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Bribery Bill [Lords]

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I come to the Bill, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will allow me to comment on the news that has just broken that the former leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, has died. I am sure that that news will be received with great sadness, not only by my party, but across the country. Those of us who knew Michael Foot will have a great many memories of him. I have one particular memory of him from when I was a new Opposition Back Bencher in November 1980. There was a run-off competition between Denis Healey and Michael Foot for the leadership of the Labour party, and on an Opposition day dedicated to the state of the economy—which, I say parenthetically, was not doing all that well—Denis Healey opened the debate and spoke very well.

We all came in for the winding-up speeches, which began at 9 o’clock, and Michael Foot made a speech that suggested to me that he had a line to the Almighty unknown to the rest of us. I witnessed the speech, and so did everyone else, with the same incredulity that I witness the imagination behind a Mozart concerto. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) may also recall the occasion.

Michael Foot held the House. He had no notes—just a couple of newspaper cuttings—and he started off by saying, “Mr. Speaker, I read in the newspapers that only a couple of members of the Cabinet support the Government’s economic policy. I have been wondering”, he said, scratching his head in his usual way, “how many Conservative Back-Bench Members support the conduct of the economy by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister.” He paused and said, “Hands up who supports the Government’s conduct of the economy!” and three Members put up their hands, one of whom was, I am afraid to say, the late benighted Geoffrey Dickens. The House collapsed.

Michael Foot continued—it says a lot that I can remember the speech almost word for word 30 years later—by saying, “It is well known that I come from Plymouth, and my father used to take us to a music hall on Saturday mornings, and sometimes there was a conjurer, and this conjurer was one of the most brilliant conjurers in the world. He used to do all sorts of mind-boggling tricks, and one day he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I would like somebody here to produce a gold fob watch,’ and a gold fob watch was produced. What is more,” Michael Foot said, “we knew that it was produced by somebody who was not a stool pigeon for the conjurer; it was a real gold watch.”

“The conjurer said,” continued Michael Foot, “‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to put this gold watch on this desk. I am going to get this large wooden mallet and bring it down on the watch. The watch will smash, sprockets will go one way, springs will go another, and then I will utter a spell and the watch will come back together again, and I will hand it back to its owner—it will be perfect.’ The conjurer said, ‘Let me take the watch.’ He put it on the desk, produced the mallet and brought it down with a resounding whack—sprockets go one way, cogs go another, winding wheels go a third and the case goes a fourth way. Then,” said Michael Foot, “there is a very, very long pause, and a longer pause, and then the conjurer turns to the audience and says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m really sorry, but I’ve forgotten the rest of the trick.’” Then Michael Foot said, “And, of course, Mr. Speaker, the problem for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that they have forgotten the rest of the trick,” and he sat down. It was absolutely brilliant, and that speech gave him the Labour leadership.

Order. I have indulged the Secretary of State because he has been paying a gracious and eloquent tribute to a quite extraordinarily distinguished parliamentarian, whose loss we all lament. I hope that the House can fairly quickly move on to the Bribery Bill, but I have great respect for what he has just said.

I am very grateful to you for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker. As I said, Michael Foot was held in great affection in all sections of the House and in the country.

Let me now turn to a Bill that our late and honoured friend would have supported: the Bribery Bill. Modernising and strengthening the law on bribery is one of the key strands of the Government’s foreign bribery strategy, which I launched in January. I am known—rather pompously, I think it is fair to say—as the Government’s anti-bribery champion, but I am very happy to champion that cause.

Bribery, as we know, is an insidious offence. It undercuts honest companies and distorts the free market. It causes state institutions to lose their legitimacy and public confidence in the political system to wane. Where bribery is allowed to flourish, democracy struggles to take root. Its impact on development is equally damaging. Bribery discourages foreign aid, feeds inequality and injustice, and diverts valuable funds away from basic public services. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the most vulnerable in society are hit the hardest. One of the consequences of bribery and the misuse of developments funds, whether they come from the state or from charitable causes, is the undermining of public support in wealthier countries, including this country, for continuing that assistance.

The scale of bribery across the globe is immense. We have to rely on estimates, and although there is no precise estimate of fraud or bribery, the World Bank has estimated that some $1 trillion is paid annually in bribes, adding around 10 per cent. to the cost of doing business in some countries. There is both a moral and a practical imperative for tackling bribery. As a nation reliant on world trade for our prosperity, the United Kingdom is duty bound to set an international example in stamping out this scourge. Changing the law on its own, whether in the context of bribery or any other sphere, is necessary but, of itself, not sufficient. The Bill is therefore one part of our wider strategy to tackle bribery by supporting ethical business practices in British companies, enforcing the law effectively, and working with our international partners to promote good governance overseas.

