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Bribery Bill

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 26 November 2009

12. What recent discussions she has had with the Attorney-General on the implications of the proposed Bribery Bill for the role of the Attorney-General. (301676)

13. What recent discussions she has had with the Attorney-General on the implications of the proposed Bribery Bill for the role of the Attorney-General. (301678)

The Bribery Bill will no longer require the consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General before a prosecution for an offence under the measure can start. Instead, it will require the consent of the director of the relevant prosecuting authority. The Bill does not alter the role of the Attorney-General in any other way.

I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer, but what can she do to assure the House that never again will the Government use bogus reasons for not proceeding with Serious Fraud Office offences? I simply mention the murky BAE Systems-Saudi arms deal.

I suppose precedent would be a help because there never has been such behaviour by the Government. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what the House of Lords said about the decision. First, it made it clear that the director of the SFO, not any member of the Government, made the decision. It was also clearly stated: that

“It may indeed be doubted whether a responsible decision-maker could, on the facts before the Director, have decided otherwise”.

This is a problem for the Government—and, indeed, for the House and the country. I engaged with the OECD investigation into bribery, in which it said that

“systematic deficiencies… make clear the need to safeguard the independence of the SFO”.

How will that happen if reform of the Attorney-General’s power does not take place?

The only power would be a power to use a direction in a case where national security was at stake. There is a process to go through before that happens. It has not happened for many, many years. Normally what would happen, even in a case where national security was at a premium, is that the director would take it into account when evaluating the public interest.

Does the Solicitor-General believe that the proposed Bribery Bill would deal with the Leader of the Opposition’s promise to make amendments to the inheritance tax regime which will benefit only the people on his Christmas card list?

That is as well—let me say to the hon. and learned Lady that its relationship with questions 12 and 13 is, at best, I think, opaque.

The Solicitor-General seems to have missed the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) was making—that because all reform of the Attorney-General’s office has been removed from the Constitutional Reform Bill, the power of the Attorney-General to superintend in general the prosecutions put forward by the directors has been left unaffected. Has the Solicitor-General received any guidance, information or assurance from the OECD that it is satisfied with the arrangements that will now be in place, because if she has not, the lack of independence of the directors will continue to be a blot on the reputation of this country and may leave British business in a very difficult position?

The hon. Gentleman really does not live in the real world. He should try telling Richard Alderman or Keir Starmer that they are not independent: they are extremely independent individuals, and rightly so. There is a detailed protocol, which I commend to the hon. Gentleman, so that he can understand this area rather better than he appears to do now. The superintendence function has specifically been cast into a protocol to make its limits very clear. Our current law complies with the OECD convention, which the OECD makes very clear.

Why does the Solicitor-General propose a difference between the function of the Attorney-General on extra-territorial crime under the Bribery Bill and on other offences committed overseas?

So far as I am aware—it is not my Bill, but a Ministry of Justice Bill—the recommendations of the Joint Committee have played a role there. I am obviously answering on behalf of the prosecution departments today, as I always do, but a good deal of note has been taken of what the Joint Committee said, and that was its position.