Skip to main content

Corruption Bill [HL]

Volume 690: debated on Friday 16 March 2007

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Perhaps I may draw noble Lords’ attention to the summary of the statement issued this week by the OECD Working Group on Bribery on its phase 2 report on the United Kingdom. Notwithstanding its current concerns about the dropping of the BAE Al Yamamah investigation, it outlined continuing shortcomings in the United Kingdom’s anti-corruption legislation. It urged the UK to remedy those shortcomings as quickly as possible and it has decided to conduct a further examination of the UK’s unsatisfactory efforts to fight bribery.

The OECD’s phase 1 report found the UK’s anti-bribery legislation wanting; it still found it wanting in the 2005 phase 2 report; and the legislation is found wanting again in March 2007. Recommendations that the UK should enact modern foreign bribery legislation at the earliest possible date remain unimplemented. So we are to be examined again, a sort of “phase 2B” report. That is a pretty poor record for a country that is supposed to be leading the way in promoting ethical foreign policy and business.

In introducing this Second Reading debate, I want first to place on record my gratitude for the wide-ranging support and guidance that I have received from Members of both Houses, from all parties and from Transparency International (UK), which has enabled me to bring the Bill before your Lordships’ House. I thank the many noble Lords for their attendance here today—I trust, in support of the Bill, or is it to see whether there is blood sport in the offing?

The Bill is unusual in that it began life in another place as a 10-minute rule Bill. The initiative sprang from the work of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I am vice-chairman. The group, under the chairmanship of Hugh Bayley MP, produced and published its report The Other Side of the Coin: the UK and Corruption in Africa, which urged the Government to enforce existing laws against bribery and corruption. It called for a new anti-corruption Bill to be brought before Parliament before the end of 2006 to address concerns raised by the joint parliamentary committee and the OECD phase 2 review about the 2003 draft Bill.

In late May 2006, Hugh Bayley MP, backed by other senior Members across the parties, including the right honourable John Denham MP, the right honourable Malcolm Bruce MP and John Bercow MP, introduced a draft Corruption Bill under the 10-minute rule in the other place. The Bill, drafted with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and TI(UK) was well received, both as a serious piece of legislative drafting and as a contribution to the wider debate on tackling corruption.

In June 2006, Downing Street endorsed the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group’s conclusions that the Government should take a lead in tackling international corruption and agreed to implement most of the group’s recommendations. The draft Corruption Bill, having been read under the 10-minute rule, fell away and ceased to feature in the parliamentary programme. To rectify this and to avoid losing important draft legislation, I have brought it forward, updated and amended as a Private Member’s Bill, to your Lordships’ House for further consideration.

Anyone who has been involved with the developing world cannot have failed to see the devastating effect of international and domestic corruption on the lives of poor people in poor countries. Poverty-line incomes are eroded by corrupt demands for payment for basic services—services that the state intended should be provided free of charge. When officials and Ministers siphon off funds meant for the development of health, education or road building, everyone suffers.

The Prime Minister’s Commission for Africa found that,

“systematic corruption can add as much as 25 per cent to the costs of government procurement”.

It also found that,

“of the US$4 trillion spent worldwide on government public contracts each year, some $400 billion is lost to bribery”.

I repeat, $400 billion per year—more than the total annual income of the population of Africa.

But the impact of corruption goes far beyond the headline figures. It leads to loss of investment, discourages private sector development and slows economic growth. It also, of course, raises the need for effective scrutiny and regulation of international and commercial centres to tackle corruption’s supply side. The international business community has itself taken the initiative, where it can, in addressing corruption at home or abroad.

For example, the British Consultants and Construction Bureau, the Institution of Civil Engineers, of which I have the honour to be a fellow, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, with which I first graduated, the Institution of Structural Engineers and Transparency International are working together as part of the Anti-Corruption Forum to promote industry-led action to eliminate corruption. Established in October 2004, the forum’s members represent over 1,000 companies with interests in the infrastructure, construction and engineering sectors. Through its developing countries working group, the forum is working to help to create anti-corruption forums in developing countries. It is co-operating in exchanging ideas and information and developing best practice. The forum’s multilateral bank working group is examining how improved financial procedures can help to reduce corruption and how greater assistance can be provided to contractors and consulting engineers faced with extortion demands or having difficulty in receiving permits, certificates and payments.

The United Kingdom-based international commercial banks are addressing areas where they see threats from corruption, the risk of their employees being involved and the risks of the proceeds of corruption passing through their systems. As would be expected, there is automatic zero tolerance towards employees or businesses with involvement in any form of corrupt practice, as is consistent with UK law and corporate values. However, there is also an acceptance of the challenges of making sure, across a wide variety of cultures, that employees feel sufficiently empowered to speak up if they see something that they are concerned about.

Addressing the risks of the proceeds of corruption passing through the systems of the banking world can be even more challenging. Although robust anti-money-laundering controls are in place, together with automated screening of international payments, it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. International banks are for ever urging law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share suspect names with them before they are added to the public sanctions lists, by which time the birds may well have flown.

That brings me to the concept of preventing corruption in the defence sector and the recognition of the impact of legislation in this sector, although in the UK it could be argued that we still await the arrival of legislation that would have a significant impact. During the Cold War, “corruption” and “defence sector” were almost synonyms. Many take the view that there was little or no attempt to secure integrity in the sector, as much by exporting Governments as by defence companies and state purchasing agencies. Real and significant change did not begin to occur until after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But past practice left a long legacy, with the result that many major investigations are still being progressed around the world into deals done in the 1980s and 1990s.

The tipping point for European companies was the passage of the OECD convention in 1997. This has seen many companies develop codes of conduct and anti-corruption programmes. The second major impact has been anti-corruption legislation in the USA. Passed as long ago as 1977, it has long had an impact on constraining corrupt behaviour by US firms. More recently, it is being used, with increasing frequency, to pursue foreign firms.

In this context, E Anthony Wayne, when he was US Assistant Secretary of State, reportedly commented that,

“though it had signed up to international anti-bribery agreements, the UK was slow to take action to correct perceived deficiencies”.

He complained of,

“the consistent pattern of alleged behaviour, over time”,

and added that,

“press accounts reinforce material from more sensitive sources”.

With the US being the UK’s—and thus BAE Systems’—most important defence export market, the perceived intransigence by UK authorities, and the company, over the Al Yamamah Saudi saga is damaging our defence industry overall. It is a compelling reason why the new legislation is so necessary, and why further delay is so unacceptable.

In spite of a lack of legislative guidance and support, the defence industry has shown itself to be open to collaboration in improving anti-corruption standards. Through its own efforts, transnational agreements have been entered into to share information on business conduct codes. A common code of anti-corruption practice to which defence companies will adhere has been successfully established across Europe.

In the international development export arena, views are also beginning to change. The chief executive of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau was quoted in New Civil Engineer magazine of 7 September 2006 as saying that,

“the attitude of ‘Oh gosh, there is nothing we can do about it, it’s just part of their culture’, is nonsense. It is learned behaviour. It is regrettable, but it is down to poor governance, it is not a natural human state”.

What is clear is that the UK's international business, industry and banking community have, over the past decade or so, taken corruption seriously, and worked together to tackle its impact. British companies can no longer claim to be at a disadvantage compared to foreign competitors by rejecting corrupt practices. All OECD countries and all UN states are expected to legislate against corruption to similar standards. Demonstrably, when it comes to legislation, the UK has fallen behind. It is a major embarrassment to the UK, to the Government and to ourselves that the OECD review of compliance with its convention noted that, while the USA and France, among others, had prosecuted companies in their countries for transnational bribery, the UK to date—March 2007—had not.

There is little dispute that the UK's anti-corruption legislation is out of date, obscure and inadequately enforced. It rests on a confusing mix of common law and statute, principally the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889, 1906 and 1916—before the first aeroplane took flight, I think.

Successive Home Secretaries have promised new anti-corruption legislation but nothing emerged until after the Law Commission released a consultation paper in January 1997 and published proposals in March 1998. It was not until 2003 that the draft legislation proposed by the commission was adapted in a draft Bill and referred for scrutiny to an all-party joint parliamentary committee. The committee was very critical of the fundamental approach to defining bribery, believing that no one would understand it—not the police, not prosecutors, not jurors, not the public, and, in particular, not businesses or the public sector in the UK and overseas. In due course, the Government have accepted the importance of trying to find an agreed way forward and, in December 2005, commenced a consultation process. That was some eight years after the Law Commission first published its proposals.

This Corruption Bill has been developed as an adjunct response to the consultation process, with the aim of reforming the law of bribery in a way that is readily understood by all parties. It would enable the UK to become fully compliant with its international obligations. It has been developed with a genuine desire to introduce flagship legislation reflecting: the growing importance of the City of London as a conduit for world trade and investment; the UK's role in international bodies engaged in combating corruption; the UK's leading role in combating organised crime and international terrorism; and the importance of maintaining high standards of business integrity to maintain confidence in the UK's equities and securities markets. The Bill has been developed to reflect the UK's role in supporting developing countries through the provision of international development aid, the promotion of transparent global markets, the support for democratic government and the equitable use of world resources.

