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Economic Crime

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 16 March 2017

2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service has adequate resources to tackle serious fraud and other economic crimes. (909272)

The Crown Prosecution Service anticipated increases in complex cases such as fraud ahead of the last spending review, and there was indeed a 14% increase in fraud and forgery cases last year, but, importantly, the conviction rate stayed stable at 86%.

With a third of the workforce cut since 2010—400 prosecutors and 1,000 administrators and caseworkers—does the Solicitor General really consider that the CPS is able to deal with these complex fraud and economic cases, and will not any further cuts leave it in a really bad state to prosecute?

I assure the hon. Lady that the allocation of resources for the prosecution of fraud has increased within the CPS. There are now over 200 specialist fraud prosecutors, not just here in London but across the country in important regional centres, and that number is set to increase to 250 in the months ahead, so the CPS is really placing an important priority on this.

Does the Solicitor General agree that the work of the Crown Prosecution Service in this area is very much complemented in cases of really serious economic fraud by the work of the Serious Fraud Office, which has been transformed under the leadership of David Green, resulting in the recovery of over £500 million of ill-gotten gains? Does he agree that the model of the Serious Fraud Office does this country great credit and will be of increasing value to us in future?

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Justice Committee. He is right to highlight the recent successes of the SFO in collecting millions of pounds for the taxpayer as a result of deferred prosecution agreements. I think the Roskill model, which brings together investigators and prosecutors in one unit, works very well.

Picking up on the point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, does not the existence of the Serious Fraud Office reduce pressure on the Crown Prosecution Service in terms of prosecuting big-ticket economic crime? Will the Solicitor General therefore guarantee that the Serious Fraud Office will continue to exist as it is and will not be merged with the Crown Prosecution Service or the National Crime Agency?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are at all times under a duty to review the mechanism by which we tackle economic crime, because it is a question not just of criminality but of national security. The Government are therefore right to examine the situation. As I said, I think the Roskill model works extremely well.

I did not detect a guarantee in that answer. A month ago, the Solicitor General praised the work of the director of the Serious Fraud Office and how he had enhanced the role of the Serious Fraud Office in our national life. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has fine persuasive skills, so if he will not give a guarantee, will he at least undertake to go to see the Prime Minister to speak about the advantages of the Serious Fraud Office and having investigatory and prosecuting services under one roof?

I am happy to indicate to the hon. Gentleman that I have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues about all these issues. I praise David Green for the work he has done in leading the SFO. I will continue to make the case for the Roskill model.

I suspect that those who have the necessary financial expertise to investigate, uncover, prosecute and prove complex financial fraud will probably get paid a lot more in the private sector working for business or the City. What can the Solicitor General do to ensure that the right people with the right skills are retained by the CPS and the SFO?

My hon. Friend knows that the SFO operates a model of funding that means it can be quite flexible as regards particular investigations. The important point is that we get the right people with the right specific expertise in particular types of serious fraud. Flexibility is the most important principle.

Everybody knows that there is a lot of hot money in the London high-end residential market, especially coming from Russia, and there are extensive reporting regulations on financial advisers and agents, so why have there been so few prosecutions for money laundering in this area?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern about this. He will be glad to know that the provisions in the Criminal Finances Bill, which I hope will become law very soon, will enhance the powers of prosecutors and investigators in going after ill-gotten gains with new measures such as unexplained wealth orders, which will help us to deal with the perpetrators of this type of fraud.