“At the first available opportunity, the Government should carry out an impact assessment to establish whether legislative change would effectively address the consumer detriment caused by upfront fees in the credit brokerage sector both in the immediate and longer term, including considering a ban on credit brokers charging upfront fees”.

The Government declined to do this, saying that the new OFT guidance issued in response to the super-complaint should be given time to work. It has had two years to work and I am still getting evidence of problems.

I would like to mention a recent constituency case that caused me to look into the practice of one particular company, Myloan. The 18-year-old daughter of a constituent tried to get a loan; unbeknown to her

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mother and father, she was desperate. She went to Myloan in January. She completed the process and was advised that it could not loan to her, but she had given it her bank account details because it said it would find her a loan. It took the 16-digit number, the security number and an application fee of £68.99. It then processed the application. It sent her details off to 13 other companies. No companies offered her a loan, yet every company took an application fee, and she ended up a further £375 in debt. The majority of that money was taken within nine days of the initial approach. She was 18 and she did not know what would happen if she did this. It is clear that she was taken advantage of by this company.

I looked into this company and there were pages and pages of complaints on the internet of it taking fees and people not getting loans. We need to act now to stop vulnerable consumers being cheated by these companies.

I now wish to deal with the BrightHouse clause, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). It deals with companies that offer household goods to customers on a rent-to-own basis, whereby, again, they make weekly payments and own the product only once the final payment is made. I am using BrightHouse as an example because it is the largest rent-to-own company in the United Kingdom. It has more than 270 stores and plans to expand at a rate of about one a fortnight. These stores have become a common feature on the high street and tend to be found in more deprived areas. Indeed, it has been remarked that having a BrightHouse store is now a signifier that the area could be deprived, not that BrightHouse’s stores are downbeat or shabby—they look really good.

A TV researcher contacted me about BrightHouse because she had gone into one of its stores to look for a bedside cabinet and was appalled by the amount BrightHouse was charging a week. People who are unable to pay outright for goods and may previously have gone to get a social fund loan now cannot get one and have to use these weekly repayments. They allow customers to pay in small weekly chunks, repayable over several years. That can be convenient but there is a catch or two—if we include the insurance that is included, there is a catch or three. BrightHouse defends adding everything together by saying, “Our target customers are mostly women and they like things simple.” Well this is one woman who does not agree with BrightHouse on that one. Not only do its customers pay a higher price—often higher than is paid in Harrods—but at a typical APR of 69.9% the loan is extortionate. For example, customers can buy an HP Envy 120 all-in-one printer from BrightHouse for £322.23, which will end up costing £520 by the time they have paid £5 a week over 104 weeks, whereas John Lewis has the same product for £149.99.

Justin Tomlinson: Obviously, I support the principles being expressed here. The key thing is that the vast majority of consumers would not be able to calculate the total cost with an APR—even Treasury Ministers would struggle to do that—which is why it is so incredibly important to have everything displayed in cash terms. That is the simplest form for any consumer, allowing them to make an informed decision.

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Yvonne Fovargue: I totally agree with that. I do not believe many customers know how over the odds the costs are. They cannot use a comparison, because they do not have the £150 to go to John Lewis to pay the cost straight off. They think that they are paying a bit more, but they are paying a fortune more—they are paying nearly five times as much. My new clause would require stores to set out all the costs, and I make provision in respect of similar goods because BrightHouse has occasionally changed one figure or a letter at the end and said, “There isn’t a comparable good.” There is a comparable good, but BrightHouse has just changed an X or a Y at the end of the goods.

Customers may still choose to shop at BrightHouse —I would not stop them shopping there—but they need to have the full facts. Clearly, low weekly payments are what make BrightHouse seem attractive to so many, but that does not mean they are affordable. BrightHouse encourages its customers to take on more and more loans; I have had reports of people being rung at home with tempting news of the latest in-store arrivals, keeping the customers in a constant cycle of debt. Small weekly payments quickly mount up and become unaffordable. There is talk about people buying the big TVs, but the other problem is that that is the only option in BrightHouse. It does not have the smaller goods; it has the big plasma TVs. BrightHouse does not stock the range of goods that people can shop around for.

I have encountered a case of a customer making weekly payments of £75 to BrightHouse, from a benefits payment of £100 a week—it is no wonder people cannot survive in such circumstances. My new clause would ensure that BrightHouse has to carry out proper affordability checks. We are asking payday lenders to do that, so why should the rent-to-own companies not have to do it as well? Including the insurance does not provide value for money, but people will not challenge it under the unfair contract terms because, in general, the people who go to BrightHouse do not want to challenge and go to court, as it is a frightening experience. So my new clause will ensure that these companies cannot enforce taking out the cover.

The last part of my new clause deals with repossession, because a lot of evidence shows that a missed payment or two leads to the loss of the goods concerned, often without a court order, despite the fact that the customer has paid the true cost of the goods several times over. BrightHouse says that that is done only with the customer’s consent, but many people have been left in dire straits when essential items such as their fridge or washing machine have been taken, often at short notice. The company has a perfect right to take the goods, but there are ways of doing it fairly. My amendment ensures that proper procedures are followed, and that customers are not pressurised into giving back goods for which they have paid a considerable amount. I am not against the services that BrightHouse offers, but I am against a business model that is so stacked against the customer that it amounts to little less than exploitation. There is a huge irony when the poorest in society pay the highest prices. BrightHouse and others like it should give thought to their customers and their ability to pay. Hopefully, this amendment will concentrate their thinking.

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4 pm

Damian Hinds: It is always a pleasure and an honour to follow the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) who talks not only with passion but with a great deal of knowledge and expertise about these matters. I wish to speak briefly about new clauses 11 and 6. Before I do, may I say that it was a little unfortunate that the remarks of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) took the turn that they did at the end? What she said is simply not true, and everybody in this House who takes an interest in these issues, which she certainly does, knows that the sub-prime high-cost credit market has been around for donkey’s years. It has not started—[Interruption.] No, it has not started, or even in its totality dramatically shifted, in the past three years.

The hon. Lady mentioned statistics for payday lending and logbook lending, but, if she was being complete in her analysis, she might have talked about when the big growth spurt came in home credit. She might even have talked about when the growth spurt came in rent to own. Perhaps she would like to take the opportunity to talk briefly about those things now. I would happily take an intervention.

Stella Creasy: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he voted three times in the House over the past three years against capping the cost of credit and therefore tackling some of these problems? If he recognises that there are problems, is he saying that he will support the new clauses today?

Damian Hinds: Clearly, I was not saying that. I was asking the hon. Lady whether she wanted to comment on the growth of home credit and rent to own. We have had many opportunities in this House to discuss a cap on the cost of credit, and she and I—and she and many other Members—have had an opportunity to discuss some of the practical aspects. There will now be a cap on the total cost of credit, but that is not to say that the definition of that is without difficulties. It remains a tricky thing to do. All of us, including her, who take a close interest in these issues know that there is no single silver bullet solution that solves any of these market problems. We need regulation, empowerment for consumers, financial education and sensible alternatives. This House is at its best when we are discussing what those practical approaches might be, and I welcome the new clauses, which allow us to talk about those very things. I have an awful lot of sympathy for the sentiment behind new clause 11, which was put forward by the hon. Member for Makerfield, and for what is behind new clauses 7 and 9, but we must be wary about seemingly straightforward legislative solutions that may not deliver all they purport to.

We always talk in the plural when we refer to rent-to-own companies, but in reality there is one really big company. There is a problem with the pricing and marketing of these companies. I have recently been added to the BrightHouse e-mail marketing list. I do not know what I have done to deserve that honour—I am not sure whether I should take it as a compliment—but I am now bombarded with messages saying how easy it is to pay weekly, and it is those messages that go to the heart of the problem. To be fair, the slightly misleading approach that we are talking about does not necessarily

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apply just to rent-to-own companies. We could say that it applies to every pay-monthly mobile phone contract, through which we not only pay for our calls but finance the phone, but it is never advertised how much is for the phone and how much for the calls. We always see it as one all-together monthly amount.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): My hon. Friend is making very measured comments. It is true that no one party has a handle on debt in this debate. Many of us are concerned about the matter. Does he agree that companies such as Emmaus in my constituency have helped to ensure that people do not have to take on ridiculous payback terms, by enabling them to access good refurbished second-hand goods free of charge if their circumstances allow? I pay tribute to companies such as Emmaus that have helped many people in difficulty who need goods.

Damian Hinds: I am not familiar with Emmaus, but I am sure that it is an admirable organisation. I can mention Furniture Helpline in my constituency, and there are many others throughout the country.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Affordability is at the root of this issue. It is not only companies such as BrightHouse that concern us—for years, when interest rates were rising, supposedly reputable companies simply extended the time that people had to pay, so that the weekly payments stayed relatively low. That is the real issue at the heart of this.

Damian Hinds: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who is sitting next to me, mentions catalogues: catalogue credit has worked on that basis for a long time, stressing the weekly repayment amount. There is also an ability to shift the amount that is apparently the cost of the product and how much is paid for the financing—in the case of catalogues, that is often zero, but the base price is inflated to allow for that.

My worry about the approach in the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Makerfield is that I do not know how we would make the price comparator work. She made an important point about product numbers. As electronic comparison capability increases, it will be important to be able to make a direct like-for-like comparison, and adding an extra letter to a product number to make such comparison impossible should certainly be cracked down on.

Mrs Main: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many of the goods that are advertised are often own-label brands, and that makes it very hard for consumers to make a direct like-for-like comparison with another branded good.

Damian Hinds: It is difficult, but if we are talking about a big plasma TV or a washing machine, equivalent products and other brands are also available. The basic problem, however, is not that the information is not available, because the idea that people do not have the ability to make such comparisons becomes less and less true every month, with smartphones and so on. The difficulty relates to money advice, and encouraging and

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prompting people to make the comparison. We do not solve that problem by adding small-print text about the total cost, the annual percentage rate, the total cost of credit, the reminder that “your house may be at risk”, blah, blah, blah. All those things do not solve the problem of how we encourage people to make that comparison and do the analysis to ensure that they are not worse off than they need to be.

That leads me on to new clause 6 and the so-called

“annual report on the level at which a levy on lenders in the high cost consumer credit market should be set”.

There is a levy that applies to lenders, so I assume that the requirement for a report is a device to call for something that might be in place anyway. Debt advice is also provided. We could argue that, at the high-cost end of sub-prime, such lenders should make a greater contribution, because of the detriment associated with them, but that does not require primary legislation.