The content and scope of the Corruption Bill follow the Government’s 2003 Bill but it adopts a very different approach to specifying the principal offences. The Bill focuses on the real mischief—improper conduct that is intended to result from a bribe—in Clause 1. There are separate offences to cover bribery within normal agency relationships in Clause 2. There is a further offence of bribery in the context of foreign officials, which places beyond doubt the UK's compliance with both the OECD and UN conventions, in Clause 3. Clause 4 covers the offence of foreign bid-rigging, which is identified by the joint parliamentary committee and applies only in the UK, but was not recognised in the Government’s Bill. A further new offence to protect sporting events from match or performance result-fixing is covered in Clause 5.

There follows a series of clauses dealing with reporting corruption in the public sector, and then Clauses 11 and 12 deal with the supervision of foreign subsidiaries. I am aware that there are concerns that making UK companies liable for the acts of foreign subsidiaries would have significant implications for company law, but that seriously misunderstands the clauses in the Bill. They do not make companies liable for the acts of foreign subsidiaries; they require a UK company to,

“take all such steps as are reasonably open to it to secure that”,

such subsidiaries do not bribe. Any prudent UK company will be taking these steps in its own interests in protection of its reputation and will not be troubled by such provisions.

The definition of bribery has been at the heart of the Government's law reform throughout. Transparency International took the view that, if the law was to be reformed for the first time for 100 years, it was sensible to give full consideration to legislating over a wide range of matters constituting corruption, as it happens in the real world. This is partly to respond more effectively to our international obligations by treaty but it is also a move to tackle matters of concern to business and international development. By way of illustration, this Bill includes additional matters such as: the specific provision for foreign bribery; foreign bid-rigging; corruption in sport; a duty to report instances of corruption; the responsibility of a UK company for a bribe by an overseas subsidiary; failure by a UK company to ensure that satisfactory anti-corruption measures are in place overseas in associated or joint venture companies; a clear empowerment of the serious fraud squad; and the removal of the special consent of the Attorney-General for the prosecution of corruption offences.

Those working in anti-corruption internationally recognise the need to counter modern conditions with laws that are in tune with current behaviour and practice. The international conventions in the Council of Europe and the UN, for example, address a whole range of offences. There is no logic in imagining that a single statutory offence should apply equally well in all circumstances and in all places. In that regard, I urge the Government to reconsider their declared position of, “We do not believe we should do this”, and to review urgently the Bill’s additional matters.

As the Home Office’s response paper to the consultation process recognised, many experienced politicians of serious intent have contributed to the development and preparation of the Bill. As the Home Office also acknowledges,

“TI have considerable authority”,

as a serious organisation with the combat of corruption as its sole focus. TI promotes the Bill to move the UK towards a comprehensive anti-corruption code. It has no interest in developing legislation but it wishes to promote that aim to this Parliament and this House.

The Bill’s proposals are the product of long and careful consideration. The resources required to assemble and present them in the accepted parliamentary legislative form could not have been found without the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

By committing to a Bill that not only defines bribery intelligibly, in a manner that business and agencies will readily understand, but also has key components of modern anti-corruption code, the Government would take a positive step towards countering the concerns that the UK is not serious about tackling corruption. That, sadly, is the perception in view of the extraordinary and continuing delay in modernising our laws, the adverse reports received from the OECD evaluations and, most recently, the perceived premature decision to discontinue the investigation into BAE Systems’ dealings with Saudi Arabia. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Chidgey.)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on presenting this Bill. It is a very important Bill, but sad that it is necessary. To some extent, that is because of the apparent failure of the Government to comply with the commitments that they gave to the OECD. I also congratulate my old friend Jeremy Carver and Transparency International on all their hard work in providing us with information and for working so hard against corruption.

I recall that in 1997 the Labour Government had an ethical foreign policy, which, sadly from my point of view, did not last all that long, presumably because the arms manufacturers and the oil lobby got the best of my colleagues. So, to some extent, we are back in the good old days of corruption—perhaps more so than was the case 20 years ago.

I am a civil engineer. I am nothing like as eminent as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, but I spent a few decades in the business. When tendering for projects overseas, a percentage was always added—the noble Lord quoted 50 per cent; I never got that high—with the name of a suitable agent in whichever country one was in. It was usually a man with a Swiss bank account number. There was also export credit support. So, effectively, several major member states and other countries, including Japan, were using taxpayers’ money in a fight to see who could make the biggest bribe in the country concerned. We all thought that was pretty stupid. I was remarkably unsuccessful in that regard, which was probably a good thing, but it indicated how bad the situation had become. If the Serious Fraud Office is allowed to complete any of its current investigations, we might see more of that.

It is fantastic, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, that over the past 10 years the anti-corruption movement has increased its pressure and achieved a great deal. The OECD agreement mentioned by the noble Lord—it took place nine years ago if I have calculated it right—was a real landmark, even if we are running a bit behind in this country. But for the private sector and the construction industry, which I know in particular, to have agreed on anything was a great piece of work, because the bribery taking place in other countries was endemic and they probably thought they would not get any more contracts without it. So, for the construction industry, the mechanical engineers and everyone else mentioned by the noble Lord to have got together, made these statements and tried to turn the agreement into reality was a real achievement. It seems that there is growing acceptance in the sector that action must be taken by all the relevant parties, of which there are an awful lot. But there have to be incentives and penalties and, if everyone complies and works to the guidelines and rules, we will be on the brink of a major change.

This is one occasion when the private sector has led, and it is rather sad that our Government have not seen fit to do their necessary part in introducing proper anti-corruption legislation, as contained in the Bill. One could argue that there has been vacillation for the past nine years, and it really is time that this whole situation was dealt with.

A statement was made yesterday by the OECD working group, which, as the noble Lord said, has ordered a special review of the UK’s progress in enacting new foreign bribery law. A number of international lawyers and other people involved have commented on the investigation into systemic problems and everything concerning on-site visits. Let us hope that there is a good report at the end of it. However, they are saying that no one can recall such criticism being made of a major member of the OECD. I hope that the Government will take this seriously, work closely with the Law Commission and those involved, and accept the Bill.

When it was announced that, on the grounds of national interest, the Government had instructed the Serious Fraud Office to stop investigating the allegations that British Aerospace and the Saudi Arabian Government might have been up to something nasty, I thought that it was frankly quite incomprehensible. It demonstrated the sacrifice of an ethical policy in a move to support, for example, arms exports for oil.

In conclusion, I hope that my noble friend and the rest of the Government will welcome the Bill. It could mean that the Government’s legislation would then be fully compliant with their international obligations, and that never again is the excuse of national interest used in issuing such instructions to the SFO and others.

My Lords, I add to what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and Transparency International on their initiative. It is a matter for regret that it has been left to private initiative to move forward in this absolutely vital area. Anybody with any experience of international contracts and their performance around the world would have found, time and again, either direct bribes being reported or commission of a dubious character being demanded by intermediaries. I am afraid that it is a bad and corrupt world out there; it is getting better, but there is a long way to go.

On Transparency International, I took over from the late lamented Lord Nolan to become the second chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, almost exactly when the OECD convention appeared. We took an interest in it on that committee; I see that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who was a member of the committee, is a later speaker in the debate. We hoped that it would be introduced in full in the UK within a short period. That has not come about.

I deplore two facts already mentioned. First, the UK has been publicly and internationally criticised for its failure completely to incorporate all the provisions of the OECD convention. We were earlier reprimanded with Japan; Japan put its house in order, and I understand that we have continued not to do so. That is the first matter for regret and embarrassment. The second is the international criticism repeated again this week by the OECD working party in Paris following up on the UK’s performance. It expressly criticised the abandonment of the bribery investigation concerning a defence contract linked with Saudi Arabia. I understand that that is the subject of legal proceedings, and it would not be appropriate to say more. On the record, however, we have public criticism of this country, which is how it is perceived internationally. Those two points are very worrying.

I shall briefly make one or two points on the text of the Bill; it may be said that these are things to raise in Committee, but they are major points. The gist of the offence under Clause 1(1) is the payment of money or conferring of advantages to cause the exercise of a function to be made improperly. It raises the question of the payment of money to procure the proper exercise of a function. I first came across this in a country which I shall not name. I was there with my instructing solicitor on an urgent matter, and we had to get a letter to a Minister in a government department. We turned up at the door of the ministry with our letter, and the doorman said, “I am sorry, but I am not going to deliver this letter to the Minister without the usual payment”. Perhaps I should go to prison for this, but we had to bribe the doorman to present the letter to the Minister. That country was so infiltrated by corruption that it would hardly have caused surprise to anybody else. I was simply amazed, and it made me start thinking about payments of money to procure proper performance.

I am afraid that I have had a slight obsession with the OECD convention on “facilitation payments”. I have always felt that it was deeply worrying. Paragraph 9 of the OECD official explanatory commentary on the convention will be familiar to all who have followed the issue:

“Small ‘facilitation’ payments”—

that rather reminds one of the conversation of the small baby and the lady of the house—

“do not constitute payments made ‘to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage’ within the meaning of paragraph 1 and, accordingly, are also not an offence. Such payments, which, in some countries, are made to induce public officials to perform their functions, such as issuing licenses or permits, are generally illegal in the foreign country concerned. Other countries can and should address this corrosive phenomenon by such means as support for programmes of good governance. However, criminalisation by other countries does not seem a practical or effective complementary action”.

I have always rather deplored that paragraph, because it says that small facilitation payments—bribes—are okay. I have always thought it a pity that that accompanies the convention. I will not go on any more about that, but those bringing the Bill forward need to think about the use of “improperly”, which appears also in Clause 1(2).

Moving rapidly on with points that may deserve a little consideration, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has spoken about Clause 4, “Foreign bid-rigging”. The definition of bid rigging is a little naive, in that it leaves out quite a common form of corrupt agreement which has certainly happened to my knowledge in the past. A group of, say, six construction companies, important players, agree that they will put in bids of ridiculously high figures, leaving the way clear for the seventh who will get the job. Now, there may be somebody else, but there is a corrupt agreement between those seven. I do not think that that falls within the definitions of bid rigging in paragraphs (a), (b) or (c).

I welcome Clause 5, dealing with corruption in sport. It is high time we had an absolutely clear criminal clause dealing with this worrying phenomenon. There have been many reported instances of events being deliberately thrown by goal keepers and other performers, rigging the results by not performing properly. Perhaps this is more of a tease than a point, but it must be sport; the definition of “sporting event” includes the word “sport”. Would that include an international bridge contest, or the World Chess Championship? It is, of course, inconceivable that corruption could enter those events, but careful thought should be given to the inclusion of “sport” in the definition.

Clause 8 is a very good duty clause, imposing a duty to report attempts at corruption. Clause 9 makes a failure to report a criminal offence. My problem is that, as I read Clause 8, one of those who should report is the person who has actually received an advantage. However, by doing that, he would have committed a criminal offence under Clause 1(2)(b) or Clause 2(2), and it is a cause for concern that that looks like a duty to self-incriminate. It needs a little thought. I have not taken it any further, but I am worried by the provision. It is very unusual because there is normally a privilege against self-incrimination.

A small point is that Clause 11 is all about corporate entities. It would be helpful if it were expanded to include individual employees of companies.

Finally, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, will deal with a point about Scotland. Clause 24 states that the Bill does not apply to Scotland. I would be interested to know the current position there and whether Scotland has provisions that we could use as a model.

I wish the Bill every success.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Chidgey on introducing the Bill. It is extraordinary that it has become necessary to do so, but it is clear that it is because the Government have been using delaying tactics. I note that the Written Statement last week includes a new tactic—kicking this into touch in the Law Commission for another couple of years. The need is urgent, more so now in the light of the considerable damage done to this country’s reputation as a result of the suspension of the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into corruption allegations involving the Al Yamamah project.

The statement on 14 March by the OECD working group on bribery, to which noble Lords have referred, is a strong condemnation of the United Kingdom’s record. One expert said to me this week:

“In nearly 40 years of work involving international organisations, I cannot recall one being so critical of a major member. The Government will have to do a great deal better than sending this to the Law Commission for the next two years”.

The statement reminded the world in detail about how the United Kingdom has been dragging its feet. There was already growing concern among those who follow these matters that the UK appears to be more reluctant to prosecute than other OECD members.

I shall focus on the security-related aspects of corruption, although I realise that the Bill rightly covers a potentially much wider field of economic activity. I remind your Lordships that I am a member of the strategy group that advises Transparency International (UK) on the prevention of corruption in the official arms trade. The two major areas that have long been recognised as particularly prone to corrupt practices in international contracts are the construction industry—the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke of his experience of that—and arms sales.

The arms trade is a highly competitive field in which large sums of money are at stake. Decisions are taken by government officials and politicians in the country that is buying a particular military capability. The contractual costs are often very opaque, partially as part of negotiating strategies, but also to protect commercial opportunities elsewhere. Payments may be made by means other than cash, and the whole can be further complicated by the use of offset deals, which may be in unrelated fields. Each of these aspects provides opportunities for corruption. Corrupt benefits may take the form of post-deal arrangements to give advantage through the subsequent offset arrangement.

When I discuss these matters with those who have worked with and in the defence industries, many of them argue that these arrangements are just a fact of business life. If one wishes to export military equipment or services to some parts of the world, the local custom means that orders will need to be facilitated by additional payments and the price charged takes account of that. That has a number of security implications. The receiving country is not necessarily obtaining the most appropriate capability or the best value product. The sale may go to the international company that offers the best bribes. If a defence company depends on such techniques, it is likely that they will produce less effective products because they are not exposed to full market competition. That means that our own troops, who will be enjoined to help exports by buying British products, may be among those who ultimately suffer as a consequence of corrupt practices in export sales.

There is also the question of what effect such corrupt practices have on the nation to which sales are made. On 11 January 2007, we debated the DfID White Paper Making Governance Work for the Poor. In Chapter 3, a compelling case is made for why corruption is bad for the developing world. I shall not repeat its arguments, but undermining good governance is not a recipe for future stability, so we sow the seeds of future security threats when we permit bribes to happen. The OECD working group report this week was right when it stated:

“The Working Group underlines in this respect that bribery of foreign public officials is contrary to international public policy and distorts international competitive conditions”.

However, another aspect worries me. We rightly take pride in the integrity of our public servants in the UK, yet arms sales are conducted on a Government-to-Government basis. Indeed, within the Ministry of Defence, there is a body, the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) whose only role is to promote British arms exports. It is staffed by a mix of civil servants, military personnel and seconded industrialists. It is a strange organisation to find in a ministry of defence, and I believe it should not be there, but it is, and we must accept that. If bribery takes place in arms deals, it is difficult to see how DESO can operate without being at least aware of it. Exposure to corrupt practices that are not followed up may tempt some down the road to corruption. We should protect the integrity of government abroad and in the United Kingdom.

How do we ensure that corruption in the official arms trade ceases? We need two things: transparency of accounts, so that everybody can see what the costs are and who is getting the cash, and a clear set of rules that are enforced. This Corruption Bill can clarify the rules. We need to encourage companies to make sure that they are not undermining Governments through corrupt payments. We need to do so much more urgently in the light of recent events and the very strong criticism that we have received from allies through the OECD. We have an opportunity with the Bill to respond positively to the OECD criticisms and, if we get it through, we could achieve something tangible for the supplementary phase 2 bis review that the OECD is to undertake. I welcome and strongly support the Bill. We cannot afford any more delay in getting an Act.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Transparency International UK’s advisory council, which I thank for its high-calibre work on the Bill. I support the Bill very warmly. A coherent law of corruption has been a long time coming and, as your Lordships have heard, the Government’s eventual attempt in 2003 was not found to be up to the task by the scrutiny committee of which I was a member. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, we found that the 2003 draft Bill was neither adequate in scope, nor, most importantly, intelligible to the business community that would have to operate it. It also shared the narrow perception of corruption in the Law Commission paper, which was that the principal issue was the domestic UK dimension. It was as if globalisation did not exist, as if post-colonial western interests had never shored up greedy dictators and enabled them to loot their countries’ Exchequers, as if powerful, rich companies had never colluded with developing countries’ public officials to produce white elephants of public expenditure or to reinforce a clientele culture where petty bribery is necessary to obtain any service, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, so powerfully described.

These are the real and far-reaching issues of present-day corruption worldwide. I add another figure to those cited. The World Bank estimates that, globally, bribery for public procurement bids is at least $200 billion a year and that total bribery of the public sector from private sector companies and individuals might be as much as $1,000 billion. That would pay for a lot of roads, health centres and schools. It would save many lives. Another casualty of such pervasive corruption is democracy itself: public goods and services are not transparently and equitably delivered and redress through the systems of justice is barely available.

That much larger consideration of the harm done by corruption is why the international organisations such as the OECD and the UN brought forward instruments, universally supported and adopted. We modernised our law to criminalise bribery overseas, which is welcome, but the OECD review committee still finds that UK implementation of the convention is impaired, as we have heard, and whatever our re-arrangement of enforcement machinery, there has not been one prosecution under such legislation as we have. This is why the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa, in our report The Other Side of the Coin recommended a new Bill by the end of last year. The Tanzanian Government have had sufficient political will to enact legislation and prosecuted 50 of their 677 investigations in 2005.

Well, that did not happen here, as noble Lords have explained. Why do the Government not realise the importance of this? If it is because the Home Office, the lead department, quite understandably, has little experience of the devastating consequences of corruption overseas, this should have been changed by drawing more on the experience of the Department for International Development—another recommendation of The Other Side of the Coin.

Optimists hoped that the Government’s very positive response to this report would result in a new corruption Bill, of the sort that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has so eloquently described, not another postponement and a referral to the same organisation. I see that consultation with business is not included in the new terms of reference and I hope that the Minster can assure us that this will be remedied. We owe speedy, intelligible legislation to our many transnational companies that observe the provisions of the OECD convention, to those that want to preserve the good reputation of the City of London, and to those that want to increase investment potential everywhere. I quote Ms Karina Litvack, a senior executive of F&C, on whose committee of reference I sit:

“for long-term investors, bribery and corruption distort and destabilise markets, expose companies to legal liabilities and reputational damage, disadvantage non-corrupt companies and reduce transparency for investors seeking investment opportunities”.

