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Bribery Bill

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

14. What recent assessment she has made of the extent to which Crown servants are engaged in the activities contemplated in clause 12 of the Bribery Bill. (312119)

17. What recent assessment she has made of the extent to which Crown servants are engaged in the activities contemplated in clause 12 of the Bribery Bill. (312123)

The Government have assessed that there are occasions when the fight against serious crime, the protection of national security or the safety of the armed forces may require the authorities concerned to offer financial or other kinds of inducement in order to carry out their functions effectively. The extent to which such conduct occurs has not been quantified, as far as I am aware, but the Government are satisfied as to the need for the defence in general.

Can the Minister explain why the Government have felt it necessary to give the police and the Army a licence to bribe, given that the draft Bribery Bill covered only the security services, and that the Joint Committee on the draft Bill said that it had received no persuasive evidence that even that was necessary?

The Bill is in the House of Lords, is it not? I understand that those responsible for the Government’s business there have accepted that the Bill’s current definition of who may be covered by this is too wide, and that it would probably be better to specify a list. Perhaps there would then be arguments about who was on the list, but that approach would significantly narrow the present terminology, which is pretty general.

What I find particularly odd in this proposal is that under clause 6 the police are to be allowed to bribe a UK official but not a foreign official. Why is that?

There is a specific exclusion from clause 12 to match the OECD treaty, which prohibits bribery of a foreign public official. The services are not going to be allowed to bribe, except in very particular cases. It will be a defence, which would have to be raised if somebody were prosecuted for bribery, and the burden would be on them to raise it. The matter is still being debated in the House of Lords, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues are putting forward full frontal attacks. It seems to us, however, that we must not hamstring the security services.

Obviously, the Bribery Bill is very welcome. However, can the Solicitor-General confirm that this particular proposal allows not only the giving, but the receiving, of bribes by the armed forces, the police and the intelligence services? Can she also confirm what appeared to be said in the House of Lords—that in the view of Ministers the purposes for which this can be done include not only national security and suppression of crime but the furtherance of national economic purposes, which would not be consonant with our international obligations?

It is very hard to give somebody a defence for giving a bribe if he has not given one already. Of course, the people to whom he has given it are ultimately likely to be involved in far more serious charges themselves. I have not understood economic advantage to have the remotest connection with it. This is about security, and it is intended to be used within a very narrow ambit.