The new clause would also have the Government make provision for affordable credit to be available through credit unions. I would argue strongly that the Government have brought and are bringing forward measures to ensure that affordable credit is available to vulnerable customers through credit unions. Through the credit union expansion project, tens of millions of pounds are being made available to modernise and upgrade the sector. Through regulatory reform—the passing, finally, of the legislative reform order—the increase in the monthly interest rate cap from 2% to 3% makes competition with high-cost, short-term lenders a little more possible. Also, as we were discussing, the cap on the interest charged in the commercial sector will at least help to slow the apparently inexorable rise of that sector. There are also things that the social lending sector must do. It has to step up to the plate on its marketing, branding and consistency of product offer. There will have to be consolidation in the sector to provide the services that people want.

I do not know whether the idea behind new clause 6 in the mind of the hon. Member for Walthamstow came from the recent IPPR report, on which she commented, which suggested that a one-off levy on high-cost lenders would facilitate a great expansion in the social lending sector.

Mrs Main: Will my hon. Friend speak a little more slowly? The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), on the Opposition Front Bench, is having trouble tweeting. She is trying to provide a running commentary on his speech and perhaps if he went a little more slowly she would catch up.

Damian Hinds: I will always follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow, so I shall pay great attention to what she has tweeted after the debate.

I have a lot of sympathy with any measures proposed to help support the growth of the credit union sector. A lot of things in the IPPR report are welcome and positive, such as the idea of having credit unions in post offices, Church of England facilities and so on, but with respect to all concerned I would say that those are hardly first-time-out occurrences of the proposals. A back-stop reclaim facility, through the benefit system, could also have some benefits.

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However, the idea—this is the main point—that some huge one-off capitalisation of credit unions would help to facilitate their growth, is not right. Under the previous Government, we had the growth fund, and I am not here to diss that. It was a well-intentioned initiative and will have done a lot of good. Such things are also eroded over time, however, and by definition if one has a big one-off capitalisation one ends up having to address a slightly more costly part of the market, which contributes to that erosion. What we need to do to help support and facilitate the growth of credit unions is what this Government are doing. We are trying to get them on to a sustainable footing with modernised systems, working collaboratively together to get the marketing and branding right so that the sector does not need a subsidy for ever but reaches a scale at which it can address more and more consumers, meaning that fewer and fewer consumers need or want to access the types of lenders we have been discussing today.

Fiona O'Donnell: Despite appearances, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and I are not taking part in a mother and daughter catalogue photo shoot later. We should perhaps co-ordinate in future on what to wear when we are both taking part in the same debate.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). He said that his Government are taking an interest in issues around payday lending. They are certainly taking something, although I am not sure whether it is just an interest. When he criticises Labour, saying that for 13 years we did nothing, he fails to recognise that there has been an incredible growth, certainly in my constituency, in the number of people having to resort to payday lenders. They are having to increase the amount they are borrowing from those lenders as well as their general debt levels. There is a cost of living crisis and poverty is the root cause, and the Government should have acted more quickly. The hon. Gentleman is on the record as having said that self-regulation works, but even he has had to admit that self-regulation of payday lending has not worked and that it is time for action.

Figures reported by StepChange last December showed that among its clients, people seeking debt advice in East Lothian, my constituency, are now saddled with average payday loan debts of £1,864, £466 above the Scottish average.

Justin Tomlinson: I want to reassure the hon. Lady that a number of us have worked on a cross-party basis to push for the extra regulation the Government are introducing. At no point were we saying that self-management would be fine. We were pushing for regulation and I am delighted that the Government are taking that forward to protect vulnerable consumers.

Fiona O'Donnell: I wonder whether I can ask the hon. Gentleman which door he pushed. Was it in the Aye Lobby or the No Lobby when we voted on this issue? Taking an interest is what we do in this House, but it is the action we take that matters. I am not aware of his having rebelled but perhaps I am misjudging him. I will gladly give way to him again on that point.

Justin Tomlinson: I am afraid that the hon. Lady is confusing two issues. A huge amount of work has been done by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne

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Fovargue), the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and Members from all three parties. They have come together to influence Government regulation that has been introduced to protect vulnerable consumers. The hon. Lady is simply confusing two issues.

4.15 pm

Fiona O'Donnell: The two issues I am confusing are what people say and what people do.

I want to be helpful to the hon. Member for East Hampshire on the e-mails that he is receiving from BrightHouse. I suggest that he follow up the matter with the Financial Conduct Authority. The last time we debated high-cost loans, I spoke about my experience with Wonga. I had received an e-mail offering me another loan when I was not aware that I had ever had a loan. I was told that the e-mail had not come from Wonga, that it was some kind of fraud and not to worry about it. I have recently taken this up with the FCA, which now has some authority to deal with the issue. I think that the authority will be asking the Government for more powers to get to grips with this. It suggested to me that a fraudulent application for a loan had been made in my name; my contact details were supplied, but Wonga failed to notify me of that and has retained my data on its files, and that is why it has been marketing products to me. He may wish to take up his case with the FCA and perhaps check out his credit rating—as I immediately did, to see whether the application had affected me. I admire his restraint in not rushing from the Chamber at this very moment to do that.

The exploitation that we have seen is plain and simple. Payday loan companies are not called legal loan sharks for no reason. They are predatory. They sniff out hunger, home in on and exploit the difficult situations in which so many of our constituents find themselves. The figures from one of my citizens advice bureaux in Haddington showed that debt-related cases accounted for 51% of its total inquiries from April to June 2013, a rise in East Lothian of more than 40% from the same quarter the previous year. That is why Opposition Members have been urging the Government to do something as quickly as possible. It is why we are saying that the cap needs to be introduced. It is welcome that the Government have changed their mind, but we would like to see that brought forward to 2014. People in my constituency and all our constituencies who are struggling with debt need help now.

While not everyone who borrows using a payday loan gets into difficulties, enough do as a result of the terms of the loan that the industry is now making billions of pounds. When one in three such loans are being used to pay off another payday loan, we need to call time on these lenders breaking their own codes of conduct and step in to reform the industry. It is time to have a levy on the industry so that companies have to give something back to the communities who are swelling their coffers but suffering at the same time. The hon. Member for East Hampshire said that the money suddenly injected into credit unions would not have the impact that we hoped. My constituency is served by a credit union, but it does not have a presence on the high street; it lacks visibility. It works through employers such as East Lothian council encouraging their employees to save with them, but it does not reach the people who wander off the high street into The Cash Store or BrightHouse.

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A cash injection to the credit union in my constituency to give it a high street presence would tackle the exploitation that I see among the poorest and most vulnerable people.

I understand that Members have worked on a cross-party basis—I will now try to take back some of the earlier sour remarks—but let us not be limited in our ambition today. I hope that they will get behind the new clause and make a difference to the people who are suffering in our constituencies.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): This is a useful debate. The trouble with the new clause is that, unless we are careful, if we legislate in haste on complex legal matters, we may be subject to the law of unintended consequences and make things worse. No one denies that a lot of people are under tremendous financial stress, and we all want more transparency. I agree that on many occasions the law needs to be updated.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) talked about bills of sale and described them as a Victorian product. In fact, bills of sale have been around for centuries. The Bills of Sale Act dates from 1878, and was amended in 1882. That does not necessarily mean that bills of sale are wrong in themselves. I looked up the definition of “bill of sale”, which is

“a legal document made by the seller to a purchaser…that on a specific date at a specific locality and for a particular sum of money or other value received, the seller sold to the purchaser a specific item of personal property, or parcel of real property, of which he had lawful possession.”

It is a written instrument which evidences the transfer of title to personal property from the vendor or seller to the vendee or sellee. For instance, a typical bill of sale would be something very simple: “for the sum of X pounds I hereby sell to Larry Smith full ownership of a green John Deere harvester.”

A bill of sale is a simple, historic or traditional way of ensuring the transfer of title. I agree with the hon. Member for Walthamstow that things can become complicated, and that is evidenced in legal sources when a bill of sale is attached to a loan, as it can be used as evidence of a loan and security for a loan; so someone’s car, for instance, may be used as security for a loan.

Just because some bills of sale are misused and some people suffer as a result of the process or are under legal stress, that does not mean that we have to throw a century of careful legal practice and growth out of the window, as we might make things worse. If we over-regulate legal loan providers, we may well force people into the clutches of unregulated loan sharks. My suggestion to the Minister—and I agree that this is a serious problem—is that rather than attack bills of sale, which have been around for a long time and have been used in an entirely reputable and correct way and entirely transparently to transfer ownership, or just throw them out of the window by accepting a new clause that has not been thought through, the issue should go to the Law Commission, which can study all the evidence and practice and ensure that we protect consumers, achieve full transparency, and modernise the law. We should not rush through Acts of Parliament that can make things worse for people under stress and force them into the hands of loan sharks.

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Jenny Willott: I welcome you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to our exciting debate this afternoon. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) opened the debate by saying that we had an opportunity to take action on these issues. I completely agree, so I am sure she is absolutely delighted to see how much the Government have done to protect consumers and take action in these areas.

We have debated a number of issues, and I shall run through them in turn. First, on the issue of high-cost or payday lenders, hon. Members will know—certainly the hon. Lady knows this, as we have discussed it before—that the Government have taken robust action to curb the harm these lenders can cause. On 1 April, responsibility for regulating payday lenders, along with all other consumer credit firms, transferred from the Office of Fair Trading to the Financial Conduct Authority, as mentioned by a number of Members. The Government strongly welcome the FCA’s new, tough rules for regulating payday lending. The FCA requires robust affordability checks, limits the number of times that a payday loan can be rolled over to two, and places tough restrictions on lenders’ use of continuous payment authorities. As highlighted by a number of Members, the Government have also legislated to require the FCA to introduce a cap on the cost of payday loans to protect consumers from unfair costs. The FCA will consult on its proposals for the cap in the summer, and it will be in force no later than 2 January 2015.

In addition, the FCA will thoroughly assess every payday lender’s fitness to trade as part of the authorisation process. Given the risks to consumers, the FCA has said that those firms will be in the first phase of firms and will be required to be fully authorised from October this year. The Government believe that the tough and decisive action the FCA is taking, including the cap on the cost of payday loans, will ensure that consumers are far better protected than they have been.

Justin Tomlinson: The welcome news is that the measures are already making a difference, because a number of lenders have already withdrawn from the market, which is a bonus for the vulnerable consumer.

