UK tax havens should be covered in Criminal Finances Bill, say MPs

A cross-party group of MPs is pushing the government to force the UK’s overseas territories to publish public registers of beneficial ownership, in a bid to tackle the abuse of tax havens in countries including the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Cayman Islands

Headed by Margaret Hodge MP, former chair of the public accounts committee, the group of around 80 MPs has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill which is currently going through the House of Commons.

This calls on the government to ensure that by 31 December 2018 it has provided ‘all reasonable assistance’ to the governments of the overseas territories to establish a publicly accessible register of the beneficial ownership of companies registered in that jurisdiction.

After that date, by 31 December 2019 the government would then be required to order the publication of such a register by overseas terrorises, which Hodge argued gave them three years in which to prepare for the change.

Hodge said: ‘Over half of the corporate entities exposed by the Panama papers were registered in the BVI.  The UK is at the centre of a global web of tax havens which are costing UK taxpayers and developing countries huge sums of money.

‘David Cameron asked the UK’s overseas territories to consider adopting the same level of transparency as the rest of the UK over three years ago. Since then we have seen dither from the UK and delay from our overseas territories. Our amendment would ensure that our overseas territories are given a clear time frame in which they need to agree the transparency which is vital to tackle corruption.’

The amendment has been tabled on the last day that Parliament is sitting before Christmas. It will be considered at the House of Commons report stage, and subsequent third reading of the bill, for which a date has yet to be set but it is likely to be early in the New Year. The bill will then make its way through the House of Lords.

Charlie Matthews, head of advocacy at charity ActionAid, said: ‘Public registers of the real owners of companies that are available to anyone across the world are needed to help poorer countries prevent crime and collect the tax that is due. The UK has led the way by introducing a public register, and countries from the Netherlands to Nigeria are following suit. UK-linked tax havens like the BVIs can’t be allowed to drag their feet any longer.

‘Theresa May has pledged to crack down on the use of tax havens, which cost developing countries billions of pounds every year. Supporting this amendment would help her go some way to deliver that promise.’

Details of the Amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill are here

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