New Clause 54 - Entities from high-risk jurisdictions: prohibition on ownership of UK land

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 24th November 2022.

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“(1) The Land Registration Act 2002 is amended as follows.

(2) In Schedule 4A, after paragraph 2 insert—

‘(2A) No application may be made to register an overseas entity as the proprietor of a qualifying estate if the entity was originally incorporated in a jurisdiction which was designated as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering and terrorist financing at the time of the entity’s incorporation.

(2B) For the purposes of section (2A) above, “designated as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering and terrorist financing” means—

(a) a jurisdiction included on the Financial Action Task Force list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring;

(b) a jurisdiction included on the Financial Action Task Force list of high-risk jurisdictions subject to a call for action; or

(c) any other jurisdiction which the Secretary of State may see fit to designate as a high-risk third country in Schedule 3ZA of the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017.’”—(Stephen Kinnock.)

The intention of this new clause is to prevent any company from registering in the UK for the purposes of acquiring land if the company in question was originally incorporated in a jurisdiction designated, either by UK or international authorities, as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering and terrorist financing at the time of the company’s incorporation.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

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

Given the extensive discussions we have had on issues involving money laundering risks, including risks in relation to certain designated high-risk jurisdictions overseas, there is a fundamental question that we are not sure we have got to the bottom of. That question, which is addressed in part by new clause 54, is why we should allow a company incorporated overseas in a jurisdiction that operates on the basis of lax money laundering controls to do business in the UK at all, much less to own property or land here.

As we have already discussed, the primary purpose of the Treasury’s list of designated high-risk countries is to mirror the list of jurisdictions identified by the Financial Action Task Force as posing serious threats of money laundering and terrorist financing on account of weaknesses in their laws, inadequate law enforcement or some combination of the two.

New clause 54 seeks to incorporate into the Bill what we on the Opposition Benches believe to be a matter of basic common sense: if a company was initially formed under laws designated by the Treasury, under international guidelines, as seriously deficient in their approach to money laundering risks, that company should not be allowed to own land or property in the UK. It is a straightforward solution to a very serious problem. It would go a long way towards driving tainted money out of the UK property market. I hope that, on this basis, the Government will support new clause 54.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

New clause 54 seeks to prevent the acquisition of land in the UK by companies registered in jurisdictions that are listed as high risk by the Financial Action Task Force or so designated by the Secretary of State under the UK’s money laundering regulations. The Financial Action Task Force lists jurisdictions identified as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing regimes that could pose an increased illicit finance risk.

The new clause is well intentioned and hon. Members are to be commended for their determination to rid the UK of dirty money. However, we do not believe that the new clause will have the intended effect. Jurisdictions that appear on the taskforce’s list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring, which include some key UK partners and Commonwealth members, have committed to swiftly resolve the identified deficiencies within agreed timeframes. The list is updated three times a year, and under the UK’s AML regulations, obliged businesses are already required to take enhanced due diligence measures for customers and transactions linked with individuals or companies established in high-risk jurisdictions.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill 2:30 pm, 24th November 2022

No one could accuse the Minister of being an innocent abroad in a world that is not innocent, but I have to ask him whether he seriously believes the content of the paragraphs that he has just read out. I have no doubt that there are countries around the world that have said that they are going to increase their AML supervision, but we now have a situation in this country where we have some very bad people, such as Usmanov and others, who own property portfolios of up to £50 million. We have allowed them to do that, and now we cannot take those portfolios off them, so could the Minister at least tell us how he is going to seriously get a grip on bad people from bad countries being allowed to buy assets here in the UK?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

We have applied sanctions on a targeted basis to some of those actors—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman raises his eyebrows. Is he not aware of the sanctions we have applied to certain individuals from high-risk jurisdictions?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

As the Minister knows, I am one of the Members who pushed for the Government to toughen up their sanctions after they left so many people off the sanctions list the first time around. Going forward, how is he going to stop bad people from bad countries who have no intention of improving their AML regulation buying mansions in London?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

It is entirely wrong to tar everybody from one country with the same brush. Clearly there are some deficiencies, but is the right hon. Gentleman honestly saying that every person from a jurisdiction that has deficiencies in its AML regime is a bad person? I think that is what he said, and I think it is entirely inappropriate.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

I am grateful for the chance to put the question where it belongs, which is back on the Minister. The question was very simple: how is he going to ensure that bad people who happen to live in bad countries are prohibited from buying assets here in London? How is he going to do that? Tell us!

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Through the provisions in this 250-page piece of legislation; through the provisions in the legislation that was passed earlier this year, which both of us campaigned for; and through other things, such as the sanctions regime—through all those different things. It is our view that we should look at the people, not necessarily the jurisdiction. Of course, we work internationally to improve jurisdictions around the world, but it is wrong to suddenly say that countries, potentially including Commonwealth countries, are bad countries, which I think is what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

We may as well pursue this to its death—I am grateful to the Minister for being so generous in giving way. Let us take the example of Usmanov. He has only recently been sanctioned, but when we read the indictment, we see that it is very clear that he has been an associate, colleague and enabler of President Putin for an awfully long time. The sanctions came ex post facto, after he had been allowed to acquire assets. How do we create a more preventive regime to stop this kind of nuisance on our shores?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The right hon. Gentleman is saying that no Russian should ever be able to buy property in the UK

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

That is exactly what he is saying. Russia is a high-risk jurisdiction; is he saying that no Russian can buy property in the UK?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

I am grateful for the chance to clarify. The Minister is engaged in the old debating tactic of putting the question back on me, but the question is on him: how is he going to stop individuals like Usmanov buying property in London in the future? What safeguards does he think he has in place? When a sanction has not yet been put in place, how is he going to stop people about whom we have serious concerns acquiring that kind of asset?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that people are guilty until proven innocent, that is entirely the wrong way to look at this issue. Of course, those decisions have to be information-led; many of the provisions in the Bill are about information sharing and being information-led, looking at the red flags, identifying the people who we potentially need to be concerned about, and preventing those people’s actions on that basis.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

The Minister is being characteristically generous with his time. Is he therefore reassuring the Committee that if the provisions in the Bill had been in place, Usmanov would have been prohibited from buying a mansion three years ago—yes or no?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

He may not have been, because he was not on the sanctions list at that point, and he was not on a sanctions list anywhere else in the world, as far as I am aware. He may have been—I do not actually know that information—but Usmanov would have been treated like anybody else under our system. It is interesting how quickly the Opposition sometimes will jettison some of the fundamentals of our society, one of which being that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We need the evidence before we can sanction somebody. We will adhere to that principle—certainly I will as long as I am in Parliament.

This new clause would prevent the registration of titles by legitimate companies in any of the jurisdictions on the lists. That would have a detrimental impact on those companies wishing to invest in the UK, as not every company incorporated in those jurisdictions is a bad actor. Although the new clause would prevent registration of title by an overseas entity, it is not possible to prevent a transaction from taking place and money changing hands. Unintended consequences would be likely.

Any overseas entity applying to the Land Registry to register title must now be registered with Companies House and have an ID number. That provides a safeguard against bad actors, more transparency about the overseas entity, and information for law enforcement should it later transpire that the overseas entity is involved in criminal activity. Therefore, I politely ask for this new clause to be withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

We are really just going back to the point about prevention being better than cure. Of course, what is really important here is that it is our sovereign Government, our Treasury, doing the designations. It is our Treasury and other expertise in our British Government saying, “That jurisdiction over there is high risk. It has lax control on money laundering. It has no sense, really, of what is going on. It’s a kind of wild west in its business environment.” That should raise many red flags and set many alarm bells ringing. The constructive spirit of this proposal is to say, “Look, we know where there are red flags. We should be acting on those red flags in a preventive way,” rather than, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill said, an ex post facto way, because once the damage is done, it is a lot more costly and a lot more insidious, because we have not dealt with the issue at source and then we are left to clear up the mess and pick up the pieces. That is the spirit in which the proposal is made. I invite the Minister to express any reflections that he has on what is actually a kind of philosophical point about the Bill. Is prevention better than cure—yes or no?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Yes, undoubtedly, but I think that putting a blanket restriction on bona fide companies and bona fide individuals buying from those jurisdictions is disproportionate and wrong. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman in terms of the spirit of the new clause and of his point about red flags. That is exactly the way the system works. Yes, certainly, the registrar should definitely look at the jurisdiction from which the person is purchasing a property, for example. That may well be the red flag that the hon. Gentleman refers to. To me, that is a more appropriate way of dealing with this matter than simply a blanket ban on purchase.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I thank the Minister for those points. We remain unconvinced by the position and would like to push this new clause to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 14 Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill — New Clause 54 - Entities from high-risk jurisdictions: prohibition on ownership of UK land

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.