Jenny Willott: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. We only have anecdotal evidence at the moment, but it is clear that a significant number of lenders have already withdrawn from the market because they know they will not be able to comply with the rules, which are extremely tough. As he said, that is absolutely as it should be. People who cannot comply with the rules are withdrawing, and consumers are being protected as a result.

Free debt advice is currently funded by a levy on lenders channelled via the Money Advice Service. As payday lenders are now regulated by the FCA, they too will contribute to the levy. The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow would duplicate the existing funding arrangements for debt advice. It is important that we put on the record the fact that payday lenders will be contributing to money advice services via the levy.

It is also important to note that the FCA is taking steps to ensure that vulnerable consumers are aware of the free debt advice available to them. It requires all high-cost, short-term lenders to signpost their customers

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to free debt advice at the point at which a loan is rolled over, and all payday lending adverts must include a risk warning and information about where to get free debt advice.

Yvonne Fovargue: Will the Minister confirm that the amount raised by the levy will increase as the payday lenders are brought into it and that the amount paid will remain the same and will not simply be spread more thinly among the lenders?

Jenny Willott: To be totally honest, I do not know the answer to that question, but I will write to the hon. Lady to clarify that point.

Similarly, the levy will duplicate the Government’s existing support for credit unions. The Government are already investing £38 million to support the sustainable growth of credit unions to help them meet borrowers’ needs, as highlighted by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). Through that expansion, credit unions could save people on low incomes up to £1 billion in interest repayments, compared with going to a payday lender.

The Government therefore firmly believe that consumer choice and protection will be substantially strengthened by the new FCA regime and the ongoing Government support for credit unions. For the first time, payday lenders and other consumer credit firms will start paying their fair share towards funding free debt advice through the Money Advice Service, so the Government are already dealing with many of the issues that have been raised today.

Turning to debt management companies, the Government share the concerns about the potential for detriment to occur to consumers who take out debt management plans. There has been increasing media attention and people are becoming increasingly aware of the problems affecting some consumers. I also recognise the importance of protecting that particularly vulnerable group of consumers. The Government’s focus is on comprehensively reforming regulation in this sector. Responsibility for regulating debt management firms, as with all other consumer credit firms, has been transferred from the OFT to the FCA. As with customers of payday lenders, those participating in debt management plans will be far better protected under the new FCA regime.

The FCA has stated publicly that debt management firms must start putting consumers first and that it is unacceptable that people who are struggling to make ends meet are being talked into unsuitable plans. The Government have made sure that the FCA has robust powers to protect consumers who use debt management firms. The FCA is proactively monitoring the market and has a broad range of enforcement tools that it can use to punish breaches of the rules. There is no limit on the fines it can levy. Crucially, it can force firms to pay redress to consumers. The FCA will thoroughly assess every debt management firm’s fitness to trade as part of the authorisation process—the same process that applies to payday lenders.

Given the risk to consumers, the FCA has said that debt management firms will be in the first phase of credit firms that are required to be fully authorised. Its rules make it clear that the fees charged for debt management plans should not undermine the customer’s

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ability to make significant repayments to their lenders throughout the duration of the debt management plan. Concerns have been raised, including by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, about the huge proportion of somebody’s payment that, in some cases, goes to the debt management firm rather than the creditors. That is a matter of significant concern.

4.30 pm

As a result, the FCA set out in its guidance that debt management firms should not allocate more than half the money received from customers in debt management plans to meeting the fees and charges from month 1 of the plan, and that once the initial fee for the arrangement of the plan has been paid, the proportion should reduce. Because the practice of front-loading fees can make debt problems worse before they get better, the FCA’s policy is designed to ensure that significant repayments must always go towards outstanding debts with creditors right from the very start of the debt management plan, so that progress is being made in paying off the debts. The FCA will be actively scrutinising the market, and it has flexible rule-making powers so that it can take action if it finds that consumers are suffering due to poor services or products. Like payday lenders, debt management firms are required to signpost customers towards free, independent debt advice. The FCA has put in place binding prudential rules for debt management firms that hold over £1 million of client money to help to protect customers if things go wrong. The Government believe that the new FCA regime will help to deliver a diverse and reputable debt management market that is able to meet a range of consumers’ needs when they are struggling with debts.

Although, as I have said, I am deeply concerned about some of the evidence we have seen of consumer detriment caused by some of the fee-charging providers of debt management plans, I do not think we should unduly restrict consumers’ choice of debt management plan providers and products. As several hon. Members have said, there are some excellent providers of free advice run by charities. I have some in my constituency, and I am sure that we find them across the whole country. Fee-charging debt management plan providers who are operating with consumers’ interests at heart and in full compliance with the regulations can help to provide a wider range of solutions and products for consumers. Some consumers may prefer to use fee-charging providers in dealing with their debts. Removing such providers from the market would reduce the options for and availability of debt management solutions for consumers who find themselves in financial difficulties, and that is not something the Government want to do.

The issue of credit brokers has been raised. Brokers who comply with the rules can play a role in a sustainable consumer credit market in helping consumers to access credit by connecting them with lenders. To be fair, brokers incur costs whether or not a consumer enters into a credit agreement with them. Prohibiting firms from charging fees could therefore push them towards a commission-driven business model, potentially creating conflicts of interest and leading to a less transparent fee structure that would be worse for consumers. The FCA rules require credit brokers to disclose their status and any fees that are payable before the consumer enters into the brokerage contract. The FCA has made it clear

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that disclosure must also cover the consumer’s right to a refund if no credit agreement is entered into within six months following an introduction. That relates to the case raised by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). The FCA has made a range of other conduct rules that apply to credit brokers. Brokers are required to comply with the high-level principle, which is general across the FCA credit services rules, of treating customers fairly. As I have said, it has a broad range of enforcement tools it can use, including fines and forcing firms to pay redress.

On new clause 11, let me be clear that the Government completely share Members’ concern about the risk of consumer detriment in the consumer credit market. There is clear evidence that there may be problems. The rules that were put in place by the FCA from 1 April this year were made with the stated aims of ensuring that firms lend only to borrowers who can afford it, and increasing borrowers’ awareness of the costs and risks of borrowing unaffordably and of ways to get help if they have financial difficulties.

Mrs Main: Does the Minister think there is any merit in making people aware, potentially at school age, of exactly what they can afford and how they can manage their personal finances? People often get themselves into a mess before they approach some of these loan sharks and high-interest places. It might be good if we started this off at an earlier age.

Jenny Willott: The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point. There are some really good schemes in schools across the country, but provision can be a bit patchy. I have worked in schools in my constituency that are doing exactly that. Such matters can be extremely complex for people to understand, and learning about them as part of the school curriculum before they get into debt can be extremely helpful.

Justin Tomlinson: I reassure the Minister that, as of September, that will be in the national curriculum, so all is under control.

Jenny Willott: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting that.

Damian Hinds: To complete the set, may I use this opportunity to mention the important work done by credit unions that operate junior savers clubs in schools in the constituencies of many hon. Members? It would be great to have them in many more schools in many more places, so that young people get into a savings habit before they reach the first point at which they might take on consumer credit.

Jenny Willott: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to speak to the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) about that. He raises a very important point: the more we can help young people to understand some of these complex financial systems and how to manage money, hopefully, fewer people will end up in debt—particularly unaffordable debt—in the future.

Returning to the FCA rules on hire-purchase contracts for household goods and what has been called the “BrightHouse clause,” the FCA’s new rules will require firms to provide pre-contractual explanations

13 May 2014 : Column 647

and information in line with European requirements. I hope that answers the point made by a number of Members on both sides of the House. The information will include the cash price of the goods being financed and the total amount payable. The FCA rules will require that information to be provided to consumers before they sign up. I hope that will ensure greater transparency for customers.

The rules also mean that firms have to adhere to debt-collection rules—a point raised by the hon. Member for Makerfield—including treating customers who are in default or arrears with forbearance and due consideration. They also require firms to assess credit worthiness and affordability, including the potential to impact adversely on the consumer’s financial situation and their ability to make repayments as they fall due. There are, therefore, broad requirements on firms to try to tackle some of the hon. Lady’s concerns about consumer detriment.

When firms sell associated insurance products, they must do so in line with the FCA’s requirements for assessing a consumer’s eligibility to claim on a product and the high-level principle of treating customers fairly. Those are new requirements to ensure that we try to tackle consumer detriment. The Government believe that the tough and decisive action taken by the FCA will ensure that customers are better protected as a result.

Finally, we discussed the issue of logbook loans at some length in Committee and I completely understand the concern about the potential for consumer detriment as a result of these products. The Government believe that people should be free to borrow and have the tools to make an informed decision about which credit product is right for them, but consumers should be confident that they will be treated fairly and that the regulator will step in when things go wrong.

As the hon. Member for Walthamstow will be aware, logbook lenders now also fall under the responsibility of the FCA. As I have said with regard to other credit firms, I believe that consumers will be far better protected under the FCA regime than they have been in the past. The FCA has been very clear that logbook lenders are among the firms that it considers pose the greatest risk to consumers, and they will be in the first phase of firms that have to be fully authorised from October. Logbook loans are defined by the FCA as higher risk activities and, as such, lenders face closer supervision and higher regulatory costs.

Logbook loan providers are now also required to meet the standards the FCA expects of lenders in making thorough affordability checks and providing the adequate pre-contractual explanations to consumers. They are also subject to the high-level principle of treating customers fairly. Indeed, the FCA considers this area to be a particular concern. It has said that it is

“putting logbook lenders on notice”,

and that its new rules give it

“the power to tackle any firm found not putting customers’ interests first.”

It is therefore taking its new responsibilities very seriously.

In addition to the FCA’s robust action, Treasury Ministers have asked the Law Commission to look at how best to reform the Bills of Sale Act—as we know,

13 May 2014 : Column 648

the legislation underpinning logbook loans is old, lengthy and incredibly complex—and, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) highlighted, the Government believe that the Law Commission is best placed to undertake a thorough assessment of how we can bring the legislation up to date. It has responded favourably to the Treasury request, and it will confirm its upcoming work programme soon.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow raised concerns about people buying cars with outstanding loans against them and about the impact on customers. She said that a large proportion of second-hand cars are sold with pre-existing charges. The Bill, like the existing law, is clear that there is a legal obligation on the seller to notify the buyer of any outstanding charges. The Bill covers business-to-consumer sales, and sales between individual consumers have the same level of protection under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which provides that the seller must have the right to sell the goods. That applies to all contracts for the sale of goods, so it covers private sales, in addition to purchases of goods from a shop or a business. Goods must be free from any undisclosed charge or encumbrance, which applies to hire-purchase terms for goods sold on, as well as to logbook loans. The private seller is in breach of contract if they do not have the right to sell, or if there are undisclosed charges on the goods, which means that the buyer can get their money back from the private seller.