The director of the Serious Fraud Office himself, who had to decide to scrap the investigation into the activities of BAE Systems in Saudi Arabia, is reported in the Financial Times less than a month ago as saying that our anti-corruption laws urgently need to be reformed to cope with modem international business practice. Does not that make the case of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, compelling?

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the sensible words of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, in also calling for an urgent reaction by the Government to these matters. In this debate there are noble Lords representing different parts of the House but only one Conservative. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, who is not in his place but was here briefly at the beginning, positively welcomed the Attorney-General’s announcement to abandon the SFO investigation into the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. That makes me proud of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford on the Front Bench, which were in total contrast to the reaction of the Conservatives in this House.

I am sorry to have to say this, but the stench of that abandonment of the investigation still lingers over the MoD, the Government, No. 10 and the Attorney-General’s Office. People will not easily and lightly forget what happened on that dark day for this country. The reasons given for it are totally unconvincing. The Government need to return to the matter and give us further answers.

That is not the direct subject of the Bill, although it is an important background component. I, too, add my warmest thanks to my colleague and noble friend Lord Chidgey for being the inspiration behind the Bill. I heartily endorse the idea of the Bill enthusiastically receiving a Second Reading. My noble friend has done a great deal of work on this. His background in industry and engineering, combined with many years spent in other countries representing legitimate British corporate interests—and very respectable ones at that—has given him unrivalled experience in these matters. His co-operation and work with Transparency International have been second to none in producing what I regard—although I am not a legal expert on these matters, so I am guessing some of it—as an extremely well balanced Bill. The Government should encourage it and proceed with it from today.

I do not intend to go into very great detail on the Bill’s contents, except to say that I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Neill, said about facilitation payments. That needs to be clarified and worked properly in the subsequent stages of the Bill. I hope that the Bill will go into Committee as soon as possible so that these matters can be dealt with.

I turn to the sad events of 14 December and the subsequent comments of the OECD in March this year. We need to return to the contradiction expressed by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General that definitely no aspect of economic interest—or national interest in that sense—was involved and that those factors were definitely not taken into account in the judgment. The Government’s answers on these points are very unconvincing. I was reflecting on that when my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford said:

“I protest that the public interest in the prosecution of international corruption is of the highest order and, if we permit international corruption to continue in any way, or seem in any way to be giving a go-ahead to a large British industry, however much that may be in the economic interests of this country, we are damaging international relations in the broadest sense”.—[Official Report, 14/12/06; col. 1713.]

That matter must be returned to.

We now have the impending visit of the OECD investigation team. I am not sure whether a date has been set; perhaps the Government can give us an answer. In its statement on 14 March it was extremely critical of the Government’s position: the failure to keep up with other countries in the international convention and the agreement, which has been signed and ratified by so many countries. We have fallen behind in our obligations.

On 1 February I said—forgive me for repeating it:

“Corruption of any kind—even the thorny problem of finding a definition of it that will stand up to searching analysis—is a hard item for parliamentarians to deal with”.—[Official Report, 1/2/07; col. 364.]

I made my maiden speech in this House on 16 July 2004 and reflected on the enormous Joint Committee report, which we all remember, and the Government’s poor and disappointing response to it—although they are entitled to make a number of technical points, which some would regard as very valid. So much time has now elapsed that it is really high time that the Government made rapid progress.

In summer 2003 the Government rejected most of the Joint Committee’s recommendations but insisted on keeping the agent/principal formula. That very important matter also needs to be gone into profoundly in Committee.

The government response stated that,

“as regards the central issue of the definition of corruption, we do have reservations on the proposal of the Joint Committee ... we have not abandoned the agent/principal approach proposed by the Law Commission for reasons which we detail below”.

But the Government can now make progress without once again referring the whole business back to the Law Commission. That would cause a delay of several years. That is unacceptable bearing in mind the extremely expert work done by Transparency International and other bodies, including our overseas friends, with their technical and legal suggestions on how to deal with definitions, the relationship between agents and principals, the definitions of the measurements of money passing hands unlawfully and so on.

Transparency International underlined that when it presented the draft text. It stated that,

“The Attorney General’s announcement of the decision of the Serious Fraud Office to discontinue the criminal investigation of BAe Systems’ role”

was a major part of the immediate background. It is not just a side issue that we can now forget; it is central, although not a direct part of the Bill’s text. In the last part of its introductory letter of 14 March, Transparency International stated that the Bill,

“aims to reform the law of bribery in a way that will be understood by police, prosecutors, jurors, the private sector and the general public. It defines bribery by reference to the improper conduct that results from a bribe and includes a number of modern features of anti-corruption law, including explicit offences of bribing foreign public officials; of foreign bid-rigging”—

I am glad that that was referred to earlier, because it is a huge area needing complex supervision—

“and of fixing sporting events”.

I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Chidgey has also included that matter in the Bill. Transparency International continued:

“It includes a requirement for UK companies to take steps to ensure that their foreign and associated companies do not commit corruption offences; and a duty to report suspicions of corrupt behaviour in the public sector”.

I notice that there are five Liberal Democrat speakers in this Second Reading debate, a number of Cross-Benchers and speakers from the government Benches. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a very positive response today to the growing clamour to respond not only to the OECD's strictures, instructions and requests that we behave properly in terms of international law and the conventions that have been signed and ratified but that we produce our own solid and convincing legislation as soon as possible.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on the Bill and support it. My contribution to your Lordships’ debate relates to Clause 5, “Corruption in sport”. I declare an interest as chairman of the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit of the International Cricket Council and I also give ethical compliance advice to other international sporting bodies.

Is there an ongoing problem with corruption in sport? If there is, will Clause 5 make a beneficial contribution to dealing with the problem? There certainly is a significant challenge to the integrity of sporting events by sportsmen and others fixing the result or part of a sporting event to enable a betting coup. Much has been achieved by national and international governing bodies for sport to minimise or prevent the problem, but a great deal remains to be done.

The roots of the problem are very basic and very simple. In recent times, the coming together of three developments has created a fertile and tempting environment in which it is relatively easy to fix a sporting event, or part of it, for betting purposes. First, visual imagery of live sporting events is now omnipresent through digital and satellite TV, computer screens, mobile phones and other handheld devices. So at any time in any place in the world, gamblers can watch and monitor the progress of live sporting events on a screen.

Secondly, and simultaneously, gamblers can now bet via a mobile phone, online or in person with betting exchanges, betting shops or on-site at sporting events. In some countries, the betting is with unlicensed and indeed unlawful bookmakers. That betting is also 24 hours a day worldwide. Instant gratification or disappointment for gamblers is provided by watching and betting on live sporting events 24 hours a day anywhere in the world.

The third development, in some ways the most sinister and important, is the opportunity now to bet on who will lose as well as who will win during a sporting event. Although a sportsman cannot guarantee that he or his team will win, he can most certainly guarantee that they will lose. That has transformed sporting gambling and the potential for corruption in sporting events.

The tempting and very profitable prospect for a corrupt sportsman is that working alone or with others he can fix the outcome of a sporting event, or part of it, and achieve a very significant betting coup. The betting analogy that I often draw is that the corrupt sportsman creates the equivalent of knowing in advance when the roulette wheel is going to land on red or black. Imagine the betting potential if you knew that. Even better, by fixing a part of a sporting event—say, fixing to bowl two wides in a particular over of a cricket match—he creates the equivalent in betting terms of knowing in advance when the roulette wheel is going to land on an individual number, thus enabling a massive betting coup because of the long odds that you can obtain on such an event.

In cricket in the 1990s, match fixing brought the international game to its knees and disgrace to cricket legends such as Hanse Cronje and other international captains. The problem threatened the integrity and financial structure of the game. Some of that match fixing was linked to organised crime and even terrorism. But cricket is not alone now. Horse racing, soccer, tennis and other sports all have their problems. The sums of money involved are huge. In some countries, it is now more lucrative to engage in sports corruption than drug dealing or robbery. Up to $1 billion is bet worldwide on a single one-day international cricket match in some important tournaments such as the World Cup.

If that is the background and the current challenge, how will Clause 5 or something like it contribute to the solution? Clause 5 is a valiant attempt to make a real contribution and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on raising the profile of the problem and including a response in the Bill. However, I have some concerns. In particular, I feel that the clause is too ambitious and too wide in breadth of concept by seeking to protect the integrity of sport and by severing any causal connection with gambling as the motivation for the corrupt behaviour.

When the Gambling Act 2005 was drafted, I encouraged the inclusion of a provision to deal with sports corruption linked to gambling. I am very pleased to say that Section 42 of the Act creates the offence of cheating at gambling. In essence, a person commits an offence if he cheats at gambling by actual or attempted deception or interference in connection with,

“a real or virtual game, race or other event or process to which gambling relates”.

I realise that the Act is intended to protect the integrity of gambling first and foremost and that Clause 5 is intended first and foremost to protect the integrity of sport, but without the linkage to gambling as the motivation for the corruption, what else might Clause 5 embrace?

