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Mr. Coaker: As my hon. Friend knows, I was in York recently and visited an excellent school with him. I congratulate all the schools in York that are making improvements. He asks what more we will do to ensure that we tackle educational disadvantage in some of the
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poorest areas. We will of course continue the investment that we have made over the past few years, but just as importantly we will try to ensure that we do not just leave it to schools to tackle deprivation but that they work more closely with children's services, social services, health services, the police and other partners, including parents, to raise the achievement in those areas as we all want.

T9. [312610] Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Earlier today I had the pleasure of welcoming pupils and staff from Offerton high school in my constituency to the House. They enjoyed their visit very much but are dismayed that Stockport's bid for BSF funding was turned down by the Secretary of State, leaving them stranded in a crumbling building on a split site. What hope can he give that there will be resources to put right the deficit in school building in Stockport?

Ed Balls: Given that the Conservative party is committed to a £4.5 billion cut in Building Schools for the Future, the best hope that the hon. Gentleman can possibly have in his constituency is the re-election of a Labour Government.

Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): In Chester, parents greatly value and appreciate our four excellent children's centres. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that those centres will continue to provide universal access to all parents, irrespective of their background and circumstances?

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government's commitment is to universal service through children's centres-unlike the Conservative party, which wants to close one in four.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): There is fierce competition for school places in south-west London. Will the Secretary of State and Ministers therefore consider reviewing the rules that govern the allocation of capital resources for providing school places, so that the popular schools in the London borough of Sutton can meet the demand of children living in that borough to go to those schools?

Mr. Iain Wright: The hon. Gentleman was present at an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall last week when the issue was raised. As I pointed out then, considerable powers are already in place for local authorities to be in the driving seat to ensure that demand for places is met. Provisions will be extended in the Children, Schools and Families Bill that is currently in Committee, but, as I suggested in the Adjournment debate-and now suggest again-the hon. Gentleman should have a word with the Lib Dem-led London borough of Sutton, and perhaps some sort of arrangement can be reached.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure that Ministers will admit that we made a slow start in trying to tackle the disaster that was school sport in the 1990s. We did not make significant progress until 2002 to 2004. Despite the fact that we are now nearly up to 90 per cent. participation, what extra measures can my hon. Friend take to ensure that those who are still not getting at least two hours get them, and that, where
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there is a drop-off with the school club link, particularly for girls, action is taken so that everybody gets the chance to take part in sport?

Mr. Wright: I appreciate my hon. Friend's question and pay tribute to his fantastic work. He has just mentioned the 90 per cent. of young people who now do two and a half hours' sport. We want to take that further. Last year's schools White Paper and the Children, Schools and Families Bill include a commitment to increase that, as far as possible, to five hours, thereby ensuring that sport is an integral part of young people's learning experience.

T10. [312611] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The Secretary of State has been talking about children's best interests. As a married man, he knows that all research shows that children's best interests are served by being brought up by their mother and father in a stable relationship, preferably a marriage. Why, therefore, does he patronise those from less privileged backgrounds than him by suggesting that they should not aspire to bring up their children in a married, stable relationship?

Ed Balls: I do not remember ever patronising those people. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am married and very much support the institution of marriage. I am currently married to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

I support marriage, but I do not support a tax allowance that would disadvantage the widow and the woman who has to leave an abusive relationship, and go 13 times more to people on the highest incomes, yet give no help to any family where both parents are working. That would be not only patronising but deeply unfair.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am trying to help hon. Members by including as many as possible, but I need hon. Members to help me to help them.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Does the Schools Minister, following his visit to The Duchess's community high school in Alnwick, agree that it desperately needs replacing? Will the subsequent visit arranged by his officials clear some of barriers to getting that done?

Mr. Coaker: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I visited Alnwick recently and looked at the school. It clearly needs to be rebuilt as soon as possible. I hope
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that the subsequent visit by officials, which has taken place, will help with that process.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): Has the Minister seen any evidence that A-levels or GCSEs have become easier in the past decade or so?

Mr. Coaker: I have not seen any such evidence, nor have any of the bodies that advise us. A consistent battle seems to take place in this country when GCSE and A-level results improve, and people want to criticise rather than celebrate young people's genuine improvements.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Returning to the subject of publishing serious case reviews, why is it not possible to go beyond a summary and start with publication with appropriate redaction?

