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Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Volume 816: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

Third Reading


Moved by

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.

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.

My Lords, I also thank very much the Minister, his predecessor—the noble Baroness, Lady Barran—and the team. As is always the case with a Bill that is very technical and arcane, they had to display endless patience with the opposition as we painstakingly made our way to the place that they were already at. I also thank my noble friends Lady Bowles and Lady Kramer, who brought to the Bill a completely fresh eye from the financial sector and who set a very high standard of scrutiny for a Bill that is normally given over to those of us interested in the world of charity.

We achieved three things during the passage of the Bill. First, we made it clear that this is not simply an exercise in spending dormant money because it is there. We made sure that the scheme is about achieving impacts on financial inclusion in areas of deprivation. Secondly, we enabled it to be run using far more difficult asset classes than just bank accounts, and we made sure that the reporting systems for that were fit for purpose. Thirdly, we made sure that everyone involved in the scheme is under a duty to report—this is about additionality, not giving the Government a fund that they can dip into in difficult times.

In years to come, we will have reports from the disbursing body and the Secretary of State that I hope will show the impact of this, particularly in one respect: the endeavour to get rid of moneylenders in poor communities. If we achieve that, we will together have achieved something good and which we can be proud to support.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments, and I echo the tributes that they paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and many others who contributed to the debates on this.

I will certainly discuss the point that the noble Lord raised with my honourable friend Nigel Huddleston, the Minister with responsibility for the Bill, in his capacity as Minister for Charities and Civil Society, as we just heard in Questions. I am sure that he will want to continue the discussions that we have had on community wealth funds as the Bill goes to another place but, as I say, I am very grateful that it does so with genuine cross-party support and a fair wind behind it. I grateful to all noble Lords who have ensured that this is so.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.