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Mr. Smith: In relation to the hon. Gentleman's point about the assistance fund, we are looking at these issues very carefully. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we shall do whatever we can to help. Of course, we understand that the rural economy is suffering very badly indeed.
In relation to the hon. Gentleman's point about mixed messages, there is no mixed message. The message is very clear indeed. Some activities in rural areas are dangerous and cannot be permitted--activities that bring anyone into proximity with livestock, cross open land, enter fields, traverse agricultural land or go into farms. Those activities are rightly prohibited to halt the spread of the disease, but many other activities are perfectly legitimate and can be undertaken. The message that those activities are allowed is extremely important because if we do not give out that message, not only will we deprive large numbers of people of being able to enjoy themselves and take their recreation in the countryside, but we will also do yet further damage to the rural economy.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given you notice. At 9.30 this morning the Department for Education and Employment launched its proposal to replace the costly, ineffective and bureaucratic new deal with an even more costly, ineffective and bureaucratic new deal mark 2. At that point, the document in question was available to the press, but it was not available in the Vote Office. When I asked the Vote Office when it expected to have it, I was told that it was making strenuous efforts to obtain copies of the Green Paper, but had been told that it would not be available until 4 pm. In the event, I gather that after heroic efforts it secured copies by lunch time.
Will you, Mr. Speaker, confirm that it is a gross discourtesy to the House if Ministers publish documents and give them to the press before they are made available to hon. Members, particularly if they are prepared to go ahead with a press conference when hon. Members cannot have sight of the document?
I understand that the Command Paper in question was laid in the proper way this morning and that a written answer was given at the appropriate time. To that extent, parliamentary requirements were met. Copies of the Command Paper, however, were not available in the Vote Office until lunch time, although copies could be consulted in the Library of the House. In that regard, the expectations, and, indeed, the requirements, of Parliament, were not met.
I have received a letter of apology for this from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment which I shall cause to be printed in the Official Report. The essence of this is that the copies of the Command Paper intended for the Vote Office were inadvertently sent to the wrong destination. It is manifestly the responsibility of Ministers to make sure that such mistakes do not happen.
The Stationery Office advised us yesterday evening that due to printing difficulties they were unable to satisfy our full order for copies to be delivered this morning. My officials therefore made arrangements for sufficient copies to enable us to deliver 100 copies to the Vote and Printed Paper Offices by 9:30am. I regret that these copies were misdirected. As soon as they were located, my officials made arrangements for them to be delivered to the Vote Office and I believe they arrived there shortly after 12.30pm.
We did make copies available this morning to the main Opposition spokesmen and I can only apologise that due to the delivery of the copies intended for Parliament to the wrong address, Members of Parliament did not have access to the Green Paper as early as they should have."
I received a holding answer last Friday. On Monday, the local new Labour Millbank operative, who is also the prospective candidate for the constituency, received a copy of the substantive reply, which she lodged with local journalists that day, well before the answer appeared in Hansard on Tuesday morning and before I received the reply on Tuesday. The answer that I received yesterday was dated Monday and addressed to "Dr. Evan Harris, MP, House of Lords". I am not sure whether that was flattery or wishful thinking, but it was either incompetence or a deliberate attempt by the Department to deny the House and the questioning Member of Parliament rapid access to the Department's response, and stands in stark contrast to its rapid release and availability to a Labour party activist.
What advice, Mr. Speaker, can you give the Minister to ensure that departmental officials know that Members of Parliament are to be found in the House of Commons, not the House of Lords? Furthermore, what advice can you give me to ensure that Back Benchers are able, through parliamentary questions, to hold the Government to account, and that parliamentary answers are not released to Government party politicians by the Government before the House and the questioning Member are notified?
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the BSE crisis, there was justifiable criticism that food safety and agriculture were the responsibility of the same Ministry, and, at times, Ministers from the Department of Health came to the House to deal with public safety issues. Those responsibilities have now been separated, but we have yet to hear about the food safety aspects of foot and mouth disease. You kindly told the House that you expect the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to answer questions in the House tomorrow. Will you inquire about whether a Minister from the Department of Health will deal with the food safety issues? Everyone says that there are no human health risks with food and mouth disease, but we were told that about BSE, and it is important that we should have an opportunity to question a Health Minister on issues concerning the Food Standards Agency.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I would not expect any further points on that matter. I have given an answer and I do not wish to intervene further. The hon. Gentleman should ask the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) whether he can look at the letter that I sent.
