§ Mr. Gardiner
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the practice of selling debts by loan companies to debt collection companies. 
§ Mr. Sutcliffe
The Department has made no specific assessment of the practice of selling debts by loan companies to debt collection companies.
Lenders and debt collectors require a licence from the Office of Fair Trading under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. The OFT issued its "Debt collection guidance—Response to consultation paper and final guidance on 667W unfair business practices" on 14 July 2003. The guidance specifies certain behaviour which OFT would consider in relation to taking licensing action. The guidance makes it clear that lenders must not ignore the unfair practices of debt collectors acting on their behalf, whether in-house or external. Lenders should take care in the selection of third parties, investigate complaints and take action where appropriate. Failure to do so will call their own fitness to hold a licence into question.
The DTI is reaching the conclusion of its review of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Government proposals in this area will be set out in a White Paper due for publication in December. This will address issues such as the transparency of credit products, ensuring consumers are more aware of the terms and conditions of agreements they may wish to undertake.
§ Mr. Gardiner
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) if she will take steps to make loan companies publish statements on their efforts to reduce harassment of clients whom they are pursuing for overdue loans; 
(2) if she will take steps to restrict the (a) days and (b) times of day that debt collectors can contact people they are pursuing for overdue debts; 
(3) if she will take steps to restrict the number of (a) letters, (b) phone calls and (c) face to face visits debt collectors can make to people they are pursuing for overdue debts; 
(4) what recent discussions her Department has had with consumer groups about harassment of borrowers by debt collection companies. 
§ Mr. Sutcliffe
The OFT issued guidance for debt collectors on 14 July 2003 which is aimed at all consumer credit licence holders and applicants and applies to the collection of debt once an account is in default. It sets out the type of behaviour, such as harassment of debtors, that the OFT, which administers the licensing system, considers to be unfair and which could call into question fitness to hold a licence.
OFT guidance states it is an unfair business practice for a debt collector to be contacting debtors at unreasonable times and ignoring or disregarding debtors' legitimate wishes. Further to consultation on the guidance OFT decided not to prescribe specific times given debtors' differing circumstances.
The practice of debt collectors when recovering overdue loans has been considered in the context of my Department's review of the Consumer Credit Act.
The Consumer Credit White Paper that we will publish in December will outline our proposals to regulate the conduct of lenders and unfair credit agreements.