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Company Fraud

Volume 164: debated on Monday 8 January 1990

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25.

To ask the Attorney-General when he next expects to meet the director of the Serious Fraud Office to discuss company fraud; and if he will make a statement.

I shall meet the director of the Serious Fraud Office shortly to discuss matters of departmental interest.

Will the Attorney-General discuss with the director the Ferranti case and the fact that the directors allowed a £250 million sting to take place right under their noses? Does the Attorney-General expect us to believe that that happened without any fraud being involved?

Will the Attorney-General also discuss with the director the £4,000 that went through the checkout that resulted in a young mother and her baby finishing up in prison for six months? If the Attorney-General wants some equality in Britain, why does he not take Judge Pickles off cases involving young black women and their babies and stick him on City cases and let him loose there?

With his well-known concern not to anticipate any inquiry by jumping to a conclusion, the hon. Gentleman would not want me to anticipate the result of an investigation that has been put in train by the director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecutions into matters which, among other things, are connected with Ferranti, to which the hon. Gentleman's question relates.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend at all concerned about the rather extraordinary delay in the inquiries being made by the Serious Fraud Office into matters raised by the House of Fraser report?

Is he worried about the Department of Trade and Industry's decision not to refer that unpublished report to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which means that even if serious fraud is identified and proved, there is nothing that he or anyone else can do about that company's assets?

The previous Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told the other place that he was very anxious to publish the report. I am certain that exactly the same is true of his successor. Equally, however, my hon. Friend will know of the affidavit evidence sworn by the two directors of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecution to the effect that they believed that the interests of justice required that publication of the report should be held up pending investigations which are in train. The investigations have not been limited to this country but have had to take place overseas. It is my earnest hope that they will be completed shortly and a decision taken as to their publication.

Is the Attorney-General aware that if a small-time punter provides false information to obtain a loan or a job, a charge of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception will often result? What is the difference in principle between that and giving false information to the European Commission to get a merger clearance for BL, except that the pecuniary advantage is much greater and will he be asking the director of the Serious Fraud Office to look into that?

I am afraid that most uncharacteristically the hon. Gentleman is jumping to conclusions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has said that he and his Department will be happy to answer any questions from the Commission about the sale of the Government shareholding in the Rover group. Discussions at an official level are continuing.