Our modern industrial strategy seeks to maintain the UK’s global reputation as a good place to do business. People come to Britain confident in our high corporate standards, including market transparency, which foster confidence and trust. Transactions are improved and the market has greater confidence when people know who they are doing business with, while lack of transparency can facilitate criminal behaviour.
The 2017 national risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing highlights the fact that property continues to be an attractive vehicle for criminal investment, in particular for high-end money laundering. The risks relating to abuse of property are most acute where property is owned anonymously through corporate structures or trusts.
This Government committed at the 2016 international anti-corruption summit to create a register showing the beneficial owners of overseas entities which own or buy property in the UK. The Government also committed in primary legislation, through section 50 of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, to report to Parliament annually on the progress that has been made towards putting in place such a register.
Over the past year, significant progress has been made towards the introduction of the register.
The Government published a draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill on 23 July 2018 and invited comment on it from interested parties. Some 29 responses were received from civil society groups, the property sector and others, which has informed the development of the register. The draft Bill and explanatory notes set out how the register will operate.
A Joint Committee was appointed to consider and report on the draft Bill. The Commons members of the Committee were appointed on 19 February 2019. The Lords members were appointed on 25 February 2019. The Committee held a number of evidence sessions, including one on 25 March 2019 at which I gave evidence. They also invited interested individuals and organisations to submit written evidence to their inquiry.
The Committee made recommendations in a report to both Houses, published on 20 May 2019. The Government welcome the Committee’s thorough and helpful scrutiny of the Bill. We are considering their recommendations and will publish a response in due course.
The Government intend to introduce the Bill to Parliament as soon as parliamentary time allows. We will continue to work closely with interested parties, including our delivery partners, in developing secondary legislation and preparing for implementation. Following Royal Assent and the making of secondary legislation, the Government intend that the register will be operational in 2021.
The UK continues to lead the global fight against illicit finance. The Financial Action Task Force completed a landmark review of the UK’s regime for tackling money laundering in December 2018, concluding that we have some of the strongest controls in the world.