“military status has been utilized to silence anyone who has questions about the true impact of the oil project.”

On 15 April last year, the park’s chief warden and SOCO International opponent, Emmanuel de Merode, was driving back to his Virunga HQ after depositing a dossier on SOCO International’s activities with the public prosecutor in the provincial capital. His car was sprayed with bullets by unknown gunmen. Emmanuel de Merode was hit twice, but miraculously survived. SOCO International felt moved to issue a public statement denying involvement in the shooting.

An article in The Daily Telegraph published in September said that, in April last year, two fishermen were killed by soldiers protecting SOCO International’s compound, just hours after arguing against SOCO International’s presence in their community. The deaths were verified by Human Rights Watch, according to the article.

In December, the all-party group on anti-corruption heard from members of civil society in the park, and their stories of intimidation were deeply concerning. One activist, Alphonse Muhindo Valivambe, told the group that he and his colleagues “faced death every day” in their campaign against oil activities in Virunga. Indeed, Mr Valivambe was forced to flee to London for three months in 2012, so concerned was he for his personal safety.

As per the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, I ask the Minister whether and in what capacity the UK’s diplomatic missions in the region will support the human rights and civil society activists who are trying to defend the park’s protected status. What have the field offices done thus far to support civil society activists, and does the FCO feel it has done enough? Those guidelines say that states must take responsibility for the actions of companies domiciled within their jurisdictions. What can the UK Government do to ensure that SOCO International is conforming to these guiding principles, and what sanctions can they impose if they find that SOCO International, its representatives or allies have committed human rights abuses?

4.13 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on securing the debate. She has brought to the House a case study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has attracted widespread attention not only in the United Kingdom, but globally, and that brings together two related but distinct issues: the protection of the unique environment of the Virunga national park; and the specific, serious allegations that have been made about the conduct of one company, to which my hon. Friend related. I want to try to address both those questions.

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All hon. Members know that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but, particularly in the eastern region, it has been beset by conflict and grave human rights abuses, and there remain endemic, appalling levels of poverty. The coalition Government are committed to supporting the DRC in developing and growing. Our assistance to the country is lifting people out of poverty, helping to improve security and human rights, and supporting an improved business climate. There is a long way to go—I am the first to agree—but the Government, through our international development programme, are investing in reforms to increase access to finance, in job creation and the promotion of opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially women and young people, and in essential infrastructure to increase access to markets.

Our objective is to make the DRC extractive sector more transparent and accountable, given its potential to be an engine for growth and public revenue generation, but for that to happen, any development of extractive industries in the DRC needs to be done in a way that both meets its domestic legal requirements and conforms to international norms, laws and codes on the extractive industries. We certainly expect any UK company to set an example in that respect and not to try to subvert those standards.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): I apologise for not being here from the start of the debate, Dr McCrea. I am sure my all-party parliamentary group colleague, the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), made her case robustly.

The Minister mentioned the role of UK companies. Obviously, some that represent our overseas territories and Crown dependencies had some role in the Virunga situation. What action can we take against those jurisdictions for which we have some responsibility?

Mr Lidington: I may come to that later.

My hon. Friend asked about our political engagement with the DRC Government. We are committed to working with the DRC Government to try to spread the values of the rule of law, transparency and good governance, which we believe are right in principle. Their implementation would help the DRC to bring about improvement in the material standard of living and a better quality of life overall for its people.

We are committed to supporting UK companies in the DRC. Foreign investment in sectors such as hydro- carbons and the extractive industries can play an important role in boosting the development of countries such as the DRC and lifting people out of poverty. However, the Government’s long-standing position has been, and remains, to oppose all oil exploration in the Virunga national park, a world heritage site listed by UNESCO as being “in danger”. Our position has not changed. Any investment in that world heritage site needs to be done responsibly and sustainably, in compliance with local law and conforming to international standards.

The UK Government welcomed the announcement that SOCO plc made on 11 June 2014, in conjunction with World Wide Fund for Nature. SOCO pledged that it would complete its existing programme of work in Virunga and committed not to undertake or commission exploratory or other drilling within Virunga national park unless UNESCO and the DRC Government agree

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that such activities are not incompatible with its world heritage status. We also welcome SOCO’s commitment not to conduct any operations in other world heritage sites. I emphasise that we expect SOCO to honour those commitments. If we had evidence that SOCO was breaking those commitments that it entered into publicly, we would not hesitate to press the Government of the DRC or, in another jurisdiction, the Government of that country, to take the appropriate action.

