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4.49 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I oppose the Bill presented today by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), but wish to make it clear at the outset that it is nothing personal. Indeed, without wishing to overstate the case, it pains me somewhat to oppose the hon. Gentleman, who is one of the most courteous Members of the House. He is a likeable cove, and a man for whom I have considerable respect. However, he has not done himself justice today, because the Bill will not achieve its stated objective. It is important to emphasise to people listening to this debate that it is not even intended to do so. In short, it is a classic example of a triumph of style over substance--something that we have seen consistently from this Government for nigh on four years.

I want to explain why that is so. The hon. Gentleman, who serves on the Select Committee on International Development, is well informed about the issues and reads

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closely from a carefully prepared script. As he knows, the Government set out their thinking as recently as November 1997, when they stated in their White Paper "Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century" their support for measures to counteract bribery and corruption in the specific context of international business transactions. Thereafter, however, no legislation was introduced to give effect to the OECD convention.

In a written answer published in column 33W of the Official Report on 10 April 2000, a Minister--I think that he spoke for the Department for International Development, but he certainly represented the Government--said that the Government intended to introduce legislation as soon as possible to give effect to the provisions of the OECD convention. That answer was given 11 months ago, but nothing has happened since. No action has been taken and the Government have made no progress. I assume that the answer was provided at least partly in response to the justified criticism made in January last year by George Moody-Stewart, head of the UK chapter of the anti-corruption non-governmental organisation Transparency International. He pointed out that although the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were said to have an ethical foreign policy, it was difficult to make that claim without support for the OECD convention.

A most remarkable and instructive development occurred when my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) challenged the Secretary of State for International Development on that subject. Hon. Members will have observed that the right hon. Lady was in an especially tetchy mood. She demurred when my hon. Friend teased her by saying that the Government had done absolutely nothing to give effect to their high-falutin' declarations of good intent and had become embarrassed by the fact that the hon. Member for Putney had introduced a Bill to deal with those good intentions. She dissented and said that she was not embarrassed for the simple reason that it was her idea that he should introduce the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head--that is not a career-enhancing move. It is a dangerous initiative and I would expect better of him. The Secretary of State said that it was her idea, but now he is claiming parentage. Let there be an argument between Birmingham, Ladywood and Putney, but those involved should bear in mind that the issue is of the greatest importance.

As someone who believes passionately in the integrity and efficacy of the House of Commons and who wants to see those two qualities restored, I am concerned that if we support the Bill we will be engaged in humbug and nonsense--it will be nonsense on stilts at that. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Bill will not be enacted before the election; indeed, it is not intended to become law. The Government could have addressed the issue in their recently published International Development Bill, which contains no fewer than 20 clauses and six schedules. He now tells us that that issue is both "essential" and "urgent", but the Secretary of State declined to use a Government Bill to achieve the objectives that we are considering.

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Ministers are now seeking to spin to the public the impression that they are serious about those objectives and that a prominent Back Bencher, who is a very worthy, assiduous and trusted member of the International Development Committee, is going to deliver the goods. The public should know that that will not happen. The Bill will not become law and is not intended to be enacted. Of course, it might be intended to assist the hon. Gentleman, who has a majority of 2,976 in Putney, where he faces a formidable threat in the form of Mr. Michael Simpson, the constituency's energetic, talented and determined prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate. Mr. Simpson needs to secure a shift of only 1,489 votes to ensure that he becomes the representative of that constituency in this House. I therefore understand the hon. Gentleman's domestic difficulties, but I hope that he will understand that that cannot be my prime motivation.

The Government are doing themselves a disservice and the hon. Gentleman is compounding the sin. These people have the time to introduce a Bill to criminalise the country pursuits of tens of thousands of hitherto law-abiding people but, apparently, they do not have the time to introduce a Bill to give effect to the intention stated by Ministers as long ago as November 1997. That is shabby and unworthy.

I do not wish to divide the House on the matter, because we have other important matters to address today. However, I am genuinely disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. We all had high hopes for him. He should not reduce himself to being a craven lickspittle of the Secretary of State for International Development.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Colman, Mr. Bowen Wells, Dr. Vincent Cable, Ann Clwyd, Barbara Follett, Mr. Nigel Jones, Ms Oona King, Ms Tess Kingham, Mr. Andrew Rowe and Mr. Tony Worthington.

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Bribery of Foreign Public Officials

Mr. Tony Colman accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for combating the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions by implementing the OECD Convention of 1997; to amend the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916; to make further provision for the investigation of, and about the jurisdiction of courts in England and Wales in relation to, certain bribery offences; to amend the Criminal Justice Acts 1987 and 1993; to make provision about the powers of the Attorney General in relation to such offences; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 July, and to be printed [Bill 64].

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you tell the House what remedy is available to us if we want to ensure that, whatever view we may have about a guillotine timetable, if there is a guillotine and a significant part of that guillotine time is taken up by other matters--for understandable reasons about which colleagues have no complaint--the lost time could be made up so that the maximum guillotine time is permitted?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but the Order of the House does not allow for that flexibility.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 145(2) (Liaison Committee),

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Criminal Justice and Police Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee and pursuant to Order [12 March], considered.

New Clause 13

Collective harassment

'.--(1) In section 7 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (interpretation of sections 1 to 5), there shall be inserted the following subsection--

"(3A) A person's conduct on any occasion shall be taken, if aided, abetted, counselled or procured by another--
(a) to be conduct on that occasion of the other (as well as conduct of the person whose conduct it is); and
(b) to be conduct in relation to which the other's knowledge and purpose, and what he ought to have known, are the same as they were in relation to what was contemplated or reasonably foreseeable at the time of the aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring.".
(2) This section has effect in relation to any aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring that takes place after the coming into force of this section.'.--[Mr. Charles Clarke.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.58 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 60, in clause 43, page 34, line 31, after "the", insert "immediate".

No. 61, in page 35, line 1, after "cause", insert "serious".

No. 62, in page 35, line 1, after "or", insert "serious".

No. 63, in page 35, line 6, after "any", insert "serious".

No. 64, in page 35, line 6, after "or", insert "serious".

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