I am at present working on the guidance to commercial organisations to make it practical and useful for legitimate business and trade. It will be published once I am confident that it addresses the legitimate concerns of all those who took part in the consultation process and who have made representations to me. The publication of the guidance will be followed by a three-month notice period before full implementation of the Act.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the offences in the Act should not prevent businesses from using legitimate and proportionate promotional expenditure or corporate hospitality? I welcome the fact that he is going to prepare guidance, but will he do so on the basis that there is some fear and lack of knowledge out there, which needs to be dealt with?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and I have had meetings with organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, whose members are particularly frightened about the prospects. Ordinary hospitality to meet and network with customers and to improve relationships is an ordinary part of business and should never be a criminal offence. I hope to put out very clear guidance for businesses of all sizes to make that clear and to save them from the fears that are sometimes aroused by the compliance industry-the consultants and lawyers who will, of course, try to persuade companies that millions of pounds must be spent on new systems that, in my opinion, no honest firm will require to comply with the Act.
Along with the United States and others, we are one of the leading countries in pressing for a drive against corruption in the world, because corruption is bad for all business, including British business when it tries to export to other countries. Because of the debate that is taking place about the Act, I have had to reassure my American colleagues that we are not falling behind and that we will implement the Act. It is very important that we put ourselves where we should be-in the forefront of stamping out corruption not only in the developing world but in international trade generally.
May I encourage the Secretary of State to get on and implement the Act as soon as possible? Will he provide an assurance this afternoon that when the guidance is published, there will be no loophole for joint ventures or subsidiaries that would enable British companies to turn a blind eye to corruption?
I give that assurance, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am trying to get on with it. I believe it is possible to satisfy those who think we should give a lead in helping to stamp out corruption in international trade and other aspects of international relationships, and at the same time satisfy honest businesses that do not want unnecessary costs and burdens put upon them. They want the situation explained clearly to them so that, as my hon. Friend Mr Binley said, ordinary hospitality cannot possibly be affected by the Act.
Although I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that the Act will eventually be implemented, his comments today sound like rather a watering-down of the proposals. Yet the Foreign Secretary said at the Dispatch Box just two weeks ago:
"Both parties in the coalition supported the Bribery Act when in opposition, we support it now, and it will be brought in rigorously, effectively and fairly."-[ Hansard, 1 February 2011; Vol. 522, c. 733.]
Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that that is how the Act will be applied?
First, there is no watering-down of the Act. All parties supported it when it went through the House, and we are going to implement it properly. It requires me to provide statutory guidance to businesses on what steps they should take to ensure that they are trying to prevent bribery, and that is what I am working on. I believe that it is possible to produce guidance and enforce the Act in a way that produces the rigour and fairness that the hon. Gentleman demands. There is no backing down from the principles of the Act at all.