Dormant Assets Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 8:50 pm on 6th December 2021.

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Second Reading

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:03 pm, 6th December 2021

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Over the past decade, the dormant assets scheme has released more than £800 million to tackle systemic social challenges and to support the communities that need help most. This Bill is estimated to unlock £880 million of additional funding to ensure that the dormant assets scheme can continue to support innovative, long-term programmes addressing some of our most pressing social and environmental challenges. The scheme is led by industry and backed by the Government. Its aim is to reunite owners with their financial assets; where that is not possible, the money supports vital social and environmental initiatives across the UK.

Consumer protection is at the heart of the scheme. Dormant assets remain the property of their owners, who can reclaim any money owed to them in full at any time. However, only a small percentage do so, meaning that the rest of the money lies dormant. The scheme responds to the imperative to put the money to better use.

The Bill marks the completion of a five-year review in collaboration with industry leaders, including an independent commission and a public consultation. The scheme’s success is down in no small part to the commitment and drive of the banks and building societies that have led the charge on unlocking dormant assets for the public good. However, it is only right that the scheme continues to grow and evolve.

Currently, only assets from dormant bank or building society accounts are eligible to be transferred into the dormant assets scheme. The Bill will enable Reclaim Fund Ltd, the scheme’s administrator, to accept a broader range of asset classes in the sectors of insurance and pensions, investment and wealth management, and securities. Of course, there could be even more dormant assets to unlock in future. The Bill will therefore introduce a new power to provide the flexibility to expand the scheme through regulations.

I stress that the four core principles that underpin the scheme—voluntary participation, reunification first, full restitution and the additionality principle—will remain unchanged by the Bill. The Bill will require the Secretary of State to

“carry out periodic reviews of…the operation of the dormant assets scheme and…any use made of the powers” to extend the scheme.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

There are many worthwhile projects that local communities would like to bring forward. How can they feel that they are part of this project and gain advantage from dormant bank accounts?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. There will be a consultation; I or the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, will come to it later.

The Bill makes provision to reflect Reclaim Fund Ltd’s establishment as a Treasury non-departmental public body and names it as the scheme’s only authorised reclaim fund. In addition, the Bill includes a new power for the Treasury to designate additional authorised reclaim funds in future. To guarantee consumer protection, the Bill’s money resolution will enable the Government to cover the liability, in the form of a loan, for reclaims should any authorised reclaim fund face insolvency.

The Bill will amend the approach to distributing dormant assets funding in England, aligning it with the model used in the devolved Administrations, who have powers to focus funding through secondary legislation, provided that it is within the parameters of social or environmental purpose. In England, the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008 restricts the English portion of funding to youth financial inclusion and social investment. The Bill will enable the current restrictions to be removed from primary legislation and put into secondary legislation so that the scheme can respond to changing needs over time. The Bill will require the Secretary of State, before making an order, to publicly consult on the social and environmental focus of the English portion of funds. No changes to the existing restrictions can be made until and unless a new order is laid.

After 10 years of operation, it is right that we carefully consider how the scheme can deliver the greatest impact once it has been expanded.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation

With the expansion in the amount of money and the number of areas subject to the scheme, there is a danger that we could end up swamping the economy in those areas. We therefore need to broaden out the scope of the good causes towards which the scheme can work.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my hon. Friend for that point—a legitimate point that will be raised in different ways across the country during the consultation, and one on which the Secretary of State will need to reflect in due course before an order is laid.

It is vital that we afford everyone a fair and open opportunity to have their say, so the Government plan to launch the first public consultation, which will last for at least 12 weeks after the Bill receives Royal Assent. Until we have launched the consultation and fully considered the responses, the Government are not prepared to make decisions or commitments on the ways in which future funds will be used in England. To do so would clearly undermine the validity and transparency of the consultation exercise.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Under the current legislation—the Charities Act 2011—urban regeneration is one of the areas that distributions are allowed to go into, but it is not clear whether they can go to, for example, a regional mutual bank. As my hon. Friend knows, the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking is strongly in favour of that. Could the point be clarified in the Bill to facilitate a quicker move to fund those regional mutuals?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

In short, no; that will not feature on the face of the Bill. However, my hon. Friend is a doughty advocate for that cause, and I am sure he will make a hearty contribution to the consultation which will inform the Government’s response in respect of those future parameters.

