With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement following the resignation statement made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—concerning the conduct of the prosecution of Mr. Asil Nadir by the Serious Fraud Office.As to the background, on 16 December 1990, and subsequently on 22 October 1991, Mr. Asil Nadir was charged with a series of serious offences. On 7 February 1992, the case was transferred to the Crown court. A preliminary hearing was held on 28 February 1992 in front of the trial judge. He indicated on that occasion that it was his view that trial should take place in September 1992. On the application of the defence, who sought further time, the trial date was fixed, first for 8 March 1993 and, subsequently, following a further application by the defence, for 13 September 1993. On 4 May 1993, Mr. Nadir fled the jurisdiction and went to Northern Cyprus in breach of his bail conditions. It is the intention of the prosecution to bring Mr. Nadir to trial as soon as that can be effected, and a trial is still fixed for 4 October 1993. One of my duties as Attorney-General, with an overall purview of the prosecution process in England and Wales, and statutory supervision of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office, is to do all that I can to see that the prosecution process is conducted fairly and properly, so that alleged wrongdoers can be brought to trial and that their trial, wholly under the control of the independent judiciary, can be fairly and expeditiously carried out. It is essential to bear in mind the respective limits of my own role, the role of Parliament and the role of the media. The control of the conduct of the trial is for the independent judiciary. Ultimately, questions as to the propriety of the prosecution and the fairness of the trial, including decisions upon any representations by a defendant's legal adviser that a trial cannot fairly be conducted, are for the courts and the courts alone. In the context of my role as Attorney-General, it is perfectly proper for an hon. Member to make representations to me about any anxieties he or she may have concerning the conduct of a prosecution. Such representations are carefully and dispassionately examined. Between September 1991 and 10 May 1993, initially with my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire did so. On a number of occasions, both in writing and orally—on which occasions the meetings were carefully noted by an official—he raised with me a number of concerns and allegations, each of which I caused to be carefully examined with the appropriate authority or body, and following which I wrote to my hon. Friend in some detail. Yesterday in his resignation statement, my hon. Friend made public his anxieties, going into a good deal of detail in his own way, and called for what he described as an independent inquiry. I wish to explain briefly to the House how his concerns have been dealt with to date and why I do not believe that any such further and separate inquiry is called for or appropriate, and deal with the question of the publication of the correspondence, which I intend to place in the Library of the House in due course. In doing so, I am intensely conscious, as the House will be, of the need to keep separate the roles of Parliament and the political process and the role of the judiciary. I believe, Madam Speaker, that you were entirely right to be anxious about potential breaches of our sub judice rule, and it is only in the exceptional circumstances that I ask your discretion to enable me to deal, albeit briefly, with the points raised yesterday by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has, in summary, raised the following issues. He has accused the Serious Fraud Office of improperly seeking to harass and prejudice the defendant by allegedly tipping off the media as to the times and places of arrests and other aspects of the investigation; refusing to give proper consideration to a report prepared by the accountants Binder Hamlyn for the defence and failing to make proper inquiries in Northern Cyprus; improperly opening privileged documents; the allegedly improper seizure by the trustee in bankruptcy of Asil Nadir's papers and certain personal effects; and improper pressures allegedly brought by the Serious Fraud Office on the judge. I caused each of those matters to be investigated, and, in necessarily brief summary, the answers are as follows. The assertions of improper briefing have all been carefully investigated. None was accompanied by any tangible or verifiable evidence from my