support.

I am grateful to the industry for its work in offering mechanisms of support for people who find themselves in debt. I believe that we are all trying to achieve the same thing: transparent legislation that makes clear the responsibilities for both lender and borrower. However, we also want to do what we can to support the agencies that offer help. The hon. Gentleman will know of the "loan shark hunter" pilot schemes in Birmingham and Glasgow that offer advice to people who find themselves in debt to, and exploited to the limit by, the most horrendous members of society.

We have listened to what has been said to us about irresponsible lending. I hope and expect that we shall gain the support of the Opposition parties, given that, during the variety of debates in which we engaged, it was clear that they wanted us to take this step.

Lords amendment No. 4 is technical and would alter new section 36F(3) in clause 50 to ensure that the clause does what was originally intended. Clause 50 deals with officers of enforcement agencies other than the OFT. New section 36F(2) makes the OFT responsible for the actions of those officers while they are fulfilling their duties under section 36C of the 1974 Act, which deals with access to premises, and section 36D, which deals with access to premises under warrant. However, section 36F(3) disapplies section 36F(2) in the case of criminal proceedings against an officer of the enforcement authority. It does not currently mention the OFT and we believe that, for the sake of clarity, it should be specifically mentioned. The amendment clarifies the position as originally intended.

Lords amendment No. 5 addresses a key recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which reported on the Bill in October last year. The amendment makes an order under clause 68 subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament, as opposed to negative
 
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resolution in either House. An order made under clause 68 can make changes to any other Act or piece of subordinate legislation that is necessary as a consequence of the Consumer Credit Act.

Mr. Davey: Can the Minister confirm that, if the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is passed, the powers that it gives Ministers would mean that the amendment was superseded?

Mr. Sutcliffe: The amendment restricts the powers to affirmative resolution, because the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee felt that they were too wide-ranging. We had a long debate in Committee about the need for affirmative or negative resolution in the case of various clauses, based on tradition and on what had applied in earlier legislation. However, we listened to what was said by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and were happy to accept its recommendations in this case.

Mr. Davey: It is not that we disagree with the amendment. I think that the Government were right in      another place to listen—eventually—to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. My point is that a Bill that is being dealt with in the other place, having been scrutinised in this place—the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill—gives Ministers powers to change regulations willy-nilly, without coming back to Parliament. If we pass the amendment, will we merely give ourselves a breathing space of a few months because in due course Ministers will be able to disregard it?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am sorry to have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's point. He is right: the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is going through its stages in both Houses. We do not expect the clause to be superseded by anything that appears in that Bill, but we shall have to see what happens during its passage.

Lords amendment No. 5 is technical, as are many of the earlier amendments apart from the one that deals with irresponsible lending, which we have spent some time debating.

I should like to say a little about implementation, because that has been raised with me. The Bill will be implemented as soon as is practical, with account taken of all stakeholder views. Some provisions may be implemented earlier than others; it will depend on lead times for preparation and interdependencies between clauses. The timetable for implementation will be refined after Royal Assent, in consultation with stakeholders. We have had a number of meetings with other Departments, the industry and consumer representatives, which will continue. We are also establishing two stakeholder working groups to inform the implementation process, one to look specifically at the implications of the Bill on IT system changes and one to examine the technical detail of the statutory instruments. We intend to publicise the final timetable towards the end of May. The Department will adhere to all relevant guidelines and best practice on implementation, such as the 12-week minimum for formal consultation periods.

I hope that, in the light of those explanations, the House will accept the Lords amendments.
 
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8 pm

Mr. Prisk: I begin by thanking the Minister for his opening remarks and for organising the recent joint meetings of the various political parties with the Association for Payment Clearing Services. In these meetings, we have been looking at the key issues arising out of the Bill and, indeed, at matters that lie at the heart of amendment No. 3, to which the Minister alluded.

The Minister and I have debated on a number of occasions, but this, I believe, is the first time that we have debated a Bill across the Dispatch Box. Indeed, I must confess that I have not debated this Bill before. Although it was introduced twice last year—before the election and after—it was sent to the other place before I assumed my current role, so I am not as well versed in its detail as other Members, including a number of my colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who has made a valuable contribution to the debate.

This is an important Bill and some of the amendments before us may improve its meaning and clarity. Sadly, it is not very difficult to make the Bill clearer. Indeed, the need for amendments Nos. 1 and 2 draws our attention to the considerable obfuscation that exists throughout the rest of the Bill. Here, I want to place on the record my genuine concern that, as with so much of this Government's legislation, the quality of the Bill's drafting leaves much to be desired. I hasten to add that that is the fault not of parliamentary counsel, but of those who instruct them. That is a particularly important point to bear in mind when we consider the central tenet of amendment No. 3: what the Minister and the Bill describe as the "unfairness test". After all, it was the Minister himself who told this House last June on Second Reading that the Bill has to be judged on the principles of "transparency, protection and fairness". If that is so for the Bill's substance, it should also apply to its language.

That is why we need to consider these amendments with great care. Several of them, particularly amendments Nos. 1 and 2, make predominantly technical changes, so I hope that the Minister will be prepared to put on the record his explanation for tabling them. He has made a welcome initial stab but there were a number of omissions, which I hope to address later. A willingness and ability on his part to respond to my points will help us with the implementation to which he referred. After all, transparency can be achieved not only through better legislation, but through well-chosen words from a Minister during a debate. It is such transparency that I seek this evening.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 would alter clauses 7 and 20 respectively. Although they are technical, I have some concerns about their effects, to which I will come in a moment. Amendment No. 3, which, as the Minister said, inserts new wording into clause 29, is directly concerned with what we have described as "irresponsible lending". [Interruption.] Here, the Minister's response will be particularly vital, and I hope that he is listening closely to every single word.


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