Amendment 73A

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:25 pm on 20 June 2023.

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Lord Agnew of Oulton:

Moved by Lord Agnew of Oulton

73A: Clause 162, page 150, leave out line 34

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his response to my opening comments on this amendment. However, I remain very concerned. I shall make four very quick points. I am very conscious that people want to get home; I was told we had to wrap things up by 7.30 pm, and we will not be far off that.

First, we already know how the register is working, as we have had real-life experience over the past year. Just to give noble Lords an idea of it at the moment so we know what needs to be improved, it is already possible to request information from HMRC if a trust is based outside the UK and the EEA. However, HMRC can provide this information only if it relates to very specific types of trust. Astonishingly, an overseas trust that owns an overseas company that holds UK land is not required to register with HMRC’s Trust Registration Service, so the information cannot be requested. We know that is happening now.

Then we can move beyond that. We talk about interested parties having access, and the Minister talks about widening that access, but we need to see how it has been working in reality. Transparency International has so far made six requests to HMRC for information under the Trust Registration Service. Every single one has been rejected. The reasons given were: “The trust is not required to register”; “The trust may not have registered”; “The details you have provided did not allow us to match a trust; “The trust may be registered but it is not covered by the data”; “The trust may be registered but is not recorded as having a controlling interest”; and “However we cannot confirm which specific reason or reasons apply”. That is how it works at the moment. I cannot see why the Government cannot improve that without a consultation.

I also reject the Minister’s comments on confidentiality and his assumption that this is about a completely open register for anybody to get any information. We repeatedly said at Second Reading and in Committee that there are many legitimate people who deserve confidentiality. The example I use is of a female popstar who buys a house. She does not want fans on her doorstep. There are people escaping bad experiences in other countries and so on. What the consultation should be about is transparency but what exceptions would exist for those who are legitimate in seeking them.

Let me sum up why I am so worried about a consultation. I take very seriously the commitments given to me by my noble friend, and I thank my noble friend the Chief Whip who took time to meet me a couple of hours ago and intervened to try to get some strong reassurances in the Bill. However, I say for those who have not been a Minister that the way consultations work in government is that if it is not primary legislation, there is a thing called a write-round. Round it goes to every department, but guess who sits at the top of the top trump game? It is our friends the Treasury. Having been a Treasury Minister for two years, I can offer the House three examples of why I do not think it will—

Noble Lords:

No!

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

Okay, I will not. I shall give one example, which is golden visas. Golden visas were known for five or more years to be a conduit for bad money into this country. Everybody knew that, but it took the Treasury five years to finally close that loophole. That is why I do not like the idea of a consultation. I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 171, Noes 151.

Division number 5 Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill - Report (1st Day) — Amendment 73A

Aye: 169 Members of the House of Lords

No: 149 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 73A agreed.