[John Bercow in the Chair] — Overseas Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:13 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling 3:13 pm, 23rd April 2009

I am glad to follow the Chairman of the Committee, Mike Gapes, who used his excellent and extremely well-judged speech to bring out all the salient issues with which the Committee dealt in its important inquiry.

As has been said, this is the first time for well in excess of 15 years that the Foreign Affairs Committee has carried out an inquiry into the overseas territories en bloc, although we have dealt with them in a considerable number of other reports. We have done reports on individual territories, such as Gibraltar, and we have had occasion to refer to the overseas territories in our annual response to the Foreign Office's human rights report. The present report was, however, a major undertaking, and I am glad that hon. Members have an opportunity to debate it and the Government's response.

For reasons that will become apparent, I shall focus much of what I want to say on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Before I do, however, I want to cover two other issues. I start with an important comment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in his statement following the G20 summit, when he said:

"We will also take action to protect the world's financial system—and, therefore, our public finances—by cracking down on tax havens, and we note that the OECD has today published a list of countries assessed by the global forum against the international standard for exchange of tax information."

In his subsequent contribution, the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench Treasury spokesman, Dr. Cable, asked a very precise and pertinent question of the Chancellor:

"Can the Chancellor say how many of the countries listed today by the OECD as non-compliant are British dependent territories?"—[Hansard, 2 April 2009; Vol. 490, c. 1137-43.]

Although the Chancellor made some generalised comments about tax havens in response to the hon. Gentleman, he signally failed to answer that precise question. He must have had the answer; he had referred to the OECD report, so he must have had it in his brief. Surely his officials would have told him how many of the countries on the OECD's "name and shame" list were British overseas territories. However, the Chancellor declined to give an answer. I do not know why he did, but perhaps it was because he judged that it might have been something of an embarrassment to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Twickenham as to how many overseas territories are on the OECD's "name and shame" tax haven list is seven. I come to a slightly different score from the Chairman of the Committee in terms of the total number of overseas territories—I make it 15, but he and I will have a discussion as to which bit of Antarctica we have or have not missed out. However, it does not really matter whether it is 14 or 15. Three of them have no permanent resident populations. The fact is—this is a matter of considerable concern—that more than half of our British overseas territories are on the OECD's "name and shame" list for tax havens. I will be glad to help the House by naming the territories concerned. They are Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands