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Richard_Rosser_2016.jpgRichard Rosser on the weakening of government plans to tackle the scourge of corporate tax evasion

The Criminal Finances Bill not only aims to tackle money laundering and corruption, but to also increase the powers of enforcement agencies to recover proceeds of crime and combat the financing of terrorism. In doing so, the bill provides for a new Unexplained Wealth Order, the extension of seizure and forfeiture powers, a strengthening of suspicious activity reporting, and a new corporate offence of failing to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion.

During the Bill’s passage through the Commons, Labour colleagues raised concerns that it does not go far enough to deliver on its aims – something we will be begin to reinforce today as we start the Lords Committee stage.

The gaping hole in the Bill is the lack of action on tax havens, including UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories. In 2014, then Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to the overseas territories stating that public access to a register of beneficial ownership was vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion. We agree. So does Transparency International, which has argued the importance of beneficial ownership information being made public, in a format that is free and searchable. The UK now publishes a central register of beneficial ownership, so why not our overseas territories as well?

Money laundering and corruption hits developing countries hard, with around one trillion dollars lost each year via illicit financial flows. The OECD has estimated that tax havens may be costing these countries a sum of up to three times the global aid budget, and private registers of beneficial ownership will not be accessible to those suffering the most from financial secrecy.

Over half of 214,000 corporate entities that came to light in the Panama Papers were registered in the British Virgin Isles. Progress is being made but it is slow and the government seems to have weakened its stance in recent years, now saying it remains an ‘ambition’ that public registers become a global standard, adding: ‘If and when they do, we would expect the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to follow suit’. So much for ministers’ claims the UK is a ‘world leader’ in tackling corruption.

Of course, other key questions need answering during the Bill’s scrutiny in the Lords. Does the offence of ‘failing to prevent’ tax evasion go far enough to tackle corporate behaviour? Should it be extended beyond bribery and tax evasion to include money laundering, fraud and other economic crime? Is our anti-money laundering regime fit for purpose? How well is it being regulated?

To be effective, the welcome measures, as far as they go, proposed by the government must be backed up by adequate resources; and Labour will seek assurances that enforcement agencies will have what they need. This is not a Bill which seeks to address victimless crimes. We want it to be about more than good intentions, and to be used as an opportunity to show what can be achieved internationally.

Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House off Lords

Published 28th March 2017

Evading the questions

Richard Rosser on the weakening of government plans to tackle the scourge of corporate tax evasion

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the need for a statutory Code of Practice in the UK against online abuse and bullying

Today in the Lords on the latest day of Report on the Digital Economy Bill, Labour Peers will continue to lead the debate to strengthen child protection laws as they relate to the internet and social media.

While the government is already making helpful moves to stop under 18s viewing adult material on the Internet, controversy rumbles on over both the definition of prohibited content and the regulations of access. We will encourage Ministers to work with other parties and the sector to resolve such issues in a way that has the most meaningful impact. And to perhaps learn from the progress we have made together on ensuring sex and relationship education will be compulsory in all secondary schools.

One other issue arising however, is my amendment for a statutory Code of Practice that obliges all social media sites to put into place mechanisms to prevent children from online abuse. In the context of the Bill, the amendment specifically focuses on protecting young people but would clearly benefit adults suffering similar attacks. To be established within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, the Code would require terms of use to prevent cyber-bullying, along with the immediate removal of illegal posts and information given to the police.

The charity Childnet has reported that one in four teenagers suffered online hate incidents last year, while the NSPCC suggests two thirds of young people want social media sites to do more to protect them. Girlguiding revealed in its survey that 20% of girls had unwanted pornographic films or images sent to them without consent. And the bombardment of sexualised images is creating huge body confidence issues and normalising sexist behaviour in schools.

At present, there is no culture of safeguarding children’s online safety and wellbeing. Anyone doubting this just needs to reflect on the example of Facebook. On being informed by the BBC that obscene images of children were being posted on its site, the social media giant failed to remove the vast majority of posts – and then reported the BBC to the police for sending on other examples.

