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Beneficial Ownership Registers: Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 7 December 2023

I beg to move,

That this House notes the implementation of public registers of beneficial ownership in the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies; believes that the Government needs to respect the will of Parliament and meet the implementation deadline at the end of 2023; encourages the Government to lay an Order in Council formally requiring the UK’s Overseas Territories to implement public registers of beneficial ownership if the deadline is not met; and considers public registers of beneficial ownership to be an essential transparency measure to combat tax evasion, money laundering and other economic crimes.

This debate should not be necessary. The House expressed its view when it agreed an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 that required overseas territories to voluntarily introduce registers of beneficial ownership within two years or face an Order in Council mandating compliance. Five years have passed since the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and I moved the amendment, and the only overseas territory to comply with the legislation is Gibraltar, which I salute. While I understand that the Minister is making progress with some of the other jurisdictions, they have yet to comply with our legislation.

Journalists have revealed that the family of Asif Aziz, a landlord to my constituents in Britannia Point, Colliers Wood, manages a large property portfolio registered under dozens of companies on the Isle of Man. There is no beneficial owner listed, so complaints can never reach the landlord. We already have legislation that requires offshore companies that own properties to declare their owners on a register. Does my right hon. Friend agree that properly resourced enforcement is essential, and that having public registers of beneficial owners would make it much easier to identify and scrutinise the beneficial owners of offshore shell companies?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to our attention. Sadly, it is an issue not just of enforcement but of definition. I bet that the landlord in her constituency owns the properties through a trust, and there is no openness about beneficial ownership of trusts. She makes a very important point.

I apologise for not being able to stay for the whole debate.

I strongly support this debate. I put it to the right hon. Lady that the reason why people hide things in trusts and offshore is either to avoid embarrassment or to avoid tax. People ought to do better, so that they will not be embarrassed, and they ought to pay tax properly.

I thank the hon. Member for his support. I agree that it is partly about reputation and partly about avoiding tax, but it is also about indulging in economic crime, from money laundering through to the worst crimes that stain our country and our economy.

As the Father of the House has just intervened and I am the longest-serving Member on the Opposition side of the House, may I say that I am a long-term supporter of what my right hon. Friend has been trying to do? Owing to our time together as undergraduates at the London School of Economics, I know that she is a determined woman. Let us get on with it—let us hold these people to account and change the law.

I thank my hon. Friend for his support—he is probably my oldest friend in the House; we go back many years—and I hope that the Government heard his urging.

Could we add one more to the list of reasons why people conceal their identities in this way, which is to avoid sanctions, including sanctions placed by our own Government?

The right hon. Member makes a really important point, which I will come to later. He is right: this is a national security threat as well as a threat to our economy.

The Government have yet to comply with the legislation by making an Order in Council to mandate compliance by the overseas territories. After discussions between the Crown dependencies and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and myself, the three Crown dependencies —Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man—announced in May 2019 that they were committed to introducing public registers and set out a plan to do so. Although I welcomed that in principle, I was concerned that their commitment was qualified and that their action plan contained a number of opt-out clauses. However, on the basis of their commitment, we chose not to legislate but to trust them. It now seems that our trust was misplaced. They are reneging on that commitment and using every excuse not to comply.

I understand how strongly the right hon. Member feels. May I point out that, as a matter of constitutional fact, we have no right to legislate for any of the Crown dependencies? Constitutionally, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of this Parliament.

I have enormous respect and time for the hon. Member, but I have an opinion from a renowned KC that we sought at that time—I will come to it later—which contradicts entirely his point and says that we do have the constitutional right to legislate.

I want to comment not on the substance of what the right hon. Lady is talking about but merely on the procedural aspects. She will know that the Procedure Committee is looking at the impact of legislation in this place on devolved legislatures, the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies, and I am interested in her comments and look forward to her speech, but does she agree that we should try to find a way for the voice of the overseas territories to be heard when we legislate in this place if there are implications for them?

Indeed. I would love for us to be able to do this in a consensual way; that would obviously be the best way to proceed. Sadly, we have been waiting for 10 years, and my patience has worn a little thin. Given the implications both for national security and for the economy, the time has come to say, “Enough is enough.” We should use the powers that we have.

The right hon. Member is being generous with her time. The 2022 ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union stated that unrestricted public access to beneficial ownership information was incompatible with the right to life. Will she cover that?

I will. The hon. Member will know as well as I do that we are no longer a member of the European Union, so we are not bound by that finding.

Why does all this matter? The epidemic of tax avoidance, tax evasion and economic crime flourishes in an environment of secrecy, and our overseas territories and Crown dependencies facilitate that secrecy. We know from the ever-growing number of leaks of data on financial misdemeanours that their role is central to enabling economic crime. Half the shell companies exposed in the 2016 Panama papers were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. In 2017, the Paradise papers—a massive tranche of documents leaked from the offshore law firm Appleby—showed that a frightening number of frontline politicians held secret accounts, with the overseas territories appearing prominently as destinations of choice for hiding money. Those included people such as Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraiser, Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Brazil’s Finance Minister, Uganda’s Foreign Minister, and our own Lord Ashcroft, who had—and probably still has—a Bermuda-based trust where he hides some of his wealth.

Some 20% of the files in the FinCEN—Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—leak of 2020 contained clients that listed an address in the British Virgin Islands. The leak also revealed, because it was a leak of documents from an American agency, that the Americans viewed Britain as a higher-risk jurisdiction for its role in money laundering and financial crime. The Pandora papers leak of 2021 involved 12 million files, with data from 14 different law firms and company services providers. Over two thirds of the companies analysed in that batch of leaked documents were registered in the BVI. A World Bank review of 213 corruption cases that were investigated over the 30-year period to 2010 found that 70% involved anonymous shell companies. The UK, its overseas territories and Crown dependencies accounted for the second jurisdiction in terms of the number of corruption cases associated with it.

What I am learning from my right hon. Friend’s excellent speech is that London is the centre of the world for hiding money, because so many professionals in this city know how to do it. Is that correct?

