Skip to main content

Serious Fraud Office

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012

I have appointed a new director to the Serious Fraud Office who started work in April. David Green QC has restructured the office, made high-profile appointments and built in layers of quality control. He has clearly restated the intent and purpose of the SFO, and I am confident that, as a result, we will see improved efficiency and performance. I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses the report of the inspection of the SFO by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, which I requested. I thank the chief inspector and his team for that helpful report, and confirm that the new director of the SFO has accepted all its recommendations and is already implementing them.

I thank the Attorney-General for that helpful reply. Does he agree that the SFO has a vital role to play in the drive against crime linked to corruption and bribery, but that UK exporters must know where they stand and be treated fairly? Can he confirm that the current guidelines are fit for purpose and that no major or fundamental changes will be made to them?

Bribery and corruption are serious offences. Guidelines have been published to help companies in that respect, and I have every confidence that no company will be prosecuted unless it has committed a serious offence. I cannot, however, give an undertaking that the guidelines will not be subject to review. The guidelines will evolve over time, and they are just that—guidelines. Ultimately, it is for the director of the SFO and the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a decision based on an evidential test and the public interest.

Two weeks ago we were astounded to learn that the former chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office had received an unauthorised send-off of £440,000 for just two years in the post. Last week we learned that the outgoing chief operating officer struck a confidential deal similar to that offered to Ms Williamson. What is the scale of that second payment and can it be stopped? Who knew about both payments, and when? Is this negligence, incompetence, or a deliberate bypassing of the system? Finally, what guarantees can the Attorney-General give the House that he is no longer asleep at the wheel?

First, neither I nor anyone in my office was aware of the irregular payments that were made. They came to light subsequently on the appointment of the new director, and are a matter of great concern to me, as are all irregular payments. I am satisfied that the new director has put in place all necessary measures to ensure that such a matter will not occur again. The hon. Lady asked about dates. I would be happy to write to her so that she is aware of exactly when the matter came to light, although I am afraid I do not have that recollection in my mind at the moment. I will ensure that her point about the chief operating officer is also answered.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that a request for further resources for the SFO to investigate the LIBOR scandal will be met favourably by the Government?

I reassure my hon. Friend that the matter has already met a favourable response from the Government in terms of ensuring that adequate funds are made available. My hon. Friends and colleagues in the Treasury will want reassurance that the money is being well used, but I am quite satisfied that money and resources are available for the SFO. The director and I are also quite satisfied that he has the necessary resources to carry out the investigation properly.