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Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2022

Commons Amendments

Motion on Amendments 1 to 4

Moved by

1: Clause 12, page 12, line 6, at end insert—

“(4A) The reference in subsection (4)(b) to money that could be transferred as mentioned in section 8(1)(a) includes money held by an investment institution that is not within the definition in section 8(3) which—

(a) is proceeds of the conversion by the investment institution of a collective scheme investment into a right to payment of an amount, and

(b) could, if it were held by an investment institution falling within section 8(3), be transferred as mentioned in section 8(1)(a).”

2: Clause 29, page 22, line 12, leave out subsections (2) to (4),

3: Clause 29, page 22, line 38, at end insert—

“(6A) In carrying out the first public consultation under subsection (3)(a) the Secretary of State must invite views as to whether the permitted distributions should be, or include, any one or more of the following—

(a) distributions for the purpose of the provision of services, facilities or opportunities to meet the needs of young people;

(b) distributions for the purpose of the development of individuals’ ability to manage their finances or the improvement of access to personal financial services;

(c) distributions to social investment wholesalers (within the meaning of section 18);

(d) distributions to community wealth funds.

(6B) For the purposes of subsection (3A) “community wealth fund” means a fund which gives long term financial support (whether directly or indirectly) for the provision of local amenities or other social infrastructure.”

4: Clause 34, page 26, line 3, leave out subsection (8)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 to 4. In doing so, I will briefly summarise the changes which have been made to the Bill since last it was before your Lordships’ House. All of the amendments which have been made were brought forward by Her Majesty’s Government and garnered support across all parties in another place. Commons Amendment 1 is minor and technical, responding to a drafting issue that was helpfully highlighted by the Investment Association in its written evidence to the Public Bill Committee. Amendments 2 and 3 respond to the lengthy debates on how dormant assets money should best be spent, and specifically the calls to establish a community wealth fund. Amendment 4 is wholly procedural and removes the privilege amendment made in your Lordships’ House, as is the procedure in these cases.

First, I will speak to Amendment 1. This is a minor and technical government amendment which is required to uphold the key principle of full restitution: to ensure that people can reclaim the amount owed had the transfer to the scheme not happened. This amendment clarifies that money derived from collective scheme investments cannot be transferred into the scheme as client money. This is in response to feedback we received from the Investment Association during the passage of the Bill, and we thank it for its helpful feedback on this issue.

Without this amendment, there would be an unintended loophole where ISA fund managers and investment platforms that hold collective scheme investments, and are able to convert them to cash, would be able to transfer this money into the dormant assets scheme under client money clauses. The investment and wealth management clauses of the Bill recognise the fluctuating market value of investments by entitling owners of dormant collective scheme investments to reclaim the value of the share or unit at the point of reclaim. In contrast, the right to reclaim under client money clauses does not account for the market value, as the asset is already held in cash. We believe that this applies to a small number of cases. However, if relevant institutions have the contractual cover to sell the asset on behalf of its owner and transfer the funds to the scheme as client money, this would mean that the owner would be treated differently from if their dormant asset had been transferred under the investment and wealth management clauses. Remedying this discrepancy protects the vital principle of the scheme: full restitution. It ensures that the collective scheme investments are excluded from the client money clauses, so that the owners of these dormant assets will not be treated differently depending on which type of investment institution happened to hold it for them. Unfortunately, this will have the effect of excluding collective scheme investments held by investment platforms and ISA fund managers from the scheme at this time. Bringing them into scope would require complex technical work, and we are working with the industry to understand if and how this can be accomplished in future under the power to extend the scheme through regulations. We thank our industry partners again for their thoughtful and very helpful feedback on this issue.

I now turn to Amendments 2 and 3. As noble Lords know, a key topic of debate throughout the passage of the Bill has been the proposal to use dormant assets funding to establish community wealth funds in England. We have heard, both here and in the other place, the merits of considering this model, not least from the former Bishop of Newcastle before she left your Lordships’ House. This is a model whereby left-behind communities are empowered to make their own decisions on how best to develop vital social infrastructure in their local areas. This kind of devolved and very local decision-making is, of course, a key tenet of the Government’s levelling-up White Paper, which was published last week. We agree that this important proposal warrants careful consideration—not only by the Government, but by the public and voluntary industry participants that underpin the scheme’s success. In Committee in the other place, the Government made a formal commitment to include community wealth funds as an explicit option in the first consultation launched on the purposes of the English portion.

My honourable friend the Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society met Her Majesty’s Opposition and the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for “Left Behind” Neighbourhoods to discuss this commitment. With their support, the Government brought forward Amendment 3 to place this commitment in legislation. This responds to calls heard in both Houses to refer to community wealth funds on the face of the Bill—making a clear statement that the Government are considering this model and are supportive of its underlying principles, while protecting the integrity of the consultation process. We maintain that an open and fair consultation, without predetermining its outcomes, is essential to securing the expanded scheme’s impact.

The Government are clear that Amendment 3 is the furthest that the legislation is able to go in this area, and that is why Amendment 2 removes community wealth funds from being pre-emptively named as a possible option in a future order, in favour of Amendment 3.

I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for the constructive debate that we have had on this issue. I am very grateful for the spirit of positive collaboration shown throughout the passage of the Bill. It is in this spirit that the Government brought forward their amendments. I am also grateful for the scrutiny it has received in the other place, and I believe that this has presented your Lordships’ House with a strengthened Bill. I hope that noble Lords will, therefore, support the Government in these amendments, as was the case in the other place. Sending this Bill on its way to the statute book will enable the Government to shift our focus more swiftly to the implementation of the scheme expansion, including launching the consultation and unlocking hundreds of millions of pounds more across the UK. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these amendments. It was most helpful, particularly about Amendment 1, which is very technical. Since it has come from the industry and the whole thrust behind the Bill came from the financial sector, which wishes to see many more assets unlocked in this way, we should accept his explanation and stand behind that.

On Amendments 2 and 3, I confess that I am slightly disappointed; it seems a slight watering-down of the decision made in this House to include community wealth funds as specific beneficiaries of these funds. I found it particularly regrettable that it removes the guarantee that was in the amendment passed in this House to establish at least one community wealth fund within the next decade, which did not seem particularly onerous. Given that there has been a general consensus, even in some parts of government, that community wealth funds are something that we should aim to establish, particularly in communities that experience severe deprivation, it would have been good to see that commitment remain. However, I take what the Minister says—that we have probably got as far as we can go in this Bill—and, given that community wealth funds are going to be in the Bill and there is a hook on which to hang their establishment in future, we should agree to the amendments at this stage.

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.

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?

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.

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.

My noble friend asks a good question, on which I will have to write to give him the answer and the full list, if he will forgive me for doing so.

I was just coming to the third reason why Amendment 3 is our preferred way of proceeding. The provisions inserted in this House would not achieve their objective of speeding up the pace of delivery. We must reiterate that releasing this money will not be immediate; indeed, we anticipate it taking several years for the £880 million to be released, and we do not expect any funds to be available for some time. Undercutting the consultation process would not materially affect the pace of that funding release. The Government have committed to launching the first public consultation on the purposes of the expanded English portion as soon as possible after Royal Assent. We anticipate that it could be live as soon as this summer and will be open for at least 12 weeks.

I repeat my commitment to write to my noble friend with the answer to his question, and I beg to move.

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, does he agree that, especially in current circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate to transfer funds from the TfL balance sheet by way of seizing what are alleged to be surplus Oyster assets, many of which are there because people, often from abroad, choose to leave assets on their Oyster card for when they visit London, which may be only once every few years?

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.

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.

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.

Motion agreed.