Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 3rd May 2016.
At least we have all the territories over that first hurdle.
Next week, the important thing will be to get real commitments on beneficial ownership and a timeframe for the register to be transparent and public, so everyone can see who owns every company established in a jurisdiction. For law-enforcement providers to be able to find such information in a timely way may be of some use, but we also want everyone to be able to search the register—for example, campaign groups could trace right through the system and see who owns properties. I suspect that law enforcement does not have the resources, sadly, to do that proactively, whereas sunlight and transparency will give us far more progress than a closed register ever could.
Will the Minister confirm whether the summit agenda includes discussion of a certain time by which all those territories will have a publicly accessible register of who owns companies and, preferably, of trusts in the jurisdiction? I accept that trusts are more complicated, but we need to see some progress on them as well.
Last autumn, I attended a meeting at which the Government’s anti-corruption champion, my right hon. Friend Sir Eric Pickles—sadly, he cannot be present today—confirmed that the Prime Minister was pretty determined to get overseas territories on board with a public register. The words the anti-corruption champion used were
“through legislation, guidance or naked pressure”.
I am not sure whether the summit counts as guidance or naked pressure, but if those do not work, what other options do the Government have? My right hon. Friend said “legislation”—his word—so will the Government put that on the table? At some point, will they take action if the territories will not go as far as we want them to, or is that completely off the table?
What other major countries are turning up? Are the Americans sending anyone next week, because they clearly have an important role to play in sorting out the world financial system? Those of us who would like to see greater action on global tax avoidance realise that the Americans have a real and vital role in that situation, so are they turning up next week?
If some actions are agreed next week and, as we hope, they are specific and have a real timeframe, how will they be enforced? Presumably, there will be no binding global agreement, but are the Government conscious of that? We do not want to hear warm words and promises that have been made before, followed by years of drift; we want real, concrete actions that are reviewed, with a timescale and ways to enforce progress.
If there is an agreement next week and some territories subsequently resile from it, what actions will the Government propose taking to convince the territories otherwise? It is not encouraging to see the Government announce that everyone has agreed to a closed register, and then senior people from some of our overseas territories glory in being able to say, “We’ve won. We’ve got everything we wanted out of this,” implying that it will be business as usual—presumably, not what we were aiming for. We want any agreement next week to be meaningful and strong, not just hot air.
With those thoughts, I wish the Government and the Minister well at the summit next week. We hope that they will come out with a strong and binding agreement, which can take the agenda forward towards finding ways of materially reducing the amount of corrupt money that flows around the world, especially into the UK. Nations around the world should, rightly, keep the money that they earn and have the tax revenues necessary to grow their economies. Everyone throughout the world should be able to see our financial system moving in the direction of being open, transparent and honest, rather than corrupt.