That the criminal law on bribery is in need of reform is not in dispute, and certainly not in this House. The current patchwork of offences derives from a mix of common law and rather old statutes, which together have not been substantially altered since the first world war, when Britain was one of the first countries to legislate against any form of corruption. The law has never previously been consolidated, and contains inconsistencies of both language and concept. The result is a body of law that is outdated, complex and, in some respects, uncertain in its effect. As a consequence, it is difficult—although, as we have recently seen, not impossible—for investigators and prosecutors to apply the law sensibly. Therefore, the case for reform is compelling; nor, I am pleased to say, is there now much dispute over how we should change the law.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the difficulty is that people can buy their way out of some bribery charges if they can afford a good enough lawyer? The inconsistencies in the legislation as it stands are not so easily manipulated by people who cannot afford really good legal advice, but they can be taken advantage of to prove someone’s technical innocence, as long as they can spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds on lawyers who really understand the ins and outs of the inconsistencies that the Secretary of State has described.

The fact that, notwithstanding the inherent difficulties, there have been successful prosecutions shows that the law is not in an impossible state, and nor should the hon. Gentleman believe that purchasing good legal advice is a means by which people can escape prosecution, conviction and justice. None of us should gainsay the idea that people are entitled to the best legal advice. Indeed, we have the best funded legal system among comparable countries that I can think of. However, the hon. Gentleman makes the case for reforming the law, to straighten it up and modernise it.

The Bill is closely based on proposals put forward by the Law Commission in November 2008, following its customarily careful and thorough analysis of the issues, and extensive consultation with those affected. The approach taken by the Law Commission was strongly and unanimously supported by the Joint Committee that examined the draft Bill. I pay tribute to the work of both the Law Commission and the Joint Committee. The fact that the Bill has attracted wide-ranging support and has passed through the other place with few changes—I shall come to those—is testament to the solid foundations laid by the Law Commission and the Joint Committee.

The core element of the Bill can be briefly described. The Bill creates four offences. The first two are to be found in clauses 1 and 2. Clause 1 makes it an offence to give, promise or offer a bribe, while clause 2 deals with the reverse situation of requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting a bribe. Clause 6 creates a bespoke offence of bribing a foreign public official in order “to obtain or retain” a business advantage. The UK takes its international obligations seriously and this House should be in no doubt that our law is already compliant with the various international conventions combating bribery, to which this country has put its name. This specific offence will underscore our adherence to the OECD’s convention on combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions.

The quartet of offences is completed by clause 7, which deals with the offence of failure on the part of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery. That is a really important offence. It will, however, be a defence for a commercial organisation to show that “adequate procedures” were in place to prevent bribery. I will say a little more about that in a few moments. All those are serious offences, in recognition of which we are increasing the current maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment to 10 years. A commercial organisation convicted on indictment of an offence under the Bill would be liable to an unlimited fine.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way on that particular point, because the penalties are a rather important aspect of the Bill. Does he agree that under existing legislation, unlimited fines are available, but the sentencing guidelines mean that the courts do not always take the offences as seriously as they should? Is he saying that because the penalties are changing, the sentencing guidelines will also have to be reconsidered?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are about to establish the Sentencing Council to take over the twin roles of the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel. It would be sensible to invite the new Sentencing Council to look afresh at its guidelines—and given the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, I undertake to do so—in the light of the greater seriousness with which I believe Parliament has already and hopefully will continue to take these offences and the whole issue of bribery.

Further to the previous intervention, does the Secretary of State appreciate that the sentencing guidelines conflict in some ways with other sentencing powers, particularly in respect of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002? Businesses say that people might not come forward because once they have been convicted under this Act, they might be liable to prosecution and penalties under other Acts. Is the Secretary of State going to look at that?

In a sense, that is more a matter for the prosecutorial authorities, but I will certainly look at it. If somebody has egregiously taken a bribe, they are unlikely to come forward and volunteer the information in any event. They might have to enter into a compromise agreement, which is a rather different matter. [Interruption.] I will give way shortly to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

Currently, there is not a corporate offence; we intend that there should be. There will be a responsibility on companies in practice to come forward if they have uncovered evidence. I think that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) is saying that there should be no protection for those who have been of criminal intent and purpose and effect, but that there should be protection for the innocent company directors and the company as a whole where they have acted properly, and that they should not penalised provided that it can also be shown that they have not profited unjustifiably from the crime. I will certainly follow up the issue and write to the hon. Gentleman.

