MPs push amendment to force government action on tax havens

20 Dec 16

A cross-party group of MPs are to try to push the government into cleaning up the UK’s tax havens, which include some of the most notorious in the world.

Led by former chair of the Public Accounts Committee and fair tax advocate Margaret Hodge, the MPs are backing an amendment to a new anti-corruption bill that would bring UK overseas territories in line with the same transparency standards as the rest of the country.

If the amendment, which is backed by 80 MPs from eight different parties,  is successful, it could help open up some of the world’s most secretive tax jurisdictions, including the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and a number of other UK territories.

Hodge pointed out that over half of the companies exposed by the Panama Papers leaks were registered in the BVI. She said the “UK is at the centre of a global web of tax havens which are costing UK taxpayers and developing countries huge sums of money”.

Previous attempts to bring them in line voluntarily, namely by former prime minister David Cameron “over three years ago”, have failed, she continued.

“Since then we have seen dither from the UK and delay from our overseas territories. Our amendment would ensure that our overseas territories are given a clear time frame in which they need to agree the transparency which is vital to tackle corruption.”

The amendment would be to the Criminal Finances Bill, currently making its way through parliament and dubbed some of the most significant anti-corruption legislation in decades by Transparency International.

It would require the UK government to “provide all reasonable assistance” to those of the overseas territories in launching public registers listing the true owners of secretive companies registered in their jurisdictions by December 2018.

By December the following year, the government would also have to set legislation that would require the overseas territories that have not done so already to establish a public register of beneficial ownership.

Hodge said giving the overseas territories three years to prepare for change is “reasonable” and that the UK government would have to help them adjust their economies, some of which are centred on financial industries.

The proposals are supported by over 80 MPs from the Labour and Conservative parties, the Scottish National Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, Plaid Cymru, the LibDems and the Green Party. Backers include former Conservative international develop secretary Andrew Mitchell, former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

Non governmental organisations including Christian Aid, Save the Children, Global Witness, Transparency International, ActionAid, Oxfam and “many others” also back the bill.

“The government said it supports public registers of beneficial ownership in principle,” Hodge stated. “They now have to put their principle into practice.

“Britain should as David Cameron said lead by example and not allow the overseas territories to be the last kids on the block.”

The Criminal Finances Bill is now at the report stage in the House of Commons. While the date of the next debate has not been announced, Hodge said the amendment would be debated early next year.

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