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Bribery Bill


7th April 2010

Jonathan Djanogly welcomes the Bill but calls for proper allocation of resources and monitoring of the Bill’s implementation and development in the coming years.

Introduction

Bribery is a crime that undercuts competitiveness, derails honest companies and distorts the marketplace. Those that bribe and those that are bribed, whether in commercial organisations or governmental institutions, are therefore diminished by their actions such that their legitimacy is called in to question and the confidence of consumers and the public is weakened. Bribery also undermines the societies in which the bribes are made. With this Bill, Parliament is no longer accepting the excuse of local practice, but rather is tying our flag to the highest levels of intentional probity and this is welcomed by the Conservatives.

Part of corruption and bribery’s inherent problem is that it covers a staggering breadth of behaviour and a multitude of different actions that may be dependant upon the circumstances for their criminality. It is a worldwide phenomenon that is not limited by language, geography or political ideology. It is frequently difficult to distinguish between valid payments and the illegal bribing of key individuals in business or public office. Furthermore, variations in the scale of payments or actions hinder easy or clear classification. A ‘bribe’ is often context driven and can vary from substantial bribes for multi-million or even billion pound contracts, to small denomination bills tucked in the pages of a passport at a pseudo- police check point on a deserted country road in the developing world. These factors combine to make it exceedingly difficult to easily pin down exact figures for, or indeed general trends in, bribery and corruption practices worldwide let alone on a country by country basis.

What is clear, however, is that in recent years under this Labour government, the UK has fallen behind the standards if combating bribery that we have seen in other western countries and our reputation has been sullied as a result.

The Bill and the reform process

The Conservative Party, therefore, fully backs this Bill, and, in particular, are pleased that its implementation will finally make the UK compliant with the 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Not withstanding our unhappiness with the delayed process, we have supported this Bill throughout the course of its journey through Parliament

However without doubt, the outstanding feature of this Bribery Bill has been the delay in its arrival. Plans to update and rework this patchwork of antiquated laws have been mooted since the mid-1990s. As far back as 1998, the Law Commission reviewed the UK’s corruption laws and formulated a draft Bill which was designed to replace either all or parts of the existing relevant legal provisions on corruption and at the same time incorporate the common law offence of bribery. What followed was an almost pantomime-like to’ing and fro’ing by the Government until in the dying days of this Parliament we were presented with this Bill. The unacceptable rush we faced to push this Bill through in only a few weeks is hardly an example of thoughtful or effective government.

The Bill before us today is based largely on a set of proposals developed by the Law Commission in its 2008 report entitled “Reforming Bribery”, which has subsequently been reviewed in the other place and in this House. The debate in the other place focussed mainly on the legal aspects of the Bill, while in our committee we attempted to ‘stress test’ the practical application of certain of the Bill’s provisions. The sum total is a Bill that generally we think is considered and well thought out. A Bill that will hopefully provide a coherent, and comprehensive framework of criminal law, that makes it abundantly clear that bribery has no place in this country and that it will not be tolerated in our commercial and other dealings with the rest of the world . However, as rushed as this Bill has been, it will be vital that it should only be implemented after full consultation with business and the preparation of appropriate guidance; and we were pleased to receive the Minister’s assurances on this point in Committee. Although we have decide not to move further amendments providing for a business advisory service, this will certainly be an area we will wish to explore further in Government; even if it is on a non-statutory basis.

Government Amendment

We welcome the Government’s amendment today which will ensure that the prosecutorial power held in the hands of the Directors of the SFO, HMRC and DPP cannot be delegated to others within those organisations. Given hat the volume of cases that reach prosecution each year is, I am told, in the region of 20, we do not believe that the delegation of this important power would be appropriate in all but the most limited circumstances.

The beginning of the process

The debate that has been had on this Bill has shone a light on the extent that improper behaviour can so easily pervade business affairs. In an international context, it seems that the old adage, “when in Rome”, has applied all too readily to acts of bribery in foreign lands. What this Bill will do is to place the UK at the head of a ground-swell of international opinion which states that this behaviour shall not be permitted.

Yet Conservatives believe that this should be seen as only the beginning and not as the end of the process. This Bill is but one weapon in an arsenal to arm the UK in the fight against corruption. It will provide a framework of offences – but it will not in itself action anti-corruption measures. It will not in itself issue prosecutions, create a healthy modern corporate culture or ensure that British companies are not undermined internationally by corrupt foreign competitors. In recent weeks the SFO has publicly announced cases in which it is investigating alleged acts of corruption. It must be hoped that this Bill will give them and other prosecutors, in the future, the necessary clarity to increase their rate of investigation.

We decided not to move our amendments to provide for an annual strategy report; but the proper allocation of resources and monitoring of the Bill’s implementation and development over the coming years will be important to ensure that it is up to the challenge of the UK meeting, and beating, global corruption in a way that has been seriously lacking during Labour’s time in government. There is a large role for business to play its part here as well and the next Conservative government looks forward to working with business on implementing this important agenda for Britain.



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