18 Jan 2018
Theresa May will set out a timetable to break the secrecy surrounding the foreign ownership of British property worth billions after facing a House of Lords defeat at the hands of two Conservative peers.
Lord Faulks, a former Tory justice minister, and Lord Hodgson have been calling on the government to establish a register exposing the beneficial owners of overseas companies and legal entities, and want it done within 12 months.
The peers put forward an amendment to the sanctions and anti-money-laundering bill, which would have been likely to inflict a government defeat on Wednesday.
Although ministers had provided reassurance on the issue previously, talk of a two-year consultation and no timetable raised fears of it being kicked into the long grass – spurring the potential Lords rebellion.
A government offer of a concession persuaded Faulks not to push the issue to a vote, although campaigners were critical of the government’s promised timetable.
They said a promise to table draft legislation by this summer, followed by the main bill a year later, would delay an operational register until 2021.
Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, said: “Although I welcome a clear timetable being laid out, I am disappointed by the significant delay to primary legislation given the fact that the policy has cross party support, and has already undergone two consultations.
“The longer we have to wait for this register, the longer corrupt individuals will be able to use the UK property market to hide their wealth.”
Questions surrounding secret and offshore ownership were highlighted by revelations from the Paradise Papers, published in the Guardian, which the prime minister promised to respond to.
As well as the push on identifying the foreign entities buying up UK property, a second amendment from a cross-party group of peers calls for tougher action to reveal offshore ownership of companies based in Britain’s overseas territories.
– By Anushka Asthana, Guardian
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