Many people have contacted me recently about financial transparency in the UK’s Overseas Territories and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which received its Third Reading on 1 May.
I was in the Chamber for part of the debate on 1 May and was present for all of the amendments, acting as a teller for most of them (which means I was the Opposition Whip responsible for counting our votes). I am pleased to report that Margaret Hodge’s amendment was passed, requiring the Government to take steps towards establishing publicly accessible registers of the beneficial ownership of companies in British territories.
I believe this is a remarkable step towards preventing money laundering and evasion; the financial systems of the British Overseas Territories allow tax avoidance on an industrial scale, and in doing so they damage developing countries and the global economy. As you will be aware, developing countries are estimated to lose $170 billion each year due to tax evasion by individuals and organisations. Africa’s economies alone lose £46 billion annually through corruption and tax evasion – much more than they receive in aid.
The National Crime Agency assesses that £90 billion of international criminal money is laundered through UK banks, including their subsidiaries, each year. At the same time, the OECD estimate that between $100 to 240 billion in tax is lost through tax avoidance internationally. Tax Research LLP estimate that the UK tax loss through offshore havens is not less than £18.5 billion per annum.
At the 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that pledged to act decisively on tax havens, introducing strict standards of transparency for Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. I can assure you I will continue to press for tougher action on global tax avoidance and evasion.