Failure to Prevent an Economic Criminal Offence

Part of Criminal Finances Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 5:00 pm, 21st February 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Dr Huq. I will take this opportunity to respond to the many points that have been raised in this debate. It is a regret that Dame Margaret Hodge is not in her place, but it is for fully understandable reasons. I pay tribute to her for the work she has done in campaigning for tax transparency, and I send her my best wishes at this time.

Let me now turn to the main thrust of this debate. What has dominated our proceedings is this question of whether our British overseas territories and Crown dependencies should have public registers of beneficial ownership. I am a supporter of transparency. I was the first Member of this House to publish my expenses—long before that was required. It was not a popular thing to do at the time, but I am a great believer in transparency. I learned that from my time in the Scottish Parliament, because I am also a great believer in respecting devolution and respecting constitutional arrangements.

Let me say to my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert that we have not changed our ambition. Our ambition is still to have public registers of beneficial ownership in the overseas territories and Crown dependencies. I repeated that to the leaders of those territories and dependencies just two weeks ago, but how we get there is where there are differences. We must recognise that, ever since David Cameron held that anti-corruption summit, we have come a long way—I am not sure whether it is 90%, 89%, or 85%. I do not know the percentage—I did not do the same course as the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton. None the less, we now have a commitment to keep either central registers or linked registers. My hon. Friend Nigel Mills needs to recognise that it is perfectly possible to link registers and to interrogate them centrally. We aim to fulfil that commitment by June 2017.

We are also committed to allowing our law enforcement agencies to have automatic access to those registers. We already do that in some of those territories, with requests coming back within hours. As a Home Office Minister, I am charged with ensuring that we see off organised crime, tackle corruption, and deal with money laundering. I believe that our arrangements do allow us to deal with potential crime and tax evasion. If I did not think that, I would not be here making the point that now is not the time to impose that on our overseas territories and Crown dependencies. I have faith that, at the moment, the capabilities of our law enforcement agencies enable us to interrogate those systems and to follow up and prosecute those people who encourage tax evasion not only in this country, but in other countries. This Bill gives us that extra territorial reach that many other countries do not have.