My Lords, I am happy to join the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Wallace, and others who have brought this amendment. I may not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, says, but I share with him a passion for the rule of law and a real concern for our reputation for protecting the rule of law. It is a real irony that our reputation for protecting the rule of law is one of the things that attracts people who have very little regard for the rule of law themselves and come from countries which ignore it almost altogether. I am afraid that this Government and their predecessor have a very inadequate record in responding to the threat of corruption of all sorts, and of course I support the proposals in this amendment.
In 2016, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron made a seminal speech about the importance of stamping out corruption. The Minister will remember the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and what a nuisance I was during its passage. I found it inadequate in a number of respects, including unexplained wealth orders, which I did not consider were nearly tough enough. I also put down amendments to try to persuade the Government to establish a register of overseas entities’ property, in order to try to reveal a great deal more about who actually owns vast parts of London. The noble Baroness was emollient and responded that as soon as parliamentary time allowed, there would be an appropriate response. I was slightly reassured by that. I continued to harry the Government. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Young, when he was a Minister, about the progress of matters. He was reassuring—none more reassuring than he—and said good progress was being made.
In 2018, when the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill came before your Lordships’ House, I put down a similar amendment with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on the register of beneficial owners of overseas entities. The matter progressed through Committee and was debated at some length. It then came to Report, when I was fully prepared to take it to a vote. I was in the Conservative Party then and it was not a popular decision. Quite frankly, I was leant on. I was leant on by No. 10 Downing Street and summoned to a meeting of officials from all sorts of different departments, who told me it was very unfortunate that I was going to do this because the matter was in hand.
I was then told, from the Dispatch Box, that the Bill was a priority for the second Session. It would be introduced by 2019 and the register itself would be operated by early 2021—sooner, if possible. I suppose I then received the prize for being a naughty boy; I was asked to chair the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. We looked at it in 2019. It was an excellent Bill that had been very well prepared by some skilful civil servants. We responded, stressing that time was of the essence. The Government appeared to accept our recommendations.
What has happened? Absolutely nothing. In the meantime, frankly, we look like a laughing stock. We are not responding to the threat of economic crime. We are giving away visas and the rest of the world must think we simply do not care. I thoroughly support this amendment.