Is Clause 5(3)(a) intended to include, for example, challenges to the integrity of a sporting event through performance-enhancing or performance-inhibiting drugs for sportsmen or animals taking part in an event? It could be argued that, as drafted, it probably does. Will Clause 5 be able to distinguish between corruption and extreme gamesmanship? Both may threaten the integrity of a sport, but not necessarily to the point of requiring criminal sanctions. What if a player, through his behaviour, falsely achieves a benefit that alters the outcome of a sporting event? Let us say in soccer that he blatantly dives and gains a penalty or gets an opposition player sent off. His team wins, and wins promotion or avoids relegation, or gains entry to a European competition with massive financial benefit to him and the team. This is a threat to the integrity of the sport, but should it be embraced by the criminal law? The racial taunting of an opponent in sport is most certainly a threat to the integrity of a sport, but could it be embraced by the clause as drafted?

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is to be congratulated on raising the profile of corruption in sport, and I support his motivation, but I have some reservations. I think that the clause should probably be rethought. A link should be re-established between the threat to the integrity of sport and the underlying motivation for such action; for example, to enable a betting coup. I am also concerned that the effect of the clause will be difficult to limit and will unacceptably blur the lines between corruption and extremes of gamesmanship. I argue that the latter should be dealt with through the disciplinary processes of national and international governing bodies for sport and not through criminal law. In essence, however, I support the motivation behind the Bill, and I congratulate the noble Lord on bringing it forward.

My Lords, I should mention that I am a member of Transparency International (UK). My noble friend Lord Chidgey has done us a great service by introducing the Bill at a critical time in the battle against international corruption. We are lucky to live in a country where corruption is not very common. We rank No. 11 in the Transparency International league table of corruption—No. 1 being the least corrupt. Half the countries that are better than us are Scandinavian, and the rest are all countries with relatively small populations.

The last major corruption trial in this country was the Poulson case in the 1960s. However, the relative absence of corruption in this country owes no thanks whatever to the existing laws on corruption, which are based on the common-law offence of bribery, added to by short Acts of Parliament in 1889, 1906 and 1916. Those laws were given extraterritorial effect, but otherwise not altered, by Part 12 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Part 12 was, of course, the basis of possible charges relating to the Al Yamamah contracts.

The relative absence of corruption in the United Kingdom has made us complacent about the total inadequacy of our anti-corruption laws. It ignores the fact that in many countries corruption does terrible damage, particularly in developing countries. Corruption is a poison that quite literally kills people; for example, by denying medical treatment to those who cannot pay bribes to the providers of the treatment. Corruption in the judicial system destroys the rule of law. I saw this when I served on an International Bar Association mission to Kenya in 1995 to consider the effect of corruption on the Kenyan judicial system.

Without the rule of law, democracy is completely unworkable. Corruption also directs into the Swiss bank accounts of the families of a President Mobutu or Abacha money that should have strengthened the economy of a developing country. We need laws on corruption in this country that could serve as a model for other countries, not the inadequate laws that we now have. Why has nothing been done to improve our law? No Government for the past 90 years have enacted legislation to strengthen our laws against corruption. The Law Commission published a consultation paper in 1997 and a draft Bill in 1998. As happens far too often to Law Commission Bills, this Bill was put on the back burner. It took five years, until March 2003, for the Government to publish their own draft Bill, which was in essence the same as the Law Commission’s Bill of 1998. The Government referred that Bill to a Joint Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. In July 2003, the Bill received a damning report from the Joint Committee and went no further, but it took almost another three years for the Government to publish a new consultation paper.

In a Written Statement on 5 March 2007, only some 10 days ago, the Home Secretary said that,

“no consensus has emerged from the consultation as to what the scheme of new offences should look like … I regret to conclude that there is insufficient support for any one particular model to justify its being submitted to Parliament at this time”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/3/07; col. 116WS.]

What does the Home Secretary do? Having failed in his duty to take a decision that could have been difficult but which was plainly necessary, he sends the subject back to the Law Commission; so 10 years on, we are back at square one. It will take at least two years to come up with a report, which is unlikely to achieve consensus, so no doubt there will be further delays while the Government prepare a new draft Bill, conduct consultations of their own, arrange more pre-legislative scrutiny, and so on.

This is an intolerable situation. We need legislation and we need it now. Transparency International (UK) explained with conviction and clarity why this was needed and needed now in written evidence submitted to the Joint Committee in 2003. It said:

“We must maintain and be seen to maintain the highest standards of business integrity in business and public sector so as to underpin global public confidence in the UK’s dominance in financial and trade markets … The UK law on corruption is in urgent need of reform to meet these expectations. On the domestic front, the law enforcers have found the patchwork of century-old statutes and common law to be an ineffective means of curbing corrupt practices. Internationally, the UK has barely been able to abide by the obligations to which we have subscribed in the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. It is therefore particularly important that the reformed UK legislation is consistent with our national commitments, is comprehensible to a wide audience and should work as effectively as possible in a modern legal context, especially within the European Union”.

Four years on, that memorandum from Transparency International (UK) states absolutely what is still the position.

I would add only that now it is all too clear that the United Kingdom is unable to abide by its obligations under the OECD conventions. On Wednesday evening, the OECD published an extraordinary and humiliating reprimand of the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Chidgey referred to this. Again, I shall read a couple of short passages to convey the full flavour. The OECD said that,

“the 2005 Phase two report on the United Kingdom recommended, as did an earlier 2003 Working Group report, that the UK enact modern foreign bribery legislation at the earliest possible date. The Working Group is seriously concerned that this recommendation, which reflected deficiencies of UK law on foreign bribery, remains unimplemented … The recent discontinuance of a major foreign bribery investigation concerning BAE Systems plc and the Al Yamamah defence contract with the government of Saudi Arabia has further highlighted some of these concerns. The Working Group notes that the UK has stated that the discontinuance was based on national and international security considerations and that the matter is subject to judicial review in the UK. The Working Group underlines in this respect that bribery of foreign public officials is contrary to international public policy and distorts international competitive conditions. In accordance with Article Five of the Convention, in exercising prosecutorial discretion, parties to the Convention shall be mindful of their obligations and of the object and purpose of the treaty. The Working Group welcomed the additional explanations from the UK authorities and the openness of the UK delegation. Nonetheless, it maintains its serious concerns as to whether the decision was consistent with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention”.

That concern is shared by many others.

We cannot wait another four or five years for a corruption Act which so obviously and urgently we need. My noble friend’s Bill is available now. A great deal of expertise has gone into the content and the technical drafting. I call on the Government to give it support and time, and if necessary to amend it. If they are not willing to do this, the least they can do is get on with the drafting of their own Bill, give it scrutiny in the autumn and get it through Parliament early in the next Session. That Bill must write into our laws our obligations under the OECD convention.

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on bringing forward the Bill. I join others, too, in thanking Transparency International for the role it has played in this. I also thank it more broadly for the work it does in encouraging good governance and transparency.

I was the Prime Minister’s personal representative, or Sherpa, for the G8 summits in 2005 and 2006, including the preparations for the summit at Gleneagles, in which Africa was one of the main subjects on the agenda and corruption an important part of the debates we had. There were two aspects to that. The first was to encourage African countries to tackle corruption seriously as part of good governance. In the chairman’s statement after Gleneagles, we agreed,

“to give enhanced support for greater democracy, effective governance and transparency, and to help fight corruption”.

The second aspect of our debate on this point was to put our own G8 house in order, without which we recognised that we would not have the moral authority to persuade others in the developing world to do so. The G8 Africa Action Plan states that we will:

“Reduce bribery by … rigorously enforcing laws against the bribery of foreign public officials, including prosecuting those engaged in bribery”.

I have no doubt that our ability to persuade others to accept those commitments was due in good part to our own strong reputation in countering corruption. I have no doubt at all that the strengthening of good governance, including action against bribery and corruption, is hugely in our interests and the interests of this country. I have no doubts either that it is hugely in the interests of our country that we should be seen to be at the front of the pack in ensuring that that happens. That is true not just so that we can exert moral suasion on others, important though that is; nor just the effect that it has on poverty in the developing world, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others have eloquently set out—hugely important though that is, too; but also because a reputation for a tough stance on bribery and corruption will help other British interests nearer to home. It will help us to fight international crime and terrorism. It will strengthen the role and reputation of the City of London and, indeed, our financial system more generally. Those are two just examples—other noble Lords have given others—as to why a robust approach to bribery, corruption and other malpractice is so much in our interest and why we have a strong interest in leading the way internationally.

I ask myself two questions. Does Britain now have the necessary legislation and the reputation to ensure that it is at the front of the pack and therefore can advance its interests? If not, how can we take the necessary steps to ensure that we do get there? The answer to the two parts of the first question is that we do not have the right legislation at present and that there are concerns about our reputation. I do not want to exaggerate that second point. Britain’s basic reputation for democracy, openness and probity is immensely strong, and rightly so. However, I believe that there is a problem in this narrower field of action against bribery and corruption. There are, as other noble Lords have said, two aspects to that: the need to bring our legislation into line with the requirements of the OECD convention and the repercussions of the decision not to proceed with the investigation into the Al Yamamah case.

