Review of Scottish Limited Partnership

Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 22nd November 2016.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must undertake a review into the extent of financial criminal activity associated with Scottish Limited Partnerships, and lay a copy of the review before the House of Commons within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.

(2) In conducting the review the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Scottish Government;

(b) the National Crime Agency;

(c) the Serious Fraud Office;

(d) the Financial Conduct Authority;

(e) HMRC;

(f) interested third sector organisations; and

(g) any other persons he deems relevant.

(3) The review must set out what steps the Government intends to take to prevent Scottish Limited Partnerships being used for criminal purposes.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review of financial criminality associated with Scottish Limited Partnerships and set out what steps the Government intends to take to prevent Scottish Limited Partnerships being used for criminal purposes.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:30 am, 22nd November 2016

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. Before I go into the substance of the new clause, I place on the record our thanks to the Minister for his willingness to discuss the issue with us both before and after Second Reading. Although I am a relatively new Member of Parliament, this is the fifth Bill Committee on which I have served in just over a year, and this is the most listening Minister I have come across. I would like to acknowledge that.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Yes, this is the gentle dagger.

I rehearsed on Second Reading many of the specific instances of abuse using Scottish limited partnerships. I do not intend at this moment to repeat all that, but for the Minister’s benefit, I would like to add to what has already been said.

First, we have had further discussions with the Law Society of Scotland and others. They indicate a willingness to assist us in moving forward to address what the solutions may be to Scottish limited partnerships. I have also had discussions with an individual who was named in evidence to us, Mr Richard Smith, who has undertaken a lot of research into this matter. He, too, has indicated a willingness to assist.

Why do we consider that a review is needed? A lot of research has been undertaken, including by Mr David Leask, who gave evidence to the Committee just last week. However, in our view, before the Government move towards precisely how they will take action to secure SLPs from abuse in the future, it would do us a lot of good if we conducted a detailed review, sponsored by the Government, to ensure that all forms of abuse are properly understood. It would be good to do that before we move towards saying what the precise solutions will be. Therefore, it would be valuable if the Minister, when he comments on the new clause, indicates whether he thinks there is still scope for the Government to consider a detailed review such as that which we have discussed.

I shall conclude now and allow the Minister to respond. Our hope is that the response will be such that there will be no need for us to push the new clause to a vote.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. As the son of a Fifer, I know that one always does well to listen to a Fifer—or one faces the consequences.

I am also grateful to the Scottish National party and The Herald newspaper for raising this issue. It is a genuine issue of abuse, as they have rightly pointed out. We have taken important steps to prevent the misuse of corporations for money laundering, corruption and tax evasion. The UK’s public register of company beneficial ownership went live this year—we were the first G20 country to put such a register in place. At the London anti-corruption summit, we committed to going further and creating a register of the beneficial ownership of foreign companies that own real property or wish to be involved in public sector procurement contracts in the UK.

However, we must not be complacent. Hon. Members have rightly raised the issue of Scottish limited partnerships a number of times. I hope they are assured that I take it very seriously. The stories in The Herald and the intelligence assessments that I have received from our law enforcement agencies are very concerning.

As I committed to do on Second Reading, I have spoken on this subject to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), who is responsible for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility, and she shares my concerns about the abuse of SLPs. We agreed that we need to get the balance right between ensuring that the UK remains a good place to do business for the law abiding and cracking down on abuse. Her Department recently published a discussion paper that invites views on a number of questions about transposing corporate transparency requirements under the fourth anti-money laundering directive. The catchy name is “Implementation of the Fourth Money Laundering Directive—Discussion paper on the transposition of Article 30: beneficial ownership of corporate and other legal entities”.

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

I can repeat it for those who want to write it down. That was launched on 3 November. I think that it is a six-week consultation. As a starting point, I strongly urge the Scottish National party to make a submission.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

We are aware of that consultation with a snappy title, and it is our understanding that, appropriately, submissions have to be in by St Andrew’s day— 30 November. We intend to make a submission.

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

One issue raised in the paper is whether SLPs should be brought within the scope of the directive by including them on the UK’s public company beneficial ownership register, which would go some way to revealing the people behind some of those arrangements. The Government propose that SLPs should be on the register, although we must wait to see the responses to the consultation before we make a final decision. Hopefully my office will be in touch with hon. Members to arrange a meeting to discuss both that and some of the other issues they have raised.

New clause 1 proposes a statutory review of SLPs. The existing discussion paper already provides for interested parties to submit their views on identifying the beneficial owners of SLPs, which is a good first step. I reassure hon. Members that officials and Ministers in multiple Departments are looking closely at the wider issues related to SLPs, and I hope we will have more to say about that on Report. For now, I hope the hon. Gentleman feels suitably encouraged to withdraw his new clause.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for his encouraging response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2