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House of Commons Hansard
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Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords]
20 February 2018
Volume 636

Second Reading

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

I should begin by paying tribute to my noble Friend Lord Ahmad for piloting the Bill through the other place with such skill and finesse. The aim of the Bill is to grant Her Majesty’s Government full power over British sanctions policy after we leave the EU and, in a memorable phrase, to take back control.

This Government’s driving purpose is to strengthen Britain’s global role and widen the horizons of our foreign policy in order to advance the interests and promote the values of the British people, but if our diplomacy is to be effective, it cannot be solely declaratory: we must have the means to impose a price on those who would threaten to do us harm. In the last resort, that will sometimes mean the use of force—this Government will not resile from acting when necessary—but more often, we back our diplomacy through sanctions. Today, the UK enforces 36 sanctions regimes, targeted on countries such as North Korea, Syria and Russia and terrorist organisations including al-Qaeda and Daesh. In total, about 2,000 individuals and entities are listed for sanctions, varying from asset freezes and travel bans to trade restrictions and arms embargos. At this moment, assets worth £12.5 billion are frozen in the UK.

Our powers to impose those sanctions and measures against money laundering derive almost entirely from the European Communities Act 1972. I am delighted to say that Parliament will soon repeal that Act by means of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is now before the other place. When that Act comes into force, it will freeze Britain’s adherence to the existing sanctions regimes, but if we do nothing, we will lose the ability to impose new sanctions or remove current ones. That is why the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill is necessary. It will give any British Government the power to impose, amend or lift an independent battery of UK sanctions, and update measures against money laundering and terrorist financing, thereby restoring our sovereignty over a vital tool of foreign policy.

The House will readily understand the freedom of action that all British Governments today and in the future will regain. If, for example, there is an international crisis and we judge that sanctions are the best response, we will no longer be compelled to wait for consensus among 28 members of the EU. The Bill will give us the freedom to decide on national sanctions as we see fit, bearing in mind that Britain possesses the fifth biggest economy in the world and the largest financial centre in Europe.

Hon. Members will know that sanctions are most effective when jointly enforced by many nations. Nothing in the Bill will stop us concerting our sanctions with any measures imposed by the EU, but if there is no agreement in the EU, as there often is not, Britain can act independently or alongside other allies. If the EU shares our position, we can act together. The outcome will be that Britain enjoys both freedom of manoeuvre and the option of working alongside our European friends. In the main, I hope that the latter will continue and that we can act in tandem, because the truth is that Britain and our European neighbours will always confront the same threats and defend the same values.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, Britain’s unconditional and immoveable commitment to the security and defence of Europe will not change one iota when we leave the EU, and this country has always played a leading role in devising EU sanctions—it is thanks to our national expertise in this field that the UK proposed more than half of all the individuals and entities currently listed for EU sanctions. The EU will have every reason to concert its sanctions policy with us in future, just as we will be happy in principle to work hand in glove with the EU. The Bill will place this British Government and our successors in the strongest possible position. We will be equipped with the power to impose sanctions independently, but without prejudice to our ability to co-ordinate with our European allies.

The Bill is also necessary for the UK to continue to play its full part in the struggle against money laundering and terrorist financing. Without the Bill, we should soon find ourselves in breach of international standards. I am proud to say that Britain was the first G20 country to introduce a public register of beneficial owners of companies, thanks to the Conservative-led Government. We are now going further by creating a public register of the beneficial owners of any non-UK entities that possess or buy property in this country, or that participate in UK Government procurement. No other state is compiling such a register, which will be the first of its kind in the world.

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May I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm this: when he says property, is that all property or just real property?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention—I was referring to real estate. As I am sure he knows, the proposal has the same intention as the tax on enveloped dwellings that was introduced by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, which has proved, to the best of my knowledge, to be extremely lucrative for the Exchequer.

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Given the Secretary of State’s commitment to the EU’s action on money laundering, is he saying that the Government will implement the fifth EU anti-money laundering directive, which requires that we all have public registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2019?

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As the right hon. Lady will be aware, the UK is already out in front of the rest of the world in insisting on public registry of beneficial ownership, irrespective of the implementation of the fifth EU anti-money laundering directive. As I will explain to the House, we already ask the overseas territories to do far more than other jurisdictions that offer financial services advantages.

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I would be most grateful if the Secretary of State would give way again.

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Oh, go on.

