There is a genuine respect in Westminster for the relationship between the island and the UK, believes Chief Minister Allan Bell.
But he said we have to remain alert after a backbench Labour MP tried to push through a private member’s bill that seeks to extend UK legislation on beneficial ownership to the Isle of Man.
Former Environment Minister Michael Meacher’s Corporate and Individual Tax and Financial Transparency Bill, drafted by arch tax haven critic Richard Murphy, was branded a throwback to 19th century colonial attitudes by one Tory MP.
But Chief Minister Allan Bell pointed out the Bill did not have official backing of any party and was unlikely to get any real debating time. Its second reading debate was adjourned to November 1 following a delaying government ‘filibuster’.
Mr Bell said: ‘This isn’t an example of the UK trying to legislate for the Isle of Man.
‘This must be kept in context. This is a well-known left winger, prompted by a high profile tax reformer, trying to advance a personal agenda.
‘I think there’s a genuine respect for the long-established constitutional relationship between the Isle of Man and the UK. Our relationship with the Ministry of Justice is probably better than it’s ever been.
‘But it is perhaps a further warning that we still need to remain alert to this type of approach within Westminster, notwithstanding the vastly improved position that Isle of Man has in terms of developing a better understanding with MPs and in particular the very positive statement made by David Cameron about our not being seen as a tax haven.’
Mr Meacher’s Bill amends the Companies Act so that the name, date of birth and nationality of all beneficial owners of shares have to be registered with the authorities including the identity of any intermediate companies, trusts or other arrangements that act as agents or nominees.
But section nine would oblige the same provisions to extend to all Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. They would be extended by an Order In Council.
It would mean that an island-incorporated entity would be required to identify any beneficial owner resident outside the jurisdiction and advise the money laundering authority here. The authority would publish that information on a freely-available database and advise HM Revenue and Customs if that beneficial owner was resident in the UK.
But Mr Bell insisted that when it came to legislation on beneficial ownership, the island was 10 years ahead of the UK. Manx legislation already obliges companies and trusts to register beneficial ownership with the authorities but that information is not available to the public.
He said the UK currently has no central register and no sanctions were imposed against corporate and trust service providers for failing to provide such information.
‘They’ve a long way to go to catch up,’ he said.
Mr Bell said it would be a mistake to have a public register of beneficial ownership, believing it could leave people open to blackmail or other criminal activity.