Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords]

Nick’s speech in the Consideration of the Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.

Nick speaks in favour of anti-tax evasion measures.

 

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

I was pleased to add my name to new clause 6, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on bringing it forward. I will not repeat the powerful arguments that have been made for transparency today—they were also well made on Second Reading—other than to say that progress has been made in the overseas territories. Central registers have been introduced, but that is not sufficient for the reasons that have been given. We need that transparency to shine a light on what is happening. I suspect that there has been relatively little interrogation of the central registers by law enforcement authorities. There also needs to be a step up in law enforcement action as well as in these measures.

Two principal concerns were adduced to explain why we should at least hesitate before we compel the overseas territories to act. The first is the potential economic damage to the overseas territories. I argued strongly on Second Reading that that should not be an impediment to act. It can never be an argument that, where something wrong is being done, we fail to act simply because there might be some economic consequences. We do, however, have a duty to ensure that those economic consequences are addressed and that we help to mitigate them.

In accepting the new clause, there is a strong responsibility on this House, and now on the Government, to ensure that there is no damage to the economies of the overseas territories for taking action, especially as they may now be taking it more rapidly than they wished to, particularly when we consider, for instance, the impact of the hurricane damage on the British Virgin Islands. That concern should not prevent action, but it should be taken seriously.

The second concern is the constitutional objection: is it right for us to intervene? That is a serious argument. Again, on Second Reading, I argued that if the harm that is being done is so great that it can no longer be ignored, there is a justification to act, and there clearly is a power to do so. These are not just domestic matters for the overseas territories in which we have decided to intervene; they have a global impact. It is therefore very important for the Governments of the overseas territories to understand the reasons why this House has felt it so important to move. If they can act voluntarily, ahead of any action being taken legislatively, that would be very welcome.

 

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on that important point. Does he accept that it is for that reason, and that reason only, that the Chief Minister f Gibraltar wrote the letter in the way that he did—because it is the constitutional convention that we do not normally legislate without the territories’ consent? And it is for that reason, and that reason only, that the Crown dependencies, which have a good record of compliance, had concerns about this form of legislation undermining the long-established doctrine that we do not legislate for them without their consent. It is not the objective that anyone objects to in any of those jurisdictions, but this should be done through the normal constitutional process.

 

Nick Herbert

The Crown dependencies do not fall within the ambit of new clause 6, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield pointed out. They are in a different constitutional position.

The wider point is this: I would have been minded to accept the Government’s compromise amendments and new clauses had the House had the opportunity to consider them. We should have avoided, if at all possible, dictating to the overseas territories what to do, but that option was not available. None the less I welcome the fact that action is being taken.

In agreeing to new clause 6, the key concession that the Government made was that it was no longer acceptable that the overseas territories should move only at the pace of the rest of the world. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas said, the key concession was that he accepted that the will of the House was that the overseas territories should move ahead of the pace of the rest of the world for reasons that have been very well made by Members on both sides of the House. That said, we should not lose sight of the objective here. The objective is not to force the overseas territories to take action, but to ensure that we tackle corruption where we find it, and that has to be done on a global basis.

The arguments that there will be displacement should not be an impediment to action, because we can never argue that we will not tackle a crime on one street corner in case it moves to the next. That can never be a moral argument or a reason not to take action. Nevertheless, it is a serious argument. What are we going to do to avoid displacement? The imperative is therefore on the Government and on this place, which has now forced this action, to support every effort possible to mobilise the global community behind transparency for everyone.

This House and the UK will be taking a lead, and we will be requiring our overseas territories to take a lead, but we now have to step up. That may mean taking initiatives such as having another global summit to encourage action, as the anti-corruption champion, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), suggested. Whether it is through means such as the G20 or the G7, we must now drive action on a broader basis than simply the overseas territories or the Crown dependencies.

 

John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)

I completely back up what my right hon. Friend is saying. The time for global action must be now. We need to use the lead that we will create by imposing this measure to drive and exert a global leadership. It must be about not just the transparency of company disclosures, but the transparency of trust disclosures and other kinds of asset classes as well as company shares.

 

Nick Herbert

I agree. In taking this action and ultimately, if necessary, requiring the overseas territories to act, we will be taking a grave step—one that has only been used twice before, in relation to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and to capital punishment. It is a serious move. The justification must therefore be that we use this step to encourage action globally, and that is what I urge the Government to do.

 

You can read the Hansard of the full debate here

Joe Coombes