At the Committee stage of the Bill, the Lords Minister rather complacently argued that a statutory Code was not necessary, telling peers that the onus should be on companies to develop their own in-house processes. Shortly afterwards, the Secretary of State decided that this was not good enough and that a new Internet Safety Strategy would be launched – with a green paper promised for the summer.

Anyone worried that these global companies are difficult to regulate should consider the system in Australia. It has already passed the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015, requiring all social media sites to have terms of use to prohibit cyber-bullying and abuse; and established a Children’s e-safety Commissioner. Given that we’re discussing how the same social media sites operate here in the UK, it’s surely time to play catch up and give our young people the reassurances they deserve.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow Minister and a member of Labour’s frontbench in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 20th March 2017

Catch up time

Maggie Jones on the need for a statutory Code of Practice in the UK against online abuse and bullying

Briefing on motions tabled by Baroness Dianne Hayter & Baroness Angela Smith in response to Ministers' statements on the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK & the meaninful parliamentary vote

Following the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill and the government’s rejection of two Labour-led amendments, the Labour Lords team has today tabled two motions relating to the Article 50 negotiations. These motions focus on the issues covered by our previous amendments and will require Ministers to provide clarity on unresolved issues.

Report on the rights of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals:

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town to move to resolve that a Minister of the Crown do report to this House by the end of this Session on the progress made towards ensuring that qualifying non-UK EEA nationals and their family members are able to retain their fundamental EU-derived rights after the UK has left the EU.

Establishment of a Joint Committee on a meaningful vote at the end of the negotiations:

Baroness of Smith of Basildon to move that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the terms and options for any votes in Parliament on the outcome of the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, including how any such vote be taken before any agreement is considered by the European Parliament; and that the committee do report by 31 October 2017.

The motions appear on today’s House of Lords order paper and are scheduled for debate on Wednesday 29th March: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/minutes/170316/ldordpap.htm

What were Labour’s amendments to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill?

  • Labour successfully led two House Lords amendments to the Bill after securing cross-party support. These attracted majorities of 102 and 98.
  • The first amendment would have required the government to bring forward proposals within three months of triggering Article 50 to guarantee the rights of EEA nationals already resident in the UK.
  • The second amendment would have put into law the commitments the government has already made – under pressure from Labour at both ends of Parliament – about the final vote on the Article 50 deal: that the UK Parliament will have a vote on ‘not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union’; that the vote Parliament has on the draft withdrawal agreement will take place ‘before it is concluded’; and that both Houses of Parliament will debate and vote on the draft withdrawal deal before the European Parliament.
  • The second amendment would also have ensured that if the Prime Minister fails to agree a deal with the EU, only Parliament could decide to end negotiations and exit with no deal.

Ping-pong and Labour’s position in the Lords

  • It is the Prime Minister and Conservative MPs that killed off the amendments to the Article 50 Bill, not the House of Lords.
  • Labour had hoped the amendments would be carried in the Commons and that Ministers had listened to the points we made on both issues over many months.
  • MPs however, rejected the amendments in the Commons with increased majorities of 48 and 45. It was made clear during the debate that no amendment to the Bill would be accepted by the government.
  • In these circumstances, Labour Lords took the constitutionally responsible decision not to send further amendments back for consideration. In taking this position, it was made clear by our Shadow Brexit Minister, Bns Dianne Hayter that we would use other methods to hold Ministers to account.

 What happens now? 

  • The Bill has now completed its passage through Parliament and ready for Royal Assent. This means the Prime Minister now has the authority to invoke Article 50, although this is not expected to happen until the final week of March.
  • By tabling these motions, Labour Lords are applying pressure on the government on these two fundamental issues. Both motions will debated on the floor of the Lords and it is possible that there will be votes.
  • If passed, the second motion – on establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses to discuss arrangements for a meaningful vote at the end of the Article 50 negotiations – would be passed to the Commons for further consideration.
  • We are confident of cross-party support for these motions and will continue working with colleagues from across the House to advance these two important causes. 

- Ends -

Article 50 negotiations - Labour Lords motions

Briefing on motions tabled by Baroness Dianne Hayter & Baroness Angela Smith in response to Ministers' statements on the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK & the meaninful...

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