Bribery is a crime that undercuts competitiveness, derails honest companies and distorts the marketplace. Those who bribe and those who are bribed, whether in commercial organisations or governmental institutions, are thereby diminished by their actions, such that their legitimacy is called into question and the confidence of consumers and the public is weakened. Bribery also undermines the societies in which bribes are made.
With this Bill, Parliament is no longer accepting the excuse of local practice; rather, it is tying our flag to the highest levels of intentional probity. This is welcomed by the Conservatives. However, it is clear that in recent years, under this Labour Government's watch, the UK has fallen behind the standards of combating bribery that we have seen in other western countries, and our reputation has not been improved as a result. Conservatives therefore fully back the Bill and, in particular, are pleased that its implementation will finally make the UK compliant with the 1997 OECD anti-bribery convention. Notwithstanding our unhappiness with the delayed process, we have supported the Bill throughout the course of its journey through Parliament.
Without doubt, the outstanding feature of the Bill has been the delay in its arrival. Plans to update and rework our patchwork of antiquated laws have been mooted since the mid-1990s. As far back as 1998, the Law Commission reviewed the UK's corruption laws and formulated a draft Bill that was designed to replace all or parts of the existing relevant legal provisions on corruption and, at the same time, incorporate the common law offence of bribery. What followed was an almost pantomime-like to-ing and fro-ing by the Government when, until recently and in the dying days of this Parliament, we were presented with this Bill. The unacceptable rush that we faced to push the Bill through, in only a few weeks, is hardly an example of thoughtful or effective government.
The Bill before us today is largely based on a set of proposals developed by the Law Commission, in its 2008 report entitled "Reforming Bribery", which has subsequently been reviewed in this House and the other place. The debate in the other place focused mainly on the legal aspects of the Bill, while we attempted in Committee to stress test the practical application of certain provisions in the Bill. The sum total is a Bill that we generally think is considered and well thought out. It is a Bill that I hope will provide a coherent and comprehensive framework of criminal law-one that makes it abundantly clear that bribery has no place in this country and that it will not be tolerated in our commercial or other dealings with the rest of the world.
However, as rushed as the Bill has been, it is vital that it should be implemented only after full consultation with business and the preparation of appropriate guidance. We were pleased to receive the Minister's assurances on that point in Committee. Although we have decided not to move further amendments, providing for a business advisory service, this is certainly an area that we will wish to explore further in government, even if on a non-statutory basis.
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