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My noble friend Lord Shutt mentioned the situation of overseas banks, which again raises the issue of voluntary versus compulsion. The logical situation is that any bank account held in the UK should be subject to the Bill. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about people who bring assets into the UK with no intention of using them for a considerable time. I would have thought that there are two mechanisms that might give him some reassurance. First, the bank will maintain the life of the asset by occasionally contacting the person who has deposited it so that it does not become technically dormant. Secondly, under the reclaim fund people could come back at any point and reclaim their assets.
Given that the reclaim fund will, as I understand it, be a fund that will contain assets coming from a large variety of accounts, how does one determine what interest is due? Some will be from non-interest varying accounts and some from different accounts. Is each amount, or a proportion of each amount, going to be allocated a separate interest rate? That seems almost inconceivable, both conceptually and in practice. In the absence of such a complicated scheme, will a composite interest rate be applied to all the assets and, if so, what will that interest rate be? There is no indication in the Bill.
That is the business of gathering the money together; we now come to the question of spending it. As for who should have overall responsibility, given the scope and purposes of the expenditure, there has to be a single national body. At least until I heard my noble friend Lord Tope, it seemed to me that the Big Lottery Fund was the logical national body. If not it, who will it be? Given that one of the aims must surely be to get this out of the clutches of central government, it is equally possible that local strategic partnerships could, in theory, bid for funds from the Big Lottery Fund from this account. There is no reason either under the Bill as drafted or as it might be amended why local strategic partnerships could not have a big say on how at least the youth strand is funded. When it comes to financial inclusion and the social investment wholesaler, there is not necessarily similar local involvement and national schemes may be necessary.
Equally, although we may need a body responsible for overseeing how the money is spentthe Big Lottery Fund might be the logical choicethe money could in theory be used for anything. I know that this is unusual for the Lib Dems, but we have had a tendency to want to spend such money on everything and to spend it many times over. We had a
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I have an issue about what a social investment wholesaler is. First, I have never heard the phrase, and I have been involved in this area for some time. I had never seen it until I read it in the Bill. The Bill does not define what I thought the Government were seeking to achieve. I thought that the Government were seeking to establish a social investment bank. The Bill says something completely different, which is much less prescriptive of what the wholesaler could do. It says that it is,
It therefore seems that the NCVO is a social investment wholesaler, because that is exactly what the NCVO does. It exists to give support to third sector organisations. As a member of the NCVO advisory board, in which I declare an interest, I can see some advantage in the NCVO getting some of this money; but I did not think that the Government wanted that. I thought that the Government were talking about a single new social investment bank and that there was a suggestion that it had to have several hundred million pounds in it to be worth while.
I am pleased that the Minister has confirmed that the money will not be used to substitute for existing government expenditure and that additionality will apply. In terms of its broad usage, I would be grateful if he could confirm that the Government envisage that the money could be used for both capital and current expenditure and would not be limited to one. There is no doubt that we will want to deal with many other issues in Committee. I hope that I have dealt with some of the main ones, but we look forward to the Committee stage and to seeing the Bill through.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, we have had a varied debate, which should at least put the Minister on notice that the Bill is not quite as straightforward as he might have hoped. But let me start on a positive note. Like other noble Lords, we agree with the proposition that unclaimed assets should be put to good use. The banks and the building societies thought that they had a rather good use for those assets as a bit of free capital to produce an additional income stream for their shareholders and members. But clearly there are other uses with wider societal benefits. We support the Bill to that extent, but that is the extent of our wholehearted agreement.
Just as the banks were probably quite happy with the status quo, I imagine that the Government feel much the same way about the unclaimed assets in their own bailiwick; namely those in National Savings, to which other noble Lords have referred. We
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Your Lordships House amended the most recent Pensions Bill to allow improved benefits to the 125,000 pensioners for whom the Government still do not provide adequate pensions, in defiance of the ombudsman. We sought to create a lifeboat funded by an unclaimed assets recovery agency which could have included dormant bank accounts. The Government overturned those amendments in another place. This Bill closes the door on using dormant bank account money for that purpose. We regret that and believe that the Bill should be widened in scope to allow it.
I turn now to how much money is involved, because it is relevant to how widely the Bill should be drawn. The Explanatory Notes give no idea of how much money should be funnelled through the Bill, and the Minister said that he did not know. The summary at the beginning of the final impact assessment booklet says that costs and benefits are nil, but that is plainly nonsense. In fact, a footnote towards the end of the impact assessment states that dormant accounts could at present yield between £400 million and £500 million. Those estimates are given by the British Bankers Association and the Building Societies Association, but, as noble Lords have said, the evidence from a similar exercise in Ireland showed that initial estimates proved to be wild underestimates. If one listens to City chatterI put it no higher than thatpeople are talking about very significantly larger sums being made available. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, referred to a figure in the tens of millions. I am not sure that I have heard a figure quite as high as that, but there could nevertheless be significantly more.
