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Attorney General

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 8 February 2018

The Attorney General was asked—

Bribery Act 2010

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Bribery Act 2010; and if he will make a statement. (903847)

In the Bribery Act 2010 the UK introduced world-leading legislation on bribery, making it a criminal offence for a company to fail to prevent a bribe being paid. We are starting to see the effectiveness of the offence in holding large companies to account, through the first conviction of a corporate entity and three deferred prosecution agreements.

Does the Attorney General agree that corruption is still embedded in the business culture of many developing countries, particularly in Africa, and that it is always the poorest in society who suffer most? This is being encouraged by a number of major trading countries that have not followed our lead. What is he doing, particularly in the OECD, to ensure that those countries come into a line with the UK?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is the poorest who suffer most when corruption occurs around the world, and it is important that the UK plays a leadership role, not least by setting an example, and we have done that through the Bribery Act and what has flowed from it. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend. In his role as a distinguished Foreign Officer Minister, he was also able to do some of this work, and the work must continue.

Does the Attorney General believe that his Department can provide more clarification on foreign public officials, hospitality and facilitation payments, self-reporting, sentencing and fines, adequate procedures and the meanings of “associated person” and “relevant commercial organisations”? How can that be done?

The hon. Gentleman is right that clarity is important. The Bribery Act and the prosecutions that flow from it are not all that matters here. We need to change corporate culture, and that is happening. It is important that corporations understand their responsibilities, and he is right that if they are to do that, they need to be clear about what they can and cannot do. We will always seek to give greater clarity, but it all depends on the circumstances.

Yes, I believe we do. For some of the most substantial cases under the Bribery Act, it is the Serious Fraud Office that prosecutes and investigates, and it has a good deal of expertise. In relation to both convictions and deferred prosecution agreements, my hon. Friend will recognise, as I have said already, that we are presenting good cases and securing convictions.

Female Genital Mutilation: Prosecution Rates

2. What steps the CPS is taking to increase the rate of prosecution of people responsible for female genital mutilation. (903849)

FGM is a crime. It is abuse against children and women. The Crown Prosecution Service has introduced a series of measures to improve the handling of such cases, including appointing a lead FGM prosecutor in each area and delivering training to police and prosecutors across the country.

I welcome this week’s announcement of extra funding to tackle FGM in Africa and beyond. With over 5,000 cases reported in a year in this country, does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern that we are still to bring a successful prosecution?

My right hon. Friend is correct to raise some of the obstacles that prosecutors have faced over the years, and barriers have caused real issues in the investigation of such cases. I am glad to say that a case is currently before the courts—I will not comment on it—but it is also important to remember that protection and prevention is vital, and our FGM protection orders are being used to good effect, with 179 having been granted to the end of September last year.

Bristol is recognised as being at the forefront of some of the community involvement in trying to prevent female genital mutilation, but the fact that we have not yet had a single conviction is still a sticking point. What more can the Solicitor General do to liaise with the police? Local prosecution services tell me that they are being prevented from taking things further because the police are not bringing cases to them.

The hon. Lady is right to press me on this issue. With the appointment of lead FGM prosecutors in each CPS area and agreed protocols with local police forces, I am glad to say that there should be a greater and deeper understanding among officers, police officers in particular, of the tell-tale signs of female genital mutilation and of what to do about them. Getting early investigative advice from the CPS is vital in such cases.

The Solicitor General is right to identify specific issues that need to be tackled on FGM. However, if we are to increase prosecution rates right across the range of offences, we need a properly resourced and robust disclosure system. The former Conservative politician and barrister Jerry Hayes has said:

“The CPS are under terrible pressure, as are the police. Both work hard but are badly under-resourced.”

He is right, is he not?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I was directly involved in the prosecuting and defending of serious criminal cases for over 20 years, and I am well familiar with the long-standing challenge of disclosure. Prior to recent revelations, I am glad to say that the Attorney General and I instituted a thoroughgoing review not only of our guidelines, but of the entire culture. The police and prosecutors—everybody involved at all stages—have to realise that disclosure must be achieved early and efficiently to protect not just defendants, but victims.

I appreciate that there is a review, and I appreciate that there are long-standing issues, but there is also no doubt that social media—things like WhatsApp—and the examination of mobile telephones present new challenges that are time intensive and resource intensive. Surely it is the case that, without proper resources on those things, we will not have the system of disclosure that we need.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the main issues in this area has not been that these items have not been obtained but the timeliness in which they are eventually disclosed. That is the issue, and bearing down on that factor will encourage and increase both police awareness and the priority that the police need to place on making sure that all this material is gathered at the earliest opportunity.

Leaving the EU: European Arrest Warrant

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the operation of the European arrest warrant. (903851)

7. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the operation of the European arrest warrant. (903856)

The European arrest warrant offers a more effective means than non-EU alternatives of surrendering individuals wanted by other EU member states and of ensuring that those who have fled the UK are returned to face justice. Agreeing continued extradition arrangements will therefore be an important part of negotiations with our European partners and is of mutual interest to both the UK and EU member states.

Does the Attorney General agree with the Director of Public Prosecutions that the European arrest warrant is vital to ensuring quick and effective cross-border crime and justice measures? Will the Government commit to remaining in the European arrest warrant?

I certainly agree that the European arrest warrant is the most efficient means we have available both to bring people back to the UK and to send foreign criminals home to face justice. It is our objective to be part of those arrangements in the future. Precisely how we do that will depend on negotiations that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are ongoing.

Will not these arrangements have to function on the basis of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice? Which is more important to the Government, their heavy red line on the ECJ or the ability to work effectively with our European partners to tackle crime? Does the Attorney General agree with the House of Lords report that the safety of the people of the UK should be the Government’s overriding consideration?

