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Registers of Beneficial Ownership of Companies

Volume 653: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2019

8. What recent discussions the Government have had with authorities in the (a) overseas territories and (b) Crown dependencies on establishing public registers of the beneficial ownership of companies. (908701)

My noble Friend Lord Ahmad, the Minister responsible for the overseas territories, along with the Prime Minister’s anti-corruption champion, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), discussed the Government’s approach to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 with overseas territories leaders on 5 December. Government Ministers and officials routinely discuss with the Crown dependencies a range of matters relevant to them, including company registers of beneficial ownership.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm what date the Government will set in the Order in Council if the overseas territories do not move voluntarily on this issue, and will he confirm that the end of 2023 will be far too late, given that it would be five years after the House voted on it?

As required by the 2018 Act, we will prepare draft legislation by the end of 2020. All the overseas territories are expected to have fully functioning public registers in place by the end of 2023, as my hon. Friend says, as part of the Government’s call for all countries to make such registers the global norm by that date. The plan is to make 2023 consistent for both.

From the vantage point of having introduced the original public register, may I ask the Minister whether he agrees that it is utterly intolerable that British territories and dependencies should be used as a covert conduit for British tax dodgers, and that if they will not reform we should resort to the sanction of direct rule?

We will stick by the timing, but I think that a lot of work has already been done so that they could perhaps be in place before that date. I am confident that progress is being made as we would wish.

Over and over again the Government have let the overseas territories off the hook. Now the Government are saying that the territories do not need to have public registers of beneficial ownership until 2023—at a cost, incidentally, of £50 billion to the British taxpayer. The law we passed last May required the Government to act in 2020. Does that not take the Government’s contempt for Parliament to a new low?

No. I share the hon. Lady’s view that overseas territories with financial centres should meet international standards on tax transparency and anti-money laundering, but most overseas territories are either being evaluated or due to be evaluated by the financial action taskforce and are working to deliver their commitments made to the European Commission to prevent them from being included on the EU’s list of non-co-operative tax jurisdictions.