Grand Committee

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Tuesday 23 January 2024

Arrangement of Business

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Announcement
15:47
Viscount Stansgate Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Stansgate) (Lab)
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My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber, which is not impossible, the Committee will adjourn immediately and resume after 10 minutes.

Financial Services Act 2021 (Overseas Funds Regime and Recognition of Parts of Schemes) (Amendment and Modification) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
15:47
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Financial Services Act 2021 (Overseas Funds Regime and Recognition of Parts of Schemes) (Amendment and Modification) Regulations 2024.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, these draft regulations make a number of technical changes to support the effective implementation of the overseas funds regime, prior to the first funds marketing under it, and ensure the correct treatment of recognised overseas funds.

The overseas funds regime is a new route that will allow overseas funds to be recognised for the purpose of marketing to UK retail investors, where the Government have determined that their regulatory regime is equivalent to that of the UK. Prior to the introduction of the overseas funds regime, there were two recognition routes for overseas funds allowing them to market to UK retail investors. If they were passporting to the UK prior to the UK’s exit from the European Union, funds may now have temporary recognition, which is due to expire at the end of 2025. The second route enables funds to be individually recognised by the Financial Conduct Authority, but this can be costly and time-consuming for both the fund and the regulator.

At present, there are more than 8,000 funds recognised via the former route and 48 funds recognised via the latter route. This is more than double the number of UK-authorised funds. The cross-border nature of asset management means that the overseas funds regime will be critical to ensuring a competitive funds sector for UK investors with an appropriate range of choice.

At present, no funds have been recognised under this regime. However, the Government are currently undertaking the first equivalence assessment for the states in the European Economic Area in respect of retail funds, specifically undertakings for the collective investment in transferable securities—to note, money market funds are excluded from this assessment. Ahead of any equivalence decision or any funds becoming recognised under the overseas funds regime, it is important that the statute book adequately reflects its introduction.

This instrument makes two groups of technical changes. First, it makes amendments to ensure that, where appropriate, funds recognised under the overseas funds regime are treated in the same way as overseas funds which have been individually recognised for the purpose of marketing to retail investors. Secondly, it makes modifications to ensure that recognised sub-funds are appropriately captured. This is because it is common for funds to be structured as an umbrella, with multiple sub-funds beneath it, each with their own investment strategies.

More specifically, this instrument makes changes in the following areas. First, in relation to different pieces of rehabilitation of offenders legislation, it makes consequential amendments to the definition of “relevant collective investment scheme” to include reference to the overseas funds regime. This means that funds recognised under the overseas funds regime are accounted for in the same way as existing individually recognised funds in these pieces of legislation, such as in relation to the disclosure of spent convictions by associates of these funds. The instrument also makes modifications to these pieces of legislation to ensure that recognised sub-funds are appropriately captured.

Secondly, it modifies the Local Authorities (Capital Finance and Accounting) (Wales) Regulations 2003 to ensure that recognised sub-funds are treated appropriately for accounting purposes.

Thirdly, it amends the financial promotions order to allow certain communications made by operators of funds recognised under the overseas funds regime to be exempted from the general restriction on financial promotions. These are limited to cases where the fund in question is communicating with existing investors. This legislation is also modified to appropriately account for recognised sub-funds.

Finally, retained EU law on disclosure for packaged retail and insurance-based investment products is amended such that funds recognised under the overseas funds regime must provide the same retail disclosure documents as other recognised funds.

These changes are technical in nature and, as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum for the statutory instrument, are extremely unlikely to have any impact on business or public services. However, they are necessary to ensure that funds recognised under the overseas funds regime are treated appropriately and that the regime is able to function effectively. I beg to move.

Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey (LD)
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My Lords, we are grateful for the Minister’s clear and concise explanation of what this SI does and why it is necessary. I note the thorough and helpful consultation report, published as long ago as 2020. We are happy to support this instrument and have only a few questions.

The first question is to do with timing. The new OFR will come into operation only when the appropriate equivalence determinations have been made by HMT. The introduction of this new regime has been foreseen for at least two years. During that time, I am sure HMT has been working diligently to decide on the appropriate equivalence determinations. When might we expect these determinations to be published?

My second question arises from the 2020 consultation report. It makes clear the decision not to extend FOS and FSCS protection to the newly authorised funds. This is despite the recommendation of the Financial Services Consumer Panel. Can the Minister explain why these basic consumer protections were omitted?

My third question arises from the decision to reject these protections. In paragraph 2.44, the consultation report notes that:

“In general, respondents to the consultation considered that if the scope of FOS and FSCS remain unchanged, funds should inform investors through disclosures in the fund prospectus”.


The Government agreed that some form of disclosure was necessary, and in paragraph 2.46 said:

“The government will consider the appropriate framework for disclosing the absence of FSCS and FOS in the future. The FCA will also explore whether it is necessary and appropriate to require enhanced risk warnings or explicit acknowledgement from investors about the lack of availability of FOS and FSCS coverage”.


That was over two years ago. How is HMT getting on with the framework thinking? How is the FCA getting on with its exploration? Can the Minister tell us what HMT has concluded about the appropriate framework for disclosing the absence of FOS and FSCS cover and what the FSA has concluded about enhanced risk warnings? If at this late stage there is as yet no conclusion from HMT or the FCA, will she commit to write to us, setting out the conclusions when they are finally arrived at?

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister is clearly up to speed on these detailed matters, as I know my noble friend Lord Livermore is—but I am not. I recollect that, when I was in another place, the late Lord Cecil Parkinson, a very able Minister, introduced his great City finance reforms—what we knew then in the other place as the “big bang”. Lord Parkinson was a clever and adept Minister; he rose to even higher rank in government, and was a party chair for the late Lady Thatcher. But it seems to me that, in his reforms, simplicity was not one of the ingredients. With reference to the Explanatory Memorandum, at paragraph 7.1, what are sub-funds? Might the Minister throw some light on that detail?

Lord Livermore Portrait Lord Livermore (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. We support these regulations, as they will provide smoother market access for overseas funds that have been determined to be equivalent to the UK’s in relation to consumer protection. This SI is part of a wider set of measures to bring the overseas funds regime, or OFR, online. The regime will apply to funds from jurisdictions that the Treasury has deemed “equivalent”, so the OFR will become operational only once those decisions by the Treasury have been made.