To take the second point first, I do not pretend to know the details of the case, and I do not wish to comment on the details of the case. In a real sense, the details of the case are not the point here. What matters is the perception that that decision shows a less than full commitment to counter bribery and corruption. That is what needs to be put right. As for the first point, it is now getting on for 10 years since the UK ratified the OECD convention. However, our legislation is still held not to be compliant despite the recommendations, in 2003 and 2005, from the OECD and the Law Commission that it is the Government’s duty to update and modernise their laws.

Those two aspects came together in the conclusions earlier this week from the OECD’s working group on bribery and with a proposal to carry out a supplementary review of the UK’s present stance in relation both to the state of our laws on bribery and to the discontinuance of the Al Yamamah investigation. As it happens, I was at the OECD earlier this week at the time of the examination of Britain and I had discussions with senior officials, including the secretary-general of the OECD. As one can imagine, this was the talk of the town. But one of the main sentiments of those conversations was a kind of puzzlement at how Britain had got itself into this position. Fortunately, however, there is a way to get us out of that position. That solution lies with the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey.

I am usually hesitant in supporting or proposing new legislation. I am inclined to think that the time and resources devoted to drafting and piloting new legislation through Parliament could often better be spent ensuring the implementation of and compliance with existing legislation. However, this is one of those occasions where legislation is necessary and desirable, for the reasons I have explained.

I do not wish to comment in detail on the Bill as that is for Committee stage, but I believe that the Bill is professionally and impressively drafted. The subject matter is complex and will need debate at the proper time. What is clear, however, is that the timetable presently envisaged by the Government—with further reference to the Law Commission for further detailed consideration of the issue, with a Bill to be proposed in 18 months or two years—is simply too slow given the situation that we are now in. Much detailed work has already been done. Would it not be better for the Government to agree to work quickly now, on the basis of the Bill before us, to pass the necessary legislation and avoid the growing sense that the United Kingdom is not sufficiently serious about an issue that really does matter to the furtherance of our important interests both at home and overseas?

I hope the Minister will be able to say that the Government will at least seriously consider that course of action. Meanwhile, I again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on bringing forward the Bill and I support its Second Reading.

My Lords, I, too, support and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on the Bill. I declare an interest in the so-called “bungs” inquiry into the football Premier League. I was also adviser to the South African Government, the Romanian Government and the Bulgarian Government on anti-corruption over the course of four to five years. Let no one be in any doubt whatever about the seriousness of corruption. It damages companies, trade and economies. Above all, it damages individuals, often those who are the most vulnerable.

Those of us who have been at the sharp end of investigating corruption, and here I join my noble friend Lord Condon in his comments, have occasionally found it exceedingly difficult to get to the truth of the matter. Complex laws do not allow you to drill down into the real substance and gain the evidence needed to convict people for the type of corruption we are talking about. It is even more difficult when dealing with international corruption, where it can be very difficult to trace money and actions. The current laws on bribery and corruption have been adequately described as,

“obscure, complex, inconsistent and insufficiently comprehensive”.

Surely that situation cannot be allowed to continue. As we heard in earlier contributions, the laws are linked to common law and to statute, and that goes way back. I should perhaps mention that some of these Acts were in force before the Wright brothers flew.

As we heard from my noble friend Lord Jay, London is proud of its position as the financial centre of the world. It is certainly the prime financial centre of Europe, and the nation can rightly be proud of its role in international trade. But can we be proud that five countries, Scandinavian countries, are perceived as less likely than the United Kingdom to offer bribes in business deals? Six countries would be worse. According to a recent survey, UK companies are perceived as far less likely than Russian companies to offer bribes. They are also less likely than French companies to offer bribes. We are, however, not perceived as the best, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree that we should be aiming for that.

I am not going to talk about the BAE business in Saudi Arabia and the Serious Fraud Office inquiry, but I want to make it absolutely clear that, from my point of view, the United Kingdom literally cannot afford to take anything less than the strongest possible approach to corruption, whoever is involved. Those of us who have been advising other countries over the years sometimes find it difficult if reference is made to our own laws in this country, as has occasionally happened to me in the past.

Ten months ago, a ministerial “champion” for addressing international corruption was appointed and the Prime Minister announced:

“The United Kingdom has a responsibility to tackle money laundering and bribery where it stems from our own shores and to support developing countries in fighting corruption”.

He is absolutely right, and I look forward to the champion leading Britain to the front of the pack in setting international standards. Where we develop expertise and best practice we also need to share it. We should continue to work closely with the World Bank, for example, in supporting its anti-corruption strategy. And this should not be limited to the public sector. The private sector knows only too well the damage that corruption can cause. It reduces efficiency, creates unstable economies, deters investment and invariably hinders economic growth—except, of course, for the bank accounts of the tiny corrupt elite. So private British-based companies should also be the champions against bribery, and the City should be absolutely clear in its collective attitude to corruption. I believe that it is.

It is also of the greatest importance that our laws are sufficiently clear and robust to ensure that police forces and others can tackle corruption wherever they uncover it. I am afraid to say that I do not believe that that is the case today. Successive Home Secretaries have promised new legislation. We now have the opportunity for action through this Bill and we should take it.

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Chidgey on introducing a very important and far-reaching Bill. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, that it is perhaps disturbing that it has taken a private initiative to bring these matters forward. Notwithstanding the fact that the current law against corruption comprises three Bills which were passed by Liberal Governments, I have to tell noble Lords that, from a professional point of view, I consider the law to be in a mess. I also share the indignation expressed by my noble friend Lord Goodhart at the length of the delay.

In 1995, Lord Nolan’s committee, newly set up, asked the Law Commission to clarify the law on bribery, and two years later the commission produced a consultation paper. In June 1997, in the early days of the current Government, the Home Office recommended a single offence of corruption. In December 1997, the OECD convention was agreed and ready for signature. We are going back 10 years since all that happened. The Law Commission’s report, published in March 1998, expressly stated that it could not take into account the convention, which dealt with the bribery of foreign officials and the elimination of bribery in international affairs. The trade Minister stated that UK law was consistent with the convention notwithstanding that even then it was already 90 years old. The convention was ratified by this Parliament on that basis—that our existing law was compatible.

Mr Jack Straw’s June 2000 White Paper, Raising Standards and Upholding Integrity: The Prevention of Corruption suffered the same fate—as no doubt his recent White Paper will suffer the same fate—of ever increasing delay. As my noble friend Lord Goodhart pointed out, that White Paper was only an appendage to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 which we considered in the context of what had happened on 9/11 in the United States. Only then were the existing, highly unsatisfactory laws extended to offences committed by UK nationals and UK companies abroad. Only a very limited extension of the unsatisfactory laws took place at the time. We then had the draft corruption Bill in March 2003 which was heavily criticised by a Joint Committee on the basis that it was confused with complex laws, the sort of complicated laws referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, a moment ago.

In December 2005, we had a Home Office consultation paper, and, finally, a few days ago—no doubt as a result of this Bill coming before the House—Dr Reid stepped in with his new initiative to send the matter back to the Law Commission on the basis that,

“no consensus has emerged from the consultation as to what the scheme of new offences should look like … there is insufficient support for any one particular model to justify its being submitted to Parliament”.

He went on to ask the Law Commission to look at the,

“full range of structural options”.

The Home Secretary states that there is no consensus on the model. This is not rocket science. We all know what bribery and corruption are and no right-thinking person is in favour of them. It should be the easiest matter—I will come back to this—to carry out the recommendations set out in Dr Reid’s statement. Indeed, they are contained in this Bill.

One of the strengths of the Bill is that it does not require the Attorney-General’s consent to prosecution. The government draft Bill in 2003 did require his consent. Why? The Attorney-General’s consent is not required for prosecutions for fraud or, under existing common law, in corruption cases. We wondered why in 2003, but now we know: his consent enables a political dimension to enter into the issue of investigation and prosecution. I am not going to leave the Al Yamamah decision entirely to one side. I saw poor Mr Robert Wardle, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, trying to defend what he described as “his” decision on television the other night.

My Lords, I rise to my feet for two reasons. The first is in relation to the comment that the noble Lord has just made about the discharge of the Attorney-General’s duty when acting as a law officer. The Attorney-General is not present, and it would be quite wrong in his absence for the noble Lord to besmirch the way in which he discharges that duty. The second is that the rule regarding sub judice still prevails in this House.

My Lords, I wonder what is sub judice. Certainly the Al Yamamah investigation is not sub judice; it has been dropped. I agree with the Minister, however, that I would have preferred the Attorney-General to have been present at this time, because I do not wish to criticise him in his absence. But he did tell us that he had personally investigated the files in that case over a number of days and had concluded that there was very little chance of success in a prosecution. We heard from Mr Wardle that he had had discussions with our ambassador in Saudi Arabia and with the Prime Minister, and yet he presents it as his decision.

I agree with those noble Lords who have referred to the international reputation of this country, which is one of our greatest assets. My noble friend Lord Garden and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, have referred to it; but I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, summed it up extremely well when he talked about our moral authority. We should be leaders of the pack. We should be exemplars to the world. If we present ourselves as a democratic country with high standards, we should ensure that we appear in that way. As he spoke, I thought to myself of how we are celebrating the ending of the slave trade 200 years ago by a Member of this House. I thought: how do we appear in Africa, where there is so much corruption, when we ourselves have not sorted out our stance?

