All 6 Lord Bassam of Brighton contributions to the Dormant Assets Act 2022

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Wed 26th May 2021
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2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 21st Jun 2021
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Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage
Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Tue 16th Nov 2021
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Report stage & Report stage
Tue 23rd Nov 2021
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3rd reading & 3rd reading
Wed 9th Feb 2022
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Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 26th May 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, first, I start by drawing the House’s attention to my interests as set out in the register. I work as a director for the charity Business in the Community. I am also a trustee on a number of charitable boards that may potentially benefit from funds disbursed from dormant accounts.

Secondly, I thank the Minister for the way in which she introduced the Bill: with care and not a little passion. We truly have a Minister who understands the value of the NGO and charitable sector and draws richly from her own personal experience.

Next, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, on her maiden speech, which reminded us all of the rich experience that Members bring to this House—in the particular case of the noble Baroness, her championing of the arts with passion and enthusiasm. I must say I liked her call for levelling up in musical education. It only made me wish that my younger, tuneless self had been musically levelled up.

Before I turn to the detail of the Bill, I think that this an opportunity to give our thanks to the thousands of charities and community groups across the country for their amazing work during the Covid pandemic. Much of this has been done in the face of severe financial constraints—as the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, made clear—and in the face of unprecedented public health restrictions. They have persevered and found creative ways to continue running vital services and supporting local communities. We should express our gratitude to those involved, just as we have saluted the heroic efforts of the National Health Service and our key workers.

As we have heard, the dormant assets scheme was established under the last Labour Government in a moment of cross-party support. Recognition of the crucial role played by civil society and the importance of properly supporting those organisations that do so much to help people and communities across the UK is at its root. We are proud that, to date, hundreds of millions of pounds have been unlocked and passed to good causes. For some charities, extra funding has given a greater sense of financial security, providing greater freedom to focus on service delivery. For others, it has meant expansion either in reach or in the range of services provided.

When designing the original scheme and the list of assets included in it, reunification was a key consideration. If somebody has a rightful claim to assets that become dormant, of course every effort should be made to ensure that the money returns to its rightful owner. If that is not possible, there is a clear moral justification for putting it to good use elsewhere. It may be a simple principle, but we welcome that it remains untouched in this Bill.

On a slightly different note, I was taken by the comments on reunification and reserve rates made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles, Lady Noakes and Lady Kramer. This suggested overprovision, and I ask whether the Minister can explain why.

While we welcome the introduction of the Bill, can the Minister shed any light on its timing? The post-implementation review of the 2008 Act was published in 2014, and the Dormant Assets Commission published its recommendations in early 2017. While we appreciate the need to consult widely and consider civil society finance in the broader political and economic context, we have had to travel an extraordinarily long road to find ourselves here today. Why? Is it, for example, because departmental resource has been focused on other matters, such as preparing for Brexit, perhaps?

It is an interesting time to discuss funding for good causes. Despite some support from the Government, whether through grants or the furlough scheme, the past 14 months have been incredibly tough for the charitable sector, as I said earlier. For many, coronavirus support grants were slow to arrive and insufficient to allow business to continue as usual. While the economy may be gradually reopening, it is important for a degree of government support to remain in place until the charity sector’s ecosystem is fully rebooted.

We must be thankful that, despite the challenges of the past year, fundraising has not ground to a complete halt. Many charities have been creative in hosting virtual events or promoting individual sporting challenges, in the absence of occasions such as the London Marathon. Nevertheless, money has been tight and, despite the characteristic generosity of the British public, with so many people furloughed or losing their jobs as a result of Covid-19, charity income has taken a big hit, just as many organisations have experienced a surge in demand.

On the Labour side, we very much support the Government’s intention to unlock further funds through the measures in this legislation, but we must consider the Bill in context, as I have outlined. Earlier this year, for example, the Chancellor unveiled spending plans reminiscent of the coalition Government’s austerity years. With this in mind, can the Government assure us that the new money derived from the dormant assets listed in the Bill will be in addition to other forms of public support for charities, rather than being used as a rationale to scale back other initiatives?

While we support the thrust of the legislation, can the Minister provide a rationale for the decision to exclude some of the asset classes recommended for inclusion by previous consultations and industry champions? On pensions, for example, the justification seems to be that we need time to take stock of the introduction of pensions dashboards. How long does the Minister believe is needed to assess the changing pensions landscape? If conditions are favourable, is this an area where the Government may wish to utilise the powers in Clause 19?

The dormant assets eligible for this scheme are generally financial products. What consideration are the Government giving to including other asset types? Does the Minister see, for example, a case for including the proceeds from government land disposals? Similarly, is there scope to pass some of the proceeds of crime confiscated under other legislation to community groups, in recognition of the harm that crime has on the area in which it is committed? I am particularly interested to hear the Minister’s response to the bid from the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, to bring the National Fund into scope and, similarly, to the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for NS&I unclaimed assets and, by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for unclaimed dividends.

These questions lead us to a more fundamental debate: should funds continue to be disbursed by the National Lottery Community Fund, as they have been since the inception of the scheme? Is it time, as others have suggested, to look at alternative models? The Minister is no doubt aware of proposals drawn up by civil society organisations for what they call a community wealth fund, which invests in left-behind areas. A number of Peers, notably the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Eaton, refer to the proposition, as did others across the House. What is the Minister’s response to that, given that it is consistent with the Government’s stated aim of levelling up, which the Minister drew attention to in her opening speech?

During the passage of the Bill, we intend to probe the operation of Clause 27 to gain a better understanding of what oversight the Treasury and Parliament have of Reclaim Funds Ltd’s finances and operations. We will also seek to amend proposed new Section 18A, which is inserted into the 2008 Act by Clause 29. The consultation requirements included in the draft appear inadequate and we would therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss this with the Minister and her officials in due course. The case for a broader consultation was well made by my noble friend Lady Lister.

As I said at the outset, we welcome this Bill as it builds on the scheme which Labour launched back in 2008. We think there are some missed opportunities in this new, additional proposal. We hope the Government will recognise this, and we commit to probing the opportunities the Bill could unlock and to constructive engagement throughout the Bill’s passage through both Houses. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, observed, we, as the Opposition, have good intentions in examining the Bill, not least because the Bill has good intentions behind it. We will be its critical but supportive friend, seeking to improve its content and impact.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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Lord Bassam of Brighton? I think he may have muted his equipment. Can he unmute?

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I apologise. I apologise doubly for being late and for failing to unmute.

I missed the Minister’s explanation as she introduced this group, but a few points occur to me. There are some 20-plus issues tied up in these technical amendments and clarifications. That is a lot and, while I am very grateful for the text explaining them, there are some fairly substantial issues here. My attention was drawn to government Amendment 17, which applies a new clause in the case of a wound-up unit trust scheme or a terminated sub-fund of an umbrella unit trust scheme. It sounds awfully complex, actually; it may well be technical, but I do not fully understand exactly what lies behind the wording.

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Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 26, at end insert—
“(5A) Additional assets may be added to the scheme using powers under section 19, including where this is recommended by a report laid under section (Requirement to review the operation of the dormant assets scheme).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that the list of assets in Clause 1(5) may not be exhaustive, given the existence of the Clause 19 power and the Government’s commitment to keep included asset classes under review.
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment is grouped with others that will have a similar effect, which is to secure reports on the operation of the dormant assets scheme. I think that we are all fishing in the same pool here. We all want the same thing and it is always nice to be able to agree with colleagues across the piece on something such as this.

We need periodic reviews. My amendment seeks to have the first periodic review after two years and subsequent reviews every five years thereafter, and I think that there is a degree of consensus that that is desirable. Why do we want to do that? Well, clearly, it makes sense; we need to know what other dormant assets can be released into the fund and how they are consulted on when they are brought forward. We also need to ensure that mechanisms work properly and that any new additions are sufficiently worked out. That is the purpose behind the amendment.