hon. Friend. On the initial occasion involving the fall of the Polly Peck share price, the press were not even present until after that fall, and the raid had been in progress for some considerable time. It is correct that two bags containing some privileged documents, among others, were opened in error by some police officers. The privileged documents were not copied; they were returned after the issue of privilege had been determined by an independent silk. The papers and effects seized by the trustee in bankruptcy were seized pursuant to an order of the court. The report of Binder Hamlyn is part of the defence case. The Serious Fraud Office has had no opportunity to scrutinise the supporting documents. Assertions that their removal to this country would contravene local Cypriot law have been refuted by independent Cypriot legal advice. The Serious Fraud Office has been unable to obtain permission for its officers to investigate the case in Northern Cyprus, as each informal application has been met by the response that approaches must be through diplomatic channels, which the House will appreciate do not exist in the absence of formal recognition of the Republic of Northern Cyprus. The alleged conspiracy to bribe the judge is the subject of a separate police investigation under the supervision not of the Serious Fraud Office but of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I do not propose to say more about it. as it has been dealt with in court, either in camera or subject to reporting restrictions. With the exception of the publicity surrounding the arrests and other investigations, all these matters relate essentially to the court proceedings. Their substance and any effect that they may have on the fairness of the trial is essentially a matter for the trial judge. Mr. Nadir has throughout, until he departed the jurisdiction, been represented by highly experienced solicitors and counsel; and, indeed, many of these matters have already been canvassed to a greater or lesser extent with the court. I am of the clear view that it is mistaken and wholly inimical to our justice system to set up a so-called independent inquiry into the handling of such matters in parallel to a trial. I now turn to the question of the publication of the correspondence. As the House knows, I have hitherto resisted such publication. The matters it contained were properly raised with me with the objective of seeing that the defendant's prosecution and trial were fairly handled. Inevitably, it deals with a number of issues that have been or may be raised in the preparatory hearings or the trial, which could run the risk of confusing the issues, or, from certain viewpoints, reflecting adversely on the defendant. Thus, although the correspondence was not secret, and copies are undoubtedly in the hands of not only my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire my office, and the Serious Fraud Office, but Mr. Nadir's advisers, legal and otherwise, and Mr. Nadir, it did not seem to me at that stage that a responsible person should court unnecessary media attention by placing them in the public domain. However, following the partial publication of so much of their substance by my hon. Friend yesterday in his statement, and the fact that the rest of the correspondence is likely to be the subject of intense search and speculation, it now seems to me that, subject to certain editing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—it is better that the correspondence should be published. I am therefore arranging to place copies in the Library as soon as possible. Editing will be confined to two points. First, the names of individuals who happen to be mentioned but whose involvement is purely peripheral have been deleted in order to respect their privacy. Having taken the advice of counsel, deletions will also be made covering the alleged conspiracy to bribe the judge, which is the subject of the continuing police investigation under the supervision of the Director of Public Prosecutions and which has been dealt with in court, either in camera or subject to reporting restrictions. I make it clear at once that it has revealed no credible evidence implicating the judge personally in any way. In conclusion, the matters raised by my hon. Friend in the past 18 months have already been carefully and dispassionately examined. There is no precedent or justification for an independent inquiry in parallel to the trial. There is no justification for the defendant staying away. Any submissions about the fairness of his trial are matters for the judge and the courts alone.
