The British government was accused of a “double standard” in the House of Lords this week for seeking to impose public company beneficial ownership registers on its overseas territories but not taking action to legalize same-sex marriage.
During a debate in the House of Lords, Overseas Territories Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad was challenged over the government’s failure to intervene in territories, including the Cayman Islands, which still outlaw same-sex marriage.
Lord Ahmad said government’s policy was to respect the autonomy of its territories and have them set their own policies and legislation. He said the U.K. government was working behind the scenes with island governments to “encourage and promote equality” but suggested there were no plans for an order in council to mandate equal marriage.
Citing the example of Bermuda, where the courts have ordered same-sex marriage be legalized, he suggested progress was being made on the issue without the need for more direct intervention from the U.K.
Baroness Elizabeth Barker had questioned how government could justify imposing beneficial ownership registers, which are not yet established as an international standard, on its territories but not taking similar action over same-sex marriage.
She asked, “The government refuse to require all the overseas territories to respect the rights of LGBT citizens under the European Convention on Human Rights, with which they and we must be compliant. Why the double standard?”
Lord Ahmad insisted there was no double standard because the government had not wanted to impose beneficial ownership on the territories either. The requirement for an order in council on that issue was introduced as an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill in the House of Commons and was reluctantly accepted by the government after a backbench rebellion.
Lord Ahmad said he had been against the decision.
“The noble baroness may recall my vociferous defense, as the minister for the Overseas Territories, of the autonomy of the overseas territories, believing that it was right that they should continue to take forward the issue of the registers, as they were doing quite progressively,” he said.
“We would rather not have been in that position. On this issue [same-sex marriage], we continue to respect the autonomy. However, at the same time, I assure the noble baroness that we work very progressively. We have seen in recent developments in places such as Bermuda how the courts domestically are reacting to the importance of progressing this issue.”
Lord Michael Naseby, also vice chairman of the all-party Cayman group, said Britain’s territories should be left to deal with domestic matters themselves.
“As I understand it, in their view the subject raised by this question is a domestic issue. They have elected Members of Parliament. Those parliaments debate these issues, and surely it is for those parliaments, which after all represent the people living in those islands, to decide what is appropriate or not.”