Mindful of time and the need for contributions from so many Members on both sides of the House, I will end by reiterating that the Government are committed to supporting industry efforts to reunite more owners with lost money, and to provide a practical way for unclaimed and unwanted funds to be put to good use. The dormant assets scheme has achieved that, and we are determined to ensure that it continues to be a success. I hope that the Bill will command cross-party support this evening, and that we will be able to work together on expanding the scheme to unlock hundreds of millions of pounds more for good causes throughout the country in the years to come. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 9:11 pm, 6th December 2021

In 2008, Labour set out a new principle in the House: to put dormant assets from bank and building society accounts to work, first by trying to reunite owners with their accounts but then, when connections failed to materialise, by moving assets to address social and environmental good causes. Labour’s vision has since released nearly £8 million to infrastructure bodies which, in turn, have multiplied the investment and expanded the work of civil society. I continue to argue that the pounds spent by civil society organisations stretch much further than those spent elsewhere in the economy.

This is a success to celebrate, but the last two years have been tough. As the sector's campaign slogan in response to the pandemic says, charities have been “#NeverMoreNeeded”. Demand went up and funding down as shops were shut and fundraising dried up. That is why this legislation is really “never more needed”, but it also furthers Labour’s ambition to introduce other assets into the reclaim fund, now that the principle has been established and the scheme has proved successful.

The three-year review should have taken place a decade ago, and the legislation before us today should have already released millions of pounds. If it had, the sector might have survived the last two years more securely rather than ending up where it is today. Today we are urging the Government to press on while also ensuring that the Bill is in good shape.

Charities have been tested throughout the last decade as the state failed to give the sector the back-up that it needed. Charities and Labour have shared values and a shared sense of purpose. We want to do all we can to transform our society, and that is why we value charities so highly. Bursting with dedication and expertise, civil society really is the heartbeat of all our communities.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes

Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the Government put more than £150 million into the charity sector last year, and does she think that that was welcome, not enough or too much?

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As I was going on to say, that money reached only 14,000 charities out of 169,000. As we see demand spiralling, we are seeing charities struggling. The Government could have been far more generous, as they have been to many other sectors during the pandemic.

Every organisation has had to reinvent itself, digging deeper into its reserves, borrowing where possible, and appealing to the ever-generous public for help. We saw charities and mutual aid groups spring up in every corner of every community. Where the state stopped, charities took their service ever more deeply into our communities. That is why this legislation really matters, and why Labour will support its passage through the Commons today. It arrives in a better state thanks to the extensive work undertaken in the other place, and I particularly thank Lord Bassam of Brighton for his skilful handling of it, to help it to reflect the priorities of civil society.

In looking at the detail of the Bill, we are pleased to see that the principles that Labour set out in 2008 remain, including that of reuniting assets with their owners through extensive tracing processes and ensuring that the owner will always be able to claim the value of their asset in full if they seek to do so. The principle of this being a voluntary scheme will remain, whereby participants can opt in, and I encourage everyone to do so. When dormant assets have been through thorough tracing processes, the asset then transfers to the reclaim fund, which is responsible for any reclaim that might occur, moving surplus into the hands of identified organisations. Labour is most grateful to Big Society Capital, Access, the Youth Futures Foundation and Fair4All Finance for the way in which they have multiplied the value of these assets and invested them wisely to help people in our communities. Likewise, we are grateful to organisations in the devolved countries.

Part 1 of the Bill expands the opportunity for the inclusion of other financial dormant assets. The consultations to get to this point have been thorough, and each new product carries its own racing mechanisms and timescales to reduce risk. We welcome the inclusion of all the named assets, but I want to press the Minister further on pension schemes. While there is some inclusion, I know that he is making the case that until the pensions dashboard has been thoroughly tested, he is reluctant to expand in this area. I appreciate that there has been significant delay in the introduction of the dashboard, which has caused the Government significant embarrassment. This delay is denying good causes the assets that they want to put to work.

Perhaps the Minister could set out a timeline for further widening the scheme to these kinds of products. It would be good to hear from him what other assets he is considering for later inclusion, whether they are direct cash or non-cash assets. Charities cannot wait to benefit, and nor can the public. The powerful testimonies from current beneficiaries demand that the Government seek to expand. I know that the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place raised many helpful suggestions as to how that could happen. Wherever funds can be identified, Labour wants to see them put to work for social and environmental good causes.