The Government are concerned about the impact of unscrupulous traders in all these areas. That is why we have taken so much action and given such strong powers to the Financial Conduct Authority, and I do not believe that the Opposition’s new clauses are the right way forward. The Government’s approach is the right one for protecting consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, and I hope the hon. Member for Walthamstow will withdraw new clause 6.

Stella Creasy: We have had an interesting debate. I acknowledge that there is interest in this issue, as well as experience and expertise, on both sides of the House, which has been reflected in most of the speeches. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) who, for all of us, is a touchstone on issues involving the consumer credit market.

I put on the record my support for the work of the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) on the credit union movement. However, I must say that I brook no argument from him when Government Members have had three chances—not one, not two, but three chances, or an almost biblical opportunity—to deal with payday lending and the cost of credit, but voted against it.

In 140 characters, the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), like Shelley’s grandmother, shed much heat but not a lot of light on what Government Members will do about the issues that are to come. Our new clauses are about the new forms of legal loan sharking and the new nightmares experienced by many of our constituents. The hon. Lady is making a tapping noise. Is that her calculating the amount of money people have to pay out to the debt management and logbook loan companies?

13 May 2014 : Column 649

Mrs Main: The hon. Lady is doing herself a disservice. We are not point scoring. Many Government Members have concerns about debt. The tapping noise I was making refers to the fact that she seems unable to listen to comments from Government Members, and just tweets her own self-promotion endlessly.

Stella Creasy: The hon. Lady may be horrified about letting the public know what she and Government Members have been saying, but we are not. Government Members may be confident in their commitment to the idea that they are somehow tackling the cost of living, but when it comes to opportunities to make progress on such things as logbook loans or debt management fees, they have nothing to say and they should rightly be held to account not just in the House, but online. She would do well to reflect on such matters.

I want to move on to what hon. Members have mentioned in the debate, but may I tell my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) that I consider us to be master and apprentice in our dress today? She pointed out that the Government seem to have a problem with the doors when it comes to voting the right way on consumer credit matters.

Let me pay tribute to the Minister and the members of the Sharkstoppers campaign. To hear a Minister in this Government talking about the action that they will take on payday lending is a tribute to the work of all those campaigners across the country. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt when she says that this Government want to make payday lenders pay their fair share. She was extremely honest about the fact that she has no idea how much money payday lenders will contribute to the cost of providing debt advice. We want to return to the issue in the Lords once we get that information, but we are happy to wait for the Minister to come back with the sums, to show that payday lenders are paying their fair share. We are pleased that the Financial Conduct Authority is looking at the outrageous practice of charging people in debt with debt management fees, and we will wait to see what the Government bring forward, and consider these issues again in the Lords in terms of whether fees should be abolished outright.

4.45 pm

I say to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) that there are many traditions worth defending: free speech, the last night of the proms, complaining about the weather—all great British traditions. However, being ripped off is not one of them, and it is time we called time on the rip-off that is a logbook loan and the way that bill of sale agreements are being used. Indeed, from what the Government say, they agree. Why leave our constituents lingering any longer under these outrageous and outmoded forms of contract? We want to push new clause 23 to a vote and say goodbye to bill of sale agreements and the exploitation of our constituents. We hear fine words from Government Members about how they want action on consumer credit, so let us see some action for a change—join us.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 6.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

13 May 2014 : Column 650

New Clause 23

Consumer credit: bill of sale

‘(1) Where a person is a purchaser of goods subject to a bill of sale, made in connection with a regulated agreement under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, in good faith and without notice of the bill of sale, title to those goods shall pass to that person.

(2) A creditor is not entitled to enforce a bill of sale made in connection with a regulated agreement by recovering possession of the goods except through an order of the court.

(3) If goods are recovered by the creditor in contravention to subsection (2)—

(a) the bill of sale will be treated as invalidly made; and

(b) the debtor shall be released from any outstanding liability under the regulated agreement.

(4) If the creditor has disposed of goods taken in contravention of subsection (2) the debtor shall be compensated to the value of those goods.’.—(Stella Creasy.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 221, Noes 293.

Division No. 276]


4.46 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Vaz, rh Keith

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Julie Hilling


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Gray, Mr James

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Harriett Baldwin


Gavin Barwell

Question accordingly negatived.

13 May 2014 : Column 651

13 May 2014 : Column 652

13 May 2014 : Column 653

13 May 2014 : Column 654

New Clause 8

Right to supply tickets to events of national significance

‘(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument designate an event to be of national significance.

(2) Where an event has been so designated under subsection (1) the Secretary of State may grant permission for the organising body to impose additional terms and conditions on the sale of tickets for the event, including—

(a) the power to specify persons to act as official traders authorised to sell tickets for the event;

(b) the power to withdraw tickets advertised by a person who is not authorised as an official trader; and

(c) the power to recall unsold tickets from official traders.

(3) Where an event has been so designated under subsection (1) it shall be an offence for any person other than an official trader to sell tickets for the event—

(a) in a public place or in the course of a business; and

(b) otherwise than in accordance with written authorisation from the organising body.

(4) For the purposes of this section—

“ticket” means anything which is or purports to be a ticket for the designated event;

“selling” includes a reference to—

(a) offering to sell a ticket;(b) exposing a ticket for sale;(c) advertising that a ticket is available for purchase; and(d) giving, or offering to give, a ticket to a person who pays or agrees to pay for some other goods or services.

“organising body” means a person specified by the Secretary of State as responsible for organising of the event.

(5) A person shall (without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3)(a)) be treated as acting in the course of a business if he does anything as a result of which he makes a profit or aims to make a profit.

(6) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (3) by advertising that a ticket is available for purchase if—

(a) the sale of the ticket if purchased would be in the course of a business only by reason of subsection (5); and

(b) the person does not know, and could not reasonably be expected to discover, that subsection (5) would apply to the sale.

(7) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (3) (whether actual or inchoate) only by virtue of making facilities available in connection with electronic communication or the storage of electronic data.

(8) Where a person who provides services for electronic communication or for the storage of electronic data discovers that they are being used in connection with the commission of an offence under subsection (3), the defence in subsection (7) does not apply in respect of continued provision of the services after the shortest time reasonably required to withdraw them.

(9) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (3) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

13 May 2014 : Column 655

(10) Section 32(2)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60) (power to search premises) shall, in its application to the offence under subsection (3) above, permit the searching of a vehicle which a constable reasonably thinks was used in connection with the offence.

(11) Subsection (13) applies where a person in Scotland is arrested in connection with the commission of an offence under subsection (3).

(12) For the purposes of recovering evidence relating to the offence, a constable in Scotland may without warrant enter and search—

(a) premises in which the person was when arrested or immediately before he was arrested; and

(b) a vehicle which the constable reasonably believes is being used or was used in connection with the offence.

(13) Subsection (12) is without prejudice to any power of entry or search which is otherwise exercisable by a constable in Scotland.

(14) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) is not to be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.’.—(Stella Creasy.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Stella Creasy: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 12—Right to full refund: ticketed events

‘An event organiser must issue a full cash refund where their tickets are returned to them up to 24 hours before the start of the event.’.

New clause 13—Goods to be as described: meat products

‘(1) All products containing halal and kosher meat shall be labelled as such at the point of sale by retail and food outlets.

(2) A food outlet is anywhere where food is served to the public.’.

New clause 14—Communications services: change of service provider

‘(1) Section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.

(2) At the end of subsection (2)(b) insert “with a switching process that is led by the receiving communications service provider”.’.

New clause 15—Right to corrective action

‘(1) This section applies if either—

(a) the responsible economic actor has identified that goods supplied present a health and safety risk to the consumer; or

(b) the appropriate authority has identified that goods supplied present a risk to the public safety; and

as a result, the product is subject to corrective action by either party (a “recall action”).

(2) The consumer has the right to expect that the responsible economic actor for any goods supplied subject to a recall action must take all reasonable steps to inform all persons affected, or likely to be affected by the safety risks from the goods, within the shortest period of time practicable.

(3) The consumer, if placed at risk by goods subject to a recall action, has the right to prompt and effective action by the economic actor of that product to ensure that—

(a) the defect posing a safety risk to any persons affected or likely to be affected is eliminated;

(b) the actions required to achieve (a) do not cause significant inconvenience to the consumer; and

13 May 2014 : Column 656

(c) all costs associated with the recall action are borne by the responsible economic actor.

(4) The Secretary of State will periodically gather and make publicly available information relating to safety incidents caused by recalled goods, and estimates of how many such goods still remain unaccounted for.

(5) The effectiveness of recall actions, and the procedures in place to achieve successful recalls, will be the subject of periodic review by the Secretary of State, with reference to public information on recalls in subsection (4) and any other relevant data.

(6) The Secretary of State may create or designate a body to act as a consumer product safety and recall authority.

(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the authority to—

(a) act to protect the public from identifiable and unreasonable risks of injury, death or household risk from consumer products;

(b) review products, test products, or receive or commission reports from other competent persons;

(c) direct corrective action to be taken by relevant economic actors, regulators or authorities;

(d) ensure and direct forms of consumer registration, from purchase of products, with databases which will be conducive to optimal fulfilment of (a) and (c) above;

(e) require notification by economic actors, including manufacturers, brand suppliers or traders, of significant evidence of concern in respect of the consumer safety of relevant products; and

(f) provide for accessible, intelligible information and advice to be available to consumers and relevant economic actors in respect of product safety, corrective actions and other guidances relevant to the authority’s work.

(8) For the purposes of subsections (4), (5), (6) and (7), the Secretary of State must consult with—

(a) market regulators;

(b) relevant authorities; and

(c) any other bodies he thinks appropriate.

(9) For the purposes of this section “economic actor” means—

(a) a “trader” as defined in section 2(2); or

(b) a manufacturer of “goods” as defined in section 2(8).’.

This new clause would enable new provision to be made regarding recall actions where a level of consumer safety risk has been identified. It would allow the Secretary of State to review and add to arrangements for corrective action for the protection of consumer safety.

New clause 16—Secondary ticketing platforms: product and seller information

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to all traders who operate as secondary ticketing platforms on the application of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.