The Lord Chancellor has understood the point that I wanted to make, but there is also the question of double jeopardy. I feel that that should examined as well.

“Double jeopardy” is a much overworked phrase. It could be argued that it is double jeopardy for someone who has committed a fraud both to end up in the criminal court and to lose his job, but I do not call that double jeopardy. It is simply the consequence of a criminal action.

I happen to believe that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is a very important measure. I would believe that, of course, because I initiated it back in 2000; it was passed after the 2001 election. I think it fair enough for people who have committed a criminal offence and have also received proceeds in a criminal way to have to pay those proceeds back. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point.

This discussion touches on an important issue. The system that we are setting up and, in particular, the way in which the Serious Fraud Office has been working are undoubtedly intended to encourage companies to come forward and admit wrongdoing if it has taken place, and to accept that penalties that will flow from it, but also, in doing so, to mitigate the offence. The system is thus much more like a regulatory regime than any system we have had before. I think that a difficulty will arise if it is perceived that there is no effective framework in which that interplay can occur. One of the aspects of the Bill that will raise anxieties is the fact that, in a rather English way, we are enacting adversarial criminal legislation which, if it is to work properly, will require a regulatory framework involving an understanding of the commercial world in which some of the decisions will be made.

The erudition of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s intervention was, I am afraid, equalled only by its length. I much enjoyed listening to it, and we have plenty of time today, but I think that we ought to try to limit the length of interventions.

If I may defend the hon. and learned Gentleman, Mr. Speaker, he raised a very important point, and, in doing so, anticipated what I was going to say next. As he observed, we are moving into what amounts to a new regulatory framework.

Over the past 18 months, I have held round-table meetings with representatives of organisations such as Transparency International and CAFOD—the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development—which are concerned about the effect of bribery, particularly in developing countries. Transparency International does a terrific job in ensuring high standards throughout the world. In the same room have been representatives of the CBI and of large business corporations with substantial business overseas, whose staff and agents often work in countries where there is a culture of bribery and corruption and where they could otherwise have been vulnerable to that environment.

One of the points made by the business organisations, which I have accepted, concerns the need for proper written guidance to the new framework. Such guidance would equip them with yardsticks enabling them to judge whether they were complying with the provisions in clause 7. We have already begun to draft the guidance, in collaboration with the prosecutorial authorities and others, and it will be issued well before clause 7 comes into force. A commitment to provide guidance is enshrined in clause 9, which was added to the Bill on Report in the other place. I was anxious that it should be there, because, although I look forward to serving in my present office for at least a further decade, there will come a time when even I shall have to move on, and it is important that undertakings given now can be sustained by a statutory requirement.

The Under-Secretary of State is looking rather worried about the prospect of the Secretary of State’s remaining in office for another 10 years, and I share her concern.

Does the Secretary of State intend the guidance to be published before the Act is implemented? As for the sentencing guidance mentioned by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), will the conversations that the Secretary of State promised to have include consideration of the need to increase the penalties for economic crime generally? Money laundering currently attracts a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment, whereas the sentence for theft and handling is 14 years. I believe that we need to increase the seriousness with which the courts take these matters.

The guidance will be issued before the Bill comes into force—although not, obviously, before it becomes law—and we will ensure that businesses and organisations representing them have time to digest it before the sections of the Act to which it relates come into force. The vast majority of business people, whether their businesses are small, medium-sized or large, are transparent and honest, and want to do a decent job. What we must not do is gratuitously catch them out.

I am sorry that the Lord Chancellor is being subjected to a barrage of Front-Bench interventions, but another issue arises. I am sure the Lord Chancellor agrees that there are often grey areas in what is bribery and what may not be. In other countries—including, I believe, the United States—it is often possible to refer a specific matter to the authorities in order to obtain guidance on whether or not a payment is appropriate, but we do not have such a system in this country. Should we perhaps consider adopting one?

I will certainly consider it.

