Debates between Lord Eatwell and Lord Callanan during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Mon 14th Mar 2022
Wed 9th Mar 2022

Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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First, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Before I address the amendments tabled, I reiterate the point I made earlier. This will be almost the first register of its kind in the world. We should accept that we are leading on this. I completely accept that we may not have everything perfect, but we will learn as we go—just as we did, in the example I cited, when we implemented the people with significant control requirements for domestic companies. We had to learn and iterate that, and now many other countries have followed our lead. That is a good thing. I re-emphasise that we will be perfectly willing to revisit these measures if it transpires that we have not got everything quite right.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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Just thinking off the top of my head, I can think of four registers of this ilk which exist already.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I would be happy to debate with the noble Lord. When I queried this, my information was that Germany potentially has something similar, but nobody else. I am happy to exchange letters with him about numbers, but that is not the information I have.

Before I move on, perhaps I may correct something I said on the first grouping—which will teach me to pluck numbers from memory rather than consulting my notes. The correct figure is that there are 30,000 overseas entities registered in the UK owning approximately 95,000 properties. I think I may have said that the other way round. I slightly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. The vast majority of those are perfectly legitimate entities. We are an open trading environment and welcome investment from all over the world. International companies owning headquarters in the UK do so perfectly legitimately. The vast majority of these entities are legitimate. A small minority are not, and they are the ones we seek to catch in this register, but we must be fair to the vast majority which are perfectly legal, above board and just seeking to use the UK to do business, which we encourage.

Let me also pick up the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Although I am grateful that she is supporting the government amendments—I will write that down for posterity, because I am not sure it will happen again—we did not just pluck the dates of 1999 for England and Wales and 2014 for Scotland out of thin air. We did not just sit there and think what date we would make it retrospective to. Those were the dates of incorporation when that was required by the Land Registry, so it is appropriate to go back to them. Northern Ireland has never required this, so it is impossible to retrospectively apply the provisions there. I hope she will accept that we did not just make these dates up; they are put in place for a reason.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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No, I do not disagree with that. It is, of course, perfectly possible—

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, on the same point, would it not be helpful for a third party to know who it is actually dealing with? Under the Minister’s proposal for 12 months, it could rely on the register and find out that it is dealing with someone it had not expected at all.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for tabling Amendment 42 and for his thoughtful contribution at Second Reading on the same subject. He is, of course, absolutely right: I agree wholeheartedly that ensuring the public can be confident that the data on the register is reliable is of the utmost importance. That is why, as has been referred to, the Bill already provides for the making of regulations to create a robust and effective verification mechanism.

Clause 16 sets out that:

“The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision requiring the verification of information”,


which must be in place before an overseas entity can undertake certain actions. These actions include applying for registration to, or removal from, the register. Clause 16 sets out that these regulations can include provisions about

“the information that must be verified … the person by whom the information must be verified … requiring a statement, evidence or other information to be delivered to the registrar for the purposes”

of registration, updating of information and removal from the register.

This amendment seeks to add a statutory responsibility on the registrar to ensure the verification of any information provided to the registrar in accordance with the regulations made under Clause 16. The amendment would place responsibility for ensuring that information is verified on to the registrar, which means that the registrar would have to be satisfied that the information provided at the application stage is verified. We believe that such an addition would be nugatory to the already robust verification process that will be set out in regulations attached to this Bill once it has passed through Parliament.

The regulations that will be made under Clause 16 include the ability to specify the types of statements and evidence that the registrar can require in order to be satisfied that the information submitted to the register is appropriately verified. We expect that UK professionals regulated under the money laundering regulations will have a role to play in the verification process. We are, of course, aware of concerns raised in this House about enablers who might seek to undermine our systems. The verification process that will be set out in regulations will ensure that, whatever process is used, it cannot be undermined by enablers of unlawful activity. To support this, as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, we have also put forward an amendment that would ensure that, where anyone submits information that is false or misleading without reasonable excuse, they can be held to account for that.