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I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State. The reason I asked the question is that the EU’s anti-money laundering directive would have an impact on the UK and Gibraltar. I am interested in whether the Foreign Secretary will implement the directive, given that implementation is required by 2019.

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I do not know the exact stage of the directive at the moment. To the best of my knowledge, we are in the process of implementing it. It should creep in under the wire and will, I hope, have the beneficial effect that the right hon. Lady desires.

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Will the Secretary of State give way?

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I will not, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

As sanctions have serious consequences for the individuals and entities that are singled out, they should be employed only in accordance with the rule of law, so it may be helpful to the House if I describe the scrupulous procedure laid out in the Bill.

Whenever the Government intend to impose a new sanctions regime, a statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament. When selecting targets, we will apply the legal threshold of “reasonable grounds to suspect”, which is the standard that we currently use for UN and EU sanctions. Both the British Supreme Court and the EU’s general court—the former court of first instance—have endorsed the use of that threshold in recent cases, and it is vital that the UK and our international partners continue to employ the equivalent threshold so that our sanctions policies and theirs can be co-ordinated.

The Bill contains safeguards allowing those listed for sanctions to challenge their designation and receive swift redress if it is warranted. Sanctions are not ends in themselves; they must not be maintained simply out of inertia or force of habit once the necessity for them dies away. The Bill will entitle any designated person to request an administrative reassessment by the Secretary of State, who will have a duty to consider any such request as soon as reasonably practicable. The Secretary of State can amend or revoke the designation in response to new information or a change in the situation. As a last resort, the designated person can apply to challenge the Government’s decision in the courts under the principles of judicial review, and the Bill provides for classified evidence to be shared with the court as appropriate.

Britain is obliged by international law to enforce any sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council. If a court in this country believes that such a designation is unlawful, the Secretary of State can use his or her best endeavours to remove a name from a UN sanctions list, bolstered by the fact that Britain has permanent membership of the Security Council. If a Secretary of State declines to seek a delisting at the UN, the relevant individual could challenge that decision before the courts. In addition, the Bill obliges the Government to conduct an annual review of every sanctions regime and place a report before Parliament. The Government are also required to review each individual designation under all regimes every three years.

The Bill allows the Government to grant licences to allow certain activities that would otherwise be prohibited—for instance, to permit any individuals subject to asset freezes to pay for essential needs such as food or medicine. The Bill will also give the Government the power and flexibility to issue general licences that could, for example, allow aid agencies to provide humanitarian supplies in a country subjected to sanctions.

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Where assets have been frozen—for example, in the case of Libya and its support for the IRA—does the Secretary of State see any scope for a licence to allow that money to be used to help the victims of such outrageous crimes?

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I completely concur with the objectives espoused by my hon. Friend. Many people would like to see some compensation flowing from a more prosperous Libya to the victims of IRA terrorism and, indeed, to other victims of terrorism. Given what we have done so far with Libya, it would be very difficult to unfreeze the assets; they are not our assets and it would be difficult for us to procure them. On the other hand, there is scope—working with the Libyan Government as Libya gets back on its feet, which is what we are currently working for —to set up a fund for the victims not just of IRA terrorism in this country, but of terror in Libya as well. That is the way forward: the UK and Libya working together to address that historical injustice. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that subject, on which there are strong feelings both in this House and in the other place.

We must never lose the ability to keep pace with the criminals and terrorists who strain every nerve and sinew to confound and evade our efforts. The Bill provides the Government with the power to make, amend or repeal secondary legislation to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Behind all this lies our primary goal: to restore the independent power of a global Britain to defend our interests and to exert our rightful influence on the world stage, acting in concert with our European friends whenever possible, sure in the knowledge that we are a force for good. I commend this Bill to the House.

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This is one of many Bills that we need because of our impending departure from the European Union. We agree that sanctions are a crucial lever in our foreign policy armoury. Indeed, their use and usefulness is demonstrated by the fact that we have 36 sanctions regimes on countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and covering terrorist organisations such as Daesh and al-Qaeda. We accept that the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill means that the Government must replace it with domestic powers. However, we have a number of questions, criticisms and challenges for the Government about the way in which they are doing that in the Bill.

Money laundering through the City of London is now estimated at £100 billion a year, and the two clauses in the Bill devoted to the matter are wholly inadequate to tackle this massive problem, which is illegal in itself and also hides and enables other crimes, perverts justice, distorts the economy and is seriously undermining our reputation. International standards to prevent it are set out by the Financial Action Task Force and translated—currently via the EU—to national level. We agree that legislation is needed so that we can continue to honour our international obligations.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that if we tackled tax evasion and avoidance, we would not see such modest levels of overseas development? Countries around the world—in Africa and Asia—would be able to finance their own basic services. Those places do have the money, but companies are stealing it via evasion and avoidance.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Quite a lot of the money that is hidden is hidden by corrupt regimes, particularly in Africa.

A major criticism of the Bill as first drafted was of its Henry VIII clauses. Throughout, the Bill was giving Ministers the power to make regulations—in other words, to make law that cannot be amended by Parliament and is sometimes made without even any debate. In our consideration of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, Members across the House complained that the level of the Henry VIII powers was so excessive that the Government agreed to a sifting Committee in order to limit the concentration of the power of the Executive. Arguably, with no sunset clause, this Bill is even worse in this respect. Speaking in the other place, the well-named and noble Lord Judge described it as a “bonanza of regulations” and the “Regulation Bulk Buy” Bill. Their lordships defeated the Government twice in votes on this. I hope that the Government will not now seek to undo those changes to the Bill. If so, we will oppose them.

It is surely obvious to everyone that sanctions regimes are effective only when they are co-ordinated internationally, as the Foreign Secretary acknowledged, and we need maximum support across the world and agreed implementation mechanisms to enforce them. However, he did not really answer some of the questions as to how that is going to be done post Brexit. Half our sanctions emanate from the EU. I am not saying that this is necessarily a matter for legislation, but surely the Government should have a plan for how we are going to be involved in EU decision making on sanctions regimes and the implementation of those regimes. Ukraine is a good example of where that is needed. What specific plans has the Foreign Secretary developed for a framework to provide for continued co-operation with the EU on foreign policy issues after we leave? What discussions have been held on that particular issue in the Brexit talks? What are the Government seeking to achieve in their negotiations with the EU on that matter? We were warned last week by the three spy chiefs that, without co-operation with our EU partners in intelligence sharing, policing and judicial matters, it would be difficult to enforce compliance on sanctions, which are vital for dealing with terrorism and proliferation.

Labour’s view is that the core principles of sanctions policy should be that sanctions are targeted to hit regimes rather than ordinary people; minimise the humanitarian impact on innocent civilians; and have clear objectives, including well-defined and realistic demands against which compliance can be judged, with a clear exit strategy. There should be effective arrangements for implementation and enforcement, especially in neighbouring countries, and sanctions should avoid unnecessary adverse impacts on UK economic and commercial interests. We will seek to amend the Bill to ensure that those principles are adhered to throughout.

One very big and obvious hole in the Bill is its failure to incorporate Magnitsky clauses, which the House has repeatedly supported and voted for. Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who uncovered large-scale tax fraud in Russia. For his pains, he was imprisoned and tortured throughout a whole year, finally dying having been brutally beaten up while chained to a bed. We will be tabling a Magnitsky clause that would enable sanctions to be made in order to prevent or respond to gross human rights violations. Such provisions have been adopted in the United States and Canada, and they were also reflected in the Criminal Finances Act 2017. I cannot understand how or why the Foreign Secretary has missed this opportunity; perhaps he has been too busy designing bridges. Such a step is not just about Russia. We are now in the strange position that the United States has tougher sanctions than we do on Myanmar.

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I hesitate to accuse the hon. Lady of failure to read the Bill, but clause 1(2) makes it absolutely clear that sanctions can be imposed to promote human rights. A fortiori, that obviously involves a Magnitsky clause to prevent the gross abuse of human rights. The measure that she seeks is in the Bill.

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I am afraid that I do not think the Bill makes that clear. First, it does not include the phrase, “gross human rights abuses”, which the Foreign Secretary just used, and furthermore, it does not refer to public officials. This is a matter that we can debate upstairs in Committee, and I will be happy to do so with the Minister.

Another key area that the Government have failed to address properly is the position of refugees and victims of human trafficking. Last month, the House unanimously resolved:

“That…conflict resolution…and the protection of human rights should be at the heart of UK foreign policy and that effective action should be taken to alleviate the refugee crisis”.

There are now 66 million refugees—more than there have ever been and more than the population of the United Kingdom. The flow of desperate people across the Mediterranean and through Turkey is continuing. Yet the Bill gives no impression that Ministers have given any thought whatsoever to the plight of these people, who are seeking refuge from desperate and protracted conflicts around the world.