(2) Guidance issued under section (1) shall include how secondary ticketing platforms must inform consumers of—

(a) the chosen identity of the seller;

(b) the country of residence of the seller;

(c) information provided by previous buyers on the reliability of the seller and the tickets he has sold;

(d) information on any complaints made against the seller for failing to supply tickets;

(e) information on any complaints made against the seller for supplying fraudulent or invalidated tickets; and

(f) information on all other accounts currently or previously held with the secondary ticketing platform linked to the seller by virtue of personal, financial and contact information provided by them.

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(3) Guidance issued under section (1) shall set out how information required under Part 2 of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 shall be—

(a) accurate; and

(b) prominently displayed before a buyer is able to purchase.

(4) Guidance issued under section (1) shall set out how secondary ticketing platforms must disclose clearly if the seller of the ticket is—

(a) the secondary ticketing platform themselves;

(b) individuals employed by the secondary ticketing platform;

(c) other companies linked to employees, directors or shareholders of the secondary ticketing platform;

(d) the event organiser or an agent acting on their behalf; or

(e) any other party connected to the event organiser of the event.

(5) Guidance issued under section (1) shall set out the status of tickets as unique goods with distinct characteristics which would affect—

(a) the enjoyment of the good by the consumer;

(b) the use of the good by the consumer; or

(c) the inherent value of the good in questions.

(6) Where a ticket is sold through a secondary ticketing platform, guidance issued under section (1) shall set out how the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 apply to tickets as unique goods, including—

(a) how sellers must provide all relevant information about the ticket including but not limited to the face value of the ticket and a designated seat or ticket number;

(b) how secondary ticketing platforms will publish all the information about a ticket provided by the seller in a prominent and clear way; and

(c) what sanctions will apply for failing to provide this information under the regulations.’.

New clause 17—Secondary ticketing platforms: fraudulent tickets

‘(1) Where a secondary ticketing platform becomes aware that sellers using their service have acquired tickets through illegal methods, or are selling fraudulent tickets, they have a duty to report this to the relevant law enforcement agency immediately.

(2) A secondary ticketing platform must meet any lawful requests for information on sellers made by law enforcement agencies or courts.

(3) Where a law enforcement agency has notified a secondary ticketing platform that a ticket advertised through their service is, or is suspected to be, fraudulent, the secondary ticketing platform must remove that ticket and suspend the seller’s activities immediately.’.

New clause 18—Secondary ticketing platforms: seller profiles

‘(1) Secondary ticketing platforms must provide a profile of information on sellers using their service.

(2) Profile information provided under subsection (1) must include, but is not limited to—

(a) the name of the seller;

(b) the country of residence of the seller;

(c) if the seller is a company or business, its registered number, if any;

(d) if the seller is a company or business, its registered office or address for service;

(e) a list of all current and past inventory sold or offered for sale by the seller;

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(f) information on all other accounts currently or previously held with the secondary ticketing platform linked to the seller by virtue of personal, financial and contact information provided by him;

(g) information provided by previous buyers of the reliability of the seller and the tickets he has sold;

(h) information on any complaints made against the seller for failing to supply tickets, and the resolution of those complaints;

(i) the VAT registration number of the seller, if applicable; and

(j) information on any complaints made against the seller for supplying fraudulent or invalidated tickets, and the resolution of those complaints.

(3) Information provided under subsection (1) must be—

(a) accurate; and

(b) prominently displayed before a buyer is able to complete their purchase.

(4) Secondary ticketing platforms must disclose clearly and prominently where the seller of the ticket is—

(a) the secondary ticketing platform themselves;

(b) individuals employed by the secondary ticketing platform;

(c) other companies linked to employees, directors or shareholders of the secondary ticketing platform;

(d) the event organiser or an agent acting on their behalf; or

(e) any other party connected to the organisation of the event.

(5) Where a seller offers for sale more than 20 tickets to the same event, the secondary ticketing platform must take reasonable steps to verify the validity of the tickets.’.

New clause 19—Secondary ticketing platforms: ticket information

‘(1) Where a ticket is sold through a secondary ticketing platform—

(a) the seller must provide all relevant information about the ticket; and

(b) the secondary ticketing platform must publish all the information about a ticket provided by the seller in a prominent and clear way.

(2) Information to be requested by the secondary ticketing platform and provided by the seller for the purposes of subsection (1) should include, but is not limited to—

(a) the face value of the ticket;

(b) any age or other restrictions on the user of the ticket; and

(c) the designated block, row, seat or ticket number, where applicable.

(3) Where tickets are being resold in contravention of the terms and conditions agreed to by the original purchaser, this must be stated prominently by the secondary ticketing platform at every stage of the purchasing process.

(4) Information provided by virtue of this section must be—

(a) accurate; and

(b) prominently displayed before a buyer is able to complete their purchase.’.

New clause 20—Secondary ticketing platforms: compensation

‘(1) Secondary ticketing platforms must reimburse reasonable costs to a buyer where a ticket sold through their service is fraudulent or invalidated.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), reasonable costs must include, but are not limited to—

(a) the price paid for the ticket by the buyer, inclusive of all service and delivery charges;

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(b) all travel expenses incurred by the buyer in travelling from their place of residence to the location of the event for which they had purchased the ticket; and

(c) any accommodation expenses incurred by the buyer for the sole purpose of attending the event for which they had purchased the ticket.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), reasonable costs should be defined as a total amount not exceeding twice the total purchase price of the ticket or tickets in question, including all additional fees and taxes paid.

(4) Claims made by a buyer against a secondary ticketing platform under this section must be proven by receipts or other documentary proof.

(5) The secondary ticketing platform must settle any claims under this section within 40 working days, other than where a suspected fraud or abuse related to the transaction in question is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the relevant statutory authority.

(6) Secondary ticketing platforms are permitted to take all necessary action to recover any monies paid out to consumers under this section from the seller of the ticket.’.

New clause 21—Secondary ticketing platforms: definitions

‘(1) A “secondary ticketing platform” means a person or company operating an internet-based facility for the resale of tickets to events including in the United Kingdom, regardless of the country in which the owner of the service is registered.

(2) A “ticket” means anything which purports to be a ticket, including any item, tangible or intangible, which grants the holder entry to an event.

(3) An “event” means any sporting, music or cultural activity taking place at a specified time and place for which tickets are issued and required for entry or attendance.

(4) An “event organiser” means the person or persons responsible for organising and holding an event and receiving the revenue from the event.

(5) A “fraudulent ticket” means a forged or duplicated ticket.

(6) An “invalidated ticket” means a ticket which has been cancelled by the event organiser, or an agent acting on their behalf, after being issued.’.

New clause 22—Prohibition of fees in contracts for services: letting of residential accommodation

‘(1) The provisions in this section apply to a contract for a trader to supply a service in connection with the letting of a residential premises.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this section, any person who demands or accepts payment of any sum of money from a person (“P”) for services in connection with a contract for the letting of residential premises shall be guilty of an offence.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), P is any person—

(a) who seeks to enter a contract to let residential accommodation, or

(b) who has a tenancy of, or other right or permission to occupy, residential premises.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (2)—

“letting” shall include any service provided in connection with the advertisement or marketing of residential accommodation or with the grant or renewal of a tenancy;

“services shall —

(a) include, and are not limited to—

(i) the registration of persons seeking accommodation,

(ii) the selection of prospective occupiers, and

(iii) any work associated with the production or completion of written agreements or other relevant documents.

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(b) not include credit checks of person seeking accommodation.

(5) Where a person unlawfully demands or accepts payment under this section in the course of his employment, the employer or principal of that person shall also be guilty of an offence.

(6) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section by reason of his demanding or accepting payment of rent or a tenancy deposit within the meaning of section 212(8) of the Housing Act 2004.

(7) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section by reason of his demanding or accepting a holding deposit.

(8) A “holding deposit” for the purposes of subsection (7) is—

(a) a sum of money demanded of or accepted from a person, in good faith for the purpose of giving priority to that person in relation to the letting of a specific property, which is to be credited towards the tenancy deposit or rent upon the grant of the tenancy of that property, and

(b) not greater than two weeks rent for the accommodation in question.

(9) Costs incurred by persons seeking accommodation for the undertaking of credit checks shall be reimbursed upon the signing of a tenancy agreement.

(10) In this section, any reference to the grant or renewal of a tenancy shall include the grant or renewal or continuance of a lease or licence of, or other right or permission to occupy, residential premises.

(11) In this section “rent” shall include any occupation charge under a licence.’.

Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that those who represent businesses with fewer than 10 employees and are purchasing goods or services for use within their commercial activities will be considered consumers.’.

Government amendments 9 to 14.

Amendment 5, in clause 48, page 30, line 3, leave out from ‘(5)’ to ‘resolution’ and insert ‘may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by’.

Government amendment 15.

Amendment 20, in clause 84,  page 43, line 14, at end insert—

‘(2A) Section [Prohibition of fees in contracts for services: letting of residential accommodation] extends only to England.’.

5 pm

Stella Creasy: Like a pub quiz, we now come to the lucky dip round of the Bill, with a number of different issues being taken together. I am conscious that many Members wish to speak, so I will keep my remarks brief. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am always eager to please.

Let me start with new clause 8. A number of provisions have been proposed to deal with ticket touting—a subject about which I know many Members feel strongly. I shall also deal with new clause 22, which deals with fees. We have already tried today to abolish fees for debt management, and we would now like to abolish fees for tenants, which is what consumers need. I shall also talk about businesses and consumers, new clauses 13 to 15 and the Government amendments.

Ticket touting is an issue about which many of us are concerned. We see the damage it is doing to a range of industries by distorting prices and access to entertainment

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activities. Ticket bot machines—I am not sure whether all Members are aware of them—are pieces of software that impersonate individual visitors to ticket vendor websites and automatically make multiple ticket purchases. What does that mean in practice? It means that many of us as fans of music, sport or light entertainment do not get a look in. It means that millions of fans have never been able to get a ticket for a range of different events because all the tickets are sold out within minutes: they are sold to a machine, not to fellow fans. Those tickets are then resold at an exorbitant price.

According to Ticketmaster USA, one group of scalpers were requesting 200,000 tickets a day in this way. We certainly know that the secondary ticket market for the resale of tickets is worth up to £1 billion a year. Those MPs who are members of the Monty Python fan club—I see it in many of their speeches as they are certainly “the knights who say ‘Ni!’”—will be aware of the outcry after all the tickets for the Monty Python show disappeared in that way. Perhaps the Monty Python foot will fall on me for making that joke—the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) seems to be making a face to suggest that it should. Those of us who are fans of the Stone Roses were horrified to see the band’s gigs automatically sell out in that way. Tickets for a Kate Bush gig were also taken out. They were originally sold for £49 but within minutes were on a resale site for £490. For the Stone Roses, tickets that should have been a mere £55 were being sold for £1,000 a time—well beyond the means of the average fan of such phenomenal music.