Part 2 of the Bill focuses on a number of themes, the first of which is the reclaim fund. Moving it under the auspices of the Treasury is a positive move, placing it independently but with lines into the Treasury. However, it is Labour’s consideration that, 13 years since the scheme’s passage through this place, it should be reviewed. Each reclaim product should be assessed separately according to the levels of real risk to the reclaim fund. If data from the first phase is observed, the scheme could be more generous in its support to beneficiaries. The sector agrees with that. A regular review would also help to identify any risk in the scheme. The Government will now be responsible for underwriting any deficit that might occur with a loan to the scheme, but it is far better to avoid such risk in the first place. My broader question is therefore: is the balance right?

Before I address the matter of where the money is spent, I also want to raise the question of the next stage of the Bill. After such detailed consultation over many years, we need to ensure that there is no further significant delay in preparing and instituting secondary legislation. Labour wants to see this process commence on the heels of this legislation, for it to be thorough and allow sufficient time for response and for it then to be expedited through secondary legislation.

I am most grateful for the addition of clause 29 to this legislation. It was added on Report in the other place and it highlights a deficiency in the distribution of the reclaim fund. That is impeding civil society from thriving across many communities and impeding the social levelling-up agenda. Imagine doing a jigsaw and finding one piece missing: it mars the whole picture. The reconstruction of civil society is the same. All the schemes need to be in place, but the exemption of the community wealth fund has meant that whole swathes of communities have been robbed of the opportunity to build the very partnerships that could tackle the deepest of challenges.

In my own constituency, we have a thriving and growing voluntary sector under the superb leadership of York CVS. However, we have areas of real deep entrenched deprivation. Tang Hall Big Local, a local trust, has now developed micro-level infrastructure to start tackling social injustice in the Tang Hall area. It is utterly amazing to see the multi-agency approach and the multiple offers, alongside community engagement—225 such areas have been mapped out.

Imagine areas where there is no thriving CVS or a well-developed civil society sector, on which the new integrated care systems in the Health and Care Bill depend. Imagine this loss in the most deprived and challenged areas, as they often are. The amazing things that charities do just would not happen; the vital partnerships and social infrastructure would not be built. This is at the core of what the community wealth fund does. It empowers communities to develop the partnerships needed to transform themselves. Its inclusion will mean greater equality, which is surely what levelling up is all about.

That is why the inclusion of the community wealth fund in the Bill to build social infrastructure is so vital. The principles of the Bill and the 2008 Act are too broad to provide such a framework without clause 29, and the principle needs to be framed in primary legislation. Without it the funds could go elsewhere and will not meet the ambition that I trust the Government share with Labour.

The Government do not need further pilots, as there are 150 projects at various stages of development. Those projects have been evaluated and will continue to prove their value. When it comes to the civil society sector, the Government always seem to have the knack of overcomplicating things and missing the opportunity it presents. If they really wanted to build back better, they would have poured investment into community wealth funds and seized this moment to bring about social transformation. That is why Labour has pushed so hard so see it included in the Bill, and the Lords supported it. I trust for the sake of its impact that the Government will not lose the opportunity to reaffirm the principle of a community wealth fund in primary legislation to complete that picture.

In closing, I put on the record my thanks to the thousands of organisations that have shown their support for taking the reclaim fund forward, and to the participants in the dormant assets scheme to date for their co-operation and engagement. Across our communities, staff and volunteers are building civil society, fighting inequality and injustice, and supporting people with every need. Their contribution is outstanding and their support is utterly amazing. It gives us all such pride to reflect on all they do. Putting money to good work for them to multiply its benefits has always been a principle that Labour has advanced, and we will again throughout the passage of this Bill.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation 9:22 pm, 6th December 2021

I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on financial education for young people. Several key supporters of the APPG have benefited from the dormant assets scheme, in which I know my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury takes a keen interest. His has often been a lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to financial education for young people, and we are grateful for his support.

It would be fair to say that the current dormant assets scheme has far exceeded expectations since the passage of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008. I was a financial journalist at the time, and I well remember that it was seen as revolutionary but relatively small-scale—a staging post. The then Government thought it would raise about £400 million, but it has raised £800 million. I also remember that there were a lot of questions about exactly how it would be brought about, how fair it would be and whether people would get their money back.

There were also questions about whether people would find their money was just taken, whether it would be an example of the state effectively piling into people’s lives, but we have seen a huge amount of fairness. No one can complain—even those from 1864 who lost money from their National Savings and Investments account have not come forward to say they have been mistreated in that respect.

