HC Deb 26 June 1986 vol 100 cc451-2
4. Mr. Clelland

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any proposals to improve the investigation of (a) local and (b) transnational fraud.

Mr. Hurd

The report of the fraud trials' committee, under Lord Roskill's chairmanship, which we received earlier this year, provides an excellent basis for legislation and administrative action. We are now completing our consideration of the committee's many recommendations, including those affecting the investigation of fraud, and aim to bring proposals for legislation before Parliament in the next Session.

Mr. Clelland

Will the Home Secretary explain why so little emphasis is placed on tax fraud compared with that placed on social security fraud? Is he not aware that the latest estimates put the amount of money lost through tax fraud at more than 35 times the amount of money lost through social security fraud? Yet, for every one person gaoled for tax fraud, 20 are gaoled for social security fraud. Is this not yet another sign that the Government have one set of rules for the rich and another for the poor?

Mr. Hurd

No, Sir. That is a familiar charge, and I rebut it in a familiar way. If the hon. Gentleman tables a question to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he will be told of the extent of the effort that the Inland Revenue is putting into pursuing tax fraud. As for fraud in a wider context, when the hon. Gentleman reads the Criminal Justice Bill, which we hope will be presented in the next Session, he will become aware of the rigorous and stern approach that the Government are adopting.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is little or no support for the abolition of jury trials in fraud cases? Does he accept that the most effective measures that can be taken to put an end to fraud are to strengthen the size of the investigating police force, to bring in more financial experts to assist the police, and to improve the extradition procedures between friendly states?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. and learned Friend picks out three admirable recommendations from Lord Roskill's report and puts his weight behind them. On extradition, I have already announced that we intend to act on the lines set out in the report. Trial by jury of complex fraud cases is one of the tricky matters on which we have to complete our consideration.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Home Secretary aware that his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said some time ago that he found the level of City fraud unacceptable? Notwithstanding that, the Home Department has failed to get anybody over to see Peter Cameron Webb and Peter Dixon in America, who have got away with £39 million as a result of fraudulent activities at Lloyd's. Yet, despite that, a common law bailiff has managed to serve a writ on them. It is a fine state of affairs when this law-and-order Government cannot deal with someone who has got away with £39 million, yet are hounding people at social security offices throughout the country.

Mr. Hurd

The investigation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is nothing to do with me. I am glad to be able to infer from what he said that when he reads our proposals for strengthening the law and the administration of the investigation of fraud, we shall have his support.

Sir Anthony Grant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the council of Lloyd's is pursuing the PCW people with the utmost vigour and will welcome anything that the Government can do to pursue them with equal severity?

Mr. Hurd

I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct in both of his remarks.

Mr. Corbett

The Home Secretary said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that the PCW affair has nothing to do with him. Why does he keep promising jam tomorrow? Is he aware that tax fraud has been estimated to be running at £3,000 million a year'? When will he do something about that'? Is he further aware that the latest annual report of the City of London police states that it faces a 60 per cent. rise in fraud investigations this year, with £482 million at risk? When will we get action?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman has not noticed the increases which I have announced in the strength of the Metropolitan police. One reason or justification for doing that was precisely to increase its resources for the investigation of fraud. The remainder of the proposals in the Roskill report require legislation. Some of them will be controversial, and the hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain if we were to rush ahead with that without proper consideration.