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Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2022

Volume 826: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, these regulations provide the legislative framework for tackling money laundering and terrorist financing and set out various measures that businesses must take to protect the UK from illicit financial flows. Under these regulations, businesses are required to conduct enhanced checks on business relationships and transactions with high-risk third countries. These are countries identified as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes that could pose a significant threat to the UK’s financial system.

This statutory instrument amends the money laundering regulations to update the UK’s list of high-risk third countries. It adds the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Tanzania to the list and removes Nicaragua and Pakistan. This is to mirror lists published by the Financial Action Task Force, the global standard setter for anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing.

This is the sixth time we have updated the UK list to respond to the evolving risks from third countries. This update ensures that the UK remains at the forefront of global standards on anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing. In 2018, the Financial Action Task Force assessed that the UK has one of the toughest anti-money laundering regimes in the world. The UK was a founding member of this international body, and we continue to work closely and align with international partners such as the G7 to drive improvements in anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing systems globally.

FATF has identified that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Tanzania must each make a range of domestic reforms to address their non-compliance with FATF standards. These include improving their understanding of risk, increasing the effectiveness of their domestic supervision, supporting money laundering investigations and prosecutions and more effective implementation of sanctions.

FATF found that Pakistan and Nicaragua have made the necessary domestic reforms to improve their compliance with FATF standards, which have been confirmed through on-site visits to both countries. In its October public statement, FATF expressed concern at the potential misapplication of FATF standards by Nicaragua, resulting in the suppression of Nicaragua’s non-profit sector. Therefore, although Nicaragua has been removed from FATF’s list, FATF will continue to monitor this issue to ensure that Nicaragua’s oversight of the non-profit sector is risk-based and in line with FATF standards.

Lastly, this high-risk third country list is one of many mechanisms that the Government have to clamp down on illicit financial flows from overseas threats. We will continue to use other mechanisms available to respond to wider threats from other jurisdictions, including applying financial sanctions as necessary.

This amendment to the money laundering regulations will enable them to continue to work as effectively as possible to protect the UK financial system. It is crucial to protect UK businesses and the financial system from money launderers and terrorist financers. I therefore hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting these regulations. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the latest iteration of the Financial Action Task Force’s list of high-risk countries. As she outlined, this is a routine piece of secondary legislation. These Benches are pleased to support its passage.

I want to pick up on a couple of outstanding questions from the Commons debate on this instrument, which took place on Monday. The Minister’s colleague, Andrew Griffith, noted that the

“removal of Nicaragua and Pakistan does not bring to an end any monitoring of those countries, which are covered by a much broader set of arrangements.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 5/12/22; col. 6.]

He talked of an “ongoing duty of care” to fight money laundering but did not go into any detail about what that looks like. My understanding is that the duty of care has often been found wanting. Does the Minister agree with that assessment? If so, what work is under way to strengthen the current arrangements? I appreciate that she may not be able to answer that today, so I would be happy for her to write with further details.

My colleague, Tulip Siddiq, raised the Government’s plans to make future versions of these statutory instruments subject to the negative procedure. We appreciate that parliamentary time is finite and that there is an ever-growing body of secondary legislation for us to consider, in part because the Government keep presenting skeleton Bills full of broad delegated powers. The Commons Minister committed to writing with details of how the Government will ensure that Parliament gets the information it needs to discharge its rightful job of scrutinising such decisions. Will the Minister see that such information is passed on to interested parties in this House?

We came across this problem before with the end of EU laws coming to some extent almost between affirmative and negative regulations. That was in the middle of the pandemic, so it got lost there, but there is a need for something more consultative than the negative procedure. The problem with negative procedures is that they are almost invisible. Unless the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee picks up on them, it can be difficult to realise that the instruments are there. If the Government are to introduce a propensity to use negative procedures more, and we can obviously see some sense in that, I hope they will make sure that they have a rethink about how such negative instruments are brought in front of this House in particular.

Finally, I note that Gibraltar continues to feature on the list, despite assurances that the authorities there are making good progress on implementing FATF’s recommendation. Is the Minister able to offer any further comments on that?

I thank the noble Lord for his questions. I can probably expand on my answers in writing, if needs be. On his point about the procedure used for future updates to this list and parliamentary scrutiny of that, I will certainly ensure that any response from my colleague—I believe the EST took this debate—is copied to Members of this House and answers those points.

In this area, future updates to the list will continue to mirror the findings of FATF as an international standards-setter where it has identified countries as having weak anti-money laundering controls. FATF’s decision-making process is underpinned by a robust technical methodology and has a high level of scrutiny of the multilateral process, which the UK is involved in at all stages. We are committed to continue to provide written updates to Parliament on the outcomes of each FATF plenary, as these inform the list.

On this measure, we consider that the procedural change will have quite limited impact, given Parliament’s full support on all updates to the list so far. We can consider the attendance at this debate as perhaps an indicator of that, but I take the point that updates may not always be uncontroversial. Ensuring that Parliament is kept up to date with the outcome of FATF meetings, from which we derive our list, might be a good way to ensure that parliamentarians feel that they are kept abreast of the changes that might then flow through the negative statutory instrument procedure.

On Nicaragua and Pakistan having been removed from the high-risk third country list and the ongoing monitoring in these areas, I mentioned that the Government have concerns about allegations of misuse of AML powers by Nicaragua. We have agreed that Nicaragua should report in February to FATF members on how it is applying anti-money laundering powers proportionately to charities and civil society organisations. We will consider that report and next steps at the time.

In relation to both countries, the list of high-risk third countries is only one of many measures used to combat illicit finance. There are many other measures available to the Government. I am not sure that that completely answers the noble Lord’s point, so I will make sure I read Hansard and write with any further points that I should make.

Motion agreed.