Yes. Sadly, London has become the jurisdiction of choice for too much of our dirty money. The all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax has been successful—albeit not as much as I would have liked—in achieving changes to economic crime legislation to challenge and start tackling that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on leading the debate, and more particularly on the forensic and persistent way she has dealt with this issue over so many years. It is clear that London is the centre of much of the wrongdoing in this area. That is not a coincidence; it is because the Government have been permissive. Has she had an indication of whether they are now prepared to back her proposals?

My hon. Friend is right. I have often said that it is not just this Government who have done that; the Labour Government, in their time, also deregulated to such an extent that they allowed London to become the centre of this activity. I do not feel that the Government are doing all that they can to try to turn that around. I await a future Labour Government, and I will watch Labour Ministers with an eagle eye to ensure that they do that.

The debate is not just about the role of the overseas territories and Crown dependencies in facilitating economic crime; their activities as secrecy jurisdictions are a threat to our national security, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) said. The Foreign Affairs Committee said as much in a report on the matter, and as recently as November it called on the Government to ensure that the overseas territories fulfil their commitment, adding that

“there should be no further deadline extensions.”

We know, for example, that between 2008 and 2018, £68 billion flowed out of Russia and into our overseas territories. We are a favourite jurisdiction for receiving Russian-laundered money. We know that individuals who are sanctioned use the overseas territories and Crown dependencies to hide their assets just before sanctioning to prevent those assets from being frozen. Abramovich and Usmanov are two classic examples of that practice.

We know the role of the overseas territories in preventing us from knowing the actual beneficial owner of property in the UK. Over 70% of the properties in the list of those that we know about are owned by companies registered either in the Crown dependencies or the BVI. We still cannot identify the beneficial owners of two thirds of those 70%, because they use trusts to hide their identity, and 85%—more than eight out of 10—of those trust arrangements are based in the three Crown dependencies and the BVI.

Most recently, in the Cyprus papers, which have just been uncovered, we found a direct link between Vladimir Putin and Roman Abramovich, with money going from Abramovich to two men dubbed as “wallets” for Putin—a man whose salary is $100,000, but whose wealth is rumoured to be between $125 billion and $200 billion. The theft of money from the Russian people is facilitated by secrecy jurisdictions such as Cyprus, but also by our own tax havens.

The problem is massive, and the role of our overseas territories and Crown dependencies is central. Baron Cameron of Chipping Norton understood that when he went to Davos in January 2013—over 10 years ago—and warned multinationals to

“wake up and smell the coffee”.

I will give a few more quotes from him. In 2013, he pledged:

“Every one of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories are going to have an action plan on beneficial ownership”.

He told the overseas territories to rip aside the “cloak of secrecy” by creating public registers of beneficial ownership. In 2014, he wrote to the overseas territories, saying that public registers were

“vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion.”

In September 2015, he accused them of

“frankly…not moving anywhere near fast enough…if we want to break the business model of people stealing money and hiding it in places where it can’t be seen: transparency is the answer.”

When Lord Cameron launched our UK register in 2016, he said that

“it’s better for us all to have an open system which everyone has access to, because the more eyes that look at this information the more accurate it will be.”

At the anti-corruption summit in May 2016, he said:

“We’ve talked about the need for every country to ultimately reach what I call the gold standard of having a public register of beneficial ownership. And I am clear that I include all the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.”

Lord Cameron is now in a position to act, and I urge the Minister to tell his boss to do so. When even Nigeria, Ukraine, Albania and Morocco have introduced public registers, why can our tax havens not?

Using the European Court of Justice ruling to delay the implementation of public registers is a convenient but lame excuse. It actually has not deterred Gibraltar. While some countries have closed their registers, others have kept them open. Crown dependencies in particular are acting in a completely dishonourable way. Their role in facilitating economic crime and tax avoidance is indisputable, and their protestations to the contrary are simply untrue. Their behaviour in providing public assurances that they will move towards public registers but claiming that the European court ruling prevents them from doing so is, in my view, unforgivable.

My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I absolutely support everything that she is saying, but can we also have more publicity about what is happening with people who do not pay tax in this country? Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS has become very rich and now does not pay tax in this country. I understand that the Daily Mail does not pay any taxes. Could we not have an ad in The Sunday Times rich list about those who actually pay their taxes?

I am left wondering whether The Sunday Times would ever publish that—we shall see.

Let me address the point made by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill). In April 2019, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and I sought legal advice about whether it would be constitutionally lawful for the UK Parliament to legislate to compel all Crown dependencies to establish public registers of beneficial ownership. I have the advice here, which concluded:

“It is beyond doubt that the intrusion of criminal funds into the UK economy threatens the interests of the UK. It is also beyond doubt that extensive funds in this category emanate from the Crown dependencies.”

The last sentence states: “The proposed amendment”—we put an amendment to the King’s Counsel to consider whether it was lawful—

“is a constitutionally legitimate and lawful exercise of the UK’s powers to secure its domestic interests by protecting confidence in its financial institutions and the integrity of the commercial life of the nation”.

Finally—I recognise that we are running out of time— I want to touch on the compromise that I think the Minister is seeking to secure in his negotiations with our tax havens. The compromise is that in order to have access, a member of the public needs to have a legitimate interest, a term that was introduced in the European Union’s sixth anti-money laundering directive. We already have that proviso in relation to the register of overseas properties, and I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that Transparency International has put in inquiries in six cases to get information, has waited for four to six months, and has then seen those requests for information turned down by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. All of those requests were in relation to trusts listed as the beneficial owners of overseas companies that hold property here in the UK, and we would have expected them to be on that register and for the information to be provided.

Surely, every single citizen of this country has a legitimate interest in closing the kinds of loopholes that have allowed rotten, dirty money to come flooding into our jurisdiction. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has had huge detrimental effects on ordinary people—who do not have trust funds and are unlikely to inherit anything—such as the huge increases in property prices that have forced many people out of the housing market?

