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Fraud Review

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

A national strategy to tackle fraud has been published today. We will create a national fraud strategic authority to help co-ordinate efforts to combat fraud. It will include a unit to measure the extent of large-scale and smaller frauds; a working party will develop a costed case for a national fraud reporting centre to take reports from victims and to co-ordinate information and advice on tackling fraud; and it will work closely with the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

I am grateful for that reply. My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that many businesses and trade organisations are concerned about fraud and, in particular, about the growth of internet fraud. Can he tell the House how those businesses and trade organisations can take part in the review with the organisations that he has just announced?

It is important that the private sector and, indeed, the public sector work much more carefully, and with the police, at not just seeking to catch criminals after they have committed an offence, but seeking to prevent crime and fraud from taking place. The fraud review sets out ways in which we can get the private and public sectors to work together with the police and the other agencies in developing a strategy to tackle fraud. The national fraud strategic authority will raise awareness among the public and seek to promote best practice in fraud detection and prevention. Individual institutions need to design systems that make fraud much more difficult to commit. There is a growing body of good practice in fraud management strategies and we have encouraged the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission to look at the strength of anti-fraud controls in the organisations that they audit.

I welcome the fraud review. I hope very much that issues such as plea bargaining and better management of fraud trials can all be looked at very carefully in the course of it. However, in view of the fact that the review is taking place and that it is likely that by next week the Bill that would remove the right to trial by jury in certain fraud cases will be defeated in the House of Lords, can I urge the Solicitor-General to use the fraud review to reconsider the position of wanting to get rid of the right of trial by jury in certain fraud cases? If this fraud review is properly carried out it will make such a measure even less necessary, despite the Government’s attempts at justifying it.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent. We need to tackle fraud and we have put in place a programme of three key areas that we need to deal with. We have put in place the fraud review and he has welcomed that. I assure him that we will look with care at issues such as plea bargaining. We have also put in place the new Fraud Act 2006, which he and I took through this House. That Act means that we are in position to have a modern legal framework to deal with fraud, but we also need to ensure that the procedures are right and that we get fraud trials right. That is why the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill is necessary. It is about ensuring that we get the courts into a position in which they can deal most effectively with fraud. This is a package in which we want all three measures—the fraud review, the Fraud Act and the Bill—put in place. His failure to support the Bill is regrettable, because it is part of the package that we need to deal with fraud.

The Liberal Democrats understand why the Law Officers may resist the request to reconsider the strategy on the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill this week, but will the Solicitor-General undertake that the specific proposal in the fraud review to have a financial court with dedicated judges who are experts will be seriously considered? That may be the answer to the question of how we get the right court and maximise the chance of success. Then I hope that he will respond to the request that the Bill be dropped and that the other proposals, which are much more effective and thought-through, be implemented.

The idea of a financial court needs to be looked at. We need to see how the court system as a whole would respond to that sort of proposal. On the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, we need to have a court system that can more effectively deal with fraud. Our view remains that the Bill is something to which the Government are committed. We need to have a criminal justice system that is not only fit for purpose, but delivers effectively. I regret the hon. Gentleman’s failure to support that position. I understand his arguments, but I believe that the Bill is necessary.