Financial Services Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Perhaps they could also take us through how we can rest assured that companies that by the nature of their operations one would expect to be liable to pay taxes in the UK are not able to choose the ongoing relationship with Gibraltarian financial firms in order to avoid those UK liabilities. I think that around the world we are asking for much greater honesty on tax, and we find it very important to be a leader in cleaning up historical money-laundering regimes. However, Gibraltar is so closely associated with us that, unless it is evidence of that, it is very hard for us to make that national and international claim.
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting brief debate. I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, into speculating about Delaware because I am acutely conscious that the new President of the United States represented Delaware in the US Senate for 36 years. However, I appreciate what my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said: I think that the people of Gibraltar merit sympathy and understanding.

Before I turn to the specific amendments tabled, it might be beneficial in the light of a number of the questions and comments to set out some of the intentions behind the introduction of the Gibraltar authorisation regime. As the right reverend Prelate said, the financial services industry plays an important role in Gibraltar’s economy, and Gibraltar-based firms have made extensive use of the existing market access arrangements between the UK and Gibraltar. It is true, as has been pointed out in this debate, that currently firms based in Gibraltar service a large retail consumer base in the United Kingdom, particularly in the insurance sector, where, as has been said, more than 20% of motor policies in the UK are written by Gibraltar-based insurers. The reasons for the concentration of motor insurance in Gibraltar are complex and obviously of a commercial nature, but it is natural that growth in a sector can lead to an agglomeration effect. Business attracts business, and that attracts people and talent.

I note the remarks that have been made in the debate on a range of companies. However, I remind noble Lords that the Bill is limited to financial services firms only. It will establish a new legal and institutional framework that provides for mutual market access and aligned standards in financial services between both jurisdictions. The United Kingdom and Gibraltar have a historic and unique relationship in financial services, and the UK has not had the same level of market access arrangements with any other jurisdiction. This regime will enable Gibraltar-based firms operating in the UK to continue to do so provided they meet certain standards. That way, the regime respects Gibraltar’s regulatory autonomy while ensuring high standards of supervision and consumer protection for UK customers.

On the amendments themselves, Amendment 46 would require any Gibraltar-based person carrying on authorised financial services activity in the UK to provide an annual statement to the Treasury of the profits it has made from those activities, and for the Treasury to report on this. This proposal cannot be supported by the Government because it does not reflect Gibraltar’s autonomy. As an overseas territory, Gibraltar is fiscally autonomous, and it has the right to set its own policy to support its economy within international standards and to determine its own tax rates. The scope of the GAR is focused on ensuring continued market access for Gibraltarian firms to the UK market based on the alignment of relevant law and practice. The GAR does not extend to taxation.

As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, Gibraltar is already committed to meeting international standards on illicit finance, tax transparency and anti-money laundering, including those set by the OECD and the Financial Action Task Force. Gibraltar shares confidential information on company beneficial ownership and tax information with UK law enforcement bodies in real time and has agreed to introduce publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership. The Government were satisfied that the Gibraltar authorisation regime is rigorous and includes the right safeguards to ensure consistent standards of law and supervisory practice. I therefore ask that the amendment is withdrawn.

Amendment 47, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Eatwell, would require the Treasury to report on the regime, the current position regarding financial services market access enjoyed by the Crown dependencies and the case for extending the regime to the Crown dependencies. I suggest to noble Lords that the first part of this amendment would replicate provisions that already exist in the Bill. Clause 22(3) of the Bill, which inserts a new Section 32A into the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, already imposes a duty on HM Treasury to lay a report to Parliament on the operation of the regime. This report will be presented to both Houses within two years of the regime coming into force, and every two years from then on. It will specifically include an assessment of whether the alignment condition between the UK and Gibraltar is satisfied before market access is granted for an approved activity.

Noble Lords have alluded to the frequency of reporting. It has been chosen considering a range of relevant factors, including the length of time required to undertake a meaningful assessment. In this context, the amendment would simply duplicate this requirement within 12 months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, potentially demanding a statement before this is appropriate and before any assessment has been completed.

Turning to the second point raised in this amendment, it is important to note—and the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, acknowledged this—that no other overseas territory or Crown dependency has the same market access arrangements with the UK as Gibraltar has today. The Gibraltar authorisation regime has been designed to deliver the Government’s commitment to Gibraltar in 2018 to maintain long-term market access for financial services between our jurisdictions, based on shared high standards of regulation and modern arrangements for information-sharing, transparency and co-operation. This commitment and the framework reflect the unique historic position of Gibraltar and the UK, specifically the passporting arrangements that were in place when we were both members of the EU single market, as has been said.

In our judgment, it would not be appropriate to extend the operation of the regime to other jurisdictions that do not have the same starting point of close alignment between our rules and supervisory practice. The Treasury remains committed to working with the Crown dependencies, and there are existing tools, including equivalence, that enable different degrees of access to the UK market and are more appropriate for the circumstances of the Crown dependencies. Having considered those points, I therefore ask noble Lords not to press this amendment.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I have not received a request from anyone wishing to speak after the Minister, so I call the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.