THE "great moral force" brought to the debate by the Bishop of
Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, forced the Government to back
down on its opposition to capping interest on payday loans, the
House of Lords heard on Wednesday.
Lord Sassoon, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, announced at
the start of the debate on Wednesday that the Government would
amend the Financial Services Bill to give the regulator the power
to cap both the total cost and total duration of credit. Speaking
in response, the Labour Peer, Lord Davies of Stamford, thanked
Bishop Welby for his support. Bishop Welby had added his name to an
amendment, tabled by the Labour peer Lord Mitchell, which would
gave given the Financial Conduct Authority the power to cap
interest rates. It was withdrawn in light of the Government's
"It is only because of the determination and initiative of my
noble friend and his colleagues, and the great moral force brought
to this matter by the Right Reverend Prelate, that, at the last
minute, the Government have decided that they have no alternative
but to do the right thing for once," he said. "I am so glad that
the Right Reverend Prelate is a churchman, and not afraid to use
old-fashioned but eternal concepts such as usury."
After welcoming the Government's concession, Bishop Welby
repeated his charge that the rates charged by payday loan companies
- which can exceed 4000 per cent - were "clearly usurious. . . It
used to be said in the old days that you could not take away
people's beds and cloaks because they were essential for life -
that is the Hebrew scriptures. Today, equivalent things are being
taken away as a result of those very high rates of interest. It is
a moral case, and it is bad for the clients and bad for all of us
in this country when it is permitted to happen."
Lord Sassoon said that he supported the "spirit" of Lord
Mitchell's amendment, but warned that it might have "unintended
consequences" such as reduced access to credit for the poorest,
which could drive them to illegal loan sharks. The Government would
introduce a new amendment, "ironing out the potential weaknesses"
in Lord Mitchell's, which would "explicitly . . . cover both the
total cost and total duration of credit."
Bishop Welby acknowledged concerns about "unintended
consequences of a very serious order", but argued that the current
market was not working for consumers.
After agreeing to withdraw his amendment, Lord Mitchell said
that the winners were "those who live in the hellhole of grinding
debt", while the losers were the loan sharks and payday lending
companies who had "tried every trick in the book to keep this
legislation from being approved".
Last Tuesday, the Office of Fair Trading announced that it had
opened formal investigations into several payday lenders over
"aggressive debt-collection practices". Its latest report on the
sector highlights concerns, including inadequate checks on whether
loans are affordable, the proportion of loans not paid on time, and
the frequency with which lenders "roll-over" loans.
In August, the Government opposed calls, including those from
the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to take firmer
regulatory action against payday loan companies (
News, 17 August) in favour of working with the industry to
produce a code of practice. This was launched on Monday, prompting
Citizens Advice to announce a year-long survey asking people to
monitor whether lenders are "sticking to their self-regulating
The charity also released figures showing that the percentage of
debt casework clients with at least one payday loan has increased
from one per cent in 2009/10 to ten per cent this year.