Attacking the integrity of the prosecution is a fairly standard line of defence. Can we assume that the Attorney-General considers such matters carefully and dispassionately, but also with a healthy scepticism, especially as substantial amounts of money have been paid by Mr. Asil Nadir in past years? Perhaps it is right to say that the integrity of the Serious Fraud Office was certainly not in doubt when it strongly opposed bail for the defendant in this case.Having said that, does the Attorney-General recognise the legitimate anxiety about the use of the wide powers of the Serious Fraud Office, the width of the charges that it often lays and its potential to exploit the media, especially in high-profile cases? I understand what the Attorney-General has said about alerting the media in the case, but I hope that he will recognise that there are three dangers. It is wrong for either the Serious Fraud Office or the police to give advance notice. of high-profile arrests for two reasons. The first is that such publicity is often more akin to a big fight than a long trial. It can prejudice the case and cause the conviction of innocent people. But equally there is a danger that it could bring about the acquittal of those who otherwise might be found guilty. So there are dangers both ways. Does the Attorney-General recognise that there have been many cases, including the Nadir case, in which there appears to have been far too much coincidence between a high-profile arrest, sometimes in the early hours, and the press, including television, being present? Will he give that matter serious attention, in view of the effect that it is likely to have on the fairness of trials? I welcome the publication of the correspondence. I understand the necessity for some editing to preserve the possibility of a fair trial, if that ever takes place. Will the publication include letters from all Members of Parliament who wrote to him, and not merely the ones from the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)? I repeat the question that I put to the Attorney-General last week on whether any of the letters contained declarations of interest by the hon. Members who made representations to him. I understand that it is our proper practice to disclose interests when we make representations on cases such as the Nadir case. The Attorney-General dealt today with the allegations of bribery and of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice that were raised yesterday, and said that they were being investigated. We are dealing with a case where a substantial sum was paid to the Conservative party. With hindsight, one could say that it might well have been with some expectation. Substantial sums must have been paid to fly the defendant out of the country. There is a question mark hanging over the source of bail and surety moneys. Under all those circumstances, the Attorney-General is right to examine these matters. There must be the greatest concern if there is also any evidence of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. I know that the Attorney-General wants to restrict himself on these matters, but can he say how much of a prima facie case there is? What is the strength of the evidence available to him? When—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] These matters concern the House. When will he report back to the House on these matters? My last question is this: so that no cloud hangs over any of these investigations and no suspicion attaches to any Member of Parliament, will the Attorney-General recommend to his colleagues in the Conservative party and on the Front Bench that the £440,000 paid to the Conservative party is now returned?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has approached this matter, particularly in that his questions deal with the substance of the case. He is right to say that to attack the prosecution is a fairly standard form of defence. The prosecutor must look at the case dispassionately, and sometimes coldly.Prosecutions are carried out without fear or favour, affection or ill will, and contributions to any political party in this country would not be taken into account by any Attorney-General or any independent prosecuting authority. I hope that I will continue to carry on what I consider to be an unsullied tradition, which I am sure is carried on by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Serious Fraud Office. I rule that out utterly. The powers of the SFO are wide and general. Although they do not arise specifically today, I believe that they are necessary. We are dealing with the investigation of frauds and potential frauds by people in the City and elsewhere who have the stewardship of enormous sums of other people's money. It is right that they should be open to careful, detailed and penetrating scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman asked about advance tip-offs of arrests or other aspects of an investigation. I deplore, and the director of the SFO and the whole House deplore, any tip-offs that lead to unnecessary publicity. I have raised the matter with the director of the SFO and I know that he has raised it repeatedly with his staff. There is no tangible evidence to point the finger. The House, and those experienced in criminal matters, will realise that necessarily some advance warning to people properly involved must be given of many or most of these matters. There are all too many areas from which either a tip-off can be obtained or a clever inference drawn by those with plenty of time and money to chase up these matters. I deplore that, and the SFO will do everything it can to prevent it. That is as much as I can say on that. On the publication of the correspondence, I think that I am right that one should not publish the correspondence in general. Hon. Members should be able to approach me in private and—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Well, if hon. Members wish to, that is entirely a matter for them. Issues in the trial should be capable of being investigated dispassionately and carefully without the waters being muddied by unnecessary publicity. Whether any individual Member who makes a representation to the Law Officers chooses to make that public is for them. I do not intend to publicise or publish the other letters that have been sent, but from whichever part of the House they have come, they have come perfectly properly. On the question of the police investigation into the alleged conspiracy relating to the bribery of the judge, it is a continuing investigation and will be evaluated when the police make a report. It would not be proper for me to say more about it at present.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept our thanks for a prompt, thorough and careful statement, in the best traditions of his office? Does he agree that there is always a danger, when Back Benchers of all parties get carried away with their enthusiasm for the rights or wrongs that may exist in some judicial process, that ultimately we shall achieve the pollution of the pure stream of justice? We must be careful that what we do is not counter-productive.Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept the fact that the best course in these matters is to let the lawyers and judicial process deal with all those issues at the time of the trial, if there is one?
