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

Dormant Assets Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 11 Ionawr 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) The Secretary of State must make an annual assessment of the health and governance of authorised reclaim funds. The assessment must be reported to Parliament.

(2) The first report under subsection (1) must be laid 12 months after—

(a) any restriction imposed under section 18A(1)(a) of that Act comes into force, or

(b) the provision mentioned in section 18A(1)(b) of that Act comes into force,

(3) An assessment under subsection (1) must include an evaluation of the risk of insolvency of the fund.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to assess the health and governance of reclaim funds regularly in relation to the risk of insolvency, and to report on this annually to Parliament.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Tech, Gambling and the Digital Economy)

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

Briefly, we can all recognise the importance of parliamentary scrutiny over the spending of funds, and it is vital that the Government are held to account on the health and governance of reclaim funds, especially in relation to the potential for insolvency. At the moment, there is no such formal process. New clause 1 is therefore vital to ensure that a regular assessment of authorised reclaim funds is undertaken.

It is our job in this place to scrutinise and ensure that funds are fit for purpose, and I hope that colleagues of all political persuasions can see the benefit of an annual report brought before Parliament. Such a report, with a thorough assessment and prediction of the future of the fund, would be a step forward for transparency, which is crucial to parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in relation to the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

New clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to make an assessment of the health and governance of authorised reclaim funds and to report the assessment to Parliament annually. As we have discussed, RFL publishes its audited annual report and accounts on its website annually, and proactively raises awareness and increases transparency of its work by engaging with industry through stakeholder events and its online presence. Now that RFL is an arm’s length body, Parliament will have greater oversight of its operations and final information. RFL is now directly accountable to Parliament by virtue of its new status. As such, RFL’s chief executive officer has been designated as accounting officer.

RFL has been consolidated into HM Treasury’s accounts, which are laid before Parliament yearly. In July 2021, RFL was included in HM Treasury’s 2020-21 annual report and accounts for the first time. Furthermore, it is standard practice for the annual report and accounts of ALBs, together with any report of the auditor on them, to be laid before Parliament by the sponsor Department. That will happen for the first time this year. Therefore, Parliament will have the opportunity to review RFL’s full statutory accounts, and RFL, like all ALBs, cannot publish its accounts until they have been laid before Parliament. I therefore do not believe that there is any need for a bespoke arrangement for RFL in the Bill. I hope that that explanation demonstrates that Parliament will have greater oversight of RFL’s operations and financial information, so I ask the hon. Member for Pontypridd to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

It is no great comfort that the accounts will be assimilated into the accounts of HM Treasury because they will get lost in there. We regularly see instances where Government Departments will point to failures in a specific part of their operations that are almost invisible as a percentage of their overall expenditure but can have a significant impact on people’s lives. Any serious problem with this fund will start to have such an impact. That is why, certainly in the early days, it is reasonable for Parliament to want to be a bit more actively involved in its oversight than it would normally be for a long-established fund, particularly given that the fund has been established through an Act of Parliament for a specific purpose. I hear what the Minister says, but for a temporary period of two years, until the House can be reassured that the new arrangements are working well, something a bit more than the usual scrutiny and oversight provisions would be perfectly reasonable.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Ceidwadwyr, Wealden

Minister, you do not have to respond, but do you wish to do so?

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Tech, Gambling and the Digital Economy)

I welcome the Minister’s commitment on increased parliamentary scrutiny and oversight. I still feel that an annual report being brought to Parliament as a written statement, or to the Treasury Committee or the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, would be welcome to ensure oversight and parliamentary scrutiny; however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.