My hon. Friend makes an important point: those who suffer the most are the poorest in our community. One must remember that no tax is levied on all this illicit finance, so it does not fund the public services that we require. I would also point out to the Minister that a legitimate interest proviso does not meet the requirements of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018: the terms of the draft Order in Council specifically said that we want

“a compliant publicly accessible register”.

I ask the Minister to think about that.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant—we all know that. If we are serious about our effects to clamp down on dirty money and eliminate it from Britain, and from our overseas territories and Crown dependencies, we must have public registers, so that we can at the very least start to follow the money.

For the sake of people who might not be experts in this field, can the right hon. Lady explain the extent to which those Crown dependencies and overseas territories themselves know where the real ownership of the resources resides? Can we be sure that they themselves know what information is being concealed and ought to be made public, or that we will have got to the bottom of the matter if it is made public?

I am not sure I can answer that, because I do not know whether they know, but there have been one or two instances where whistleblowers have come to see me—about Jersey, for example. It has been very difficult to find out and identify how much the Jersey authorities knew, and why or whether they took action on the information that is available. It would be wonderful if the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee could look at this issue in greater detail to establish that.

Illicit finance is not just an evil in itself: it is the golden thread that runs through all serious crime, from drug smuggling to people smuggling. It threatens our national security, hits the poorest countries the hardest, and starves our public services of much-needed investment. It was in recognition of that importance that we established the strong cross-party consensus in the House that led to the 2018 law, which was agreed unanimously in this House. Ten years have passed since David Cameron first openly supported public registers, and five years have passed since we legislated, but we are still waiting. That is not good enough.

It is the job of the Executive to implement the will of Parliament. To that end, I ask the Minister to take two actions. First, will he now lay an Order in Council, requiring the overseas territories to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership forthwith? Secondly, will he legislate to require Crown dependencies to do the same? If the Government do not act, I can assure him that Parliament will, for we must—for the sake of our economy, for the sake of our security and for the sake of our reputation. I urge the Government to move forward on this issue.

Five people have indicated that they wish to speak, and the wind-ups will begin at 4.30. That means eight minutes for Richard Thomson, 10 minutes each for Stephen Doughty and Mr Rutley, and two minutes for Margaret Hodge to wind up. If people stick to five minutes, everybody will get equal time.

It is a pleasure to see the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) in her place and I congratulate her on securing this debate. She and I have agreed on many issues and have worked together closely in the past. I happen to support the concept of a public register of beneficial ownership in the United Kingdom, and I supported it when it was first introduced.

I declare my interest as chair of the Gibraltar all-party parliamentary group. As the right hon. Lady has observed, Gibraltar has established a public register of beneficial ownership. It is right, therefore, that we should not treat all the overseas territories as homogenous. In one respect, Gibraltar, with its particular links both to the United Kingdom and Europe, has chosen to go in that direction, and we should support it in having done so. That was its decision as a self-governing overseas territory. It has continued to do that, even though it must be observed—and we should not make light of this fact—that the ruling of the European Court of Justice has now meant that some 23 of the 27 EU states have closed their registers. We should be careful about dismissing that. It does not apply to us anymore, because we have left the European Union, but we should not dismiss that fact and simply pooh-pooh it, because it has an impact on others. Gibraltar chose, despite that, to continue with its register.

That brings us to the position of the Crown dependencies. I refer to this matter, of course, as chair of the Justice Committee; we have to remember that the constitutional position of the Crown dependencies is totally different from that of the overseas territories. They are not part of the United Kingdom and never have been. I say that with due respect to any legal opinion that can be produced—frankly, though, one legal opinion counts for very little against centuries of constitutional convention and the views of successive British Governments of all parties.

The simple fact is that the Crown dependencies have never been subject to this Parliament. They are not represented in this Parliament. They have their own legislatures, which are sovereign in those matters. We should not allow good intentions to lead us into arrogance as an institution and purport to legislate in areas where we have no right. I happen to think that, if I were in one of those legislatures, I might well be making the case for broadening out their registers, but it is not for us to presume to do so.

There has been some progress. As a Select Committee, we took some evidence from the Crown dependencies in our role of scrutinising the Ministry of Justice, which handles the relationship—it is not the Foreign Office that does so. I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) in his place. He has established a very constructive relationship with the Crown dependencies.

What we have is this: the Crown dependencies have chosen at the moment not to go down the route that we have gone down. If we want them to go down that route, we must persuade them to do so of their own volition as sovereign independent countries. That may well be where they get to. At the end of the day, there has been some movement. As a matter of fact, were they here, they would say that they do have central, fully compliant, authorised and accurate registers of beneficial ownership. They are not open to the public as of yet, but they do meet international standards. They are subject to the Moneyval monitoring process of the European Union and they comply with all the international standards. We have chosen to go further than those standards, but they have gone as far as that.

Secondly, all three of them, in lockstep on national interest matters and money laundering, transpose into their domestic law all the sanctions that we have brought in as the UK in relation to Russia, and it is no good pretending otherwise. The national security argument is therefore, frankly, a rather thin one. There are better arguments to make, such as good practice. None the less, they told us when they gave evidence to the Committee that there has been an intention to move towards a greater degree of openness in their registers. They have taken the view, and it is their choice at the moment, on their legal advice—their legal system is as good in their sphere as ours is in ours—that they wish to take stock of the decision of the European Court of Justice and the impacts it may have on them, not least because they have a data adequacy agreement with the EU.

When they read the detailed decision of the ECJ, as I have, the Crown dependencies found difficulties in both a disproportionality between general public access and rights to privacy—those rights under the charter of fundamental rights, I might observe, mirror exactly those in the European convention on human rights, which, as it happens, binds us still—and in relation to data protection. They were concerned about a potential risk to their data protection equivalence with the EU.

