Bribery Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 16th March 2010.

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[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 10:30 am, 16th March 2010

Before we begin, my co-Chair, Joan Walley, is sat on my right and will remain as long as she wishes during this sitting, but she will chair the Committee this afternoon. Before we begin our formal business, may I make one or two preliminary announcements? Many members of the Committee will have heard them before from other Chairs. Members may, if they wish, remove their jackets during Committee sittings. In future, if they wish to do so they do not have to look to me to give permission. I am very happy that they should be as comfortable as they want to be during our deliberations. Will all Committee members please ensure that all electronic devices—mobile phones, pagers and so on—are turned off or switched to silent mode during Committee sittings? I should like, too, to remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chair do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendments that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.

This will probably be the last Committee that I shall chair in my parliamentary career.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Thank you very much. This Committee is one of the first that my co-Chair is taking, and I have a sense that it will be a very agreeable and constructive one. I am confident that members of the Committee will not let me down on my initial instinct.

We now move on to matters relating to the programme motion, which is on the amendment paper. I remind the Committee that debate on the motion is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, which we can hopefully take formally. Therefore, without further ado, I ask the Under-Secretary to move the programme motion.

Photo of Claire Ward Claire Ward Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I beg to move,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 am on Tuesday16 March) meet—

(a) at 4.00 pm on Tuesday 16 March;

(b) at 9.30 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 18 March;

(c) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 23 March;

(d) at 9.30 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 25 March;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 17; Schedules 1 and 2; Clauses 18 to 20; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 25 March.

I welcome you, Sir Nicholas, to the Chair. I note that this may be your last Committee before the impending general election. No doubt you will face new and different challenges. I am sure that you and your co-Chair, Mrs. Walley, will ensure that our proceedings are conducted fairly and that we have proper scrutiny of this very important Bill.

The programme motion provides for up to eight sittings, which I trust hon. Members will agree will prove more than adequate to ensure that the Bill is properly scrutinised. Whether we will need all eight sittings remains, of course, to be seen, but I look forward to a constructive debate. I commend the programme motion to the Committee.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

Good morning, Sir Nicholas. May I join the Under-Secretary in saying how much we look forward to serving under your chairmanship and, indeed, the chairmanship of Mrs. Walley? I believe that this is her first Committee, so I welcome her. I have served under your chairmanship on many occasions, Sir Nicholas, and I have every expectation that you will do as good a job on this Committee as you have always done on previous occasions.

We believe that the time allocated is broadly correct, given the serious changes to the law that the Bill involves and its dramatic implications for British business. I have one further point on programming, Sir Nicholas. Yesterday, my office received a number of e-mails and calls from a variety of organisations that have been making serious and often important contributions to issues associated with the Bill. However, those organisations have a concern, which came back to me via a national newspaper: that we should curtail these proceedings because a number of today’s amendments have previously been debated by their Lordships in the other place.

I am not going to name those organisations, but they were lucky that I was out of the office when they called yesterday. To talk about curtailing the programming of this debate is to subvert the democratic process in an unacceptable way. We have reviewed the debates in the other place and have noted a number of issues on which such debate needs to continue. It is unacceptable that so-called anti-corruption and pro-civil rights organisations should suggest that we curtail democratic debate on an issue of such importance to the anti-corruption movement and British business. Shame on the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Cambridge, for his comments to the Financial Times yesterday. He said:

“It’s very disappointing and disturbing to see these kinds of issues being raised again...One suspects it’s an attempt to prevent the bill getting through in this parliament, which would be a disaster for this country’s reputation.”

I would like him to confirm and to address those comments, which I find despicable and undemocratic.

This House and the upper House have every right to debate these issues, and we intend to do that over the next two weeks. As I spelled out clearly in my letter to the Financial Times last week, we share the frustration of those organisations and we have been calling for the Bill to be brought forward for the past three years. Just because the Government have left the Bill to the dying days of this Parliament, that does not mean we are prepared to say that this Committee is irrelevant. Those organisations, which I am not going to name today, are warned to leave the programming of this Committee to Parliament.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

May I say how sad I am, Sir Nicholas, that this is your last Committee? It is also my last Committee, unless some other Bill appears between now and Dissolution, which I doubt. It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship on all the Bills we have considered together. Your view of how a Committee should progress, to ensure that the issues are debated properly but promptly, is a model of how a Committee should be chaired in this House. I hope that your successor in the House, and mine, have an opportunity to learn those lessons.

I am content with the programme motion, although I agree with the Under-Secretary that we should not need all the time put down for our deliberations. I am also content with the order of consideration that she proposes. Our one major concern is with clause 13, which exempts from the scope of the offence certain public officials: members of the defence forces and intelligence services. We will require some time to discuss that.

The issues associated with the Bill have been discussed extensively, not just in the other place but in the Joint Committee that considered the drafting. There have been numerous consultation exercises involving august bodies such as the Law Commission, and not just the non-governmental organisations to which the hon. Member for Huntingdon referred. It would be unfortunate if our debates were simple repetitions. I am perfectly happy to discuss new and important points as they arise, but I think the hon. Gentleman doth protest too much. The issue he raises will be judged by the Committee, and by those outside, by what he does, not just by what he says now.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I did not want to lose this opportunity to say how much I have enjoyed being chaired by you over the years, Sir Nicholas, and making contributions in debates with you over such a long time. It will be rather nice to be on your Committee swan-song. I certainly look forward to you chairing it with your usual aplomb.

As for the hon. Member for Cambridge, he and I were spokesmen on constitutional affairs for a period and battled away against the Government’s ideas on legislative and regulatory reform, quite successfully in the end. He will be missed, but I do not think we will feel too sorry for him because he is going back to be a reader at Cambridge university by the gently lapping waters of the Cam. That is no doubt a pleasant life in its own way.

There are two issues that concern me. The first is this modern idea that it is always better to find a new word to describe what the public, lawyers and all of us have understood as being the crime. There are not many people who do not know what bribery and corruption are. As far as I am aware, the public have never had any difficulty in recognising a corrupt act or an act of bribery—a backhander in ordinary parlance.

Equally, when it comes to our forces trying to civilise an area after a conflict, it is useful if they can have money available for good purposes.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman as he is always so agreeable, but he is going slightly wide of the matter we are debating. If he can relate his remarks to the programme motion I shall be happy for him to continue, but I suspect he wants to bring his remarks to an end.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I just wanted to make the point—I was setting it in context and, as ever, at perhaps at too great a length—that I hope we have sufficient time to discuss these two important issues. It seems part of a trend to start calling a shovel something else, and our forces need a certain amount of discretion in how they use funds when they are trying to civilise a difficult situation after a conflict. Those were the two issues I wanted to be sure we had time for.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I am sure the Committee and both Chairs will commit time to ensuring that both those matters can be debated. If there are no further contributions on the programme motion, I will put the question.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Claire Ward.)

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Let me advise the Committee that copies of any memorandums it receives will be made available in the Committee Room.