The potential for higher sums being available means that we must ensure that the use of the money is drawn as widely as possible in the Bill. I have referred to supporting pensioners. There are other possibilities, including Liberal Democrat pet causes. We need to ensure that the Bill can deal with a wider range of expenditure and also remain flexible over time, because we do not wish to fix in stone the uses to which the money can be put. We need a broader concept built in.
For today, let us assume that the scheme will raise the lower end of the amount estimated by the BBA and BSAsome £400 million. We then have to flow that through because not all of it will be available for distribution, because some has to be used for reserves. We do not know how much that is, and the Minister has already been asked to comment on the level of
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We shall be concerned to look at how the prescribed percentages provided for in Clause 16 will work. In particular, we will want to ensure that England gets its fair share. At the moment, England accounts for some 80 per cent of public expenditure. If we assume that England receives that as a minimum, we are talking of perhaps 80 per cent of £350 millionsome £280 millionflowing into English activities. When the Prime Minister addressed the Labour Party conference in September, he said:
The simple question for the Minister is why did the Prime Minister use the figure of £670 million? It is unlike any figure that has come out of the industry at any point during the consultation. If you flow that through into England and take off some reserving to get to my £280 million figure, the Prime Minister was overstating the figure by 2.5 times. I hope that the Minister can explain that.
I want to look in a little more detail at the promise on youth centres in the Prime Ministers speech. I should say that, like other noble Lords, we support spending money on youth facilities, but I want to clarify the Governments intentions. The consultation issued in May claimed that the money,
So, the vision is clearly one based on bricks and mortar. I expect that the Prime Minister has some kind of memory from his own youth when teenagers were grateful for the opportunity to gather in youth clubs and listen to the latest chart-topping black discs. The Prime Minister may not have noticed that that is not the aspiration of todays teenagers, nor does it reflect the lives that they lead, including the way that technology changes the way that young people interact. Will the Minister explain in more detail what the Government envisage the money will be spent on and how they will avoid spending it on things that young people do not actually want in the modern age?
Lastly, it is clear that the Government see the use of this money in terms of capital projects. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked whether it could be used also for revenue projects, but it is clear from everything that the Government have written that their vision is that the money is for capital projects. The Minister will be aware that the public sector is littered with many well intentioned capital projects that struggle to find ongoing revenue funding. Will he say how the Government think these youth centres will be financed on an ongoing basis? The amount of money available from dormant accounts is bound to fall sharply after the initial catch-up period, when a backlog is dealt with. Where is the money coming from? It sounds like another hit on council tax is coming down the line.
I have dwelt on spending on youth because that is what the Prime Minister has focused on. However, as we have heard, Clause 17 has two other objects: financial inclusion and social investment. The Government have made it pretty clear that they are still keen on financial inclusion but they seem, at best, lukewarm about a social investment bank, even though that is what their own Commission on Unclaimed Assets recommended, with, by its calculations, a price tag of anything up to £330 million over five years.
Will the Minister explain how the Government see those two additional objects being funded? There is the £670 million to which the Prime Minister referred. That may sound like a lot but, if it is to provide for the 8 million or so teenagers, it could be spread extremely thinly. Do the Government have a view on how much ultimately needs to be spent on these youth facilities? How much will be spent on youth before the other two objects get a crack at the money? Will youth spending stop at £670 million or will the Government have a higher figure in mind before they are happy to see money going into either of the other two concepts? It is important that we understand what the Government intend from the Bill.
Staying loosely with my money theme, there is no information in the papers about the amount to be raised and no information about the costs. As we have heard, the money is to be processed through a reclaim fund and then distributed via the Big Lottery Fund. Overall, that seems to be a recipe for job creation with two layers involved. When will we be told the costs of processing this money? What will the upfront costs and the annual running costs be? How, in the longer term, will the annual running costs compare with the estimated annual flow from dormant accounts? As I said earlier, once the initial amounts have been gathered, we have to expect the annual flow to drop down to a relatively low level, and we have to query whether the Government have designed a value-for-money solution.
The Governments chosen conduit is the Big Lottery Fund. My noble friends Lord Astor and Lord Eccles raised some very important points on that and I share their concerns. There are concerns about the use of the Big Lottery Fund, the issue of additionality, or indeed the lack of it, and the impact of the huge sums being diverted to the Olympics on all the lottery distribution funds, including those concerned with the arts. We will look at those very carefully in Committee.