I certainly agree with the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I do not accept that there is necessarily a contradiction between restricting and excluding the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in this country and being able to have good and productive arrangements for combating crime across the European continent. That is what we seek to do, and we believe it is in the mutual interest not just of the UK but of the rest of the EU, too. That is why we are optimistic that we can negotiate.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the European arrest warrant is just as important to our EU friends and partners as it is to us?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and he might like to know that, as far as the statistics go, since 2010, under the European arrest warrant, 1,079 people have been surrendered back to the United Kingdom but 8,826 people have been surrendered from the UK to the rest of the European Union. This is an advantageous arrangement for both sides.

Since 2010 thousands of criminals have been removed from the United Kingdom to face trial abroad thanks to the European arrest warrant. Does the Attorney General agree that such agreements are an integral part of our justice system here in the United Kingdom?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and it is important that we negotiate a settlement that will enable us to carry on sending people back and, just as importantly, to carry on bringing people back from other European nations to face justice here. As I have said, I am optimistic that we can do that.

The Irish Supreme Court recently refused to extradite a company director accused of fraud to the UK, despite a request through the European arrest warrant, citing Brexit as the reason, so we are having problems enforcing EAW requests even before we leave the European Union. What discussions are the Government having with EU partners to ensure this vital co-operation continues?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that case has not yet concluded, so I will say nothing about it specifically. His point is that we need to ensure that there is continuity of these arrangements beyond our departure from the European Union, which is exactly what we seek to negotiate. As I have said, this is not a pie-in-the-sky hope but something that will benefit both us and the rest of Europe. This is two-way traffic, and it is important to everyone that we negotiate continuing arrangements.

Drug Trafficking Gangs: Prosecution Rates

4. What steps the CPS is taking to increase the rate of prosecution for cases involving the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs that traffic drugs across the country. (903852)

8. What steps the CPS is taking to increase the rate of prosecution for cases involving the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs that traffic drugs across the country. (903858)

These types of crime are often committed over county lines and involve the exploitation of vulnerable people by violent members of drugs networks and gangs to move and sell drugs across the country. The CPS has recently developed and published guidance that sets out its approach to such crimes.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Many more people, particularly although not exclusively young women, are trafficked for prostitution. What steps are being taken within the justice process to give them support and help them exit this abusive trade?

In the new guidance, the CPS has emphasised the importance of safeguarding vulnerable people. Of course, we have organisations such as the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is a central point of contact for all agencies that work with victims of sex trafficking—for example when a victim is co-operating with an investigation to ensure that if they are of a foreign nationality their status in the UK is preserved during the course of the investigation.

My hon. and learned Friend is right about these crimes crossing county lines. I also think that vulnerable people are too often prosecuted, and not enough consideration is given to their vulnerability when the cases are being looked at.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains provisions to protect people who are compelled into acts of criminality. Choices must be made at an early stage by police and prosecutors whether to treat them as defendants or, where appropriate, encourage them to co-operate. Many of these people are, frankly, victims.

The National Crime Agency just showed its “Invisible People” exhibition in Belfast. It is a harrowing portrayal of what individuals go through when they are exploited through prostitution or for drugs and forced labour. Are we winning the battle?

The hon. Gentleman graphically illustrates that this fact of life is in every town and city across our country. The idea that slavery ended many centuries ago is a fallacy and, once we face up to that—I think the police and Crown Prosecution Service are facing up to it—we are halfway towards dealing with this scourge. More needs to be done.

Crimes against Older People: Prosecution Rates

Although many older people are not and do not consider themselves to be vulnerable, they can often be perceived as an easy target for criminals. To address this, the CPS has committed to refreshing its legal guidance and public statement on crimes against older people within the next year.

We all have constituents and relatives, elderly people, who are the victims of telephone scams. This is a particularly horrible form of crime where people pretend to be banks and it causes acute distress. Often the police shuffle off responsibility to Action Fraud, so can we have real action on this and real resources committed to it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue and I commend financial institutions such as Nationwide that have already created much more secure specialist phone lines for elderly people and, in particular, for carers for those who are unwell, to conduct their transactions. That is an excellent example of how the financial services sector can drive and design out this type of fraud.

Prosecuting Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery: Global Co-operation

6. What steps the CPS is taking to strengthen global co-operation in prosecuting human trafficking and modern slavery. (903855)

Later this month, the Crown Prosecution Service will host an international summit for senior prosecutors from 21 countries around the world. It is an ambitious summit that aims to identify better ways to support victims and witnesses and to establish a strong, active international network to tackle more actively the crime of modern slavery.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that modern slavery and human trafficking are international problems that require the collaboration of the Crown Prosecution Service and similar judicial systems from many countries to address them?

I do agree and it is important that we work with partners around the world. The CPS has 30 prosecutors located in other countries and, of course, we agreed last year at the United Nations to double our spend overseas in combating modern slavery.

Will the Attorney General welcome the work of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and support the Home Office in dealing with this issue in particular? Will he help to look at identifying the eight or so countries we are dealing with and give support from his office?

Yes, I do welcome that work. The right hon. Gentleman is right that there is a huge amount we can do in this institution to back up the fight against modern slavery and, of course, to focus on where the majority of those who are trafficked tend to come from. Of course, as he will recognise, it is not just those eight countries. Those who were identified as victims of modern slavery arriving in this country last year came from some 108 different countries, but he is right that there are particular countries to focus on.

At the UN General Assembly last year, the UK Government agreed that we would spend £150 million overseas to combat modern slavery. As my hon. Friend will recognise, that is in addition to the substantial sums already committed in our domestic budgets to deal with the problem.

Royal Assent

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

Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Act 2018

Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Act 2018.