The Secretary of State has claimed that ticket resellers are classic entrepreneurs because they fill a gap that they have identified in the market. With the greatest respect, I fear that the new Secretary of State has misunderstood the market in ticket sales and quite what these businesses are doing by distorting people’s access. He presumes that consumers are able to compete fairly against these automatic machines, but that is simply not the case.

Let me be clear that our amendments are not designed to stop the resale of tickets. I told the Committee and I will tell the House that I was deeply disappointed to have to sit here late one evening and give up my tickets to see the great band, the Wonder Stuff. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) will know of the band’s work. I was looking to resell my ticket and, as a genuine fan, I wanted it to go to another fan so that they could hear the beauty and the wonder that is “Dizzy”.

What we are talking about is finding a way to make this work for the fans and the consumers, rather than the botnets. Our new clauses deal with the three clear issues. First, we want to apply to the secondary market the guidance about what information should be provided to a consumer when buying a product. There is clearly a gap in which these companies are profiting. There is confusion and a lack of information about what people are being sold. Some of us have had constituents tell us that they have been sold a ticket through a secondary reseller market only to find that it is a fake.

Secondly, we want to give greater protection for events of national significance. We know that there is widespread concern across the sporting industry about the real fans being locked out of games by these kinds of practices. I want to pay tribute to the work of my

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hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and the tireless campaigning he has done on the forthcoming rugby world cup. Millions of fans will not be able to attend events because of the actions of these companies and the touts.

Thirdly, we want to strengthen co-operation between the enforcement agencies and the secondary sites so that there is more protection for consumers and we can all be confident that when we buy a ticket for something, it is what we think it is and we can get a ticket in the first place.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Would my hon. Friend’s suggested reforms be able to deal with the appalling situation highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) whereby tickets for next year’s rugby world cup in the Cardiff Millennium centre—good stadium that it is—are now on sale for £1,560 for a £250 ticket? I would have thought that £250 is enough for the average rugby follower, but £1,560 is an absolute disgrace.

Stella Creasy: The new clauses and amendments would deal with that. I understand that the tickets for the rugby world cup are not yet formally on sale. The fact that they are already being marketed on secondary sites at such prices demonstrates the scale of the problem that we need to tackle.

I pay tribute to the tremendous and tireless work that has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who will speak about her new clauses later. I also pay tribute to what has been done by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley). I know that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has also tabled a new clause on this subject, shares the widespread concern that is felt.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Stella Creasy: I will, but only briefly, because I am conscious of the time, and I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about a number of new clauses and amendments himself.

Philip Davies: Given what the hon. Lady said about not wanting to encourage the secondary ticket market, may I take it as read that she will support my new clause 12, which would guarantee people a refund from the organiser if they are not able to go to the event? If they cannot go and they cannot get a refund, they will not have much choice other than to sell the ticket on.

Stella Creasy: I think that the hon. Gentleman’s new clause responds to a slightly different challenge, and presents a practical challenge in relation to how it could be applied, but let me make one thing very clear, in case he did not hear me say it the first time. We are not suggesting that there should not be a market for the selling on of tickets; we are saying that what the ticket touts are doing is distorting the market for consumers. That is separate from the issue of whether people can obtain a refund within 24 hours. Let me caution the hon. Gentleman that some aspects of his proposal may not work in a practical sense, whereas we are presenting practical proposals.

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New clause 8, in particular, has learnt the lessons of the Olympic and paralympic games. Tickets for those games were given particular protection to enable people to be confident that they could obtain them. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 levied fines of up to £5,000 for the reselling of tickets at a profit. The Home Secretary increased that to £20,000, citing the threat from serious and organised criminal groups. We know that ticket touting is being used to support a range of criminal activities. New clause 8 relates to events of national significance. Let us make sure that rugby fans can go to the world cup: it surely cannot be all that difficult to legislate for that.

New clause 16 seeks to get to the root of the problem, which is that people do not necessarily know what they are being sold. A unique identifier is a simple way in which to ensure that when someone buys a ticket, it is a ticket for a particular gig, show or match. The venues themselves will have already given out identifying information, whether it is a seat number or a stall number. We are suggesting that they should be required to provide that information at the point of sale, so that people can be confident about what they are buying. That will enable the event organisers to identify those in, for instance, rugby clubs who are already selling on tickets that they have been given and are misusing their relationship to give out the information.

We think that that accords very well with what the Minister said in Committee about the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which she believed would address the issues related to selling. She said that they

“set out…the information that a trader should provide to a consumer for all distance sales—which would include tickets”.

In particular, she said that they gave details of

“the main characteristics of the goods”.––[Official Report, Consumer Rights Public Bill Committee, 25 February 2014; c. 183.]

We believe that new clause 16 would simply put that into practice in the context of the secondary ticketing market, providing clarity for all who are concerned about what they are buying. It accords with consumer regulation, and we hope that the Government will support it, even if they fear that some of the other new clauses relating to ticket touting would be difficult to implement. We certainly hope that they will listen to the clarion call from new clause 8. Surely everyone, in the House and outside, agrees that it cannot be right for us not to be confident that it is the fans who are able to obtain tickets to attend events of sporting significance, whether they obtain them online or offline.

I know that other Members want to talk about ticket touting, and I shall therefore move on to the subject of letting agents’ fees.

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): The city of Glasgow is about to host the Commonwealth games, and a great deal of effort has been put into safeguarding tickets. Some of us have been shouting for a long time “Make ticket touting illegal!” Once it is illegal, we can take care of the other little bits and pieces, but should we not make it illegal right now so that we can know exactly where we are?

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Stella Creasy: The new clauses and amendments are designed to make progress on issues of precisely that kind. One of the problems of ticket touting is trying to identify who is responsible for the crime that is taking place. Making the seller of the ticket give the details of that ticket will enable us to identify its provenance and who is selling it. We shall then be able to crack down on the people involved, whether it involves the rugby world cup or another event, so that organisations will not have their tickets sold on when they do not wish that to happen. It will give that kind of flexibility, and it reflects the all-party group work done on some of these issues. I hope there will be support from across the House.

Mrs Main rose—

Stella Creasy: If the hon. Lady wants to suggest some tweets, I will happily take them, but I am sure everyone will appreciate it if we can move on to the question of letting fees.

Mrs Main: I am sorry that the hon. Lady is being so waspish; I am just seeking a bit of clarification. She mentioned the crime of ticket touting. Is she proposing to make it a crime, or does she believe it is a crime?

Stella Creasy: There are already criminal elements to what we are talking about. What we are talking about in this legislation is the information provided to a consumer—this is, after all, a consumer rights Bill—that could help address the problems caused by ticket touting, and it reflects the work being done by the all-party group. [Interruption.] Well, this is a separate issue about what we can do for consumers, and with that in mind I want to move on to new clause 22 because, as I have said, there is a lucky dip element to the amendments before us and it is about letting fees.

I pay tribute to the work done in this area by my colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East. I see first hand in my constituency the problems caused by increasingly difficult access to housing and affordable housing, particularly within the private rented sector. We know that 9 million people in England are living in rented homes and they are paying on average over £1,000 more a year in rent than they did in 2010. That is why we have to reform the private rented sector. The costs that people are facing are unsustainable. I have families in my constituency spending between 60% and 70% of their monthly income on rent alone. They cannot make ends meet.

There is a wider debate to be had about the length of tenancies and the levels of rent, but this amendment, like the previous amendments I was speaking to, relates to consumer legislation, and in particular the specific issue of fees and whether they should be charged.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): The issue my hon. Friend is outlining, and that our colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), the current shadow Housing Minister, has raised, is very important. It is particularly an issue for us in Blackpool and many other seaside towns, where, because of degrees of internal transience, some families have to move two or three times a year. That exacerbates the whole issue of letting fees.

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Stella Creasy: I entirely agree. We see it in London as well, where people are having to move: every single time they move a fee is applied, and those fees are extortionate and are anti-consumer, as I shall explain.

The average such fee is about £355, but there are great variations. In my constituency of Walthamstow, in the work we have done on the “home sweet home” campaign, we found some fees as high as £827. We found renters being asked to pay fees for having pets, for having their houses cleaned and for a whole range of other practices, and we can see the consequences. We also know that 94% of letting agencies impose a fee on top of rent in advance and a deposit. There is therefore a huge sum of money for people to find. One constituent had to find £4,000 before he and his family could move into a property.

One in seven of those who use an agency are charged over £500 in agency fees before finding the deposit or rent in advance. Mystery shopping by Shelter found that some renters are routinely being charged £700. Over the past three years, one in four people who have dealt with a letting agency have said they have had to borrow money to pay that fee, which is of relevance to our previous debate. One in six is cutting down on food or heating to meet the cost of that fee, and four in 10 experience money worries as a direct result of that fee. If that fee is being applied every single year because people are moving again and again, we can see how quickly these sums can cause huge problems for consumers.

Some, perhaps those on one side of the coalition, will say what we need to do is make sure there is transparency. Certainly we explored whether people knowing the kind of fees they were facing—if everyone was upfront about the amount of money they were going to charge as a fee for introducing clients to a landlord, for example—could be one way of addressing this. That is a bit like somebody being tied to the train tracks and being told the train timetable, however, because in the current market many tenants have little option but to try to borrow to find that fee and then deal with the financial consequences. While I appreciate that one half of the coalition has now understood that fees are a challenge, the argument that simply knowing how much those fees are is enough in itself to deal with these problems simply does not wash. And nor does capping fees, because it is anti-consumer to have two different organisations paying for the same service. That is what we are talking about here: a form of double-charging. How can both the landlord and the tenant pay for the same service at the same time and the agent act in the interests of both? How can a landlord be confident that they are getting the best tenants if the agent also has the tenant’s interests at heart? How can a tenant be confident that they are getting a decent landlord if the landlord is also being acted for by the agent? This is fundamentally an anti-competitive practice and we think it is therefore time to act. Our new clause would do something very simple: it would clarify that renters could not be charged a fee.

