Government says it will support amendment to introduce public ownership registers in Britain’s overseas territories.
Britain’s overseas territories will be forced to adopt public registers of company ownership at the end of the decade after the government conceded it would have to support a backbench amendment designed to stem the global flow of “dirty money”.
Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, told the Commons that ministers recognised “the majority view in this house” and would not oppose an amendment to the sanctions and anti-money laundering bill from Labour’s Margaret Hodge and the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell.
The retreat was forced on Theresa May’s government after the Speaker rejected a string of government compromise amendments, which would have watered down the disclosure commitment, because they were tabled so late. Afterwards, some of the overseas territories voiced their unhappiness at what had been agreed at Westminster.
The Hodge/Mitchell amendment requires the 14 overseas territories, including the financial centres of the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, to introduce public ownership registers by the end of 2020 or face having them imposed by the UK government.
Duncan told MPs that ministers were reluctant to dictate to the overseas territories, but acknowledged: “We have listened to the strength of feeling in this house on this issue and accept that it is without a doubt the majority view of this house that the overseas territories should have public registers.”
About half of the companies referred to in the Panama Papers, offshore ownership disclosures revealed by a consortium of investigative journalist organisations including the Guardian, were set up in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), according to Transparency International. The campaign group Global Witness estimates that £68bn flowed out of Russia via the British overseas territories between 2007 and 2016.