Failure to prevent facilitation of tax evasion offences: reporting

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

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‘The Secretary of State must make an annual report to Parliament containing the number of prosecutions brought and convictions made under section 37 and 38 of this Act.’ —(Tristram Hunt.)

This new clause would require that the Secretary of State reports annually on the number of prosecutions brought and convictions made for failure to prevent the facilitation of UK and foreign tax evasion offences.

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 would

“require the Secretary of State reports annually on the number of prosecutions brought and convictions made for failure to prevent the facilitation of UK and foreign tax evasion offences.”

That is connected to an earlier new clause about culture change within Government to ensure the right degree of ministerial push and importance given to the implementation of the Bill, and to ensure that attention is given at the top of the Home Office and in ministerial offices, which is something a report to Parliament encourages. The fear that I and some of my colleagues have is that, if that detail is hidden away in obscure departmental documents, it does not necessarily have the drive and political push it deserves. The new clause is therefore another attempt to support the Minister in his job, and to encourage proper transparency about this interesting and in many ways useful Bill.

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

I do not want to look ungrateful to the hon. Member who is, as he says, trying to help me enhance the Bill and do my job. I am incredibly grateful for all the suggestions from hon. Members over the last few weeks.

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

I am not that grateful.

New clause 16 would require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the number of prosecutions brought and the number of convictions made under the new corporate offences. Under the domestic tax evasion offence, HMRC will be the investigating authority and the decision on whether to prosecute will rest with the Crown Prosecution Service. In relation to the overseas offence, the Serious Fraud Office and the National Crime Agency will be the investigating authorities and the decision to prosecute will rest with the SFO or the CPS.

It is important to emphasise that, as with the corresponding offence under the Bribery Act 2010, the number of prosecutions alone will not be a true metric of the level of success of the measure. The new corporate offences are not only about responding to wrongdoing but about changing corporate culture and behaviour. True success will lie in changing corporate culture and preventing wrongdoing from occurring in the first place.

In any case, all of the prosecuting authorities already undertake extensive public reporting on investigations and prosecutions. For example, HMRC publishes quarterly performance updates and the CPS publishes an annual report. Neither of those documents are obscure—they are weighty but not obscure. I can confirm that information relating to the new offences will be included in those existing formats. Accordingly, I invite the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central to withdraw his new clause.

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

I will not detain the Committee with an inquiry into the difference between “weighty” and “obscure”; these things can often be lost in the mists of time. As we did not quite generate the success that we needed to on new clause 11, I will not put the measure to a Division. However, I urge the Minister to ensure that, having created this interesting Bill and having delivered these interesting reforms, if the reforms are going to be put to proper effect and have the political momentum—a terrifying word—behind them, then a degree of political transparency and support connected to Parliament is important. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 19