5.15 pm

Damian Hinds: The hon. Lady rightly talks about the difficulties that many people face in trying to find the money to pay these fees, but is it her assumption, and that of the Opposition, that were letting fees to be banned, that source of revenue would disappear for the agents but they would not seek to reclaim it elsewhere?

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Stella Creasy: It is not simply an assumption; it is based on the evidence we have seen from Scotland, which is that this money would be incorporated in the centre of the tenancy and so that the landlord would pay the fee. We would expect the tenant to pay one fee—the credit referencing fee—but once the tenancy was secure and the landlord could therefore be confident that the person was back in the place, we would expect it to be refunded. We are very clear that the practice of charging fees to both parties at the same time is a conflict of interest and therefore needs to be addressed, which is what our proposal would do. It would spread the fee over the course of the tenancy.

Damian Hinds: Just to complete the point, is it also the hon. Lady’s assumption, and that of the Opposition, that were landlords to face greater fees, they would not seek to recoup that extra cost in some other way?

Stella Creasy: One issue is what landlords are charging for. I see landlords who are charging twice for credit referencing, because they are charging the landlord and the tenant that fee. [Interruption.] The presumption the hon. Gentleman makes is that all the fees are for different activities—

Damian Hinds: I am asking what your presumption is.

Stella Creasy: Our presumption is that the fees would then be taken on by the landlord and taken as part of the tenancy agreement. Our approach would resolve the problems we are seeing for tenants and the conflict of interest over whom the agent would act for. Our proposal is about making sure we deal with that conflict, particularly how for landlords and for tenants it creates a series of perverse incentives whereby both can be charged for the same service.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): The problem is that if the letting agency loses an income it will seek to get it from elsewhere, so it is likely to increase its charges to the landlord. The landlord will then seek to recover that money, and from whom will the landlord seek to recover it? From the tenant.

Stella Creasy: I simply do not accept the picture the hon. Gentleman is painting. Scotland has banned fees on tenants, and the experience there has been an increase in the number of letting agents and no effect on the rents people are paying. The evidence shows that, as with the payday lenders, when we give tenants the muscle to remove this fee, the market shapes up. We have not seen an increase in the fees that tenants are facing; nor have we seen an exit from the market. Some of the fears the hon. Gentleman might have, which I understand, are not well founded, because a lot of the fees tenants are being asked to pay are not indicative of a service being provided; they are indicative of a profit-making machine. We are trying to deal with the detriment caused by the ability of agents to charge fees to two parties at the same time. By making this a fee for the landlord, it is clear whose interest the agent is acting in.

As I say, we have dealt with the particular issue here, because we have listened to the landlords and letting agents who have expressed concerns about tenants who may not be what they seem. In that instance, there would be a case for being able to charge a fee to the

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tenant which would be refunded, but the alternative of letting this practice continue and seeing the kind of fees that we are seeing, and therefore the problems that are being caused, is also unsustainable. I hope that Government Members, particularly those who have now recognised there is a problem with the fees in themselves, will go that stage further and recognise that there is a problem with this form of double-charging, support our proposals and learn from the experience in Scotland on this issue.

As I am conscious of the time, I shall move on; I appreciate that there are a number of Members who wish to speak in this debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for East Hampshire, who has made many useful contributions this afternoon, will get to speak in the following debate.

I briefly want to speak to amendment 6. It may come as a surprise to some to see the Government resisting the work of the Federation of Small Businesses, which is trying to help small businesses that are struggling with their consumer contracts. Members in this House may have first-hand experience of that, as we are, after all, small businesses and will have dealt with business-to-business contracts, and many may not realise that they have different levels of consumer protection as a result.

The FSB has recently published a report on small businesses which points out that it makes much more sense to give micro-businesses the same consumer protection as private individuals. After all, it is unreasonable to expect a micro-business to have the same level of legal qualification and expertise to deal with a contract as that of a larger body, and that is what amendment 6 addresses. I note that the FSB has given its support to this amendment. I was surprised when the Minister said earlier that the FSB did not support giving consumer rights to businesses. That has not been the briefing that we have had from it; indeed, it supports this amendment. Will the Minister set out when she expects to give small businesses the kind of consumer protection they need, because it will be one fewer worry for them?

I wish now to touch on some of the other new clauses. New clause 14 deals with Ofcom and switching. We certainly think this is a good idea, and we wish to see the Government following it through. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) was not here earlier when we were debating new clause 3 and new schedule 1 and making it easier for consumers to be able to switch. We recognise that there are problems. It is unusual for the UK, by comparison with other nations, to have this issue, and it will be interesting to know whether the Minister is considering it.

I look forward to the hon. Member for Shipley making his case for new clause 13. I certainly agree that transparency is important. The laws governing animal welfare at slaughter, at both EU and UK level, require animals to be stunned before slaughter, but they make an exemption to that requirement for religious slaughter, which is carried out by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

We are concerned about whether this amendment has a significant effect on animal welfare and implications beyond that. In particular, we must ensure that our laws strike the right balance between concern for animal welfare, which many of us have, transparency for consumers and respect for the traditions of different businesses

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and different communities. We also recognise that a lot of work has already been done on this matter in the European Union, and it would be sensible to learn some of the lessons on the wider issues such as how goods and foods are labelled. It will be interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman’s views on that—perhaps not on Europe but on the research that is being done.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to make a law that caused confusion in this area rather than clarity. He focuses on halal and kosher food, but the Opposition believe that respect implies an active attitude towards others rather than a passive attitude, and certainly our position is to seek proper engagement with all faith groups before we move forward on such a measure.

Let me turn now to new clause 15, which has been tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). We supported it in Committee and would support it again. It is an incredibly important amendment and I urge Members to listen to what the hon. Gentleman has to say. We do not believe it is acceptable to leave it to consumers to know whether they have a death trap in their house.

Finally, I want to say a bit about Government amendments 14 to 20 and the very welcome U-turn that seems to have been made. In Committee, we were concerned that consumers could be left waiting many months for a refund, but the Minister suggested that the Government believed there were potential disadvantages of introducing a time limit that outweighed the benefits that such a change could bring. We suggested 30 days in which to get a refund, so I am absolutely delighted that the Government have gone one stage further and said that people should get their money back in 14 days. That gives me great hope that while the Minister may be saying “computer says no” at the moment to some of the things that we have been talking about today and in Committee, we will see further concessions in due course. We shall welcome them accordingly.

Philip Davies: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I was, surprisingly, rather encouraged by her response to my amendments. It could be a red-letter day for me, getting support across the House for some of my amendments.

I want to focus mainly on new clause 13, which is about the labelling of halal and kosher meat at the point of sale. With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will seek to press it to a vote, should the opportunity arise. It is an issue of great importance to the public, and we have heard an awful lot of commentary on it in the media and among many of our constituents in recent weeks. They would appreciate seeing where their Member of Parliament stands on the issue.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): When the hon. Gentleman says that the issue is of great importance to the country, he means the Daily Mail and The Sun.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady needs to get out more, to be perfectly honest. She would find that there is widespread concern about the issue. She can vote accordingly and should not have anything to fear from a debate or a vote. I do not see why she should seek to object to either thing—that is what we are supposed to be here in Parliament to do, after all.

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As you know better than anyone, Mr Deputy Speaker, I enjoy the cut and thrust of debate in the Chamber, but I am well aware of the time limitations and that other Members want to speak. I have given way once, but I will try to resist the temptation to give way many times because I want to hear what others have to say, too, and there is a lot to get through.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I am sorry to test my hon. Friend’s resolve so early in his speech, but this is an important point. On reflection, does he not agree that his new clause on halal meat—[Interruption]—and kosher could have been better drafted? If we are to have labelling, is it not important that the labelling specifies whether the meat was pre-stunned halal or non-pre-stunned?

Philip Davies: I have resolve, but I can seldom resist giving way to my right hon. Friend. Animal welfare is a big issue for lots of people, but it is not the only one. Many other faith groups are concerned about the blessing given to the meat before sale, and his proposal would not address their particular concerns. My new clause has been drafted with all such people in mind, because the issue is bigger than one only of animal welfare. Animal welfare is an important element, but not the only element. I will come on to that later.

I want to start, however, with new clause 12, which relates to ticketing. The hon. Member for Walthamstow said that my new clause had nothing to do with her new clauses, but nothing could be further from the truth—it very much has. We know what her long-term agenda is, because she let it slip in an intervention: ultimately, she wants to see the end of ticket touting and the secondary sale of tickets. I think that that would be a massive retrograde step. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, on which I serve, looked into the matter in the previous Parliament and found that such activities were a legitimate area of business. The Office of Fair Trading, as well as the Committee, found that it works in the consumer’s best interest.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I will stick to my resolve. The hon. Lady and I have locked horns on the issue over years. If anyone wants to look at our previous debates, they can go back to Hansard and see them all rehearsed there. I am sure that she will get the opportunity to have her say in a bit.

Fifty per cent. of tickets on viagogo are sold at a loss, so the idea that all people touting tickets are selling them at huge profits is simply not true; most are sold at a loss. The principle is this: if I buy a ticket, as far as I am concerned it belongs to me. I should be able to do with that ticket what I choose to do, including selling it on to someone else, as I can with any other commodity. Other products have limited editions, which are popular, such as designer handbags or Buzz Lightyear toys from years back, and people go in, buy the lot for a small amount and sell them on at an inflated price on eBay a few hours later. If the Labour party wants to ban that happening with tickets, presumably it will say that that kind of behaviour should be banned as well. That is complete nonsense.

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Event organisers do not lose out at all, because all the tickets are sold at the price that they wanted to get for them—all the income that they wanted is delivered. The idea that real fans will be deprived of going to an event is complete nonsense. If someone is prepared to pay £1,500 for a ticket, you can bet your bottom dollar that they are a real fan. Not many people are prepared to pay £1,500 for a ticket for something that they do not really care about going to. It actually guarantees that real fans go.

5.30 pm

Stella Creasy rose—

Philip Davies: I am not going to give way for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

If I have a ticket to the Lords test match, for example, or to the rugby world cup final, and I go into my local pub and someone says to me, “It is my lifetime ambition to go there, I would give £4,000 for a ticket,” what is wrong with my saying that I will give up my ticket and they can go instead? Everybody is happy, nobody has lost out, but Labour want to interfere with people’s aspirations. Why should that be banned? If someone does not want to pay the higher price, they should not pay it. Nobody is forced to pay the inflated prices if they do not want to.

