Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
My amendment suggests that Britain should put itself at the forefront of that club of nations. We have the City of London, and a great many lawyers, bankers and other people who, pointed in the right direction, could be very useful to that effort. Competing in a world of laxer and laxer tax regimes has been a disaster for people and planet, an invitation to crime and corruption. Co-operation has to be the way forward to equip the world with the funds to tackle the looming poly-crisis of environmental destruction, human desperation and rampant inequality.
Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 103. Thanks to the comprehensive introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, I can be relatively brief.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague was established in 2003. Later this month, it will take evidence from representatives of some of the victims of war crimes in Darfur. That is typical of the essential work that the International Criminal Court can do. It is no wonder that there are now calls for Putin to be indicted to this court. Few today would question the need for such an organisation, and now it seems clear that there is a need for an international anti-corruption court.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, made the case very positively. Kleptocrats are financial war criminals, inflicting huge damage on their countries but, like the dictators who commit genocide and other war crimes, they have impunity to act as they wish in their home countries. They control the police, the prosecutors and the courts. The damage that their greed inflicts on their countries is huge, but those countries are rarely able to bring them to justice. That is why this new court is so essential.

The Panama papers and Pandora papers provided appalling glimpses into the scale of the corruption in which senior officials in many jurisdictions have been involved. The proceeds are scattered around the world. The international anti-corruption court would provide a mechanism for prosecuting those individuals and retrieving those funds.

The United Nations has demonstrated its ineffectiveness in this area. The General Assembly adopted the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003. Getting on for 200 countries have signed it but, sadly, those signatories include most of the worst offenders on Transparency International’s corruption index. Too many countries treat the convention with contempt because their leaders and senior officials preside over corruption-rife regimes. That is why we need this court, and why I put my name to this amendment. It could be set up relatively quickly and could be hugely effective. Its very existence would deter corruption. If the Government want to fight corruption, why would they not support this project?

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, of course, I echo the concern that has been expressed in the speeches so far about international corruption on an enormous scale.

In our debates, we have very much focused on what happens here in the United Kingdom. In our attack on the Government, it is worth bearing in mind that, in 2016, this Government hosted an international corruption summit; it was hosted by the then Prime Minister David Cameron, so many Prime Ministers ago. It was partly as a result of that that we had the then Criminal Finances Bill and there was an impetus—a very slow one, sadly—to set up a register of overseas entities. It was felt that, at least in this country, we should do all we could not to allow our properties and companies to be infected by corruption. Indeed, this Bill seeks to improve what has already been achieved although, in many ways, it has not gone far enough.

I respectfully submit that what is contained in this amendment is pretty aspirational stuff. There is nothing wrong with being aspirational. The International Criminal Court—I have been to conferences there—has had some success, but it must be remembered that Russia is not a party to the ICC and nor is the United States. It is one thing to say that it is relatively easy to set up a court, but you must have the proper means to enforce it and you have to invest huge sums of money in infrastructure. There has to be a degree of realism about this. Surely we should sort out matters at home as best we can first of all; that in itself will contribute to reducing international corruption. Putting on the statute book an obligation to set up an international court of this sort, which is what this amendment suggests, is premature at this stage, although one can do nothing but applaud the sentiments that lie behind it.