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Campaigners welcome public register of companies' ownership

01 November 2013

by Tim Wyatt


Transparency: David Cameron speaks at the Open Government Partnership conference at the QE2 Conference Centre, in London, on Thursday

Transparency: David Cameron speaks at the Open Government Partnership conference at the QE2 Conference Centre, in London, on Thursday

ANTI-CORRUPTION campaigners have welcomed Government plans to create a public register listing who owns every company in the UK. Charities, including Christian Aid and Tearfund, said that the move would help crack down on tax avoidance and money laundering.

Announcing the decision on Thursday, David Cameron told the Open Government Partnership summit in London that some firms had hidden their dealings in a "complex web of shell companies" for too long.

"This cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manner of questionable practice and downright illegality," he said.

Making a register of company ownership open to the public was a key demand of anti-corruption campaigners at the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland earlier this year (News, 14 June, 21 June).

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, who chairs Christian Aid, said in a statement: "Today's announcement of a public register of who really owns UK companies shows the Government has genuinely listened to the arguments about the powerful benefits of transparency.

"Getting this information about who owns what out into the open could strike a powerful blow against corrupt and destructive business practices - it is one more signpost on the path to an economics of the common good."

Melissa Lawson, who leads Tearfund's anti-corruption campaign, said that the register would empower the poor to hold governments and businesses to account. "At last, people will have clear information about what London-listed extractive companies pay to foreign governments.

"This means poor communities - often exploited by their own governments and unscrupulous businesses - will know what is paid and be able to ask the right questions of their MPs and officials about how that money is spent."

All eight nations at the G8 summit in June signed the Lough Erne Declaration, committing themselves to working together to combat tax evasion. One of the specific pledges in the declaration was to declare the ownership of corporations and firms.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, backed the Christian Aid campaign earlier this month. "No one likes paying taxes, but they are the bedrock of a fairer and more equal society, both here in Wales and in developing countries," he said. "Tax dodging, particularly through the set-up of phantom companies, drives poverty and injustice."

After receiving a petition from Christian Aid on Wednesday, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable said: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant, preventing companies from being misused for tax evasion, money laundering and corruption."



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