‘(1) The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (9) of section 7, in paragraphs (a) and (b) for “12” substitute “6”.’—
This new clause would require registered overseas entities to provide updates on any changes in beneficial ownership every six months, instead of annually as is currently required.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 55 also provides a simple solution to what appears to be a flaw in the Bill’s current drafting, which could be exploited by criminals seeking to exploit any legal loopholes left open to them. Under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, companies required to register their ownership of UK property are required to provide annual updates on any changes to their beneficial ownership. It is not hard to see how that could be used as a loophole to conceal the ownership of property by, for instance, an individual designated by UK sanctions. A company could, at least in theory, report to Companies House that its beneficial owner was the same as it had been the previous year, without disclosing the fact that another individual had been a beneficial owner at some point during the intervening 12 months.
New clause 55 is intended to probe the Government’s thinking in this area and, as with the previous new clause, to provide the Minister with an opportunity to set out in detail how the Government plan to ensure that the laws leave no foreseeable loopholes open for exploitation by criminals.
I might get into trouble with you, Sir Christopher, but on the previous new clause, countries on the high-risk jurisdiction list include Israel, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Is it honestly the Opposition’s intention to prevent individuals and companies from those jurisdictions from buying property in the UK? We should think again.
I thank the hon. Member for Aberavon for new clause 55. I wholeheartedly agree that keeping the information on the register up to date is critical. The annual update requirement is intended to provide certainty for third parties transacting with overseas entities. Property transactions often take many months to complete, and during that time a third party transacting with an overseas entity must have certainty that the entity remains compliant with the requirements of the register so that transactions are not disrupted. The key sanction for non-compliance with the register, which interferes with existing property rights, is to make it impossible for a buyer to register a title if purchasing from a non-compliant overseas entity. The onus is therefore on the buyer and their agents to ensure that they do not transact with a non-compliant entity.
In order to protect the buyer, likely to be an innocent third party, it follows that there must be absolute legal certainty about the compliance status of the overseas entity throughout the duration of the transaction. An annual update provides that certainty, giving enough time for transactions to be completed before the requirement for an update kicks in. If an update is not made on time, the overseas entity is regarded as non-compliant, and the restrictions on land transfers will bite.
The hon. Member talked about somebody switching ownership between the two reporting times. I cannot honestly see what the benefit to anybody of doing that would be, but he may wish to give me examples.
The ECTE Act includes a power to amend the update period by regulations. Should it become clear, once the register has bedded in, that the update period is too long or too short, that power can be exercised to change the update period. I therefore ask that the probing new clause be withdrawn.
I thank the Minister for those clarifications. This was an opportunity to set out those assurances, which we are happy to accept. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.