We also need to know why other fund that are dormant are not being released—in particular, I guess, some of the pension funds. I know that concern was expressed about that at Second Reading, because many of us see dormant pension funds as having a lot of potential. I know that the Government said that the dashboard was not yet ready or bedded in, but we could use periodic reviews to ensure that we are regularly updated on this.

So, very simply, that is my introduction to this amendment. I am sure that there will be a degree of consensus in the Committee on this issue, and I hope that the Minister can be positive about it and that, between now and Report, between us we can fashion amendments to the Bill that give expression to that consensus and that the Government can be happy with as well. I am more than happy to talk to other colleagues about this, so that we get it right, because ensuring that we have regular and periodic reviews is important, as it will build up trust in the legislation and across the sector that will benefit from this. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I really do not have anything extra to add to my noble friend Lord Bassam’s comments. The proposed clause is about a review of the functionality of the scheme, so it does not really get to the issues that I referred to earlier, so I think that I will leave it there. I am happy to support the amendment.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his additional questions. He talked about other ways of spending the funds. I was talking about other causes; I am not sure whether we are using different words for the same thing. In the consultation that we are proposing, we will invite the public to name the issues they care about on which these funds should be used—the aim being to have that in secondary rather than primary legislation to make it a bit more flexible—as opposed to using different types of spend organisations. I was referring to the causes on which that will be spent.

I think that issues of additionality are likely to come up quite frequently, particularly on Wednesday, when we debate some of the other amendments. Perhaps we can take that issue in the round then, if the noble Lord is agreeable.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said it all, in the sense that this has been an extremely wide-ranging debate covering many topics, even though, as I said at the outset, we are fishing in the same pool here looking for a form of review. I thank the Minister for her very full, detailed and thorough response. I will have to read it carefully before deciding what to do about this subject area on Report.

I also thank her for the opportunity she has afforded us through her response of meeting and considering what other ways there may be to look at the impact of the dormant assets review and how we can best formulate it. I think she was inviting us to subscribe to an amendment that covers that point, but I am not sure yet. I look forward to having that discussion with her.

It is perhaps worth reflecting on comments that colleagues made. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, knows that I agree with her that there is not much point bringing forward amendments that lead to pointless reports unless those reports have an action at the end of them. That is why my amendment in particular calls for a review with the purpose of leading to something. That is why it is important that we have an early review. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked for a review now. “Now” may be in two years’ time after the Bill has passed—that would be about right—and periodic reviews thereafter.

The good thing about this legislation is that flexibility is brought into it. Although at the moment it is limited to financial products, in her response the Minister did not seem to rule out entirely that it might be extended to cover non-financial products. I liked the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, looking at things such as Oyster cards, gambling winnings and utility accounts. At Second Reading I raised that assets from criminal activity might be brought into the scheme. That is perhaps going a bit far at this stage, but we are all looking at ways in which we can expand dormant assets so that they can be used for a broader social purpose.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, was right to ask whether the powers are sufficient at the moment. I want to be confident that is right. As the Minister acknowledged, the Oversight Trust is very much in its early phase of development, though clearly it has done some important and valuable work so far.

The Minister said that transparency could be guaranteed through a number of routes: the RFL, Select Committees and post-legislative scrutiny. That is true—there is no doubt that those routes are available—but one of the reasons I am keen to see a review process built into the legislation is that we need to have that review in one place so that we can look across the piece in a more coherent and cohesive way, decide whether the dormant assets are having impact, determine whether there are other financial and non-financial assets that could be brought within its scope and see that there is a degree of transparency about the way in which the legislation is operating. That is why I am keen to see a review process.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, made a good point about the need to look at the derivation and application of funds: where from and why? That is really part of the thinking behind my amendment and, I think, other amendments in this group.

We have had a very good discussion on this. It is an important part of the legislation. I welcome the Minister’s offer of some discussions and restate my intent to bring back an amendment that captures the best of the other amendments and brings them to bear on how we move forward in reviewing how this legislation works. I am grateful to everybody for their interest and support on this. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.
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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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I have nothing to add. I looked at the amendments and they all seem to make technical sense to me.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have nothing to add except that government Amendment 12 is described as a “verbal error”. I am not quite sure that you can have a verbal error in a piece of written legislation; perhaps the Minister can help us with that one.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their support and brevity. As I said, these are minor amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, alighted on “verbal”. I changed that word in my opening to this short debate to “terminological”; I hope he agrees that that is a bit clearer. Either way, I hope he sees that it is de minimis.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I will again be brief but I went nearly mad trying to track some of these amendments through. I accept that they are consequential but I have one question. FSMA 2000, an Act with which I have spent far too much of my life, will—after these amendments—now use the phrase “unwanted asset money”. Are the Government comfortable that we do not have a problem with the word “unwanted”? There is a difference between dormant money and money that is unwanted. We all know that the reclaim process is critical but I want to be sure that we have not got ourselves into any tricky corners with all of that. That is my only comment; the intent is obviously consequential.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I too am broadly satisfied with this collection of amendments, although they raise some questions about the initial drafting. I made a point about that at the outset of this afternoon’s deliberations. I just wonder why we have to amend the definition of “third party” by government Amendment 47. Also, what is not right—this is in government Amendment 49—with the definition of “repayment claims” that requires amendment? Perhaps the Minister could help us with that.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Again, I am grateful to the noble Lords for their support, particularly given the large number of amendments, albeit small ones. To answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, the use of “unwanted asset” is the intended terminology. “Unwanted” is different from “dormant”.

On the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, if he will forgive me, given the speed of progress on this group, it might be better if I make sure that I have understood it and write to him with a full answer so that he has that before Report. With that, I commend these amendments to the Committee.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I very much support everything that has been said so far, and I hope that we will get some clarity. Value for money is critical when we are dealing with these kinds of organisations.

I decided I would take a quick look at the financials of Reclaim Fund Ltd—which does not take very long as they are not hugely detailed—and the number that knocked me over and made me very concerned that value for money was definitely on the agenda was the remuneration of the chief executive. They may be an absolutely stellar individual and I would not wish in any way to criticise the individual personally but, according to the numbers I was looking at, there are 12 employees of Reclaim Fund Ltd, one of whom is the chief executive himself, and the chair. The median CEO salary in 2019 at the largest 100 charities was £155,000 a year, but in 2020 the chief executive of Reclaim Fund Ltd earned £217,000, if I add up simply salary and performance-related pay and leave out the pensions stuff. It struck me as prima facie rather out of line. Making sure that there is an audit that takes value for money into account would certainly give us all much more confidence that these issues were being handled appropriately. I fully understand that, as the asset base expands, there will be more complexity, so maybe there is a changing situation. But the 2019 pay packet was similar and I want to make sure that the appropriate body is focused properly on these issues and that value for money sits right at the front of the audit responsibility.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is always nice to be able to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. We have crossed swords many times, but I very much share one thing in common with her, and that is a desire to have an absolutely laser focus on getting value for money. So I am very supportive of her amendment; it certainly goes to the right place. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, touched on the importance of that in drawing our attention to remuneration levels within Reclaim Fund Ltd.

We need to be assured that we are getting value for money. Getting the Comptroller and Auditor-General involved in looking at the Reclaim Fund Ltd is a valuable use of the time of that body, because we need to better understand how funds are being used and be reassured that the best possible value for money is being secured. After all, this is a very significant funding mechanism and we need to ensure that, as part of it, the Reclaim Fund Ltd operates to the best and highest of standards. My noble friend Lord Davies is right that we need to focus on issues such as efficiency and effectiveness of spend, so I am very supportive of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 50 seeks to provide a power for the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the C&AG, to examine the Reclaim Fund Ltd for its economy, efficiency and effectiveness in using its resources to carry out its functions—also known as a value-for-money assessment—and to lay the result of the examination before Parliament.

I will first address the question on RFL’s auditors that my noble friend Lady Noakes asked at Second Reading. As set out in the Government’s framework agreement with RFL, which has been published in the Libraries of both Houses, the C&AG will audit the company’s accounts. This will be possible because of the explicit agreement made between RFL and the Treasury for such an arrangement. I hope that my noble friend will feel that that is sufficiently clear.