I am most grateful for what my hon. and learned Friend has said. He is entirely right. Questions of justice and of trials are matters not for this House but for the courts.
I welcome the fact that the Attorney-General has decided to make this statement to the House and to publish the correspondence, subject to the necessary editing to which he referred. However, I suspect that those will not be his final words on the working practices of the SFO.Although we sympathise with and share his concern at present not to prejudice the criminal proceedings against Asil Nadir by widening and further opening up his own investigations of which he has spoken, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that the disquiet about the SFO—not only in this case—will not evaporate without a timely and full inquiry into its modes of operation?
No. With respect, I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. A great deal of inaccurate and unfair comment is made about the SFO's activities. It is not altogether surprising. One must remember that the people with whom it has to deal and who are charged with serious offences are capable of defending themselves at all levels—not improperly, but they are able to make representations about the kinds of questions that they are asked to answer, whether inside or outside a court. It was this House that decided that the powers should be given to the SFO, and I believe that those powers are exercised impartially and fairly.
When my right hon. and learned Friend calls for an inquiry to be made into allegations about the operation of agencies under his responsibility, is it the agency that investigates itself? If so, is that the most satisfactory way of assuring public confidence that that is appropriate? Could it not be self-serving?
The straight answer to my hon. Friend is, very often, yes, it is. I went straight away to the director of the Serious Fraud Office and asked him to have these matters extremely carefully looked into. He is a very senior and independent public official. Just as his predecessor was a most distinguished Queen's counsel, now the Director of Public Prosecutions, so he was a leading member and senior partner of one of the largest and most highly respected firms of solicitors in the country. He did not come into his office to abuse his position, and he is the person who, inevitably, can best instigate an investigation in such a case.
Does the Attorney-General accept that the Serious Fraud Office should perhaps adopt the practice of the commercial division of the City of London police of yesteryear, who merely asked a defendant to attend at a police station with a solicitor? That got over all the publicity. Does he not also feel that asking the SFO to investigate itself is a bit like asking a police superintendent to investigate himself? Is it not wiser to call in outside bodies, just as we do with the police force?
I shall deal first with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. It would seldom be wiser to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests. While any public body and any individual must expect to be open to scrutiny if the House thinks it right from time to time, it would normally be extremely disruptive to the prosecution process, and would be an easy card to play by those who wished, for whatever reason, to avoid conviction.The hon. Gentleman asked about arresting people or otherwise interviewing them by arrangement. That frequently happens, but whether it happens in any particular case—arrests are operational matters for the police—must be an operational decision on each occasion.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider that many of the activities, events and statements of the past 48 hours may be a smokescreen hiding the real issue? That issue is that many pensioners and shareholders in Polly Peck have lost £100 million or more in places abroad from which the money cannot be brought back.In that context, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the objectives of the Serious Fraud Office, and whether it serves the public interest? Will he consider that what we want is a prosecuting organisation that can bring cases to trial sooner, and also take part in the recovery process in a more efficient manner than has been evident to date?
The object of the Serious Fraud Office is to investigate effectively and promptly very complex matters of national and international fraud. I have been involved, directly and indirectly, in these matters for more than 13 years, and I have seen developments through the original fraud investigation groups to the setting up of the Serious Fraud Office. For all the criticism, often uninformed, about the Serious Fraud Office, the speed and efficiency with which major cases are now brought to trial differ enormously from the position 10 years ago.
As the Attorney-General has raised the subject of publishing, I hope that he intends to publish the names of all those MPs from whichever side they come. Will he also publish a detailed account of what the Lord Chancellor and Asil Nadir said when they had that discussion? Is it not rather odd that the man who sits on the woolsack during the day turned up to meet Nadir after he had fled from bail, although nobody else would have the attention of the Lord Chancellor?That is why, although the Attorney-General might convince some Conservative Members about what this is all about, the people out there in the country believe that the connection between Asil Nadir, the Tory party and all that money was why he was able to flee this country, with the help of the people in the establishment.
