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Serious Fraud Office

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

5. What assessment he has made of the resource implications for the Serious Fraud Office of the implementation of the Bribery Act 2010. (11108)

An impact assessment was prepared for the Bribery Bill when it was introduced into Parliament in November 2009, and the Serious Fraud Office contributed to it. The impact assessment estimated that the new offence of failure by a commercial organisation to prevent bribery would result in one additional contested criminal prosecution per year of a commercial organisation by the Serious Fraud Office. The overall cost to the SFO was estimated at £2 million a year. As regards the implementation of the Bribery Act, funding for the SFO from April 2011—which is when the Act is expected to come into force—will, as with all other Government Departments, be settled in the current spending review. The SFO expects to be able to carry out all its normal functions, including Bribery Act investigations and prosecutions, within that funding settlement.

Our international obligations under United Nations and OECD conventions require us not only to have an effective law to prohibit transnational bribery but to enforce that law. Given that the cost of enforcing the new Bribery Act is about £2 million a year, will the Serious Fraud Office have that amount of money set aside to fulfil its obligations under the Act from April next year?

As I indicated a moment ago, the view of the Serious Fraud Office is that, on the basis of its submissions, it will have the necessary resources—including that £2 million—to do what is necessary in this area. It is worth remembering that the policy, which was commenced by the previous Government, was designed to limit the number of contested cases. For example, section 7 of the Act, which covers the failure by commercial organisations to prevent bribery, is intended to encourage commercial organisations to self-refer and co-operate. This is one of the reasons why it is hoped and expected that, in many cases, expenditure on major trial processes will not be necessary. The £2 million that has been identified is the Serious Fraud Office’s best assessment of what will be needed to take this policy forward.

May I suggest one other area in which the Serious Fraud Office should do a bit more work? It relates to the suborning of police officers. We have only to read a couple of tabloid newspapers every day to see that newspapers and journalists pay police officers for stories, which constitutes suborning a police officer.

By its nature, the Serious Fraud Office is concerned principally with offences of serious fraud. I certainly think that suborning a police officer is an extremely serious offence, but it seems to me to be a matter that is more likely to lie with the Crown Prosecution Service.