Joint Committee on The Draft Corruption Bill Written Evidence


Memorandum from Sir Nigel Wicks (DCB 23)

  1.  Thank you for inviting me to give evidence, on behalf of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, on the draft Corruption Bill. The Committee welcomes the Home Office's initiative in putting this draft legislation forward, both because of its importance for the economic and social life of this country, and because of the interest which this Committee has taken in the issue of the offence of corruption as it relates to Members of Parliament.

  2.  The Committee strongly endorses Lord Falconer's view, set out in the Foreword to the Corruption Draft Legislation (Cm 5777), that corruption is potentially devastating because it can cause serious damage to government and business. We recognise too that the consequences of corruption are felt across national boundaries and can weaken democracy and undermine respect for human rights. As a body dedicated to upholding the highest standards of propriety in public life, the Committee supports the Government's duty, as expressed by Lord Falconer "to promote high standards of fairness and propriety and to ensure that UK citizens do not contribute to corruption either at home or abroad".

  3.  Since its inception this Committee has called for clarification of the law relating to bribery and the receipt of a bribe by a Member of Parliament. Recommendation 10 of the Committee's First Report was that:

    The Government should now take steps to clarify the law relating to the bribery of or the receipt of a bribe by a Member of Parliament.

  The Sixth Report, which reviewed the recommendations of the First Report, amplified this in Recommendation 1:

    The Government should introduce its proposed legislation on the criminal law of bribery as soon as possible in order to remove any uncertainty regarding the scope of the statutory offence of bribery and to make it clear that members of both Houses of Parliament, acting in their capacity as members, and those who bribe a member of either House of Parliament fall within its scope.

  4.  An important witness during the Sixth Enquiry was the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw. He explained the Government's view of parliamentary privilege like this:

    ". . . where allegations of corrupt practices by Members of Parliament are concerned, evidence that is available from a Member of Parliament's performance of his or her duties in the House of Commons, which would otherwise attract privilege, would not attract privilege for those purposes".

  5.  Several witnesses to the Seventh Enquiry, on standards of conduct in the House of Lords, mentioned the issue of the scope of corruption legislation. It was raised in the context of whether members of the Upper House should be treated in the same way as MPs in any future legislation; there was agreement from our witnesses that they should. Lord Archer of Sandwell said:

    "I would have thought that any member of either House would understand that he ought not to act in a particular way in relation to debates or voting or the conduct of the House in expectation of a specific reward for doing that".

  In fact, there was no real issue about whether the law should be clarified to include members of Parliament, although there was some discussion about how it could best be done. Lord Marlesford, when asked whether the Lords should be subject to the law on corruption, replied:

    "If the law declares corruption to be a criminal act, I think we should all be bound by that".

  It should be noted, too, that the observation was made by several witnesses that corruption in the House was rare. Michael Burrell, Chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, said:

    "My personal view, based partly on my experience, but also on international surveys, is that the United Kingdom is a relatively corruption-free country. The standards of parliamentarians are in general very high".

  6.  It is clear from this brief summary of the Committee's views that there are two main issues relating to Members of Parliament which concern the Committee, namely:

    —  the question of whether members of either House can be considered "public officials" as defined in the relevant legislation and therefore within its scope; and

    —  Parliamentary privilege when the only evidence against an MP is deemed to be proceedings within Parliament and which, following Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, may be deemed to be inadmissible.

  7.  The Committee believes that clause 12 of the draft Bill would satisfactorily meet its concerns on the second of these issues. The Committee therefore supports this clause and would not wish to see any diminution of its effect.

  8.  As regards the first point, the Committee's fundamental concern is that members of Parliament should be treated, in so far as the criminal law of corruption is concerned, in exactly the same way as other citizens, the point succinctly put by Lord Marlesford in the extract quoted in paragraph 5 above. The Committee's reading of the draft Bill is that Part 1 would cover a Member of Parliament in respect of his or her private behaviour in exactly the same way as it would other citizens. Furthermore, the effect of clause 11, and especially of the reference in sub-section 3 to performing functions of a public nature, would, if the Committee's interpretation is correct, cover Members of Parliament. It therefore follows, if the Committee's interpretation of the Bill is correct, that a Member of Parliament would be covered by the legislation in respect of all his or her activities, be they of a public (that is, parliamentary) or private nature. This leads the Committee to give its strong support to the present text of the draft Bill.

  9.  The Committee's main concern has been with the law of corruption as in applies to Members of Parliament, as the previous paragraph indicates. The Committee's remit, of course, goes much further and includes all holders of public office. The Committee, therefore, wishes to affirm its support for clause 32, sub-section 4, which applies the provisions of Part 1 of the draft Bill to "persons in the public service of the Crown as they apply to other persons". The Committee believes that the application of this sub-section would respond to its concerns that all citizens should be treated equally under the law.

  10.  I hope that this will be a useful contribution to the deliberations of your Committee. I would be happy to attend in person if you thought this were necessary. I believe, however, that there would not be much I could add to what I have.

May 2003

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 31 July 2003