Tessa Munt: My right hon. Friend the Minister will understand my confusion. He just confirmed that the 2012 statement, which opposed all oil exploration inside the Virunga national park, is current, but there is potentially pressure from the company on members of the DRC Government or UNESCO—it is more likely to be members of the DRC Government—to redraw the boundary lines of the Virunga national park. Therefore, I should like him to confirm that the existing boundaries are those we recognise, and that that is final.

Mr Lidington: When I refer to potential breaches of the commitments into which SOCO entered, I include within that any attempt by SOCO to redraw the boundaries of the Virunga national park to suit those commercial interests. In the June 2014 statement, we welcomed the fact that any agreement on development would need the consent not only of the DRC Government, for the reasons my hon. Friend intimated in her speech, but of UNESCO. That was important and created a double lock on any such assessment.

There should be no attempts to delist Virunga as a world heritage site or a national park, nor should any further company be awarded exploration rights in Virunga. We continue to urge the DRC Government to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory. We are aware of the allegations, which my hon. Friend has repeated today, of wrongdoing against SOCO corporately, its employees and the agents connected to its activities in Virunga. Some of those allegations were listed in the documentary film “Virunga”.

The Serious Fraud Office is aware of the allegations. I am sure the House will understand that it is important that the decision on whether to prosecute in any case is made by the prosecutorial authorities and not by politicians. We expect all companies either operating or registered in the United Kingdom to act appropriately and in compliance with the law. We encourage anyone with evidence of serious fraud, bribery or corruption to contact the SFO. The Government have explained to some of the Virunga campaign groups how exactly they should go about supplying securely any evidence they have to the SFO for it to investigate.

My hon. Friend asked about the UK’s broader approach to combating corruption and the implementation of the Bribery Act 2010. The Government published the United Kingdom’s anti-corruption plan in December last year. It sets out how the Government are doing more across Whitehall’s areas of responsibility to increase transparency, tackle money laundering and ensure that the UK is at the forefront of efforts to raise international standards. The plan sets out a range of measures that we are taking to tackle corruption around the world. Priorities include identifying illicit financial flows; the return of stolen assets; efforts to raise global standards for all, including

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our international development programmes; and the promotion of sustainable growth, which includes work to stop bribery.

We are committed to going further by leading the way on the international stage, as was done at the 2013 Enniskillen G8 summit, and by impressing on the international community the benefits of measures, such as publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership, in the fight against illicit financial flows. The purpose of embodying that in an anti-corruption plan is precisely to enable more effective and more transparent collaboration across Government to try to break out of a silo mentality, to ensure that the efforts of all Departments and agencies are directed effectively to securing our objectives.

Anas Sarwar: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Lidington: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way once to him already and I want to reply to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Wells made.

Our embassies, high commissions and consulates are active in supporting the effective implementation of the Bribery Act 2010, which has been recognised as a world-leading piece of legislation. Our posts overseas are always keen to ensure that British companies are fully aware of their obligations under the 2010 Act when they seek to invest or trade in any of those foreign jurisdictions. We are also working to improve standards of anti-corruption legislation and enforcement among our trading partners internationally through the OECD, the United Nations and the Council of Europe conventions against corruption.

Within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a new central anti-corruption and transparency team was established in August 2013. Its remit includes improving the support and guidance provided to officials overseas and exchanging best practice. We have supported the DRC Government in particular to improve their business environment. In 2012, we supported the launch of the business code of conduct, an initiative of the DRC private sector anti-corruption initiative. Already around 20 companies adhere to that private sector code of conduct.

On international anti-corruption day, which was 9 December 2013, we supported the signing of the DRC’s national anti-corruption pact between the public sector, the private sector and civil society. Prime Minister Matata attended the event. The best way forward is to persist with those efforts and to work to improve economic growth and the human rights situation in the DRC. I will not stand here and pretend that the DRC will be brought to prosperity, political stability and high standards of anti-corruption overnight. A long task still lies ahead of us and our international partners, but the course that we have established is starting to deliver some results.

