§ 26. Mr. Skinner
To ask the Attorney-General when he last met the director of the Serious Fraud Office to discuss developments in the prosecution of City fraud; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)
I met the director of the Serious Fraud Office on 13 February to discuss matters of departmental interest.
§ Mr. Skinner
When the Attorney-General discussed those matters with the director of the Serious Fraud Office, did he refer to the Harrods swindle and the fact that Graham Jones, the former financial adviser to that company, wrote two letters to the Governor of the Bank of England accusing Harrods of breaking banking regulations, but the Governor refused to reveal anything to a Committee of the House? Why are the Government afraid of taking on Harrods? Why does not the Attorney-General act? Are the Government frightened to death of the real owner of Harrods, the Sultan of Brunei, who bailed out the Government several years ago when the pound was down to near-parity with the dollar?
§ The Attorney-General
I am sure that the latter part of the question owes much more to ignorance than to malice. The question of Harrods did not feature in my recent discussion with the director. The hon. Gentleman will recall that the director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecutions made a joint statement in June or July last year stating that, following detailed examination by the Metropolitan police, the conclusion was that insufficient evidence was admissible for criminal proceedings to warrant a prosecution. Each director is always open to further evidence becoming available, but the Bank of England is its own enforcing authority.
§ Mr. Hind
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the director of the Serious Fraud Office and his staff have prosecuted a large number of offences of serious white collar fraud and that they have not regarded the importance of the defendant as a criterion in taking that person to court? One example was Guinness. Is not that a clear sign that people who commit serious white collar crime will be treated in exactly the same way as a burglar or a shoplifter?
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am grateful to him. In the two years that the Serious Fraud Office has operated, it has prosecuted to conviction more than two thirds of the people whom it has charged. The Government have been responsible for not only the introduction of the Serious Fraud Office, but before that—in the days before the Crown prosecution service—the introduction and resourcing of the fraud investigation group in the DPP's headquarters. The Government have also legislated for the confiscation of proceeds of crime. Of course, the prosecuting authorities pay no regard to personalities. That is the answer to those who endlessly snipe from a basis of ignorance at the Government's response to the challenge of fraud.