HL Deb 06 July 2004 vol 663 cc662-5

2.56 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they are making in the reduction of corruption in Africa by use of powers under Part 12 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Government are determined to tackle corruption globally, including in Africa. Corruption is a complex phenomenon and the Government are engaged in a range of measures to tackle corruption in Africa, as well as in other regions of the world—for example, by raising governance standards in African countries. Part 12 of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 makes a small contribution to that. It gives the UK courts extraterritorial jurisdiction over offences of bribery committed overseas by UK companies or nationals.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Given the last point she made—that the whole purpose of Part 12 was to enable us to prosecute UK companies here, where their corruption or bribery had been in states incapable or unwilling to enforce it there—why is it that extra resources have not been made available to the prosecuting authorities here so that they can do the job? I would ask her particularly about the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, according to a recent United Nations report, British companies were identified as being exploiters of its mineral wealth and yet nothing has happened so far. Why is that? Will the Minister not accept that unless there is prosecution here under the Act, the Act is pointless?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we are well aware of the strong interest of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in the possibility of progress in the DRC. I will come to the UN panel issue that he raised on the DRC in a moment. Part 12 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act allows for the prosecution of offences of bribery committed by UK nationals and incorporated bodies abroad. It does not, as the noble Lord knows, apply to other criminal offences.

We take allegations against UK-based companies and individuals extremely seriously, but dealing with allegations is simply not just a matter of resources. However, the noble Lord will know that police funding since 2000–01 has increased by 30 per cent, or £2.3 billion. The UK Customs and Excise assessment of the UN panel report, to which the noble Lord referred in his supplementary question, is that information thus far processed by the UK for the OECD guidelines is not sufficient yet to mount a criminal investigation.

However, I am pleased to tell the noble Lord that the UN has now released additional material collected by the panel in regard to UK-based companies and individuals. The UK, as he knows, has been requesting that material for some time. That means that the material is now with the DTI. I am sure noble Lords will understand that I am unable to comment further until the DTI's assessment has been completed.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Transparency International UK's advisory council, and as a member of the scrutiny committee on the draft Corruption Bill. I ask my noble friend the Minister to join me in congratulating the African Union on its preparations for its own convention against corruption, which is I hope being agreed in Addis Ababa as we speak. Can she tell me how our Government's plans are progressing for our legislation, including the legislation that we need to ratify the United Nation's convention against corruption? We do not want to lag behind the African Union, do we?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that we congratulate the African Union on its preparations for the convention against corruption. Indeed, we welcome such regional initiatives, which are designed to complement the aims of the convention.

My noble friend asked me when the UK Government aim to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption. We intend to do that as soon as we are satisfied that the UK can comply fully with the obligations under it. We want the UK to be among the first 30 ratifying countries.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, could the Minister give an example of our ability to influence those other countries, with the aid of our African friends who are on the same side—perhaps starting with Mr Mugabe as a specimen?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, on the issue of Zimbabwe and corruption, under the Cotonou agreement between the European Community and the African, Caribbean and Pacific states, consultations have led to the application of appropriate measures against Zimbabwe, as the noble Lord will know, under Article 96, which deals with breaches of essential elements of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

The noble Lord asked me about other examples. We provide a wide range of assistance, depending on the particular needs of each country. Anti-corruption strategies in Uganda would be an example.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, the Minister began by referring to good governance in Africa, and I am sure that we would all agree with her. However, may I suggest that we should start with better governance in the United Kingdom?

The Minister will be aware that I have been in correspondence now for three years with all the financial agencies and the Home Office with regard to the laundering of some 2 billion to 3 billion dollars-worth of Nigerian state funds. Is she aware of some 15 banks found to be involved in that trade, four were fined and no others were either named or prosecuted? Is she aware that the City of London police decided to prosecute none of them? Is she aware that every other country involved froze the bank accounts held by nominees of the Nigerian state funds, while the United Kingdom froze none of them? Finally, is she aware that after a three-year effort to get the Home Office to make its evidence available to the federal government of Nigeria, a poor and democratic major state in Africa, it is still the case that the Home Office has not sent any of the evidence that the federal government need, although Switzerland and other countries have done so?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness would allow me to write to her in detail about the disappointment that she has experienced over the correspondence she has had with the Home Office. The UK's anti-money-laundering regime involves directing primary legislation in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and secondary legislation against the menace presented by money-laundering to the UK and internationally.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the OECD is also examining the position of overseas subsidiaries? What international consensus on methods do the Government favour for dealing with corruption within those subsidiaries?

Baroness Crawley

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of the OECD's involvement in that matter. The noble Earl will know that we have signed arid ratified the OECD's anti-bribery convention, under which we are obliged to do all that we can to combat bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. This month we have interviews with officials from the OECD to discuss how our own domestic legislation allows us to conform with the convention. We look forward to those interviews. Other countries that have recently been interviewed are France, Mexico, Canada, Korea and Turkey.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

My Lords, does the Minister accept that some of the rest of us in this House have also pressed the Home Office on the total failure to respond to the Nigerian Government's issues with regard to the banking of funds that properly belong to them? Will she further accept that the tackling of corruption internationally and specifically in Africa is extremely difficult in the absence of effective and accountable political structures, as in the Congo; in the absence of the rule of law, as in Zimbabwe; and in the absence of effective and supportive neighbourly community life, as in many parts of Africa?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I very much agree with the latter part of the right reverend Prelate's remarks. The Government, together with our international partners, are doing all that we can to tackle the cancer of corruption in many regions of the world. On the issue of repatriation of assets to Nigeria, we have agreed to transmit the evidence that we have on Abacha's assets to the Nigerian authorities. However, Abacha's solicitors have lodged an appeal.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, will the Government urgently review whether there are sufficient resources for enforcement of overseas corruption offences? Have the Government ever repatriated any confiscated assets to an African country, or do they intend to do so in the near future?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we are not aware of any cases in which assets have been repatriated, and we believe that it is unlikely that there have been any. All cases are dealt with, as the noble Baroness will know, in line with the provisions of international arrangements and UK legislation. She will also know that under the UN Convention against Corruption, the UK will be obliged to return assets to the requesting state when the case involves the embezzlement or laundering of public funds.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister say how many cases of alleged or suspected overseas bribery have been recorded by NCIS and what arrangements exist for sharing that information between European jurisdictions—for example, via Interpol?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we do work with international partners. I cannot give details today, but I shall certainly write to the noble Lord with details of our work with Interpol. He asked me about the number of reports that we have received on corruption. Seven allegations have been reported by our diplomatic posts, one of several sources of reports. In total, 22 allegations have to date been reported to the UK investigating authorities. Noble Lords may be interested to see the UK bribery and corruption law leaflet that is distributed to all diplomatic posts, to businesses and to NGOs to enable people to learn more about what they can do to tackle corruption.