Let us hope that we are able to find a way in which we can all agree a sensible step forward. As I understand it, the Crown dependencies are committed to making an announcement later this month that they will be extending their work further. They are looking first of all at obliged entities—people who need to carry out due diligence—and then at the concept of legitimate interest. That is a step forward. Let us perhaps wait and see what they say. We will get more progress with our Crown dependency friends by co-operation and discussion than we will, with respect, by lecturing.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for securing this debate, and for her consistent and tireless work in tackling the scourge of illicit finance. As she said, the introduction of public registers of beneficial ownership in our country’s offshore financial centres ought not to need debating, and it should have happened many years ago. Yesterday, after seven long years, the Hillsborough families finally got a response from the Government to Bishop Jones’s report, yet it was a response that rejected his key recommendations. This Government have been even more tardy when it comes to delivering on their declared policy of public registers of beneficial ownership.

It has been almost 10 years since the Prime Minister, Lord Cameron, called on our overseas territories and dependencies to raise their transparency standards, and not a lot has happened, as we have heard. After five years, amendments were made to what became the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, requiring territories and dependencies to act. By that time, the Prime Minister had gambled and lost the Brexit referendum, and he had left office, left Parliament and got embroiled in the dubious activities of Lex Greensill, and still nothing had changed.

The case for transparency is clear and unarguable, and the fight against crime and corruption requires it, but we are still no further forward. Lord Cameron has returned to Parliament in a new guise as Foreign Secretary. I hope he will once more be directly responsible for policy in this area, and I hope he will be able to help us make some real and meaningful progress. The public disclosure of company ownership information would facilitate the trailing of money and identity and illicit activity, and deter money laundering, crime and sanctions busting, and it is essential that we make progress.

Labour has repeatedly tried to push the Government to act. Both last year and this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) moved amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which would have required the Government to lay an Order in Council and to make some progress, but the Government defeated them. They continue to say they are doing things while achieving no real outcome that makes a difference.

The facilitating of illicit finance through our overseas territories and Crown dependencies poses a serious threat in a number of ways. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking said, it deprives the public purse of funds, and it prevents true economic stability. It poses very real threats to our national security, and it affects each and every citizen of this country, be it in underfunded public services, higher than expected property prices, illicit crime or organised crime in our communities. All of that affects each and every one of the constituents of Members up and down the country. The financial cost of global tax evasion, enabled by a lack of transparency in our territories and dependencies, is staggering to contemplate. Tax Justice found that 35% of global tax losses suffered by countries around the world occur in the UK and its network of overseas territories and Crown dependencies. That is a shameful statistic.

The lack of transparency in offshore jurisdictions facilitates myriad other illicit activities at great cost to our country. Companies based in overseas territories have enabled corruption cases to the tune of £250 billion. Notably, an astonishing 92% of those were registered in the British Virgin Islands. For context, £250 billion is more than the whole of the UK’s foreign aid budget for the past 20 years. That money is going unaccounted for, when it could be working for our communities.

With war raging in Europe and the middle east, and contemplating the revelations the House heard earlier about organised attempts by the Russian FSB to interfere in UK elections, it is clear that the threat is growing. The cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee has rightfully called for public registers as a “matter of national security”. Increasingly, I believe that the risk to the UK’s international reputation is growing. Our reputation has already been substantially damaged. It is in the public interest for the Minister to tell us what he is going to do as a matter of urgency to deal with this growing threat.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for the debate and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) on securing it.

As Members will know, there are many functions of beneficial ownership, both licit and illicit. Regardless of the legality of the arrangements, it goes without saying that a public register of these beneficial ownerships would play a vital role in combating tax evasion and other such unlawful activities—we can all agree with that. It is the desire of everyone in this House and of the Governments of the overseas territories that we work towards better transparency, to ensure these islands and territories are no longer associated with being tax havens and hotbeds of illegal financial activity. Places, including the overseas territories, do not want to be considered as such. When people from those places travel, their experience is clouded by comments they receive from others about how they harbour terrorist money or are all money launderers. That is simply unfair.

Many of the territories have already demonstrated progress in the fight against money laundering and tax evasion, none more so than the Cayman Islands. People may know that I have some links with the Cayman Islands. I do not have a bank account there, but I have many friends there and I have been involved in environmental matters in the country. The Cayman Government take the fight against illicit finance very seriously. In 2019, they were among eight territories committed to introducing a publicly accessible register by the end of the year. Progress has been made: draft proposals were initially published in 2021 and a consultation began shortly after.

Aside from the implementation of the register, the Cayman Islands have made great strides in navigating the complex intersections of transparency, governance and international standards, and it is worth bringing those to light so that they may serve as an example for other oversea territories and Crown dependencies, and provide Members with some hope that they are playing their part. For example, the Cayman Islands operates tax co-operation agreements with over 100 countries, including participation in the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

The Cayman Islands follow the common reporting standards—a global standard set by the OECD and advocated by the G20 nations. The progress made by the Cayman Islands has been recognised by the financial action taskforce, which confirmed that its anti-money laundering regime effectively deters and prosecutes financial crimes in the territory, and by His Majesty’s Government for effective implementation of its Russian sanctions taskforce, Operation Hektor. I know that Russian finance is of particular concern to many Members. It is worth noting that Operation Hektor has so involved the deregistration of more than 50 vessels and aircraft and the freezing of accounts worth approximately $8.32 billion and €230.1 million. That goes to show that there are many effective ways in which the overseas territories can tackle illicit finance operating in their jurisdictions.

Back in 2020, Ministers were clear that the introduction of comprehensive public registers would be a considerable ask for many overseas territories, particularly those that do not possess any existing company beneficial ownership register. It is worth pointing out that the Cayman Islands has, since 2017, maintained an electronic register of beneficial ownership information for all corporate and legal entities. Any such arrangement in the islands is verified and updated by authorised corporate service providers, which then pass on the information to UK law enforcement within 24 hours, under the exchange-of-notes agreement established in 2017.

That said, complexities arise with the proviso that public accessibility be at an accepted international standard, particularly among EU member states. As Members are aware, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) mentioned, the 2022 ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union stated that unrestricted public access to beneficial ownership information is incompatible with the right to private life. We may not be in the European Union any more, but the sentiment of many of those rulings remains. I know that, following that ruling, many territories sought legal and constitutional advice on the impact. Perhaps the Minister could provide his own assessment of the ruling, and tell us how he is working with territories to counteract it and ensure the smooth transition to public registers.

