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Bribery and corruption: foreign officers etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): With this we may discuss the following: Clauses 107 and 108 stand part.

New clause 5—Consent for prosecution under sections 106 or 107—

'.—(1) No prosecution for an offence under sections 106 or 107 shall be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney General.

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(2) The Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament at least once every twelve months a report on any prosecutions arising under section 106 or 107.'.

Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. I raise this point of order so that we do not make mistakes later on. The provisions in the group that we are about to discuss all relate to bribery and corruption. Clauses 107 and 108 are then grouped next on the list. If we finish our debate on that group before 10 o'clock and are able to begin consideration of clause 109 at 10 o'clock, can we vote on clause 109—I guess that clause 110 will be grouped with it—without having compromised our views on the earlier clauses which will by then have been disposed of? I want to ensure that they can be separated.

The First Deputy Chairman: The hon. Gentleman is correct. At that stage, if it is before 10 pm, clause 109 can be voted on separately.

Mr. Letwin: Further to that point of order, Mrs. Heal. If matters should not fall that way, I understand that you will be under an obligation under Standing Orders to call clauses 107, 108, 109 and 110 together. In which case, I place it on record that although we will be voting against that collectivity, it will actually be a vote against clauses 109 and 110 and not against clauses 107 and 108.

The First Deputy Chairman: I thank the hon. Gentleman. Hon. Members present will have heard what he said.

Beverley Hughes: Clauses 106 and 107 implement proposals contained in our White Paper, "Raising Standards and Upholding Integrity: the Prevention of Corruption". As we noted earlier, all parties expressed support for the clauses. We hope that the clauses meet our commitments to the OECD convention.

Clause 106 will ensure that the common law offence of bribery extends to persons holding public office outside the United Kingdom. It will also amend the Prevention of Corruption Acts to ensure that they cover the bribery and corruption of foreign public bodies and officials, as well as those in the private sector, irrespective of whether their functions are carried out here or abroad.

Clause 107 will extend our courts' extraterritorial jurisdiction over bribery and corruption offences committed abroad by United Kingdom nationals and bodies incorporated under United Kingdom law. Clause 108 is technical, but important, as it will ensure that the existing presumption of corruption will not apply more widely as a result of those clauses.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): I hope that the Committee will sympathise with me tonight because such is the nature of this place and these proceedings that, at different times during the course of the day, I have anticipated having to speak on bribery at very great length, very briefly or not at all. I have concluded that brevity would be appreciated by the Committee, because other important debates should be allowed to start as soon as possible after this one.

What of these proposals to implement the OECD convention so as to make it an offence to bribe a foreign official to induce him to give a benefit? In short, the proposals are worthy, and they have our support. Their

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implementation may have nothing to do with the current emergency; their connection with terrorism or security may be almost non-existent, but we are right to find a place for them nevertheless. However, may I make a few points to the Committee?

First, I find it terribly sad that we have no time to discuss these matters fully. They deserve close scrutiny; they deserve the attention of the whole House. One of the saddest things about today is that a number of very important issues will not get the time that they deserve. They deserve also very wide consultation, so I hope that the Government have consulted the British business world—after all, it will be affected—and taken its views into account.

I hope, too, that the Government have considered some of the practical difficulties of holding criminal court cases here that involve principally witnesses based outside our jurisdiction and that they have spoken to bodies such as a the Crown Prosecution Service, the judiciary and the Bar Council about some of those possible difficulties.

Secondly, do the Government realise that the proposals may have profound effects on our trade and on employment in this country? Do they accept that the proposals that we are considering tonight are thought by many to be a major self-denying ordinance, which we will, no doubt, obey in this country, while many of our competitors will not? Many countries that are signed up already ignore the convention, or they allow people to avoid it by using devices such as bogus consultancy contracts.

Of course, it is wrong to bribe foreign officials to get contracts, but that is often the way of the buying world. Interestingly, no country in Africa or the middle east has signed up. Only one country in south America is signed up. Very few countries in Asia have signed up, and Russia and China have not. It is because the Opposition feel that in all cases, including the common law offence of bribing a foreign official that will be newly created under clause 106, prosecutions should be brought only with the Attorney-General's consent, and because we believe that an annual report to Parliament detailing all such prosecutions should be required that the Opposition have proposed new clause 5, which covers just those points.

Particularly, in view of the time constraints on all hon. Members tonight, I hope that the Government will be very kind and helpful, and that they will accept new clause 5. It is quite a good new clause; I helped to draft it myself. It would be a great kindness if the Government were to consider it. I know that they have doubts about it, but an annual report to Parliament on prosecutions should not cause them any difficulty.

9.30 pm

Denzil Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why he wants prosecutions to be brought only with the Attorney-General's consent?

Mr. Malins: The Attorney-General's consent is already required for certain bribery offences. These provisions also face a novelty. If a British person bribes someone abroad—whether within or without the Bill's remit—there may be sensitive legal complications. Therefore, it seems to Conservative Members that the Attorney-General's consent would be very useful in every case.

Mr. McNamara: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there might be cases in which bribery is all right? Is he

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suggesting that it might be useful to secure a nice, fat, juicy defence contract but that it would not be nice if it secured a simple one for organic food?

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman makes a point, and I am stumped for a response. I have just noticed the clock, and I undertook to be brief. How time passes when one is enjoying oneself.

Mr. George Osborne: Have not the Government wished for a long time to incorporate the OECD convention on bribery into British law? Although we can debate at length the merits of the convention and whether it should be incorporated, it has absolutely nothing to do with the emergency powers needed to deal with the international terrorist threat.

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I made that point earlier.

I conclude by asking the Minister to clarify the position. I hope that I am wrong, but it seems to me that the common law offence as proposed would be committed by our security services every time that they bribed a foreign official to spy for us. That is a serious point and I would be very glad if she could deal with it. If that problem exists, I am sure that, for obvious reasons, the Committee would wish to remove it.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I am a little diffident about this proposal. Years ago, I had a summer job in Africa and I was responsible for accepting goods into a company's warehouse. It was impossible to do that job without providing money to a Government official. Much of the world works on that basis. In some countries, simple transactions need the lubrication of assisting public officials to make ends meet. That places us in a difficult position. Under the provision, I would presumably have been guilty of transmitting a $20 "dash", as it is called in Africa. However, that process operates around the world.

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is right. He refers to the practice of giving a "dash" and, if I may be forgiven for saying so, I must point out that my dear late mother passed her driving test in Africa only because my father, who was a Church of England clergyman, gave a "dash" to the driving instructor.

We have to look at the world as it is. We have to be sure that, in implementing the proposals, we take into account the effect that they will have on British business and commerce. [Interruption.] It is all very well for Labour Members to mutter, but Conservative Members have some concern for British business and we know something of the problems in the world. We hope that the Government will the examine the matter carefully and—possibly in another place—reconsider the provision to satisfy themselves that these proposals, which on paper are very worthy, will not be the impediment to British industry that some of us fear that they will be.

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