If the hon. Gentleman would do a little more homework, he would not ask such idiotic questions in the House. There is no question of the Lord Chancellor having gone to meet Mr. Nadir, and if the hon. Gentleman had bothered to read any newspaper on the subject, he would know that, and would not have asked that question for the second time in about 10 days. I assure the House that the names that are edited out of the correspondence do not relate to Members of Parliament in any way.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that concern about tip-offs to the press before a raid or an arrest are not confined to one side of the House? It is a matter of concern, and it damages natural justice. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it absolutely clear to the prosecuting authorities that the person who is the head and in charge must take responsibility for such leaks, and that if he does not, he will have to go?Is my right hon. and learned Friend also aware that there is concern about the way in which prosecutions generally have taken place in recent years? Although they have to be independent, there is an impression that sometimes they are rather like a loose cannon rolling about. In that context, will he have another look at the evidence given by Customs and Excise to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and at the evidence given by his predecessor in relation to the supergun inquiry, because that revealed a rather curious method of prosecution in our society?
I recognise what my hon. Friend says. First, I wholly agree with him—as do the director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecutions—that those tip-offs are thoroughly undesirable. No member of their staff is under any illusion as to that.Having said that, those matters have been carefully looked into, and it is often completely unfair just to point the finger at the staff. In cases where it is well known that an arrest is likely at some stage, there is close media attention and, naturally enough, the media make every possible effort to try to find out when the arrest will be and it is quite difficult to conceal. However, I entirely take my hon. Friend's point, in principle. As to prosecutions by the Serious Fraud Office being a loose cannon, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would write or speak to me to let me know any particular points that he has in mind; they will be carefully considered. I think that many of the allegations are unfairly made, but I would certainly look at any that he has in mind. In relation to the question of Customs and Excise and the DTI, that is already a matter of record, but I understand my hon. Friend's point.
What term is there to the pursuit of this projected trial, and when would this sub judice rule lapse? As regards the correspondence, why does the Attorney-General refer to "all parts of the House", when he knows perfectly well that no one on this side of the House put in any applications on behalf of Asil Nadir?
How do you know?
The sub judice rule is a matter for you, Madam Speaker. Briefly, we regard matters as sub judice while they are outstanding matters before the courts. As to the question of who did or did not make representations to me, I am in a better position to know than the hon. Gentleman.
Will the Attorney-General tell the Serious Fraud Office that it should be more energetic in pursuing fraudsters who take tens and hundreds of millions of pounds from shareholders and others? Will he please assist the House by stating which members of political parties have made representations to him on behalf of Mr. Nadir?
Dealing with that second matter—it seems to be a matter of intense interest to the House—no representation that has been made to me has been in any way improper. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them, then."] No. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because if I set a precedent of naming people—[Interruption.]—I can look round the Chamber and see people who have made proper representations to me on a variety of cases. I shall stick firmly to what I believe to be the proper procedure.As to the question of the Serious Fraud Office properly pursuing fraudsters, that is its role. I believe that it does so carefully. If the hon. Gentleman knows of particular points where he thinks that it is not doing so, no doubt he will make representations to me and again I will look into them.
