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25 Mar 2009 : Column WS41

Written Statements

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Bribery Bill

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my role as the Government’s anti-corruption champion I am pleased to inform the House that I have today laid before Parliament the draft Bribery Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny (Bribery—Draft Legislation Cm 7570). This is in accordance with the Government’s legislative programme as set out in the Written Statement by my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons on 4 December 2008 (Official Report, Col.12WS).

The Bill describes a modern, clear and consolidated law that will support our commitment to high ethical standards generally and will equip our courts and prosecutors to deal effectively with bribery of all kinds whether it occurs at home or abroad. I believe these provisions strike the right balance between clarity and detail, so as to allow for both legal certainty and the effective differentiation between bribery and the legitimate giving and receiving of advantages.

Our current criminal law of bribery is old and anachronistic and can be difficult for prosecutors, courts and members of the public. Statutory law is fragmented and dates back to around the turn of the 20th century. It is unconsolidated, resulting in inconsistencies of language and concepts between the various provisions and one or two small but potentially significant gaps in the law. The scope of the common law offence is unclear, adding to inconsistency and overall complexity. These issues have been noted at home and abroad, most notably by the OECD Bribery Working Group. It is clear that, from a purely legal perspective, the case for reform is strong.

This is, however, much more than a desire for an orderly statute book. While the United Kingdom is recognised as one of the least corrupt countries in the world we do not underestimate the threat posed by bribery. If it is not kept in check, bribery can destroy the integrity, accountability and honesty that underpin ethical standards in public and commercial life. By its very nature insidious and difficult to root out, bribery worldwide weakens democracy, impedes sustainable development and can undermine respect for human rights by supporting corrupt regimes.

As advances in technology and communication enable ever more sophisticated means of committing and concealing crimes, we must ensure that our law provides our courts and prosecutors with the tools they need to combat such crime effectively. Over the years it has become clear that a law that has narrow national focus will not fulfil this role. The global economy is a reality. Modernisation of the law is therefore a priority, not only to deal effectively with those who offer or accept

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bribes in our business or public sectors, but also to reinforce transparency and accountability in our international business transactions.

Law reform is one of the key elements of the UK’s strategy against foreign bribery, which I am co-coordinating in my role as government anti-corruption champion as announced in my Statement of 2 October 2008. Concerted multilateral action is essential to tackle the global impact of bribery and related issues such as money laundering. Co-operation with our international partners is producing significant progress in areas such as the tracing, recovery and repatriation of money laundered misappropriated assets. In addition, we are supporting effective implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the OECD Bribery Convention and the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption.

The Bill builds on the Law Commission proposals set out in its report Reforming Bribery in November 2008. I should like to express my gratitude to the Law Commission for its excellent report. The Bill’s principal provisions create two general offences; one dealing with the giving, promising, and offering of a bribe and the other with agreeing to receive or acceptance of a bribe. It provides a new discrete offence of bribery of a foreign public official and a new corporate liability offence of negligently failing to prevent bribery. The detail of these and the other remaining provisions of the Bill are explained in full in the Explanatory Notes published alongside the Bill. My officials have shared details of our proposed legislation with colleagues in Scotland. It will be for the Scottish Ministers to consider whether any similar changes will be necessary to Scots law.

EU: Telecoms Council

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): I am pleased to confirm the agenda items for which BERR has responsibility at the forthcoming Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (Telecoms Council) in Brussels on 31 March 2009.

There are only two substantive agenda items, the first of which is the adoption of council conclusions on the Commission's communication for an accessible information society. The UK welcomes and supports the timing of this communication which is in line with recommendations recently made in the cross-government report Delivering Digital InclusionAn Action Plan for Consultation. Both the cross-government paper and the Digital Britain Report are also looking at what the Government can do to stimulate take-up and access of digital technologies in the UK.

This will be followed by an exchange of views on the impact of the economic downturn on ICT and how ICT can boost the EU's economy. As the Government's interim Digital Britain Report highlighted, ICT is one of the sectors which we all rely upon to underpin our whole economy, as its effective utilisation can deliver productivity gains to our citizens and

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enterprises. This discussion will provide an opportunity to introduce our thinking for taking digital Britain forward, and listen to the plans and proposals other Ministers are considering to enable ICT to accelerate longer-term growth.

In addition to these two substantive items, there are four further items for which BERR has responsibility listed under any other business. The first of these will be an update from the council presidency on negotiations on a decision of the European Parliament and of the council on interoperability solutions for European public administrations (ISA Programme). The UK supports the proposed programme as its predecessors have proved successful in delivering guidelines, common frameworks, studies on cross-border communication and IT-enabled service platforms for the delivery of Community policies and activities.

