All 1 Lord Mitchell contributions to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023

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Mon 30th Jan 2023

Financial Services and Markets Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Lord Mitchell Excerpts
I hope the Government will act on this. I know that they have a consultation under way, but they really need to get their skates on because this industry is growing very rapidly, and I fear that a significant number of young people are now entramelled in a situation they will severely regret.
Lord Mitchell Portrait Lord Mitchell (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for drawing your Lordships’ attention to the three-year campaign we had on payday lending, which in the end won. We removed a great scourge from consumer credit in this country. I apologise for not speaking at Second Reading; I intended to, then Covid got me.

I will make a couple of general points before getting into buy now, pay later. When I was 16, I was asked to leave school. One mock GCE pass out of seven subjects at O-level led to my marching orders. I got a job at Hoover selling vacuum cleaners and washing machines door to door. That truly was the school of hard knocks. It was 1959. We were sent to sales training school to learn how to complete a sale. They told us, “Wear a dark suit, white shirt, firm handshake, and at all costs, get your foot in the door. Demonstrate the product to the lady of the house and then present her”—it was always her—“with the dual positive suggestion: ‘Will madam like to pay cash, or would she prefer hire purchase?’ Whatever the outcome, you’ve got the deal.”

So, I know about deferred payments, which in those days were also called “the never-never”. I emphasise to noble Lords that I am not against buy now, pay later. In fact, I think it is a good thing. People’s budgets are squeezed, and if a financial mechanism can be devised to make purchasing easier, it surely must be applauded. The problem is when it gets out of control, as many noble Lords have said.

Buy now, pay later has no interest component, and because of this, it is not regulated by the FCA, it is not protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and individuals do not have recourse to the Financial Ombudsman Service. This loophole was surely never intended and ought to be closed.

It is currently too easy for consumers to acquire debt beyond their affordability, and therein lies the danger. Plus, of course, consumers can acquire payment liabilities through a host of different providers, each of whom has no knowledge of the existence of the other. We saw that in payday lending, whereby you got to your limit with one payday lender, so you went to another and then another, you got the money from here to repay this one, and so it went, until people got into terrible situations.

I do not have the foggiest why the Government have said that they want to regulate that but are telling us that it is not appropriate. I ask the Minister: why are the Government dragging their feet on something that seems so dangerous, obvious and uncontentious?

I have one further point to make. Buy now, pay later is growing exponentially and we now have a measure of just how big it is. Half the population use this unregulated form of finance. Casting our minds back to the financial collapse of 2008, we cannot ignore the subprime mortgage crisis in the US that triggered all the turmoil. We are not there yet, but massive and increasingly unaffordable debt is simmering below the radar, and it is a huge potential danger. Can the Minster assure the Committee that the Government are tracking this sector and are aware of the risk?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I shall turn first to Amendment 43, tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, before dealing with buy now, pay later. The Government fully support the intention behind this amendment to facilitate the swift reform of the Consumer Credit Act, and work is under way to do just that. There is no doubt that this legislation needs updating. The Act is becoming increasingly outdated, and its prescriptive nature means that it is unable to keep pace with advances in the market without modernising reform.

However, we must appreciate that the Act is complex, and any work to review it requires careful consideration to ensure that any future approach is fit for purpose. For this reason, a first public consultation on this reform was published in December, which will close for responses in March. As part of the review, the Government are seeking views on how to rectify the complex split of regulation currently contained in primary legislation, secondary legislation and FCA rules which is hard for consumers and businesses to navigate.