I have seen in my constituency the huge amount of good this scheme has done. Ordinary Magic, a group based in Shirley, received £60,000 through the fund this year, and it is providing support to local children—we know from the tragic events this weekend exactly how welcome this is in my community—who are suffering from mental health conditions by providing psycho-education workshops to teach parents how to enable their children to get through these difficult times and difficult situations. It also provides personal, social, health and economic education sessions in schools, enrichment holiday clubs and breaks for children and carers, which is hugely important.

As Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I believe it is incredibly important for our young people, particularly those living among some of our most deprived communities, to have access to the performing arts. I make reference to the Citizens Theatre, based in Glasgow, which is fantastic in its outreach. I know for a fact that it goes out into the local community; I believe it even tries to recruit young actors in chicken shops, cafés and other such places. The distribution of the dormant assets scheme is therefore providing enrichment experiences that young people in Glasgow need to expand their confidence and explore their identities through the stage. That would not be the case had it not been for this legislation, which has cross-party support.

However, I believe we have a major disparity in the existing system, whereby the devolved Administrations have more flexibility in how the dormant assets funding is distributed in comparison with England, where the funding is restricted to groups promoting financial inclusion—obviously, I have an interest in those—and social investment. While financial inclusion and social investment charities both do important work, it is only right that we widen our funding distribution here in England as well.

That is why I support the Bill before the House. Under this legislation, the Government will be in a position to increase the flexibility on how funding is allocated over time. As they see the money come in, they will be able to suit the distribution of those funds accordingly and be able to bring about real change. That is to be done through amending the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008, allowing the Government to set out additional clauses through secondary legislation. It will thus be subject to a departmental consultation in the public domain, which is important, and will need the support of hon. Members through parliamentary approval, as per usual.

Supporting this change by approving the legislation before us will allow the Government to bring themselves in line with our devolved Administrations, so they can set their distribution priorities through secondary legislation. According to the Association of British Insurers, which I understand is backing the Bill, it is estimated that £2.1 billion currently sits in dormant insurance and pension products. Let us just think of the life-affirming, life-changing effects that that £2.1 billion, if correctly and safely distributed with the right to reclaim, could have on our communities across the country.

I concur with my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake in his ambition for community banks. I also place on the record my thanks to those within banking and financial services who work tirelessly year in, year out to reconnect dormant assets with their customers. They really do not give up—even with the case in 1864 with National Savings & Investments, they are probably still writing letters. Indeed, I know the sector invests millions each year in reuniting customers with their money. However, despite some of their best efforts to reconnect dormant assets with the customer, sometimes we know it is simply not possible. That said, with the greater move to online banking, customers should be in a far better position to keep track of their finances and securities.

Finally, it is welcome that, following the Government’s public consultation in July 2020, the existing scheme will be expanded to include assets from the insurance, pensions, investments, wealth management and securities sectors. This step will pump even more funding into the dormant assets scheme, in turn supporting some of the most innovative and inspiring work in the third sector.

As Rachael Maskell stated, we know the charity sector has had an incredibly difficult pandemic; £750 million was hugely welcome, but the total shortfall across the sector was £4 billion. Let us hope that some of the redirected resources from this scheme can go towards that third sector, to ensure that they can continue the work they do.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 9:28 pm, 6th December 2021

We in the Scottish National party welcome the Bill and the expansion of the dormant assets scheme. The extra £880 million now available as a result is very welcome, especially in what is an extremely difficult time for so many up and down the country. Already the scheme has delivered £745 million for social and environmental initiatives. By expanding the current list of assets that qualify for the scheme, up to £1.7 billion more could be made available.

The Minister will doubtless be aware of the remarks made in the other place about the Bill. Peers wanted clarity on its potential costs and more detailed impact assessments of the expanded scheme. Baroness Barker specifically warned that such details are important so that the scheme does not become a

“piggyback fund for government when times are tough.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 May 2021; Vol. 812, c. 1039.]

Perhaps the Minister can assuage her concerns and give us the detail that she asked for.

It is good to see that the Bill makes some changes to distribution in England; the Secretary of State will have more freedom to spread assets through secondary legislation, thus allowing England to catch up with Scotland and the other devolved nations. As Lord Triesman pointed out in the other place, the example set by the devolved nations through their innovative thinking about how to spend the funds allotted to them provided the impetus for the expansion of the scheme in England through this Bill.

