All 1 Lindsay Hoyle contributions to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 25th Oct 2023
Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords messageConsideration of Lords Message

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Business and Trade

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House insists on its amendment 151A and disagrees with the Lords in their amendments 151E and 151F.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - -

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment (a), and the following motion:

That this House insists on its Amendment 161A in lieu and disagrees with the Lords in their Amendment 161D in lieu.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to bring this important Bill back to the House this afternoon, for what I sincerely hope is the last time, given that this will be the third time we have debated and voted on similar issues. I urge Opposition Front-Bench Members and those in the other place not to risk the safe passage of this hugely significant, near-400 page Bill by continuing to press these amendments.

The Government have appreciated the input of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House—including the right hon. Members for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill)—to help change the Bill for the better. We are discussing failure to prevent, together with the identification of doctoring. The Government are taking world-leading measures—I think this is the first time that a major economy such as ours has implemented them—which we should be proud we are implementing through the Bill. Of course, if the elected Chamber expresses its strong will on these remaining issues for the third time, I very much hope that the other place will agree that now is the time for it to accept that position. I think we would all rather have what we have done than see all this good work being in vain by letting the legislation fall.

Let me discuss the two issues in turn. I will keep my remarks brief as the arguments remain the same as on the preceding two times we have discussed them. I will first address Lords amendments 151E and 151F on the “failure to prevent” threshold. I will also address amendment (a), tabled last night by the right hon. Member for Barking, on a Government review of the threshold. While my noble Friend Lord Garnier’s amendment has moved closer yet again to the Government’s position by exempting micro-entities and small organisations from the offence, I am afraid that the Government will not support the lowering of the threshold at this time. Let me repeat the reasons why. It is already an offence to perpetrate fraud. The objective of the new offence is to ensure that there is accountability where fraud occurs in large organisations. There is simply no need to apply any such offence to smaller organisations.

Every time such an offence is introduced, business owners end up distracted from running their businesses by taking time to reassess their compliance risks, which often involves taking professional advice. We assess that the revised threshold proposed by Lord Garnier would cost medium-sized enterprises £300 million in one-off costs and nearly £40 million in annual recurring costs. We should be making it easier for businesses to operate in the UK and only imposing additional regulatory burdens when absolutely necessary. The Government completely reject the notion of using such an offence simply to raise awareness among business owners of the seriousness of the problem of fraud. There would be other, more proportionate ways to do that if necessary.

In response to the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Barking, the Government have already future-proofed the Bill by including a delegated power to allow the Government to raise, lower or remove the threshold altogether. Of course, as with all legislation, the Government will keep the threshold under review. I make a personal commitment to do that and to make changes if evidence suggests that they are required. I do not think that a Government review is necessary for that to take place, so I ask the right hon. Member not to move her amendment. We must bear in mind that a review does not guarantee change anyway. What guarantees change is having the right people at the Dispatch Box making changes, whether those are people from her party or my party, and both parties are equally exercised by these concerns. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support the Government motion to disagree with the Lords amendments to ensure that we take a proportionate approach and do not impose unnecessary measures on legitimate businesses that would curb our economic growth.

I turn to Lords amendment 161D, tabled by Lord Faulks, on cost protection in civil recovery cases. The Government remain of the view that such an amendment would be a significant departure from a fundamental principle of justice—that the loser pays—and therefore not something that should be rushed into without careful consideration. Furthermore, as I set out when we last debated this issue, we have seen no clear evidence that the amendment would increase the number of cases taken on by law enforcement. However, that is not to say that such an amendment is necessarily a bad idea. That is why we previously added to the Bill a statutory commitment to review the payment of costs in civil recovery cases in England and Wales by enforcement authorities, to publish a report on the findings and to lay that before Parliament within 12 months.

With regard to civil costs reform in England and Wales, the Government would normally look to consult appropriate consultees, including the senior judiciary, the Law Society and the Bar Council. Enacting the reform now without a full review would not allow judges and relevant organisations, or indeed their counterparts in Northern Ireland and Scotland, to comment on how it would be read and applied in practice. We therefore feel it would be irresponsible for us to rush into making such a significant change at the end of a Bill’s passage without full consideration by Government and further scrutiny by Parliament. I very much hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that that is the responsible approach to take and therefore support the Government’s position.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - -

Order. Can I just help a little bit? The hon. Gentleman is very good, but his intervention is very long. Why does he not put down to speak? It might be easier. I have to get other people in as well.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue relating to the concerns about de-banking that we have across the economy. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) is looking at it, as is the Treasury. In future, it is our intention to ensure that when banks close accounts they give a valid reason why, rather than closing them summarily. He is absolutely right to raise the point and I am very happy to engage with him on it, because it affects businesses as well as community groups.

To conclude, I encourage everyone to agree with the Government’s position on these two areas. It is vital that we achieve Royal Assent without delay, so we can proceed to implement the important reforms in the Bill as quickly as possible.