Labour has asked what the government could be “trying to hide” after a meeting between the opposition party and Companies House was cancelled at short notice – apparently on the advice of the Department for Business.
The shadow Treasury team had been expecting to discuss reforms to Companies House, including its plans to hand new powers to the government agency amid concerns over Russian dirty money in the UK.
Labour has proposed changes to the economic crime bill – being voted on by MPs today – that would strengthen the crackdown on money laundering and ensure that new measures come into force without delay.
Shortly before the meeting was set to be held, Labour’s Treasury team received an email from Companies House advising them to address their questions directly to the Department for Business instead. It read:
“I’ve considered further the outline of what you wanted to discuss and have also spoken to our sponsor Department (BEIS) about the call. They are of the view that the issues you want to discuss are best directed to them in the Department and possibly even issues that you should raise with the responsible Minister. The Minister in question is Lord Callanan in BEIS.”
Reacting to the cancellation, shadow Treasury minister Tulip Siddiq told LabourList: “The government should not be preventing Companies House from meeting with shadow Treasury ministers. What are they trying to hide?
“For too long, the Conservatives have stood by as dirty money from Russia and elsewhere has flooded into the UK. That’s why it so important that the government’s proposals for Companies House receive proper scrutiny.”
Raising concerns in the chamber, Siddiq asked whether it was “the government’s policy to block Companies House from meeting with shadow Treasury ministers” or whether the parties could work together on illicit finance.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, appeared confused when responding to Labour last week, replying: “I have been very clear that it is the responsibility of every member of this House to engage with these issues.
“I haven’t been informed about that interdiction from my department. I would love to hear more about it. But as I have said, I think every member of this House has an obligation to engage directly with kind of abuses.”
Update, 5.45pm: A BEIS spokesperson told LabourList: “Matters of policy are the responsibility of ministers and the Business Department, and any questions or observations relating to policy development should be directed to BEIS.”
Update, 6.30pm: A Companies House spokesperson said: “We are always happy to meet stakeholders to discuss operational matters in relation to Companies House.”
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted the government to bring forward the long-awaited economic crime bill, all stages of the legislation is set be put through the House of Commons today.
The bill will introduce a new ‘register of overseas entities’ aiming to stop anyone from using foreign shell companies to buy property in the UK. Foreign firms can currently buy up UK property without declaring who owns or controls them.
The government initially intended to give owners 18 months to join the register. After strong criticism, the timeframe has been revised down to six months – but this is also considered too lenient by Labour and others.
Companies House was approached for comment.