I would also direct noble Lords’ attention to the amendment tabled by the Government in the other place, which committed to bringing regulations made under Clause 16 into force before any applications for registration may be made under Section 4(1). Therefore, creating a specific statutory requirement for the registrar to secure verification, as the amendment proposes, is in my opinion not necessary. The verification mechanism already contained in the Bill will ensure that those engaging with the regime have confidence in the information held on the register. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, I always think that the government defence of “not necessary” is the weakest we ever hear in this House. My amendment calls for a clear statutory requirement for verification. Just think of the contrary, which the noble Lord is supporting: that there will not be final statutory verification, and that information will be provided by professionals, enablers. He says that we can ensure that this will not “undermine the process”. If he believes that, he will believe anything. How can he ensure that it will not undermine the process, unless there is a means of checking that it is not undermining the process?

We are dealing with very sophisticated crooks with the best legal advice that money can buy and the Minister is leaving the Bill naked, with the key protection lacking that is necessary to sustain confidence in financial markets in this country. This is a sad day for the probity of those markets. Having said that, regrettably, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I start by thanking all noble Lords for their constructive engagement in advance of and during today’s debate, and for the support generally expressed for the swift passage of this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was right—she is occasionally—that this was a good debate with many insightful points. I would not go so far as to say that I enjoyed it but it was nevertheless a good debate. It has underlined the importance of taking action on the dirty money flowing through the UK, following Russia’s brutal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that it is more important than ever to ensure that we have the powers we need to take swift action to tackle economic crime. In doing so, we should ensure that the UK remains the place for legitimate investment to flourish. I am confident that this legislation strikes the right balance.

I know that many noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Fox, in particular—have a strong interest in Companies House reform and limited partnership reform. So do I, as the Minister responsible for implementing these important policies. Let me assure the House that these measures will be included in a wider Bill in the coming months. They will come alongside new powers to make it easier to seize crypto assets from criminals and measures to provide businesses with more confidence to share information on suspected money laundering.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I may be about to address some of the noble Lord’s points about Companies House reform so let me finish this paragraph; if I do not address his points, I will come back to him, if that would be helpful.

I can say to the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Coaker, and others that reform is already under way at Companies House. It has received £20 million for this financial year. A further £63 million was announced at the spending review. However, the full Economic Crime Bill will be very significant. I understand why noble Lords are questioning me about why it is not being included at this time; to be frank, it is purely a matter of drafting time. This will be the biggest change to our system of company registration in some 170 years—the biggest change to limited partnership law since 1907. Drafting has already begun and I can assure the House that we will bring it forward as soon as we possibly can in the next Session. I hope that what I have been able to say will provide some reassurance to the noble Lords, Lord Eatwell and Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the House as a whole.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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Given the wide level of expertise evident in this debate, will the Minister commit to pre-legislative scrutiny of the new economic crime Bill? That would be the way both to exploit the talents available in this House and to ensure that the Bill, when it arrives on the Floor, will have a smooth passage.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Let me come back to the noble Lord on that. I certainly commit to full scrutiny of the Bill when it is ready, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, also asked me about. It will not be emergency legislation; we expect it to have the full scrutiny of this House. I think that pre-legislative scrutiny would probably be a bit time-consuming; it is probably better just to bring the legislation forward, then it will get its full scrutiny. However, as I say, we are getting it drafted as quickly as possible. It is something like 150 pages of legislation so it will be substantial.

Russian Oil and Gas Imports

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Lord Callanan
Monday 7th March 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We have already banned all Russian oil and gas tankers entering UK ports and we are looking to go further to ban cargoes from Russia as well.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, the market for oil and gas is global, and therefore the figure that the Minister has cited twice about our dependence being only 4% is entirely irrelevant to what happens to the price of energy in the UK. If there is a shortage of gas in Germany, the gas price goes up globally. The only answer to this is to reduce hydrocarbon use throughout Europe, and therefore reduce the market which the Russians are exploiting.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a sensible point. Of course it is an international market. It is usually operated by private companies, and any shortages in Russia will feed through into the UK. It will not affect the price, but it will affect our energy security, which is why I used the fact that only 4% of our gas is Russian. Most of our supply comes from our resources in the North Sea or from Norway. Security of supply is not affected, but the noble Lord is right about international pricing.