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12 Nov 2008 : Column 770

The Prime Minister: I think that the judgment of the shadow Chancellor on this matter does need to be questioned. The fuel duty stabiliser would mean that petrol, which is 97p a litre now, would have to rise today by 5p, and this is certainly not the right time to penalise motorists with a rise in petrol duty. [ Interruption . ] Oh, yes—5p extra a litre; that is the Conservative policy.

Q10. [234817] Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): What was the economic theory behind the end of boom and bust?

The Prime Minister: I explained a few minutes ago that we have been in a world where we have had high inflation combined with a credit crunch; now we are in a world where inflation is going down, and we have a credit crunch and a downturn. That is why we need new policies to deal with the matters ahead. The unfortunate thing is that the Opposition are still stuck in the old policy that failed in the past.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): With the renewed emphasis on job creation, many local authorities have welcomed the financial support that the Government have provided in the form of the working neighbourhoods fund. Does my right hon. Friend think that this fund should be used to pay for town centre Christmas lights, however, as the Liberal Democrats have done in Chesterfield town centre?

The Prime Minister: The important thing at the moment is to do everything in our power to create jobs in every community, and that is what we will do.

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Member Sworn

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath:

Lindsay Roy Esq., for Glenrothes.

Point of Order

12.33 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you undertake to investigate what I feel was an appalling breach of protocol yesterday—Armistice day—when the flag of our country was not flown from all the flagpoles on the parliamentary estate, most particularly No. 1 Parliament street and Portcullis House? Will you please look into this to ensure that such a breach does not occur on Remembrance day next year?

Mr. Speaker: I, of course, want to make sure that we respect our dead, especially on Remembrance day, so I will look into this matter for the hon. Gentleman.

12 Nov 2008 : Column 772

Interest Rates (Maximum Limit)

12.34 pm

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I beg to move,

This Bill would cap interest rates just above the Bank of England rate for store cards, loans and credit cards. During my research on the Bill, I was shocked by the charges that store cards and credit companies make. Burtons, Dorothy Perkins or Woolworths, for example, make a charge of 29.9 per cent. With an Argos payment card, interest can go up to 222.7 per cent. Someone who spends £1,000 on a Principles store card and makes only the minimum payment will need 15 years to clear that debt. Sadly, it is not just store cards that are the problem; companies that provide loans are even more outrageous. Provident Personal Credit charges 183 per cent. APR.

Here is an example of what it means in practice. I have an excellent leaflet provided by South Lanarkshire Credit Union Network, which details exactly the consequences of a rate of 183 per cent. It identifies two characters, Mrs. Rush and Mrs. Wise. They both borrow £300—Mrs. Rush from the Provident and Mrs. Wise from the local credit union. They each pay back £9 per week. By week 36, Mrs. Wise has paid off her loan, and it cost only £12.50 in interest. Mrs. Rush has another 20 weeks of payments to make, and by week 56 has paid off her debt, but at a cost of £204 in interest.

Sad to say, Provident is not the worst in this field. Last Sunday’s News of the World identified a company called Log Book Loans, which charges 437 per cent. APR. A person who borrowed £1,500 from this company would be forced to pay back up to £4,180 over an 18-month period. Even Log Book Loans is not top of the interest rate chargers chart. That title belongs to a company called Payday UK and Early Payday Loans, in Windsor. It charges an eye-watering 1,355 per cent. APR. Those companies specifically target workers who run out of cash before the end of the month. Those individuals have nothing to live on until the next pay day, and, crucially, they have no other means of borrowing.

What all those companies have in common is that they target people in financial difficulties who in many cases have nowhere else to go. The banks, which we have now taken partly into public ownership, are charging interest rates of 29.9 per cent. Frankly, that is totally unacceptable. My Bill would limit the interest charges at a fixed rate above the base rate set by the Bank of England. I believe that a fair rate would be 5 per cent. above the base rate. I have had a lot of cross-party support, and other individuals are a bit concerned about that level. I want to stimulate a debate, but I believe that that is what the rate should be.

It is interesting to look at what other countries do. It is reported in The Guardian this morning that in America the average credit charges are between 9 and 11 per cent. As the base rate has been trimmed in America, so have the credit interest rates. While carrying out my research on this Bill, I did not find one company in Britain that has cut interest rates on its credit charges or store cards—

12 Nov 2008 : Column 773

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The very opposite—they have gone up.

Mr. Devine: The hon. Gentleman says that they have gone up, and that is the case. It is absolutely scandalous.

In Germany, credit interest is regarded as an abuse if a company charges twice as high as the market interest rate. In Denmark, where there is no fixed rate, a lending company was taken to court for charging 33 per cent. APR, and it was forced to reduce the rate to 16 per cent.

The time has come for the Bill. I welcome the my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s comments at Question Time that he would bring in such companies and call them to account. I think that he should do more. We need to introduce legislation to cap interest rate charges. We need to highlight the cost to individuals of taking out a loan with the sort of companies and shops that I mentioned. We need to promote credit unions and the benefit that they bring to local communities. It is sad to report that the Scottish National party Government have abolished the ring-fenced money that the Labour-led Administration had introduced to promote and encourage credit unions. That is a disgrace.

This place needs to tell the people of Britain that, during difficult times, we are on their side, and to send the message that, during the credit crunch, it is time to crunch the credit charges.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jim Devine, Mr. Mohammad Sarwar, John Bercow, Keith Hill, Mr. Brian Binley, Mark Durkan, Ms Katy Clark, Mr. Tom Clarke, John Barrett, Mr. David Anderson and Jon Cruddas.

Interest rates (maximum limit)

Mr. Jim Devine accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for a maximum limit for interest rates to be prescribed; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed [Bill 162].

