Clause 23

Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at on 16 October 2008.

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Directions to Big Lottery Fund

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary, HM Treasury 9:00, 16 October 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 19, in clause 23, page 11, line 31, leave out subsection (2).

Good morning, Dr. McCrea. Subsection (2) was inserted into the clause in the other place contrary to our wishes. It would require Parliament to agree by affirmative resolution to the directions issued to the Big Lottery Fund by the Secretary of State on operational matters, such as the BLF’s financial management and staffing accounts, and by the Secretary of State to the devolved Administrations on the distribution of dormant account funds. By removing subsection (2), the Government consider that the scope of the Bill, as previously drafted, will be appropriate. Although I appreciate the arguments made in the other place for greater transparency and accountability, I hope that the Committee will accept that we have taken them into consideration elsewhere in the Bill and that subsection (2) is not necessary.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Treasury)

In the context of the national lottery Acts, will the Minister have similar powers to give direction and will there be parliamentary scrutiny of those powers? It is important to have comparability between the operation of the fund under the Bill and the Big Lottery Fund’s usual funds.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

I understand that the amendment tabled in the other place goes beyond existing national lottery practice, which is why we want to remove subsection (2). It could result in unintended consequences, and its removal would delete the requirement for Parliament to scrutinise the spending directions issued to the Big Lottery Fund by the devolved Administrations. In the spirit of devolution, the Government do not hold that Parliament should be required to discuss matters that should be more properly debated in the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. When their lordships voted for the amendment, I am not sure whether they realised that they would require Parliament to scrutinise what are clearly devolved matters for Scotland and Wales.

The Government hold that the parliamentary scrutiny and financial spending directions also covered by the provision are inappropriate. The powers in the Bill will enable the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to make financial directions governing matters such as the Big Lottery Fund’s accounts. They are standard powers necessary for the oversight of a non-departmental public body. It is not seriously intended  that the exercise of those powers be subject to an affirmative resolution. Even if it were accepted that subsection (2) was targeted at English spending directions—although the provision goes beyond that—we would hold that the affirmative procedure was inappropriate.

In the other place, to be open and transparent about the Government’s intentions, we set out our approach to the issuing of English spending directions. The directions to the Big Lottery Fund regarding spending in England will be considered by an inter-ministerial working group—a matter that we have discussed. It will involve the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Office of the Third Sector, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Her Majesty’s Treasury. In addition, the Bill requires the BLF to be consulted during the process of developing the directions.

The inter-ministerial working group will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who will issue directions to the BLF. Paragraph 9(2) of schedule 3 will require the BLF to set out in its annual report the directions given to it under clause 23 that had effect during the financial year to which the report relates. The Government understand need for transparency and have listened carefully to the points made in the other place about the possible time delay between the directions being issued and the BLF’s reporting of them.

We are happy to confirm that the BLF will publish the directions on its website as they are issued, which further underscores our commitment to transparency. As with the national lottery, the Government’s position is that this mechanism for developing and issuing directions to the BLF is the appropriate one and that creating a role for Parliament in the process, which has not happened before, would be disproportionate.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment No. 33, in clause 23, page 11, line 35, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 34, in clause 23, page 12, line 15, leave out ‘Secretary of State’s consent’ and insert

‘consent of Secretary of State in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 35, in clause 23, page 12, line 18, at end insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 36, in clause 23, page 12, line 19, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 37, in clause 24, page 12, line 39, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 38, in clause 24, page 13, line 1, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 39, in clause 24, page 13, line 8, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 40, in clause 25, page 13, line 11, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 41, in clause 25, page 13, line 14, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 42, in clause 25, page 13, line 29, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 43, in clause 27, page 14, line 10, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 44, in clause 27, page 14, line 14, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

No. 45, in clause 27, page 14, line 17, after ‘State’, insert

‘in charge of Lottery matters’.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I welcome you to what I hope is the Committee’s final sitting, Dr. McCrea. These amendments are straightforward. They would make it clear that, in respect of the fund’s operation, the Secretary of State concerned would be the Secretary of State with responsibility for lottery matters. Given the current machinery of Government, that would be the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The reason for choosing the Secretary of State in charge of lottery matters is that the BLF makes its report to that Secretary of State, although it is a non-departmental public body. That is the method of accountability, so it would seem obvious to maintain a consistency of approach in that respect.

The second, more substantive issue is that the Government have made it clear that, as far as they are concerned, the Secretary of State referred to in the Bill is the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Given that Secretary of State’s role in setting out the spending priorities, we believe it would be in the interests of fairness and objectivity for an alternative Minister to give those directions.

The process would be much more transparent if people felt that the person who gave spending directions was not one of the Ministers responsible for a policy area affected by one, if not two, of the three causes mentioned in the Bill. It would be a better set-up if the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport led the process on behalf of the Government. That would not preclude the inter-departmental working parties and all the machinery that goes into sorting out the priorities, but people would have more confidence in the objectivity of the spending allocations and the directions given to the BLF if they were made by a Minister who was independent of the three spending priorities. That is why we propose the insertion of

“in charge of lottery matters” in about 10 places throughout the Bill.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

As the hon. Gentleman suggests, these amendments prescribe that the lead Secretary of State in respect of the unclaimed assets scheme should be the same one who is responsible for overseeing the national lottery. I will explain why the Government are taking a  different approach. As was debated previously, the main priority for distribution in England will be youth services, so it is right for the Department of Children, Schools and Families to take the lead in issuing directions to the BLF, as the relevant lead policy Department.

We must have a lead and the hon. Gentleman rightly asks why it should not be DCMS, and it is apparent that it could be. However, given that the main priority for distribution is the provision of youth services, we hold to the fact that it is better if the lead Department is the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The BLF will therefore be accountable to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families for the spending of unclaimed assets, but spending priorities for unclaimed assets in England—I freely admit this—cut across other Departments’ policy areas, because of the other things that we are interested in. That is one reason why we have set up the inter-departmental ministerial working group to produce the directions in the first place.

It is not as though DCMS does not have a role; it will continue to have responsibility for ensuring that the BLF is fit for purpose in distributing lottery money, with appropriate systems in place. It will be up to the Departments to satisfy themselves that the BLF is distributing the funds for which they are responsible in accordance with their directions and, in so doing, meeting their objectives. As was said earlier, there will also be transparent disclosure of the distribution of assets within the BLF’s annual report, which will also publish details of the spending directions.

We believe that that is the appropriate approach. We have said that youth services are the priority, and we have to give a responsibility to a Department to lead on the matter—it is a co-ordinated lead. We remain of the view that it is appropriate that that Department is the DCSF, and I invite hon. Members to reject the amendment if it is pressed to a Division.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am not wildly comfortable with the idea of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families taking the lead in this matter; it would be better if another Minister in another Department did so, to ensure some fairness and equity in the distribution of funds between the three causes. I am also slightly concerned that we will end up with duplication: the DCMS has existing links with the BLF, and we are in danger of creating a parallel chain of engagement through the DCSF. Obviously, those costs, as is made clear elsewhere in the Bill, will be met from dormant accounts, and that will be another deduction from the amount of money that is available to good causes.

I shall not press the amendment to a Division. I suspect that there are enough hon. Members on the Government Benches to outweigh the meagre numbers on the Opposition Benches this morning. I cannot quite see that the power of my oratory this morning will persuade Government Back Benchers to rebel on such a matter, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 24 to 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.