The pandemic has shown that the needs of the population can change dramatically and suddenly. Flexibility in secondary legislation is a useful tool to deal with such change, but we must also ensure adequate consultation and scrutiny. We welcome the requirement for the Secretary of State to launch a public consultation and to consult the National Lottery Community Fund before replacing or changing an order. However, it may also be desirable to expand such consultation beyond that fund and to include the devolved Ministers responsible for spending in their nations and representatives of the voluntary and social enterprise sectors.

It is reassuring that the expanded scheme will focus on reuniting owners with their assets. With the expanded range of qualifying products, it is estimated that £3.7 billion-worth of financial assets lie dormant. With the elderly and vulnerable—especially those without digital skills—among those most likely to lose access or connection to their accounts in an increasingly digitised world, such efforts are vital. That is why we on the SNP Benches welcome the enhanced tracing and verification measures that could lead to the reclamation of as much as £2 billion.

The Bill should be effective, but if we could get clarity from the Minister on some of the points raised here and in the other place, it would be much appreciated.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 9:32 pm, 6th December 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I am supportive of the Bill and the widening of the jurisdiction of the legislation.

As I said in an earlier intervention, my brief remarks will be centred on community banks, which, as both Ministers on the Front Bench—my hon. Friends the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nigel Huddleston—know, the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking believes are at the heart of social purpose. Indeed, the APPG’s recent “Scale up to level up” report makes the case for regional mutual banks and community development financial institutions, which could—and in the case of CDFIs do—play an important role in fairness, making sure that we level up properly, and in regional distribution in terms of regional recovery.

Let us look at how regional mutual banks worked in Germany after the most recent financial crisis. In the five-year period between 2008 and 2013, UK commercial banks withdrew financing to small and medium-sized enterprises by around 25%, whereas in the same period co-operative and community banks in Germany increased lending to SMEs by 20%. That was an incredibly important time for SMEs—they need funding to get through crises of that kind—and co-operative and community banks take a different approach to lending. Commercial banks are important in the UK but regional mutual banks could play an important role by getting patient capital to where it is really needed, which is to SMEs and the productive economy.

Regional mutual banks are not just a feature of Germany, and this is not just a romantic ideal; they are very much part of every G7 economy, with the US, Germany and Japan being examples of where they work very effectively. They are not currently part of the UK banking sector—they used to be—but the APPG sees them as crucial to levelling up because they can have a genuine regional focus.

Similarly, there are some very good examples of CDFIs. A business enterprise fund in Bradford, Yorkshire, is key to making sure that people who are financially excluded are financially included. Regional mutuals are full-service banks. CDFIs are not full-service banks, but they make sure that people on low incomes are properly banked, which again works very much on a relationship-based approach. They also lend quite significantly to small and medium-sized enterprises.

There are 50 CDFIs around the country. They rely very much on grants and loans rather than getting money from the markets, so it is incredibly important that they see more funds going into them. I see this as a real opportunity for some of our less well-off communities to thrive in the future. These organisations are sector-based, making sure, for example, that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and women are properly supported.

One very good example of how CDFIs work is Prima Bakeries in Cornwall, which is featured in our report, “Scale Up to Level Up”. At the time, the business had 19 employees. It was refused banking from its high street bank, so it went to its local CDFI, South West Investment Group, which lent it the money it needed to get through. It now has 96 people employed in that organisation. That shows how CFDIs take a different, relationship-based approach, rather than simply looking at the pure numbers, which the big banks tend to do.

It would be very simple for us to try to expand the current legislation—I take on board my hon. Friend the Minister’s comments about going through a consultation. The difficulty with consultations is the time that they take. I know that it is a 12-week consultation, but this kind of stuff might take months or years to implement. It is quite clear from section 3(2)(c) of the Charities Act 2011 that urban regeneration is an area that qualifies for the distribution of dormant assets, but the people who distribute them, Big Society Capital and Fair4All Finance, currently think that regional mutuals and CDFIs do not qualify for those funds.

If we could put something into the legislation, a simple clarification rather than a wider consultation, on the basis that these sectors could be funded through dormant assets—I know that there will lots of different people trying to pitch for all kinds of different things—it would mean money going to those organisations much more quickly. If they are key to levelling up, which I absolutely believe they are, it would be good to see that consultation. We are looking for about £100 million to pump-prime these organisations with this funding. I will table an amendment to the legislation to discuss this at a later stage, because it would be better to expedite this issue than wait for a long-term consultation. No doubt we will have more time to discuss that at a later stage.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 9:37 pm, 6th December 2021

May I start by declaring an interest as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on philanthropy and social investment and also chair of a national charity that has benefited from dormant assets funding, as well as the many organisations that the all-party group represents?

