MPs debate ahead of the PM's Anti-Corruption Summit

Friday 06 May 2016

Last Tuesday, as part of preparations for the Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption summit taking place this Thursday, MPs took part in a Westminster Hall debate.

The debate opened with Nigel Mills, Co-Chair of the anti-corruption All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) talking about property transparency and identifying estate agents alongside lawyers and accountants as a profession which does not adequately report suspicious activity.

Quoting research carried out by Transparency International, Mills said that more than 36,000 properties in the capital are owned by companies registered in offshore jurisdictions.

Margaret Hodge (chair of the Responsible Tax APPG) said that the market is being distorted and prices are being hiked up by the scale of overseas ownership. Hodge called for Government powers to confiscate property owned by companies and individuals in offshore territories and bring it back on to the British housing market.

Nigel Mills argued “bribes, tax evasion and grand corruption destabilise development, keep the vulnerable in poverty, add significantly to the cost of doing business and fund terrorism.” He underlined his point with the argument that the UK’s status as a global financial centre means that we must lead on the issue.

The scandal of the Panama Papers was highlighted: “this summit and our international reputation will prevail only if we secure commitments from all our overseas territories and dependencies to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership and strip companies of the secrecy that allows them to hide the proceeds of crime, corruption and tax evasion”.

He asked whether Government actions to strengthen enforcement and reduce money laundering would include plans to reduce the number of supervising bodies.

Beneficial ownership

While Nigel Mills stressed “Anonymity has a clear link to corruption”, Margaret Hodge called for tax havens which are UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies to have public registers of beneficial ownership.

Patrick Grady, SNP spokesperson for international development, talked at length about the benefits of EU membership in this context and the progress of the Scottish Government in tackling corruption, while pointing out the significant human cost that developing countries pay.

John Penrose, Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office acknowledged the appetite for change “I am sure that this topic will continue to develop and that the rules and regulations and, most importantly, the ethos and culture of international business, investment and ownership, will continue to change and tighten.”