If the secondary sale of tickets bothers event promoters so much, why do they not do something practical to stop it? Why sell all the tickets in one go, for example? Why not hold them back? Why put them all on sale so that they are sold within 43 seconds, meaning that they can be resold at inflated prices? If promoters are so bothered, why not sell tickets bit by bit, week by week, month by month so that there are still tickets available the week before the event? That would remove the secondary ticketing market, but they choose not to do it. That can only lead me to presume that the event organisers are shedding crocodile tears, as they are happy to get all the money from the tickets being snapped up.

An ICM poll showed that 83% agreed with the premise:

“Once I’ve bought a ticket it is my property and I should be able to sell it to just as I can any other private property.”

Mr Marsden: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I am not going to give way.

This situation is very similar to the one I experienced when I was at Asda and we broke the net book agreement. Publishers had the right to set the price of books and nobody could undercut it, but Asda went to court and broke that agreement so now books can be sold at any price the retailer wants. It seems to me that Labour wants to go back to a time when publishers of books could set the price for books and ticket providers could set the price for tickets and nobody could do anything about it.

New clause 12, which guarantees that an event organiser must give somebody a refund up to 24 hours before an event, is essential if the Opposition want to get their way. If they want to ban somebody from selling on a ticket for the rugby world cup final, the only option for somebody who has bought a ticket and cannot go would be a refund. On too many occasions, event organisers will not allow refunds for events so what on earth is the customer supposed to do in such circumstances?

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The Opposition will not support insisting that they get a refund and they want to ban them from selling the ticket on, so somebody will be left with a ticket that they can do absolutely nothing with. How on earth can that be in the best interest of the consumer?

On the subject of the rugby world cup final, if people from New Zealand buy a lot of tickets for the final in the expectation that their team will get there only for it to be knocked out in the semi-final, we need a mechanism by which those fans can sell on their tickets to the fans of the team that will be in the final instead. It seems that the Opposition have not even thought about that prospect. The secondary market in tickets is an efficient way of getting tickets from one group of people to another so that the real fans can go. If Labour had its way, the real fans would not be able to go because they would be blocked from using any mechanism to get there.

I want to concentrate on new clause 13, which says:

“All products containing halal and kosher meat shall be labelled as such at the point of sale by retail and food outlets.”

For the purposes of the new clause, I have defined a food outlet as

“anywhere where food is served to the public.”

I have done that because I specifically wanted to include places such as schools and hospitals, as I think many parents and patients are concerned about food that they do not know the provenance or background of, and that information is important to them.

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): If that is the hon. Gentleman’s intention, his clause is far too simplistic. Does he not agree that in the interests of fairness and consumer transparency consumers have the right to know about the origins of non-religiously slaughtered meat, whether that meat has been stunned or not, if it has been stunned what method was used and the method of non-religious slaughter? That is a lot of information, but observant Muslims or Jews would like that information as well as people who object.

Philip Davies: I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. She seems to be making the point that we need more labelling, not less. If she is saying that my new clause is a step, but it does not go as far as she would like it to go, I am happy to take that criticism on the chin.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I support further labelling, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to look at religious slaughter in isolation from other forms of slaughter, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) said? Labelling could give information about how the animals lived—their housing, food and drug consumption. Why is he picking on religious communities in his new clause?

Philip Davies: Let me make something clear. I am not picking on anyone. I do not want to ban anything. People want to buy religiously slaughtered meat, although that may not be my choice. It is Labour Members who want to ban everything that they do not happen to like. That is not my style. I happen to believe in freedom of choice, and I want people who want to buy religiously slaughtered meat to be free to make that choice. Equally,

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people who specifically do not want to buy that meat should be free to make that choice. So this is not about picking on anyone. It is not about trying to ban anybody from doing anything.

I do not really see who loses out from the new clause. It is to the advantage of those people who want to buy halal and kosher meat and to the advantage of those who specifically do not that meat is properly labelled. So I do not see who the victim of my new clause is. Everyone is a winner. It is to everybody’s advantage that meat is properly labelled and above board so that everyone knows that what they are buying is what they want to buy. That is the only intention behind my new clause; there is no other objective. I am not seeking to ban anything or stop anybody from doing anything they want to do. I merely seek to allow people to make an informed choice. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) asks why. The simple reason is that there is a huge demand for labelling out in the country—there certainly is in my constituency. That is why I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on this very issue two years ago. It was defeated by three votes, largely by the politically correct brigade on the Opposition Benches. It was a big issue in my constituency then. I contend that it is an even bigger issue today. It has not mushroomed out of nowhere. There is widespread customer demand that proper information be given so that people can make an informed choice.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Philip Davies: I have said that I must make some headway.

British legislation requires the stunning of animals before slaughter, with the religious exemptions that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) made clear. Religious traditions sometimes require people to slaughter without stunning. The exemption dates back to the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1928 and the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933, which applies to England and Wales. The EU also granted derogations from stunning regulations for religious communities.

In recent years, animal groups, most notably the Farm Animal Welfare Council, have advocated labelling of some meat to decrease the amount purchased, thereby reducing the amount of unstunned meat, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) said.

Neither the British Parliament nor the European Parliament has passed a law that requires labelling of unstunned meat, but there has been much debate about it in the past. My new clause would make it compulsory for halal and kosher meat to be labelled because, as a strong believer in freedom of choice, I think that one of the fundamental rights of the consumer is to know what they are purchasing.

I spent 12 years working for Asda before I entered the House. Some of the supermarkets are reluctant to do anything about this because it is inconvenient for them to go through the food chain to provide the labelling. When I was at Asda, I was taught that we were in business to do what was best for the customer—to do what the customer wanted, not what was for our convenience. I am rather worried that that attitude is

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slipping in some of our supermarket chains. It is not about what is most convenient for them; I do not care about that. They should be delivering what their customers want, and there is no doubt that this is what customers want to see.

Consumers cannot satisfy their preferences at present because not all meat products are labelled. Therefore, legislation requiring labelling is essential for consumers to exercise their right to make an informed decision.

Mike Weatherley: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Philip Davies: I am not going to give way.

I would much prefer it if legislation was not required. I am not the type of person who wants to rush to legislation, but in the two years since my ten-minute rule Bill was introduced absolutely nothing has happened. There have been plenty of opportunities for the retailers to sort this out for themselves, and they have failed spectacularly to do anything about it.

This is important. According to the EU DIALREL project, the exemption from religious slaughter in schedule 12 to the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 clearly states that the exemption applies to people of that religion—not to everybody. That implies that halal and kosher meat should be consumed by those of Muslim and Jewish faiths respectively, because that type of slaughter is specified for their religious needs. That is clearly not the case, because Muslims make up a small proportion of the UK population, yet the Halal Food Authority estimated two years ago that halal meat makes up 25% of the meat market. I suspect that the figure is even higher. Similarly, approximately 70% of kosher meat that is sold is not consumed by the Jewish community.

We are going far beyond the exemption that was designed for those people with their particular religious beliefs. There have been cases of schools, hospitals, pubs, sports arenas, cafés, markets and hotels serving halal meat to customers without their knowledge. I am led to believe that it even happened in the House of Commons canteens in 2010. To my dismay as a former retailer, it has certainly happened in some of the larger supermarket chains, and in some of the largest food outlets such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s and KFC. It has also happened in schools. In 2010, Harrow council faced a massive protest after announcing a plan to serve halal-only menus in the borough’s state primary schools, and parents complained that it was forced on them against their will.

Some 98% of consumers in the 2004 Co-op survey of consumer attitudes to the ethics of the food industry stated that they supported the humane treatment of animals. Considering that some halal and kosher meats are slaughtered without pre-stunning, many such consumers would not buy the meat if they were aware of what it was. Interestingly, Massood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, stated in September 2010:

“As Muslims have a choice of eating halal meat, non-Muslims should also have the choice of not eating it. Customers should know it is halal meat.”

An amendment to induce the compulsory labelling of unstunned halal and kosher meat and products would give consumers more freedom of choice, increase market efficiency, as retailers are enabled to respond to customer demand, and help to protect animal welfare rights.

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It is not just me who thinks that. The Sikh Council UK has put out a statement agreeing with that. It believes that everyone has the right to purchase and consume food in accordance with their religious beliefs. Hindus have said that they, too, agree with my new clause, and believe the same thing. Many of these groups do not focus on animal welfare but specifically object to the religious blessing that goes with the practice. I will conclude with this particular point about halal and kosher meat. I do not know if hon. Members read the article by Taj Hargey, the director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and the imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, who said that the practice is

“covert religious extremism and creeping Islamic fundamentalism making its way into Britain by the back door. It is completely wrong that the food sensitivities of Britain’s Muslims—who amount to just 4.8% of the population—should take precedence over the other 95%. Halal meat should never be forced on customers without their knowing, surreptitiously and using clandestine methods. It’s unfair to everyone, non-Muslims and Muslims alike.”

He also said that the idea that Muslims cannot eat non-halal meat is completely wrong, and

“has no theological basis in the Koran, the supreme text of Islam.”

He said:

“I’m a dedicated Muslim, a devout religionist, an imam and intellectual scholar of Islam, but I eat whatever food is placed before me, with the obvious exception of pork. If you’re kind enough to invite me to your home, I would eat whatever meat you chose to serve”.

He concluded:

“It is high time the white, liberal, Guardian-reading classes stopped behaving like apologists and woke up. There is a fundamentalist Trojan horse in our midst, and we must take corrective action.”

Many people in this country are demanding that this House take the action that they would like to see.

5.45 pm

Finally, and very briefly, new clause 14, which the hon. Member for Walthamstow said she supports, and which I hope the Minister will support, would introduce a mobile phone switching process that is led by the receiving communications service provider, rather than the one losing the custom. Currently, if someone wants to cancel their mobile phone contract, they must first approach the company they are leaving. The problem is that mobile phone operators have no incentive at all to proactively ensure that their customers are getting the best deal. They can overcharge them again and again until they say, “Actually, I want to leave”, before trying to win them back with some offer.

New clause 14 would keep mobile phone providers on their toes, ensuring that their customers constantly got the best real-time offer, because they would never get the chance to do that if the customer went to a competitor. They would act in the best interests of the consumer. That would be in line with what now happens in the banking and energy sectors. It is widely appreciated that the best way to encourage switching for consumers is to enable them to go to the provider they want and for it to do all the hard work for them. It is an anomaly that that does not apply to mobile phone switching. I think that it would make a great deal of sense for the Government to accept the new clause. I am pleased that the Opposition have agreed to support it and hope that the Government will too. It is a common-sense measure that will ensure a much better deal for consumers.