Failure to prevent facilitation of tax evasion offences: exclusion from public procurement

Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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‘(1) In section 57 of the Public Contract Regulations 2015 after paragraph 3(b) insert—

“(c) the contracting authority is aware that the economic operator is a body that has been convicted of an offence under section 37 or 38 of the Criminal Finances Act 2017.”’—

This new clause would ensure that companies convicted of failure to prevent a tax evasion facilitation offence are excluded from public procurement.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

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

The new clause builds on new clause 6, which we looked at earlier. Exclusion is the key means of incentivising good corporate governance. The threat of exclusion from public procurement is known to be one that companies fear more than fines. Making the new offences subject to exclusion would ensure that companies take preventing such offences seriously. The UK’s anti-corruption summit committed to excluding corrupt bidders from public procurement contracts, so it is important that companies that facilitate tax evasion are similarly excluded.

Under the Public Contract Regulations 2015, public authorities must exclude companies found to be in breach of their obligations related to the payment of taxes. Unless the Bill specifies whether the new offences under clauses 37 and 38 will constitute such a breach, the Crown Commercial Service, which is often narrow in its approach, is unlikely to consider that they do. The purpose of the new clause therefore is to urge Ministers to ensure that the Crown Commercial Service understands there to be a breach in that context.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for tabling his new clause because it allows us to cover another important element of the tax evasion offence we debated earlier. I also thank him for meeting me to discuss those proposals.

New clause 15 would create mandatory exclusion from public contracts of a relevant body convicted of an offence under part 3 of the Bill. I fully agree that, where an organisation has been convicted under the new offences and grave professional misconduct has taken place, it should be possible to exclude that organisation from public contracts.

I am pleased to say that existing law already allows for that by virtue of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which allow for the exclusion of a body from a public contract

“where the contracting authority can demonstrate by appropriate means that the economic operator is guilty of grave professional misconduct, which renders its integrity questionable”.

That is quite a low threshold if you ask me; nevertheless, it allows us to do it. I know the hon. Gentleman will be interested in this part, because it is a European angle to his proposal. I am advised that it is not possible lawfully to include a new mandatory exclusion under regulation 57, as proposed by the amendment. Regulation 57 contains a list of offences based on the six categories set out in the EU public contracts directive. The categories outlined in the directive are exhaustive. Case law indicates that member states are not free to add new additional grounds for exclusion to those set out in the directive.

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

I hope the Committee is satisfied that, where there has been grave professional misconduct by an organisation convicted under the new offences, contracting authorities will have the discretion to exclude them from public contracts.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I thank the Minister for his answer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle quietly alluded, this might be something we will have to look at again amid the welter of opportunities—count them!—thrown up by Brexit. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

As a result of European regulations, I am willing to accept the Minister’s point. On Report, will he say whether we could have included in the statistical bulletins on unexplained wealth orders and other elements of the Bill an account of any corporations excluded from public procurement as a result? Is there a statistical account of whether any companies have fallen foul of the measure? Could we gain some account of that?

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

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s idea, which I think is a good one. I will certainly try to ensure it is released in any statistical bulletins. When the Bill is up and running, I would like to know as much as he would how many people are precluded from public procurement practices.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I thank the Minister. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 16