Failure to Prevent an Economic Criminal Offence

Part of Criminal Finances Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention) 4:45 pm, 21st February 2017

It would help if Members were listening to me. How many times have I given way? Numerous times—more than anyone else in our proceedings, which have been going on for many hours—so I would like to make some progress.

Even if, as has been mentioned, it is the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands that are prolific offenders—I think that the British Virgin Islands come up the greatest number of times in the Panama papers—it does not completely absolve the Crown dependencies. Several Members have tried to untangle the difference between Crown dependencies and overseas territories. The Isle of Man managed to rack up 8,000 entries in the Panama papers and is being singled out by the Canadian revenue authorities for investigation. Let us not forget that in October 2015, HMRC defeated the Isle of Man on a tax avoidance scheme that took place from 2001 to 2008 and left a hole in our finances of £200 million. That is a not insignificant sum, and it is money going from our Exchequer. How many hospitals and schools could we have built for that? I do not know the precise answer; it is a rhetorical question. In 2007, the tax havens of Guernsey and Jersey were investigated by our Serious Fraud Office in one of the biggest corruption investigations in African history. These things often join up; the money moves around.

The point is clear: the very structure of the laws pertaining to finance in these places, coupled with their deliberate adoption of complex and opaque institutional structures, is crying out for reform. Globally, these dependencies are at the heart of undermining the rule of law—something that we hold dear—in other countries due to the corruption that they facilitate. Their laws therefore clearly need to be changed, and there is undeniable scope for us to change them. As my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge, who is sadly absent, has said, there is a moral case for us to act, even if there might not be an identical incident in which we have so acted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley referred to polling that shows enormous public support for such an approach—some 80% of people in a recent poll.

The Bill Committee was told that public registers are not an international norm and that our Crown dependencies and overseas territories are somehow exemplars because they have adopted closed registers of beneficial ownership. Lamentably, that might look like a bit of an alternative fact—dare I say that. I have here a piece of paper—in fact, it is three sheets stapled together—with a list of 46 jurisdictions. Those countries are all dependencies of G20 nation states, so they are in a similar constitutional position to our overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and they all have centralised registers of beneficial ownership. Shall I read out all 46, or does the House want just a smattering? They are: the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos Keeling Islands, the Coral Sea Islands