New Clause 1 - Authorised reclaim funds: duty to assess and report

Part of Dormant Assets Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 31st January 2022.

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Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 8:15 pm, 31st January 2022

I know that the Westminster press corps has been waiting for something exciting to happen in Parliament today, so I am glad to be able to help to provide it. It is good to see the Secretary of State in her place fresh from her “Channel 4 News” interview triumph.

The SNP welcomes the Bill and the expansion of the dormant assets scheme. The extra £880 million available as a result is welcome. The scheme has already delivered £745 million for social and environmental initiatives. By expanding the list of assets that qualify for the scheme, up to £1.7 billion more could be available for use.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the remarks made about the Bill in the other place, although I am sure that he is aware of them. Peers wanted clarity on its potential costs and more detailed impact assessments for the expanded scheme. Baroness Barker specifically warned that these details were important, so the scheme does not become a

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

SNP Members welcome the Labour party amendment proposing an annual assessment of the health and governance of authorised reclaimed funds; this will, I think, help to assuage Baroness Barker’s concerns. Also, as a principle, the more scrutiny is given to this legislation, the better it will function.

It is good, of course, to see that the Bill makes some changes to distribution in England. Now the Secretary of State will have more freedom to spread assets through secondary legislation. That allows England to catch up with Scotland, which already has such an ability. As Lord Triesman highlighted in the other place, it was the example set by the devolved nations, whose innovative thinking in how they spend the funds allotted to them, that provided the impetus for the expansion of the scheme that the Bill presents. What the pandemic has shown is that the needs of the population can change dramatically and suddenly. Flexibility in secondary legislation is a useful tool to deal with that, and we must continue to ensure that there is adequate scrutiny.

We welcome the requirement for the Secretary of State to launch a public consultation and to consult the national lottery. The Community Fund must always be consulted before replacing or changing an order. However, it may be desirable to expand this consultation beyond the national lottery Community Fund and to include devolved Ministers responsible for spending in their nations, and representatives of the voluntary and social enterprise sectors.

It is reassuring to see that the expanded scheme will focus on reuniting owners with their dormant assets. With the expanded range of qualifying products, it is estimated that £3.7 billion-worth of products are lying dormant. For all the good that the schemes do for various charities, it is of the utmost importance that people are reunited with their assets. With the elderly and the vulnerable, especially those without digital skills, among those most likely to lose access or connection to their accounts in an increasingly digitised world, reunification efforts are more important than ever. That is why the SNP welcomes the enhanced tracing and verification measures, which could lead to £2 billion being returned to members of the public.