I know that Governments of the overseas territories and dependencies will be listening closely to this debate. I have no doubt of their commitment to providing the transparency needed. I also trust that many Members present, and the Government, will appreciate the work that has already been undertaken.

I will call Marie Rimmer and then Meg Hillier. You must sit down by half-past 4, so perhaps you can divide the time between you.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for securing the debate.

Our country, with its Crown dependencies and overseas territories, is responsible for 35% of global tax loss. The UK tax gap is estimated by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be worth £36 billion. Those billions of pounds could be spent helping our NHS or fixing our schools’ leaking roofs, but sadly, they are instead propping up Putin and his cronies as they try to destroy Ukraine. The past year has put a spotlight on dirty money laundered and hidden here, yet that problem has been around for years. We must act now to ensure that we are not indirectly responsible for horrors continuing to occur by failing to tackle dirty money, be it in London, the British Virgin Islands or one of our other territories. We have a duty to the people of Ukraine to do our bit.

We have heard many times from the Dispatch Box about how much support we are rightly giving to Ukraine, but the Government must press our Crown dependencies and overseas territories, which are the Russians’ laundromat of choice, to do the same. Transparency International has identified 237 cases of corruption enabled by companies based in the overseas territories. Those cases are worth an astonishing £250 billion, which was diverted via rigged procurement, bribery, embezzlement and the unlawful acquisition of state assets. All those cases passed through companies registered in our overseas territories. The presidential family of the Republic of Congo have enriched themselves to the sum of at least £500 million by completing dodgy oil deals through companies based in Anguilla, all while the Congo sits in billions of pounds of debt.

Of all the cases, 92% of those were registered in the British Virgin Islands. The scale of the financial damage caused by those companies is £196 billion, which is greater than the UK’s foreign aid budget over the past 20 years. We in this House often talk about our responsibility to the world and to mankind, and about our duty to help the world’s poorest—that is why we believe in foreign aid—yet monumental sums are being robbed from countries around the world by despots and dictators and then stored in our territories. Our duty to the world requires us to do more to crack down on it. Quite frankly, every time there is a series of leaks—from the Panama papers and the Paradise Papers to the “Cyprus Confidential” dossier—it is an embarrassment to our country, and it is not going away.

As has been set out, one of the most effective ways to crack down on the problem is with public registers of who owns the companies in our overseas territories and Crown dependencies. There has been enough talk about cracking down on tax avoidance for decades; it is now time for realistic and pragmatic action for good. Fraud, tax and sanction avoidance, and other economic crime can be cracked down on only if it is possible to follow the money. The Government cannot expect law enforcement to crack down on tax avoidance if it is not given the tools it needs to do it. We can do it and we have said we will do it, so we should get on and do it!

Public registers can also help to restore public faith in the tax system by helping to expose the high levels of aggressive tax avoidance and evasion that we know take place. In the long term, public registers can contribute to creating a fairer and less lopsided tax system. That allows the Government of the day to collect tax effectively, and fairly invest in our public services and infrastructure. Public registers of beneficial ownership are a sensible transparency measure, with broad cross-party support. The Government have repeatedly expressed their support for establishing public registers, but we are still waiting for them to be set up. They were supposed to be set up by the end of 2023. This situation cannot go on. The Foreign Secretary needs to get this over the line. We need to be able to identify who the true owner of offshore wealth is. We need to be able to uphold the law and make sure that tax is paid. We need to remove the veil of secrecy that, sadly, exists in too many of our territories and dependencies.

It is a pleasure to follow the passion of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer). I have been on this journey with my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) since I served on the Public Accounts Committee when she was chairing it—shockingly, it is now 10 years on from that. We began to deal with some of the domestic issues with companies that had international footprints—the large companies such as Starbucks, which we had before the Committee. I remember that rollercoaster ride and my right hon. Friend should be congratulated on that work.

Let us be clear what the impact of the lack of beneficial ownership registers is. Others have touched on security, but I wish to talk about the tax that is lost. We are in a cost of living crisis, there is a huge pressure on the Exchequer and we have an election looming, with each party that is likely to be in government wanting to make promises to the electorate. This money is being hidden away without people knowing where it is and that is definitely having an impact on the tax take; it is an absolute opportunity for tax avoidance and tax evasion, in particular, and it is key that we have this register. In my constituency, a lot of properties are owned by offshore companies, some of them in the overseas territories, and it is impossible for the residents of those buildings to know who their landlord truly is; they face an address with no name attached, and no responses come from those landlords. It is against natural justice for people who have their homes owned by others as finance vehicles not to be able to have access to them.

We need to make sure that this issue is dealt with, because if we do not deal with the issues of money laundering and economic crime across the piece, and we deal with them only domestically, without a strategy for the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, there is a risk that the problem will simply move, rather than be resolved. People with money and advice about where to hide it, if they are minded to hide it, will find ways to do that where those ways exist. This loophole needs to be closed and we have a prime opportunity, with the Foreign Secretary, the very person who, as Prime Minister, was backing that a decade ago, now sitting in the House of Lords and at the Cabinet table. He could be driving this, so I urge the Minister to speak up for his new boss. I hope that the Minister has been given the go-ahead to give us some comfort today that this issue will finally be revolved. There are only a few weeks until the end of the year, and I hope he can give us some comfort on the timeline.

Let me begin by sharing the disappointment of the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) that this debate is necessary at all. It is incredibly disappointing that the target the UK Government had of ensuring that by December 2023—the month we are in—public registers were set up for the overseas territories and Crown dependencies looks set to be missed. This debate ought to start, as in fairness it has, from a fundamental premise: public registers of beneficial ownership are a vital tool in helping to identify and therefore reduce financial crime, and to increase financial transparency.

