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House of Lords Hansard
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Anti-corruption Strategy
10 July 2017
Volume 783

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to update their anti-corruption strategy.

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My Lords, the Government are working on a new anti-corruption strategy, which will be published in due course. They continue to take forward a wide range of anti-corruption measures, including those agreed at the London anti-corruption summit.

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My Lords, it is over a year since the anti-corruption summit which promised that new strategy. Is the Minister aware that there are voices around which suggest that Brexit is an opportunity for Britain to hoist the Jolly Roger and buccaneer its way around the world with scant regard to things like bribery or money laundering? Is it not time that the Government sent out a clear message that we are a beacon of integrity in these matters by bringing this strategy forward, giving a vote of confidence in the Serious Fraud Office and finding a new anti-corruption champion to succeed the one who has now departed the other place? Those challenges would make us a beacon of integrity, rather than the other way.

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The noble Lord asked a number of questions. First, he is quite right: the deadline has been missed. We hoped to publish the updated strategy by December last year. There was some turbulence in Whitehall following the outcome of the referendum and then, in March, when the inter-ministerial group met to consider the draft strategy, there was a further discontinuity with the general election. However, a near-final draft of the document is being prepared and we hope to publish it shortly. There has been a series of anti-corruption champions: Hilary Benn, Jack Straw and Ken Clarke. Eric Pickles was the last but since the election Sir Eric is no longer a Member of Parliament. We hope to appoint a new champion in due course.

On the noble Lord’s second point about the Jolly Roger, I prefer the union jack. However, he is quite right: this country has a reputation for integrity and fairness throughout the world. That helps us win export orders and inward investment. The noble Lord may know that in a recent analysis of integrity, the UK was ranked joint 10th out of 176 on the Transparency International corruption perceptions index. He is quite right: we value our reputation and are determined to maintain and enhance it after Brexit.

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My Lords, the Government have previously indicated to the House that they were attempting to meet a target by the end of June this year to have central registers of beneficial ownership opened in the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories. I believe it is now July. Therefore, I would be very grateful if my noble friend updated us on the current position.

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I am grateful to my noble friend. It is indeed now July, and I am happy to tell him that good progress has been made with the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies. Most of the larger territories already had these central registers in place. I think that only two, or possibly three, have not met the deadline, and they are making good progress. Therefore, significant information is now available, almost real time, in this country for law enforcement and HMRC because of the central registers of beneficial ownership that the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies have now introduced following last year’s London summit.

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Will the Government review their own actions bearing in mind that they have just given a £1 billion bung to the DUP? Does the Minister think he should put his own house in order first?

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I understand that in another place, Nigel Dodds MP suggested that he might put in the public domain correspondence between Gordon Brown and the DUP following the 2010 election. I also remember the 1974 to 1979 Parliament, when the Callaghan Government limped from Division to Division, putting together a series of deals with individual parties and individual Members which involved significant expenditure of public money. The noble Lord may wonder where this train of argument may lead him.

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My Lords, during the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill, a great deal of concern was expressed around the House about the number of properties, particularly in central London, being acquired by anonymous foreign owners, often using corrupt proceeds of crime. Can the Minister update the House on what is happening with unexplained wealth orders and, indeed, with the proposed register of foreign owners of property here in London? It is time we kept the momentum going on this.

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I am grateful to my noble friend, who played a significant role when the then Criminal Finances Bill was going through the House in ensuring that we had the unexplained wealth orders in the right shape. That legislation hit the statute book on 27 April. We are now preparing statutory guidance, subject to the affirmative procedure order, and introducing new court rules and training for officials so that we get the orders in good shape before they are introduced. We remain committed to a register of beneficial ownership of foreign companies that own or acquire property in this country. Good progress is being made. BEIS submitted a consultation document earlier this year, and it is now analysing the responses. I say to my noble friend that we are determined to honour the commitment to introduce such a register.

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My Lords, the Minister will know that four senior executives from Barclays Bank are facing criminal prosecution for wrongdoing that took place in the financial crisis of 2008, and that this is the first such prosecution. The director of the Serious Fraud Office, whom I hope the Minister will confirm will remain in his place, has repeatedly called for reform of UK law on criminal corporate liability to make it easier to prosecute private companies involved in wrongdoing. Could the Minister tell the House when the Government intend to reform the UK’s very weak laws on corporate liability, so that companies can be held to account for actions that facilitate money laundering of the proceeds of corruption?

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I cannot give a substantive reply to the noble Baroness, but I would like to write to her. I think I am right in saying that recently, companies have been prosecuted. For example, I think that Rolls-Royce as a company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and, as a result, paid a penalty of over half a billion pounds—and that was for the company. I am cautious about saying anything more, because I understand that individuals are also under investigation by the SFO. I am afraid that I cannot comment on the question she raised about the personnel at the SFO, but I will make inquiries and write to her.