When this SI was debated in the Commons, my honourable friend the shadow Economics Secretary asked the Minister when the Secretary expected to take the equivalence decisions that would enable overseas funds to utilise the streamlined approach envisaged under the new overseas funds regime. In his answer, the Minister was able only to say, “very soon, I hope”. Given this, is the Minister able to go any further in providing greater clarity on the timing of these equivalence decisions? Is she able to provide any indication of how many equivalence decisions the Treasury expects to make in the first instance?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful to all three noble Lords for their contributions to this brief debate. On the matter of timing, both of the laying of the SI and where things will go in the future, the laying of the SI is being done now because there is parliamentary time. The assessment of equivalence is still under way, and therefore there is no urgency about this. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, pointed out, the consultation took place a little while ago. The only real rationale is that the technical changes need to be made by the time that the funds are recognised under the overseas funds regime. Obviously, there is a lead-in time required for an assessment to be undertaken of any countries, or indeed territories.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, pointed out that there is an ongoing assessment of the EEA. I can go no further than the Economic Secretary did in the other place. It is right that the ongoing assessment does its work effectively. As noble Lords will know, it started in autumn 2022, but we cannot possibly commit to timelines at this stage, as it is key that the work is done well. However, the overseas funds regime remains a government priority and we are working at pace to finalise this assessment. The temporary arrangements are in place until 2025, so there is a little time available.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, mentioned the consultation. A significant amount of consultation went on prior to the primary legislation that was put in place. He asked some specific questions about consumer protections and the absence of FOS cover. I will write to him with further information on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, spoke about the “big bang”. I joined the City slightly after that. It introduced an element of simplicity—that is clear—but, sadly, the City is now a different place and complexity has crept back in. This includes sub-funds, which are basically funds that sit under an umbrella fund, each of which may have different investment objectives. This is just to make sure that, if somebody has invested in a sub-fund, it can be reflected properly in their accounts in Wales and that the laws on the disclosure of spent convictions apply.

I cannot go further on timings but I am grateful to all noble Lords. As I said, I will write with further details on a couple of other things, in particular the measures around consumer protections that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey.

Motion agreed.

Local Government Finance Act 1988 (Prescription of Non-Domestic Rating Multipliers) (England) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:00
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (Prescription of Non-Domestic Rating Multipliers) (England) Regulations 2023.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, although these draft regulations may appear at first sight obscure and technical, they are essential to the smooth functioning of the business rates system for the financial year 2024-25 and beyond.

The regulations serve two main purposes. The first is to preserve the threshold for those businesses that pay rates by reference to the lower small business multiplier at a rateable value of below £51,000. This has been government policy since 2017 but, due to the passing of the Non-Domestic Rating Act 2023 in October, it must be reaffirmed here.

The second is to ensure that this threshold of £51,000 not only applies to occupied properties, as it has done previously, but extends to charities, unoccupied properties and those on the central list that are not subject to full relief. Moving these properties from the higher standard multiplier to the lower small business multiplier will place the entire business rates system on an even footing. It will also constitute a modest tax cut for those properties that will move to the small business multiplier for the first time, to the tune of around £5 million per year.

The Committee may find it helpful if I set out a quick reminder of how the business rates multiplier works. A multiplier is, in effect, a tax rate used to calculate business rates. There are two kinds of multipliers. The standard multiplier applies to businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or above. The small business multiplier applies to businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000. The relevant multiplier is multiplied by the yearly rental value of a property, known as the rateable value, to calculate its business rates bill before any reliefs are applied.

These regulations have been precipitated by the Non-Domestic Rating Act 2023, which implemented the reforms announced at the conclusion of the 2020 business rates review. As I am sure many noble Lords are aware, this important legislation introduced more frequent revaluations, bringing the revaluation cycle down from every five years to every three years to make the system fairer and more responsive. The Act also introduced a new improvement relief to incentivise businesses to invest in their properties; legislated for improved transparency in how business rates valuations are calculated; and introduced a number of administrative reforms to the business rates multiplier to streamline and improve the system.

This last point is most relevant here, as those reforms provide the Government with a power to set and alter in secondary legislation the thresholds for which properties are eligible for each multiplier. As these new reforms will come into force from the 2024-25 financial year, the Government must bring forward these regulations in order to maintain the threshold for which properties pay the multiplier at its existing level of £51,000 rateable value. If these regulations are not passed, the small business multiplier will instead apply only to businesses in receipt of small business rates relief. This would constitute a tax hike for hundreds of thousands of businesses whose properties have a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000.

The second purpose of these regulations is to bring unoccupied properties, charities and properties on the central list in line with occupied properties, by bringing properties with a rateable value of below £51,000 into the scope of the small business multiplier. The proposal to bring unoccupied properties and charities within the small business multiplier was initially made in the technical consultation following the business rates review. The Government committed to this change in the summary of responses to that document in March 2023. To maintain consistency across the business rates system, it was subsequently decided to bring properties on the central list—the centrally managed list of properties that span multiple local authority areas, such as utilities pipelines—within the scope of the small business multiplier.

The content of this instrument is therefore very simple. The instrument continues and extends existing government policy, applying the small business multiplier to properties with a rateable value of below £51,000 that are not subject to full relief. Properties valued at £51,000 and above that are not subject to full relief will pay business rates by reference to the standard multiplier.

For the majority of ratepayers, then, this statutory instrument merely preserves the status quo. Ratepayers are used to a £51,000 rateable value threshold for the small business multiplier, and this instrument maintains that threshold under the legislative reforms made by the Non-Domestic Rating Act 2023. The instrument promotes stability and predictability in the business rates system. For unoccupied properties, charities and properties on the central list with a rateable value of below £51,000, this instrument will provide a small tax cut, as these properties are brought into the scope of the small business multiplier. The regulations will make the multiplier more consistent and place all properties on a fair and level playing field. I beg to move.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her helpful and brisk exposition, and I will not delay for mischief or malice these regulations that come to the Committee. It is the settled view of the usual channels that it should be so—and rightly so. I rise briefly in the traditional manner to ask the Minister questions, simply and briefly, to hold the Executive to account. So often the Grand Committee considers regulations of great importance to citizens but debate is so brief.

Paragraph 2.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum is welcome. Can the Minister tell us the Government’s estimate of the numbers of small businesses in England and Wales? Does the department have any idea of how many there may be?

Paragraph 12.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum baldly states that this is a “tax cut”. Surely the Minister who comes to this Committee with a tax cut should be congratulated. For the Minister arriving with a tax cut, it raises confidence when next she gives her expert and brisk introductory remarks.

On paragraph 14 of the Explanatory Memorandum, who will carry out monitoring and review? Shall it be civil servants, independent consultants or simply the Minister’s section in her department?

Under the heading “Consultation outcome”, paragraph 10 mentions small businesses. Has the Federation of Small Businesses—or the chambers of trade, for example —been involved in this consultation? Details might be available from the Minister or her officials.

Lastly, local government tells of its great problems concerning finance. Does the Minister know that local government throughout the nation hopes that, in the imminent Budget, the Chancellor will offer more money to hard-pressed local authorities in a time of austerity?

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction. I welcome strongly the decision to ensure, through this instrument, that charities and unoccupied properties will be eligible for the small business multiplier. It is also helpful that the Government have decided to extend the small business multiplier to central list properties below the £51,000 rateable value threshold.

Business rates are simply too high, particularly for small businesses. I recognise that there has been a freezing of the small business multiplier. At Third Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill in October, I said that what is now the Act made some very welcome changes, particularly around more regular revaluations. However, business rates used to be around half the rental value of a property and they are now closer to 100%—they are almost equal. This financial burden is putting huge pressure on many businesses and impacting on our high streets, particularly our retail sector.