The simple fact of knowing who owns what, who benefits from it, and where the moneys have flowed from and are flowing to all helps to identify and tackle crime of all sorts, including corruption, drug trafficking and people trafficking, as well as domestic and international tax evasion and tax avoidance. Being able to get this under control would be massively to our collective benefit, and not just from a reputational point of view, because the revenues, moneys and assets that are concealed in this way can be used to fund activities that are detrimental to national security. It would also be massively to the benefit of the rest of the world to close down options for kleptocratic “businesspeople” or politicians to strip assets from their countries and squirrel them away in untransparent jurisdictions to enrich their lifestyles. That is clearly not a good thing, and the people of those countries suffer as a consequence of that permissive environment.

Registers are a necessary but insufficient step, and there is a lot of work to be done, not just on this issue. We have heard about London’s unenviable reputation as the laundromat—I think that term was used—for some of the world’s dirty money. I remember participating in a debate earlier in my parliamentary career about similar issues that were caused by London being the laundromat for reputational issues, through the prevalence of libel tourism, the ability to use SLAPPs—strategic lawsuits against public participation—and the prevalence of public affairs and public relations agencies that are willing to accept money to do such things. There is much work to be done to clean up the United Kingdom’s act in that sense.

Although the UK Government introduced a register of beneficial ownership in 2016 and have encouraged the Crown dependencies and overseas territories to follow suit, they have not done that, so far at least, despite voluntarily agreeing to do so. That is despite the UK Government using the sweet persuasion of publishing a draft Order in Council as long ago as in 2020 to require them to do so and giving them a deadline of this month, which now seems almost certain to be missed.

This is the fundamental point: if the UK wishes to seek leadership on this issue, it cannot be taken seriously as a world leader on financial transparency if it does not do more, and is not seen to do more, to stop overseas territories being used as havens for individuals to evade their obligations.

It matters very much that that should happen. More than half of the shell companies exposed in the Panama papers were incorporated in UK tax havens. More than two thirds of the companies analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from the Panama papers leaks were found to be registered in the British Virgin Islands. The UK and its overseas jurisdictions are collectively responsible, through that permissiveness, for costing the rest of the world nearly $90 billion in lost tax each year by enabling non-residents to hide their finances and avoid tax. As the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) highlighted, Tax Justice UK estimates that the UK and its network of overseas territories and Crown dependencies are responsible for some 35% of global tax losses suffered by countries around the world.

The impact that clamping down on this problem could have, not just on the public good for the UK but in many other countries around the world, is highly significant. We are often invited to believe that the biggest threat to our quality of life—[Interruption.] Excuse me. [Interruption.] Thank you very much.

Lib? Well, it shows that there is perhaps a future for progressive alliances of one kind or another, Mr Deputy Speaker.


We are regularly invited to believe that the greatest threat to our public services and our quality of life comes not from a lack of resources, but from immigration. Indeed, the governing party is tearing itself to bits today over the difficulties that it has set itself in pursuit of the votes of those they believe might be influenced by such sentiments. I cannot help but feel that we would be in a significantly better place if only the Government put half the effort into clamping down on the opportunities for tax avoidance, evasion and lack of transparency as they put into telling us that there is a problem about boats.

The three countries that ranked highest in the corporate tax haven index 2021, compiled by the Tax Justice Network, were the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, which is not an accolade to be proud of. Where a score of 100 is the most permissive system and zero is the least permissive, the UK itself scored a less than clever 69. Greece scored 46.4, but seven of the eight territories that scored a perfect 100— I use the word “perfect” advisedly—are British overseas territories or Crown dependencies.

The UK Government and the territory Governments held a joint ministerial council in November, but there has been no statement. Will the Minister update the House on the progress that has been made? How will that affect the December deadline?

In 2014 the Foreign Secretary, who was then Prime Minister, made a number of strides forward in addressing this issue. We on the Opposition Benches are struggling with many things, including my voice, but we can see the benefits that come from Lord Cameron’s appointment. On these matters, we very much hope that he is able to pick up where he left off when he demitted office as Prime Minister.

If not the clock, certainly my voice is telling me that it is probably time to wind things up.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that ensuring we have open and transparent registers of beneficial ownership is only the first step in dealing with what is a very well established, very difficult and growing threat?

In short, yes, I do. The registers are necessary, although they are not sufficient by themselves. Clearly, a great deal more work needs to be done.

I commend the right hon. Member for Barking for her clarity and leadership on this issue. Next time we discuss it, I hope we will be discussing how the registers are being implemented and the benefits they bring.

This has been a hugely useful debate on the implementation of public registers of beneficial ownership in the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for securing this crucial debate and for her tireless and unrelenting work on combating illicit finance, fighting for transparency and opposing corruption. As shadow Minister for the overseas territories, I draw attention to my declaration of interest.

We have heard some important, passionate speeches, not least from my right hon. Friend. The campaigning motivations behind her speech have been clear and transparent in what she has attempted to achieve over many years, as many hon. and right hon. colleagues have reflected on.

Important points have been made, including by my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier), on one of the key reasons for transparency, which is understanding who owns buildings, for example, and in what way they own them. I have had the same experience in my Cardiff South and Penarth constituency, with many residents affected by fire and building safety issues having difficulty establishing who is the freeholder and how the ownership is structured.

In an equally passionate speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) clearly exposed why this matters in so many different regards. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch also explained the importance to the public purse of dealing with these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) made an equally passionate speech about why this matters to our efforts against Russia and its illegal and barbarous war in Ukraine, and in relation to our responsibilities elsewhere in the world, including in Africa and many other locations.

We heard strong comments from the Father of the House, as well as from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). The Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), also made important points on the constitutional position of the Crown dependencies. I am no expert on the different legal opinions that have been expressed on that matter, but I have certainly had it put to me clearly by representatives of the Crown dependencies.

As Labour’s shadow Minister for the UK overseas territories, I want to begin by reiterating our unwavering commitment to each member of our global British family, their sovereignty and their right to self-determination. We are committed to a respectful but candid, productive but principled partnership between the UK and each territory, and the same is true in many respects of the Crown dependencies. It was a pleasure to meet the premiers, Chief Ministers and representatives of each overseas territory earlier this month during the week of the joint ministerial council and to hear their insights, concerns and perspectives on issues from security to sovereignty, climate change to infrastructure, and constitutional relationships to this very issue of financial services and beneficial ownership.

As I have said in previous debates, we need to be careful that we do not pursue misconceptions about the overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Each territory and dependency is distinctive and unique. Many of the overseas territories do not engage in financial services, and this debate applies less to them. We must also recognise that steps have been taken and that there has been progress in some areas. Indeed, reference was made to the public register of beneficial ownership in Gibraltar, to the exchange of notes agreement, which has existed since 2017, and to a number of other steps that have been taken. I also want to acknowledge— I have discussed this with them over the last two years—that a number of the overseas territories, and indeed Crown dependencies, have been integral to efforts on freezing Russian state and other assets since the onset of Putin’s illegal and barbarous war in Ukraine.

However, Labour believes that being part of the British family comes with clear responsibilities. We share common values, obligations and principles, including a robust commitment to democracy, the rule of law and liberty, and the protection of human rights. We also believe in the advancement of good governance and in ensuring proper democratic accountability and regulation, which of course includes transparency in financial services.

The 2018 Foreign Affairs Committee report was referred to, and I note the comments in it and comments made today about the interdependence between proper regulation and transparency and our wider national security and foreign policy objectives. That is why we must respond to the calls made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking and many others today for us to tackle these issues by urgently bringing about the full implementation of public registers of beneficial ownership in the UK’s overseas territories and, I hope, Crown dependencies.

Sadly, action on economic crime has been held back by years of Conservative delay and dithering. As has been referenced, we were first promised a register of overseas ownership by Lord Cameron in 2016, and it beggars belief that we are still debating how it should be implemented.

Section 51 of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 required the Secretary of State

“no later than 31 December 2020”


“prepare a draft Order in Council requiring the government of any British Overseas Territory that has not introduced a publicly accessible register of the beneficial ownership of companies within its jurisdiction to do so.”

Yet here we are in 2023.

We should also remember the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, which was passed as emergency legislation in the light of the situation in Ukraine and the need to sanction Russian state entities and others involved in the invasion. Its primary purpose included setting up a register of overseas entities and their beneficial owners and requiring overseas entities that own land in the UK to register in certain circumstances.

We have repeatedly been clear that overseas entities should not be able to hide behind trusts, and it is important to explain why that matters. A recent article by Advani, Poux and Summers from the London School of Economics tells us that

“63 per cent of cases where beneficial ownership is not publicly reported”

involve “the use of trusts”. It also states:

“The Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories are…heavily implicated here. Over 85 per cent of all trust arrangements come from…Jersey (32 per cent), Guernsey (25 per cent), British Virgin Islands (17 per cent) and Isle of Man (11 per cent).”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only highlighted why we need to see who owns what and in a way that is transparent and publicly available.

We have made clear time and again the need to bring forward much-needed reforms to Companies House, alongside a review of the register of overseas entities, to ensure that the right balance is struck between privacy and the public interest, including our ability, for example, to apply sanctions effectively. Here in the UK I am afraid we have been playing a game of catch-up. We need to move forward in that respect, working co-operatively with the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies, but taking action if it has not yet been forthcoming.

The views of the British public are clear. The results of a poll for the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition show that 72% of the British public believe that the Government should take more responsibility, working with offshore financial centres to tackle money laundering and tax evasion. That will require the opening up of corporate registries to public scrutiny, and for the end-of-year deadline to be met as a matter of priority. We are seeing, as never before, a confluence of the need to ensure good governance across financial centres and our own national security.

Let me ask the Minister some questions. First, will the deadline be met—yes or no? If not, what do the FCDO and the wider Government consider to be a reasonable deadline, and what will be done to meet it? Can he clarify the position in relation to the Crown dependencies in particular, given the comments that have been made today? Obviously I have seen the statement that they have made about coming forward with a public commitment—I think that was the phrase—in relation to their approach to access to information on registers of beneficial ownership by the end of December 2023, to replace the 2019 commitment.

I was pleased to read the Joint Ministerial Council’s communiqué, which said that

“the Overseas Territories and the UK…will be establishing a technical working group on beneficial ownership…and…the implementation of publicly accessible registers”.

What is happening about that, and what support is being given to smaller territories, in particular, to enable them to make progress? What is the group doing, and how will it move forward and actually deliver results? After the November JMC, the Minister pledged that he would report to Parliament before the recess on the progress toward the deadline. Is today that day, and can he provide a precise timeline? Could he also provide an update on the status of the draft Order in Council and the circumstances in which it would be invoked? Will he tell us what percentage of business covered by the 2017 exchange of notes agreement is being covered now? I understand that in 2019 it was 87%; is it now 100%, as promised? At what speed is the information being exchanged? The Cayman Islands has told us that it does it within 24 hours; is that timeline the same in every single territory?

I hope that the Minister can answer those questions today. We want to see progress as a matter of urgency, as part of a respectful, constructive but principled relationship with our overseas territories and Crown dependencies.

If the Minister can sit down by about two minutes to 5, that will allow Dame Margaret Hodge to sum up the debate.

It is an honour to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have not had a chance to say this in person until now, but thank you for your Christmas card. We know that Christmas is coming, and it is always a joy.

I am particularly grateful to the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for securing the debate. I pay tribute to her for her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax, and for her tireless campaigning on this vital issue over many years. She is respected on both sides of the House for the work that she does. This debate has involved some of the most serious and seasoned parliamentarians, respected by me and, indeed, respected throughout the House—four dames, two knights and counting. A heavyweight group of people have made a serious contribution—and I do not say that lightly; the calculation was made by one of my colleagues.

I am also grateful for the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who is probably soon to be right hon. or something, what with all the stuff that is going on. He leads on the Crown dependencies in the Ministry of Justice and takes a keen interest in the issues affecting them and the overseas territories. Another of the dames is also present on the Front Bench: my right hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dame Amanda Milling), a very well-respected former overseas territories Minister.

