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We are very encouraged by the work that has been done over this period. We welcome the bank and building society sector's ongoing commitment, as set out in the Statement of 8 November, to a major reuniting exercise ahead of the schemes launch. The launch of www.mylostaccount.org.uk by National Savings and Investments, the British Bankers Association and the Building Societies Association is a central part of that work. It is a free, cross-industry, one-stop shop for customers attempting to locate their lost accounts. In less than a month since its launch on 30 January, it has received more than 140,000 hits and, importantly, has led to more than 72,000 submitted claims for lost accounts.
That facility allows not just account holders but also executors and nominated representatives to initiate a search for a lost account. Executors and personal representatives will be able to search for lost accounts using the one-stop shop website which should help those entitled to legacy income to receive it because the executors will be working under the instructions of the person making the bequests. The advantage from this process is bound to accrue to charities where the intention was that bequests should be made to them.
The Government also welcome the public announcement on 8 November confirming, additionally, the commitment to proactive searching by individual institutions. The public progress made by such significant institutions as Halifax and Nationwide is to be welcomed. The Government look forward to other substantial financial institutions meeting the commitment through
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Is the central register, mandated through regulation, necessary or proportionate now or in the future? I note that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, welcomed it on the grounds that it was a sword of Damocles, but as I recall, that was an ever-present and continuing threat to people holding positions of power. That may be a salutary thing to look forward to, but on this particular sword of Damocles being backed by the noble Lord, it is expected to come into action. That is different from a threat. We are concerned to ensure that the industry makes the greatest efforts for the reunification of accounts. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, is entitled to carry the threat one stage further if it does not. I may have responded in a slightly jocular way, but it raises the central issue of the Bill that it is essentially a voluntary arrangement by the banks and building societies. They are expected to make an enormous contribution to this initiative through their activity. It is not an exercise in government regulation.
Of course the Government have a role to play in this Bill, as we have previously discussed. That is different from saying that whenever it can be detected that matters in the Bill might be advanced with greater efficiency, that should be done through the strong arm of government. That is not the nature of the Bill. I do not agree that the central register mandated through regulation is either necessary or proportionate. It would involve extensive legislation to set it up. The register would need to be run, which would place an administrative burden on the resources that we are always talking about. They are resources related to the scheme that would otherwise go towards the benign purposes that have been identified by all sides of the House as the objectives of the scheme.
There is a further difficulty. It would give the Government power to require data to be provided to a central source. That would not deal with how it would be enforced on the institutions, nor would the fact that banks and building societiesagain I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, who has expressed a view that is also held in other parts of the Houseare subject to confidentiality requirements on customer information. A bank account is a private contract and confidentiality issues are raised by the concept that banks can be compelled to breach themthe sword of Damocles being translated into action, if the amendment were accepted. Transferring such information to a central source would mean that banks and building societies had to breach that confidentiality. It is difficult to see how that is compatible with the framework of law on confidential information and data protection that applies in the United Kingdom. It might also raise human rights issues. Although the Government considered every angle with regard to the proposed legislation, the issue of human rights was not raised, but the House will be all too well aware of the fact that Ministers are obliged to sign a document indicating that human rights are not contravened by legislation.
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As a result of the amendment passed last time, the Bill now includes a clause requiring regular reports to Parliament on a range of issues, including banks and building societies arrangements to trace accounts and repay customers. The same clause asks the Government to consider improvements to the scheme at a later date. The Government intend to carry out a post-implementation review of the scheme, as I have made clear all along. We always appreciated that we would have to form an evaluation of the success of the scheme after it had been launched.
However, I have real concerns about the review proposed in the amended Bill, requiring the Government to report on the scheme every three years in perpetuity. Every three years for 10, 20 or 50 years hence seems somewhat unnecessary. I cannot think of a precedent, nor has any noble Lord suggested one since this concept was introduced. I am also concerned about the detail and scope of the review as set out in the Bill and the implications for the scheme. So the Government will be seriously looking at these issues when the Bill moves from this place.
However, I ask the House to appreciate that an underpinning principle of the Bill is voluntarism. It is not a government Bill in that respect, which would actually involve government direction in every element. A great deal of the Bill involves the willing participationin fact, the instigation of action, which they have already doneof the banks and building societies. That this why we have taken care to move forward with respect for that element of voluntarism in the Bill. There are real problems with confidentiality and the extent to which power is handed to government in circumstances in which it may be looked upon as excessive in the context of the banks and building societies work in this area.