Since the last Labour Government introduced the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008, with cross-party support, more than £800 million has been distributed to good causes. The four organisations that have been involved with the distribution—Big Society Capital, Fair4All Finance, Youth Futures Foundation and Access, the Foundation for Social Investment—have a proven track record and an evidence-based approach to investment and support to charities and social enterprises across the country.

It is vital that this Bill builds on the work and the evidence underpinning the allocation of funding. It is also vital that we look at some of the things that these organisations have achieved. Big Society Capital alone has used the £425 million of dormant assets to bring in another additional £2.5 billion of social investment from other investors, so it is vital that we ensure that that is built on and that there is not a power grab by Ministers to allocate funding to their favoured causes. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the consultation will be meaningful and not an attempt to take away the proper accountability, scrutiny and good governance that underpins the current allocation of funding, through these agencies, to good causes in our constituencies up and down the country.

Since 2019, the Youth Futures Foundation, which has a fund of £90 million, has started to allocate funding to young people. I have seen how the charity that I chair has benefited; 70% of the beneficiaries are from working-class and ethnic minority backgrounds in different parts of the country. Many other organisations up and down the country are also doing really great work with young people. Youth Futures Foundation has distributed nearly £19 million to 143 civil society organisations engaging about 18,000 people during the pandemic, and there is much more to do for those who face disadvantage and discrimination. As I have said, the work of Big Society Capital has meant that organisations have been able to build a social economy in their areas, which has had benefits in a wide range of fields such as tackling homelessness and building new social businesses across the country.

Let us build on the achievements reached under the last Labour Government and the cross-party consensus that has underpinned the work of these multiple organisations. I hope that the Government will ensure that lessons are learnt from the scandal of the towns fund. There have been big concerns about funding being allocated when Ministers have more control over it and there is less accountability; funding must not be dictated by political favouritism. Likewise, we hear the scandals of the personal protective equipment contracts, with separate pathways for those who have close connections with the ruling party. We must ensure that we do not fall into those traps, because there is a great deal of cross-party consensus on supporting organisations in our constituencies up and down the country.

During the pandemic, we have seen how vital it is to support charities. I have been fortunate to be able to work with colleagues in the Conservative party, as well as Liberal Democrats, SNP Members and others, through my all-party parliamentary group. I hope that Ministers will take heed of the representation that has been made and ensure that, rather than the duty to consult just being paid lip service to, there is proper protection and good governance in the future allocation of the dormant assets funds, and that they do not just dish out money to their pet causes, dictated by political considerations rather than what is in the interests of community organisations and charities across our constituencies and our country.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 9:42 pm, 6th December 2021

Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker; I will keep my remarks brief.

This fantastic Bill will unlock literally hundreds of millions of pounds to support communities and community businesses throughout the country. The Bill is clear about where the money is coming from, so let me talk briefly about where the money could go to. The Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008 unlocked funding to support our UK social investment sector, and I very much hope that this Bill will do the same. The UK social investment market has tremendous potential to transform communities up and down the country, and to support businesses that have a social benefit and charities that have specific, targeted interventions. While discussing this Bill, it is important that we reflect on the time since the 2008 Bill. In the brief time that I have, I will highlight three points.

First, as has been mentioned by Rushanara Ali, in 2012 £425 million was taken from the dormant assets pool to form Big Society Capital, which was the world’s first social investment organisation. As she quite rightly pointed out, it has done significant and brilliant work to mobilise social investment capital, and has helped to fund a lot of businesses and charities around the country. However, it is important to point out, as my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake did, that it is constrained by the very specific, ringfenced scope of the legislation at the time, to the extent that its mandate has almost become overtly philanthropic. If we are really going to unleash the potential of social investment, it is vital that we look at the organisation’s scope to be able to invest in businesses that have a social impact and make money. Their financial track record over the past eight years shows that they have a made a loss in six of those years. If we spoke to the organisations themselves, they would agree that if they were given more freedom to invest across the country in different types of business, they could do a lot better.

My next point is on what are commonly known as social outcome contracts, which were first launched in 2011. These are highly complex, very illiquid and somewhat risky arrangements. We have had 87 launched in this country since 2011. They were billed as a way of mobilising billions of private capital. Unfortunately, they have only mobilised £73 million. I therefore urge caution on the Government ahead of proceeding with allocations in future to make sure that they are not investing in social outcome contracts that may not deliver what they say they will.