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Tessa Munt: I thank the Minister greatly for letting me intervene again. Will he address the fact that American citizens are involved in the company? The masking of company identity and the individuals involved in companies registered in Delaware is a perpetual problem. Can something be done with our American counterparts on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

Mr Lidington: I will write to my hon. Friend in more detail on that point. I want to check whether, in the case of the American prosecutorial and judicial authorities, any evidence or information that might lead to a prosecution has to be transmitted through international legal channels, rather than just being transmitted through diplomatic or political channels. If there is a legal channel that enables evidence to be sent to the American authorities, I will alert her to that.

To respond to the points that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) made, the Prime Minister has made clear to the overseas territories that he wants them to follow the United Kingdom’s lead and mandate publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership. The overseas territories are not fully independent, but they each have their own legislatures and their own democratic and constitutional arrangements. Most of the overseas territories decided to consult on the question of publicly accessible registers. The majority of those consultations have taken place and most overseas territory Governments are still analysing the results. We are keeping them informed of how our register will work in practice, so that they can take that into account when considering what works best for them. The UK Government have made it clear that we expect the British overseas territories to apply the highest international standards when it comes to such things as registers of beneficial ownership. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he intends to pursue that.

I highlight the UK’s commitment to the region and to eastern DRC in particular. Our development assistance and political engagement are targeted on what is important: bringing people out of poverty; promoting the rule of law, transparency and good governance; supporting civil society; and encouraging economic growth. In pursuing those objectives, we will always ensure that while we support responsible investment in the DRC by UK companies, we expect high standards and we expect those companies to follow legal obligations. We will continue to make businesses aware of their obligations under the Bribery Act 2010.

Virunga is a jewel in the centre of Africa. The people who live there must be protected, and its rich biodiversity must be protected for future generations. We support the alternative vision for Virunga, which emphasises such enterprises as sustainable fisheries, eco-tourism and small-scale hydropower. I finish by applauding the tenacity and bravery of the director of the Virunga national park, Emmanuel de Merode, and his rangers. Their work has had a real impact in bringing this issue to the attention of the world and in ensuring that the importance of Virunga and the need to protect it are not forgotten.

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Mining in Goa (UK-listed Companies)

4.30 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): This debate is about the effects in Goa of mining by UK-listed companies, and I called for it because I have a sizeable number of constituents of Goan origin, one of them being my wife. Goans take an absolute pride in the beauty of their state in India, from its architecture—buildings, homes, towns, churches and temples—to the long, unspoilt beaches along its coast and the breathtaking splendour of the mountains of the Western Ghats. That deep feeling for the environmental beauty of their home state has mobilised Goans both at home and abroad to expose and tackle head-on the devastating threat from mining that over recent decades has disfigured its hills, polluted its rivers, undermined its agriculture and put at risk its tourist trade.

I wanted to bring this issue to the attention of the House because a London-listed mining company, Vedanta, and its subsidiary, Sesa Goa, have been at the forefront of the mining practices that have caused such environmental, social and economic devastation. I also wanted to raise the issue because the next few months are a critical time for determining the future of the mining industry in Goa: will we see a return to rapacious profiteering and the exploitation of the Goan environment, or will Goa strike out on a new path, with not only a respect for the environment but the establishment of institutional arrangements that ensure that the past and future earnings from mining are invested in the interests of the Goan people? By offering both moral and practical support, the UK could assist the Goan campaigners who are working so hard and courageously to ensure a sustainable future for Goa’s economy and environment. We can learn much from their recent campaigning to protect their environment.

Goa combines a richness in mineral resources with a rich and diverse environment. The Goa Foundation was established by members of the Goan community in 1986 to protect and promote a sustainable environment for the state. Since the early 1990s, the foundation has worked to achieve a balance between mining and the protection of the environment. In a recent report, the foundation described how in the decades prior to 2012 the environment of Goa became the victim of

“unbridled mining by greedy mining companies and an administration that steadfastly looked the other way.”

The report goes on to explain what happened in the decade up to 2012:

“As prices skyrocketed due to robust demand from China, miners flouted rules to extract as much iron ore as possible while government officials looked on and even joined in the plunder…As a result of reckless mining, our natural environment suffered irreparable damage due to the mining operations, adversely affecting the surrounding ecology and assaulting public health…Since most mining leases are located in forest areas, we lost many hectares of prime forest which can never be replaced…Our streams dried up and our rivers ran red with the mud from the mining dumps…We denuded entire hills and replaced these with new mountains made up of nothing but mining wastes.”