As has already been pointed out this evening, the Bill does not guarantee that a single penny of dormant bank and building society account money will flow to good causes. It merely permits the banks and building societies to transfer the money but it does not compel them to do so. What will the Government do if the amounts of money transferred through the scheme are quite low? If the banks get better at contacting their former customers and if those with entitlements, such as the charities which benefit from legacies, manage to track more down, there may well be considerably less money available. We think that those two activities are important and we will be looking at whether the Bill needs to be
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How will the Government tell whether the banks and building societies have transferred all the money that they could do? I cannot see where in the Bill there is an incentive for banks or financial institutions to transfer money; nor do there appear to be any inspection or audit functions attached to whether they do so. As has already been said, banks and other financial institutions with head offices outside the UK may well take the view that they have no particular interest in supporting the issues that the British Government have set out for them in the Bill.
There are other aspects of the Bill that my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising and I shall want to explore further in Committee. We shall want to look at the role of Treasury powersas usual, we find the hand of the Treasury written all over this Bill. We shall want to look at the fact that English money has some very specific objects set out for it but nothing at all is prescribed in respect of the other countries which will get the money. We shall also want to look at the definition of a dormant account in Clause 10 because we are aware that it may raise practical difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised some important points this evening which we should think about. Like the Liberal Democrat Benches, we also want to look again at the scheme for smaller institutions to opt out of the central arrangements and to see whether they can be made more widely available. Lastly, we shall look very closely at the accountability arrangements.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and, like everyone else, I look forward with enthusiasm to the Committee stage, when we will have a considerable amount to discussas though I ever doubted it.
The only general point that I make concerns the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She will appreciate that the approach of the Bill is both voluntary and light touch. Therefore, if the Government came in with very heavy directions in the way that she requested, that would run counter to the philosophy behind the legislation. She may disagree with that philosophy or she may contend that it cannot work on that basis. Of course, I always respect her opinion and I shall listen to the way in which she expresses herself at subsequent stages, but I hope that at this stage she will give us the benefit of the doubt and agree that we have presented to the banks and building societies a proposal for how dormant accounts can be used intelligently.
Of course we are vague about the figures. I said at the start of my opening contribution that the British Bankers Association and the Building Societies Association estimate that between £250 million and
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If the Bill succeeds in passing through Parliament, it will come into operation as an Act some time hence because the banks and building societies need time to do their best to locate the owners of these accounts. Not only are we concerned that that process should continue over the next year with the intensity to which those organisations committed themselves in their 8 November statement but we will also give all the support that we can to the delivery of the process, because the individuals to whom the dormant accounts belong have a prior claim on the property. That is an absolute principle to which we subscribe.
Before that process starts, we have a rough estimate of the money that might be available. I do not suggest for one moment that banks and building societies are currently dilatory in finding out what has gone wrong when an account is not activated, but they are not committed to a drive in this respect because they know that the consequence of the accounts remaining dormant is that they will fall within the framework of the Bill when, in due course, it becomes an Act. Therefore, it is not reasonable for us to be challenged too precisely on the figures for the possible return, which has been a central element in the debate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, as astute as ever, had the opportunity to speak first. He identified the key issues for the benefit of us all. He looked at the priorities to which the resources should be devoted and said that he was not too sure that they were the right ones. They are the product of the most extensive consultation. I do not think that any noble Lord disagrees that we should do something with resources from this source to improve the level of financial literacy and understanding in our society. The fact that resources remain dormant is proof positive that people do not have the acumen to use them as effectively as they might, otherwise they would not be dormant in banks and building societies in the first place.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about how prescriptive and narrow our vision might be of the needs of youth. I do not think that any Member of the other place can be other than very well advised of the challenges that youth provide in the community. We live in challenging times as regards young people. They are articulate and make their presence felt and, of course, if they engage in anti-social activity it affects the whole community in a very direct way. So we will be concerned to look at the provision for youth in the widest possible perspective and against local needs and local demands. We will pursue that objective intelligently.
On other social purposes, we recognise that there will be demands from communities for such resources to be devoted to matters that benefit the immediate
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I had one direct challenge from the Liberal Democrat Benchesin fact, a number of challengesfrom the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, about the fact that the Government have already created more effective, greatly to be welcomed local partnerships, which could be better distributors. I apologise, it was the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I shall turn to the virtues of the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, in a moment, but I shall start with the virtues of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who mentioned the local partnerships. I am the first to identify the potential success of the local partnerships doing great work in the localities. He described how and where they were intended to act. Of course, they are distributors of public funds.
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