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May I draw the hon. Lady’s attention again to clause 1(2)? Paragraph (e) mentions exactly what she is talking about—promoting

“the resolution of armed conflicts or the protection of civilians in conflict zones”.

Paragraphs (f), (g) and (h) refer exactly to the human rights abuses that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned in response to her earlier comments.

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That is absolutely true, but if the Minister reads a little further into the Bill and looks at clauses 6 and 7 on aircraft and shipping, he will see that there are some problems at that point. Again, we can come back to this in Committee.

The Bill states that prohibitions can be applied to UK nationals and companies based in the United Kingdom, but not against companies based or incorporated in the British overseas territories. Recent reports from UN monitors implicate territories such as the British Virgin Islands in the setting up of front companies that helped North Korea to evade the sanctions imposed on it. The problem of sanctions avoidance is very serious. Last week, I was told in answer to a written parliamentary question that the total cost of financial sanctions reported as having been breached last year was £170 million. This afternoon, I received a letter from the Treasury, which has looked at the numbers again and says that the number is £1.4 billion. We need to look at this in more detail in Committee.

I now turn to the anti-money laundering provisions—what one might call the McMafia section of the Bill. To set this in context, the Home Affairs Committee report of June 2016 found:

“Money laundering is undoubtedly a problem in the UK…It is disgraceful that at least a hundred billion pounds is being laundered through the UK every year. If the UK is to remain the centre of global finance, this must be addressed.”

It pointed out that

“money laundering takes many…forms…from complex financial vehicles and tax havens around the world through to property investments in London…and high value jewellery. It is astonishing that just 335 out of some 1.2 million property transactions…were deemed to be suspicious. This suggests to us that supervision of the property market is totally inadequate”.

At the moment, it is far too easy—

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Is the hon. Lady aware of the geographical targeting orders piloted by the USA that we were told about in the Public Accounts Committee during our trip to Washington last week? Does she know that 30% of the properties investigated were found, in the end, to be owned by nefarious people?

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That is very shocking. I did not know about it. I hope that the hon. Lady will dilate on the matter further during the debate.

It is obviously possible for people to buy a property, take in rent in perpetuity and have a clean income. In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the surveyor Henry Pryor said:

“we do have the equivalent of a welcome mat out for anybody to come if you want to launder your money.”

Money laundering enables the corrupt to live in comfort and security. It is also used to finance other serious and organised crime such as drug dealing, human trafficking, terrorism and even the illegal arms trade and WMD sanctions busting. The click of a computer mouse in London or the overseas territories can mean untold misery across the globe. The Government’s own impact assessment for the Bill says:

“As a global financial centre, the UK is particularly exposed to the threat of being exploited as a destination or transit point for illicit funds”.

Ministers know that this is a problem. Between 2013 and 2016, David Cameron’s Government issued increasingly strong statements and promises, culminating in the May 2016 global summit. There were three specific proposals: a transparent register of beneficial owners of all companies registered in the UK, similar registers in the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and a public register of foreign owners of UK property. However, the implementation has been halting, under-resourced, partial and confused. Currently we have at least 25 different regulatory bodies. It is true that we can now see on the Companies House register who the person is with significant control, but last year 400,000 companies failed to submit the information. Companies House has no due diligence procedure and employs only 20 people to supervise 4 million entries.

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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, when one of my constituents reported a fraudulent entry in the Companies House register, the response from Companies House was that it does not do the enforcement, but is just the registry? This fraud is a mockery of the whole registry system.

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My hon. Friend has brought precisely the point to the House in highlighting that unfortunate episode.

Registers have been introduced in some of the British overseas territories, but they can be accessed by the authorities in London only when the authorities have a reason to be suspicious. The inadequacy of that approach was demonstrated by the publication of the Panama papers and the Paradise papers. According to the Guardian investigators, the law firm Mossack Fonseca, operating out of Panama, acted for 113,000 companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, which hosts 950,000 offshore companies. That is a country with a population of 30,000. This is public interest journalism at its best—fearless, determined and forensic. Had it not been for the excellent investigatory journalism, we would not have known that Britain’s high street banks processed $740 million from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals through anonymously owned firms, nor that Mukhtar Ablyazov, who fled Kazakhstan in 2009 after $10 billion went missing from the bank he chaired, had a Cayman Islands trust set up by law firm Appleby.

