Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is the first time I have had the privilege of speaking under your chairmanship on these matters. It is also a pleasure to see so many of the usual faces on this matter. Many of us have gone over these questions in Committee and, actually, in the many years beforehand in various different ways, so it is an enormous privilege to be here. It is particularly a privilege to be speaking after the Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) did such a brilliant job yesterday. I am only picking up where he left off, so I am afraid the second act will not be nearly as compelling as the first.

All those who participated in the Bill Committee gave enormous insights into various different perceptions of how we should be thinking about economic crime and corporate transparency. We have had many interesting debates, and I thank enormously those who have taken part in the various different ways. The fact that we have a two-day debate on Report speaks pretty clearly about the significant size and complexity of this Bill.

Yesterday, we debated parts 1 to 3, which cover Companies House reform and corporate transparency. Today, we turn our attention to parts 4 to 6. The clauses in part 4 create new powers that allow law enforcement to more quickly and easily seize and recover cryptoassets. The creation of the civil forfeiture power for cryptoassets will mitigate the risk posed by those who cannot be criminally prosecuted, but who use their funds to further criminality or for terrorist purposes. This did not prove to be particularly contentious in Committee.

In part 5 of the Bill, we are making it easier for businesses to share information more effectively with each other and with law enforcement to prevent and detect economic crime. We are also creating new exemptions to reduce unnecessary reporting by businesses carrying out transactions on behalf of their customers. We are also giving frontline legal services regulators enhanced enforcement powers to support them as they uphold the economic crime agenda within their regulated community.

I will briefly summarise the amendments we have tabled relating to parts 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill. Many of them address the debate that took place in Committee and will ensure that the Bill works as intended. I should acknowledge that the amendments are perhaps slightly greater in number than we would have liked. The vast majority—amendments 51 and 57 to 100—are minor technical or consequential amendments to ensure that the detail of the cryptoasset measures will work effectively and can be used as soon as possible. That reflects the technical detail of the subject area and the need to make the changes work for each of the jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that are covered by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

I now turn to the more substantive Government amendments. New clause 14 allows the Solicitors Regulation Authority to proactively request information from its regulated community for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the economic crime regime. It will enable the SRA to monitor and detect breaches of the rules and legislation related to economic crime, including offences related to money laundering, terrorist financing and sanctions.

Government amendments 44 to 47 to clauses 171 and 172 concern information orders. They seek to clarify the cases in which the information order power can be used and to provide clarity to operational partners about how they should be used. They will ensure that the power can be used only for the criminal intelligence functions of the National Crime Agency, and that when assessing a request for information from a foreign intelligence unit, the NCA must be satisfied that the information would support the FIU’s intelligence function.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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On the SRA, will the Bill address the strategic lawsuits against public participation that we have been discussing for the last couple of days, or does it purely concern money laundering and other offences unrelated to SLAPPs?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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The Bill is concerned only with economic crime and corporate transparency, and the regulations will cover only that. Many Ministers, including the Lord Chancellor, have spoken about SLAPPs—I will touch on them later—but the reality is that they require a separate jurisdiction and a separate Bill.

Government amendments 48 and 49 concern information sharing. In Committee, Opposition Members rightly pointed out that our proposed definition of large accountancy firms did not include insolvency practitioners, auditors and tax advisers. I thank them for that. These amendments will rectify that omission by expanding the scope of the indirect information sharing clauses to include those sectors.

In addition to the Government amendments, several other amendments on a broad range of topics will be debated today. As in Committee, I look forward to what I anticipate will be a lively but extremely well-considered debate. The contributions of all hon. Members who participated in earlier debates have helped to shape the Bill into an effective tool to tackle illicit finance and ensure that the UK is a great place to do legitimate business.

I know that there are places where hon. Members would like the Bill to go further and do more. Indeed, I am as keen as many of them to solve some of the outstanding problems that we all wish to address, but we need to ensure that those ambitions are delivered in the most effective way and that we use the appropriate legislative vehicles to ensure that they have the desired outcome. Limiting the scope to just economic crime can, in several cases, create more problems than it solves, and I assure right hon. and hon. Members that I have strenuously tested what can be effectively delivered within the scope of the Bill.

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Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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The right hon. Gentleman is extremely kind about my former work and, typically, slightly less so about my current employ. He can be assured that, no doubt, it will be temporary, as it is for all occupants.

That matter has seized my attention and has been of some interest to me in further discussions in different areas. I will not put a time on it, because it is not my ministerial responsibility; the right hon. Gentleman will know from his time in Government that talking across other Ministers’ briefs does not always help to advance the case. I assure him, however, that it has come up frequently in conversation with an intent to bring something forward. As I said, the Lord Chancellor has spoken about it to highlight that it is an area where various elements of change are necessary, so I look forward to hearing the proposals as they come forward. I certainly do not think that the matter can wait. We have sadly seen SLAPPs used against such inspiring examples as Eliot Higgins and Catherine Belton, who have stood up for justice in this country and around the world.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will the Minister give way?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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I will not, because I am going to close.

Despite all the areas that we could have gone into, and would like to go into at a different time, the Bill is closely focused on economic crime and corporate transparency for the purpose of passing a series of measures that are essential to ensure that we keep our country safe and our economic jurisdictions clean.