I am sure that the right thing has been done through the publication of the letters. May I, however, refer the Attorney-General back to the publication of one of the letters in a newspaper last week? What inquiries have been made, or can be made, to try to trace the source of the leak? It must be a matter of very grave concern if there is any suspicion that a letter was leaked by public officials to get rid of an awkward questioner.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, if there were any question of a letter being leaked by a public official, it would be very serious. I think that most, if not all, public officials fully appreciate that. Those letters were not secret. As my statement has already revealed, they were likely to have been in the hands of quite a large number of people. One has to be a little bit sanguine about these leak inquiries, which are not easy to carry out. I make it quite clear to the hon. Gentleman that I deplore leaks.In the light of the statement yesterday, it seems sensible to publish as a whole but, in principle, I believe, and shall continue to believe, that it is right that, if hon. Members make representations to me about the handling of an individual case, I shall not without their leave publish the substance of that correspondence, unless they choose first to make it public.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the sub judice rule, whereby we do not comment in this House on outstanding legal matters and criminal proceedings, is a crucial protection for the defendant and for the independence of our judicial system? Does he agree that this afternoon we have perhaps seen the tip of the iceberg of what might emerge if that rule were abandoned? Will he please ensure that he is not drawn further into the issue?
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said. The separation of powers—the different functions, the different rules of this House and of Parliament, the political process generally and the independence of the courts—is extremely important, and our sub judice rule is designed to that end.
Does the Attorney-General accept that some people believe that double standards are developing in serious fraud trials, with defendants able to plead temporary Alzheimer's to bring a trial to an end?In view of the propaganda on behalf of Asil Nadir—a person who is not prepared to face justice, whose representatives asked for deferment of the court hearing, and who fled bail in the most unscrupulous, unprincipled and disgraceful manner—can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that he will use every endeavour and will remain firm in his determination to bring serious fraudsters to justice? In that light, surely he accepts that, to emphasise his independence in pursuit of that aim, the party of which he is a member should return all those moneys that it has received from people who are facing charges or have been convicted of serious fraud?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, in my office, I shall do everything that I can to assist the administration of justice and the bringing to justice of wrongdoers of this sort and all other sorts. The last part of the question is not a matter for me.On the hon. Gentleman's question whether a particular defendant should have his trial stopped or whether someone's prison sentence should be reduced because of illness, as perceived by the courts, that is entirely a matter for the independent courts.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that one of the worms in the fabric of government that needs urgent attention is the improper leaking of documents by people in a position of trust. I should be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend could say—it would be helpful if he could confirm—that neither his office nor the Serious Fraud Office had anything to do with the leaking to the press of the letter from my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates).
I have absolutely no reason to think that either office had anything to do with it, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend when he deplores it.
Can the Attorney-General understand that the nature and extent of representations made to him by Members of this House is a matter of public interest, because it enables us to determine whether the way that the matter has been treated is exceptional or normal? Therefore, can he tell us how many hon. Members have made representations to him, whether they are Ministers or Back Benchers—one Minister has lost his job—and whether he makes any distinction in the representations he receives between those that come directly from the hon. Member whose constituent is the subject of the charges, those that come from a public relations company acting on behalf of an individual, and those that come from an hon. Member who just happens to have a passing interest in the subject?Above all, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us his assessment—people are entitled to know—whether what seems to be at any rate an exceptional degree of direct representation by letter and by personal meetings with him about this case is, in fact, exceptional or normal? If it is exceptional, he should tell the House.
On the last point, I can tell the House that the degree of representation was exceptional. I believe it to have been bona fide. Having heard the statement yesterday, I think that the House believes it to have been bona fide. As I have said in my statement today, the matter was carefully and dispassionately looked into.On the question of how many other hon. Members have made representations, I have already answered a number of similar parliamentary questions, and I have nothing to add to my answer to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). All representations, from whichever hon. Member they come and it-they seem to have substance, will be looked at with equal care.
On the question of how to bring Mr. Nadir back to Britain to stand trial, in view of Britain's non-recognition of Northern Cyprus but its excellent relations with Turkey, is my right hon. and learned Friend in a position to say whether our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is considering making further representations to Turkey with a view to the Turks also saying something to Northern Cyprus?
No. I do not think I can say anything on that subject. With some countries we have extradition treaties; with others we have not.
One can understand what the Attorney-General is saying about the undesirability of having an inquiry at the same time as a trial, but there is unfortunately one missing ingredient for the trial—we do not have Mr. Asil Nadir—and Turkey is not going to vote for Christmas. What will the Attorney-General do to investigate these serious matters if it is clear that there will be no trial?