Significantly, HMRC has been able to use the information revealed in Panama and Paradise to open civil and criminal investigations into 66 people and pursue arrests for a £125 million fraud, tackle insider trading and place dozens of high net worth individuals under review. Imagine how much more effective it could be if transparency were the rule and not the exception.

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My hon. Friend makes a good series of points about the nature of the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Given that the Bill considers the whole nature of our governance structures after Brexit, does she agree that we should look in a broader sense at the curious structure of British overseas territories and Crown dependencies? We should perhaps follow the example of France, which has incorporated its overseas territories into its metropolitan country and given them a democratic place in its legislature. We could consider the same thing.

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My hon. Friend is right that the situation is complex—we have one legal regime for the overseas territories and another for the Crown dependencies—but I think that that would be beyond the scope of the Bill.

The all-party parliamentary group on responsible tax, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), has been pursuing this agenda energetically for several years now, and across the House, Members want effective action.

Another scandal is the use of London property by oligarchs, corrupt officials and gangsters from across the globe. I am talking about people like Karime Macías, the Mexican wife of the former Veracruz Governor Duarte. He has been imprisoned and charged with corruption, money laundering and involvement in organised crime. His years in office saw a spike in disappearances and murders, while she claims to be a fugitive in London.

When I was young, if you drove through Chelsea at night, it was full of light because people actually lived there. Now, swathes of London are pitch black, as properties are bought simply as money safes. Meanwhile, in the outer boroughs, which the Foreign Secretary never visits—

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As the hon. Lady may recollect, I was never out of the outer boroughs when I was Mayor of London, and the former Mayor of London visited Havana more often than he visited Havering.

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I wish the Foreign Secretary was as energetic in his pursuit of the corrupt in this Bill as he is concerned to defend his own record on travelling around the London underground.

In the outer-London boroughs, new buildings are bought off plan and some never even have the cellophane unwrapped. Global Witness has found that 86,000 properties in this country are owned by companies in secrecy jurisdictions. The Cayman Islands representatives told me, when they came to see me in preparation for the Bill, that they were responsible for 11% of the property investment in Britain, pushing up prices so that they are unaffordable, and young people’s home ownership in this country is now at an all-time low.

The new register promised by the Government in 2015 has been put back by six years. There must be a suspicion that this secrecy continues because some senior Tories use it. Just one example will suffice. Lord Sassoon was revealed by the Paradise papers to have been a beneficiary of a Bahamas trust fund that has sheltered a family fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars, yet he was a Treasury Minister and the man charged with presiding over the Financial Action Task Force—the very body tasked with setting the standards to combat money laundering.

We are going to pursue all these issues over the coming weeks. I cannot do better than quote the global summit communiqué, which said:

“Corruption is at the heart of so many of the world’s problems. It erodes public trust in government, undermines the rule of law, and may give rise to political and economic grievances that…fuel violent extremism. Tackling corruption is vital for sustaining economic stability and growth, maintaining security of societies, protecting human rights, reducing poverty, protecting the environment for future generations and addressing serious and organised crime…We need to face this challenge openly and frankly”.

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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I want to start by making it clear that I think this is a very good Bill. It is clearly the right approach to take in these circumstances and a good administrative measure. It delivers sensible and orderly governance and addresses quite rightly the post-Brexit situation and the new framework for implementing sanctions. My purpose in this debate is to suggest two ways in which the Bill can be improved further.

First, I draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to an area of the Bill that the Minister for Europe and the Americas understands extremely well. Sanctions regimes inevitably affect the peace-building work that humanitarian agencies do in some fragile and difficult places, and in particular key NGOs operating in sanctioned countries. I pay tribute to the remarkable work that is being done by British NGOs in some very difficult parts of the world; I am thinking, for instance, of Syria and Yemen.

Clare Short, the distinguished former International Development Secretary—she set up DFID—and I gave evidence to the Select Committee on the difficulties that can arise for the agencies on occasion. They can fall foul of terrorism measures, which adversely affect their life-saving work. There are difficulties in working in lawless areas, which inevitably involves negotiating with some extremely bad people. Under the regime that the Foreign Secretary is ushering in, the Bill will bring much greater clarity for donors who deliver via NGOs and for banks worried that they may fall foul of the regulations. It will help to reduce bank de-risking—I have heard of NGOs not being able to maintain access to their bank accounts or to transfer funds because of the regulations—when banks fear that they may breach sanctions by providing banking services. I hope the Bill will reduce banks’ concern