Mishcon hosts “Question Time” Event on Transparency v Privacy
In the House of Commons and here at Mishcon de Reya this week the debate has continued on the Government’s proposed public register of beneficial ownership (the so-called “PSC” or “People with Significant Control” register).
On Tuesday evening, we hosted a “Question Time” panel debate attended by 70 interested businesses, charities and advisers. On our high profile panel, chaired by Mishcon Partner, Saul Sender, were Jonathan Djanogly, MP for Huntingdon Constituency; Ian Kirk, Partner and Head of Commercial at Collas Crill solicitors; Beck Wallace, Lead Analyst – Extractive Industries and Corruption, CAFOD; and Helen Wildsmith, Head of Ethical and Responsible Investment for CCLA.
Saul provided a synopsis of the proposals, which are contained in the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Bill and the debate commenced. We asked, is a register of beneficial ownership a good or a bad thing? What would it mean in practice: would it push business off shore; would criminals really comply and would avoidance structures be devised? What would be next – transparency for trusts? Perhaps most importantly, “where should we draw the line between an individual’s right to privacy and the public interest in knowing who sits behind corporates, so they could be held accountable in appropriate cases?”. Isn’t this an illustration of a wider tension between transparency and privacy, a snooper’s charter allowing further encroachment into our freedom to hold property privately and confidentially.
These questions (and others) were debated by the panel and audience alike and some challenging themes and examples came out of the discussion. For example, speaking in favour of the PSC register being public, Beck Wallace highlighted the impact on worldwide poverty of corruption and the needs of communities to be able to contact those who really control businesses operating in their areas. Ian Kirk provided an offshore lawyers’ perspective on the UK being the first to embrace a public register. He reflected on how our proposals compared to the stance of other countries and described alternative models which were used abroad. Noting that companies should know who their ultimate owners are, but sharing concerns over the regulatory compliance burden on small companies, Helen Wildsmith gave the ethical investor’s perspective and Jonathan Djanogly MP revealed the amendments which he had proposed for the following day’s Commons debate. In his view, making the register public was a significant curtailment of an individual’s right to privacy and could deter valuable investment into the UK.
We will shortly be posting and circulating a more detailed report of the debate with results of the evening’s poll votes. In the meantime, please do post us your further thoughts and feedback below.