I apologise to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) for not replying to his second question. He was right to suggest that sentences relating to such offences as money laundering should be brought into line with those relating to more general offences, so that the courts receive a message from this place that so-called white-collar crimes are just as important, pound for pound, as crimes committed by a common thief—thefts of tangible or what Dickens used to call portable property.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield asked whether it would be possible to establish an office where people could submit the full details of what was being proposed and be given a tick or a cross against it. I do not think it desirable to provide for such a scheme in the Bill, and in any event it would not be possible to do so in the time available to us. Certainly we have been given no advice to that effect. What I will say to the hon. and learned Gentleman, however, is that clause 7(2), plus the guidance, will give commercial organisations that have acted responsibly, assiduously and in good faith such a complete defence to any prosecution in respect of an individual case that it is unlikely that one would ever be launched.

Clause 7(1) makes a “relevant commercial organisation” guilty of an offence if a person associated with that organisation

“bribes another person intending—

(a) to obtain or retain business for”

the organisation, or

“(b) to obtain or retain an advantage in the conduct of business for”

the organisation.

However, the second limb of the clause—expressed in subsection (2)—states that it is a defence for the relevant commercial organisation to prove that it

“had in place adequate procedures designed to prevent persons associated with”

the organisation “from undertaking such conduct.”

This measure is not designed to trip up decent companies that are acting responsibly or in good faith. On the contrary, it is designed to help them, because, as the experience from other countries has shown, the more it is made an imperative that those representing major businesses across the world are themselves under a requirement to act lawfully, the less will be the opportunity for those who are so tempted either to seek or offer bribes. I undertake to this House that we will keep the guidance issue carefully under review; it will have to be a kind of living document, therefore.

Clause 13 has proved to be a sticking point. It provides for a defence for conduct necessary for the proper exercise of the functions of the intelligence services and the armed forces engaged on active service. The House should be in no doubt of the need for such a defence. Members will understand that I cannot go into operational details, but there are circumstances in which it is necessary for the effective discharge of the functions of one of the intelligence agencies or the armed forces that they engage in conduct that would otherwise amount to an offence under clauses 1 and 2. They need to do so because they are working to protect us and our liberties in difficult, and often dangerous, circumstances. We are being very straightforward about that in making provision for this defence.

The truth is that nowadays our intelligence services are subjected to a far higher degree of transparency and accountability than those of most other comparable countries. Again, the House will, I know, excuse me for not being able to go into as much detail as I would like, but the difference is striking. That used not to be the case, of course. Before the passage of the Security Service Act 1989, our intelligence and security agencies—GCHQ, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Security Service—were never “averred”, a strange verb meaning that their existence was never admitted to. Everybody denied that these agencies existed, even though there they were in Century house above a petrol station on the St. George’s road to the Elephant, and in Gower street and—[Interruption.] No, it is not Michael Foot again. They were also in Curzon street. That changed, however. First, we had the 1989 Act, and then the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which also established the Intelligence and Security Committee. Those Acts, along with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, mean that we now have substantial ministerial, parliamentary and judicial oversight.

May I put to the Secretary of State a point about this clause that was made in the other place? These services have a function that goes beyond national security: upholding the economic interests of the country. It has been suggested that it is not appropriate for the permission to bribe, or to be bribed, to be used for that purpose, as opposed to the main purpose of national security.

I understand, of course, the concerns that are felt about the operation of the intelligence and security agencies, because they have to work in secret in order to protect our liberties, and there is not only a paradox in that, but a tension, too. Also, to be blunt, those anxieties have clearly been heightened by recent court decisions and what has been exposed as a result, although that has only come out because of the level of transparency that this House has put in place from the specific Acts I have just mentioned through to the Human Rights Act 1998.

I was going to make the following point later, but perhaps I should mention it now. I am in a literally unique position in this House, as over the years I have been responsible for all three of the intelligence agencies. My view is that the functions that are laid down—which, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) said, include economic well-being—are as narrowly defined as they can be. It would be very difficult—in fact it would involve some casuistry and theology—to say, “They could do this, but they can’t do that.” In an instant case, it can be difficult to say exactly which limb of which function a particular operation might come under, and usually they come under more than one. I therefore hope the hon. Gentleman does not pursue that point.

Most Members recognise that there might be occasions when the intelligence and security services will offer cash or some other advantage in order to obtain information. I am, however, concerned about how the term “active service” in clause 13 might be interpreted. I would not under any circumstances want the procurement of military or intelligence equipment to be deemed to be exempt from the provisions of this Bill because that equipment was to be used in a military operation. Can my right hon. Friend give me the assurance I seek?