I come to the Bill. I have already referred to Dr Reid’s statement. These were his terms of reference, which he has now sent to the Law Commission:

“The review will make recommendations that … provide coherent and clear offences that protect individuals and society and provide clarity for investigators and prosecutors … enable those convicted to be appropriately punished … are fair and non-discriminatory in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998; and … continue to ensure consistency with the UK’s international obligations”.

That is what the Bill offers—precisely those four points.

I wonder whether I might spend a moment looking at some of the Bill’s provisions. Instead of putting forward a single offence of corruption, it very properly divides corruption into a number of areas. Clause 1 deals with the offering of a bribe with the intention of influencing that person or another person to exercise a function improperly. I took on board the criticisms of that made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, in his concern over having bribed a doorman on one occasion. It struck me that “exercising a function improperly” could be defined as including doing one’s job, but only on payment of a particular sum of money. That would be performing a function improperly.

The second clause deals with corrupt transactions involving agents and covers much of the ground of existing law. The bribery of foreign public officials in Clause 3 covers very much that which was set out in the 2001 Act, and the foreign bid-rigging of course covers an area that is not at the moment clearly stated. As one of your Lordships pointed out, it is important that the criminal law is clear and has clarity, and I believe that Clause 4 does precisely that. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that the corruption in sport clause, Clause 5, covers an area that has so far not been touched by any of our existing legislation or case law to any great degree.

The one clause that needs a bit more scrutiny is Clause 6, on the presumption of corruption. It sets out a presumption that was abolished in the Government’s draft Bill, and I am not sure that it should be introduced in this one. But that is a matter—one hopes, if this matter goes to Committee—that we can discuss and tease out. The duty to report protects whistleblowers, and the failure to report is another protection in that way.

The Bill as a whole answers the problems that the existing laws throw up. It is a vehicle that we can take forward with confidence. I commend my noble friend for bringing it forward and I offer him our full support.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing the Bill and explaining it and its background so comprehensively. As we have heard from many speakers, if not all, during this Second Reading debate, the Bill is extremely timely and the arguments in its favour are strong. I am glad that the noble Lord has given us an opportunity to debate it and I congratulate him on proposing a solution to the pressing need for a consolidation and a strengthening of our legislation against corruption.

My noble friend Lord Bowness asked me to offer his apologies, as he, too, would have spoken in the Bill’s favour. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who have both spoken so forcefully today, he is on the advisory council of Transparency UK. Unfortunately, he is unable to be in his place and speak today.

As we well know, there are many ways in which corruption can cause damage, both at home and abroad. On a national level, corruption, or even the perception of corruption, lowers public trust in our institutions and organisations. We have only to pick up a newspaper at random to see how the Government or a public body, such as a consumer watchdog or a quango, can be damaged by a lack of belief in their integrity. Private companies, as several noble Lords have said, are equally damaged by a loss of consumer confidence in their products and by the inefficiencies to which corruption leads.

Overseas, in many cases, these problems are multiplied. We at least are fortunate in this country to have a robust justice system and vibrant non-governmental organisations to watch out for corruption and to press for further investigation. Other countries are not always so lucky. This House has heard much of the importance of ensuring that aid, for example, is actually spent on the projects for which it is intended. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, among others, said, there have been many reports of the braking effect that corruption has on an economy.

So it is astonishing that we are having a Second Reading debate on a Private Member’s Bill rather than a Government Bill. The Government acknowledged the need for a Bill as long ago as 1997—it was even in the Queen’s Speech in 2002—yet so far they have been unable to achieve one. Since the Government came to power, we have had a Law Commission review, several further statements of intent from the Government and lots of consultation on draft Bills, yet we are no further forward.

The Government have not only broken their promises in their well publicised press releases; they have also, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said in his opening remarks, which other noble Lords echoed, failed to fulfil their international obligations. In December 2003, the Government signed up to both the UN and the Council of Europe conventions against corruption, but the Bill that was intended to implement these commitments has been withdrawn. Why have the Government not felt it necessary to fulfil their obligation? How can we, as we should, take a lead in putting pressure on other Governments to act—indeed, often to enforce legislation that they have already enacted—if we do not have legislation in place?

Turning to the Bill before us rather than what might have been, I am pleased that it aims to address the confusion and complexity of the extant corruption legislation in Clause 17 and repeal the old legislation on which we currently rely. Given that this simplification was one of the Government’s previously stated aims, I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the Bill properly covers all the areas of the legislation that it repeals.

Other noble Lords have raised the following important points, among others. The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, referred to his concerns—none of them insurmountable—such as the use of the word “impropriety”, foreign bid-rigging and the duty to self-incriminate. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, spoke eloquently on corruption in sport; he raised concerns that I think could all be dealt with by amendment.

I wish to raise a couple of specific concerns that I have. First, I do not think that Clause 6 implements the Law Commission recommendation that there be parity between public and private sector in the area of burden of proof. Accepting this recommendation becomes ever more important as the Government roll out their drive to contract out public services to non-governmental organisations and private companies. The distinction between public bodies and private organisations or individuals is now too blurred in the provision of many public services to make the clause feasible or indeed wise.

Despite the comforting words of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, I still have some concerns about the duty in Clause 11 to supervise foreign compliance with corruption law in the United Kingdom. Can we be absolutely confident that there will not be confusion over what would constitute “reasonable steps” to ensure that foreign contracted parties are following a corruption code that may be very different from their own national code or practice? What would be considered sufficient proof? If the foreign contracted party deliberately provided false information, to what extent would the UK entity take responsibility for checking the accuracy of that evidence? How far down the supply chain would the obligation extend?

My concerns and those of other noble Lords notwithstanding, this is an important Bill. The Government would do well to take note that they cannot procrastinate much longer on this issue. Surely we have had enough discussion, consultation and draft Bills. One can find, with the click of a mouse, a draft Law Commission corruption Bill, a draft Bill from Transparency International and, of course, one from the Government, all with pages of analysis and criticism from various quarters.

If this Bill does not make it to Royal Assent this Session, we shall be back where we started, with our legislation on corruption widely acknowledged to be inadequate and a Government seemingly unable to draft a Bill that achieves what even they have admitted is necessary.

My Lords, I add my voice to all those who have very warmly congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on bringing this Bill forward. There is nothing between us in terms of the importance of having robust corruption legislation; indeed, there is nothing between us in relation to the pernicious effect that corruption can have on the rule of law and the good governance of our countries. All noble Lords who have spoken in that regard spoke well, without exception. We have enjoyed some very fine speeches indeed.

Since we all agree that corruption is a threat to the very foundations of democratic society and that constant vigilance is needed to ensure that we maintain our high standards domestically and play our full part in combating corruption overseas, the problem has been how to deliver that change. To combat corruption, we need to ensure that we have mechanisms in place to prevent, detect and punish those who commit corrupt acts. This requires joined-up action across government as well as the active participation of business and society at large. I welcome the highlighting of those issues by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. I am very grateful for the proper attention that has been paid to these matters during this debate, particularly in relation to the action on Africa.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, for highlighting our efforts to tackle these issues. Last July, the Prime Minister appointed the Secretary of State for International Development to be the ministerial lead in fighting international corruption. That was a very important move. We have had some notable achievements, especially in combating corruption overseas. We have provided additional funding to assist the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police to dedicate a team to investigating foreign bribery and money-laundering. Structures for targeting money-laundering by politically exposed persons have been strengthened. We have actively promoted responsible business conduct, both internationally—via taking forward initiatives in particular industries, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—and by revamping the United Kingdom national contact point for the OECD guidelines on multinational enterprises. Much has been achieved. However, we accept that there is still much more that we can do.

Our requirement for an effective regime for combating corruption is an effective criminal law. We already have extensive provisions in our law to criminalise corruption. In the strict sense, our corruption provisions cover the crime of bribery—the offering, soliciting, giving or receiving of illegitimate advantages to influence conduct—and we have the common-law offence of bribery. All these have been referred to. They are complemented by the various statutory offences in the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is right to highlight the Liberal achievement in that regard. These offences were amended by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, to put it beyond doubt that our law covered bribery of foreign public officials and to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction over UK nationals and incorporated bodies committing these offences overseas. We have not quite stood still in the way that some suggest.

In addition, we have a range of provisions across our criminal law to criminalise corrupt practices in the wider sense of the word “corrupt”. These include a common-law offence of misconduct in public office, fraud offences, the cartel offence in the Enterprise Act 2002, and the cheating offence in the Gaming Act 1845, with its successor offence in the Gambling Act 2005, to which the noble Lord, Lord Condon, made reference. These complement the specific law on bribery to provide a comprehensive law.

Noble Lords will be aware that we are currently discussing in Committee the Serious Crime Bill, which also will assist with tackling corruption. In particular, it provides for the creation of serious crime prevention orders. These orders will be an effective new tool for law enforcement to prevent the harm that serious crime causes in all our communities. Noble Lords will recall that Schedule 1 to that Bill refers directly to fraud, corruption and bribery. It does so in Clauses 6 and 7 of Part 1 and again in Part 2. We are therefore making significant progress.