I want to ask the Minister this. We had assurances during the passage of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill that the legislation would be kept under review. Will the Government continue to keep under review the amount that small businesses have to pay? Even though there is a discount, at 49.9p in the pound, compared to other businesses, at 51.2p in the pound, small businesses need greater help today. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to say that the Government are well aware of the financial pressures that small businesses have and are alert to the need to ensure that those pressures, in the current economic context, do not get worse. Might the Government find ways to review the business rates system, which we debated at some length during the passing of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, but also the level that is paid by many businesses which have been struggling?

Lord Livermore Portrait Lord Livermore (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. I would be grateful if she could provide further detail about the Government’s understanding of what constitutes an unoccupied property. The Government consulted on business rates avoidance and evasion in July last year, and in that consultation document they made it clear that they were concerned about the potential abuse of empty property relief by owners who use a brief period of apparent occupation to reset their properties’ eligibility for that relief. The consultation document stated:

“There is no statutory definition of what constitutes ‘occupation’ of a property, and minimal occupation possibly of no material benefit to the occupier, except as a method to avoid paying rates, may be sufficient to allow ratepayers access to a further rate-free period.”


As there is no statutory definition of what constitutes occupation of a property, I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what definition the Government are using in identifying unoccupied properties for the purpose of this SI. I would also be grateful if she could confirm when the Government are intending to set out their response to the business rates avoidance and evasion consultation, and when they will bring forward any actions they intend to take to combat avoidance and evasion within the business rates system.

16:15
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Once again, I am grateful to noble Lords for sharing their thoughts in this short debate.

As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Jones, rightly held the Executive to account. I always appreciate his questions. He asked how many small businesses there are. There are hundreds of thousands of them. I can tell the noble Lord that 90% of properties come under the small business multiplier, so only 10% pay at the standard rate; of course, that covers hundreds of thousands of properties, some of which may be used by a single business. We must recognise that the small business multiplier is really important because it covers most properties. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, pointed out, it was frozen at the Autumn Statement because we recognise and share his concerns about the impact of business rates on our high streets, which we want to keep as vibrant as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is right that this is a tax cut. Sadly, it is quite limited, but, nevertheless, we will take tax cuts wherever we can find them. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, it amounts to around £5 million and goes to charities. Charities get other reliefs as well, which is why the impact is probably smaller than one might otherwise think.

Monitoring and reviewing business rates is a really important area. The Valuation Office Agency is responsible for valuing non-domestic property for business rates purposes. As I mentioned, we have decided to reduce the revaluation period from five years to three years to make it a bit more flexible and agile. The agency is required by law to compile and maintain accurate rating lists for non-domestic properties in England; it must do this impartially and independently of central government. It follows international valuation standards and the RICS mandatory guidance on the appropriate method of valuation. Of course, the VOA remains happy to talk to ratepayers to ensure that it gets the number for the rateable value right.

It is also important to recognise that the VOA is undergoing a period of transformation. There are some opportunities to digitise business rates. There is also a positive opportunity to link business rates to the HMRC system, to make it much easier and so that there is better targeting and understanding of how the business rates system works with the tax data from businesses themselves. This reform programme is called the digitalisation of business rates, and it will be a major step forward in modernising the entire system.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, went on to ask what small businesses think of this and whether we have heard from them. I am pleased to be able to tell him that there was the 2023 business rates review consultation and the technical consultation. We heard from the Federation of Small Businesses and many other representative groups in those consultations; they provided us with valuable feedback on how we can make the business rates system more productive.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, mentioned the issue of some in local government feeling the pinch at the moment. The provisional local government finance settlement for 2024-25 has made an additional increase of 6.5% in councils’ core spending power. A consultation with the sector closed on 15 January and we are considering the responses. The final settlement will be confirmed in early February. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities always stands ready to speak to any council that has concerns about its ability to manage its finances or faces pressures that it has not planned for. We are aware that a small number of local authorities have recently suffered financial distress because of issues specific to them. As I say, we are keen to work with local authorities to ensure that they continue to deliver services for the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said that business rates are too high, although he gave credit to the Government, noting that we held the small business multiplier for 2024-25 in the Autumn Statement. That is a positive thing. There is an enormous number of reliefs available for different types of businesses— I was briefed on this—and it is worth making sure that businesses are aware of them. Noble Lords will be aware of the reliefs that we have been able to extend for hospitality, to ensure that our high streets remain vibrant places to go to and socialise. Indeed, there are plenty of others, such as the improvement relief. I think it is possibly quite complicated, but necessarily so, because it targets money to where we need it most.

The noble Lord, Lord Livermore, asked about unoccupied properties. Local authorities are responsible for administering business rates at a local level, and they would determine the occupation of the property. However, if there is any more information or guidance around that that I can provide him with, I will certainly write to him with an update on business rate evasion and avoidance.

Motion agreed.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Stansgate) (Lab)
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It may be for the convenience of the Grand Committee that we adjourn now, as there is about to be a vote in the Chamber, and reconvene 10 minutes from the moment the Division Bells begin.

16:22
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Iran (Sanctions) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:34
Moved by
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Iran (Sanctions) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 8th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, this instrument contains measures to deter the Government of Iran, and groups backed by Iran, from conducting hostile activity against the UK and our partners. It was laid on 13 December 2023 under powers in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The measures entered into force the following day. The instrument has been considered and not reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Iranian regime poses a clear threat to the UK and our partners, with hostile acts ranging from assassination plots to significant support for armed groups. The new legislation provides sanctions powers to respond to this appalling behaviour. We can now introduce sanctions designations in relation to Iran’s hostile actions in any country. It could be used in response to Iranian support to Russia, destabilising conduct in the Middle East or hostile acts in any partner country. We can use these powers where acts are perpetrated by Iran or by armed groups backed by Iran.

Since January 2022, the UK has identified at least 15 threats emanating from Iran to the lives of UK-based individuals. This is totally unacceptable. Furthermore, Iran continues to destabilise the Middle East through its development and use of weapons, along with support for groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis.

Our priority is the safety and security of the UK, the people who live here and our international partners. That is why we have taken action, using this legislation, to sanction the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, and other senior IRGC figures involved in Iran’s long-term support to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. We will not stop there. For as long as Iran continues to threaten the UK, our interests and our partners, we will respond firmly and decisively. We will use this legislation as a key tool within the broader diplomatic approach aimed at deterring Iran.

Sanctions are particularly effective when imposed alongside international partners and combined with other diplomatic tools. For example, following the murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year-old Iranian woman, we sought to expose the extent of Iran’s abuses on the international stage, including at the UN Human Rights Council. This was accompanied by regular sanctions designations co-ordinated with partners including the EU, the US and Canada. We delivered a clear message of international condemnation while holding those responsible for human rights abuses to account through sanctions.

I turn now to trade measures, the other substantive addition made by this legislation. Iran continues to expand its drones programme and is sending them to Russia to use against Ukraine. We have already sanctioned a range of entities and individuals involved in the provision of Iranian drones to Russia, using the existing Russia sanctions regime. However, drones are also a feature of Iran’s hostile activity beyond Ukraine. This legislation imposes new restrictions on the Iranian regime’s drone programme, targeting UAVs and their components, which is crucial to its collaboration with Russia. It draws on knowledge of the Iranian drones deployed in Ukraine and elsewhere. The trade restrictions strengthen our existing export controls on drone components, ensuring that no UK business or person, wherever they are in the world, can facilitate the trade of these items.

