UN adds weight to public registers of ownership call
A UN committee has demanded controversial anti-tax avoidance legislation should be imposed on Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man because public services for women are losing out.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has urged the UK Government to require the Crown Dependencies to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership, which supporters say improves transparency.
The body is made up of 23 independent experts who monitor implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Countries which have become party to the treaty – state parties – are obliged to submit regular reports to the committee on how the rights of the convention are implemented.
The CEDAW committee’s views, set out in its concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of the UK and Northern Ireland, came as Labour MP Margaret Hodge and Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell vowed to continue her campaign to force the Crown Dependencies to introduce public registers.
In its findings, the CEDAW committee said it ‘welcomes the adoption of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act in May 2018, which requires the Secretary of State to provide “all reasonable assistance” to the governments of the British Overseas Territories to enable each of those governments to establish a publicly accessible register of the beneficial ownership of companies registered in each government’s jurisdiction’.
It added: ‘While the introduction of this Act constitutes a positive step in the fight against money laundering, tax evasion and corruption, the committee remains concerned that the offshore tax regimes in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies continue to enable multinational companies and wealthy individuals as well as criminal organisations to avoid paying tax, leading to significant losses of revenue that could be utilised for public services for women.
‘The committee recommends that the state party continue to adopt measures to combat money laundering and tax evasion, including by establishing public registers of companies and trusts in all of its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, and undertaking independent, participatory, and periodic impact assessments of the domestic and extraterritorial effects of its financial secrecy and corporate tax policies on the rights of women.’
The CEDAW committee also said: ‘It also recommends that the state party revise its corporate, trust, financial and tax legislation, policies and practices with a view to fully realising the enjoyment by women of their rights under the convention, both domestically and abroad.’
The two MPS have said they would be pressing ahead with their campaign to require Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership.
She also hit back after Brexiteer Jacob-Rees Mogg accused her of ‘bad law-making’ in breaching constitutional conventions that the UK parliament does not normally legislate for the islands on domestic matters.
‘My campaign with Andrew Mitchell MP for public registers in Britain’s tax havens is ongoing. We have been advised that our amendment is constitutionally sound. Brexit may have overshadowed the issue for now, but greater transparency in the Crown Dependencies is the will of Parliament,’ said Dame Margaret.
Mr Mitchell said: ‘The constitutional position is absolutely clear – underlined by the Kilbrandon Royal Commission and by subsequent decisions – that the UK parliament does have responsibility in this area of our national security to engage in this way with the Crown Dependencies.
‘Furthermore we have clear and compelling legal advice to that effect.
‘So it is entirely proper and unexceptional that Westminster should take this action, although of course we hope that the Crown Dependencies will embrace public registers and openness in the same way that the UK, the Overseas Territories and the 27 countries of the European Union have done, thus rendering such action by the UK unnecessary.’