However, I must emphasise that our existing corruption law is fully compliant with our obligations in the various international conventions on corruption, including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. Nor has our law been found to be inadequate by recent investigations or by the absence of prosecutions for overseas bribery. The lack of prosecutions is not unexpected. Only a handful of OECD convention countries have so far brought successful prosecutions. The Serious Fraud Office, the MoD Police and the City of London Police are investigating a range of cases. However, by their nature, such investigations take time.

Many noble Lords referred to the criticisms that have been made. Perhaps the best that could be said by way of a verdict is that we are compliant, but could do better. It is the “could do better” part of the report that we have to look at with greater acuity. I take on board what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Neill and Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley in that regard.

We need to make it clear that we share the concerns that have been expressed in this House that our corruption legislation—and, by this, we mean our bribery law—is old, overly complicated and fragmented. Our statutory corruption offences have served their purpose well, but we are absolutely committed to their consolidation, modernisation and fundamental reform. There is therefore nothing between those who have spoken in this debate today and the Government.

Your Lordships will be aware that this Government have been actively striving to reform our corruption laws for a number of years—that was alluded to today. In 2003, we presented a draft Corruption Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. That Bill was based on proposals made by the Law Commission arising from its work in the 1990s. It is now forgotten that those proposals were welcomed during consultation by the Law Commission and the Home Office. However, as noble Lords know, when the Bill was produced, it was heavily criticised by the Joint Committee that gave it its pre-legislative scrutiny. The Joint Committee recommended an entirely different basis for the scheme of offences, which the Government then found unworkable. It feels a little like Lords reform. We all agree that Lords reform is absolutely necessary; it is just that we seem to have real difficulties in coming to agreement on how it should take place.

Having had the delight of representing the Government on innumerable Bills, I know the challenge and interest that are created when there is no consensus in the House between the parties on the form that the Bill or amendments should take. We need to bear in mind the practical difficulties where there is no real consensus.

To take forward reform in December 2005, the Home Office issued a consultation paper. The summary of the responses to the consultation paper was published on 5 March. The consultation has revealed broad support for reform of our bribery law, but no consensus on how it should be reformed. It is clear that there is significant and influential opposition to the Government’s draft 2003 Bill, and we have therefore concluded that that Bill is unsuitable for presentation to Parliament. However, it is also clear that there is fundamental disagreement between stakeholders on which of a number of differing models should be adopted. The Government have concluded that there is insufficient support for any one particular model to justify its being presented to Parliament at this time.

I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, just in one regard. He indicated that the Law Commission is likely to take about two years. The Law Commission has indicated that it will treat this review as a matter of priority. Its work should be complete by October next year. Every effort is being made to deal with this matter expeditiously. The Law Commission will have to look at all the different models that have been offered so far, together with any international models.

My Lords, the Minister says that there are a lot of different opinions about the way forward. Does she not accept that there has been total consensus among those noble Lords who have spoken today? Who is against the Bill whom we have not heard about?

My Lords, I do not think that anyone is against the Bill’s purpose in principle; it is just that when we turn to the detail of how it should be implemented, what should be included and what the structure should be, we do not have consensus. I was intrigued, as I always am, to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who said that it is all so simple and that we all know what “bribery” means. However, we know from the experience of the past 10 years that it has been a little like herding cats: we do not all agree on what it means, which has been one of the difficulties.

My Lords, I took the Minister to mean that the Law Commission will report by October 2008. While I am glad that the matter is to be treated as a matter of urgency, it seems that that is getting fairly close to the two years that I predicted.

My Lords, we hope that it will not take so long. The noble Lord will know that the Law Commission, particularly when there is an issue of such contention, tries during its consultation period to get everybody around the table to see whether it can come up with a solution with which the majority will be content. We now have a great volume of material from the different models with which it can work. We are a long way forward from where we were when the commission first looked at the matter. We are therefore hopeful that it will be able to build that consensus and come forward with a model that we all would then be able to endorse. If we were to be in that happy position, and since the whole House wants it to happen, I am sure that we would be able to come up with a speedy solution, particularly now that the Moses Room is in such active use, to make sure that we in this place, as well as perhaps those in the other place, could drive it through as fast as possible.

My Lords, could we not expedite the process by asking some of the OECD experts at the Château de la Muette to help us?

My Lords, we know that the Law Commission’s range is wide. I am sure that there will be no resistance to looking at all models, from whichever place they come, in trying to get this right.

We have a difficult situation, but there is, as has been said, total consensus that we need to do this and do it as speedily as we can. There is also consensus that, if we fail to do so, that will be deleterious in the long term, because there will be a lack of clarity. There is no disagreement among us about that. But the reform of our corruption law is not an easy task, as previous attempts have demonstrated. The truth is that bribery is a hard crime to pin down. It is vital that we get the reform right and that we do not inadvertently cover practices that are not and should not be criminal—an issue that was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Condon.

We therefore announced, as your Lordships will remember, on the same day as we published the summary of the responses, that we were asking the Law Commission to undertake a thorough review of our bribery laws. It has been said that there was delay, but we do not believe that that is true. If one looks at the chronology, one sees that things have moved on, and moved on beneficially. I reassure those noble Lords who have been concerned that the 2003 Bill took too narrow a scope that the terms of reference for the new review require that the Law Commission makes recommendations that continue to ensure consistency with the UK’s international obligations. It will compare our law with that in other countries and, in looking at the full range of structural options for a new bribery law, will consider the merits of an offence dealing separately with bribery of foreign public officials. I also assure my noble friend Lady Whitaker that the Law Commission will consult business as part of its review.

We have also asked the Law Commission to look at the wider context on corrupt practices so that it will be clear how existing provisions complement the law on bribery. This part of the review will comprise a summary of provisions and not recommendations for reform. Referral to the Law Commission is the best course of action; the Law Commission is best placed to take forward and make a success of law reform in this field. We have asked the commission to prioritise its review and to prepare a draft Bill, so by the end of that period we shall have something to work on. In the light of that work, we will bring forward legislation as soon as we are in position to do so. Reform of our corruption laws is a difficult undertaking, but it is vital that we get it right.

I sympathise with the objectives of the Bill before us today and welcome the contribution that it can make in informing our work, but I emphasise that it is not the product of the extensive consultations and reviews that are necessary and which the Government are embarked on. As I shall explain, we do not believe that this Bill establishes a workable or appropriate new corruption law. It certainly does not deliver the clarity required in a new law.

Since I have only a few minutes left, I shall scan through in shorthand form some problems that will need to be looked at. I do not take issue at all with the Bill’s objectives; it is absolutely right to safeguard integrity, and so on. But, with regard to the clauses at the start of the Bill that deal with the bribery offences, the scheme for those offences is overlapping and duplicating. The formulation of the offences fails to deliver the clarity sought; a line is not easily drawn between what should be considered criminal and what should not. The proposed new corruption offence in sport is not necessary or required to tackle fixing; bribery and gambling provisions criminalise fixing sufficiently already, as I think noble Lords indicated during the debate. There are more effective means of demonstrating our commitment to tackling corruption in sport than the creation of a new criminal offence. However, I absolutely understand why the provision is there, and those are issues that we can look at.

We think, too, that the proposed new statutory duty to report public sector corruption may be somewhat problematic and not entirely appropriate. There is already a duty in the Civil Service Code, and similar provisions will exist for other positions. We do not believe that the offence of failing to report is justified, since we have disciplinary proceedings already, which are a more appropriate and proportionate sanction. The Law Commission concluded in its last report that the presumption was no longer justified or necessary and we sympathise with its conclusions. We are already tackling cross-border hard-core cartels that engage in bid-rigging, and we do not believe that a new foreign bid-rigging offence is the best way forward. I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said as to how the offences worked together.

There is a duty on United Kingdom companies to supervise their foreign subsidiaries. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said about it not doing what we think it does, but we think that, if you disaggregate the way in which it is structured, it has that intent. However, I am very glad to hear that the noble Lord does not want it to have such intent. We can see that that needs a bit of work, too.

An amendment to the Serious Fraud Office remit is, we think, neither necessary nor justified. The remit covers cases involving serious or complex fraud, and major cases of bribery will normally involve that. The SFO has already demonstrated an ability to prosecute in bribery cases.

That was a quick canter through the issues. We agree in principle with much in the Bill but there is a lot of detail that we would have to unpack, and I think that there is agreement in the House that we would have to work very hard on it. But I make the commitment that this is not the Government being dilatory; we understand how important the matter is and wish to ensure that it is driven through. We are very conscious of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and others made about our reputation and the need to do all that we can, as we have always done—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen—to ensure that we are held in the highest esteem around the world. There is absolutely no difference between us on that. If at all possible, we would like to be the best.

My Lords, I thank all those who took part in the debate for their contributions. I shall do my best to respond to the particular points raised by noble Lords in due course, rather than take up more time in the Chamber today. I thank the Minister, too, for addressing seriously the issues that have been raised—that is appreciated—and for her comments about the progress that we can probably make. Many areas of this issue and provisions of the Bill merit more detailed examination, which we may well achieve by careful scrutiny of the Bill in Committee.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.