I know that my noble friend was also anxious to confirm that both the value-for-money assessment and the audit would be carried out by the same body, so, to continue in that vein, the C&AG may also carry out value-for-money assessments of the Reclaim Fund Ltd in the way proposed in subsection (1) in my noble friend’s amendment. The C&AG can carry out value-for-money assessments of public bodies under the National Audit Act 1983. The Act enables the C&AG to carry out value-for-money assessments of a body if there is an agreement between the body and a Minister of the Crown that requires the body’s accounts to be examined and certified by the C&AG and that enables value-for-money assessments to take place. This is set out in Section 6(3)(d) and 6(5) of the National Audit Act. An agreement has been made between the Treasury and RFL that meets these conditions of the Act, and this arrangement is outlined in the RFL/Treasury framework agreement.

Value-for-money assessments can be undertaken under Section 6 of the National Audit Act in relation to many public bodies, including UK Asset Resolution, the British Business Bank and S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, to name but a few. In future, the Comptroller and Auditor-General will be able to undertake value-for-money assessments in relation to RFL.

Section 9 of the National Audit Act 1983 enables the Comptroller and Auditor- General to report to the House of Commons the result of any value-for-money assessment carried out under Section 6 of the Act. So, the provisions in the Act, which as I have already explained are applicable to RFL, also make provision for the Comptroller and Auditor- General to bring the results of the value-for-money assessments to the attention of the House of Commons.

My noble friend picked up on the location of RFL’s offices in St James’s. My understanding is that this is the registered address of the company secretary and that RFL is actually based in Crewe. I hope my noble friend sees that as a more cost-effective, dare I say levelling-up, option.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this useful set of amendments will help us to tease out the relationship between Reclaim Fund Ltd, Parliament, the Treasury, and the Government. My probing amendment is in a slightly different direction from those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Noakes, but they sit comfortably next to each other.

I want to understand what the oversight mechanism is and what will be available to Parliament in the event of Reclaim Fund Ltd requiring money from the Treasury. We have heard that this will never happen, which I am sure is quite right—with the reserve level set at 40% it is extremely unlikely—but I too believe in prudence in the management of funds, and I would like to understand what oversight Parliament will be given. We need a position where we can discuss and debate how it is working. Will that be through some kind of annual report to Parliament? Would oversight by Parliament be triggered in the circumstances of a particular use of funds? Can we perhaps see a situation where there is an annual debate about Reclaim Fund Ltd and how the money has been distributed so that we could test whether the 40% reserve is right?

Parliament needs to be in a stronger position here. These amendments take us in that general direction, particularly the clever one tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, which would put the Treasury in the hot seat and ensure that we have a level of accountability enabling a regular look at how Reclaim Fund Ltd operates. I am looking forward to the Minister giving us not only some assurance but a guarantee that we will be able to see how the mechanism is working through a regular oversight session.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I will respond to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about how Reclaim Fund Ltd invests its assets. The reserves are a mix between cash held at the Bank of England and an externally managed bond portfolio managed by Goldman Sachs asset management. All the assets are held to maturity. The portfolio is not actively traded to save on management fees and the portfolio follows environmental, social and governance principles. I hope that this comforts her or otherwise regarding the fund’s approach.

I turn now to the amendments. Amendments 51, 52 and 53 relate to Clause 27 of the Bill. These amendments seek to understand the oversight that Parliament will have over any loan that the Treasury provides to RFL, and intend to allow RFL to take into account the loan when considering its reserving policy. I will address the amendments together.

In recognition of RFL’s establishment as a Treasury non-departmental public body, the Bill introduces a new provision to provide that, in the event that an authorised reclaim fund is, or looks likely to be, unable to meet its reclaim liabilities, the Treasury would provide a loan to cover these liabilities.

On Amendment 52, from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, the Government agree that Parliament should have oversight of the Treasury loan. Parliament will already be sighted in respect of the loans made from the Treasury by virtue of this being recorded in its annual reports and accounts, which are laid before Parliament on a yearly basis. The terms and conditions of the loan will be set in line with usual Treasury practice, as set out in Managing Public Money. It would not be usual practice to provide the full terms of the loan, which may contain commercially sensitive information. Further transparency to Parliament is provided in the reclaim fund’s annual report and accounts, which, as we discussed earlier, are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

Amendments 51 and 53, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, and my noble friend Lady Noakes respectively, seek to understand the impact on RFL of a potential Treasury loan when setting its reserving policy. I will respond, first, by summarising the particular features that govern RFL’s reserving policy, and then turn to the implications on these of the Treasury loan. While the Government agree that as many dormant funds as possible should be channelled to good causes, we also fully recognise that the decision on how much money should be retained to meet reclaims should sit with RFL and not the Government. The RFL board is responsible for overseeing the process for changing the level of reserves, and RFL has confirmed that this is regularly revisited by the board.

I met recently with RFL. Following that meeting, I am satisfied that it follows diligent processes with respect to its reserving policy, which is based on an analysis of the relevant risk factors, actuarial modelling using both internal and independent actuarial advice, and Financial Conduct Authority guidance. This ensures that RFL can achieve its primary objective of meeting reclaims from owners at any time in the future. The fundamental principle that underpins RFL’s current approach to its reserving rates and investing policy is that it is required to meet reclaims in perpetuity. As your Lordships well understand, that makes it very different from, say, an insurance company. Therefore, it has to plan both for any normal trends in the reclaim experience and for any future stress scenarios that may occur, and model those accordingly.

Examples of such stress scenarios include developments in artificial intelligence that help to reunite more customers with their lost assets and, as we discussed in an earlier amendment, future changes in government data access, which could affect participant’s tracing efforts. Any stress scenario could result in a sudden increase in reclaims, and a combination of these scenarios would, of course, have a significant impact on RFL’s reserves. This is reflected in RFL’s regulatory permission and activities under which it is authorised to operate, with the purpose of ensuring that RFL has adequate financial resources to meet its ongoing reclaim obligations without placing it into undue financial distress or business failure.

While I recognise your Lordships’ interest in the current level of reclaim rates compared with money reserved, RFL has informed me that the cumulative reclaim rate is increasing and looks set to increase further in future years. RFL has reviewed and will continue to review its reserving policy regularly, using both internal and independent actuarial advice and modelling, to ensure that it is appropriately prudent and will continue to release as much money as responsibly possible to good causes across the UK, while retaining sufficient funds to meet reclaims. RFL’s remit is expanding to include previously unheld asset classes. I therefore understand why RFL has chosen not to amend its reserving policy at this time, although that decision remains solely with the company.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that I am very supportive of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson—first, his amendment on transparency, which was usefully preambled in our debate two days ago, and secondly, his amendment relating to a call for the Secretary of State to include the establishment of a so-called community wealth fund in an order under new Section 18A of the 2008 Act.

Labour supports, of course, the principle of putting additional funding into the hands of local communities. Our experience, rather like the noble Lord’s, is that those things are best left local: communities need social capital support to ensure that they work with the charitable interests to achieve the objectives of many of those locally and nationally based charities. The Local Trust and the Community Wealth Fund Alliance have made a strong case in their briefing notes, and we recognise that there is broad-based support for this proposition right across the sector.

The idea of community wealth funds is not new, but the case for long-term and locally focused investment has become even more compelling in the light of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and of events during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our Amendment 56 would make a small but potentially significant tweak to the noble Lord’s proposed text, in that it specifies that new National Lottery community funds should operate independently of National Lottery structures. We appreciate, of course, the good work that the National Lottery Community Fund does across the country, but we saw the arrival of the Bill as an opportunity to debate additional methods of disbursing money to the communities that need it.

The alliance behind the community wealth fund proposal have given it a great deal of thought, and have undertaken research on how best it would work and how a system could be made operational in practice, with neighbourhoods empowered to create a positive community vision, and given time to deliver the change they seek.

