Former Bailiff hits back at MPs’ finance register claim

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Sir Philip Bailhache has hit back at claims from Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge that Jersey, and the other Crown Dependencies, could be forced to comply with her plans to introduce publicly available registers of beneficial ownership.

In a letter to the JEP, the former External Relations Minister said that it was for the States Assembly to decide on such issues and using ‘Crown powers’ to dictate legislation to the Island would be ‘unconstitutional’.

Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have a register which can be accessed by other governments and law-enforcement authorities if they suspect wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, Dame Margaret, working alongside Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, won a parliamentary debate which forced Overseas Territories to make their registers public.

However, their plan to extend that to the Crown Dependencies failed.

Sir Philip said: ‘For more than 800 years we have had our own government, and Dame Margaret is not part of it, nor was she elected by the residents of Jersey.

‘A public register is not the international standard. Some countries have them and some do not. Our policy at present is to open the register to foreign tax authorities and law-enforcement agencies, but not to the world at large.

‘That is a perfectly reasonable stance, and it is not an encouragement to tax evasion or money laundering as Dame Margaret appears to think. Unless suspected of wrongdoing, people are entitled to respect for their private affairs. That is not encouraging “secrecy”.’

He added the accuracy of Jersey’s register was checked and verified on a far more regular basis than the UK’s and, as such, ‘members of the UK Parliament are in no position to criticise Jersey’.

Jersey Finance’s deputy chief executive Amy Bryant rebuffed Dame Margaret’s claims that the Island was being used to funnel ‘dirty money’ and said the Island was committed to transparency.

Sir Philip, who served as the Island’s External Relations Minister for five years before retiring from the States in May, also said that he believed Dame Margaret and Mr Mitchell would be well-received by Jersey’s government, but that the ‘conversation might flow more freely if they were to do some constitutional research before they come’.

Both Dame Margaret and Mr Mitchell have visited Guernsey and the Isle of Man and are due to visit Jersey in December.

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