“(1) An appropriate Minister may by regulations made by statutory instrument amend the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/692) in order to—
(a) implement standards published by the Financial Action Task Force from time to time relating to combating money laundering, terrorist financing and threats to the integrity of the international financial system; and
(b) identify or revoke a designation of a high risk country taking account of best international practice including EU sanctions regimes.
(2) Regulations under this section may not create new types of criminal offences, or reduce defences or evidence.
(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”—
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause looks to ensure that standards published by the Financial Action Task Force in relation to combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other threats to the integrity of the financial system can be easily implemented in this country. We are also seeking to identify or revoke a designation of a high-risk country, taking account of best international practice, including EU sanctions regimes.
We have talked a bit about the FATF in the Committee. As colleagues will know, its objectives are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system. It is a policy-making body that works to generate political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms. We have talked about its reporting cycle already and the fact that the UK is currently being investigated in order for the FATF to report on us later in the year.
The FATF continues to work on a series of recommendations. Those are recognised as the international standard for combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This is part of an attempt to mount a co-ordinated response to threats to the integrity of the financial system and to ensure a level playing field.
As part of its peer review process, which we are heavily engaged in at the moment, the FATF identifies jurisdictions that have weak measures to combat money laundering or terrorist financing and puts them on yet another blacklist. We have already talked about the OECD and EU blacklists; this one is about the integrity of the financial system, not about tax avoidance and evasion. The FATF puts jurisdictions on a blacklist where a call to action is imperative and on a greylist where deficiencies have been highlighted, but where each jurisdiction has provided a high-level political commitment in written form to address the identified deficiencies. The process is similar to the EU blacklist/greylist approach that we talked about today.
The Minister has already mentioned Pakistan’s worries about being greylisted, which is obviously concerning for the country. The Minister knows a great deal about this matter, which could also have a potential impact on Pakistan’s economy. That is worrying for those of us who support the country and have constituents from Pakistan, because it could lead to global banking institutions ultimately cutting their links with the country. They may do so because they could start to view it as too risky, or the cost of doing business with Pakistan could rise. We have already talked about what happened to Moldova when money-laundering activities were uncovered there.
I just want to clarify that, while I would not profess to be an expert on Pakistan’s compliance with the FATF, the concerns raised about its recent greylisting were around the specific handling of various banned terrorist organisations. I would not wish to cast any wider doubt over its intentions to improve the provision of services.
I thank the Minister for that helpful clarification. It is helpful to know the exact locus of FATF activity or the concerns about Pakistan that were focused on terrorist financing. That is not the area we are focused on now, but such financing and money laundering often go hand in hand.
Given the potential effects of such a ruling—we have talked about that in relation to Pakistan—we think it necessary that Ministers should have the flexibility to ensure that FATF standards can be implemented as soon as possible in our country in order to be on top of new international standards. That is particularly important because the UK was a founding member of the FATF, so we need to show that we are at the cutting edge of implementing its requirements.
As I mentioned, we also need to be able to identify or revoke high-risk countries quickly, taking account of the FATF’s standards and given the effect that it can have on the countries themselves and also on our reputation. If we are viewed as not following FATF recommendations, that prevents the co-ordinated approach that the FATF was set up to promote in the first place.
Finally on this amendment, we hope that Ministers will take account of aligning the designations with our EU partners. We have talked consistently in our deliberations about the need for co-ordination, which of course makes all the mechanisms much more effective. When they are not co-ordinated, there can be loopholes. In that regard, it is important to mention the case of Russia. In 2014, the Arms Export Controls Committees—we talked about their composition when we talked about scrutiny arrangements—reported that more than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, were still in place, despite David Cameron’s claim that the Government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against Russia in alignment with the rest of the EU. We really need to make sure that that alignment is genuine in practice, not just on the surface and rhetorical.
New clause 16 would limit amendments to the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 to those that would implement standards published by the Financial Action Task Force, or those whose purpose was identifying or revoking a designation of a high-risk third country. The 2017 regulations transpose the fourth EU anti-money laundering directive, which was in turn derived from the most recent major updates to the FATF standards, which were made in 2012. As the hon. Lady acknowledged, the UK is a founder member of the FATF and is committed to playing a leading role in its continuing work. It is right for the Government to have the power to update the UK regime when such standards change.
There are, however, several areas where the UK’s anti-money laundering regime already goes beyond those standards. Our recently established register of trusts generating tax consequences, for example, goes beyond the standards set by the FATF. Similarly, the UK announced at the time of the 2015 Budget that we intended to regulate virtual currency exchanges for AML purposes—an objective that was accomplished through negotiation of the fifth EU anti-money laundering directive—but that was not required by the FATF. So although we will remain aligned with the FATF standards after the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, our anti-money laundering regime exceeds those standards in certain areas.
The Government are determined to ensure that our defences against misuse of a financial system remain ahead of global standards rather than solely reflecting them. That is reflected in our commitment to the establishment of a public register of the beneficial ownership of non-UK companies that own UK property, which the Committee debated earlier, even if we did not agree on the timeline for it. The new clause would reduce our ability to do so. Under the power in question, the UK’s anti-money laundering regime could not go further in areas where we would otherwise want to.
As I said previously, in debating amendment 7, and as my right hon. Friend the Minister said about new clause 3, we do not believe that a bar on new offences is the right way to address the concerns raised by Lord Judge and others. We have instead tabled amendments to ensure that the power is used only where it is needed, and that Ministers are properly accountable to Parliament for it.
Ensuring that we can make regulations to prevent, or to enable or facilitate the detection or investigation of, money laundering or terrorist financing, as well as to implement the standards of the FATF, is the most certain method of placing future changes to our anti-money laundering system on a sound legal basis. The new clause would limit our ability to do so in the future, and I am sure that is not the intention behind it. I respectfully suggest that the hon. Lady might withdraw it.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. It may be the fact that we have been in this room for a few hours, but I am struggling a little with, in particular, the suggestion that new clause 16 would somehow tie the UK’s hands in implementing additional requirements beyond the FATF standards.
The Minister referred to the public register of property owned by non-UK entities. We had a discussion about that, but he is right: it would arguably be an innovation in the UK. Of course it is one that we need more than other countries, because of the use of our property market in many such cases, and the exponential rise in house prices. He could have talked—although he did not—about the register of beneficial ownership of companies being an innovation as well, but countries such as the Netherlands and Norway are putting those into practice anyway, so perhaps we are not quite as far-reaching in what we are doing as we might suggest. Particularly in relation to the charges and fines levied against those found guilty of money laundering offences, we seem to be in a different position from that of our North American counterparts, for example, as we have discussed. None the less, it is not clear how the new clause would stop us going further than those other jurisdictions where we wished to do so. It says that we would take account of the
“best international practice including EU sanctions regimes”,
not that we would be led by it.
On a point of order, Dame Cheryl, in the light of what the Minister said earlier, I would like to read precisely what was published by The Independent. I misinterpreted it and, consequently, I misled the Committee. I wish to apologise to him and to the Committee for that. This is what The Independent published in 2014:
“According to Electoral Commission records, New Century Media gave the Conservatives £85,000 in the months leading up to the 2010 general election…New Century represents the personal foundation of the Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, who has been indicted on bribery and corruption charges, which he denies, in the United States…David Burnside, New Century’s executive chairman, has made…claims about his connections with senior Tories…The company has paid for a table at the last four Conservative summer balls and paid for…the International Development minister”— who is now the Minister for Europe and the Americas—to be its guest
“at Conservative events at a cost of…£800”.
I am sorry. I misread it and misunderstood it, and consequently I misled the Committee.