12 Nov 2008 : Column 774

Business of the House

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that a full list of selected amendments has been published.

12.42 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): I beg to move,

We have tried to introduce the measures as quickly as possible, partly because some of them lapse at the end of the Session and therefore need to be renewed, while others lapse at the end of the year and also need to be renewed. We wanted to ensure that that could happen on one parliamentary day.

We tabled the business motion a full week in advance of today’s debate so that hon. Members could have full notice of the way in which we intended to proceed. That is earlier than we have sometimes been able to table business motions and I hope that it has assisted hon. Members.

We are keen to allow time for votes, given that there may be several this afternoon, and it would wrong for them to eat into the time allowed for debate. Consequently, we have created three discrete debates of one and a half hours on regional accountability and the various measures that need to be rolled over into the next Session

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House talks about time for debate, but I do not understand how there can be time when there is already a five-minute limit on speeches if the motion is accepted.

Chris Bryant: I may be able to bind the House together by saying that, in my experience, a three-minute speech by me is just as good as a 57-minute speech.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Quite right.

Chris Bryant: Even the hon. Gentleman is with me. We have tried to allow sufficient time for debate. Several Members said that we should have more time to debate the Speaker’s Conference because it constitutes a significant departure in that we have not had one for many years. Some suggested that we should take time from the
12 Nov 2008 : Column 775
regional accountability debate and give it to the European scrutiny debate. We have tried to provide a balanced afternoon.

We have tried to restrict the business to one day because of the current economic position throughout the world and in this country, and the many requests that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I hear every Thursday for debates on many other subjects. For us to debate our own procedures for more than a day might be inappropriate.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): First, the House has not had the opportunity to debate the economic situation in Government time, so that is a poor excuse for limiting debate on these important motions. Secondly, the debate may need to be limited to one day, but the length of that parliamentary day does not need to be fixed. There is no need for the business motion to limit the length of the debates and business does not need to finish at 7 pm. We could run the debate for as long as it takes, and those Members who want to participate could stay as long as they wish.

Chris Bryant: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has fully understood the Order Paper. Under the statutory provisions on the Members’ Fund, we may well go on beyond 7 pm, because that debate must last for one and a half hours. We have made provision to enable that to happen after the moment of interruption this evening.

These measures need to be debated and it is more important that we get on to those debates than we continue debating the arrangements for them.

12.46 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I certainly agree with the Deputy Leader of the House that it is good that the Government gave rather longer notice of the business motion than they normally do, but that is about all I can agree with. As my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) so clearly pointed out, it is no argument to use the economic crisis as an reason for restricting debate about whether we are going to spend up to £2 million of taxpayers’ money on setting up eight more regional Select Committees and Grand Committees, or on whether the European Scrutiny Committee should continue to meet in private and not in public. We have not had a debate on the economic crisis in this country in Government time. I have consistently asked for such a debate, but the Government have consistently resisted that request.

The motions are significant and need proper time for debate. On the first set on regional accountability, the Select Committee’s report was pushed through only on the casting vote of the Leader of the House as Chairman, but we will have only one and a half hour’s debate on those motions. The issue of European legislation is of great concern to many of our constituents. Some 50 per cent. of our legislation comes from Europe, but the question of how this Parliament should examine it will be debated for only one and a half hours. Frankly, the business motion is outrageous. Far more time is needed for both those issues.

The Deputy Leader of the House also said that the Speaker’s Conference is significant. If so, why does he propose to restrict debate on it to one hour? The business motion is farcical, and I urge hon. Members to vote against it.

12 Nov 2008 : Column 776
12.47 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I share the strength of feeling of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). This motion is a complete abuse of the Government’s powers. Since we came back in October, we have had days and days on which the House has finished early. We have had days and days on which we have had no votes at all, but we are still told that we do not have time to discuss amendments and new clauses to Bills, which were tabled by both Labour and Opposition Members.

Now we come to this controversial motion—the Leader of the House knew that it was controversial from the moment that the Modernisation Committee discussed it. It was only because she was lucky enough to get a new member on to the Committee the night before the issue was discussed that she even had the opportunity to use her casting vote to get it through. Colleagues want to speak on the issue of regional Select Committees.

The Deputy Leader of the House has suggested that it is relatively less important that we have time to discuss this internal business. It matters to the working of Britain’s democracy whether we have regional Select Committees, how they are composed, how much travel they do and whether we should pay the Chairman; it matters whether the European Scrutiny Committee sits in private or in public; and it matters whether we have a Speaker’s Conference, under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker, about making ourselves more representative.

Those are important matters, but the Deputy Leader of the House has argued that these issues must be timetabled, because otherwise we would eat into the time for important business. He suggested that we need to debate the state of the economy, but it was my colleagues who initiated the debate on the economy on Monday, not the Government. We still have not had a debate on the economy in Government time. Wednesday is the day when most colleagues are here, so there is no reason at all why we cannot have a debate that is not timetabled to discuss such matters in turn. Some colleagues are willing to attend this place on a Wednesday afternoon and a Wednesday evening, and some colleagues do not have to disappear at 6.30 or 7 o’clock this evening to do other things.

We are willing to earn our money and do the job properly, and it is about time that the Government realised that this is the price that they will pay. They will be criticised every time they introduce business motions of this sort, because they are still insisting that the business of the House is decided by the Executive, not by Parliament. Until we get Parliament deciding Parliament’s business—not the Executive, whatever party or combination of parties is in power—we will not be doing our job properly.

This is a complete abuse of the Government’s powers in this place, and I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House—Labour Back Benchers and Opposition Members—will oppose the business motion.

12.50 pm

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