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Serious Fraud Office

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

There has not been a recent independent assessment of the performance of the Serious Fraud Office, and for that reason, in consultation with the SFO director, I have requested Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate to carry out an inspection. It is intended that the inspection should assist the incoming director, and is timed accordingly. Furthermore, the SFO will continue to publish its annual performance information in its annual report.

A KPMG report suggests that fraud is on the rise and estimates that more than £1 billion of Government money was stolen by fraudsters in 2011 alone. This financial year the SFO’s budget was a little over £30 million. Does the Attorney-General agree that that smacks of a false economy?

I have absolutely no doubt that if there is more money to spend, one may get greater results—but it is also worth pointing out that since the 2008 de Grazia review the SFO has been transformed. Investigation times have been significantly reduced, conviction rates remain high, and very substantial sums of money are being recovered from the proceeds of crime. From that point of view, the SFO is well fulfilling the mandate it has been set. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point: it is always possible to argue that priorities in government should be substantially altered, but if that is to be done, far more funds will have to be found.

9. The Attorney-General will be aware that the Department for International Development’s annual review states that the Government’s record on investigating international corruption suffers from incoherent strategic direction. Can he tell the House how he will improve that record and increase the number of prosecutions? (100660)

It is worth bearing in mind that, so far as international corruption is concerned, the benchmark legislation is the legislation passed in 2011. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, for reasons that are obvious, that legislation is not retrospective. Therefore, although investigations are now under way into offences that have taken place from that time on, not many cases—or no cases—will have come to court. It is therefore a bit difficult at the moment to make an assessment of how successful this work will be. What I can tell the hon. Lady, however, is that between 40% and 50% of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigatory case load relates to bribery and corruption.