Ed Balls: I understand the hon. Lady's point, although, as I have said, people who have read a full serious case review know that the degree of detail included about innocent children in the family and more widely means that redaction is not at all sufficient. As Lord Laming said-and as the Association of Chief Police Officers said this afternoon-to publish the full report and therefore have less co-operation from police officers, social workers and health professionals, means that the lessons would not be learned. Those are not my views, but those of the NSPCC, police officers, directors of children's services and the Government's chief adviser on the safety of children. It is not a cover-up, but a Government putting the needs of children first. I urge the hon. Lady not to join in the politics being played by Conservative Front Benchers, but to join me in doing the best by children in our country.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State, who has dealt with these matters very comprehensively, whether Members agree with the answers or not.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Does the Secretary of State share my dismay at the proposals from the usually excellent hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) in his fair access to school admissions Bill, which would have the effect of reversing the Greenwich judgment, and mean that an artificial Berlin wall would be created between Croydon and Sutton, stopping Croydon parents and students from exercising their choice to go to very good Sutton schools?

Ed Balls: Rather than being drawn into the details, I think that that is really a matter that requires a meeting with the Minister for Schools and Learners.

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Points of Order

3.36 pm

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In an effort to ensure that debate on the Edlington case was carried out in a considered fashion, I wrote to the Secretary of State over the course of the weekend to outline some specific concerns, and I wrote to him this morning to say that I would raise the matter today. In his response, the Secretary of State mentioned a letter that he had sent to me to deal with some of those issues, but that letter was sent from his private office only at 2.31 pm, after questions had started. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that in future, private offices guarantee that letters, correspondence or written ministerial statements that bear on subsequent debates are published in good time, so that Members have a chance to read them before asking questions?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but I would say to him that I think the House would expect normal courtesies to be observed and maintained in such matters. I hope that he, and the House as a whole, accept that it is not a matter for me to specify precisely when a letter should or should not be sent, but he has made his point very explicitly and it is on the record. I have a sense that the Secretary of State wishes to respond to it.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was grateful to receive the letter from the shadow Secretary of State over the weekend. I was anxious to give him a full reply and I wanted to make
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sure I knew the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which I received in my office only at 2.15 pm today. I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he would ask about the matter at question 5, and I therefore signed the letter and asked for it to be sent over to him as soon as possible and in advance of questions. There is nothing in the letter that I have not said in the House this afternoon in answer to his questions. Although I would rather have sent it earlier, my office has done its best to ensure that all the detail was with him before he asked his question this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State and the Secretary of State. It is fair to say that the hon. Gentleman's grievance and the Secretary of State's response to it have now been fully aired.

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In light of the appalling violence, and religious and racial hatred from the so-called English Defence League in Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday, and despite the excellent work of the police in responding to it, have you, Mr. Speaker, heard any indication at all from the Home Secretary that he intends to make a statement to the House about violent right-wing extremists and the fear that they strike into the hearts of law-abiding citizens?

Mr. Speaker: I must confess that I have not had any indication from the Home Secretary of an intention to make a statement on the matter, but the very real concern that the hon. Gentleman feels on behalf of his constituents has been voiced forcefully and is on the record for others to witness.

25 Jan 2010 : Column 555

Financial Services Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in Public Bill Committee

[Relevant documents: T hird Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on Legislative Scrutiny: Financial Services Bill and the Pre-Budget Report, HC 184. ]

New Clause 1

No credit agreement to be enforceable if its total cost exceeds the statutory limit

'(1) No agreement regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 shall be enforceable if the total cost of credit charged under that agreement or the cost of transactions linked to that agreement exceed the relevant limits set by the OFT pursuant to sections [Quanta of statutory limits] and [Limits on costs of transactions linked to credit agreements].

(2) Where a consumer credit agreement is found to be unlawful by virtue of subsection (1) that agreement and any linked agreement shall be unenforceable and the lender and any agent acting on its behalf shall be liable to:

(a) a fine determined by the OFT in accordance with section [Level of fines]; and

(b) the revocation of the lender's Consumer Credit Licence.'.- (Rob Marris.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.39 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 2- OFT's power to set statutory limit-

'(1) Where the OFT is satisfied that insufficient price competition in a defined credit market is causing or may cause a detriment to consumers the OFT shall set a reasonable limit on the total cost chargeable for credit by lenders in that market.

