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Volume 701: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have in the near future to support the bribery and corruption working group of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is fully committed to the fight against international corruption. We continue to work closely with the OECD on improving our anti-bribery procedures and helping to raise standards across the membership of the working group on bribery—indeed across the globe. The UK is a founder signatory of the 1997 OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and has been represented at every quarterly meeting of the working group.

My Lords, the comment about a full commitment may raise an eyebrow. In his distinguished report on ethical conduct for BAE Systems Ltd, the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, recommended that,

“the Government should quickly bring forward the necessary legislative proposals”,

to the OECD. Back in June 2000, the then Home Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Justice, commendably said:

“Our overriding consideration is to clarify and codify the law in line with developments both in this country and internationally. Our focus is on the raising of standards in both public and private life”.

With commendable speed, the then Home Secretary brought forward a White Paper which adopted the Law Commission’s proposals for a single bribery convention. That was eight years ago. Since then, there has been only one small change, in a provision on the bribery of foreign officials in the counter-terrorism legislation of 2002. Do the Government intend to meet their obligations and include a serious and comprehensive bribery law in the next Queen’s Speech?

My Lords, we have been trying to bring forward a new law for some time. It has not proved an easy task, but it is vital that we get it right. We originally presented a draft Bill in 2003 but, despite having been widely welcomed until that point, it was heavily criticised by the parliamentary committee that considered its suitability for presentation to Parliament. A further government consultation in 2005 confirmed broad support for reform but not what form that reform should take.

The Law Commission was therefore asked in spring 2007 to commence a fresh review and to prepare a new draft Bill. Its review is the best and most effective means of working out proposals for a new law. It published its consultation paper on 29 November 2007 and consultation closed on 20 March. We look forward to receiving its report and a draft Bill this autumn, and will seek to introduce new legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, are cases related to corruption pending against British citizens in the Republika Srpska, a component part of Bosnia-Herzegovina which has recently completed a major privatisation programme?

My Lords, I do not have a brief on that specific question. We have many investigations in the UK, and 144 allegations of overseas corruption recorded by the SFO. The SFO has brought 15 foreign bribery inquiries and the City of London five more. Forty-four allegations are under preliminary investigation. The SFO has discontinued one inquiry, BAE-Saudi. Preliminary investigations on 35 additional cases were closed due to insufficient evidence. No action has been taken on 40. We have also provided additional funding to the City of London Police dedicated to the international anti-corruption group. We will nevertheless write on the detail of the question.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Christian Aid, which, as your Lordships will know, is an organisation dedicated to the relief of poverty and the eradication of its causes—of which poor governance and corruption are among the most pernicious. Can the Minister say what engagement there is with the international development agencies to assess the impact of corruption on the world’s poor and also indicate how our own legislative provision compares with that available in our EU colleague nations?

My Lords, the World Bank assesses that corruption costs more than 5 per cent of global GDP. About $1 trillion is paid in bribes, and corruption adds about 10 per cent to the cost of doing business globally. Corruption causes a 25 per cent increase in the cost of procurements in developing countries and has a negative impact on foreign direct investment that is equivalent to a 20 per cent tax. As for the United Kingdom’s position in what one might loosely call the “league table” as determined by the internationally recognised standard of Transparency International, it is second in the G8 countries after Canada and twelfth cleanest of the 179 countries surveyed.

My Lords, following the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and declaring an interest as a member of the advisory council of Transparency International UK, may I ask my noble friend to clarify whether or not any prosecutions have been brought under our present legislation over the past few years?

My Lords, there have been a number of investigations, but I am not precisely sure of the answer. I will write to the noble Baroness on that point.