There is a range of evidence from Britain and across the world that giving communities a proper stake in local spending decisions produces far better results than imposing schemes from the top down. As with our previous debates on the asset clauses, we should not be confined by how things have been done in the past. Instead, we argue that we should seize opportunities to try new approaches.

I have little doubt that the Minister will say that there is not yet strong enough evidence for the Government to support this approach. If that is the case, would the DCMS be prepared to fund pilot studies in a small number of communities across England, to gain more data? The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in a sense, alluded to that. Perhaps we should consider a pilot approach, before bringing into play the full effect of a community wealth fund clause in, or an amendment to, this legislation.

That would be a practical and pragmatic approach and would garner support, but we obviously want to listen to what the Minister has to say on this. We will be more than happy to discuss with her and colleagues across the House how we can make this work because, like the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, I think that it is a winning idea that would genuinely empower local communities.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, as relatively few of us are speaking on this group, I follow straight on from my noble friend Lady Kramer. Unsurprisingly, I agree with everything she said. She has been putting her finger on quite a few weaknesses and gaps that appear in the Bill. We are all concerned to make sure that the money available does additional good work. It should not be used as an excuse by the Government to put in less than they would have otherwise, so that they do not take it into account by thinking they do not have to do quite so much because a top-up might come along from the dormant assets fund.

On that point, I am also curious as to what “unlikely to be made available by Government” means. It is hard to free one’s mind from the concern that the Government will somehow take account of this pool of money as a back-up, no matter what they say. Indeed, on Monday my noble friend referenced the money put in for Covid purposes and said that it was muddying the waters. The fact that the Government are prepared to recite it altogether means that they are taking it into account in some kind of bigger picture. It is hard to escape that point of view. The last thing we want is for there to be a pattern of cuts, followed by replacement funding.

In debate on the first group of amendments, the Minister said that the funding was intended to achieve maximum impact. That really means that it has to be doing things that would not otherwise be done or things that were previously being done, but from which the Government have decided they can withdraw. I am not saying that it cannot be used for that in extremis if the need is so great, but that cannot be the pattern that we allow. As my noble friend said, it would essentially mean that the money was in one way or another replacing taxation.

We debated this on Monday and, as my noble friend Lady Kramer also said, we have talked about reports and reviews. It is important to show how the money has been spent, and to show additionality—in other words, to show that there is clear water between the use of the funds and what the Government do. Perhaps this is a bit of a conflation of ideas but if things like community wealth funds might be going in at a different level, it could mean that they were more isolated from the risk of becoming replacement funding, in places where the Government have pulled out. This would be new funding.

We need something more in the Bill, unless the Minister can explain categorically that that idea is there. She may make statements about how the spending will be used but it would also be good, in the context of a review clause, to ensure that there is a review to find out whether things have actually happened that way, regardless of the original intention.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for tabling Amendment 60, which touches on an issue raised by many on Second Reading. I thought I heard the Minister, who has been extremely courteous throughout these proceedings, mention the Government’s intention to treat funds from dormant assets as additional to what is distributed through the other distributing bodies fed from the National Lottery.

The inclusion and identification of new dormant asset proceeds is welcome. I acknowledge the earlier commitment that these funds will remain additional, rather than replacing other types of financial help; that is extremely important. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has laid out the case well. There is consensus that we do not want funding of this nature to be replacement funding for mainstream government financing programmes.

If it is really the Government’s intention that this money should be used on top of other funding sources, I ask the basic, simple and fundamental question: where is the harm in the Government accepting this amendment? If they did, there would be a clear statement of policy intent, giving a clear direction on the face of the Bill. If the Minister says that the Government cannot do so, I shall be extraordinarily disappointed. However, I would be more than happy to work with colleagues across the House on this—and with the Government themselves, if they are not content to accept the amendment—to bring forward an alternative to the text in this amendment on Report. There probably is consensus that that would be the right thing to do.

Another important factor to bear in mind is that dormant asset funding will grow only as we find new dormant assets that can be used for charitable purposes. In no way should they be seen as an alternative source of funding, replacing government mainstream funding. For that reason, it would be right to put a commitment in the Bill, as a statement of principle, so I am more than happy to support the noble Baroness’s amendment.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard, Amendment 60 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, seeks to confirm the principle of additionality. As I noted at Second Reading and during Monday’s debate, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, also noted, the principle of additionality is set out in Schedule 3 to the 2008 Act and will continue to be a core principle of the scheme. The Act describes additionality as

“the principle that dormant account money should be used to fund projects, or aspects of projects, for which funds would be unlikely to be made available by … a Government department”

or devolved Administration. The Bill does not alter the part of the 2008 Act in which the principle is defined, which affects all of the UK as opposed to just England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked to whom the principle applies. It applies to the National Lottery Community Fund, as she rightly said, not the Secretary of State in DCMS. That is because the National Lottery Community Fund is the main distributor of the funding and the accounting officer for the dormant asset funds, so there is also a read-through to the spend organisations on additionality, which I think was implicit in her remarks.

I absolutely respect the noble Baronesses’ and other noble Lords’ wish to get real clarity on what we mean by this principle but I hope that noble Lords will, on reflection, agree that the current definition gives a useful degree of flexibility. At one end of the spectrum, there are social and environmental causes that are clearly for government to fund, but, as the Covid pandemic has shown, there are areas in the economy that most of us would never have expected to receive government funding that have now received it, for example the furlough scheme. So we have flexibility depending on pandemics and other economic circumstances on where government funds, and that is well captured in the definition as we have it.

I propose to provide a couple of example of how the additionality principle has worked to date. I do not intend to be comprehensive but to show how it has worked in practice because I think that concern that it could in some way be departed from was behind a number of your Lordships’ comments, and I hope to reassure them that that is absolutely not the case.

The most obvious example of the principle is that it allows the scheme to fund something that would normally be seen as outside the scope of government intervention. A good example of that was the creation of the world’s first social investment wholesaler, Big Society Capital, which used a combination of dormant assets and leveraged private co-investment to make it happen. As another example, the principle of additionality could enable dormant assets funding to test interventions and gather evidence that could then be used as a model for other funders. For example, Big Society Capital and its associated fund managers have worked for a long time on homelessness using innovative social investment.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Moved by
1: Clause 29, page 22, line 13, at end insert—
“(1A) An order under this section may enable the creation of funds (to be known as “community wealth funds”) that may make grants and other payments to support the provision of social infrastructure to further the wellbeing of communities suffering from high levels of deprivation and low levels of social infrastructure.(1B) The Secretary of State may—(a) by order create one or more community wealth funds for a temporary period of at least 10 years, and(b) at the end of that period review the efficacy of the community wealth funds with a view to creating community wealth funds on a permanent basis.(1C) In subsection (1A), “social infrastructure” means—(a) buildings or other assets owned or managed by organisations located in communities for the purposes of local residents’ meeting, socialising, accessing educational resources, or conducting other activities to improve their wellbeing, or(b) organisations, whether incorporated or unincorporated, existing for the purposes set out in paragraph (a), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (i) or (j) of section 3(1) of the Charities Act 2011.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would enable orders under Clause 29 to create community wealth funds as a means of tackling deprivation and building social infrastructure in left-behind communities. It would mandate the Secretary of State to establish and review the effectiveness of one or more pilot schemes which would run over at least ten years.
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his first outing on the Bill. Before I get into the body of the amendment, I perhaps ought to declare an interest. I am a member of several boards of charities, and I work for a charity, so I am rather hoping that if we endorse this amendment, those charities might at some point benefit from it. Nevertheless, it is an interest to be declared.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for leading this debate in Committee, when he proposed what could be called a “full-fat” version of the community wealth fund initiative. In Committee, the Government argued that the local trust proposals, while interesting, are not sufficiently worked through, meaning that the DCMS is not in a position to make community wealth funds a beneficiary of dormant asset funds at this time.

