I am writing to update you on the progress of the Criminal Finances Bill through the UK Parliament, which includes amendments concerning the creation of public registers in the UK's Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.
Although both amendments were withdrawn during the House of Lords debate on Monday, this stage is often used to establish key issues, and we will be monitoring the next stage of the bill, scheduled for Tuesday 25 April, when the amendments are more likely to be pushed.
Criminal Finances Bill amendments
The amendments to the Criminial Finances Bill would force Overseas Territories to establish public registers by 2019 and would require the UK Government to report on the progress that Jersey and the other Crown Dependencies had made by the end of next year.
Since 1989, information on the ultimate beneficial owners of every company registered in Jersey has been captured. However, that information has only ever been accessible by regulatory authorities, not to the public at large.
We have consistently argued that Jersey's model is robust and reliable because of the way in which information is verified, and that opening the register to public scrutiny would not help combat financial crime. This has been acknowledged in independent reports, most recently in a working paper entitled Beneficial Openness: weighing the costs and benefits of financial transparency.
UK Government and the Criminal Finances Bill
Jersey Finance submitted a paper to peers in which we set out our arguments against a public register. This, and the efforts of other lobbyists, appeared to have some effect. During Monday's debate, peers cited Jersey as one of the jurisdictions with high regulatory standards, and noted the importance of the verification of data and the need for a level playing field globally.
The Government, represented by Baroness Williams, expressed opposition to forcing the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories (CDOTs) to adopt public registers unless it became a global standard. She also noted the high standards in the CDOTs, which would "be significantly ahead of the global standards" from June and that existing commitments were "moving the standard in the right direction". She said that the best way to advance standards in the CDOTs was through cooperation and consensus: both by persuading the CDOTs and by persuading international standard-setters. She also noted that the Government was opposed to adopting differing standards in the Overseas Territories compared to the Crown Dependencies and would aim for them to move together, but only as and when a global standard had emerged.
In the event of the amendment being passed requiring the UK Government to publish a report of the progress of Crown Dependencies there is evidence, then, that Jersey's position as a well-regulated jurisdiction would be recognised.
Real estate register
The Lords also debated an amendment that would establish a register of overseas companies owning real estate in the UK. This was also not moved as the UK Government has already committed to creating such a register, albeit on an unknown timescale.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has launched a consultation into real estate ownership, to which Jersey Finance will be responding.
We will, of course, continue to monitor and update you on these developments.
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