This legislation also maintains existing trade measures on goods and technology that might be used for internal repression, such as riot shields and water cannons, and on goods, technology and services that may be used for interception and monitoring. This will ensure that the UK plays no part in enabling the Iranian regime’s trampling of human rights. We strongly support the right of the Iranian people to freedom of expression and assembly.

The legislation maintains our unwavering support for human rights in Iran. The regime continues to treat women and human rights defenders with contempt, executing eight people in 2023 for their participation in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. The recent death of Armita Geravand, a 17 year-old Iranian girl, after an alleged assault by the morality police shows the brutal reality of life for women and girls in Iran. Since October 2022, we have sanctioned 95 individuals and entities responsible for violating human rights in Iran. The Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations have been revoked and designations made under those regulations are saved under the new regulations, allowing us to continue to hold the people and institutions responsible to account.

These new regulations demonstrate our determination to target those responsible for Iran’s malign activity. They maintain our commitment to human rights law, allowing us to hold to account those in Iran who fail to uphold and respect them. We will continue to work with like-minded partners to disrupt, deter and respond to threats from the Iranian regime and co-ordinate sanctions action. These regulations send a clear message to the Government of Iran and those who seek to harm the UK and our partners. I beg to move.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, these measures go beyond the human rights sanctions already in place, as the Minister has said, and are now much broader in their scope and, potentially, their depth. They address Iran’s regrettably growing internal oppression and external aggression. I support the measures and am grateful to the Minister for the clear way that he introduced them.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I have debated Iran on a number of occasions in Grand Committee and the Chamber. The fact that its activities at home and abroad warrant debates in this House is testimony that the United Kingdom has considerable interest in ensuring the safety of our nationals, both at home in the UK and abroad, as well as that of our allies. It is regrettable that these measures need to be in place. As they are broader, deeper and country-wide and could set precedents for other areas, it is right that they be scrutinised. I wish to ask the Minister a number of questions. I fully understand if he cannot answer them today but I would be grateful if he could write to me.

As the Minister said, the context of the repression is the reprehensible persecution and oppression of women and young women in Iran by both the morality police and the judiciary, which cannot be considered free and independent. I would be grateful if he could outline the interaction between those bodies that are now open to sanctions within the police and the revolutionary guard and, as human rights measures are to be put in place, their interaction with members of the judiciary. We have seen all too frequently in Russia and Belarus how judiciaries are now completely captured by regimes and are not independent arms. Can the Minister clarify whether members of the judiciary will also be covered by these measures?

I asked a broader question at the outset about women and girls. I have raised the point repeatedly in the Chamber and to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. There had been opportunities for those persecuted to seek refuge in the UK through asylum routes, but there is now no longer a safe and legal route for migration to the UK for Iranian women seeking asylum. This was highlighted in a Home Office report just a number of days ago. Can the Minister write to me about what safe and legal routes exist beyond that offered by UNHCR, which is not a comparable direct route?

We know that Iran often operates not alone but with other countries, through proxies or with other state entities. The Minister was clear that these sanctions will cover Iran’s activities in other countries. What are the consequences for those countries facilitating them? What sanctions can be applied to those bodies that effectively provide proxy support?

16:45
Turning to the measures themselves, I note that a condition that needs to be met for sanctions to be put in place is the Secretary of State herself—or the United States, the European Union, Australia or Canada—having put in place relevant provisions. I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me—I do not expect him to answer today—on the sanctions regimes in those countries that are comparable to the UK. Both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I have often asked questions about why, for example, the European Union has put measures in but the UK has not, or whether Canada has put in measures while the UK has not. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has repeatedly said that they operate under their own sovereign sanctions regimes; that is absolutely the case, and I am not disputing that fact, but now, as I read it, we have an automatic triggering for sanctions under condition B. I would be grateful if the respective comparable sanctions regimes that would allow the UK to trigger could be laid out. I say at the outset that I am not opposed to this but just seeking clarity.
I turn to those associated with a person who could be sanctioned under these regimes, including those with a financial benefit or other material benefit from the person. The Minister will know well enough that the UK has had an issue with facilitators in both the legal services and the consultancy services. I would be grateful if the Government consider that a person “associated with” a sanctioned person would cover a UK legal representative. Regrettably, there have been times when legal services have been used for malicious purposes—we have debated those cases—and I would like to be reassured that there are no loopholes with regard to that.
I will jump to Regulation 60, on treasury licences. The Minister may recall that one difficult issue was Treasury licences being offered for legal services to be deployed for a sanctioned individual to effectively offer a malicious legal case. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that there will be no loophole for legal services and Treasury licences.
On assets overall and asset freezes, this is welcome, but I would be grateful if the Minister could state whether the sanctions applied to asset freezes for individuals who would be sanctioned under these regimes —Iranian officials—can be extended to the joint assets that Iran will have, connected either to other states or to proxy finance. As I indicated, the Minister knows all too well that Iran does not operate solely in many of the activities he outlined. Often, it is through proxy organisations or in some form of partnership with other groups, whether it be proxies for the Putin regime or others. I campaigned for and welcomed very warmly the Government proscribing the Wagner Group, for example, which is an illustration of how non-government bodies can effectively carry out operations on behalf of Iran. We will come on to talk about the sanctions regime with regards to Russia, and diamonds, gold and oil, and this is an area where Iran has been very active.
My final question relates to shipping and the naval aspect, which is topical at the moment, given the Statement that will be repeated tomorrow on the actions against the Houthis. As I understand it, the sanctions will allow for someone, a body or a particular vessel to be designated so that they will not have access to UK ports of entry. This is under Regulation 55. I seek clarity on British Overseas Territories. My reading of this is that the sanctions will provide exceptions to entries by those sanctioned into overseas territory ports. I hope I am not correct about that being exempted. I hope it is not the case that a sanctioned vessel would be prohibited from landing at a British port but would be able to land at a British Overseas Territory port. Again, I hope I am not correct, so I seek clarification on that.
The Government have indicated that they do not consider a review clause in this instrument appropriate. I gently differ slightly with them, because, as I said, this is a broad set of sanctions and there could well be consequences. I understand that it is absolutely in the Government’s power to remove or bring forward amendments to sanctions if they consider it appropriate, but a review mechanism would be helpful; if the intent is to change the behaviour and practices of a sovereign state, knowing the impact and effectiveness of that—and sharing it with Parliament—will be important. Although the Government have said that they do not believe that a review clause in the instrument is appropriate, I hope Ministers will be free to brief Members, either privately or publicly in the House, on the impact and effectiveness of these measures.
With those questions, I support the measures.
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, when the Foreign Secretary made the announcement on these sanctions, we had an opportunity to repeat his Statement in the House. I do not really want to repeat everything that I said then.

