Meaning of relevant body and acting in the capacity of an associated person

Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 22nd November 2016.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Mrs Main, this is like an auction—the speed at which you are dealing with matters. The only person who can understand these things is the auctioneer.

Clause 36 defines essential terms that establish the scope of the new corporate offences of domestic and foreign failure to prevent tax evasion. It defines those entities that can be liable under the new offences, and those persons for whom a corporation can be liable if it fails to prevent them from facilitating tax evasion. The relevant bodies that can be liable under the new offences are defined as bodies incorporated and partnerships, not individual men or women, reflecting the responses to HMRC’s consultation on the provisions. The new offences can therefore be committed by companies, whether established to make a profit or for charitable purposes; partnerships; and similar entities established under foreign law. Indeed, the not-for-profit sector publically welcomed the offence applying to its sector, recognising that charities can be misused to facilitate tax evasion. Individuals involved in facilitating tax evasion will of course continue to face prosecution under existing tax evasion offences.

We will go on to debate the provisions in greater depth, but for now it is important to stress that part 3 of the Bill creates offences of corporate failure to prevent the criminal facilitation of tax evasion. They are not offences of corporate failure to prevent tax evasion itself and do not create a legal obligation for corporations to prevent their client’s tax evasion.

The clause also defines broadly the persons who could attract liability for a relevant body. Those include an employee, an agent and any other person who provides services for, or on behalf of, the relevant body. That mirrors the similar offence of corporate failure to prevent bribery in the Bribery Act 2010. That is important because we have seen in the past that corporations structure their affairs to try to insulate themselves from liability by deliberately contracting out the most risky services, typically to persons based in the most secretive jurisdictions. The definition of associated persons in the clause addresses that and closes that potential loophole.

However, it is important to appreciate that not every act of, say, an employee will give rise to criminal liability for the relevant body. For example, where an employee who has gone home from work and is acting in their private capacity criminally facilitates a tax evasion offence by their partner, that will not give rise to any liability for the employing relevant body because the criminal facilitating act was not done in the capacity of employee. I hope that that explanation provides a useful introduction to how the subsequent clauses will function.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

We support the clause. The Minister mentioned the Bribery Act 2010, from which there has been an unusually small number of successful convictions. Does he have any thoughts as to whether there will be a beefed-up number from this legislation? That is largely what I wanted to ask about it. Many big companies have been blogging that it is a bad idea, which makes me think that it must be a good one.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

In response to what has been said by the Opposition spokeswoman, it is important to note that the Bribery Act has two effects: prosecution, but also change of behaviour. If one goes out to many parts of the world where British companies are engaged in export or trying to win orders, it is clear that the message has gone out loud and clear not to bribe them and not to be involved in bribery. I was in Kenya a couple of weeks ago, and it is clear that British businesses there—people wishing to do business—do not even ask. That is a cultural change so, as I said, the effect is twofold. One thing that can be said about the Bribery Act is that it certainly went to the heart of things. There were no favours drawn: the first person convicted under the Bribery Act was an employee of the Ministry of Justice, and was convicted quite soon after the introduction of the legislation, so we all work under it, whether we are a civil servant or a business.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37