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Minister to tackle fears over ownership

Considering proposals: Lord Ahmad, pictured with David Burt, the Premier, says he recognised strength of feelings

A UK minister has vowed to tackle concerns over public registers of company ownership in Bermuda and other Overseas Territories.

Lord Ahmad, the UK’s Minister for the Overseas Territories, said he recognised the “strength of feeling” over the proposed register and a spokeswoman yesterday said the UK Government would consider any proposals for reform.

The Foreign Office official said the gathering was a “valuable opportunity to talk about EU exit and to have a constructive dialogue with the delegates on topics of mutual importance”.

She added: “The Minister for the Overseas Territories, Lord Ahmad, reiterated the UK Government’s commitment to work collaboratively with the territories to address concerns raised about the potential adverse impact of public registers of beneficial ownership.

The spokeswoman added that “the UK Government would give due consideration to any reform proposals put forward.”

The commitment came at the annual meeting of the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council in London, attended by Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier.

Mr Roban, also the Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs, was due to arrive back in Bermuda last night.

He underlined Government’s position that it does not recognise UK legislation designed to enforce public registers of company ownership in Overseas Territories after the meetings.

A spokesman for Mr Roban said: “As a result of the passing of an Order in Council under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, together we stand with Governments of the Overseas Territories and the UK Government that we will take all necessary measures to ensure that the UK Parliament does not interfere in the domestic affairs of an Overseas Territory.

“Discussions on upholding democracy were strong. It is clear the domestic affairs and legislative process are the responsibility of the local elected officials.”

The spokesman added that the existing agreement between the UK National Crime Agency and the Bermuda Monetary Authority to provide beneficial ownership information within 24 hours will remain in force.

He said: “Together with the recent developments of UK Parliament’s interference and the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Prime Minister has recognised the need for all Overseas Territories to begin discussions on constitutional review and advancement.”

He said Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has appointed David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to “oversee constitutional discussion or review with any Overseas Territory which desires change”.

Overseas Territories were also assured a “rapid response” from the UK to restore law and order after a major disaster.

The promise came in the wake of criticism of the reaction to Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year.

The Foreign Office spokeswoman highlighted the views of Lord Ahmad, Junior Minister for the Commonwealth and United Nations, who visited Caribbean islands two weeks ago, which made clear the UK Government’s “strength of focus on hurricane preparation”.

Lord Ahmad said: “The UK has provided critical aid and support across the region to assist in recovery from last year’s widespread devastation, and we can already see this help from the UK has made a real difference on the ground.

“However, there’s more that needs to be done. We will continue to work extremely closely with the British Overseas Territories, as well as the rest of the Caribbean, to make sure that the region have plans in place to prepare for, and better withstand, future hurricanes.”