Debates between Lord Faulks and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted during the 2019 Parliament

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I signed the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Agnew. I am generally in favour of what has been said already regarding the need to increase the funding for Companies House. I was a member of the fraud committee. When we were looking at Companies House, we were astonished that we still had this ridiculously small registration fee. We thought that Companies House needed more to upgrade in the way now envisaged in this Bill; we did recommend an increase.

We were also taken to some extent with the notion of hypothecation of funds. One might say that nobody likes that idea because they think that they are getting perverse incentives and things are going wrong from that perspective, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, elaborated. However, the fact is that our prosecutors are underresourced. When recommending these hypothecations, some us may feel that it is a last resort. Well, that is what it is; there is no other way to get the sort of money that will allow adequate prosecutions into the system.

From my point of view, it does not matter how you get the money in. We have to accept that we need better-funded regulators and better-funded prosecutors in general. It is no coincidence that, whenever there is any kind of scandal, as happens a lot in financial services—about which I know rather more—it is always in the United States that they manage to prosecute them. That is because they have this hypothecation of fines, they have lots of money and they can pin them down. We cannot do that for all kinds of reasons. We cannot keep on being the poor, weak cousins where you will never be for the high jump, you will never be prosecuted and we are still the financial laundromat.

Hypothecation may not be ideal; the Treasury would lose the money, of course, so it would still come from the public purse. Well, why not put it there adequately from the public purse in the first place? I do not see the raising of Companies House fees to £100 as money for legal enforcement; I see it as raising money so that Companies House can be much better and much more advanced and do all the things it needs to do, perhaps more quickly, because a lot of expenditure will be required on technology. It is ridiculous to have this £10; it could be £100, and we could deal with the issue of getting decent enforcement separately.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, to take up the noble Baroness’s final point on technology, in the very helpful session we had yesterday—unfortunately the Minister could not be there—we were provided with some written information about the use of technology that was going to develop. I asked about artificial intelligence. Either in the course of answering these amendments or generally, could the Minister assist us as to how, with this increasing amount of information that Companies House will now have, artificial intelligence will allow it and the prosecuting authorities to have a great deal more information to put two and two together, which will assist with this legislation’s overall objectives?

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support these amendments. I have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, has said and will perhaps think about that. I should declare my interest as a director of the London Stock Exchange. At 5% ownership, there are significant things that can be done: if it is a public company, at 5% you can apply to the court to prevent it going private. That is a significant power, and we ought to know that it is applied properly. I guess the court would find out if you were not who you said you were; nevertheless, you might be masquerading as such and could still have influence—you could call general meetings and propose resolutions. These are all events that could have a significant effect on companies of all sizes. I tend to feel, therefore, that other shareholders need to know that things have been properly verified.

I have sympathy for the SME angle and will think about it further. However, just because you are small does not mean that you do not need to know some of these things, including who might have an exercisable right which you know has been verified. I would probably follow suit in the decision on persons with significant control: if you are going to exempt SMEs, they should be exempted for both; if they are going to be included, they should be included in both. I am still veering towards including them, simply because it is a substantial power. There are plenty of private SMEs in which people have significant sums invested, and I do not really see that they should be protected any less from not having full awareness of who really holds these powers to do things or of whether they are sheltering a nominee.

At the moment, my tendency is to support both of these amendments as they stand, with the caveat that I will go away and think a bit about whether this would be too onerous for SMEs. We have to remember, however, that the “M”s of SMEs can be quite big.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

I am not wholly convinced that what you would be required to do under this amendment is very onerous. I remember looking at this when we were examining the desirability of transparency in relation to ownership of shares. Presuming bad actors—although this is, I hope, infrequently the case—it is very easy for someone to, as it were, redistribute their shares to smaller packages if they wanted to conceal their identity. I am not saying that that is what people do most of the time, but it would be more difficult if there were an obligation to disclose of the sort contained in this amendment.