Campaigners also published a short report in July 2011 about what happened at the village of Mulgao that year as a result of unrestrained mining operations at one of the largest mining sites. Visible as one flies into Goa, it is an open-cast iron ore operation that is

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14 km in length and carves through tropical forest, cutting across fertile farmland and polluting vital water sources. In July 2011, a large section of the mine’s outer wall collapsed during heavy rain. Thousands of tonnes of silt and mud cascaded into adjacent settlements, swamping paddy fields, polluting lakes, destroying trees and risking lives. The company whose woeful negligence led to the disaster is Sesa Goa, which is owned and managed by the London-registered Vedanta. It was not the first time that the company was held responsible for such a calamity: a similar collapse occurred in June 2009 at two other Vedanta pits in the same area. Vedanta was ordered to close them down but neglected to do so: for two years running, it flagrantly ignored Goa’s air and water pollution regulations.

Thanks to determined and courageous campaigning by the Goa Foundation, in 2012 the Indian Government established under Justice Shah a commission to investigate the mining industry in Goa. The Shah commission exposed systematic illegality, with mining taking place without the necessary licences and outside the leased areas. The commission said:

“The regulatory mechanism has been totally collapsed and irregularities due to maladministration have risen to its peak. In the process, the sole loser is environment, eco-system of the Western Ghats, general public and treasury of Goa State.”

The Indian Public Accounts Committee reported:

“There is a complete breakdown of all machineries provided by the Statute which are required to ensure that mining is undertaken and carried out in a legally permissible manner. The term ‘irregular mining’ is nothing but illegal mining.”

The three reports of the Shah commission and the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee exposed the illegal and corrupt practices of the mining companies and their political allies, including the use of force and forgeries. I visited one of the lawyers representing local village communities in their attempts to protect the local environment and their farms from the mining industry. He explained the standard practices of intimidation that the mine owners use against anyone who stood up to them. First, they try to bribe people to stay quiet. If that fails, they send in the goondas—thugs—to threaten people. When that fails, they lodge spurious claims against people with the local police, including, in the case of the lawyer I spoke to, a claim of attempted murder. I pay tribute to the courage and determination of the lawyers, campaigners and honest politicians who have stood up to such intimidation.

The Shah commission estimated that the continuation of mining on such a scale in Goa would ensure the

“complete removal of all mineral wealth in nine years”.

After the commission’s report, mining operations in Goa were suspended in 2012, and the Supreme Court ordered a ban on mining operations in the state in October 2012. Subsequently, in a case brought by the Goa Foundation, the Supreme Court ruled that the mining operations—including the extraction, sale and export of ore from all Goa mining leases—was illegal from November 2007, when the leases came to an end and were not renewed. It held that all mining dumps and dumping outside mines was illegal and that the operation of leases by persons and companies that were not the leaseholders was also illegal. It asked an expert committee to return with a cap on ore production within 12 months, with an interim cap set at 20 million tonnes a year, and gave the environmental Ministry

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six months to issue a formal notification declaring a buffer zone of 1 km around various sanctuaries and protected areas in Goa.

In the light of the judgment, the Goa Foundation, working with the Natural Resource Governance Institute in Oxford and the Cambridge Judge business school’s Centre for Endowment Asset Management, has explored in expert detail how Goans can halt the loss to the Goan community of the massive wealth that has been generated by mining. The foundation proposed that from now on, funds raised from mining, including the mining of the dumps, should be placed in a permanent fund to be managed and invested independently of the Government. The income from the fund would be used for the welfare of Goa’s citizens, with clearly defined entitlements relating to educational opportunities, health facilities, housing and the rehabilitation of the environment damaged by the mining operations. As a model for the permanent fund, the foundation looked to the Norwegian pension fund, which was created from the sale of oil resources and has amassed $870 billion for a population of 5 million. I commend the Goa Foundation for its creativity and foresight, and I hope that our Government look at some of the developments in the shale gas industry in the same way.

