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Credit card companies will be subject to tough new guidelines under measures to prevent people from running up huge debts to be outlined in the Queen’s Speech today. The move will be coupled with a crackdown on unscrupulous moneylenders and comes as figures show Britons are more than £1,000 billion in debt.
Loan sharks are to be pursued with fines and surprise raids and moves will be taken to stop people from entering into extortionate loan deals. People who have run up massive debts will be able to get help from an independent ombudsman rather than face court procedures under a new Consumer Credit Bill from Patricia Hewitt, the Industry Secretary Victims will be able claim against extortionate lenders.

All lenders, including credit card companies and banks, will be subject to guidelines designed to prevent exploitative deals. They will be required to explain the costs of credit both before and during an agreement in a move to prevent young and vulnerable people from taking on far more than they can afford. The moves have been hastened after the recent case of Tony and Michelle Meadows, a Merseyside couple who had a £5,750 loan turn into a £384,000 debt. A judge wiped out their debts saying that the punitive interest rate was extortionate.

The Bill is one of 37 that the Government will try to push through before a general election, even if, as expected, Tony Blair calls one for May 5. It is one of the biggest programmes of recent years, but in an article in The Times today Peter Ham says that Labour should make no apology for the weight of the legislation or for its efforts to change the lives of people for the better.

The Commons leader mounts a fierce defence of the role of government and says that Labour – at a time when there is an anti-government, anti-politics mood around should be trumpeting the positive power for good that government can be. Mr. Hain says that the legislation to be announced today outlawing religious discrimination, unscrupulous lending or drug pushing will improve people’s lives. This isn’t nanny government. It’s ensuring that everyone has choices and are best equipped to take maximum advantage of those choices to achieve their aspirations .

Although the Queen’s Speech will be dominated by Home Office Bills, Tony Blair has promised colleagues that Labour’s election campaign will be based on the twin themes of security and opportunity. Aides say that hardline measures on drugs, ID cards, organised crime and antisocial behaviour will be balanced by announcements over the next two months designed to reaffirm the Government’s progressive social agenda . This will include further details on policies for extending childcare subsidies and training opportunities next week when Gordon Brown publishes the Treasury’s Pre-Budget Report. Ministers have acknowledged that the programme may appear lopsided because it is tilted too much towards security issues. We need a twin-track approach. We cannot win on hope unless we do not lose on fear, a Whitehall source said.

(The Times Tuesday 23rd November 2004)

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