We very much welcome these actions, in particular the co-operation with other states. I totally agree that, for sanctions to be effective, we must work in conjunction with others—certainly the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the EU. I have no problems with that. However, at the time, I asked that we not limit ourselves to those countries. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, what we are doing to ensure that we get broader co-operation on these sanctions, not least with some of the Commonwealth members that could have an impact here.

As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, indicated, we have discussed and raised the human rights abuses mentioned by the Minister. One area that we are particularly concerned about is the attacks on freedom of speech and the operation of journalists, not least the impact of this on the BBC World Service and the people who work for it—including the threats that have been applied to the families of BBC World Service employees. It would be good if the Minister could mention that—in particular the activities of this rogue state in threatening our citizens, not only abroad but here—in relation to how we will co-operate across Whitehall in addressing these issues. It is important for us to be reassured on that point.

We very much welcome the regulations and their broad nature. We are certainly committed to supporting any efforts to contain Iran and counter its efforts to sponsor terrorism across the globe, not least in supporting the Houthi terrorists operating in Yemen.

There is another question. I will not repeat the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—particularly on the operation of licences, which we have raised before. I totally understand why the conventions that we are signed up to permit that but it would be good to have a detailed explanation. However, one thing I have raised is this: while it is one thing to designate sanctions and agree with other countries about designating them, they must be effective. What I mean is, what are we doing to ensure that we can see the evidence that the Government are actually prosecuting sanctions evasions? People may not realise that there are consequences for evading the sanctions but may face severe consequences, so I would be particularly keen to hear how we are supporting actions to chase people who evade or seek to evade sanctions, or even offer services to facilitate their evasion. These are really important areas.

Of course, we then have the issue of the sunset sanctions from the JCPOA. What are we doing there? These regulations are part of that but what are we doing to beef up some of the designations of Iranian targets? It would be really important to understand that. With those brief comments, I reiterate our support for these regulations, as we did in December.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords for their questions and their support for this measure. I want to address the important issues that they raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the judiciary. He is absolutely right that the judiciary in Iran is not independent. It is an agent of the state and its members are part of the architecture of that state, which has caused some of the grossest human rights abuses. They are available to be sanctioned. We have sanctioned members of that judiciary and will continue to do so as and when we get evidence to support doing that. He also asked about safe and legal routes. We are always looking at this issue. It is obviously a responsibility of the Home Office, with which we work closely; we also work internationally to make sure that safe and legal routes exist. I am very happy to give the noble Lord a more detailed briefing on that.

The noble Lord is absolutely right about the proxies and other states, individuals and companies through which the Iranian Government operate. We work with the EU, as well as with our partners in the US, Canada and many other countries, to try to ensure that a comprehensive regime exists. The Secretary of State can take urgent action under our sanctions regime to replicate sanctions that are implemented by the US and Canada. We will certainly take that action as soon as it is required, and can do so at great speed. Very often, the information comes out in relation to a particular incident or individual, and sometimes that requires speedy action. The Foreign Secretary and the Government are happy to move quickly on that and keep noble Lords informed about what we are doing.

The issue of facilitators is perhaps more relevant to the next SI but it is absolutely right that the noble Lord raised it. Unlike Iran, we are a free country with independent institutions, such as the judiciary. However despicable an individual’s acts, whether the crime is a murder or whether, in a case such as this, an individual feels that they have been wrongly sanctioned, they must have the ability to be supported by the legal system. No one argues with that; where we have a problem is with some people who have made a lot of money out of dirty money coming into the UK. We want to ensure that they are given the full glare of publicity and are understood to have been part of the problem.

17:00
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rightly talked about malicious legal cases, which can have a huge impact on the taxpayer and delay the system under which we have operated, particularly on asset freezes. This can be more complicated if a country such as Iran is using proxy organisations, of course, but we remain absolutely determined to shine a light on any state or individual actor being used by Iran to avoid sanctions. We will make sure that those matters are kept under constant review.
I note the noble Lord’s point about shipping. He is absolutely right that there is no point in denying a ship access to our waters and ports if they can just go to a near neighbour. That is why we work extremely closely with the International Maritime Organization and others to try to make sure that we have a universal system that is accepted across the world.
We have sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC in its entirety, in response to the regime’s human rights violations, nuclear escalation and terrorism. Since the protests began in October, we have sanctioned 204 individuals and entities, including 54 linked to the IRGC. Our sanctions against Iran account for a significant proportion of our sanctions work across the department.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about broader co-operation. This is a matter of great priority for the G7, which is doing great work in looking at asset seizures and making sure that we have both a comprehensive regime across our allies and actions that work in lockstep with those countries.
It has rightly been said that all areas of responsibility of the British Government must be part of this. The UK sanctions regime applies in all UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies, either by Orders in Council or through each jurisdiction’s own legislation. The United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories stand united in condemning the Russian Government’s aggression and the behaviour of the Iranian Government, and are working in lockstep with us to enforce UK sanctions, including freezing over $9 billion of assets. Each territory’s Government are responsible for the implementation and enforcement of sanctions within their territory. We and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation provide technical support through the targeted use of EDI funds to build capacity and strengthen sanctions enforcement with other restrictions.
Both noble Lords talked about how we are judging and reviewing this mechanism and making sure that we are creating a transparent system that holds us to account. The creation of the Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation was announced on 11 December. This new unit will strengthen the implementation and enforcement of our trade sanctions and ensure that UK sanctions are as impactful as possible. We will also legislate to give the OTSI a toolkit of civil enforcement powers, including the ability to levy civil monetary penalties, similar to the powers of the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation. These new civil enforcement powers will complement HMRC’s existing criminal enforcement powers in relation to trade sanctions. The OTSI will become fully operational this year, once it has its new legal powers, and more information on timing will be available in due course.
We have listened closely to the concerns of industry, particularly in the light of Ukraine. We want to support and foster better understanding and compliance with the UK’s trade sanctions. I think that covers most of the questions.
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I thank the Minister; he has been very generous in responding to our points. I am still a little unclear with regard to the issue of Crown dependencies and the overseas territories when it comes to some of the shipping aspects. I would be happy for the Minister to write to me about this. I hope that I am not correct that, while a sanctioned individual and, therefore, vessel, would be prohibited from landing in UK waters, it would be able to land in the waters of overseas territories or Crown dependencies. This would be very attractive to that potential vessel, especially to individuals or an individual’s vessels. As I said, I would be happy if the Minister could write to me to clarify that point as I was not entirely sure of his response.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I entirely accept the noble Lord’s point. I want to give myself the clear comfort that he seeks. It is not the case that a vessel or an individual not allowed into United Kingdom waters or ports, or to receive refuge in any form, can then go to a Crown dependency or overseas territory and get access. What I hope I said was that these measures cover all our overseas territories and Crown dependencies. However, I will write to him because I want to make absolutely certain that we are being clear.

I have been seeking inspiration for that reply and have now received a note; I may be able to avoid writing him a letter. There is an overseas territory order that applies on legislation. The UK sanctions regime applies in all United Kingdom overseas territories and Crown dependencies. I think I have just saved a stamp.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister. However, I think that the exemption would be an exemption from that order because it is an exemption under this order. If there is an exception for authorised conduct in a relevant country and the relevant country is the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or a British Overseas Territory, I do not know the interaction between the exception that we are approving under this when it comes to the overall application of UK sanctions to the overseas territories. I understand that the overseas territories have that application owing to that other instrument but this is an exception to that.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I understand the noble Lord’s concerns. I am informed that he need not worry but I want to make sure that he does not worry; I will therefore put it in a letter to him.

