Anti-corruption Summit — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:52 am on 3 May 2016.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 10:52, 3 May 2016

Sir Edward, it is always a pleasure to have you in charge, ensuring that we behave ourselves during our debates. I join the chorus of plaudits for my hon. Friend Nigel Mills and Catherine McKinnell, who have done so much to raise the issue as co-chairs of the all-party group on anti-corruption. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley for organising this debate.

We have had a series of extremely carefully considered and very wide-ranging speeches, not only from a former Chair of the Select Committee on Public Accounts—you are one yourself, Sir Edward—but from members of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and many others. The debate shows the breadth of concern and the issues into which the tentacles of corruption can spread—everything from sport to international aid to public contracts and property ownership in Baker Street, among other places in this country and elsewhere.

I think that there is cross-party agreement that it is important for us all to remember—although I am pleased by and welcome everybody’s recognition that the Prime Minister and others have been instrumental in taking forward the agenda—that there is a great deal more to do. The effects of corruption are not felt only in other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley was right to say that, although we may be blessedly free of some of the more commonplace and in-your-face forms of petty corruption, such as people demanding bribes for everyday public services, that does not mean that any society, ours included, is safe.

The effects are widespread and pernicious. Corruption raises the costs of doing business, through bribes and friction costs. That is true not only in the UK but for our exporters trying to get contracts and trying to win jobs for our workers in exporting overseas, and consumers must put up with poorer-quality goods, because if goods are purchased through a corrupt process, the chances are that they will be second best, either in quality or in value for money. Again, everybody suffers. Corruption drives up prices, not just in the UK—we heard the example of property prices here—but around the world as well. Most importantly, it is a fundamentally unjust way to run not only a country but global society in general. People cannot be sure that what they see on their TV screens and hear from their leaders or, indeed, their bosses is correct or fair. We are talking about a piece of social justice, so there is a huge amount to do.

In the limited time left, I will try to respond to some of the points raised, although I want to leave a couple of moments for my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley to sum up. He asked specifically what would be on the agenda for the summit and precisely who would be there. I can give him some guidance on that, but obviously, these matters are still under discussion, so I cannot give him a running commentary. He rightly pointed out that the summit’s overall aims are to expose corruption, punish those who perpetrate it and drive out the culture of corruption.

We have had a number of submissions from Members about how, for example, asset recovery could be improved; Dame Margaret Hodge suggested confiscation, but other suggestions were made for other kinds of asset recovery as well. Suggestions were also made about better opportunities for whistleblowing and better governance in sport, which has been a potential channel for distributing ill-gotten gains around the world. All those things need to be discussed and will, I am sure, be on the agenda, but its precise details will be released nearer the time.

I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley a little detail about who is invited. Again, the final guest list will be released nearer the time, but I can confirm that we have invited the G20 countries, leading international organisations in the field, including the UN, the World Bank, the OECD and the International Monetary Fund, and a wide range of other countries—I think this is where he was going; we will have more details, I am sure, as we get closer to the day—that are leading the fight against global corruption or have a pivotal role to play. I understand that John Kerry from the US will be there as well.

I should mention that there will be an event the day before with a broader invitation list, which we will run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, for example. We will invite a number of companies and other non-governmental organisations, because there are many NGOs, companies and sectoral organisations that understand the reputational damage that corruption can cause. We must harness those who are willing to take a lead on the issue to set the right tone and take part in the three aims that I spoke of, particularly driving out corruption. Their co-operation and help will be essential in setting a tone for others to follow, not just in political leadership but in commercial and, potentially, third sector leadership as well. I hope that I have given my hon. Friend some extra detail. I am sure that more will come, and that he will want to hear more about it.

The right hon. Member for Barking asked whether we would be willing to use last resort powers. To summarise, they are a last resort. We do not want to have to use them; we want to ensure that people come as far as possible without any need for them. However, it is clear from all the submissions, suggestions and speeches that we have heard that there is a huge thirst and desire for the agenda to be taken further. We in this country are not unique in wanting to do so. We have taken some important leading steps, but we are far from the only ones who need to be involved, and far from the only ones who are. The issue needs to be taken forward on an international scale. The UK absolutely needs to play its part, and we have heard the reasons why we, particularly given our overseas and dependent territories, need to be a leading member of that international coalition.

This is clearly a developing agenda. The proposals and the progress made in the wake of the FIFA scandal, for example, show how much further international opinion has moved and still needs to move. The revelations in the wake of the Panama papers show how much further we can go and how much further public opinion, although it has moved, still needs to move. I am sure that this topic will continue to develop and that the rules and regulations and, most importantly, the ethos and culture of international business, investment and ownership, will continue to change and tighten. I am sure that everybody in this room and more broadly will welcome that on a cross-party basis, with open arms. I will leave a few seconds for my hon. Friend to respond to the debate.