Not that I would want to reduce the just flow of resources to the benign institutions that have been the subject of so many representations from all sides of the House in any way, shape or form. Of course the Government want the scheme to work well. Without the slightest doubt, this will mean that where individuals have sought to make bequests to charity but their accounts have become dormant, this level of activitythe work under the Bill and the voluntary work of the banks and building societieswill benefit charities. But that is different from introducing a compulsory element, which raises issues of confidentiality and possibly human rights. In the Governments view, it is therefore a step too far. That is the basis of the Governments argument for asking the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I appreciate the response from the Minister, and the comments of all those who have spoken in support of the amendment. I remind the House that I am calling for a reserve power only, not creating a statutory arrangement in the Bill. I am simply calling for a reserve power in the event that the established voluntary arrangement, which currently looks as if it is doing a good job, fails to work well in the interests of the individual whose
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On confidentiality, we already have a system, which was set up as voluntary, for the reunification process. That has broken the complete code of secrecy around bank accounts anyway, because when a match is now made, there is confirmation of that. Therefore, despite the Ministers reservations and in the light of the support around the House, I feel that I must test the opinion of the House.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, with permission, I wish to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in another place. The Statement is as follows:Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on casino policy. Today I am laying a draft order identifying 16 local authorities which will be authorised to license the eight large and eight small casinos permitted by the Gambling Act 2005. I do not intend to authorise a regional casino. My right honourable friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood established the independent Casino Advisory Panel to advise on the location of the 17 new casinos permitted by the Act. The panel considered applications from 68 local authorities and made its recommendations after detailed consideration.Before I make further progress, the House will want to know that since we last discussed these matters, the chair of the independent panel, Professor Stephen Crow, has passed away. I hope the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to his family and paying tribute to the integrity and dedication he brought to his role. Last March, an order incorporating the panels recommendations was defeated in another place. Since then the Government have reflected on the range of views expressed in both Houses and beyond. There was a consensus that the eight large and eight small casino licences should be awarded to the 16 licensing authorities identified by the independent Casino Advisory Panel. It was a view expressed by the opposition Front Bench and by their Lordships in their message to this House calling for the 16 to be incorporated into a fresh order. Following last years local elections, my right honourable friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde invited all 16 councils to indicate whether it remained their wish to license a new casino. All 16 have requested inclusion in this new order.But there was and is no consensus on the question of a regional casino. There are important differences between the regional casino on the one hand and the large and small casinos on the other. The regional casino would have been allowed up to 1,250 unlimited stake and prize gaming machines, something not seen before in the United Kingdom. The large and small casinos would be allowed to offer 150 and 80 category B1 gaming machines respectively, with a minimum £2 stake and £4,000 prize. B1 machines are already in use in Britain today.There are two principal and independent reasons for my decision not to proceed with a regional casino. First, concerns were expressed in both Houses
Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, there are already so many ways of gambling in this country that it is a matter of regret to me that the Government should spend time and energy providing yet more opportunities to gamble. Those who want to have a bet can easily do so. Inevitably, if there are more casinos, with more promotion and more publicity, a number of people will start to gamble who might never have done so. Of that number a proportion will end up as addicted gamblers, with the consequent ruination of their and their families lives. I find it difficult to understand, if it is not right to permit a large casino because of the new evidence of risk, why it should be right to permit a collection of other casinos. Does the risk suddenly disappear because the premises are smaller? I find that difficult to believe. Steps are proposed to control problem gambling and they are welcome. Only time will tell whether they turn out to be adequate to prevent problems.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I may say some hard things in the next few minutes, but I want the Minister to understand that it is nothing personal. I realise that he has been given his usual job of plaiting sawdust.
I thank the Minister for the Statement, and I am sorry to learn of the death of Professor Crow. I send my condolences to his family. That respect and sadness, however, do not remove my original assessment that the findings of the panel he chaired were bizarre and based on criteria that ran contrary to those established by the Joint Committee set up by both these Houses. I do not blame Professor Crow or his colleagues, though; blame lies with Ministers, who have been buffeted hither and thither by press campaigns and well financed lobbies. Millions of pounds of public money have been wasted by commissioning inquiries about matters that should have been for ministerial judgment and the decision of Parliament. As it is, we have a gambling reform that gives us the worst outcomes of deregulation with few of its benefits.
Will the Minister confirm that, in addition to the 60 new casinos he has sanctioned, there are about 125 applications for casinos under the 1968 Act, and that the final number of casinos we are likely to have in this country when this exercise is finished will be nearer 300? Is he aware that we are about to have an explosion of small and medium-sized casinos, most of them in locations that are more likely to create the addiction and social problems that the Government are supposed to fear? The Prime Minister rushed to make a Statement about the super-casino to show his new moral compassbut which way is that compass pointing?
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