Amendment 1 suggests a reasonable compromise and, on that basis, we hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment. The text would give the Government the power to establish a long-term pilot scheme, enabling small-scale investments to be made in local communities that have been left behind in recent years and for data relating to the social impact of those investments to be gathered and analysed. The amendment does not compel Her Majesty’s Government to act but gives them the tools needed to commission such a pilot.

The Government’s stated commitment to the levelling- up agenda was very much at the centre of their 2019 election campaign and, of course, they have subsequently argued strongly in favour of levelling up in many different guises and fora—we await anxiously, with bated breath and much anticipation, the arrival of the White Paper—so it is hard to see any reason why DCMS should exclude itself from that policy process and not agree to trial the community wealth fund approach.

My argument is simply that the proposal could act as a powerful tool in boosting deprived areas, putting small sums of money in communities’ hands so that they can invest in the facilities or services that would have the most local benefit—perhaps subsidising a community hall, running adult learning classes, supporting skills and training hubs and sports facilities, and improving digital connectivity. I am sure we could all come up with a long list of things that could directly benefit communities that have been left behind and require levelling up.

The other feature of this, which speaks to the amendment, is that much of the Government’s funding so far announced for levelling-up programmes is focused from the centre, so it is directed and targeted at precise places and communities. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the community wealth fund, if trialled and piloted in the right way, would put money directly into the hands of communities that sought to benefit from them, giving a sort of bottom-up approach, one that I believe most of us in your Lordships’ House would very much support.

Stakeholders have repeatedly signalled a willingness to discuss their idea with Ministers. They are realistic about the difficulties of adopting community wealth funds with a big bang approach, which in my view adds rather more weight to the proposal for a time-limited series of low-risk pilots.

Finally, while I am on this point, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, who has made a valedictory speech and is therefore unable to contribute to this debate. We are grateful for her support for this amendment, as well as that of the Bishops at large. We are also, of course, very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for her wider service in your Lordships’ House.

We see this amendment as part of a levelling-up agenda and a way of empowering communities, as well as an opportunity to trial new and innovative ways of funding communities. We believe that this has a low-risk attached to it but would nevertheless give a boost, and some inspiration and thinking, to local wealth creation. I beg to move.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I am very delighted to support this amendment. My colleagues and I are great believers in empowering local communities. Indeed, in my years as an MP, I saw a number of local initiatives, driven by local people and community groups, that did some extremely good work but could not cope with the mutual demands of both providing their services and fundraising, so they were unable to grow to that kind of sustainable point that was so important in the community. It seems to me that the community wealth fund gives opportunities to those new initiatives, driven by local people, targeted very much towards the members of the local community and very much reflecting local need. It would seem ideal to do this under the structure of the dormant assets programme.

I have two other reasons for feeling that this is important. Later on Report, we will address issues of oversight over the kind of programmes funded through dormant assets. But it seems to me that there is no way that that issue can be addressed without recognising that the kind of resources for the detailed scrutiny and monitoring of programmes is in short supply. It seems to me that, when you have small local programmes, a well-structured community wealth fund arrangement can put in place that administrative oversight and make sure that, locally, the funds are well spent, provide value for money and are properly targeted. So that level of administration in fact makes up for a much broader weakness, frankly, within the overall dormant assets structure.

I am also very pleased to look at a pilot approach—this will be a case of trialling, reshaping and refining—because I am concerned to make sure that the money derived from the dormant asset funds is used in addition to the kind of services that ought to be provided, whether by central or local government. It will be really important for an entity such as the community wealth fund to work in tandem with local authorities but not substituting for what they can or should be doing. We do not want duplication of administration or service, and we certainly do not want to give central government an opportunity to further reduce the resources that it provides to local authorities on the grounds that the dormant asset fund and various charitable and local civic societies will do the work in its place and not require the normal support and resource that ought to be provided.

It therefore seems to me that this is very much a win-win approach, and I hope that the Government will take it on board. The Bill is an opportunity to expand what has been a very successful programme in significant additional directions, and this is certainly one of them.

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In conclusion, we are not opposed to the concept of a community wealth fund, but for the reasons I have set out, we are not able to accept the noble Lord’s amendment. We are clear that a consultation is the best way to agree future spend priorities for England. Should the consultation process find that community wealth funds are indeed the best use of dormant-assets funding, the Bill is already designed to provide the most appropriate avenue to make that a reality. In this spirit of enabling everyone interested to have their say, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. With the exception of the Minister—although not entirely with the exception of the Minister—all have been rather in support of the amendment. I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say, and by the end of his speech I was almost convinced that he was going to agree with our side of the argument.

The key to this amendment is one word, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, touched on it: the word “may”. This amendment is extraordinarily modest. It just says to the Government, “Look, you may do this; you don’t have to”. For me, that is the key, because the Government may do it after a period of consultation. It does not seem to me to be a great leap of faith to encourage the creation of community wealth funds for social infrastructure in having the consultation that can take place at any time, where this provision actually enables the Government to be more active in supporting, if they wish at some later stage, the introduction of pilots running community wealth funds.

Noble Lords have all spoken to the importance of creating social infrastructure. That is what this amendment seeks to do, through ensuring that we create community wealth funds. That is the part that particularly attracts me to it, because in my day job as an employee of Business in the Community we seek to create levelling up through work in places. One essential thing we do not have ready access to is good, robust, sustainable funding. In future, I can see community wealth funds becoming exactly that.

It is critical that we provide communities with that hope and potential. Many of our poorest communities do not have the capacity to generate funds or the social infrastructure to enable them to develop as communities and grow the resilience and strength they need. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, touched on this rather well in talking about her experiences during lockdown. I experienced similar feelings; well-managed, manicured open spaces provide you with a lifeline, inspiration and an ability to go out, enjoy fresh air and breathe and live again. Many of us had that experience, particularly during the first lockdown. Those things and places need nurturing and looking after. They are community assets, and something like community wealth funds will ensure that they are there and are well managed and looked after.

I will not detain the House too much longer. The noble Lord’s primary argument against the amendment was consultation. There is no reason why that cannot take place. It is already taking place. He also said that the power is already there; why not use this clause as a way of driving that and supplementing the power that is already there? It is useful in highlighting the importance and value of creating those community assets and ensuring that we have social infrastructure that works for local communities.

At an earlier stage of the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, suggested that the ideas were not yet perfected. I do not think that is the case. That now seems to have fallen away from the Government’s range of arguments. I agree with the Minister that we need sustainable, long-term funding models. Some of those already exist, but this would add to and empower local communities in a very specific and direct way. It would not be top-down, but bottom-up. It would enable communities to thrive and do much to tackle the long-outstanding needs of some of those communities which are obviously in urgent need of levelling up.

For those reasons, I wish to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to commend the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on her alertness in uncovering this issue, and to make a very simple comparison with something that has occupied a great deal of time in your Lordships’ House lately: the water companies, and what we have seen happen with them, with, very often, hedge fund owners involved, massive profits being taken out and massive loads of debt. This is a terribly important amendment. I regret not attaching my name to it. I certainly would have done had I been alerted to it earlier. This is terribly important, and I encourage the noble Baroness to keep pushing.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not have a great deal to add. The argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is very sound and was well made and well researched. We had an interesting debate on this topic in Grand Committee, and I am grateful to our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches for allowing us to return to it through this reformulated amendment.

During the previous debate, examples were raised of organisations that are not social enterprises or charities, but which nevertheless deliver public good through the use of dormant assets funding. This new amendment captures that reality, while introducing the safeguard that these funds, which are finite and will be highly sought after, are not used to enhance investors’ returns, where that may be a concern.

I do not really understand why the Government should not write this kind of safeguard into the Bill. Failing that, will the Minister put something on the record that will provide us with some comfort? We need that reassurance, protection and level of accountability.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, a number of noble Lords tabled and signed amendments in Committee which sought to broaden the range of consultees listed in Clause 29 of the Bill, which I believe remains the primary intention of this group of amendments. We share the view about the importance of considering how dormant assets funding can be used most effectively, and we are keen to get a wide range of views to help shape our position, as I said in previous debates. That is why we have consistently committed to launching a public consultation on the social or environmental focus of the English portion of funding before the first order is laid under Clause 29.