These measures represent a step forward in our capability to respond to hostile Iranian activity and keep our people safe. The UK Government are committed to using sanctions to hold the Iranian regime to account for its malign activity, both in the UK and elsewhere.

Motion agreed.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:07
Moved by
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 8th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations amend the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These instruments were laid on 14 December 2023 under powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. They entered into force on 15 and 26 December 2023, and 1 January 2024. The instrument has been considered and not reported on by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

These instruments contain trade and financial measures, co-ordinated with our international partners, to increase the pressure on Putin over his brutal and illegal war against Ukraine. They ratchet up the pressure on Russia’s war machine and economy as part of the most severe package of economic sanctions that that country has ever faced.

The No. 4 regulations continue the UK Government’s commitment to ban the export of all items that have been used by Russia on the battlefields to date. Building on existing extensive prohibitions, these regulations ban the export of further products that could be used by the Russian military or industry, including electronics and machine parts. The legislation also delivers on commitments made by the Prime Minister at the G7 leaders’ summit last May to ban imports of Russian metals, including copper, aluminium and nickel, by the end of 2023. It extends the existing prohibition on luxury goods to include a ban on services ancillary to their movement and use. This means that those subject to UK sanctions can no longer provide financial services and funds, technical assistance and brokering services related to luxury goods.

There are also amendments to other product definitions and coding to ensure clarity and consistency with partners. On the financial side, this includes new obligations for persons designated under the Russia financial sanctions regime to report any assets that they own, hold or control in the UK or worldwide as a UK person to the relevant authorities. A further requirement has been placed on relevant firms to inform HM Treasury of any foreign exchange reserves and assets belonging to the central bank of Russia, the Russian Ministry of Finance or the Russian National Wealth Fund.

The regulations also amend existing regulations that prohibit UK credit and financial institutions processing sterling payments that have travelled to, from or via sanctioned credit and financial institutions, in order to expand this prohibition to include non-sterling payments. The prohibition adds a new exception to enable UK credit and financial institutions to transfer funds internally in certain circumstances for the purpose of compliance and regulation.

Finally, alongside the No. 4 regulations, we have introduced a new financial sanctions licensing ground to support UK entities in divesting their Russian interests. The licensing ground will also permit UK entities to buy out investments from designated persons and the Russian state, provided those funds go into a frozen account. We will proceed with a further prohibition on ancillary services related to metals when this can be done in concert with international partners.

The No. 5 regulations deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment, made at the G7 summit last May, to tackle the revenue that Russia generates from the export of diamonds. They prohibit the import, acquisition, supply and delivery of diamonds and diamond jewellery produced by Russia. A further G7-wide ban on the import of Russian diamonds processed in third countries is expected to come into force from 1 March this year.

I should add that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has been informed of a minor drafting error in the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2023. To remedy this, we have identified another instrument where this error can be corrected; we aim to lay it this later this year, with it coming into force as soon as possible. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, with some detail on this; it is important that I put this part of my letter on the record. We consider that the Russian regulations can stand as they are in the meantime because, although the incorrect terminology was used, the exceptions set out in Regulation 60DC(2)(d) of the Russia regulations remain clear. The Government plan to lay a separate miscellaneous sanctions amendment statutory instrument later this year, as I said. I hope that, with that assurance, I can give the Committee the absolute understanding that this minor drafting mistake does not impact on the measure.

These latest measures demonstrate our determination to target those who participate in or facilitate Putin’s illegal war. Overall, the UK has sanctioned more than 1,900 individuals and entities, of which 1,700 individuals have been sanctioned since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. More than £20 billion-worth of UK-Russia trade is now under sanction, resulting in a 94% fall in Russian imports into the UK—comparing one year pre invasion to one year post invasion—as well as a 74% fall in UK exports to Russia.

Sanctions are working. Russia is increasingly isolated, cut off from western markets, services and supply chains. Key sectors of the Russian economy have fallen off a cliff, and its economic outlook is bleak. The UK Government will continue to use sanctions to ratchet up the pressure until Putin ends his brutal invasion of Ukraine. We welcome the clear and continued cross-party support for this action. I beg to move.

17:15
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the instruments. My party supports them. I am grateful to the Minister for outlining them in clear terms. I understand that it is a long-held practice that, if Ministers write to inform about new things, they write to both Front Benches. I do not think I received the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the Minister referred to.

I have just two points to raise. One is to welcome the diamonds element that was announced at the G7. I know there have been questions about how long it took, but nevertheless we are grateful that it is there. I have often raised Russia benefiting from the continuing gold trade, which is illegitimate and channelled through the Gulf. I would be grateful if this could be raised. On Friday, we will have a full-day debate on Ukraine, in which we will raise wider issues.

I have a question about the figures for the impact of the sanctions so far, to which the Minister referred. I read his colleague Leo Docherty MP citing the same statistics about UK imports from Russia falling by 94% but our exports to Russia falling by 74%. I have not been able to find a breakdown of the sectors, and I would be grateful if the Minister could provide one in writing because I am curious about why there is a differential, and why sanctions have been more impactful for the UK importing goods from Russia than for exports, which is what we should be trying to target. As the Government say, if sanctions are working, we need to be able see that.

My second question is about the ability to effectively buy frozen assets, which the Minister raised. This will require further consideration and debate because there could well be some complexities with regard to it, especially in the context of the decision made by the EU yesterday to approve a windfall tax on frozen assets. I believe the UK should be moving ahead on this. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline His Majesty’s Government’s policy on this because it could be significant. The Minister referred to sums of £20 billion. As I understand it, the EU has estimated that it would be able to utilise €2.3 billion in interest and taxes on the assets alone. Given that €125 billion-worth went through Euroclear Belgium and €300 million is immobilised across Europe as a whole, the decision to have a windfall tax on that means it could be used to benefit Ukraine. I hope that allowing entities to buy frozen assets would not mean that, if the UK were to decide to recover the interest on the assets by having a windfall tax on them, that would effectively mean that those assets would be frozen not just from the Russians whom we are sanctioning but effectively from the Ukrainian people, who should be able to benefit from taking interest or a windfall tax or recovering them. I hope the Minister can provide clarity on those points.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I very much welcome these additional amendments on further sanctions. I certainly welcome the fact that we are focusing on trying to weaken the war machine that this illegal invasion of Ukraine is supporting. I certainty welcome Regulation 5, on luxury goods, too.

In the previous debate, the Minister mentioned the Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation, which aims to crack down on sanctions evasion. I very much welcome that because, as I mentioned, we have seen before evidence of companies circumventing the sanctions. He also mentioned the toolkit, which will, I hope, enable us to avoid repeating some mistakes made in the past. It would be good to better engage on how we will support this new office.

