UK war of words on beneficial ownership
A British attempt to force overseas territories to produce public registers of beneficial company ownership has sparked a war of words in the UK’s House of Commons.
Dame Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP who helped to lead a cross-party alliance of MPs that won a promise from the Conservative government that it would introduce an order to enforce the requirement, claimed the lists were expected to be in place by 2020. But that has been delayed by three years.
Dame Margaret spoke out after Lord Ahmad, the UK minister responsible for overseas territories, told a foreign affairs committee hearing last month that any required territory without a public register by next year, would be issued with an Order in Council instructing it to have such a list in operation by 2023.
The Guardian newspaper reported that Dame Margaret said: “This new timetable is a sleight of hand and an attempt to ignore the clear will of Parliament.
“It was clear not that that order in council should be introduced in 2020, but the public register.
“We will have to consider what steps are taken to restore what was intended.”
Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, added: “This timetable is not what Parliament thought they were getting when they discussed this.
“The Government has dragged its heels on this issue and this seems yet another unjustified delay.
“It’s as if the Government has become the department for procrastination.”
Bermuda has resisted calls for a public register of beneficial ownership and David Burt, the Premier, earlier said the Government’s position was that the island would implement such a list “when it is a global standard”.
The island has maintained a register of beneficial ownership — available to authorities in other countries on request — for decades but it is not open to the public.
At a Foreign Affairs oral evidence session last month, Lord Ahmad said it was up to the UK Government to make an Order in Council but explained there were different constitutional arrangements across the Overseas Territories.
He added: “For example, in Bermuda there is a legal issue there whereby ... the Order In Council may well have to be instituted by the territory itself.”
Lord Ahmad admitted it was unlikely public registers of beneficial ownership would become the global standard within four years.
He told the session: “In terms of, from a global perspective, whether there will be a level playing field by 2023, as I said, that is an objective — an ambition we’ve set ourselves.
“But, in my personal view, whether we will see every territory across the world having public registers by 2023, I don’t think that will be the case.”
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