In response to the multiple calls which have been made in your Lordships’ House, we are happy to formalise this commitment in legislation. Amendment 3, in my name, therefore makes a public consultation a requirement before any changes can be made to the focus of the English portion of funds now or in the future. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for adding his name and the support of Her Majesty’s Opposition to our amendment.

Amendment 3 takes the broadest and most inclusive approach to ensuring that the scheme benefits the most pressing social or environmental priorities in England. The Government plan to launch the first of these consultations after the Bill receives Royal Assent and are happy to commit to this lasting at least 12 weeks. Our amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the National Lottery Community Fund, as the named distributor of dormant assets funding, about a draft of this order. The order would then be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses through the draft affirmative procedure. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lady Merron, who signed Amendment 4 but is unable to participate in today’s debate. I should explain that one of our concerns has been a lack of clarity around future consultation. We have already had some discussion this afternoon about consultation, and, of course, it was raised by a number of colleagues during the Bill’s Second Reading and featured fairly heavily during the debates in Grand Committee.

On the face of it, we do not really understand why Amendment 4, which lists a variety of topics and proposed participants, is not acceptable to the Government, but we are nevertheless grateful to the Minister for tabling Amendment 3. For that reason, I agreed to co-sign it on behalf of our Benches. That amendment ensures that there will have to be a full public consultation, as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, has already described, which will have to take place before uses for dormant assets funds are determined in regulations.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for tabling Amendment 5, which seeks to ensure that future consultations include consideration of the merits of establishing community wealth funds. This is a good addition, and we hope that the Minister can address this point explicitly in his response—not least, of course, because we have passed and supported the community wealth fund amendment this afternoon.

I am therefore looking for further reassurance from the Minister that the public consultation will be run in accordance with Cabinet Office best practice, including the Secretary of State being proactive when engaging with charities and social enterprises, rather than merely posting a notice online. We are satisfied by the Government’s amendment, but we would like to see them go further. I guess that our amendment is inviting them to flesh out exactly how they see this working in some more detail.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 4, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 5 in my name, which augments the original amendment by ensuring that the consultation makes specific reference to community wealth funds as a potential beneficiary of dormant assets.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and my noble friend Lord Blunkett for their support—and to the Government for listening to at least some of what we said in Committee about consultation so that, as we have heard, the Bill now makes clear that there will be a public consultation. I am very grateful to the Minister for, first, finding the time to have a word about this yesterday and, secondly, for confirming on the record that the consultation will last for at least 12 weeks, which I and others pressed for in Committee.

I will simply speak to Amendment 5, about the explicit reference to community wealth funds. When this was raised in Committee, the then Minister’s initial response was that she was unable to give any reassurance because:

“We need a collective agreement on what goes into any consultation document”.—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. GC 99.]


But when I read that in Hansard, I realised that I did not really understand what she meant. Collective among whom? Could the Minister please explain? Could we not collectively agree today that the consultation should include specific reference to community wealth funds because, otherwise, many of those consulted might not have heard of them and only those who already know about them would be in a position to support them?

In doing so, I do not think it excludes other possible uses of the fund. The Minister raised this fear in his response to Amendment 1, but having a consultation that does not put out some options will not be terribly useful. Therefore, all we are asking is that he makes clear that this is one of the options and that the consultation would explain what community wealth funds are.

When I pressed the then Minister, she made a commitment to consider the community wealth fund proposal

“as we review the range of questions that go into the consultation.”—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. GC 100.]

Can the Minister reconfirm that commitment? Regardless of what happens to Amendment 1 when it is sent to the Commons, it is important that the consultation on the use of the new dormant assets includes explicit reference to a proposal that has such widespread support from national civil society organisations.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, this amendment deals with additionality. It was the intent of the original Bill, which placed a responsibility on the Big Lottery Fund alone to ensure that the moneys were additional to expenditures that one would expect a government department to make; I assume that means any level of department, including local authorities. That seems to be a fundamental concept which sits behind the dormant assets fund. In our early discussions, the Government constantly confirmed that the principle of additionality was an immovable one for this Act.

One should always spend some time looking at government websites. I was slightly surprised to find a government announcement from June 2021 of financial support for voluntary community and social enterprises, to enable them to respond to the coronavirus. This was a very good thing which I have no criticism of; however, according to the announcement:

“The government has pledged £750 million to ensure VCSE can continue their vital work supporting the country during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including £200 million for the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, along with an additional £150 million from dormant bank and building society accounts”.


In other words, that means dormant asset funds. Technically, this does not say that the Government have said to the folks at the dormant asset funds, “We want £150 million from you to support this activity, because we don’t really want to put in more than £750 million”, but it is a very grey area. Anyone reading this would assume that the Government were announcing what they would regard as the use of funds under their control.

I am very concerned, because additionality can be a very grey area. What should be the responsibility of the local authority of a particular government department? What should be the add-on which comes from the dormant assets fund, with its focus on supporting the additionality that is provided by the charity and social enterprise sectors? Therefore, I have very quickly drafted an amendment requiring the Secretary of State to certify that as far as he knows, the additionality principle is in play. I am slightly surprised that the Government have not said, “The Secretary of State only wants this to be additionality and is delighted to sign a piece of paper confirming that this is how the money will be used.”

That is the rationale behind this important amendment. From the announcement I read a moment ago, it is not difficult to see that the creep across the boundary is relatively easy. The initial dormant assets fund was under £1 billion. The new assets that will be brought into scope as a consequence of this Bill amount to a minimum of an additional £2 billion. As expansion goes beyond that, that number will keep increasing, so we are talking about very large amounts of money. The Treasury could view this as an opportunity to constrain public sector debt or to enhance particular spending programmes.

It is very important that we get an assurance from the Minister that this amendment is not needed, otherwise, it will be necessary for me to press it. I have been listening to the response from the Minister, but my noble friend Lady Barker, who is a specialist in this field and far more expert than I, will be the person who is really listening. I will see whether she is satisfied—if not, I will ask the House to pronounce on something that I believe is fundamental.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, this is an important topic. It took quite a bit of our time in Committee, has been raised again today and runs as a thread through our concerns. We have had some discussion with the Minister between stages, and useful discussion it was.

We acknowledge that additionality has been built into Amendment 7 in the next group, but we are very sympathetic to the call from the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Barker, for the Secretary of State to certify as part of the regulation-making process that funds will indeed be on top of existing government commitments. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has made quite a compelling argument. Dormant assets are going to grow. There are many other sources of dormant assets not included within the current scheme. I could see a hungry Treasury, worried about the supply of funds in the future, seeking to make use of substitute funding from dormant assets. I think we will need to be thoroughly convinced by the words of the Minister this afternoon if he is to avoid us having a further Division.

If the Government have no plans to pull accounting tricks, I would have thought that there was no issue with accepting this amendment or perhaps introducing a new text either at Third Reading or when the Bill moves to the House of Commons to put this issue beyond doubt. That is what I am listening for this afternoon and hoping to hear from the noble Lord.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I wish to add two points to those made by my noble friend Lady Kramer. It is right that in the next government amendment there is reference to a report and the additionality principle being included in that report. The reason why we drafted this amendment in the way we did was the requirement for the Secretary of State to certify the matter. One of the criticisms that was initially made of this Bill by the Delegated Powers Committee was the number of Henry VIII powers being assumed by the Minister.

The second reason is that the next government amendment refers to:

“Periodic review and report to Parliament”.


It does not say what those periods should be. Therefore, we are trying to deal with exactly the sort of scenario outlined by my noble friend Lady Kramer, where the Government suddenly dip into this back pocket of money and start to use it. That is the reason why it is there and why we think it is so important.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their amendments in this area and for the issues raised in Committee and during meetings with me and my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Barran. We have carefully considered the different concerns raised about the need for the dormant assets scheme to be periodically reviewed and reported on to Parliament. We have both heard the strength of feeling about the importance of transparency, and welcome and echo the enthusiasm for maintaining momentum beyond this phase of expansion.

