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Volume 829: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United Kingdom’s record in combating corruption.

My Lords, the Government are committed to the fight against corruption. Corruption and illicit finance undermine national security and global stability. They impede global prosperity and erode trust in institutions while harming their victims. Since 2010, the Government have led international efforts to combat corruption through the delivery of the United Kingdom Anti-corruption Strategy 2017-2022, and we will continue to build on this with the new anti- corruption strategy that is currently under development.

My Lords, in that case, why has the UK slumped to its lowest ever score in Transparency International’s latest global corruption index, falling sharply to number 73—a 10-place tumble from eighth to 18th over the last 10 years in its global rankings? Is it because of a collapse in government standards, or the recent scandalous government reversal of their previous admirable decision to suspend Bain & Company from UK Government contracts after Bain was found by a judicial commission to have been up to its neck in state corruption in South Africa? Are corruption and money laundering not now a real UK problem, and should not Ministers be utterly ashamed?

My Lords, I cannot improve on the words of the Prime Minister when he was asked about this subject. He pointed out that there has been

“widespread recognition and support for the UK’s approach to transparency and tackling corruption. … the most recent report from the Financial Action Task Force commended the UK for the steps it had taken”,—[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/23; col. 334.]

and those steps are significant. Obviously, a number of Bills going through your Lordships’ House and the other place at the moment deal with some of these issues. As for the specific question about Bain, I note that Bain has agreed to a period of rigorous monitoring for a minimum of two years during which its continuing compliance will be assessed. The UK arm of Bain has agreed that it will engage further with the Cabinet Office to provide evidence that its governance, organisation and internal processes are now working. I could go on, but I think that is enough.

My Lords, would it not be evidence of the seriousness of the Government in combating corruption if the agencies concerned with it were adequately staffed? Is not one of the fundamental problems of the Government’s approach to corruption and economic crime that the NCA and other agencies concerned with it are inadequately staffed to deal with this?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that this subject has come up in discussion during the passage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill. The agencies are adequately resourced. The funding for the SFO is rising —gradually, but it is rising—and I know that people are being recruited into these operations.

My Lords, can I remind my noble friend that there are in Hansard two Written Answers which list over 50 Home Office officials between 2005 and 2018 who were convicted of misconduct in a public office? Many of them were sent to prison—several for very long terms. Is this not a most disturbing figure?

It is a most disturbing figure. Public sector integrity is certainly a feature of the Transparency International downgrade of the UK, but that is being dealt with, as noble Lords will be aware.

My Lords, it has been well over a year, as many of us remember, since the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, resigned in this House from that Dispatch Box. Noble Lords will remember that he did it over a government decision to write off £4.3 billion in fraudulent Covid loans. He went on to accuse the Government

“of arrogance, indolence and ignorance”—[Official Report, 24/1/22; col. 21.]

in dealing with fraud. What has improved since then?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the publication of the new fraud strategy is imminent. As I referred to in my earlier Answer, the second iteration of the anti-corruption strategy is also being worked through at this moment. There will be a lot more to say on that in the very near future.

My Lords, may I push the Minister on resources, as 41% of all crime against the individual is fraud and 1% of law enforcement resources are applied to it? Is that really sufficient?

When put in numbers like that, no. However, as I have just said, the fraud strategy is due to be published next week. That is a multiagency approach to tackling fraud. It will be outlined in considerable detail.

My Lords, can the Minister answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Hain? Why has the UK slumped to its lowest ever score in Transparency International’s global corruption index? How has that happened and what are the Government going to do about it?

I think I have already said what the Government are going to do about it. In terms of analysis, the data indicated that the drop is likely due to two factors. The first is heightened criticism on issues of public sector integrity, which I have already dealt with. The second is criticism of the public procurement processes during Covid. As the noble Lord will be aware, the Procurement Bill currently on Report is dealing with many of those issues. I could go on at significant length about PPE and so on if he wishes.

My Lords, one of the key parts of the Government’s anti-corruption policy was the register of beneficial ownership. Could my noble friend give us an update on how it is being brought in? It seems that it is still possible to hide true ownership behind companies and third parties.

Further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, a key element in fighting corruption is transparency around offshore companies which own property in the UK. Could the Minister supply to the House two figures? What is the number of offshore companies which own property in the UK, and what is the number of those which have failed to register their ownership details with Companies House, as they should have done by the end of January 2023?