Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Excerpts
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, this seems an appropriate group on which to end Committee. It seems almost as if we have gone full circle, as there has been a similar theme throughout the debates at Second Reading and in Committee.

This group of amendments brings two things to the debate. When I spoke first today I made the point about the tension between us recognising the inadequacies of the Bill, with the comments made about ECB 2—which has now become part of the common language of your Lordships’ House—alongside acknowledging the necessity of the legislation. However, it also shows the determination—I am distracted by someone talking—of your Lordships’ House to make sure that the legislation is effective.

The only way we can do that is through the kinds of reviews that have been talked about, to ensure that, when we come to ECB 2, we will use the information—both the positives and the negatives as regards whether this legislation is working—to ensure that we can plug the gaps and take on other issues. I hope to see Companies House issues in the next legislation as well. On the issues we have been talking about—the resources needed, the commitment needed and the reports to Parliament—unless we have those reviews and assessments in place, we will not be able to do what needs to be done in ECB 2 or to plug any gaps we find here. Some kind of assessment, perhaps on the timescales envisaged in the amendment—an annual review to Parliament seems a very sensible way forward—are absolutely essential.

The only thing I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, on is the importance of getting regulations as quickly as possible. I hope that, alongside those regulations, we will see some kind of impact assessment. Unless the Government know at least in part the impact that the regulations will have, there is no point in tabling them. We would not want to delay essential regulations in waiting for that but it is important that we have more information at all times.

I will flag up something that I raised in an earlier debate and which the Whip who was answering for the Government did not respond to. We hope that, when we come back on Report, we will have a commitment that we will see ECB 2 in the next Session of Parliament. We also want an assurance that that will be early in that Session. We have seen already that there is huge expertise in your Lordships’ House and that, when we have proper time for debate, we have better legislation. One of the saddest things about this Session of Parliament is that we have only just had the Second Reading of the Elections Bill. We have weeks to go and we are trying to cram a quart into a pint pot, and, having been here at two and three o’clock in the morning, I do not think that is a great way to make laws. I hope that we will see something of this importance very early on in the next Session of Parliament, which will enable this House to use its expertise to have proper debates and make a proper contribution.

All that remains to be said is that we want to have reviews in whatever form they take. These reviews and assessments will be absolutely essential if we are in any way serious about making this work.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for these amendments. I must admit that, as we reach the end of Committee, I find myself in a somewhat novel position as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Minister to your Lordships’ House, talking to some amendments which have been raised in other departments. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have engaged directly with my noble friend Lord Callanan, my noble friend Lady Williams and me on various issues.

I thank all Front-Benchers for their direct engagement. It was an intense weekend of toing and froing for many people, but again, it shows the best of your Lordships’ House when we come together on such an important issue. Talking more broadly as the Sanctions Minister and the FCDO Minister, everyone understands the importance of getting the Bill through at the earliest opportunity, and I am grateful for noble Lords’ engagement in Committee.

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Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey (UUP)
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Before the Minister sits down, while progress has been made on providing funding for the investigatory bodies, given that we expect imminent and immediate impact on investigations from the passage of the Bill, what assurance can he give the Committee that personnel with the necessary qualifications and experience will be available in the very short term, even though the funding may be following them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, within the agencies, particularly the NCA, of course we have great expertise and insights. I cannot provide the noble Lord with specific numbers but, as I said earlier, the Government very much stand by the principle that in introducing these regulations and these new powers, and when it comes to the implementation of our sanctions policy, we need to ensure that we are fully and appropriately resourced so that those people who are sanctioned can be acted upon.

Lord Burnett Portrait Lord Burnett (LD)
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Further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has the Minister consulted the Inland Revenue, which deals with anti-avoidance matters on a daily basis and has considerable expertise in these matters, and in the artificial transactions that often occur and come under its scrutiny?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I stray into the work of other departments—both the Home Office and the Treasury—but I can assure noble Lords that this is an all-of-government approach, ensuring that not only are we acting appropriately in whatever department we need to act, but of course that there is appropriate funding and support for the actions we are taking.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who have taken part in this short debate. I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response. My probing amendment applied to Part 4 of the Bill, of course—so, to all regulations made under it—but I understand exactly where he was coming from on the sanctions provisions.

As we are short of time, I will dispense with the customary summary of the excellent points that have been made this evening, except to emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that I am as keen as anyone else to avoid delay. I was glad that she also saw value in impact assessments appropriately tabled.

I think there is a measure of agreement across the Committee on the need for adequate enforcement of the provisions in the Bill and on the need to provide the necessary resources. I will return to this matter, to the idea of effectiveness reviews and indeed to the various regulations, in due course. I agree with my noble friend the Minister that the House has worked well on this Bill to get it through Committee in such a short time—but for now I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.