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Bribery Bill

Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my role as the Government’s anti-corruption champion I am pleased to inform the House that I have today laid before Parliament the draft Bribery Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny (Bribery—Draft Legislation Cm 7570). This is in accordance with the Government’s legislative programme as set out in the Written Statement by my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons on 4 December 2008 (Official Report, Col.12WS). 

The Bill describes a modern, clear and consolidated law that will support our commitment to high ethical standards generally and will equip our courts and prosecutors to deal effectively with bribery of all kinds whether it occurs at home or abroad.  I believe these provisions strike the right balance between clarity and detail, so as to allow for both legal certainty and the effective differentiation between bribery and the legitimate giving and receiving of advantages. 

Our current criminal law of bribery is old and anachronistic and can be difficult for prosecutors, courts and members of the public. Statutory law is fragmented and dates back to around the turn of the 20th century. It is unconsolidated, resulting in inconsistencies of language and concepts between the various provisions and one or two small but potentially significant gaps in the law. The scope of the common law offence is unclear, adding to inconsistency and overall complexity. These issues have been noted at home and abroad, most notably by the OECD Bribery Working Group.  It is clear that, from a purely legal perspective, the case for reform is strong.

This is, however, much more than a desire for an orderly statute book. While the United Kingdom is recognised as one of the least corrupt countries in the world we do not underestimate the threat posed by bribery. If it is not kept in check, bribery can destroy the integrity, accountability and honesty that underpin ethical standards in public and commercial life. By its very nature insidious and difficult to root out, bribery worldwide weakens democracy, impedes sustainable development and can undermine respect for human rights by supporting corrupt regimes. 

As advances in technology and communication enable ever more sophisticated means of committing and concealing crimes, we must ensure that our law provides our courts and prosecutors with the tools they need to combat such crime effectively.  Over the years it has become clear that a law that has narrow national focus will not fulfil this role. The global economy is a reality.  Modernisation of the law is therefore a priority, not only to deal effectively with those who offer or accept bribes in our business or public sectors, but also to reinforce transparency and accountability in our international business transactions.

Law reform is one of the key elements of the UK’s strategy against foreign bribery, which I am co-coordinating in my role as government anti-corruption champion as announced in my Statement of 2 October 2008. Concerted multilateral action is essential to tackle the global impact of bribery and related issues such as money laundering. Co-operation with our international partners is producing significant progress in areas such as the tracing, recovery and repatriation of money laundered misappropriated assets. In addition, we are supporting effective implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the OECD Bribery Convention and the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. 

The Bill builds on the Law Commission proposals set out in its report Reforming Bribery in November 2008. I should like to express my gratitude to the Law Commission for its excellent report. The Bill’s principal provisions create two general offences; one dealing with the giving, promising, and offering of a bribe and the other with agreeing to receive or acceptance of a bribe. It provides a new discrete offence of bribery of a foreign public official and a new corporate liability offence of negligently failing to prevent bribery.  The detail of these and the other remaining provisions of the Bill are explained in full in the Explanatory Notes published alongside the Bill. My officials have shared details of our proposed legislation with colleagues in Scotland. It will be for the Scottish Ministers to consider whether any similar changes will be necessary to Scots law.