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Norman Baker: I shall be quick. Clauses 106 to 108 are unusual in two ways: they are reasonably uncontroversial by comparison with the rest of the Bill and the Government bothered to discuss them properly with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, an approach that might commend itself to other provisions.
Mr. Hogg: I do not want to speed the clauses on their way. They are sanctioned by the phrase "politically correct", but are probably bad legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) made a sound point when he said that the provisions have nothing to do with terrorism, but they are subject to a timetable and as a consequence right hon. and hon. Members are too inhibited to speak about them. That is a thoroughly bad thing. I am against the measures for three substantial reasons, which in itself is a good enough reason to oppose the Bill.
First, it is a general proposition of English law that people are not subject to the English criminal law for acts done outside this country's jurisdiction. There are some rare exceptions to that, but as a general proposition we should not extend English law in that way. It gives rise to a range of evidential problems and is difficult to justify because we have to ask what public interest is at stake. That brings me to my second point, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins).
It is my strong suspicion that the clauses would catch the security services. The Minister should comment on that. Let us be clear about one thing: members of the security services frequently bribe foreign officials in the interests of the United Kingdom. I was in the Foreign Office for five years and no one had better tell me that that does not happen. I find it difficult to understand why such people should be caught by the provisions, and if they are not to be caught, why not?
The American Government have put a price on the head of bin Laden, and a good thing too. In some circumstances, that could constitute a bribe to an official to have him killed, but we are told that that would be an offence under this legislation. If my interpretation of the Bill is wrong, I look forward to hearing the Minister tell me why, but, on the face of it, I am right and the Bill is absurd.
My final point relates to what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said. All of us who have been involved in trade abroadI did it as a Foreign Office Ministerknow full well the consultancy arrangement and commission. Time and time again, major contracts are acquired by payments of substantial commission. If we are honest about those payments, they constitute a bribe. The money is paid to an agent; it is called a commission. From that commission, the agent pays an inducement. That happens throughout the world. All trading countries do it. If we create a criminal structure that prevents our businesses from doing that, or being fearful of doing that, we will place a serious constraint on them.
Beverley Hughes: I disagree entirely with the argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman just made, and which the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) made in his introduction: that there is no relationship between these clauses and terrorism. Some Members on the Opposition Front Bench do not share their views either. There is obviously a relationship, in that corrupt Governments help to create the conditions that engender terrorism and we need to make it clear that the bribery of foreign officials is just as unacceptable as the bribery of United Kingdom officials.
Mr. George Osborne: For how long has it been the intention of the Home Office to incorporate in British law the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery? Could the Minister say for how long that has been an objective, so that we may judge whether it needs to be in this emergency legislation?
Beverley Hughes: The hon. Gentleman has not been in the House very long, but he may know that last year, a White Paper was published that proposed the revision of all our laws on bribery and corruption. Such revisions will be made in due course. In the meantime, all parties have agreed that these two clauses represent the minimum that we need to do to try to ensure our compliance with the OECD convention as far as we can. Actually, the start of that process was a specific request in a debate in the House, by the Conservative party's spokesperson on international development, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), that the Bill be used as the vehicle for these two clauses.
We certainly agree with the spirit of the first part of new clause 5, but I have to tell the hon. Member for Woking, despite his evident hard work prior to tonight, that I am afraid that that has all been irrelevant because the Bill amends existing statutory offences, both of which already require a Law Officer's consent, so that requirement applies to the clauses in part 12 without the need for any further amendment.
Just to deal with the second part of the new clause at this stage, I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Woking that the proposal for reporting to Parliament is necessary. The total number of persons proceeded against under the Prevention of Corruption Acts in the last calendar year was 17. On the basis of the experience in the United States we expect, as a result of these clauses, only another very small numberperhaps fewer than fiveand I believe that a report to Parliament on that basis would be rather over-egging it.
Denzil Davies: There may be only a few cases, but is not there a case in principle for asking the Attorney-General to make a report to the House of Commons on the exercise or non-exercise of his discretion?
In answer to the question about the security services, we certainly do not envisage any circumstance where a prosecutor would consider instigating any proceedings in the situations outlined by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and the requirement that the Attorney-General do give his consent to any statutory prosecutions is a long-stop safeguard, were that to be needed.
Mr. Hogg: But let us be clear about what the hon. Lady has said. She has said that the act would be criminal, but that she is relying on the discretion of the Attorney- General not to start a prosecution.
Beverley Hughes: That is not what I said. I said that we did not envisage any circumstances, such as those outlined by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which would satisfy the threshold for prosecution and, in any case, the fact that the Attorney-General's consent would be required is a safeguard.
'arising from the 2001 Framework Decision of the European Union on combating terrorism'.
'limited to those directives that may be required to be implemented by 31st December 2001 under the Framework Decision on CounterTerrorism and the 1994 and 1995 Supplementary Convention on Extradition'.