Criminal Finances Bill

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)

I apologise that I was not able to contribute to the debate itself. I am afraid that I am a veteran of the consideration of the Bill that became the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Although I accept that there is a great deal of unity regarding some of this Bill’s provisions, the real issue is how enforceable those provisions are. It is important that the Bill is scrutinised very carefully in Committee because there is a danger that although we will put on to the statute book a lot of new laws, some of which might be regarded as rather draconian, they will not be properly enforced by the police, or will be ruled out by the judiciary when matters come to court. That is the one caveat I would set out, although it is right to say that these powers are important, especially the new ones in relation to counter-terrorism, which were not envisaged at the time of the 2002 Act.

Brandon Lewis

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly by outlining the importance of the Bill’s Committee stage to ensure that Members have a chance to have an input into the debate, as indeed they have had this afternoon. He should have great faith in my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, who is determined to work with colleagues to ensure that the Bill is robust. The Bill gives a clear message to those who want to try to usurp our system that that will not continue—we will not allow it. Although we are a country that is open for business, we are also a country that believes in fairness and that will ensure that fairness prevails.

A couple of core issues have been raised by a number of Members, particularly about the overseas territories. We heard speeches from the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), and the former Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). We have agreed that UK law enforcement and tax authorities will have, in real time, unrestricted and secure access to things such as the beneficial ownership initiative, and information about corporate and legal entities incorporated in the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies.

The right hon. Lady outlined the excellent work of David Cameron and the strong message that he gave when he was Prime Minister. This is something that the current Prime Minister is determined to continue. We will ensure that there is an end to people usurping the law. It is important that we work closely with our colleagues around the world to ensure that we have a strong and robust system. We have taken a lead on this. Those territories have agreed that they must commit to new global standards in tax transparency so that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can investigate any untoward activity. As a result, later this year, HMRC ​will have new data on billions of pounds of accounts held in the overseas territories by UK taxpayers. This is a big step forward. I know that we as a Government are determined to ensure that we stamp out that kind of behaviour.

Funding was mentioned by a number of Members, including the right hon. Member for Leicester East. The NCA’s funding has increased from £448 million to nearly £478 million over the past year and police budgets have been protected. Funding for HMRC has also increased—up to £3.6 billion, with the £241 million input that was mentioned earlier.

I can be clear that we are determined to ensure that the police and the NCA have the resources that they need to be able to look at all this in the round, including IT issues. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that I use the debate to discuss the police funding formula, but he will have to excuse me for resisting that temptation for now. Over the past few weeks, I have written to all chief constables and police and crime commissioners to ask them to come to talk to me as we seek to deliver our election manifesto commitment of a fair funding formula for police, which we will do.

In response to comments about the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, I am pleased to announce that the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands have just—conveniently, as I am here at the Dispatch Box this afternoon—committed themselves to the initiative on beneficial ownership, which many hon. Members have spoken about today. All the overseas territories have now agreed to have central registries, which will be accessible to law enforcement authorities. We will continue to push for all countries to introduce public registers. This is good news, and we will continue to work on it.