Cablegate: Embassy London
DE RUEHLO #2582/01 3221536
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181536Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4003
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHSS/OECD POSTS COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002582
STATE PASS EEB/OMA: KELLEY, L: WIERZYNSKI, INL: LEVENTHAL,
DOJ FOR MARK MENDELSOHN
COMMERCE FOR KATHRYN NICKERSON
SEC FOR TROY BEATTY
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD EU OECD PREL PGOV KCRM UK
1. (SBU) Summary: The UK government included anti-bribery legislation among its priorities in the Queen's Speech on November 18, 2009, at the State opening of Parliament. While this indicates HMG commitment to meet OECD and other global anti-bribery standards, some observers doubt, however, that Parliament will have time to pass the bill before adjourning for elections expected to be held in May. End Summary.
The UK Anti-Bribery Bill ------------------------
2. (SBU) The draft Bribery Bill is on the UK government's list of priorities and enjoys the support of both the Labour government and opposition Conservatives. It has undergone public and pre-legislative parliamentary scrutiny and awaits formal introduction. During her speech at the official opening of Parliament November 18, the Queen announced that "a bill will be introduced to strengthen the law against bribery." The UK Department for Business, Industry and Skills (BIS), who were responsible for the drafting of the bill, will now begin to finalize a draft for official presentation by the government to Parliament. However, because national elections must be held by June 2010, this Parliamentary session will be shorter than usual, making it uncertain whether the bill can undergo the necessary hearings and procedures in both the House of Lords and House of Commons before Parliament adjourns for elections.
3. (SBU) The draft bill was published in March 2009, and stakeholders, including business representatives testified before the Joint Parliamentary Committee. In July, the Joint Parliamentary Committee produced a report that noted stakeholder objections and/or potential legal difficulties, but gave a positive review of the proposed legislation. (Full report available at: http://www.publications.parliament .uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtbribe/115/115i.pdf Noting the UK's slow record of legislative reform on bribery, Secretary of State of Justice Jack Straw has repeatedly and publicly stated his personal commitment to see the Bribery Bill passed into law before the end of his term in office. With government elections expected in May 2010 -- and required by June 3, 2010 -- the Parliamentary session will likely be curtailed in the Spring. That gives supporters of the Bribery Bill only a few months time to shepherd the bill through the Parliamentary process.
4. (SBU) Two possible stumbling blocks to quick passage remain: parliamentary privilege and the UK security services. The UK Bill of Rights (1689) grants Members of Parliament (MPs) parliamentary privilege, which includes immunity from prosecution in civil matters relating to their official duties. Privilege also applies to parliamentary proceedings, preventing transcripts of these from being used as evidence in a prosecution, civil or criminal. Opinion is split on whether the draft Bribery Bill needs a provision providing an exemption to parliamentary privilege in cases where corruption/bribery is charged on the part of MPs.
5. (SBU) The draft contains two clauses allowing the government to pre-authorize bribery by security service personnel for national security reasons. Some critics of the draft, including the OECD's Legal Director Nicola Bonucci, have characterized these provisions as officially sanctioning bribery. A workable solution to this and the parliamentary privilege issue are needed in order for the draft bill to move quickly through three readings as well as a committee and report stage in each House of Parliament. Amendments tackling these two issues are expected after the second reading of the bill in either chamber, but no proposals have yet been made public.
6. (SBU) Although acts of bribery committed in the UK have been illegal under the law for centuries, the current "patchwork" of legal acts dating back to 1889 uses inconsistent terminology, vague definitions and differentiates between the public and private sectors. This makes prosecuting bribery offenses difficult and offers little clarity to businesses that need to create ethical LONDON 00002582 002.2 OF 002 codes of behavior and train staff. In fact, no UK company has ever been convicted under the current set of laws, aside from Mabey and Johnson Ltd., a bridge building company that self-reported the bribes it paid to the UK's Serious Fraud Office in 2007. The last update to the legal patchwork came in 2001 when jurisdiction was expanded to include acts of bribery committed by UK citizens and companies abroad. More comprehensive bribery reform efforts begun in the 1990's were eventually abandoned.
7. (SBU) Despite the domestic legal situation, the UK is signatory to several anti-bribery conventions of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe and the United Nations. However, in 2003, 2005 and 2007 the OECD's Working Group on Bribery criticized the UK for its lack of "modern bribery legislation" and underscored the need to "establish effective corporate liability for bribery as a matter of high priority." In 2007 the UK Law Commission began a consultation process to draft a Bribery Bill that met the OECD standard. A report was published in October 2008 and consultations with experts from the OECD were held in early 2009.
8. (SBU) Although BIS and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) are confident the draft bill will be introduced to Parliament shortly now that it has been included in the Queen's speech, they remain uncertain how much opposition it may attract. Finding quick solutions to the outstanding legal issues mentioned will be key to ensuring it maintains momentum in Parliament. Although Justice Secretary Jack Straw and others remain committed to its passage before a change of government, it remains to be seen if effective champions for the bill emerge in both the Houses of Parliament. Statements made by MPs during the initial and/or second readings of the draft bill should allow us to better gauge the likelihood of passage. Should the bill fail to pass before a new government is elected, the UK will receive further criticism from the OECD and others for failing to live up to its international obligations to pass binding legislation. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX