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Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill

Volume 820: debated on Monday 14 March 2022

Third Reading

Relevant documents: 22nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee


Moved by

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to thank all those who have supported the progress of the Bill. First, I thank the House of Lords Public Bill Office, the House clerks and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for their support and extremely hard work in ensuring that the Bill could be expedited through the House. In particular, I thank our new star of social media, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield—we shall all have to be very careful and make sure that we are paying attention when she is in the House in future—and my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Ahmad, who have ably assisted me in getting this cross-cutting legislation through the House.

I also give particular thanks to my private office and the whole of the Bill team in both BEIS and the Home Office. All the civil servants working there are a credit to their profession. I can tell the House that they were working evenings and weekends. People were texting me at 10 pm last night, on a Sunday evening, on the details—so they have really assisted us by working hard. That is in addition to all the officials across government, in BEIS, the Home Office, the Treasury and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, who have all contributed by working tirelessly to get the Bill to this point. I also want to remember the late Nick Skates, a dedicated civil servant who spent many years working on these issues, tackling economic crime, who is very sadly not with us today to see the fruits of his labour.

I also give particular tribute to the Opposition spokesmen, the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Fox, and all their colleagues—the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and others—for their constructive challenge and continued support for the Bill. I am grateful to Members across the House for their valuable engagement and contributions to our debates on the Bill; it has been immeasurably improved by the work that they have put in in such speedy and short order. I also thank them for the support that they have already expressed for the upcoming second economic crime Bill, which the Government will introduce in the coming months, in the next parliamentary Session. I also pay tribute to the Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill, which, a few years ago, helped ensure that this legislation was in a good place prior to its introduction.

I express my gratitude and thanks to the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland for their support for the Bill. We are delighted that a legislative consent Motion has been agreed with Scotland.

I also thank the Northern Ireland Executive’s Department of Justice, the Department for the Economy and the Department of Finance for their support. In the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive, a legislative consent Motion cannot be secured from the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, given the active support of Northern Ireland Ministers, the Government have agreed to proceed with legislating on behalf of Northern Ireland. Ministers in Northern Ireland have, of course, been made aware of this. Both my department and the Home Office will continue to engage with Northern Ireland executive officials on devolved matters as the Bill is implemented.

The Bill will target sources of illicit wealth and their permeation through our economy. We will cut off these funds. We will send a message that the United Kingdom will not stand idly by when this exploitation is taking place. We will show the Kremlin that the United Kingdom will not facilitate or accept any aspect of aggression against any democratic nation. We will do so united, cross party and working together to bring these matters to fruition. I commend the Bill to the House.

I start by thanking various people—including my family, who put up with me being on the telephone most of the weekend, often to the Minister. It was worth it in the end, as they say.

On a serious note, I thank everyone. This is a fast-tracked Bill, and that puts pressure on everybody. It is important to thank people at this time; it is a courtesy of the House but an important one to thank the staff, the clerks, the officers of the House and everybody who has enabled us to function in the way that we have and to put this extremely important legislation through the House. We are passing legislation which impacts on millions of people’s lives in this country, across Europe and beyond, and in thanking each other for doing that, we all ought to reflect perhaps a little more than we sometimes do on the enormity of the work that we do and the responsibility that we have. The people we are thanking should realise that they have made things possible in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and that is something to remind ourselves of.

I also thank my colleagues: my noble friend Lady Chapman—who as we know has had to give her apologies for personal reasons today, and we wish her well—my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lady Smith, and Dan Stevens in our office, who has worked tirelessly to keep us informed about the importance of different parts of the legislation.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and others, for the work that they have done with us; and the many noble Lords across the Cross Benches who have taken the trouble to send me information, talk to me and give me the benefit of their expertise and knowledge. I have been very grateful for that; I hope that it has improved the contributions that we have all made to the House and in the end will improve the legislation that we take forward.

I thank the Minister again, as I did earlier, and his colleagues on the Front Bench for the co-operation that they have given us. Obviously there have been debates and discussions, but we have all had at the forefront of our minds the need to get the legislation through, and this has been a template for how to do that. I ask him to pass that on to all his colleagues. This is something important for our country.

This economic crime Bill 1—as we are calling it—needs to be improved, but we should remind ourselves that the bit that needs improving is not the emergency part. We should remind ourselves that we have passed an emergency Bill that allows us to do what we all want: to take effective action against dirty money within London—perhaps it should have been done before, but at least we are doing it now—and send a message to President Putin that he cannot act with impunity on the invasion of Ukraine. We stand united to try to deal with that. On the sanctions part—the real emergency part of the Bill—we all remain united. The message should go out clearly from this House of Lords back to the House of Commons and from us to the people of Ukraine, and to Russia itself.

As the Minister said, we will be moving from this economic crime Bill to an economic crime Bill 2. I am very grateful for the concessions he made. He will know the disquiet in the House about certain measures in the existing Bill, but he said that he would take that on board and reflect on the opinions expressed. It will allow us to take forward economic crime Bill 2 early in the next Session and build on the work we have done by putting improvements into it. Looking at various Cross-Benchers and around the House, I know that we will end up with a big economic crime Bill 2, which in the end will deliver the sort of legislation we all want to tackle the dirty money in our country.

I thank everyone again. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved with this and I thank the Minister again for that.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, reminded us, this is an emergency Bill. Your Lordships’ House has expedited it swiftly. In that regard, we should be pleased with how much scrutiny we have been able to pack into such a short time. The fact that there were 62 government amendments and two other amendments on Report indicates that quite a lot of work has been done, not necessarily all by us. I commend everybody who has participated in this, on Opposition Benches and the Benches opposite, towards a process where—I hope—Ministers believe that this is a better Bill than the one we received.

Looking forward, much hope is vested in the subsequent Bill. It is clear that the Government should expect that, when it comes, the level of scrutiny will be much higher and normal service will be resumed in the amount of time we expect to be available to give a quality look at it. In the meantime, we await the statutory instruments needed to drive this Bill and look forward to the six-week review on how commencement is moving forward.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in thanking the Ministers—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad and Lord Callanan—and their various Whips who have been here at different times. I particularly commend the Bill team. It is quite clear they must have lost an awful lot of sleep and weekends to get where we did; now all they have are a couple of dozen statutory instruments to sort out—so no pressure. I thank them very much for their hard work and thank the private offices of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and others.

I also thank the Opposition Front Bench—the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and her able sub the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Of course, I give particular props to the home team of my noble friends Lady Kramer, Lord Thomas and Lord Clement-Jones, and of course Sarah Pughe, our legislation adviser, without whom everything would be incoherent.

In sending the Bill back to the Commons, we should remember that it is not an anti-Russian Bill. It is an anti-oligarch Bill and an anti-kleptocrat Bill. Of course, some of those criminals come from Russia. We should also turn the fire of this legislation on kleptocrats from Belarus and other such places and, in due course, on criminals from all around the world. This is against not the people of Russia but the criminals who have robbed the people of Russia, and we should remind ourselves of that. We look forward to the next phases of legislation in this area.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Sitting suspended.