Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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I thank my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee. As he knows, this is an area of great interest and for further discussion, which we are indeed looking at taking forward.

I finish by saying an enormous thank you to the Bill team, who are in the Box today—Tom Ball and the rest of the clan—who have done a fantastic job on Burns night, of all times. Because it is a time for us to find that we are no longer wee and tim’rous beasties, but are instead going to look for that fair trojan of the human race, the “puddin’-race”—forgive me—I look forward very much to being freed of the Dispatch Box and skipping off to the whisky and the haggis. On that, Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Lucky Minister. I call the shadow Minister.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
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Like the Minister, I am keen to thank colleagues who have done so much and made so many valued contributions both to this Bill throughout its progress and in the debate today. I would very much like to thank the Bill team for the excellent work they have done, as always supporting us through our work and on many occasions helping to shed light where there was more or less total confusion, so we really appreciate that. I also thank our own staff. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and I are very fortunate to have wonderful teams supporting us—particularly colleagues such as Joe Bishop, Danny Hathaway and Joe Jervis—who have done so much in our teams to help us to get to this point.

It is worth just casting our minds back to October, when the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and stated that he wanted a Government of “integrity, accountability and professionalism”. Well, we are almost 100 days into his tenure, so we are bound to take stock of how that is going, and I think it is fair to say that progress has been somewhat mixed. His Home Secretary has committed multiple breaches of the ministerial code, his chairman has just been exposed for tax avoidance on a massive scale and his claims—

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Order. Mr Kinnock, you are going really wide of the mark on Third Reading. Please could you focus on the Bill that is having its Third Reading?

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
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Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was just about to make the point that the Home Secretary has talked of learning the lessons from the golden visas issue, but she still has not published the full report. Of course, we have seen many oligarchs getting those visas since the invasion of Crimea, so I would contend that that is directly relevant to the debate we are having today.

That is the key point. It is about striving for integrity, professionalism and accountability. Of course the Bill offers an outstanding opportunity to deliver the change we all want to see. As we have said on many occasions, it is a step in the right direction and we are supporting it on Third Reading, but of course it still does not go far enough on SLAPPs, golden visas, information sharing, corporate transparency, corporate criminal liability, compensating victims or, indeed, structures for enforcement.

That final point is critical. We can have all the laws we want, but if we do not enforce them—whether we are talking about economic crime or anything else—they are pointless. These were points that Bill Browder made forcefully during the evidence that he gave to our Committee and, on cryptocurrency, that the expert Aidan Larkin made in a recent meeting with me. So we need to ensure that the agencies and institutions that should be fighting the illicit finance we all want to combat are given the resources they need, and are given the political support and licence to operate they have to have if they are going to be able to deliver on what we want them to deliver.

In conclusion, the fact is that we have left the back door open and allowed our country to become a kind of fixer for the world’s dictators, kleptocrats and gangsters. We cannot go around the world preaching about the rule of law and transparency until we get our own house in order. We should not have to wait for the next “Panama Papers” or the illegal invasion of another country to force us into taking action. I said at the outset of the debate that the Opposition have approached this Bill in a spirit of constructive engagement. That has not changed and it will not change. However, we have not so far seen from Ministers sufficient openness to input from Opposition Members, or even from many of their own Back Benchers, but we welcome the remarks that the Minister made in his winding-up speech. We look forward to the progress that we wish to see being made in the other place as rapidly as possible. It is not too late, there is still time, and I genuinely hope that the remaining stages of the Bill will see the gaps filled, the loopholes closed, and the opportunities seized.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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I thank everybody who has contributed to the Bill. It has been a cross-party and worthwhile effort, and everybody who has been part of it has felt that. I hope the Government do their bit and take that cross-party effort in the spirit in which we meant it. We want to improve the Bill and for it to do everything it can do right now, rather than waiting for some distant point in the future when we come back and say, “We’ve still got these problems and this Bill, which could have addressed them, has not.” We have been there before. We had the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, and other Bills while I have been in this House could have addressed or fixed these problems, yet we are here again today still not fixing all the problems. Who knows when parliamentary time will allow us to pass this way again.

I thank the experts who have given so much evidence to us individually and as parliamentarians in Committee and other places. In particular I thank Helena Wood of the Royal United Services Institute, Duncan Hames of Transparency International, Bill Browder, Oliver Bullough and Graham Barrow, the expert on Companies House. He has had his own health issues but has continued to campaign on Companies House. We wish him well and a speedy recovery, and all the best with his treatment.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). He came on board with this Bill and was very supportive and helpful throughout its passage, raising the issue of phoenixing, which is of concern to many of our constituents. I encourage the Government to look at how they can fix phoenixing, and ensure that our constituents and companies based in our constituencies do not fall victim to companies that seek to abuse the system in such a way. I give great thanks to the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) who has been such a tremendous champion for all these issues over a long period. Her expertise, her contribution, and the way that she convenes people within this place has been incredibly important for this agenda, and I cannot thank her enough for that work.

I thank the Clerks and the Bill team for all they have done to help support us throughout the passage of the Bill. Putting together all the amendments is not easy, and under pressures of time they have been incredibly helpful in putting them together for us. I also thank Mhairi Love in my own office, and Sarah Callaghan in the SNP research office. Again, they have been incredibly helpful in putting together research on all these areas, and putting up with me when I go down a big rabbit hole of all the things about economic crime that live in my head most of the time. They have been very helpful indeed over the course of things.

I want to make an announcement, Mr Deputy Speaker, before everybody departs—[Interruption.] I am not going to the Government Benches; the Minister is welcome over here any time. I am not sure that his constituents would expect him to be an SNP Member, but any time he feels the need that is fine. As it is Burns Night, there is haggis in the canteen, and I encourage everybody to partake and get their honest, sonsie faces over to the canteen before it goes. I am looking forward to mine. Not related in any way to the Bill, the Ayrshire Fiddlers—not that kind of fiddlers—are in Strangers Bar, and Members should go and see them because they are very good indeed. Crucially for this Bill they are playing the fiddle and they are not on the fiddle, so please go and give them your support.

I finish with some lines from our national bard:

“O, wad some power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us,

An’ foolish notion.”

I ask Ministers to reflect on how others will see the Bill and make amendments to it in the other place to make it befitting of the commitment that we all have to seeing economic crime removed.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Happy Burns Night, everyone.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.