My Lords, the Government are committed to transparency, accountability and stamping out corruption across the board. I note that the UK has slipped down the corruption perceptions index. However, I am confident that recent legislation, such as the Bribery Act, together with our active enforcement record, will improve the UK's position over the coming year.
My Lords, given our relatively low position in terms of public perception of corruption-we are 12th within the European Union and 20th within the world-how can the Government redouble their efforts to ensure that we satisfy all aspects of the UN Convention against Corruption? Secondly, would the Minister look at some aspects of what I call low-level corruption in this country, such as the failure to observe proper appointment procedures in jobs, and so forth, to help to improve our position over the coming years and fight against the social immobility that is sometimes the cause of our failure to prosper economically?
My Lords, on that last point, which is slightly wide of the Question but nevertheless very relevant, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, will have noted that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister recently initiated a public debate on this very problem of social mobility or immobility. I sometimes think that if we had had the social immobility that we have today I might not have got very far out of Blackpool.
On the broader issue, I understand the concerns about the perceptions, but it is a perception index that covered a period when there was a good deal of coverage of public life in this country-the problems with parliamentary expenses, et cetera. The Bribery Act and the actions taken by the Government to sharpen up the pursuit of corruption and economic crime will feed through into that index. Indeed, the OECD Secretary-General described the Bribery Act as reflecting the best international practice and praised the UK for being an active enforcer of bribery offences.
My Lords, Transparency International UK, of which I am a member, published in June this year a document called Corruption in the United Kingdom. It concluded that corruption is a greater problem than has been recognised and is being recognised by Governments. Have the present Government considered that document and have they got the Serious Fraud Office adequately into the picture?
Yes, my Lords, we have studied the document, and we keep close contact with Transparency International, which does a very effective job of keeping these matters before the public and before Governments. However, in this country there are two dangers. One is to say, "Oh, we don't need to do anything because we are actually the ones who obey all the laws and it's all the others who are corrupt", and the other is to believe that we are somehow burdened down with corruption. Both extremes are wrong. There is corruption in this country, as in all countries, but it is not left untouched. As I say, the Bribery Act is in place, and my noble friend referred to the SFO, which is now playing an important part in the new structure of crime prevention set up by the Home Secretary. In consultation with law officers and other relevant colleagues, the Home Secretary is currently considering options for delivering the Government's commitment to improve capability to tackle economic crime. The work of the Serious Fraud Office will play a key part in that strategy.
My Lords, I am delighted that the Minister is praising the Bribery Act and using it in defence of the present position. He will of course recognise that it was an Act passed under a Labour Government, with support from all over the House. The worry is that it was not implemented until
Of course it was, and all parts of the House can take credit for the fact that the Bribery Act was put on the statute book. The reason for the pause was for consultation and education, so that the Act was seen for what it is-a very useful piece of anti-corruption legislation. When we first came into office, there were lots of rumours going round that if you took a client out for a drink, for example, you would be charged under the Bribery Act, and various bodies, eager to make an honest penny, were offering consultancies to companies on how to avoid these various traps and pitfalls. So in consultation with the CBI, small business and organisations across the board, we worked very hard on guidance, which we published. The message from the trenches is that the Bribery Act is in place, it is effective, and if anybody is worried about its implications, the key thing to do is not to bribe.