The presidency will then provide information on the recent 112 Day. To mark 112 Day in the UK, I wrote to other government departments that could play a role in raising awareness of the pan-European emergency number. We are currently undertaking follow up work on this with the Foreign Office and Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

The Commission will then present its communication on mobilising information and communication technologies to facilitate the transition to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy. The UK agrees with the aims of this communication which seeks to raise awareness of the potential ICT has to improve efficiency of European enterprises, including public sector, systems and processes.

Lastly, the presidency will provide an update on the review of the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services. On the same day as the council, the European Parliament is voting in Committee stage on this review package, followed by their plenary vote on the 22 April. I will shortly be writing to you with Explanatory Memoranda on the Commission's response to the Council common position, and will take the opportunity to update you on the progress of negotiations.

The Czech presidency is also hosting a ministerial lunch where Estonia is likely to be invited to make a presentation on its forthcoming conference on cyber security in Tallinn. Commissioner Reding will present the forthcoming communication on communication and information infrastructure protection. I understand the communication will recommend broad standards on the resilience of critical ICT infrastructure and on member states' national response capacity to ensure the provision of telecoms services.

EU: Transport Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I will attend the first Transport Council of the Czech presidency which will take place in Brussels on 30 March.



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There will be a progress report and policy debate on the latest situation on the proposed amendment to Directive 1999/62/EC on the charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructures (the Eurovignette directive). We support the principle of the polluter pays and therefore the broad aims of the directive. However, we have concerns with some of the proposals, including a requirement to introduce earmarking.

The council will aim to reach a general approach on a proposed amendment to the directive on the organisation of working time in road transport. The amending directive aims to permanently exclude the genuinely self-employed from the scope of the working time rules for mobile workers and provide additional flexibility to industry on night work limits. I expect to be able to agree to the general approach.

Following the recent Commission communication “Action Plan for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in Europe”, the council will be asked to adopt conclusions. The Government support the objectives of the ITS action plan to reduce congestion, tackle environmental issues, provide reliable travel information and improve safety. We welcome the recognition in the conclusions of the contribution that technology can make to meet those objectives.

Within the SESAR project for single sky implementation, the Commission has recently produced a master plan for air traffic management in Europe. The council will be asked to adopt a decision endorsing the master plan and a council resolution on it. The UK has been a firm supporter of the SESAR project from the outset. We recognise the contribution the project can make to improvement of the European air traffic management system, while helping to mitigate the impacts of aviation on the environment. In order for the project to begin its second phase (development), we should endorse this resolution and request the SESAR joint undertaking to complete membership agreements with industry at the earliest possible opportunity.

Under AOB, the presidency will report on progress of the legislative proposals of the single European sky (SES) package. It is expected that the European Parliament in plenary session will by then have voted on these proposals. The first of them is a regulation amending the four regulations adopted in 2004 which established the single European sky. The amending regulation aims to improve the efficiency of air traffic management (ATM) across the EU by introducing targets that ensure all member states contribute to an overall improvement in the performance of the ATM system. The second is an amending regulation extending the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to the safety of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services. The UK has been a firm supporter of the single European sky since its inception in 2004. We are content with progress in negotiations and look forward to these proposals being adopted as soon as possible.

Finally in aviation, the presidency will seek political endorsement for a future council decision to sign a comprehensive air transport agreement with Canada. The UK is supportive of this agreement, which would

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deliver the phased opening of aviation markets and investment liberalisation for EU and Canadian carriers, as well as other commercial freedoms and improved regulatory co-operation.

In maritime transport, there will be a progress report and policy debate on a draft regulation on the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway. We support the aim of the regulation, following provisions already agreed for other transport modes, and we will continue to work closely with the Commission and member states on the details.

Also in maritime transport, the council will be asked to adopt conclusions arising from two recent Commission communications. The first, strategic goals and recommendations for the EU’s maritime transport policy until 2018, has as its aims, acceptable to us in principle, the promotion of European shipping and related industries which are safe, secure and environmentally friendly while remaining efficient, adaptable and globally competitive. The second communication is an action plan with a view to establishing a European maritime space without barriers. This is a concept which we can support in principle. It is designed to extend the Community’s internal market by simplifying administrative procedures for intra-EU maritime transport, particularly short sea shipping, in order to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of this sector, as well as to deliver environmental benefits. I expect to be able to agree to both sets of conclusions.

Under AOB, the council will report on the draft regulation establishing the second Marco Polo programme, following recent negotiations with the European Parliament. The Marco Polo programme provides Community financial assistance to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system. This proposal intends to stimulate more applications for funding by increasing participation by small enterprises, simplifying administrative procedures, increasing funding intensities and redefining and lowering the eligibility thresholds for project proposals. The Government believe that these amendments should allow the Marco Polo II programme fully to deploy its potential, so we strongly support the proposed revision.

Also under AOB, the Commission will report on the Galileo satellite navigation programme and on its recent proposal for an amending regulation on airport slot allocation.

