'Excessive hospitality' could be classed as corruption

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The Independent Online

British companies that bribe foreign officials to win contracts could be prosecuted here under rules proposed by the Government yesterday.

British companies that bribe foreign officials to win contracts could be prosecuted here under rules proposed by the Government yesterday.

MPs involved in scandals such as accepting cash for questions could also be prosecuted under the recommended law against corruption.

Announcing the move, Charles Clarke, a Home Office minister, said excessive hospitality could also be classed as corrupt, though that would be left up to the courts to judge.

The law was not aimed at the activities of lobbying groups and the hospitality industry looked unlikely to be affected by the plans, he said. The Government has accepted a recommendation that legitimate activities such as marketing and corporate hospitality would not be covered by its new definition of bribery, because they took place publicly and were not intended to induce anyone to act corruptly.

A European convention on corruption, signed by Britain last December, obliges it to make "trading in influence" a criminal offence. That was defined as promising undue advantage to someone who claimed to be able to influence the decision-making.

The firms most likely to be affected by the changes are those tendering for major contracts abroad in industries such as construction, defence and energy. In the past they could not be prosecuted for offering inducements abroad in return for contracts.

In future, the firms' representatives could receive prison sentences of up to seven years if they commit part of the offence here or if they are British.

Mr Clarke said officials in the public and private sectors would be covered by a new law, to be passed as soon as Parliamentary time allowed. "Corruption is damaging to the Government, to the commercial world and to society," he said. "Though generally speaking this country has a good reputation for integrity, it is a reputation we want to maintain."

Although MPs have always been open to corruption charges, their utterances in the Commons are covered by Parliamentary Privilege. So, in the case of cash for questions, the questions asked on behalf of the MPs benefactor could not be used as evidence in court.

The proposals are based on recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, a joint committee on Parliamentary Privilege and the Law Commission.

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