Richard Benyon contributions to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018

Tue 1st May 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords] (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
15 interactions (1,294 words)

Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords]

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Richard Benyon Excerpts
Tuesday 1st May 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
HM Treasury
Jo Swinson Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:46 p.m.

I concur absolutely. The fact that we cannot solve this problem in every single jurisdiction in the world does not mean we should not do what we can in those areas where we can have influence. We should certainly be using our diplomatic influence to try to expand the use of public registers in other countries, but we should also be setting our own house in order, because if we do so, we will have more legitimacy and credibility when we urge other countries to follow suit.

The United Kingdom is trying to take a leadership role on this issue, and that is important. That dates back to 2013, when the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, set out the Government’s plans at the G8 summit and was aiming to secure international agreement through the anti-corruption plan. I was delighted to play a role as a Minister in the introduction of measures on beneficial ownership and the public register in this country through the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. There was also an anti-corruption summit in 2016. However, there has been delay since then. At that time, the Government committed themselves to legislate to increase transparency in the housing market and to require overseas companies that owned property to declare their beneficial ownership publicly. That was supposed to be in place by April, but now it, too, has been delayed. We will not see even a draft Bill until the summer, and we will not get the actual legislation until next year.

The issue of the overseas territories really matters. More than three quarters of corruption cases involving property that were investigated by the Met’s proceeds of corruption unit involved anonymous companies based in secrecy jurisdictions, and nearly four fifths of those were registered in either the overseas territories or the Crown dependencies. As I have said, it is important that we get our house in order. Conservative Members have said we should try to do that through consensus but, as I pointed out in an intervention, the Government have been attempting to do that with various levels of enthusiasm over the last five years yet the registers have remained firmly private.

What we are talking about is an international crime. It is not victimless. We are talking about corruption that has a very serious impact on vulnerable people in countries throughout the world. Money is siphoned off through corrupt means and denied to the populations of those countries when it should be funding public services and enabling individuals to be looked after. That has an impact on the UK’s own reputation as well.

It is worth recognising the significant role of the overseas territories. In the Panama papers, the British Virgin Islands was the most popular tax haven mentioned, and Bermuda is No. 1 on Oxfam’s list of worst corporate tax havens. That is why it is important that we act. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly explained the challenges involved in including the Crown dependencies under new clause 6 and the specific relationship levers that we have as a country. Nevertheless, I hope that, having accepted the new clause, the Government will be enthusiastic about pursuing the same issues with the Crown dependencies to ensure that they follow suit. They should definitely be required to publish such a register so that the UK can show global leadership on this issue.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con) Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:49 p.m.

My experience of the House leads me to conclude that when somebody pays a Member a compliment, they should bank it and move on. However, although I am grateful to the Minister and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), it is important to say that a lot of people have worked on the Magnitsky amendment or law, as it has come to be known, many of whom sit on the opposite side of the House. Many of them have also been involved in this matter for a lot longer than I have, but I do stand to speak in support of new clause 3.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard

I welcome everything my right hon. Friend has done around the Magnitsky law and the fact that the Government have accepted it. Is he aware that the Government and Parliament of Gibraltar have already introduced a Magnitsky law, which indicates their willingness to be ahead of the game, rather than having to be dragged forward?

Richard Benyon Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:54 p.m.

Then they should feel extremely virtuous. It is important that we recognise that we are today putting in place something that already exists in a number of other legal jurisdictions—the Baltic states, the United States and Canada. A number of other countries are looking to do this, too.

David Cameron has been mentioned a lot today, and his commitment on this matter has been vital. In a recent speech to Transparency International he said:

“One of my regrets of my time in office was that we didn’t introduce the Magnitsky Act. The Foreign Office argument was that Britain’s existing approach was better, because we could sanction all the people on that list—and more besides. And I went along with it.

But I soon realised this ignored the advantages of working together—with other countries—under a common heading. It’s not PR, it’s a fact. You get extra clout from coming together across the world and saying with one voice to those who are responsible for unacceptable acts: ‘We are united in our action against you.’”

He then paid tribute to his successor as Prime Minister and to Parliament for passing the provisions in the recent Criminal Finances Act 2017, and also referred to a person who deserves mention in this House today. Bill Browder, along with others, has put himself at huge risk to make sure that those who murdered his lawyer and friend Sergei Magnitsky are not able to travel around the world, bank, buy property and operate in a manner that we rightly take for granted in this country but should be denied to people who have behaved in that way. If we remember anyone today, we should think of the piteous image of Sergei Magnitsky after months of imprisonment. He was extremely unwell and then beaten to death by thugs at the behest of people who have still not been held to account. Today we are saying to them, “Not in our country are you going to be able to do business,” and we should feel proud of that.

In an act of extreme serendipity, I found myself on the Bill’s Committee. I am extremely grateful to members of that Committee, to the Minister and his officials, and subsequently, in recent weeks after the Salisbury incident, to the Prime Minister for absolutely accepting that we need to have what will be known as the full Magnitsky. We went a considerable way towards that a year ago with the Criminal Finances Act, but are now in a position to say that we are in accordance with the Magnitsky provisions of other countries. It is important that we get the definitions right—I do not think that we got there in Committee—but to now have a definition of gross human rights abuse that is in accordance with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is important.

