Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [HL]
Baroness Noakes (Shadow Minister, Treasury; Conservative)
My Lords, our names are to the amendments in this group, and we strongly support them. Parliamentary oversight and transparency are ingredients that are largely missing from the Bill. These amendments, together with amendments that I shall move later, are essential to underpin the dormant-account scheme. In Committee, we were repeatedly told that it was to be a voluntary scheme and that the Bill merely facilitated that. However, there is huge public interest in the success or otherwise of the scheme, and Parliament is being asked to set up the structure without being given any way of tracking the scheme as it goes forward—it is just written out of the script.
The reclaim fund will publish important information about the work of the scheme in its annual report and in the list required by Schedule 1. Do the Government expect individual parliamentarians to search out that information all the time in case they miss something? It seems to me to be a no-brainer that the information should be laid before Parliament as soon as it is available. The reclaim fund is being set up as a statutory body; it could as easily have been a public body because it is channelling money towards the Big Lottery Fund. If it were a public body, it would have had accountability arrangements set out for it. In truth, because of the involvement of the Treasury and the oversight of the FSA, this is a hybrid body, and we need to reflect Parliament's natural interest in that.
I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, said on Clause 21 with regard to spending, the involvement of Parliament in that, and in particular the social investment fund, which the Government have told us is not one of their favoured spending priorities. There are many, including the Commission on Unclaimed Assets, which the Government charged with looking at how dormant account money should be spent, who believe that it is essential to set up a social investment fund. It needs a significant critical mass of money to get it going.
One of the most disappointing things that we heard in Committee was that the Secretary of State mentioned throughout the Bill, who will be responsible for giving directions to the Big Lottery Fund in connection with how the money is to be spent, is to be Mr Ed Balls. He is the Secretary of State with responsibility for schools; he does not have responsibility for social investment. The chances of any money going to social investment without any parliamentary involvement at all seems to us to be very small, which is why we need to keep Parliament involved.