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3 Nov 2008 : Column 86

There are four key aspects. First, we need to ensure proper protection for consumers so that they know that if money is transferred from their account to the reclaim fund, there is recourse for them. As a preparatory step, banks, building societies and National Savings & Investments have done as much work as possible to be able to unite customers with their money. The second important feature is the establishment of the reclaim fund and its functions. We have debated the reclaim fund and how we are going to monitor the way in which it works in practice. The third key area, which we discussed under the penultimate group of amendments, concerns the role that the Big Lottery Fund will undertake and how it will set out its strategy. The fourth key area is the next stage of the process, or the next challenge—determining how the money will be spent in practice on the ground. This presents a huge opportunity to find some innovative and exciting projects that can benefit from dormant accounts. We had a debate about the initial release of money from bank accounts to the Big Lottery Fund. It is vital that the Big Lottery Fund plans this process well. If it gets it right, that can make a significant difference to communities across the country. It will need to work hard to ensure that the opportunity is maximised and that the money is used effectively.

The Bill will leave this place slightly weaker than when it arrived. The Government have weakened some of the aspects of parliamentary scrutiny that were inserted in the other place. However, I will be gracious in accepting that new clause 3 provides some scrutiny. It may not be as robust and the review not as frequent as Opposition Members wanted, but it ensures that the functioning of the scheme will be reviewed. One of the features of the discussions throughout all the Bill’s stages has been the importance of ensuring that the scheme works properly.

David Taylor: Does the hon. Gentleman recall my intervening on him on 6 October, when the Bill was previously debated in this Chamber? We both agreed that as a price for not being included in the Bill, National Savings & Investments should be doing more to link dormant accounts. NS&I has written to both of us, and I, for one, am more impressed by what it now does in relation to investment accounts, premium bonds and so on. Is he of the opinion that it should remain outside the Bill?

Mr. Hoban: The hon. Gentleman raises two points. I looked back at the Hansard report of the Second Reading debate; I thought that I had been complimentary about the work that the National Savings & Investments bank had done in reuniting customers with their accounts. It is important work, even though the dormant moneys will not be transferred into the reclaim fund—something which any review should consider. The bank should continue to work as hard as it can to ensure that people are united with their assets, and I am sure that it understands the importance that this House places on it continuing to do such good work in finding the owners of such accounts—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Time has allowed me to be indulgent, but I should remind the House that on Third Reading we should be discussing what is in the Bill, not what is not in it.

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Mr. Hoban: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will understand from the exchange that I had with the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) why I may have chosen to trespass on your good will on this occasion.

Returning to the Bill, new clause 3 provides an opportunity to scrutinise how well the reunification arrangements work, which is important because we want the scheme to work. It is important to bear in mind that the money we are talking about—we have talked about the projects on which it might be spent and the opportunities that might be provided—comes from the accounts of bank customers. We need to make sure that in our enthusiasm and keenness to see that money flow through to good projects, we never forget that the process of getting it into the Big Lottery Fund should be done well.

The Bill is an important step forward in resolving the debate on the use of money in dormant bank and building society accounts, and it will provide a good opportunity to develop youth services, financial inclusion and the social investment wholesaler. It is important, bearing in mind the source of the money, that we ensure that it is spent wisely, efficiently and well. That task will be entrusted to the Big Lottery Fund. All those who have an interest in the Bill, whether they are consumers, banks, charities or the Big Lottery Fund, will be well aware from the conclusion of our proceedings that we want not only to ensure that the scheme works properly, but to continue to scrutinise how it works to ensure that we get the best value possible from those assets.

8.2 pm

Mr. Martyn Jones: I congratulate the Minister on the passage of the Bill and on the addition on Report of a review process. The Bill will mean more money flowing back into the hands of the public and important charities. Many of us had hoped for a much tighter check on the UK banking system and a mandatory scheme. I expressed my cynicism about the banking system and bankers in general in Committee and at other stages of the Bill’s consideration.

I remind the House that in 2004, I asked the banks how much they had in dormant bank accounts. Six of them replied, saying that they had £419 million, while 16 did not—or would not—reply. Given that they are now talking about £250 million, there is a bit of a discrepancy, and I would like to know what has happened to that money. I let the Minister off too lightly in Committee when I said it was perhaps the definition of 10 extra years. On a back-of-the-envelope calculation, I do not think that that is true, because the banks had £400 million four years ago, and they have been going for perhaps 50 to 100 years in this country. I think that there is more money, and I hope that it will show up. I wait with interest to see which banks comply with the demands of the voluntary scheme. That is why I am grateful for the review procedure, which should give us some indication of the performance of the voluntary scheme at an early stage.