The Supreme Court decided that a Goan iron ore permanent fund should be established, with 10% of the proceeds of all mineral ore sales to be allocated to it. The Goan state government has notified a permanent fund scheme, but the scheme notified is impermanent, which will almost certainly be open to challenge by the Goa Foundation. In addition, the capture rate—the intrinsic value of the mining assets allocated to the fund —was set at 10%, which is viewed by many as unrealistically low. Indeed, under India’s Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act 1957, the Goan government has a duty to recover all revenues and profits from mining operations conducted without a valid lease.

The Goa Foundation has assessed a minimum amount recoverable from the illegal iron ore mining between November 2007 and September 2012. It looked in particular at the exports of Vedanta’s subsidiary Sesa Sterlite, or Sesa Goa, during that period. Sesa Goa was by far the largest producer and exporter of iron ore in Goa, controlling about 30% of the volume. When the foundation looked at those four years and estimated a price of $60 per tonne, it put the amount payable to the people of Goa for the illegal export of ore by the company at $3.687 billion. Another estimate put the figure even higher. A contribution to a permanent fund of that magnitude would finance significant social investment in the health, education, employment and quality of life of all Goans for the long-term future.

Under pressure from the mining companies, however, the Goan government has decided to renew almost all the mining leases, instead of recovering the significant amounts owed to the Goan community or even auctioning off the leases. Other states, including neighbouring Karnataka, have proposed the auction of the mine leases on a revenue-share basis, with a minimum bid of 35%. That is considerably higher than the 10% contribution to the permanent fund proposed for Goa.

I attended Vedanta’s most recent annual general meeting. I expected to see an impairment written into its accounts to provide for its liability to pay back the $3.687 billion

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that it had earned from illegal exploitation of the iron ore deposits between 2007 and 2012. Such a figure had not been set aside in the accounts. The annual report made no reference to the illegal mining that the Supreme Court had found the company to be carrying out from 2007. At the time of the publication of the Vedanta annual report, the High Court had not determined the renewal of the leases, nor had the Goan state government. I am suspicious of Vedanta’s confidence that it could exercise sufficient influence over the Government to avoid paying for its illegal mining activities and that it would soon be up and running again in its mines.

I hope that the determined and courageous campaigning by the Goa Foundation will win out, and that the permanent fund will be established with sufficient income from the past illegally mined assets of the Goan people and from future, environmentally sustainable operations. I am confident that the heroes and heroines of the foundation will be successful. Their determination is to be admired. I pay tribute to a number of them: the foundation’s director, Dr Claude Alvares; Rahul Basu; Dean D’Cruz; Carmen Miranda; and Samarendra Das. They all, at some risk to themselves, have stood up to be counted on behalf of the Goan people.

I fear for the future, however, while rogue companies such as Vedanta are allowed to destroy environments, undermine communities and abuse human rights with virtual impunity. Vedanta is a UK-listed company that enjoys the prestige and financial benefits of being listed in London. The UK therefore has a responsibility to monitor and police the company’s operation, in particular its adherence to international conventions and treaties on civil liberties and environmental impacts.

The company has gained a reputation for abuse of human rights, tax avoidance and environmental degradation in its operations in Zambia and India. In 2007, Norway’s Council on Ethics concluded:

“Continuing to invest in…Vedanta would present an unacceptable risk of contributing to grossly unethical activities.”

In response, the Norwegian sovereign pension fund sold all its Vedanta shares. Only last week, Vedanta was involved in yet another scandal when civil servants were arrested for leaking mining industry information to the company. In 2010, the Church of England divested itself of its shares in Vedanta, because

“after six months of engagement, we are not satisfied that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in future to show, the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect of companies in whom the Church investing bodies hold shares.”

In the debate on the legislation to erect the new architecture for the supervision of our banking and financial system, I tabled various amendments intended to award the new Financial Conduct Authority powers to supervise the adherence of London-listed companies to international treaties and conventions on human rights, labour law and environmental sustainability. More recently, the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, in its report on the extractive industries, warned of the negative impacts on local and indigenous communities of the mining industry. The Committee welcomed the Government’s work to increase openness and transparency and the signing up to European Union directives. The report went on to support my view:

“We believe that the Government should consider expanding the FCA’s remit to include not only oversight of financial transparency, but also the social, environmental and corporate governance

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reporting for companies applying to list on the London Stock Exchange. If it is not felt appropriate for the FCA, the Government should determine which body should have the remit to do so.”

