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Bribery Act 2010

Volume 725: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2011


Asked by

My Lords, the Government are committed to the implementation of the Bribery Act. We are urgently working on the guidance to commercial organisations to make it practical and useful for legitimate business and trade. After the guidance is published, there will be a three-month notice period before full implementation of the Act.

My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for making my thanks for that not very satisfactory Answer fairly perfunctory. The fact is that the Act should be in force by now. Does he not agree that those who have been campaigning so vociferously against the entry into force of the Act have done Britain’s industry no favours whatever by suggesting that it can export successfully only by the use of these dubious practices? Does he not also agree that suggestions that this piece of legislation was rushed through Parliament before the election are a travesty, considering that the matter was subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny for a lengthy period in a committee of both Houses?

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord’s last point: the legislation was subject to very careful scrutiny. Since coming to office, we have also subjected the Act to a wide range of consultations aimed at making sure that the Act, which passed both Houses with all-party support, was fully understood and could be implemented fully. I take the noble Lord’s point, as I think that the Government do, that any suggestion that British industry can only make advances in overseas trade by bribery does unjust damage to our reputation as a fair-trading nation.

My Lords, I had the privilege of taking the Bill through this House. The Minister is quite right: it was received with widespread and vocal support from all sides of the House. That does not always happen with Ministry of Justice Bills. One criticism, however, was that legislation should have been put in place sooner, not as late as it was. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has reminded us, one year after the Bill became an Act of Parliament, we still do not know when it will be implemented. Does the Minister agree that this is totally unsatisfactory and that he needs to go back to his department and insist that the Bill be implemented as soon as possible?

I hear what the noble Lord says. During the period we are talking about we have not been idle. My right honourable and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has met representatives of the CBI, the multinational chairmen’s group of the International Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and Transparency International. We are trying to make sure that this is understood and it is going to be implemented effectively. I certainly will take note of the comments made in this House today about the sense of urgency.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on boards of British companies that include American directors, British directors have long been embarrassed by the great enthusiasm with which their American colleagues cite the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, well ahead of anything we have had alongside it for a very long time? Despite what my noble friend has said, is it not the case that it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain the delay, and that that is doing increasing damage to the reputation of British industry and, indeed, to the reputation of the Lord Chancellor himself?

My Lords, again I cannot help but draw attention to the fact that there is a sense of unity in the House on this. We are proceeding with all due speed on the matter. One thing that gives me encouragement, having sat in on a number of the meetings the Lord Chancellor has had with industry, is that industry itself seems to be quite capable of living with this Act. I take note of what my noble and learned friend has said, but I do not think that this is a matter of the reputation of the Lord Chancellor, although there is the question of implementation on which I hope these exchanges will be duly noted.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that bribery and corruption are hugely damaging to developing countries, not least to those in North Africa and the Middle East, and that that is a very important reason why the Government should not delay any further in bringing this Act into force?

My Lords, the Government are taking strong action on anti-corruption, including the recovery and freezing of corrupt assets in the areas the noble Lord has referred to, but the message is clear from this House that there is a matter of national reputation involved in any further delay. I duly take note of that.

My Lords, have any bribes, facilitations or other payments that might or could be bribes within the meaning of this Act been paid from public funds to Libyan officials over the course of the past few weeks? If so, at what level and by whom were those payments authorised?

My Lords, two of my noble friends wish to speak, but my noble friend Lord Campbell rose to his feet earlier on.

I am much obliged to my noble friend. This is not a long question. Is the noble Lord aware that nothing he has said justifies the conduct of the Government on this Bill—nothing at all?

My Lords, one of the great advantages of this House is that a Hansard report is made of interventions. I will ensure that the Hansard report of the exchanges that have come from all parts of the House are duly reported back to the relevant government departments.