Housing: Rural Areas

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Margaret Beckett)has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I are today publishing the Government’s response to the report from the honourable Member for Truro and St Austell (Matthew Taylor), Living, Working Countryside.

In September 2007, the Prime Minister asked the honourable Member to undertake a review on how land use and planning can better support rural businesses

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and deliver affordable housing and to report to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. The final report of the review, with detailed recommendations, was published in July 2008. The review identified the specific challenges facing rural areas but recognises that, “contrary to an often outdated view of the countryside, the economies of rural and urban England are much more alike than many people might imagine”. The Government will therefore give local authorities more flexibility to tackle the issues their communities face.

Our response sets out our proposals to take forward most of the review’s 48 recommendations to continue to encourage a prosperous rural economy and improve the delivery of affordable rural homes. This will help businesses, councils and the wider community, particularly in the current challenging economic conditions, and will assist rural communities in becoming more sustainable.

We welcome the review as giving important emphasis to what it takes to develop and sustain a strong rural economy, and improve access to a range of housing. In response to the review’s recommendations, we are announcing new approaches which local planning authorities and rural communities should adopt to improve the rural economy and encourage more affordable housing to be built in the countryside in appropriate places.

This includes:

ensuring that masterplanning is properly understood, and widely used, and running a competition to encourage good practice. In this context, masterplanning primarily means spatial masterplanning, as an approach to achieve the sustainable expansion of small or medium-sized settlements in particular;setting up a practitioners’ working group to explore ways to incentivise landowners to use the existing rural exception sites policy, where local planning authorities can grant permission for small-scale housing development as an exception to their normal policies of countryside protection;bringing together a number of existing planning policy statements covering economic development topics into a single new planning policy statement on planning for prosperity. This will be published for consultation shortly; and publishing proposals for taking forward the use of community land trusts, which can enable local communities to work together to meet their own housing needs, alongside details to create protected areas where shared ownership homes need to be retained for future purchasers. These proposals, too, will be published for consultation shortly.

A copy of the Government’s response is available in the Library of the House.

Payments Council

Statement

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.



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On 25 March, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published a report setting out its findings on the effectiveness of the Payments Council in meeting its objectives. The Payments Council started work in March 2007, following an agreement in November 2006 by the OFT-chaired Payment Systems Task Force that a new body be created to provide strategic direction for the UK's payment industry. The task force set three key objectives for the Payments Council:

to lead the future development of co-operative payment services in the United Kingdom;to ensure that the payment system is open and accountable; andto ensure the operational efficiency, effectiveness and integrity of payment services in the United Kingdom, through a focus on issues which cross schemes.

The task force agreed that the OFT would carry out a review of the effectiveness of the new governance body (subsequently named the Payments Council), after two years of its operation. This was to ensure that the objectives of the new body were being met and delivered on in practice. This Statement highlights the key findings and recommendations in the OFT review of the operations of the Payments Council.

The OFT report concludes that the Payments Council is a definite improvement on what prevailed before its creation. The Payments Council's consultation on a national payments plan, setting out the strategic direction it should pursue over the next five to 10 years, was widely welcomed by stakeholders, and contributed to its objective on openness and accountability. The introduction of the faster payments scheme (FPS) in May 2007 represented a substantial innovation. Users of the system will be able to make telephone and internet payments within a matter of hours, rather than over three working days as under the BACS system.

While the introduction of the faster payment scheme was a real achievement, the rolling out of faster payment services by many banks to their customers has been relatively slow. The report finds that the Payments Council should be more pro-active in following up its initiatives with members and should also consider widening its membership and making more effective use of user groups, to ensure that end-users get the benefits envisaged.

The OFT report recommends that the Payments Council increases the emphasis on its integrity objective in future. Although the safety and security of payment systems have not been compromised, the Payments Council has not added value quickly enough, and this is an area where it needs to improve. The OFT considers that the Payments Council should commission an accountancy firm to report in two years on how well it has performed against its integrity objective. The report (or the executive summary of it) should be published in the Payments Council's annual review, and the Payments Council should outline how it intends to address any action points identified in it. Following the review from the accountancy firm, the Payments Council should self-assess against its integrity objective using the same procedure described below for its other objectives.



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The OFT also recommends that the Payments Council provides a self-assessment against progress every two years on:

its strategic direction and openness and accountability objectives;recommendations of the task force where these have not been met; andrecommendations coming out of this OFT report.

This self-assessment should contain the results of an open consultation with stakeholders on progress against objectives. The OFT may still choose to look into specific aspects of the Payments Council's performance against objectives, if it considers there to be sufficient reason.

The Government welcome the OFT work to review the effectiveness of the Payments Council, and welcome the recommendations made. I am writing today to the chair of the Payments Council to note the Government's continued interest in the future work of the Payments Council.

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