One thing that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has raised previously is this: how do we ensure that Britain’s offshore financial centres are properly able to implement the sanctions? Of course, we have been extremely concerned about transparency and the need to introduce public beneficial ownership registers speedily. Without them, we will not be able to see exactly what UK firms or individuals are up to. With opaque entities, sanctions will sometimes be evaded, though perhaps not deliberately. We need to address this properly.

The Government recently updated Parliament with another timeline for the expected delivery of public registers. However, I note that the British Virgin Islands will not have its appropriate frameworks in place as late as 2025. I hope that the Minister will express the same opinion as me: that this is too late and we really need to speed things up.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis—I nearly called him Lord Putin then—mentioned frozen assets. We will certainly address them in our debate on Friday. Since we also raised this issue in Oral Questions, I note that the Foreign Secretary—the noble Lord, Lord Cameron—mentioned his belief at Davos that frozen assets are an issue that need international co-operation. Can the Minister give us a bit more detail on that?

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also referred to the stats that were mentioned by the Minister. I have here a letter dated 19 January from Anne-Marie Trevelyan. It repeats those figures but she says that we have

“sanctioned more than £20 billion of UK-Russia goods trade, contributing to a 99% drop in UK goods imports from Russia and a 82% drop in UK goods exports to Russia”.

I do not know why there is a difference there, especially as it is so recently put. I welcome that letter because it gives a lot of detailed information. One thing that Minister Trevelyan says, in referring to metals, diamonds, oil and stuff, is what we have addressed before: the leakage that seems to happen, particularly with luxury goods. Her letter says:

“The UK, EU and US have sent joint delegations to the UAE, Kazakhstan … Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Armenia, and we have delivered senior bilateral engagement with Turkey and Serbia, yielding positive results”.


I am not sure from the letter whether we have received positive results from all of these visits.

I was in Tbilisi late last year, and I noted that there was a big increase in the import of luxury cars into Georgia. It was also reported that, since the war, trade going from Georgia into Russia has increased, despite its public position. I welcome the fact that we have sent delegations and that the Minister is saying that there are positive results, but can he tell us exactly what they are? Even from my observations, it certainly looks as though there is an ability to evade sanctions.

With those brief comments, I reiterate the Opposition’s position: we are absolutely at one with the Government in supporting Ukraine and ensuring effective sanctions against Russia’s illegal invasion. We welcome these amendments to the sanctions regulations.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I again thank both noble Lords for their interest and support for these measures. I will seek to answer all the questions raised. I will ensure that future letters go to both Front Benches; I apologise to the noble Lord for missing him out in that exchange.

Gold is a sanctionable trade. Sometimes it is harder to detect, but it is certainly an element of trade that is within the sanctions regime.

I cannot give the noble Lord a breakdown of the sectors that create the 74%. I do not know why there is a discrepancy with the letter he received from my colleague Anne-Marie Trevelyan, but I will look into it. My understanding is that there has been a 96% reduction in trade from Russia and a 74% reduction in trade in the other direction. That will have caused hardship to some legitimate businesses, and we respect that, but this is an international incident which requires the strongest possible response, and our sanctions regime has had to take this decision.

I will write to both noble Lords about the buying of frozen assets and what impact that could have if those assets were then released, say, to Ukraine, to help pay for the war. We want to make sure that we are not diminishing the amount that that country should get to pay for the damage that has been done to it.

The G7 has repeatedly underscored that Russia’s obligations under international law are clear: it must pay for the damage it has caused to Ukraine. How we ensure that Russia does so is the subject of active and urgent discussions with G7 partners. Leaders have tasked the relevant G7 Ministers to report back on progress by the two-year mark of Russia’s invasion at the end of February. The UK remains fully committed to working with allies to pursue all lawful routes through which Russian assets can be used to support Ukraine.

While these G7 discussions continue, we have taken a number of steps domestically. We were the first to introduce legislation explicitly enabling us to keep sanctions in place until Russia pays for the damage it has caused; we have announced a route by which sanctioned individuals who want to do the right thing can donate frozen funds for Ukraine’s reconstruction; we introduced new powers to compel sanctioned individuals and entities to disclose assets they hold in the UK; and we are stepping up efforts to use funds from the sale of Chelsea Football Club to support humanitarian causes in Ukraine.

The noble Lord referred to the EU’s proposal to use the profits being incurred by funds trapped in Euroclear to support Ukraine. We are looking closely at that, but this situation is unique to the EU’s institutions. We and other G7 partners fully support the EU’s efforts but we do not believe that we can replicate them within our system. However, we are looking at any opportunities to increase the pressure. As I say, the EU’s proposal is unique to its institutions and we want to ensure that we use our frozen assets regime as effectively as possible.

17:30
Through a separate annual frozen asset review process, £21.6 billion of assets were reported frozen due to UK financial sanctions regulations, across all sanction regimes, as of 30 September 2022. This £21.6 billion is a marked increase on the frozen asset review 2021 figure of £12.4 billion, provided in the OFSI annual report. This included £7.9 billion reported under the Russia sanctions regime, an increase from £44.5 million in 2021.
We want to make our position on overseas territories absolutely clear. They are self-governing jurisdictions, responsible for their own financial services regulation. There should be no safe havens for illicit funds and the OTs are committed to meeting the highest standards in tackling illicit finance, including those set by the Financial Action Task Force. UK and OT senior officials met the British Virgin Islands between 12 and 14 September 2023 as part of a ministerial-level annual dialogue on tackling illicit finance. The OTs already share confidential information on company beneficial ownerships with UK law enforcement bodies via exchange-of-notes arrangements.
I will finish by setting out what has happened recently. Over the last few months, Ukraine has pushed significant parts of the Black Sea fleet out of Crimea and opened up export routes that do not depend on Russia. This has assisted its economy. Russia remains internationally isolated: in the last few weeks, it has failed to get elected on to the Human Rights Council—it would have been a hideous result if it had been. It has failed to get on to the International Court of Justice, the executive board of UNESCO, the council of the International Maritime Organization and the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and rightly so.
Since February 2022, total military, humanitarian and economic support has been more than £3.9 billion; we have given £4.7 billion in non-military support to Ukraine. With our allies, we are providing the military and economic capabilities that Ukraine requires, including winter support. We are maintaining pressure on Russia’s ability to wage its war of aggression, including through sanctions, and supporting Ukraine to export its goods, including grain. This includes ensuring that the maritime corridor it has established is secure against Russian attacks and commercially viable. We have helped to develop a private sector insurance facility for shipping, using the corridor, and are working with allies to support our military-industrial complexes to provide the sustainable support that Ukraine needs.
In Kyiv this month, the Prime Minister announced a further £8 million to fortify and rebuild Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and a number of events are coming up where further international collaboration on this can be achieved. For example, at the UK-hosted European Political Community in the spring and at NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington in July, we want to make sure of this continued level of support. The programme we are debating can be seen in the context of that wide international support.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about public registers. I will write to him on that because I want to make sure we get that absolutely right. I have said what we are doing with BVI but there are other issues relating to that.
In terms of other countries’ trade with Russia—not just its neighbours—we monitor that and use our status in various diplomatic organisations, not least the UN, to ensure that we are putting pressure, with our allies, on other countries not to liberalise their trade with that country. In doing so, we show our support for the Russian people but our condemnation of the Russian regime, which is stealing money from its people and putting them in danger, not least on the front line in Ukraine and through its horrendous human rights abuses.
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Can I just interrupt the Minister on this point? It is something that I picked up from Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s letter of 19 January, where she talks about these joint delegations “yielding positive results”. I agree with the Minister that this is not about attacking the Russian people but is about luxury goods, which are certainly leaking in. I wondered what the Minister meant in her letter about yielding positive results. Do we have figures on that? Has there been an impact on the trade, which seems to be leaking?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am sure that we do have figures, although I do not have them here. I will write to the noble Lord setting out what successes we are having in those negotiations and bilateral discussions.

