PM welcomes islands’ public register pledge
PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has welcomed Guernsey’s announcement that it is looking to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership.
But campaigning Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge has blasted the timetable for the introduction in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man as ‘far too long’.
During Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mrs May said having open registers in the Crown Dependencies was an important issue.
‘I am very pleased to see the announcement today from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man and indeed we continue to work with Overseas Territories to ensure that they do follow those standards and open those books, so that people can see who is actually owning these companies,’ she said.
But while warmly welcoming the Crown Dependencies’ move ‘and their willingness to listen’, Dame Margaret said she did not feel the announcement goes far enough and has threatened to continue her campaign with Tory MP Andrew Mitchell to try and impose public registers in the islands.
That campaign has sparked warnings that any attempts by the UK parliament to legislate for the Crown Dependencies in this way could break constitutional conventions.
Guernsey has said it will table legislative proposals within 12 months of a key European Union review on public registers being published, which is due in 2022.
Posting on Twitter, Dame Margaret said: ‘I welcome the news that the Crown Dependencies intend to adopt public registers of company ownership. They have listened to Parliament’s call for greater transparency. But proposed time frame is far too long & they must set out details of how truly open registers will be set-up.
‘These open registers are crucial for cracking down on tax avoidance, money laundering & serious economic crime. Greater transparency will allow journalists and NGOs to better follow the dirty money.’
Dame Margaret and Mr Mitchell said the islands’ announcement around public registers was a first step towards greater transparency.
But they threatened to continue their campaign for legislation unless the plans were clarified. The two MPs highlighted the ‘unacceptably long’ timetable to introduce the registers, and that they would not be available until 2024/25, and that it was unclear whether information would be free to access.
‘We need further details to assure ourselves that the registers will be genuinely open,’ they said.
Allowing banks and accountants to access data before the public and media was another issue highlighted by the two UK parliamentarians.
Campaign group Global Witness welcomed the ‘important pledge’ made by the Crown Dependencies, but also expressed concern about the timetable for introduction of the public registers.
‘The timeframe is long – much longer than European member states will have to play with – and the national action plans they’ve drafted are replete with get-out clauses and there is no detail yet on how the registers will be made public,’ said senior campaigner Naomi Hirst.
‘Moreover, they have given themselves plenty of room to manoeuvre over the next four-plus years by setting out how they will continue to abide by “global best practice” and pay heed to international standards.’
In Guernsey, Policy & Resources president Deputy Gavin St Pier yesterday acknowledged that some campaign groups wanted ‘further and faster’ action from many jurisdictions.
But he stressed the importance of having a ‘practical and deliverable’ plan – which helped set the global standard and ensured a level playing field.
Guernsey’s action plan on public registers also set out how public access could permitted under ‘similar conditions’ to the EU directive.
That could include the name, the month and year of birth along with the nationality and country of residence of the beneficial owner, plus the nature and extent of the beneficial interest held.
Those wishing to access information might need to pay a fee and register online, while exemptions could be permitted.