That is why the Government have brought forward Amendment 7, as many noble Lords invited us to do in Committee, which would require the Secretary of State to review and report on various aspects of the scheme on an ongoing basis. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for adding his name to it.

Our amendment mirrors Section 14 of the 2008 Act, which some amendments tabled in Committee also sought to replicate. It goes further, however, responding to noble Lords’ calls for maintaining momentum for further scheme expansion, greater transparency over the use of funds as well as reporting on how the principle of additionality has been met. We heard in the debate on the last amendment about the importance of ensuring that this principle flows through to not only the National Lottery Community Fund but any new or additional distributors, were there to be any. To clarify, the National Lottery Community Fund is the only named distributor, and the four independent organisations receive funding from it rather than being named distributors themselves under the Act.

I would also like to draw noble Lords’ attention to the very deliberate phrasing of subsection (7)(d)(i) of our Amendment 7, which refers to any distributor or distributors named in Section 16(1) of the 2008 Act. We have done that, rather than specify the National Lottery Community Fund, so that in the event that a distributor is changed—which Section 24 of the 2008 Act allows the Secretary of State to do as well as allowing them to make consequential amendments to Schedule 3 to ensure that the principle of additionality similarly applies—this would ensure that it is still covered by our Amendment 7.

Amendment 7 will require the Secretary of State to carry out periodic reviews of specified matters, including the operation of the scheme from transfer to reclaim; the effectiveness of tracing and reunification efforts by scheme participants; and any efforts to expand it to include new dormant assets. The amendment will require the results of the review to be laid in a report before Parliament within three years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent and every five years thereafter. This is in line with Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton.

In Committee, my noble friend Lady Barran explained that a number of mechanisms for reviewing and reporting on various aspects of the scheme already exist. We agree, however, with the helpful suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that it is sensible to bring these together in one place. Therefore, Amendment 7 also requires the report laid before Parliament to include information about the uses of dormant assets money, including the principle of additionality. This will build on reports already published by Reclaim Fund Ltd and work done by the National Lottery Community Fund and, currently, the Oversight Trust, which oversees the four existing distribution organisations, to assess the scheme’s impact.

I hope that this amendment provides reassurance that the Government are committed to ensuring the ongoing success of the scheme and reflects a number of the helpful suggestions that noble Lords have made in our debates on the Bill hitherto. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I should first say that our amendment, signed by me and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, was an attempt to combine different aspects of previous amendments into a single text. The result is, as noble Lords can see, a fairly lengthy shopping list. The thing about shopping lists is that something is always forgotten; something always falls off the end. That makes their operability in legislation perhaps less than perfect.

We envisaged, in construct, that the amendment would cover what had happened during the relevant period and whether the funding was delivering on the scheme’s priorities. So, we are grateful—I am certainly very grateful—to the Minister for his constructive approach to discussions since taking up his post. I believe that Amendment 7 represents a fair compromise. I think the Minister has said the reports will combine information that was already available from other sources —annual reports et cetera—but also require the Secretary of State to go somewhat further, including by giving information on whether and how the additionality principle has been adhered to. We have heard in earlier debates how important that is.

We hoped to gain more from the Government, including more concrete data on the contribution that funds make to people and communities subject to high levels of deprivation and inequality, but I am sure that there will be further consideration of such issues in the other place, and perhaps in our debates here as well, as this legislation kicks in. I am impressed with the approach the Government have taken, and they have certainly listened to our Committee considerations, taking on board the core of what we are after. Nothing is ever perfect, but this goes a long way in the right direction. While I would have preferred our amendment, I was more than happy to sign up to the Government’s, as it represented real progress in the way we considered the Bill.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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My Lords, as I am sure the Minister has noted, there were significant contributions about review in the earlier stages of the Bill. It is in that vein that these Benches worked with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on Amendment 8. Like him, I still prefer some of the content of Amendment 8 and wish to try to establish how far the wording of the relevant bits of the amendment put forward by the Government delivers similar things. I appreciate the efforts which have been made, in the review amendments and concerning consultation but, as has already been aired by my noble friends, there are certain things which do not appear necessarily to carry through exactly as expected.

First, can the Government say whether their review can do everything envisaged by Amendment 8? Further, is there appetite to cover everything covered by Amendment 8? The first difference was on timing. The Minister said that they would broadly follow the three-year and five-year timing proposed in Amendment 8, which is one tick. The next big difference is whether the review will cover the worthiness of the expenditure and whether—as in subsection (2)(b) of the new clause proposed by Amendment 8—the expenditure has met the scheme’s underlying objectives, particularly the criteria listed in subsection (2)(c) addressing deprivation, inequality, the capacity of social enterprise and charity, and the principle of additionality. I am particularly interested in these policy criteria because the wording of the consultation introduced by Amendment 3—which we broadly support—nevertheless leaves an open question about what the conclusion of that consultation will be. It could change the direction of policy. One could say that it is acceptable that a public consultation is used to change the direction of policy, but is that what the previous consultation paved the way toward, when it consulted about whether further dormant assets should be incorporated into the scheme, as had been successfully done for bank deposits? It seems that public consent, in essence, was given to the first Act on the basis of additionality and the worthiness of the public goods undertaken with the money. If there was a substantive change from that, the public might be surprised, even if it was the result of a consultation held with many more responses coming from well-funded private enterprises and the “usual suspects”, in the terminology that we have adopted.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I want to add just a word or two. My noble friend Lady Barker said that the Oversight Trust had relatively few staff; my understanding is that it has one staff member. I have great respect for the trustees; they are highly capable, totally dedicated people. But resource matters when you are dealing with a complex world. The original oversight body was designed to cope with a situation in which the amount of money in play was relatively small—under £1 billion—and the primary recipients of the end funds were going to be charities and social enterprises. The Charity Commission is involved in the disciplinary process, and there are clear structures that social enterprises have to follow if they are formally to be social enterprises.

We now all accept that the Government consider that the language allows for-profit companies to be recipients of the funds, provided they are mission focused—although nobody can tell me what mission focused looks like. If you are looking at the statutes of a particular company, there is no formal constraint on what is paid to directors in the form of salaries, no definition of acceptable returns to the original investors, and new distributors can be added. We are talking now about a pool of assets of a minimum of £2 billion, and that is just stage 1—it could easily expand to £4 billion, £7 billion, £8 billion or even £10 billion as more and more entities or organisations are captured within the scope of those eligible to provide dormant assets to the fund.

This is an attempt to ask the Government to set up a structured review to make sure that the Oversight Trust has the capacity that it needs, recognising the significant increase in complexity and responsibility. That is not in any way to denigrate anybody who is involved today with the Oversight Trust. I do not know how they do it, frankly, with one staff person. The time has come for expansion of this group, and what we are listening for from the Government is real recognition of the importance of detailed oversight.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, our colleagues on the Lib Dem Benches have made a pretty compelling case here. It is obviously good that we have the Oversight Trust but, with a staff complement of one, anything it does will be light touch. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, makes quite a lot of sense in terms of reviewing arrangements and determining whether further legislation is needed to improve its effectiveness. For that reason, we happily support this amendment.

If the Minister cannot accept the amendment as drafted, perhaps he can explain to the House how the matter is to be kept under review, and how the Oversight Trust can be strengthened to ensure that it does its work, because, clearly, oversight is very important in all of this. We need to have that assurance and guarantee that things are as they should be.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass and, in doing so, take the opportunity to thank noble Lords from all sides of your Lordships’ House for their interest and contributions to the progress of the Bill so far. I am grateful for the scrutiny that they have brought, and the co-operative and constructive spirit in which the debates have taken place. I am also grateful for the broad cross-party support that the Bill has received so far. It is clear that all corners of your Lordships’ House share the same ambition to ensure the scheme’s continued success in unlocking dormant assets for public good.