I hope for a proportionate distribution of the moneys across the regions of the UK. The money could provide much-needed funding for community projects to help the many volunteers and organisations throughout Britain who work with young people every day. I look to the
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future of other dormant asset schemes, such as insurance funds, share certificates and gambling debts. I hope to work with the Treasury on legislation in those areas in the near future. The Bill is a good start, and I am proud to have had some small influence on its reaching the statute book.

8.4 pm

Mr. Jeremy Browne: Most legislation takes several months to pass through all the stages in both Houses, and in the time that we have been talking about dormant accounts, the banking sector has changed beyond all recognition and we now have a rather large number of semi-dormant banks. Nevertheless, the legislation is important in its own right, and it is good that it was studied in such detail in both Houses.

I pay tribute to those in the other place for getting the ball rolling. This is exactly the type of Bill that lends itself well to beginning in the other place because of the range of expertise available there and the fact that it is traditionally less partisan in its outlook than this Chamber. None the less, the deliberations we had in this Chamber and in Committee have been useful, and I congratulate the Minister on his constructive outlook and on seeking to be more accommodating than some Ministers have been on other occasions with regard to the provisions and proposals advanced by Members of other political parties and by those on their own Back Benches.

I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) in that I would have preferred some of the amendments made to the Bill in the other place to have remained, rather than seeing them removed in Committee, but the Bill has nevertheless been scrutinised in some detail, and my party, along with all other parties welcomes it. It is well-designed legislation that will, I hope, achieve the objective we all share.

I echo the point made by other hon. Members that we should not forget that the money in question belongs to private individuals. They have chosen not to touch it, either wittingly or unwittingly, for a long period of time, but I do not want the state to regard it as its role to confiscate the money of private individuals. It was important that we made sure that there was detailed consideration of the provisions for reuniting people with their funds, and I am pleased that the Minister and others took those issues seriously. I hope that the review we have agreed on this evening ensures that, as it becomes a reality across the country, any problems in the legislation will be ironed out.

Finally, the Bill’s objectives are entirely laudable, and all of us—looking around the Chamber, I see people from urban, inner-city constituencies and those who represent rural areas in far-flung parts of the country—see a need in our constituencies to ensure that young people are engaged by projects that stimulate them and that ensure that they can play a full role in society. I know that the Bill envisages money being spent in different areas, but there is a consensus that the main thrust of the legislation will enable more provision to be made for youth facilities. Anyone who plays an active role as a constituency MP will see the benefits of that.

I am keen that the money should be additional. I know that it is hard to define in legislation what constitutes additionality, but everyone would feel that the legislation had not achieved its objectives if the money merely
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displaced projects already funded by the Government. Our deliberations have been positive and constructive. I hope that the scheme that is put in place is effective and that, sooner rather than later, our constituents will see the benefits of our deliberations.

8.8 pm

Mr. Walker: I would like to say how much I enjoyed serving on the Committee that considered the Bill. I spoke on Second Reading, I was on the Committee, and I am making a brief debut on Third Reading.

The amounts of individuals’ money we are talking about are probably quite small, because people tend not to forget large amounts of money lying in bank accounts. I know that I have a couple of bank accounts—with the Chelsea building society and Barclays bank—from 20 years ago, with probably about £10 in each, and I am more than happy for that money to be put towards good causes. Although the amounts we are talking about are small in each individual dormant account—not in all, but in most—when we add them up, as the Minister did when he educated the House, we find that about £500 million is available to put towards good causes. Of course, the money does not belong to banks—they are its custodians. It belongs to people who have perhaps died or forgotten that it is there. If they or their executors do not intend reclaiming it, I see no harm in putting it towards good causes. It is a good and noble thing to give that money to good causes—alleviating poverty and helping young people get a foothold in life and a chance to make something of themselves.

I am pleased that there will be a review in three years of the reclaim funds’ performance and the limited company in charge of distributing the money. That review may provide an opportunity to examine the performance of the Big Lottery Fund and perhaps to tweak things around the margins. I know that I have tried the Economic Secretary’s patience—I will not try yours, Madam Deputy Speaker—but if it is decided in three years that charity should get perhaps 5 per cent. of that money, it would be no bad thing.

In responding to a point that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, the Economic Secretary referred to an ambitious timetable of implementation. We have waited so long for the Bill that he can afford to be a little cautious. Let us ensure that we get it right: if it is not ready to launch by the middle of next year, I do not believe that anyone would be too critical if we delayed it by two or three months. It is important to get it right the first time so that it carries the public’s confidence. If the Economic Secretary misses a June, July or August launch, he will receive no criticism from me.

8.11 pm

Simon Hughes: The Bill is clearly a good measure, supported by all parties and improved during its passage through Parliament. I shall make one short, broad point and reinforce a specific point that I made earlier.

While not taking assets from people against their will and always respecting the rights of private ownership that are upheld in documents such as the European convention on human rights, we are right to ascertain, as public policy, whether private assets can be used for the public benefit rather than not used at all.