Successive Governments have watched the excesses of the deregulated finance sector and the banks and have done nothing. As a result, we have endured an economic crisis that has produced immense hardship here and across the globe. If we sit back again and do nothing to control and curtail the damaging, divisive and destructive activities of rogue companies such as Vedanta, a UK-listed company, the long-term consequences for our country, its reputation and its standing in the world, and for our environment, could be equally devastating. I urge action on the Government, not only to support the Goan community, of course, but—as importantly—to control the excesses of the likes of Vedanta as they seek to trample over the lives of people and communities throughout the world.

Already there are concerns about the environmental impact if the mines start to operate again in an uncontrolled fashion that will undermine the Goan environment and economy, and the quality of life of the Goan community. I urge the Government to do everything possible to support those who have bravely campaigned to protect the environment of Goa and to secure the rewards of the mineral resources of Goa for the people of Goa.

4.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing the debate and on taking us through a fascinating, if deeply worrying history of mining in Goa. He clearly has great constituency interest in the matter, as well as a personal one. He outlined details of the damage that can be caused to the natural environment in terms of deforestation, pollution and public health. The impact of corruption on the population is significant and, sadly, not unique to Goa.

Natural resources can be of huge benefit to countries and can be used to improve and develop the economies of those countries blessed with them, if managed well. They can transform poor countries. For example, in 2012, Nigerian oil exports were worth almost $100 billion, which is equivalent to more than the total net aid to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, Botswana became an upper middle-income country, although upon independence back in 1966 it was one of the world’s poorest countries. That success is largely due to well-managed mining revenues from diamonds.

Mining developments internationally therefore have the potential to boost economic growth dramatically and to provide a route out of poverty for resource-rich countries. However, there are also many examples of the temptation of such money leading to corruption and the kind of problems the hon. Gentleman outlined; natural resources can be more of a curse than a blessing for particular countries.

Extractives companies, whether listed or unlisted, are important partners for the Government. We want to make sure that developing countries can make the most of their natural resources to tackle poverty. We are committed to increasing transparency in the sector, encouraging strong, transparent and accountable institutions to regulate extractives properly and promote

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open markets and societies. We therefore need to facilitate an environment in which resource-rich developing countries and regions can attract responsible investment to help them transform the vast potential that natural resources offer into growth, jobs and development.

During the UK presidency of the G8 in 2013, we secured a commitment to working towards common global standards of extractives transparency. We want to level the playing field for business internationally and provide information for more citizens around the world, so that they can hold their Governments to account for how such resources are used. The G8 also launched eight partnerships, working with companies, Governments and civil society in resource-rich countries to improve transparency and build accountability and capacity to manage resources better. Our work through Department for International Development country offices is helping resource-rich developing countries to derive the maximum benefits from oil, gas and mining projects.

The problems the hon. Gentleman described impact significantly on the human rights of the population of Goa—on their rights to health, clean water and due legal process. As he will be aware, UK-listed companies are already required to report on the human rights implications of their operations. Those reports will be further strengthened under the recently agreed directive on non-financial reporting, which will be in place by 2017 and requires listed companies to include information on human rights in their strategic reports.

High standards of reporting on human rights issues are an inherent part of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, which were adopted in 2011. In 2013, the UK was the first country to publish an action plan on business and human rights, which sets out the Government’s expectations of business to respect human rights at all times. In December, I was delighted to attend the third UN forum on business and human rights in Geneva, which had a constructive atmosphere with an increased business presence; civil society was very engaged in making the forum a success. UN action on this agenda is now in place and an increasing number of countries—although not yet enough—are producing action plans. We want to encourage work and progress on this agenda in countries around the world.

The UK is showing leadership on the issue; indeed, this evening, I will be launching the UN guiding principles reporting framework, which provides, for the first time, a comprehensive standard for reporting so that companies can be held to account by shareholders and customers. The reporting framework applies to all sectors, including extractives. Newmont Mining is one of five companies that have committed to applying the framework straight away.

The combination of enhanced disclosure in the strategic report and the UN guiding principles reporting framework, which sets the standard for that disclosure, will mean that from 2017 listed companies will be more effectively held to account for the human rights impacts of their operations. For that reason, I am proud of the work this Government have done on human rights.