(2) In setting the limit referred to in subsection (1) the OFT shall consider evidence of:

(a) the degree of price competition in the credit market; and

(b) the level of consumer detriment caused by any identified lack of price competition.

(3) The OFT shall within three months of the date on which this Act or any Part thereof comes into force and thereafter on each anniversary thereof decide whether or not to set a limit on the total cost of credit for any consumer credit market and shall publish that decision and the reasons for it.'.

New clause 3- Quanta of statutory limits-

'(1) The OFT shall set statutory limits which reasonably reflect the cost of providing credit in a properly functioning competitive credit market.

(2) To reflect variations in the amount of reasonable costs incurred by lenders different statutory limits may be set for loans of different amounts and of different durations.

(3) The OFT may on not less than 14 days' published notice vary any statutory limits to reflect wider macroeconomic conditions including but not limited to changes in the Bank of England's base lending rate.'.

New clause 4- Limits on cost of transactions linked to credit agreements-

'(1) Where the OFT sets a statutory limit for a credit market it may also set limits on cost of transactions linked to such credit agreements which costs are not included in the total charge for credit.

25 Jan 2010 : Column 556

(2) Limits on the cost of transactions linked to credit agreements include:

(a) the cash price of goods which are being offered for sale on credit terms; and

(b) the costs of any related insurance or collection services.

(3) The OFT may set reasonable limits on the cost of transactions linked to credit agreements if it finds evidence that:

(a) the statutory limit is likely to be avoided; or

(b) there is likely to be a consumer detriment which is more than de minimis.'.

New clause 5- Publication of limits-

'When it sets a statutory limit or sets a limit on the cost of transactions linked to credit agreements the OFT shall take reasonable steps to ensure that such limits are timeously:

(a) published in the London Gazette;

(b) publicised throughout the credit industry;

(c) notified to relevant consumer groups; and

(d) notified to relevant advice agencies.'.

New clause 6- Level of fines-

'(1) The OFT may impose a fine on any lender who exceeds a statutory limit or a limit on the cost of transactions linked to credit agreements.

(2) A fine imposed by virtue of subsection (1) shall not exceed 5 per cent. of that lender's annual turnover.

(3) When setting a fine the OFT shall have regard to:

(a) the length of time that the lender has been operating in the market;

(b) the lender's previous record regarding statutory limits;

(c) the lender's previous record regarding the cost of transactions linked to credit agreements; and

(d) the annual turnover of the lender in its most recent annual accounts.

(4) A lender upon whom a fine is imposed by the OFT pursuant to this section has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills within 28 days after being notified by the OFT of that fine.'.

New clause 7- Definitions-

'(1) In the sections [No credit limit to be enforceable if its total cost exceeds the statutory limit], [OFT's power to set statutory limit], [Quanta of statutory limits], [Limits on cost of transactions linked to credit agreements], [Publication of limits] and [Level of fines] "OFT" means the Office for Fair Trading.

(2) In sections [Quanta of statutory limits] and [Publication of limits] the "statutory limit" means the limit referred to in subsection (1) of section [OFT's power to set statutory limit].

(3) In sections [Publication of limits] and [Level of fines] "limits on the cost of transactions linked to credit agreements" means the limits referred to in subsection (1) of section [Limits on cost of transactions linked to credit agreements].'.

New clause 14- Store cards and consumer credit agreements-

'(1) The Consumer Credit Act 1974 shall be amended as follows.

(2) After section 60, insert-

"60A Form and content of retail credit-token agreements

(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations as to the form and content of documents embodying retail credit-token agreements, and the regulations shall contain such provisions as appear to him appropriate including requirements to ensure that-

(a) the rate of interest on the credit to be provided under the agreement for credit (or all the rates on a per annum basis where there is more than one rate of interest) does not prejudice the interests of debtors; or

(b) the agreement for credit includes a seven day cooling off period during which credit would not be available to the debtor.

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