Illicit finance is an active and growing threat to the national security of the UK family. There we have it—it has been said on both sides of the House. I am not sure we need to say much more on that particular point, but it is serious. As set out earlier this year in the UK’s second economic crime plan, illicit finance fuels serious and organised crime, threatens our institutions and enables kleptocrats to establish a financial foothold.

I recognise the important work of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary—just to reassure the right hon. Member for Barking, I can feel the strength of his opinion on my shoulders right now. That also goes for my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who is the development Minister and Minister for Africa, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who is the Security Minister. I think they are well known to the right hon. Lady, and the strength of their opinions is known to her and the House, and to many others too.

This is an important and serious debate. The UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies have a history of working together as partners to strengthen our economic defences against illicit finance. Publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership are an essential tool in that fight. We want greater transparency, and we are working hard to deliver it. As has been said, the UK implemented our own register in 2016, the first of its kind in the world. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 set out Parliament’s desire for the overseas territories to introduce registers, and in response, all the inhabited territories and Crown dependencies made public commitments to do so.

The UK welcomed those commitments as demonstrations of our joint desire to meet the highest standards in tackling illicit finance. In 2020 we set out in written ministerial statements our expectation that the territories and dependencies would implement registers by the end of this year, and included a draft Order in Council. We then provided technical assistance and support, and we saw OTs make significant progress. For instance, BVI was able to pass appropriate primary legislation in 2022 and the Cayman Islands in 2023, and the CDs have also taken a set of preparatory steps—[Interruption.] Bless you—it could be catching.

It will not have escaped Members’ notice that only Gibraltar currently has an operational register, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee. The other thing is that, as those who are following the calendar have noted, there are only three weeks to go until the end of 2023.

Let me be absolutely clear: this is not where the UK Government wanted the OTs and CDs to be. In November last year the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a ruling pertaining to publicly accessible registers, which changed the international context. The judgment found that an EU requirement to implement publicly accessible registers was contrary to the EU charter of fundamental rights. The UK was, however, satisfied with the lawfulness of our own publicly accessible register, and we continue to believe that CDs and OTs could legally implement public registers of their own. Not only that, but no fewer than 14 EU member states allow public access to their beneficial ownership registers even after the November court ruling. That should provide a direction of travel and a sense of security.

We have been in intense discussions with the territories and dependencies since spring—it has been a huge priority for me in recent months, since my appointment as Minister for the overseas territories—to set out the rationale for our view that the registers can indeed be fully implemented in line with the privacy rights that apply to each of them. Montserrat, the Falkland Islands, St Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and Pitcairn have confirmed that they are continuing to implement theirs, following in the footsteps of Gibraltar, which introduced its own in 2020. However, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, along with the Crown dependencies, continue to have concerns in the light of the court ruling.

Given the differing views on the ruling, we are working together to find ways to make positive progress, including by discussing an interim step that would make significant progress towards commitments to improve corporate transparency: the implementation, next year, of publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership with a legitimate interest access filter. That would allow access to beneficial ownership information for members of the public with a legitimate interest, such as media and civil society organisations involved in the fight against illicit finance and money laundering. It would also bring the territories and dependencies in line with the EU, as the European court judgment notes that EU member states must continue to enable access to those with legitimate interest.

I will make one more point and then I will gladly give way.

The right hon. Member for Barking raised an issue regarding requests by Transparency International to HMRC. I cannot comment on individual cases, but if she writes to me, I will follow it up. To be clear, the Government’s policy is that, by definition, legitimate interest should include civil society organisations such as Transparency International.

The legitimate public interest filter, as the Minister calls it, stands or falls on how “legitimate public interest” is defined. At the moment, it appears to be far too narrowly defined, which undermines the purpose of the transparency. Will he take into account the fact that the filter, as it exists, does not let any light through and is rendering the openness of the list moot?

That is not the intention. We want the light to shine on these issues. That will involve media and non-governmental organisations too. I can give the hon. Lady that reassurance.

Surely, the problem is that if the Minister were correct and any legitimate media could make an inquiry, any citizen with a real interest could go to the media and get the information that way. That must be known in opting for the filter, so presumably its purpose is only to be obstructive and to create legal barriers.

The filter is fundamental to the EU’s plans. We want this to be important in and of itself, and also a step on the journey to having full beneficial ownership registers. That remains the case.

I am conscious of time, but I want to assure the House that we are absolutely clear that we want to take this interim step further. We will continue active discussions. The majority of the five territories that we have talked about will sign up to the legitimate interest access filter, and we will continue to have discussions with other jurisdictions that need to do more. As I set out in my response to the right hon. Member for Barking, I intend to update the House with full details before Christmas, and I will lay a written ministerial statement on the outcomes of the ongoing negotiations.

We are continuing further productive discussions with Crown dependencies. In line with the overseas territories, we are recognising our different legal positions following the court judgment, but we are making our expectation clear that the registers need to be implemented during the course of next year. Again, the Home Office will update Parliament before the recess on the outcomes of those serious discussions, as we want to move forward.

In conclusion, I would like to give our great friends in the overseas territories and Crown dependencies the message that we are determined and keen to achieve this important goal for us all. The train is leaving the station. We know the direction of travel. It is time for all our friends in the overseas territories and CDs to get on board. We will do all we can to support them, and it remains a clear priority.

What has been great about this debate is that we mostly agree across the House. That has been the basis on which we have taken action down the years, and I am grateful for that. I want to acknowledge the teamwork that has gone on. The right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) both played a key role in pursuing transparency in the run-up to 2018 and beyond, before they became Ministers. Transparency is just one tool in the fight against economic crime, corruption, and tax evasion and avoidance.

I thank all the Members who have taken part in the debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) both mentioned the eye-watering sums of money that are lost to the legitimate system through tax avoidance, tax evasion and other ways.

May I thank everybody and finally say—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).