I have to rely on what clause 13 says:

“It is a defence for a person charged with a relevant bribery offence to prove that the person’s conduct was necessary for—

(a) the proper exercise of any function of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service or GCHQ”,

or, secondly, that it was necessary in relation to

“the armed forces when engaged on active service.”

I think my hon. Friend was referring to the first of those limbs.

With respect, I was referring to both, and in particular to a concern in respect of the armed forces. I seek an assurance that this clause would not permit the armed forces to offer a bribe in securing the purchase of military or security equipment.

If my hon. Friend has a concern in respect of the armed forces, I should point out to him that the clause states that

“‘active service’ means service in—

(a) an action or operation against an enemy,

(b) an operation outside the British Islands for the protection of life or property, or

(c) the military occupation of a foreign country or territory”—

and there are various definitions following that statement. My hon. Friend will, I hope, excuse me if I do not speculate about the precise terms of any decision made variously by the directors general or a Secretary of State about a particular operation. I shall return to this point later. The decisions that are taken are not taken capriciously. The functions of the three services are laid down in two Acts—the 1989 Act deals with the Security Service’s functions and the 1994 Act deals with those of the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. I assure my hon. Friend that it is unlikely or wholly improbable that the kind of circumstances that he describes would arise.

I am trying to remember the exact wording, but I seem to recollect that one of the functions of the Security Service and the SIS is to ensure the economic security or well-being of the nation. One can imagine how one interpretation of that could suggest that bribery might be used to secure some economic or commercial advantage. I am sure that that is not the Government’s intention, but the issue will have to be addressed in the explanation given as the Bill goes through the House.

I should say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the wording slightly differs. One function of the Security Service is

“to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”—

there is no full stop, because with a bit of luck that is a function of the Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the rest of us—

“against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.”

As I say, similar, though not the same, language is used in respect of the other two agencies. It is right that these provisions should be scrutinised, but I hope that it will be possible to reassure the House and the Committee on them.

We could have done what other jurisdictions do, which is to be silent about all this. It is much easier to be silent about this, particularly in civil Napoleonic systems, as I know to my certain knowledge, having discussed what protections are given in practice to intelligence agencies by the judicial systems of some of our European partners. Their approach is straightforward and it is a matter of policy: nothing is on the statute book, but everybody knows what they need to do and everybody does it. Our system is much more open and because of that I thought it would have been disingenuous to have remained silent on this issue and it would have been intensely unfair on officers or agents of the intelligence services and armed forces who may be asked to undertake this unpleasant activity in the course of their work. Nobody should be put in a position where they are placed at risk of prosecution for engaging in work that would otherwise be unlawful but which is necessary in pursuit of the security of the state. I believe that there is common ground on that.

The question to address is what form the special provision for the intelligence services and armed forces should take. The 2003 and 2009 draft Bills contained provision for an authorisation scheme cast in similar terms to section 7 of the 1994 Act. That provides for an authorisation by the Secretary of State and, in practice, by the Foreign Secretary of the day. An authorisation allows members of the agencies to undertake activities that would otherwise be in breach of the criminal law. That was the original proposal, but the Joint Committee that examined the most recent draft Bill was not persuaded of the case for these special arrangements and therefore proposed the removal of the authorisation scheme. I examined that, and I tried to respond to the criticism that was made of the Bill and improve the Bill. I thought that if there was a better and lighter way of meeting the same purpose we should use it. We, thus, withdrew the authorisation scheme and concluded that a better approach would be to provide for a defence.

The defence is a more focused and case-specific mechanism than the authorisation scheme contained in the draft Bill. An authorisation scheme needs to provide for a wider authorisation if it is to be workable in practice and confer the necessary operational flexibility. If I may say so, that is one of the fundamental defects with the authorisation scheme that has now crept into the Bill in a subsection of clause 10. The House of Lords accepted that there was a need to make special provision, but it argued that there was a greater need for better oversight of the conduct of the intelligence services and armed forces in respect of conduct that would otherwise constitute an offence. The other place also argued that the defence was cast too wide in that it included law enforcement agencies. I recognise the strength of the second argument about the breadth of the defence, and we have now narrowed the application of the provision down, in effect, to the intelligence agencies and the armed forces—and nobody else. I am grateful to Members of the other place for drawing our attention to that defect.

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the Government intend to leave clause 10 as it has come to us from the House of Lords or to seek to amend it in Committee?

As I am about to explain, the Government intend to seek to amend the clause, because it will create a hybrid and very uncertain set of authorisations. I hope that I can convince the hon. and learned Gentleman and the House that not only is it not necessary, but it is not desirable. I should say to him that when I examined it my starting point—my default position, as it were—was to see whether we could accommodate it. Why would that not be my position because, particularly at this stage of a Parliament, I am not picking fights unnecessarily?

No, no, I am not, and I am certainly not doing so on something as esoteric as this. However, I came to the view—I am clear about this—that this provision is both unnecessary and undesirable.

The other place accepted the case for the defence clause, but what it did, not as an alternative, but as an addition, was decide to put in place a discretionary ministerial authorisation scheme, and that now forms subsections (6) and (14) of clause 10. What are the defects of those provisions? One defect is that they would sanction conduct covered by the offence at clause 6 of the Bill, which is derived from the OECD’s convention on combating bribery of foreign public officials. The Bill as originally drafted did not allow for that possibility. We could put that defect right, but what cannot be put right is the ill-conceived hybrid arrangement, which seeks to combine an optional authorisation scheme with an existing defence. The arrangement is neither one thing nor the other, and thus creates uncertainty about its legal and practical effects and, in the process, undermines the purpose of clause 13.

I remember sitting in this House before I had responsibility for any of the intelligence agencies and sometimes thinking that I was being asked to take on trust undertakings being given in this place by Ministers who say that they know it all but that they cannot communicate what they know. Mostly we did take things on trust from distinguished members of the previous Administration such as Lord Hurd and Lord Howe, and rightly so. Some people have the idea that the intelligence agencies operate in highly regular circumstances—it is a highly regulated system—whereby they have the time to consider individual applications for actions out in the field and these can then be weighed in the balance and an authorisation sought for them prospectively. All that is true in respect of activities by the agencies that are covered by warrantry, which include interception of different kinds and intrusive surveillance. However, some of their actions are inevitably fast-moving—people must have authority at a point at which they are exercising sensible discretion on behalf of the state.

The previous authorisation scheme, which the Joint Committee did not like, was cast to take account of the necessary flexibility that is required by the agencies. It is paralleled by section 7 of the 1994 Act. This provision, however, is far too specific and would jam up the system. I remind the House that there is already intensive supervision of the work of the agencies. Each of the substantive Acts—the 1989, 1994 and 2000 Acts—provides for there to be commissioners who are retired senior members of the judiciary, typically and usually retired Court of Appeal judges, who scrutinise the various aspects of the agencies. Having been subject to their scrutiny, I can tell the House that that is not something that they take lightly. No sensible Secretary of State takes it lightly, and neither do the agencies. Of course, a lot of what they do cannot see the light of day, although they publish redacted reports, but it is extremely important.

With the mechanisms for external accountability in place, in addition to a robust system of internal checks that are partly prompted by the external checks, there is then a powerful onus on the individuals concerned who are carrying out and authorising operations to demonstrate and be satisfied that the proposed action is both necessary and proportionate. Our view, which the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward)—who has just disappeared from the Chamber—will be urging the Committee to accept, is that the defence, when combined with these existing oversight mechanisms, provides an appropriate level of accountability.

In providing a purely discretionary authorisation scheme, the Lords amendment to clause 10 at one level arguably adds nothing but its effect would be—I promise the House—to add confusion and uncertainty. However, through my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, I shall consider whether we can provide further assurance to the House that there is effective oversight of the conduct of the intelligence services and armed forces that engages the clause 13 defence.

I hope that the House will accept what I have said. I also hope that it will accept the good advice of, for example, Transparency International. As a senior Minister in this Government I have responsibilities for getting a Bribery Bill on the statute book, but as a senior Minister—not least as one who has had responsibility for the various agencies over a nine year period—I also have a responsibility to ensure that those agencies can operate effectively and sensibly. I hope that Members of the House will not allow the best, in their view, to be made the enemy of the good. We cannot put on the statute book a Bill that, in dealing with one mischief—bribery—creates a worse mischief, undermining the effective, proportionate and lawful work of the agencies. Transparency International said that it believed that the issue about clauses 13 and 10

“should not be allowed to derail the Bill”.

That is good advice.

The Bill will put in place a coherent, comprehensive framework of criminal law. It will make it abundantly clear that bribery has no place in this country and that it will not be tolerated in our commercial and other dealings with the rest of the world. Those are aims to which the whole House, I hope, can subscribe, and I hope that we can now get on and pass the Bill. I commend it to the House.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Corporation Tax Act 2010.