House of Lords divided over ownership registries

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LORD NASEBY

By Mellica McPherson

A number of Parliamentarians in the House of Lords spoke sternly about the effects Amendment 22A will have on the Overseas Territories (OT’s) and the damage this legislation poses to the United Kingdom’s relationship with these territories.

Most vocal in support of the territories was Lord Naseby (Michael Morris) who stopped shy of saying “hypocrisy” as he criticized the public registry demands the United Kingdom is making on the Overseas Territories. Lord Naseby sternly pointed out that this move by the UK as it relates to the amendment of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill is callous to the fact that lives of British Overseas Citizens will be affected. He also presented suggestions of how the UK Government can cushion the blow from the Amendment.

As the Bill was debated in the House of Lords on 21 May Lord Naseby emphasized the detrimental effects of Amendment 22A which calls for public registries by 2020. Before making his contribution the seasoned Parliamentarian declared that he had an interest in the matter because he is vice-chairman of the All-Party Group for the Cayman Islands and has family working in financial services in the Cayman Islands.

Lord Naseby explained that the amendment has ignited worry from Oveaseas Territory citizens about their future. He also suggested moves that the UK Government can make to soften the blow from the Amendment.

“HUNG OUT TO DRY”

In stating what can be done, Lord Naseby said: “The Minister has suggested a lot of fine words, but I understand that all that is on offer is a review in 2019, maybe. We will have to wait and see. We have had amending legislation in Parliament. It is not totally novel to produce an amending Bill. Her Majesty’s Government should think about that.”

The Parliamentarian frankly suggested that the BVI and her sister OT’s are being hung for no reason: “We should also recognise that other parties in the world are not going to produce public registers. It looks as if the EU has decided that that would interfere with human rights. We do not think the special relationship with the USA is likely to be very powerful, not least when the Foreign Secretary cannot even meet the President. There are others, such as Singapore and Luxembourg, which are unlikely to move. I fear that the overseas territories are being hung out to dry.”

Lord Naseby also lashed out against financial services critics and stated that some of the complainants are not pinnacles of morals: “Some of the international charities, which keep suggesting that they are the cause of the money laundering happening to the detriment of some of the poorest countries in the world. I have to say, having seen the performance of Oxfam and Save the Children — Oxfam in relation to Haiti and the governance of Save the Children — that they have lost the moral high ground. I exempt entirely the International Red Cross from that comment.”

He also stated that the argument of lost revenues because of financial services jurisdictions such as the BVI has holes in it. “Then there are claims that billions of pounds are being laundered through London. If they are, what is Companies House doing, for heaven’s sake? It is not the fault of the overseas territories: Companies House needs to get a grip on it. I think that is important.”

SWIPES AT DAVID CAMERON

The fact that the United Kingdom Government announced that it was not prepared to overturn the amendment was mentioned by Lord Naseby. However, he focused more on a previous leader — former Prime Minister David Cameron who he said started this public registry issue.

In noting the hypocrisy factor of the matter Lord Naseby pointed out that the former Prime Minister was pushing territories like the BVI to implement public registers while the UK registry was in disarray.

“Your Lordships will remember that Prime Minister Cameron, who started the idea of public registers, thought he should lead in the world. He did not work out, however, what the impact would be on the rest of the overseas territories. He was more interested, I suspect, to lead, and to lead at a time when, if you look at our own Companies House, you cannot today get a really up-to-date situation on a great many companies, because Companies House is rarely up to date. Indeed, Companies House looks carefully at perhaps only one-third of companies that register. So that is not the answer. Why did Her Majesty’s Government not think a little further at that time about what was going to happen?” he asked.

AMENDMENT AUTHORS DESCRIBED AS MAVERICKS

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Minister of State for the Overseas Territories Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon’s stirring presentation on behalf of the Territories was applauded by Lord Naseby. However, the Parliamentarian frowned at the fact that the valiant speech came so late.

In fact, Lord Naseby opined that such presentations about the effects the amendment will have on the Territories should have been done sooner: “The Minister gave a stirring speech — I say that genuinely. There is a little sadness that a speech of that strength was not made the last time we discussed this issue, but we now know — we have known all along — that this would take a detailed interest…how is it that Commons Amendment 22 went through, demanding that by the end of 2020 overseas territories must have a public register? In my judgment, it was driven through by two particular maverick Members of Parliament — one a socialist and the other a member of my party not noted for his finesse or his understanding of very much at all.”

As it relates to the 1 May House of Common decision, Lord Naseby suggested that the UK Government dragged its feet on the matter and presented its amendment late. “Why on earth, given the importance of this issue, did Her Majesty’s Government wait until the very last second to table a starred amendment? What on earth was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office doing?”

In fact, Hon. Naseby said that he was informed through the grapevine that there was an argument between the Whips’ Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which resulted in the Amendment situation that saw the success of Amendment 22A.

The Parliamentarian even read excerpt from a letter he sent to the Speaker of the House in January highlighting the interest of the Overseas Territories on the matter of financial services and asking that the House see the bigger picture.

BVI CASE MADE

The direct case for the BVI was made by Lord Flight (Howard) of the Conservative Party. He told the House: “It is shameful that the UK has a far worse record than the overseas territories. The reforms in the UK do not work because they do not include any non-British company and have no verification, whereas the arrangements that both the Crown dependencies and overseas territories have put in place provide all the necessary information to the appropriate authorities on asking. It is also a much more tightly and accurately kept register. The legislation invites the overseas territories to discuss the constitutional position with government; it may be suitable to go for judicial review,” he added.

“COLONIALISM AT ITS WORST”

Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury

One of the arguments here in the BVI has been that the move to implement the legislation imperially reeks of colonialism – a point that was made in the House by Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury. “There has been no consultation with the democratically elected Governments of any of the territories about the legislation. There has been no investigation of the effectiveness of this law in relation to any of the territories…,” he announced.

In stating his observation matter of factly Lord Neuberger announced: “I regret to say that the proposed law appears to be old-style colonialism at its worst: damaging legislation which has no cost for the legislating country but which will cause hardship to the victim countries, and does so not merely without representation but without consultation or full investigation. But it gets worse. The law is imposed in circumstances in which it is indisputable that the BVI, Cayman and Bermuda comply with all current international transparency and taxation requirements, such as those laid down by the OECD.”

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