The hon. Gentleman asks a hypothetical question. At the moment, it is certainly my hope that there will be a trial, and there is still a trial date fixed. I repeat that there is no justification for the defendant remaining away. Any representation that he wishes to make about the fairness of his trial should be made to the court.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Serious Fraud Office must be properly equipped and resourced to deal fully with rich and powerful individuals? Without the likes of Mr. Nadir, we would not need a Serious Fraud Office.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Serious Fraud Office was set up partly because of a number of cases, which the House will have in mind, in which people who had at their disposal large sums of money—all too often, other people's money—departed to other parts of the world and managed to avoid prosecution. Since the Serious Fraud Office came into being, fewer of those people have been so effective. It has a very good record of careful and effective prosecution.
Does the Attorney-General agree that, for the Serious Fraud Office, which is an important institution, to be effective in the detection of serious fraud, it must have full public confidence? Does he agree that concern arises not only from the Nadir case?I know that he is aware that, in relation to another matter which I will not name, last year a professional officer of the Serious Fraud Office forged a letter or fax purporting to come from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). Is he aware that the explanation given by the Serious Fraud Office for that outrageous forgery was that it was an April fool joke? Is the Attorney-General aware that the lack of any disciplinary proceedings of any meaning in that matter is profoundly unsatisfactory, and does he not agree that the disquiet which was mentioned earlier about the organisation and conduct of the Serious Fraud Office will continue at least until a thorough review of its conduct—perhaps a private review—is carried out?
Starting with the last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, no, I do not agree with that latter point. It is easy and understandable that people should criticise the Serious Fraud Office, and that those who are under investigation by it, or whose friends are under investigation by it, should often feel critical and express that criticism. The Serious Fraud Office carries out its work professionally and carefully.There was a serious lapse from that standard in a grave error of misjudgment, about which I have apologised personally to the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. I have looked into it very carefully, and it was dealt with internally by the office. It was a very serious error of judgment, but it was not a matter of dishonesty or anything of that nature; it was a stupid thing to do, but the water should not be muddied. In general, the Serious Fraud Office does its work diligently and scrupulously.
Is it not clear that some elements on the Opposition Benches really want a system of televised political show trials, with the opportunity for them to play starring roles? In the interests of justice, will my right hon. and learned Friend resist that process with all the vigour at his disposal?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that the House, which is normally restrained on matters of judicial proceedings, is wise to be so restrained.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend persist in not disclosing other names? All of us, myself included, frequently write to him and to his colleagues at the Home Office about our constituents who are in trouble. Frequently, we are also asked by other hon. Members to write on behalf of their constituents, and we are asked to write on behalf of constituents of other hon. Members in support of their Member of Parliament. If that system is to persist, and if that form of justice is to continue, we cannot have names leaked, either positively or secretly.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that people who have public jobs, whether that job is as the director of the Serious Fraud Office, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or the Attorney-General, should be trusted in their work. If they are found to have done their work improperly, they should resign. If hon. Members write to me in confidence, their confidence will be respected.
Reflecting on the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), the Attorney-General said that he hoped that there would be a trial. Is not that just a little disingenuous? What is the basis for that hope? If a Law Officer of the Crown says that there is a hope of a trial, presumably there is some basis for that hope. What is the basis?
There is no justification for the defendant in this case to stay away. There is no justification for any defendant to flee their bail. While I cannot say whether the defendant will return, I hope and trust that he will, and if he does, I believe that he will be fairly tried.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
No, not yet. I call Mr. John Fraser.
Will the Attorney-General clear up one ambiguity that may have unintentionally crept into his answers? Can he confirm that he has had no representations from Labour Members of Parliament?
I think that I ought to stick to my principles and not say from where I have received representations. No representation that I have received from anywhere has been, in my view, in any way improper.