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House of Lords

Monday, 24th January 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

OECD Anti-bribery Convention

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What response they have made to the consultations on the monitoring of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development anti-bribery convention.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the Government have participated fully in the first phase of the monitoring process of the OECD Convention Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. We shall consider carefully, in the context of the reform of UK legislation on corruption, how best to ensure that UK law is as effective as possible in the fight against corruption in international trade.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that the United Kingdom branch of Transparency International, an organisation that carries out good work in this area, strongly believes that, in order for the United Kingdom Government properly to fulfil their obligations, there ought to be a relatively simple amendment made to our domestic law in the area of corrupt practices that would enable British citizens who commit an act of bribery overseas to be prosecuted in this country?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the Government are determined to tackle corruption. We have played a leading role in the negotiation of the convention. Last year we were among the first to ratify the convention. The convention, of course, requires that we review the existing jurisdictional basis of legislation in order to judge whether it is effective in combating international bribery. We shall do that as part of the review that the Home Office is conducting into existing anti-corruption legislation.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, will the Minister undertake to look at the audit carried out in December into legal compliance by British legislation and, having done so, will he report to the House? As president of Transparency International, I hear that that audit is highly critical of the UK's efforts so far. While I accept that the Minister and perhaps his

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colleagues in the Home Office are doing their best, it will not help us to continue our lead role if there is a highly critical audit of our progress to date.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have already looked at that audit and we take it most seriously. It will form part of the review and we shall take any appropriate action.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister answer the Question posed by my noble friend? Are the Government willing or not to take control over acts of bribery committed by British citizens in foreign countries and to criminalise them in our courts?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we are carrying out the review for that reason. If, in the spirit of prevention, that will improve the effectiveness, yes, in principle we shall do so. We are asking the working party to look at the mechanics.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, will the Government publish the audit that was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Chalker so that we can all see what it says?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, at the moment we cannot report the outcome of the recent examination by the OECD working group on bribery into our anti-bribery legislation because all signatories to the OECD convention have agreed not to make public the outcome of a phase one examination until after the OECD ministerial meeting in May.

House of Lords Reform

2.40 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will propose to Parliament that a Joint Committee to consider the report of the Royal Commission on reform of the House of Lords should be appointed.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as the House is well aware, the Royal Commission report was published just four days ago. In common, I expect, with many other Members of the House, over the weekend I spent some interesting hours reading it. It contains a wide-ranging and complex set of recommendations which deserve and will receive from the Government proper consideration.

We have said that a Joint Committee will be appointed to consider the parliamentary aspects of implementing any proposed reform. We expect to set that up once more detailed positions have been reached. I hope that those detailed positions may be reached in conjunction with other political parties on the policies and procedures for achieving the next stage of change.

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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, in thanking the Leader of the House for her somewhat uninformative reply, I ask for three undertakings: first, that this House will shortly have an opportunity to debate the Wakeham Commission report; secondly, that the Joint Committee will be set up and start work within a reasonable time--by that I mean certainly not later than the end of March--and, thirdly, that the remit of the Joint Committee will not be restricted simply to considering the proposals in the report, which many of us regard as deeply flawed?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can certainly give an absolutely categorical assurance about the debate. I believe that my noble friend the Chief Whip, through the usual channels, has already discussed the possibility of such a debate. Last week, before the report was published, I wrote to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who has specifically requested a debate, saying that that would follow the report of the Royal Commission.

On the timing of the setting up of the Joint Committee, I can go no further than my original reply. I am sorry that the noble Lord regards it as uninformative. It was intended to set an appropriate context for the establishment of the Joint Committee. That refers to the third point raised by the noble Lord about the agenda for the Joint Committee. We said in our White Paper on House of Lords reform, published approximately a year ago, that the Joint Committee would be established in order to consider the parliamentary aspects of any reform. We stand by that. The noble Lord's understanding of "reasonable time" being by the end of next month is perhaps slightly more optimistic than my own.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important to read the report? Am I correct in thinking that volume two will contain a lot of interesting suggestions and evidence that are not yet in printed form? When I collected volume one it contained a disk at the back, which is useful, but not entirely so for my purposes.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I cannot answer for the mechanisms of the Royal Commission on the printing or publishing of its evidence and findings. As I understand it, the CD-ROM to which my noble friend refers is intended to be the basis for public consumption of the report.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I cannot be the only one who found it difficult to understand what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House meant in her first reply. It was my understanding that the Joint Committee of both Houses, announced in the White Paper as long as a year ago, would automatically follow the publication of the Royal Commission's report. What strikes me this afternoon is that the noble Baroness is saying that it will only deal with the parliamentary aspects of the conclusions and not the wider issue of reform of this House.

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Secondly, while I am on my feet, may I ask the noble Baroness what happened to the appointments commission? That was announced a year ago and in November the noble Baroness said that it was to be set up imminently. May I ask also whether there has been discussion of these matters in the Cabinet?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the answer to the third question is yes. Perhaps I can go backwards. I believe one of the conventions of this House is that one does not normally answer more than two supplementary questions but as they are relatively straightforward in the noble Lord's case, I am happy to do so. On the question of the appointments commission, the noble Lord may have noticed the announcement by the Cabinet Office last week that PriceWaterhouseCoopers was appointed as a result of the tendering exercise to assist the Cabinet Office in the appointment and recruitment of the independent members of the appointments commission. The Secretary of the Cabinet is even now finalising the advertisements for the positions, which will soon be made public.

As to the nature of the Joint Committee following the Royal Commission, I am sure the noble Lord will recall our many debates during the passage of the House of Lords Bill on precisely what form the committee might take in the light of the report of the Royal Commission. I am sure he will also recall that in our White Paper we made specific reference to the committee looking at the parliamentary aspects of any reform. That is what I referred to in my original Answer.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important that, whenever the Joint Committee is set up, there will be need for its representatives to know the views of your Lordships? Should we have a debate before it is set up?

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