I am privileged to be a member of the Select Committee on International Development. We are just concluding an inquiry into corruption, during which the immensely damaging effects of bribery on economies and investment have become clear. Those who suffer most are usually the poorest in society. There is mounting anger among those who, through corruption, are denied the fundamental services that we take for granted.
The Government, and the previous Conservative Government, are to be commended for co-operating with the OECD states to bring forward the convention in record time. The OECD's original recommendations on corruption and on ending the deductibility of bribes for tax purposes were made in 1994 and 1996. The recommendation to proceed to a convention came in May 1997. The convention was signed in December 1997, was ratified by the UK in December 1998, and came into force in February 1999. The preamble states:
We are committed to the fight against corruption wherever it is found. Corruption knows no boundaries. And the development of e-commerce makes it increasingly difficult to pin down the physical location at which a corrupt transaction has taken place. The law has to catch up with these realities."
This matter is urgent. The OECD working group on corruption, in an evaluation issued in June 2000, concluded that UK laws were not in compliance with the convention and urged the enactment of appropriate legislation by the end of 2000. The Government accept the need for this legislation, but apparently they would prefer it to be part of a comprehensive measure reforming the general law of corruption, including the bribery of parliamentarians and other potentially controversial reforms. That measure will come before the House when parliamentary time allows.
Meanwhile, other leading G7 nations and most of the signatory states have taken steps to bring their laws into line with the convention. Some of them now view the UK's inaction with increasing frustration and irritation. While there is no clear offence of bribing foreign officials, offshore bribes, incredibly, remain tax deductible, as is confirmed by the Treasury's guidance to inspectors of taxes.
There is no compelling reason for this limited but vital reform of our criminal law to await a much wider Bill at some indeterminate future date. The offence stands alone. It needs to be dealt with urgently for the UK to maintain credibility in its determination to deal with international economic crime.
My Bill reads the offence into existing legislation. It therefore in no way prejudices a future comprehensive Bill which I am sure will come forward in due course. Also, at a single stroke, it cures the scandal of UK tax deductibility of foreign bribes. Mercifully, domestic corruption in this country is not too serious; when it is discovered, our existing legislation, although unchanged since 1916, has proved to be an adequate basis for prosecution.
The publication by the World Bank of its list of companies found to have behaved corruptly in regard to Bank-funded procurement reveals a significant number of British businesses. In no case has it been possible to prosecute in this country. The UK and the City of London must not be allowed to be corruption and money- laundering havens. The report last week of the Financial Services Authority showed that $1.3 billion, the proceeds of corruption and looted funds of the late President Abacha of Nigeria, had been laundered through London banks. Easy laundering of funds leads to greater extortion in corrupt regimes. The reputation of the City demands that we show the world that we are not soft on economic crime.
In addition to creating the offence of bribing foreign public officials, the Bill would enact the Government's proposals for expanding the jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales. It would include nationality based jurisdiction, so that even if all the components of an offence--offer, acceptance and payment--took place offshore, it could still be prosecuted here.
The Bill also proposes to remove the requirement for the consent of the Attorney-General to institute a prosecution for the new offence of bribing foreign public officials. The Law Commission, in its recent review of the law of corruption, recommended that. The OECD convention requires that to protect the independence of prosecution, the discretion whether or not to investigate and prosecute foreign bribery should be based solely on professional motives and is not to be subject to improper influence by concerns of a political nature. No one suggests that a Law Officer would exercise his or her powers improperly, but the Attorney-General is a member of the Government. For this reason, the OECD working group recommended that the UK should reconsider that requirement.
I should like to pay tribute to the Departments and organisations that are working hard to curb the damage wrought by corruption worldwide, but particularly in poor and emerging economies. The Department for International Development is at the forefront of UK initiatives in this area. Following the recent review of the Export Credits Guarantee Department, new business principles and practices have been introduced to ensure that publicly funded support does not go to business induced by bribery. The ECGD's policies now expressly include promotion of the full implementation of the OECD convention.
The World Bank has in recent years initiated an anti-corruption strategy. Transparency International never ceases to keep the issue at the forefront of world concern. There is much more to be done, but these and comparable initiatives are changing the way in which business is done. The enactment of the Bill is essential as a priority in any future commitment to legislation. I commend it to the House.