I first thank my noble friend Lady Barran, who expertly led the Bill through Second Reading and Committee. I am very grateful for the opportunity to follow in her capable footsteps. I pay tribute also to the Front Benches opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, have helpfully challenged the Government’s approach, and I thank them for the collaborative way in which they have done so. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Kramer, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, for all their invaluable contributions, which have been detailed and thoughtful. Noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House have contributed to a rich discussion on the Bill, and I am very grateful for all the points which have been raised.

As ever, I am grateful to the House authorities and parliamentary staff for their hard work behind the scenes. I acknowledge the extraordinary work of the officials who have worked so hard on the Bill for many months: the Bill team, the policy teams at DCMS and at Her Majesty’s Treasury, the lawyers in both departments, my own private office, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the clerks in this place.

I take this opportunity to clarify aspects of the debate on Report regarding the additionality principle, an issue I discussed with the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Kramer. Section 24 of the 2008 Act empowers the Secretary of State to add or remove named distributors of dormant assets funding. Currently, the only named distributor is the National Lottery Community Fund, and all funds, including those distributed through the four independent spend organisations in England, flow through it. Section 24 also provides for making consequential amendments, including to Schedule 3, where responsibility for reporting on the additionality principle is set out.

The Government consider additionality to be critical to the scheme’s success, and we have reiterated this position throughout our debates on the Bill. Indeed, we are clear that the voluntary participation of the industry is dependent on it. While we emphasise that there are no plans to change or add new distributors, I can reassure noble Lords that it is the Government’s policy that any new distributor added should be required to report on this principle in the same way that the fund is required to do so now.

The dormant assets scheme has spent the last decade working to tackle systemic social and environmental challenges and to level up communities which need it most. This Bill is set to unlock almost £1 billion of additional funding to ensure that the scheme continues to support innovative, long-term initiatives that seek to address some of the UK’s most important challenges.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister will be pleased to hear that I will be brief, but some thanks are worth echoing. I thank the Minister; it is never easy taking up another person’s Bill halfway through. I have had to do it myself and, at times, I lurched from being completely out of my depth to being a total shambles, so I know how it feels. The noble Lord was neither of those things; he was courteous and considerate of the points that we made and the amendments we moved.

Like the noble Lord I am delighted that we are moving to unlock previously untapped assets. I hope that the next iteration of this legislation—this is, after all, the second Bill on dormant assets—will bring forward even more dormancy and unlock it, so that communities can benefit.

I also thank the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for her time spent on the Bill. She was, like him, very courteous and open-minded about ways in which we can forge improvements. She was also willing to meet and discuss aspects of the legislation. I echo his thanks to my noble friend Lady Merron—my good friend—for her part in this. It is always a pleasure to work with her. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Barker, on the Lib Dem Benches, who also played an active and energetic part.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, played a decisive role on Report in helping to support the amendment that we sponsored on the community wealth fund, for which there was all-party support. Before the Commons is invited to reject that amendment, I suggest to the Minister that it might be an idea to sponsor some discussion between his ministerial colleagues and other Benches in your Lordships’ House to see if there is a way in which we can find some common ground on this—because I am very persuaded, as I know others are, of the benefit of the community wealth fund as a way forward. As he said, these resources can do a lot to take forward the shared agenda of levelling up and bring additional resources to bear in hard-pressed communities. We for our part would be very happy to meet and discuss this to see what common ground we can secure, because this is an important opportunity for us all, if we want to make it stick.

We wish the Bill well. It has been improved by your Lordships’ House, not just by the amendment on the community wealth fund but in other aspects as well. I thank the Minister for his comments on additionality, which will be very helpful. I am happy to support the Bill as it goes on its way.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I express the gratitude of the Labour Benches to the Government for the progress made on the Bill and the valuable update that the Minister has given us this afternoon. I am particularly pleased that the Government have brought back an amendment covering the dormant assets scheme, although I rather agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that it is a shame that it was watered down, particularly regarding community wealth funds.

When the Bill was in your Lordships’ House we were able to reach agreement over periodic reviews of the dormant assets scheme and subsequent reporting to Parliament, which will keep us abreast of how much has been raised and how those funds have been put to good use, which is valuable information for us. During its passage through the Commons, the Government outlined some of the options to be explored in the forthcoming consultation that the Minister referred to, including making a specific reference to community wealth funds. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I would have liked to have seen work beginning on that, but at least we have got it into the consultative framework.

For our part, we continue to believe that community wealth funds should have significant value in communities across the country, particularly in those areas underserved by other government schemes and/or third-sector organisations. I remain grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Barker, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely, who spoke in favour of the community wealth fund amendment on Report, as well as to the former Bishop of Newcastle, who I hope is now enjoying the first fruits of the early stages of her retirement.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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Is this an appropriate moment to reflect on the roots of where we are today on dormant assets, and to put on record again the part played by Frank Field—the noble Lord, Lord Field—all those years ago in pressing to get this off the ground and to get the original legislation that we are now updating?

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for his support on that point.

We on our Benches look forward to the consultation in due course and hope that the department will continue to engage with proponents of community wealth funds. Such funds could play an interesting and, we think, valuable role in levelling up and empowering local communities seeking their own solutions to local problems, a feature of the White Paper that we very much endorse.

May I use this occasion to ask the Minister what the Government intend to do to ensure that we continue to widen the potential scope for unlocking other dormant assets? Here I am thinking of Oyster cards, proceeds from crime funds, unclaimed pensions and unused insurance. It is worth reminding ourselves that the independent commission report identified some £715 million from investments and wealth management, £550 million from the pensions and insurance sectors, £150 million from securities, and £140 million from banks and building societies. Unlocking that sort of wealth unlocks a lot of power and gives great potential for social benefit. These are not inconsiderable sums of money, and if put in the right place and adapted, used and adopted for levelling up, they could leverage in bigger sums still for the hard-pressed communities that we want to see levelled up in the next few years.

We are again grateful to the Government for what they have done in improving the Bill. Your Lordships’ House played a valuable and valid part in that process. We are slightly underwhelmed by what has come back, but we are extremely grateful.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their remarks, which reflect the cross-party work that has improved this Bill throughout its passage and the interest that it has garnered from all corners for the benefits that it will bring. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for reminding the House of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, and indeed many others who have played close attention to this issue for a long time.

To respond to the questions and points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, we recognise that the provisions that were inserted on Report in your Lordships’ House were permissive, but the Government contend that Amendment 3 is preferable in three main ways. First and foremost, it fulfils our commitment to consult openly; we have emphasised throughout the passage of the Bill that the consultation must be fair and transparent, and we remain mindful of the need to bring industry along with us alongside civil society and the general public. We cannot therefore agree to any amendment that would suggest that the process would be undercut.

Secondly, it recognises the widespread support and positive impact that the current causes of youth, financial inclusion and social investment have had. I am sure that noble Lords did not intend to imply that those would be disregarded, but the provisions that were inserted on Report in your Lordships’ House were silent on those and thereby afforded community wealth funds more legislative attention than those initiatives.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My noble friend raises an interesting point that has not been made hitherto during the passage of the Bill, but I know that he speaks with considerable experience from his time working with TfL. If he allows me, I will write to him with further information about the implications for Oyster cards, which is a matter that has not been covered. It may have been covered in another place, but I have not seen whether that is the case.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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I remind the noble Lord that he did not answer my last question regarding reviewing the future of other dormant assets. If he is unable to do so at this point, I am happy to receive correspondence on the topic.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for not responding to his question. We share the view that it is important to consider how dormant assets funding can be used most effectively. We are keen to get a wide range of views to help shape our position from Parliament through the Select Committees in both Houses. I will certainly write to him with further details if I am able to provide them.

I can tell my noble friend Lord Moylan that Oyster cards are not in scope of the Bill, which is why the point has not been raised hitherto. I will, however, take it back, and if there is any further information to furnish him with, I will do so. I repeat my thanks to noble Lords for the cross-party working on the Bill.