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The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom this week vowed to pressure retail shops to stop saddling their customers with high-interest credit and store cards, according to local reports. George Osborne, the Conservative shadow chancellor of the exchequer, says the country is "addicted to debt" and that the Office of Fair Trading, a UK consumer-advocacy agency, should have the right to penalize retailers with "excessive" interest rates on store cards. "The role of the next Conservative government is to stop Britain's addiction to debt," Osborne told reporters this week. The Conservatives oppose the ruling Labor Party. UK consumers owe £2.2 billion (US$4.3 billion or 2.7 million euros) on store cards, according to Conservative estimates. The number of store card accounts has almost doubled during the past five years, to 13.4 million from 7 million. The Conservative Party says it wants to launch a free national financial-advice service that it would roll out across Britain within 12 months of coming into office. In related news, Fool.co.uk, a British financial-comparison Web site, says some store cards are charging interest rates that are 50% higher than general purpose credit cards charge . Last May, the UK Competition Commission established regulations that prohibit retailers from charging annual percentage rates that exceed 25% of unpaid balances. But retailers still charge interest rates that approach the limit, according to Fool.co.uk. One major clothing retailer, for instance, charges 24.9% interest, the site says. "Store cards initially offer attractive benefits and bonuses, which can be hard to resist, but there is a downside to grabbing these discounts and deals," Ed Bowsher, a Fool.co.uk savings expert, says in a statement. Conservative Party and Office of Fair Trading officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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