However, there is one area that I would encourage the Government to look at as part of their consultation, and that is to bolster our liquid, tradeable social bond funds and the market that is out there. These are issued by corporates and charities to ringfence capital that has a social impact. We are a genuine world leader in this. Last year there was $59 billion of issuance that could multiply quite exponentially given what has happened with green bonds. I encourage the Government to look at that in more detail.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes 9:45 pm, 6th December 2021

The whole programme of dormant assets and the social investment that it has mobilised has been a great success story. I pay tribute to Sir Harvey McGrath, the outgoing chairman of Big Society Capital, and to his team; and also to Nick Hurd, formerly of this place, who chairs the Access foundation, his colleague Seb Elsworth, and others there. They have done an absolutely tremendous job. Mobilising £8 billion of private money for £800 million of dormant assets is not bad.

I recognise the points made by my hon. Friend Gareth Davies. The fact is that some programmes do fail. The whole point of investment is that they do not always work. We have to keep an eye on the overall returns that funds like this generate. However, there are some tremendous success stories, including in social outcome contracts. I declare an interest regarding the one I founded—the West London Zone for Children and Young People, which has leveraged public money through social outcome contracts very successfully, bringing in significant private investment and delivering great outcomes for young people.

I recognise that, as Rushanara Ali said, it is not appropriate for us, as MPs or Ministers, to be dictating the objects for these sorts of funds. Nevertheless, I hope she will not mind if I make some suggestions of the sorts of projects that would be useful for this. My hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake is absolutely right that there is a massive gap in our finance sector in this country where we need small regional banks lending particularly to family businesses. That is absolutely crucial. If this money could support that, I would absolutely welcome it.

Then there is the opportunity for investment in personal debt projects. I particularly reference the suggestion by Fair4All Finance of creating a jubilee debt fund to tackle problem debt. We could do that. Community foundations and existing charities can and should be used as objects for significant capital injections. They distribute money very effectively to small local charities and causes.

Finally, there is the idea of a community wealth fund mentioned by Rachael Maskell. I absolutely agree with her suggestion. I pay tribute to Matt Leach and Margaret Bolton of Local Trust, who seem to have got those on both sides of this House pretty much in their pocket when it comes to lobbying for this brilliant idea, which I endorse too. A community wealth fund could do all the things that we are describing to get money to all these projects, whether commercial, charitable or social enterprise. That is the sort of economy we need— a mixed economy that includes all these different and great innovations.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich 9:49 pm, 6th December 2021

I broadly welcome this legislation, as it expands a positive initiative. I understand the scheme is voluntary, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thinking on whether we could move towards a mandatory system for our larger institutions.

The focus of my remarks is on the use of the funds. As has been stated, today, the money can only be used for youth, financial inclusion or social investment in England. It has been helpful to have those priorities set out in legislation. It gives certainty to funders and guaranteed income streams, so I am wary of the decision to strip it all the way back to consultation. I thank Ministers for the time they have taken to explain to me that the additionality principle is still in place and that the money must still be spent on social and environmental causes. That has given me some reassurance, but I wonder whether there is a halfway house we can reach, where we retain the new flexibility that the Minister would like to have for the Government, while perhaps having a focus on things such as geographical and deprivation-linked spending, so that we can tackle some of the challenges around levelling up at the same time.

I often find that the most deprived areas are the least able to put themselves forward to apply for funding. If there was some kind of linkage to that, it would be welcome. That is why I support some of the suggestions on a community wealth fund for the 225 most deprived or left-behind neighbourhoods in the country, one of which is Crewe St Barnabas in my constituency. I have seen at first-hand the deprivation challenges that that creates. Backing the community wealth fund, even if not through legislation, but in the consultation process later on, would send a powerful message to those wards and those parts of the country that the Government are serious about levelling up. I thank the Minister for his remarks.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield 9:50 pm, 6th December 2021

I will try to be as quick as I can. First, I compliment my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake; I agree with everything he said. Primarily, I want to speak to the proposal for the creation of the community wealth fund through the Bill. The Government have made it clear that levelling up is one of their top priorities. That has been demonstrated through the establishment of a Department, new funds for levelling up, the £200 million community renewal fund and so on. That is all very welcome, but it is only part of the story. Those things will not by themselves be sufficient to level up the most deprived or left-behind neighbourhoods. They are focused on shovel-ready physical infrastructure—an excellent starting point—but we should not forget that we also need to build the social capital needed to develop and sustain prosperity in left-behind neighbourhoods.