We are also leading the way on extractives transparency. Back in May 2013, we made a commitment that the UK would sign up to the extractives industry transparency initiative, or EITI. In October, after a lot of work by a multi-stakeholder group, we formally gained candidacy status and will now proceed to produce the first reports.

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UK corporations have engaged constructively with civil society and Government, and their approach is a real example of how progress can be made. The whole process of EITI is designed to build trust and dialogue, and to put information into the public domain, which then prompts public debate. That can be a useful tool for holding companies to account. To give an example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is not necessarily renowned for its good governance, the EITI process was the first time different stakeholders sat down around the same table to discuss mining sector management. That kind of dialogue and co-operation can also help to prevent conflict.

Many extractive companies listed or headquartered in the UK are active in supporting EITI; for example Rio Tinto and Shell are part of the multi-stakeholder board I have mentioned. The UK’s intention in signing up to EITI is to show that it is not just for developing countries. We want to show that it is not a case of the UK simply telling other countries what they need to do; we recognise that we need to lead the way. That gives us a much stronger argument in our international discussions on the issue.

In addition to EITI, there is also chapter 10 of the accounting directive, which requires listed and large extractives companies to report the payments they make to all Governments. The Government committed to early implementation of those provisions, and our regulations came into force in December 2014. The Financial Conduct Authority, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, has also changed its rules to require listed companies that are not registered here in the UK to report, implementing the requirements of the transparency directive. Companies will be required to report their payments to Governments from 1 January this year, six months ahead of the EU’s transposition deadline. We will start to see reports being published during 2016.

Bribery and corruption are barriers to trade and growth. The UK is a signatory to the UN convention against corruption and the OECD bribery convention. The Government published the first UK anti-corruption plan on 18 December last year, bringing together all the UK’s anti-corruption efforts under one cross-departmental plan. The Bribery Act 2010 came into force in July 2011, so a company that carries on business in the United Kingdom can be prosecuted for bribery anywhere in the world. On the other hand, other companies can trade on the honesty and integrity that the Bribery Act implies, bringing a benefit for business.

I am aware of the issues the hon. Gentleman raised about Vedanta in particular. It is important that companies listed in the key financial centre of London, which are therefore UK companies, are held to high standards. Quoted companies have to include information about

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environmental risk in strategic reports. Of course, some corporate governance failures will not necessarily be addressed purely through shareholders holding companies to account; that is one important route of accountability, but some failures may be so serious that the company and directors are exposed to criminal liability. For example, if a commercial organisation fails to put in place adequate procedures to prevent bribery, it could be criminally liable under the Bribery Act.

It is important to be clear: we expect all UK businesses to comply with all applicable laws and to respect internationally recognised human rights wherever they operate. It is no excuse if an offence is committed in another jurisdiction—a company should not feel that it can get away with behaviour and practices in a distant part of the world that it would not even attempt to get away with here.

Trust and transparency are incredibly important, which is why we have prioritised them as part of our corporate governance framework. Wide-ranging reforms in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill will enhance corporate transparency and increase trust in UK business. Central to that is implementing a publicly accessible central register of information on the people who ultimately own and control companies—the persons of significant control. We are proud to be leading globally in this space, and are encouraged by the growing international momentum on these issues. For example, the soon to be adopted fourth money laundering directive will require all EU member states to hold company beneficial ownership information in a central register.

It is absolutely right that the hon. Gentleman has raised these serious issues. It is a positive thing that a particular problem in a particular area of the world, or with a particular company and its practices, can be highlighted in this place and a spotlight shone on such activities. He has done that today through this debate on mining in Goa. I hope I have set out that the Government take these issues incredibly seriously and are aiming to be a world leader in transparency and accountability—in extractive mining companies and much more widely—as well as in encouraging businesses to take their human rights responsibilities seriously.

There is no room for complacency. We must continue to promote these issues. There will always be money to be made somewhere in the world by exploiting human rights, but that is unacceptable and we in the UK should have no truck with it whatsoever. That is why it is so important to empower citizens in Goa and elsewhere to encourage the development of strong corporate governance, and to make sure that UK-listed mining companies are able to lead the way on these matters.

Question put and agreed to.

5 pm

Sitting adjourned.