Theresa May will set out a timetable to break the secrecy surrounding the foreign ownership of British property worth billions after facing a House of Lords defeat at the hands of two Conservative peers.
Lord Faulks, a former Tory justice minister, and Lord Hodgson have been calling on the government to establish a register exposing the beneficial owners of overseas companies and legal entities, and want it done within 12 months.
May’s new anti-corruption tsar, the Tory MP John Penrose, made clear that a register for property owners would be consistent with government policy.
He told the Guardian that the UK had already acted to make the foreign owners of British companies come clean, asking: “Why should foreign owners of British homes and offices be any different?”
Penrose said: “More than £122bn of property in England and Wales is owned by offshore firms. If they’re clean and reputable, fine, they’ll have nothing to fear. But if murky shell companies have bought British property with plundered or laundered cash, we don’t want them here.”
He said shedding light on “anonymous shell companies” through a register would show the world that the UK was a strong, reputable trading nation that welcomed clean investment.
Penrose said the prime minister understood that crime and corruption put the UK’s hard-won international reputation at risk and kept property prices artificially high, placing “the dream of home ownership beyond too many people’s grasp as well”.
The government had previously accepted the argument that action could help reduce money laundering in the British property market, but had so far failed to act.
A government spokesman said Penrose was “absolutely right” and stressed there had been legislation on transparency on business ownership already. “We want to get the legislation for this absolutely right, and we’re confident we will be able to provide parliament with details very soon,” he said, about the push on who is entering the British property market.