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International Corruption

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

5. If he will make a statement on his role as ministerial champion for addressing international corruption. (110693)

Ministers approved the UK anti-corruption action plan in July 2006. The plan aims to improve the UK's capacity to investigate foreign bribery, stop money laundering and recover stolen assets, promote responsible business conduct in developing countries, and support international efforts to fight corruption. I shall report on progress to the Prime Minister in February.

The anti-corruption action plan that the Secretary of State has just referred to included a promise to investigate and to prosecute bribery cases. Was he consulted on the decision to drop the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia? If so, did he advise fellow Ministers that that decision would probably put us in breach of article 5 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery?

I was not consulted, and I would not expect to be consulted, because that decision was properly taken by the director of the Serious Fraud Office after discussions with the Attorney-General. The hon. Gentleman should not read into that decision—which was taken for reasons that have been clearly set out—that the Government are not determined to fight international corruption. The steps that we have taken—in particular to increase the capacity of the Metropolitan police and the City of London police to investigate foreign bribery and money laundering, the implementation of the third money laundering directive, and the success that we have had in returning money that was stolen from Nigeria—demonstrate how determined we are to make a difference.

If the Secretary of State is not consulted on such an issue, what on earth is the point in having a ministerial champion to address international corruption?

It would be improper for me to be consulted because that is an operational decision, and, quite properly, that responsibility rests with the director of the SFO and the Attorney-General. Indeed, if I had been consulted on an operational decision, the hon. Gentleman might have been the first person to complain about it. My responsibility, which I take seriously, is to make sure that, together with colleagues in the Cabinet, we put the right legislation in place and, above all, that we do practical things, including increasing the capacity of the police to investigate. I am sure that it will not be long before we see the benefits of that.