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Economic Crime

Volume 613: debated on Thursday 21 July 2016

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of introducing a criminal offence of failure to prevent economic crime on the incidence of such crime. (906005)

Under existing law, a company faces criminal liability only if prosecutors can prove that a sufficiently senior person knew about the criminal conduct. That can be extremely hard to prove, especially in large companies with complex management structures. That is why the Government will consult on whether the “failure to prevent” model should be extended to other types of economic offending.

In an increasingly globalised world, international co-operation and co-ordination is key to tackling often very sophisticated economic crime. What is the Serious Fraud Office doing to tackle those crimes, both domestically and overseas?

The Serious Fraud Office does indeed attempt to engage with its counterparts abroad and a variety of agencies in other countries to do its work. Of course, as my hon. Friend may be aware, a “failure to prevent” offence is available in many other jurisdictions, and that is one of the reasons that we believe it is worth considering here.

The Attorney General knows that I have campaigned for much more vigorous action in this sector. I have called for proper resources to be given to the Serious Fraud Office, because it has become far too dependent on this country’s big accountancy firms, and that is the road to ruin and ineffective action.

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s campaigning record. As he knows, the amount of money that the Serious Fraud Office receives as part of its core budget has increased over the past few years and it will continue to increase. As he also knows, it has access to “blockbuster” funding for particularly large and unexpected cases. Of course, this is not just about money; it is also about the tools that the Serious Fraud Office and other investigators and prosecutors have at their disposal. That is one of the reasons why it is always worth keeping this area under review, which is what we are doing.

May I caution the Attorney General? Setting up an offence of failing to prevent a crime committed by another is a very serious step in our legal system. It could affect many hon. Members in everyday life. For example, if they failed to prevent someone from shoplifting, would they be committing a criminal offence? These kinds of things are very difficult and I urge caution on the Attorney General.

The hon. Gentleman is right to urge caution, but what we are proposing does not go anywhere near as far as he is suggesting. The types of offences under discussion are failures by corporate entities to prevent fraud, money laundering and the like. As he will know, there are already similar types of offences on the statute book in relation to bribery, and there will shortly be some in relation to tax evasion. This is an extension of a logical principle and it is designed to ensure that we are able to catch not just those in smaller businesses who are engaged in this kind of behaviour, but those in larger business too.