My brief comments today will be about what Parliament does now, because the Bill is gratifyingly loose in its description of what kind of review mechanism Parliament will impose. This is crucial. In recent days, I have had useful discussions with Committee Clerks, the Chairmen of the Liaison and Procedure Committees and a number of others about what kind of structure we could create in accordance with the Bill to allow individuals—Members of this House, members of organisations such as Amnesty International or Bill Browder’s, or any individual—to say to the Government, “We have evidence that these people have done this and should be sanctioned.” The Government will produce a report to Parliament every 12 months setting out who has made representations to them. In an important response to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), the Minister made a clear assertion that the names on the sanctions list will be made public. That is important.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con) - Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:55 p.m.

I have to say that the Minister did not go into very much detail in his excellent opening remarks about what would be in the report proposed under new clause 3. If my right hon. Friend has had discussions with him on that, it would be interesting to hear about them. If not, it would be interesting to hear more from the Minister later on.

Richard Benyon Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:55 p.m.

We have it in our power to create something in Parliament that will hold future Governments as well as this Government to account. I am full of respect for what our security Ministers have been doing recently to freeze the bank accounts of certain individuals, and I absolutely believe that the Government have the will to ensure that we get our economy sorted out so that we cannot be a safe haven for these people. However, what we are talking about will be happening way into the future. It will affect future Governments as well, and we must hold them to account.

We could put this in the hands of an existing Committee —perhaps a Select Committee—but I suggest that that might not be the right framework. A Select Committee has the specific role of holding a Department of State to account and looking into certain details. I personally like the idea of a bespoke Committee that would draw together members of different Committees. The example that I would throw out there for others more important than me to grab is the Committees on Arms Export Controls—the CAEC. It has a specific remit, with members from various Select Committees, and I think it would be an effective model.

Helen Goodman Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:57 p.m.

May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to read new clause 10, which sets out a proposal for a scrutiny Committee?

Richard Benyon Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:57 p.m.

Well, I have. I just think new clause 3 leaves it much more open for Parliament to make a decision, and I am quite content with that, although I am open to other suggestions. Some people say that the Joint Committee on Human Rights might be best placed to carry out this scrutiny, but I see, from delving into the Standing Orders, that Standing Order No. 152B(2)(a) states that the Joint Committee has a remit to look at

“matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom”.

What we are talking about here is matters relating to human rights anywhere. We could be talking about someone who is evicting the Rohingya, for example, or actions taken in conflicts or situations as yet unknown and unforeseen. We need to ensure that we can look at human rights everywhere.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:58 p.m.

As a member of the CAEC, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to think again about using it as a model for a scrutiny Committee. I sit on it, and it struggles to function—it did not meet for two years—but one thing that it did recommend was a measure to allow the Government to shut down brass-plate companies, on which I have tabled an amendment in the next group.

Richard Benyon Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:58 p.m.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I am not completely wedded to that idea. I simply say that this is in our grasp—this is now Parliament’s duty. Following the very good discussions that I have had with my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, as well as with other wise heads and people with much more experience than I have, I know that we need to design something that really works. The crucial thing that works in Congress and in other Parliaments is what is known in the United States as the “congressional trigger”, under which it is possible to really ask questions of the Executive. Through the measure that we are discussing today, the Executive are giving Parliament the power to get this right, and we must take that duty very seriously.

Liam Byrne - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 May 2018, 3:59 p.m.

I want to make two points in support of new clause 6 and to encourage the Government to take on board the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). I also want to put on the record my tributes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) —my constituency neighbour—and the others associated with this step forward.

Break in Debate

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant - Hansard
1 May 2018, 4:18 p.m.

I completely agree, and that is also why I agree with the kind of approach that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight tried to enjoin on the whole House—not only on those from different political backgrounds, but also on all the different silos, including defence, foreign policy, work and pensions and the Treasury—to try to make sure that we have a united, coherent, consistent and, to use a valleys word, “tidy” approach towards the Russians. That was not “a valet’s word”, but a valleys word—[Laughter.]

Richard Benyon Hansard
1 May 2018, 4:18 p.m.

Language is really important, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree that when we talk about Russia’s malign influence, we are talking about the Russian regime and the coterie of criminals that surrounds it, of which the Russian people are the victims. The Magnitsky amendment we will pass today is the most pro-Russian piece of legislation that we can pass.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant - Hansard
1 May 2018, 4:19 p.m.

I agree; I do not think that there is a single Member of this House who does not have profound respect for the people of Russia and for the country of Russia, and for what it has given to us culturally and in so many other ways over the centuries. But what a pain it is to us to see a country that was reaching out for liberty suddenly find itself crushed under the heel again. It is a country that should be one of the great advancing economies of today, but it is in stagnation, with barely 1% growth. That is why all of us, from all parts of this House, have campaigned to take a robust attitude to Russia.

Finally, the Russian ambassador tweeted the other day that he wants to meet the all-party group for Russia, which I chair. He is not answering his phone—I am not sure whether he is busy on something else—but we will have him next Wednesday afternoon at 2.30 pm if anyone wants to hear his view of things.