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Serious Fraud Office

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 14 September 2017

The Serious Fraud Office does vital work in tackling the most serious instances of fraud, bribery and corruption. We will continue to consider how best to allocate resources and improve joint working between all the enforcement agencies involved in combating economic crime.

Blockbuster funding can make up a significant amount of SFO funding. Does the Attorney General agree that it would be better to have a greater level of permanent funding?

The hon. Lady is right that blockbuster funding forms a significant component of the SFO’s funding. I think that is likely to remain the case because, as she will appreciate, it is difficult for the SFO to predict exactly the number or severity of the cases it will deal with in any given year. However, there is an argument for relooking at how core funding is developed for the SFO, particularly so that it can attract and retain the best quality staff.

The SFO’s reputation has been greatly enhanced under its current director David Green, who is shortly to retire. It is critical that a director of equal quality is appointed to succeed him, so can we put to rest once and for all the suggestion that the independent SFO is likely to be merged into the National Crime Agency? That would be a grossly retrograde step for the efficiency and reputation of our fight against economic crime.

On the importance of good leadership, I belatedly congratulate my hon. Friend on retaining the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and I look forward to appearing before his Committee again.

On the future of the Serious Fraud Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is right to recognise the work that David Green and, of course, many others within the organisation have done to improve performance, and I would expect that to continue. I would also expect that, whatever we do, we will hold fast to the crucial requirements that any organisation combating this kind of crime must be effective and independent. Whatever changes are made, my hon. Friend has my assurance that that is what I will require as an end result.

As we leave the European Union, the Labour party is very committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and will never tolerate the UK economy becoming some sort of refuge for dirty money. As a step to achieving that, a future Labour Government will definitely safeguard the future of the Serious Fraud Office. I am making that commitment from the Dispatch Box. Can the Attorney General do the same?

I am glad the shadow Solicitor General recently had the opportunity to visit the Serious Fraud Office, and I am glad that he took up that opportunity. He will have seen the level of commitment within that organisation to combating economic crime. As he has heard me say before, it is about effectiveness and co-operation across the landscape of different organisations that deal with economic crime. It is not about whose name is on the letterhead; it is about how they do the job. We are committed to making sure that, whoever is doing the job of combating economic crime, they are effective, they are properly funded and they have the necessary independence to deliver the results we all want to see.

Yes, I did visit the Serious Fraud Office with my noble friend the shadow Attorney General last week, and we saw the commitment and dedication of its staff. The ongoing uncertainty that has been caused by the Attorney General’s position with regard to the Serious Fraud Office is not helping morale or recruitment. I say again that it would help significantly if, rather than giving the answers from the Dispatch Box that he has given today, he were far more definite about his commitment to the Roskill model and the independence of the Serious Fraud Office.

I am sorry to say that I think the hon. Gentleman, who is usually very assiduous in paying close attention to our proceedings, may not have been listening carefully enough. I have given repeated commitments to the Roskill model, which is clearly demonstrating its success in bringing together prosecutors, investigators, accountants and others to make sure that cases of this complexity are properly addressed. I am a full supporter of the Roskill model, as I have said on many occasions.