These measures are the latest addition to our package of sanctions, which is having a damaging effect on Putin’s war machine and regime. The UK Government are committed to using sanctions to keep up the pressure until Putin ends his brutal and senseless war. We in this Committee stand resolute with the people of Ukraine and will continue to support them until they prevail.

Motion agreed.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:36
Moved by
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 8th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:38
Moved by
Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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My Lords, this instrument makes changes to correct minor errors in the Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc) (Amendment) Regulations 2023—or the 2023 regulations, as I will refer to them—in relation to how the transitional arrangements for the new rules concerning proxy voting are displayed on poll cards.

The Elections Act 2022 set out a wide range of changes to numerous aspects of the electoral system. This included changes to the rules surrounding the number of people for whom an individual can act as a proxy when voting. The changes were implemented by the 2023 regulations that I have just referred to and are supported by new offences. They came into force on 31 October 2023.

The new arrangements limit the number of electors for whom a person may act as a proxy to four, of which no more than two can be domestic electors—that is, an elector who is not registered as an overseas or service voter. The 2023 regulations also updated all relevant prescribed forms, for example poll cards, to make sure that the new limits are clearly explained to electors.

To ensure a smooth change of rules, the 2023 regulations set out a transition period, which would allow proxy arrangements that had been set up prior to the new rules coming into force to continue until 31 January 2024, and longer if a poll were already under way on that date. This was to avoid a cliff edge where all pre-existing proxy arrangements were cancelled simultaneously, which could create administrative issues and could leave insufficient time for electors to reapply for new proxy arrangements.

The change in proxy rules also needed to be reflected in the information provided on elections forms, such as poll cards, and these needed to be updated for polls held during the transition period as well as for polls held after it. The 2023 regulations provided the necessary updates for the forms used for any polls for which notice was given prior to 31 January 2024—that is, until the end of the transition period. The forms for postal poll cards and proxy postal poll cards for any polls held after the transition period are set out in a different set of regulations: the Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling and Secrecy) (Amendment) Regulations 2023. However, these forms do not come into force for any polls where the day of the poll is prior to 1 May 2024. There is therefore a gap in the transitional provisions for any polls for which notice is given on or after 31 January 2024 and the day of poll is on or before 1 May 2024 where no transitional provision has been given. Any polls taking place during this time would have to use the postal poll cards and proxy postal poll cards used prior to the 2023 regulations coming into force, which would provide incorrect information on the rules and offences surrounding proxy voting.

The same gap applies in respect of postal signing petition notices and proxy postal signing petition notices for any recall petition for which the Speaker’s notice is given on or after 31 January 2024 and for which the beginning of the petition signing period is on or before 1 May 2024.

This instrument will correct the error in the 2023 regulations by adding updated information about the new voting offences for persons voting by proxy to postal poll cards and proxy postal poll cards for polls that are commenced and held during this gap. This will ensure that the proxy voting changes are clearly explained to electors and so avoid any confusion.

The instrument also amends two minor typographical errors in the 2023 regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister need not fear that I will ask any particularly difficult, tricky or awkward questions on this legislation. There is a simple explanation for that: I could not think of any. I looked at the proceedings in Committee in the other place, and nor could anyone there, so I will confine my remarks simply to a question and an observation. The observation is that we seem to have had a lot of changes to election law in the year before a general election. Does the Minister accept that there may be a greater risk of an error in the conduct of our elections as a result of the large number of changes to election law being made in the year before a general election, and with local elections in May? Could she tell us—perhaps she will write to us in due course—how many pages of legislation are in the secondary legislation instruments brought before us in the last 12 months? It seems a lot of pages.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. It corrects very minor errors in a previous statutory instrument. We are pleased that the Government are correcting the errors and understand why this instrument must be introduced. The Minister outlined the huge task as a result of the changes made in the Elections Act. I have sympathy with her in the task of introducing so many complex changes in electoral statutes. If there are other mistakes in the Elections Act that the Government want to rectify, we are happy to support them.

I have a few questions for the Minister. Is the department now examining instruments relating to the Elections Act to ensure that all other transitional arrangements are correct? Do the Government plan to lay any further regulations relating to the Elections Act prior to the elections in May? Has the Minister discussed the regulations with those responsible for implementing them?

Another concern on these Benches is that we have already stretched electoral administrators up and down the country, who are getting their heads around the changes that the Government are making, sometimes rectifying errors. This is deeply concerning. Will those electoral officers be further resourced? How will they be strengthened to deal with the impacts and changes that have been outlined today? The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, spoke about this. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

17:45
Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their succinct contributions to the debate. As noted, this statutory instrument makes minor changes to correct an error in previous ones. However, both noble Lords noted the changes that we have made through the Elections Act and those we are bringing forward through secondary legislation. When it comes to this statutory instrument, electoral law is complex and highly detailed as a result of the need to ensure that all processes are carried out in a specific fashion consistently across the country. When drafting legislation in a complex area of law such as this, small errors can occasionally occur. Through the regulations we are debating today, we are able to correct that error before it has any impact.

We are conscious of the changes that we have brought forward through the Elections Act, but we have worked carefully to sequence their implementation. Both noble Lords asked about the number of changes being made and the support and engagement we are giving to those implementing them. We are engaged carefully with those implementing the changes; we receive constant feedback from them. As I said, we have carefully sequenced the changes that we are seeking to make, conscious that we may be coming up to an election year. Of course, there is an outside chance that 2025 could be the election year, and recent experience tells us that elections can be called earlier than we may anticipate, so there is not necessarily a good time to make these changes. We also have to take into account the regular drum beat of local and mayoral elections.

On the question of resources, we have done a new burdens assessment and assigned additional resources to local authorities to make some of the changes, and they are able to apply for further funding where needed.

On the question of whether there will be any more regulations stemming from the Elections Act before the elections in May, my understanding is that there will be no further statutory instruments. As to whether we have looked at related changes that may need to be made in other statutory instruments, my understanding is that some of these provisions in relation to local elections and others were made through negative SIs, and we have already reviewed and amended them where necessary to reflect the changes that we have had to make through this correction.

Finally, I do not know whether anyone has counted the number of pages of secondary legislation, but I will go to find out, and if I can provide an answer for the noble Lord, I will certainly write to both noble Lords with that figure. With that, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.48 pm.