I agree with the Government that we need to invest in community-led infrastructure at the neighbourhood level to ensure that the levelling-up agenda is successful. A community wealth fund would complement existing initiatives by addressing the need to help communities develop and sustain the social infrastructure that is the lifeblood of strong communities, building social cohesion and laying the foundations for a strong local economy.

The community wealth fund, which would invest in the 225 most deprived or left-behind neighbourhoods in this country, would repair the social fabric in those communities where it is most frayed. That is the particular focus of the all-party parliamentary group that I jointly chair, and I thank everyone who contributes to it for increasing my motivation. We also need to consider how we deliver this fund and what we do, and I would like us to consider the idea of the late Jonathan Sacks that a social covenant, which is relational and human, is preferable to a social contract, which is transactional and bureaucratic. This Bill has the potential to further strengthen families, communities and the nation, and I would like the Minister to consider that as a methodology for getting it there and letting us trust the people. I will explore that further in my ten-minute rule Bill on Wednesday.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 9:52 pm, 6th December 2021

I thank all hon. and right hon. Members for their valuable contributions in the debate today, many giving examples of the huge impact that dormant assets funding has had in their constituencies, and we see that right across the country. I am pleased that the Bill has such obvious support across the House and in the other place. It is clear that we all share the ambition to ensure the scheme’s continued success in unlocking dormant assets for public goods.

I would like to address some of the points raised today. Time will not allow me to give full details, and we will be debating the issues and details of this Bill in its later stages. I am also happy to discuss with colleagues across the House issues raised today ahead of the Committee stage, should there be an appetite to do so.

Members have raised a wide range of issues, in particular regarding future spend considerations. Clause 29, as mentioned by Rachael Maskell, enables the Secretary of State to launch a public consultation on the social or environmental purposes of the English portion of the dormant assets funding, as the hon. Member for—[Interruption.]—as John Nicolson pointed out. Sorry, this is what happens when Members change constituencies. We do not have the flexibility in England that they have in the devolved Administrations, and that is something we would like to correct, as my hon. Friend Julian Knight mentioned.

The Government plan to launch a consultation that will last for 12 weeks after the Bill receives Royal Assent and clause 29 is commenced. We anticipate that summer 2020 is the earliest that that will be possible. The consultation will enable the public to have their say on how the impact of the scheme can continue to be felt by the people and communities who need it most. We are committed to ensuring that the process is broad and inclusive.

As the consultation is dependent on the Bill passing with the measure included, it is too early to speculate on the causes that may be included, and I would not want to pre-empt the conclusions of the recommendations. As we have heard this evening, however, many suggestions are being put forward by hon. Members in this place and the other place about vehicles or future causes that could be included, and we are certainly open to hearing them.

We are not opposed to considering, for example, community wealth funds, as articulated by several hon. Members. My hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake mentioned alternative measures involving mutuals and credit unions. My hon. Friend Gareth Davies mentioned alternative measures too. We will consider them all in the consultation.

As outlined by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury in his opening remarks, the Bill is designed to ensure that we continue to have the core principles in mind, such as additionality, as raised by several hon. Members. It is important that that underpins the success of the scheme, as it has for the last decade. The 2008 Act describes additionality as

“the principle that dormant account money should be used to fund projects, or aspects of projects, for which funds would be unlikely to be made available by…a Government department” or devolved Administration. I reassure hon. Members that that principle will remain, which will ensure that funding is directed to causes that fulfil the scheme’s objectives while being additional to central or devolved Government funds.

I reassure Rushanara Ali, my hon. Friend Danny Kruger and others that that means that the Government do not have direct access to dormant asset funding and cannot influence it. The money must go to the appropriate causes, as defined in legislation, which have a continuing focus on social and environmental purposes, which is pivotal. As I said, several hon. Members have mentioned alternative measures and we look forward to continuing the dialogue with them about where the funding should go, but the core principles will continue to apply.

We will continue the debate in the future stages of the Bill, but I reiterate that its key purpose is to present the opportunity to significantly expand the scheme—we are talking about hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding—while protecting participating institutions and rightful owners. We want to continue to make sure that, where possible, money goes back to those who own the funds or are rightful owners of the money.

As a result of the Bill, we hope to release hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funds for social and environmental causes across the nation. I look forward to working together to pass this important piece of legislation, so we can proceed with that expansion as soon as possible to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in deploying dormant assets at scale to society’s benefit across the country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.