It is always a pleasure to speak in these debates. I thank the Government and the Minister for all they have done to make this Bill happen. Clauses 12 and 29, to which the Minister’s amendments refer, indicate things that the Democratic Unionist party wish to see, and I let him know that our party will support the Government tonight. However, I now wish to speak to new clause 1.
I agree that there must be further provision for dormant assets. Why not make good use of funds that would ultimately lie dormant unless further action was taken? The Bill aims to expand the current criteria, which will come with some great benefits, so it is great to speak on an important issue such as this. I welcome the Bill and look forward to the debate’s conclusion.
The Bill’s core purpose is to extend the dormant assets scheme to other financial assets, which could generate an additional £880 million of contributions. The figures are gigantic when we think on them, and they indicate where the Bill is going and what it can achieve. The Bill has three main functions: to track dormant account owners and reunite them with their account; to allow account owners to reclaim any amount they would have been eligible for; and to allow firms to partake as a voluntary process. The Bill will expand the assets involved further, creating a more sustainable economic success rate, make it a requirement for firms to get involved, and remove further financial restrictions. It is a win-win for the Government and for the Minister in particular.
The dormant assets scheme currently supports and boosts, by some £800 million, innovative, long-term programmes that aim to address some of the most pressing social and environmental issues. As I said, its expansion through the Bill will unlock an additional £880 million. It is stated that the Bill’s benefits will be felt across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I for one would like reassurances from the Minister that it will extend to Northern Ireland and that we will benefit as well. The potential for benefit in the UK mainland is great, but we also want to see it, if we can, in Northern Ireland.
Thus far, the scheme has benefited many foundations. The Youth Futures Foundation, which has undertaken significant work to tackle youth unemployment, got some £90 million, and Big Society Capital got over £400 million to tackle homelessness. These are great projects. The Bill makes money available to address social issues; how could anyone not say that that is great?
Also at the heart of this scheme is securing protections for those who own any of the financial assets involved. Dormant assets remain the property of their owners, who can reclaim any money owed to them in full at any time. In Northern Ireland, the Dormant Accounts Fund NI works to support the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, and we can see the benefits immediately. In Northern Ireland more than 44,000 staff are employed in the sector, which accounts for 6% of the total Northern Ireland workforce. I would encourage all organisations to contact the National Lottery Community Fund to take advantage of the wonderful scheme that Northern Ireland has to offer.
I thank Members who have already contributed, and those who will contribute later, to a debate that has made clear the potential for a great economic impact following this expansion. I want to ensure that the devolved institutions can take advantage of this scheme as well, and that the funds generated in England are greater than those generated in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There must also be further engagement with local communities and smaller organisations to ensure that they are not left behind.
I acknowledge the benefits that the Bill has introduced so far, and I shall welcome further discussion and expansion to ensure that financial assets are not wasted and the money is put to good use. We have seen what the scheme can do; it can do more.