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We have done similar things over the years. Mercifully, since the last war, we have released people who are mentally ill from asylums where they had been locked away for decades. They had something to give, and society has realised that people with mental illness can make a huge contribution. We have also realised that in the case of people with disabilities, who were often hidden away—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s general point, but he must now confine his remarks to the Bill instead of drawing analogies.

Simon Hughes: I was trying to steer close to the sort of thing that you would accept on Third Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I shall steer closer to the Bill’s central point.

It is amazing to relate, but if one is very rich, one probably has assets that are hidden away, which one does not think about. The Bill rightly provides that, though the moneys are private, if they have been forgotten and unused, there should be a facility to use them, even though they can be reclaimed. I want the fact that the Government have followed that route in relation to money in accounts to encourage them to be equally purposeful about other assets that are held privately—for example, land on brownfield sites or empty housing. I shall not go further, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply remind the Government that they can be positive in a similar way about other matters.

Mr. Jeremy Browne: Nationalise everything?

Simon Hughes: Absolutely not.

My specific point, which is central to the Bill, is to do with the fact that we are having a bad year in Britain for violent youth crime. London has been especially afflicted, with more than 20 teenagers killed.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I ask him to confine his remarks to the content of the Bill so that we can deal with Third Reading.

Simon Hughes: My point is absolutely about the Bill’s content, if you will bear with me, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Bill’s priority is for money to be spent on facilities for young people. The measure is important because it will allow the money to be used to deal with one of the major problems that has afflicted London and the rest of the country—the violence caused to and by young people. Many people will put the money that may become available—whatever the amount—to good use because they know the ways in which to prevent young people from going astray and being violent to one another.

The Government should view the Bill not only as social or financial policy but as part of the immediate response to a problem that is endemic in all our communities. Out there, people are sick to death of the idea that youth violence cannot be tackled in our society. The Bill is a small mechanism for dealing with that, but it could be important. It is totemic about opportunities: a little bit of resource can turn around significant numbers of people in our community. An important
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consequence of the Bill will be more resources for all our constituencies, counties and regions, which will allow those who work to make youth violence history to feel more encouraged and better able to do their job. The Bill will therefore be welcome in my part of the world and this city.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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A5-M1 Link

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Blizzard.]

8.16 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for granting me this short Adjournment debate on a subject of huge importance to not only my constituency but a considerably greater area. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), to his place. I appreciate that he is deputising for a colleague who has overall responsibility and sits in another place. He is possibly the fifth or sixth roads Minister that I have faced in my seven years in the House in my quest to try to get the road completed. It may therefore be helpful to him if I sketch out a little local detail from my point of view as a constituency Member of Parliament. I appreciate that his officials will have briefed him well about some of the wider issues.

There is a long history of trying to get a bypass for Dunstable, as the A5-M1 link is better known locally. The first record that I have found dates back to 1934. The A5, which goes through the middle of Dunstable, carries approximately 22,000 vehicles a day. Many are heavy goods vehicles, which do not want to deliver to businesses in Dunstable or take finished products out of Dunstable, but are simply trying to get through the town to go elsewhere. Consequently, many people who want to shop or do business in Dunstable are prevented from doing so by the amount of excess traffic that goes through the town and wants to be elsewhere.

Often, the M1 is diverted to the M5 when there are blockages. The M1 is currently being widened but, according to the Highways Agency, we are officially a relief road for the M1, and that causes dread for many of my local schools. People look out of the window at 3 o’clock many afternoons and realise that they cannot get their children—perhaps special needs children—home on local authority transport and so on.

We therefore face huge difficulties locally, not least an increasingly difficult economic environment, with unemployment in my constituency having unfortunately risen by 23 per cent. in the year till August. Since then, I know of three local businesses that have, sadly, closed.

The Minister knows that the Government have significant ambitions for housing and business growth in my area. Indeed, they wish to build some 43,000 extra houses by 2031. That objective cannot be fulfilled without building the road. The view of many local people is that, given the bypasses that they have seen elsewhere around the country—and, indeed, in the county of Bedfordshire—the bypass is required for the area’s current needs, not only for future growth. It is the view of many local authority officers in my area, as well as the authorities themselves, that the Highways Agency has been stalling development in the area, through a lack of commitment to deciding either how the M1 is to be widened north of junction 10 or what the precise form of the A5-M1 link should be.

The then Secretary of State made an announcement to the House on 9 July 2003, starting at column 1177 of the Official Report, that the Dunstable northern bypass—the A5-M1 link—would be built. That was originally supposed to be completed by 2010, but it is currently not scheduled for completion until around 2015 or perhaps even later.
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The then Secretary of State, now Chancellor, announced the Government’s decision to build that vital bypass, telling the House:

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