HC Deb 18 July 1994 vol 247 cc13-4
29. Mr. Sykes

To ask the Attorney-General what plans he has to improve the effectiveness of the Serious Fraud Office.

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

Since 1988, the Serious Fraud Office has made a real contribution to the investigation and prosecution of serious fraud. A number of detailed recommendations of the recent review have already been implemented; others are in hand, and others are being studied.

Mr. Sykes

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fraud police are doing an excellent job, and that eight times out of 10 they get their man? [Interruption.] Will Opposition Members please stop gibbering? One might as well go to London zoo. Would not joint vetting further improve those tremendous statistics?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Serious Fraud Office has a commendable record in achieving convictions in the cases that it brings to trial; in more than 80 per cent. of cases, the principal architect of the fraud has been brought to justice.

My hon. Friend is also right to mention joint vetting between the Serious Fraud Office and the fraud investigation group of the Crown Prosecution Service. They are getting together to decide which case should go to which body, starting next week. I commend that move.

Mr. John Morris

Is the effectiveness of prosecutions likely to be enhanced or diminished by the departure from office of the Attorney-General's Parliamentary Private Secretary? Will he give a categorical assurance that he was not approached by his ex-PPS as an intermediary in the case of Mr. Charrington and that the Paymaster General —who is responsible for Customs—was not approached either? Will the Attorney-General clear the air in regard to why his PPS has departed and, I understand, is not to be replaced?

The Attorney-General

I am surprised that the shadow Attorney-General should concentrate on such a matter.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many are not as happy as some commentators about the work of the Serious Fraud Office? Does he accept that many believe that serious fraud should be tried not by juries but by technical assessors, as recommended by the Roskill report?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend has expressed a view which is supported by a number of people. At present, I do not share that view; over the past 13 years, during which I have considered the matter carefully., the principal difficulties have tended to arise from the need to arrange an effectively mounted prosecution and to ensure that judges with the difficult and onerous task of trying the cases are properly trained and have the right background.

Mr. John Morris

Is the Attorney-General unable to give the categorical assurance for which I asked, or is he just plain insolent?

The Attorney-General

I am perfectly able to do so, but it does not really arise from the question.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is not it a fact that the Customs and Excise prosecuting authority is fiercely independent and is not swayed by anything that any Member of Parliament may ask, or not ask, of its favour? It is sometimes influenced by the advice that it gets from the Attorney-General, but it is always fiercely independent in making its decisions.

The Attorney-General

My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) has already received answers to his questions. If he would only refer back to them, he would not bother to ask them again.

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