A Law Society committee has criticised the prime minister’s promise to publish the beneficial owners of companies.
David Cameron announced the creation of a central register of company beneficial ownership at an international ‘open government’ summit in London last week.
‘We need to shine a spotlight on who owns what and where money is really flowing,’ Cameron said, announcing that the register would be open to the public. The announcement was welcomed by the pressure group Transparency International, which said it could be ‘a highly significant moment in the global fight against corruption’.
However the Law Society’s company law committee said that opening the register to the public was unnecessary. ‘We accept that any such information should be made available to the relevant authorities, for example, to tackle tax evasion,’ said Kathleen O’Reilly, the committee’s chair.
However, she said there are ‘legitimate reasons why people might wish to keep their ownership private’ and that the government’s proposals ‘seem to go too far’.
In his speech Cameron acknowledged concerns about confidentiality, but said there would be wider benefits to making information available to everyone. ‘It’s better for us all to have an open system which everyone has access to – the more eyes that look at this information, the more accurate it will be,’ he said.
He called on other countries to follow the UK’s ‘world first on transparency’.
The Confederation of British Industry echoed the call for worldwide action. ‘The real prize is the ability to track ownership information around the world,’ Katja Hall, chief policy director, said. ‘Now that the UK has chosen to make this a public register, ensuring that others follow our lead will be critical to its success and to maintaining a level playing field.’