HC Deb 19 June 1997 vol 296 cc455-6
32. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Attorney-General what plans he has to improve the effectiveness of the Serious Fraud Office. [2924]

The Attorney-General

The Serious Fraud Office continues to deter the incidence of serious and complex fraud through effective investigation and prosecution. I will, however, be looking at the scope for further improvements as part of the Government's comprehensive spending review.

Mr. Cohen

I welcome that answer. The Serious Fraud Office has had some fine successes, but also some expensive failures. Will my right hon. and learned Friend agree to beef up that organisation, with more accountants and more high-finance anti-fraud experts? Will he also consider putting a cap on legal aid, so that the taxpayer does not have to pay such huge funds to accused fraudsters?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I keep in close touch with the SFO. In the period for which figures are available, it had a conviction rate for defendants of 64 per cent. In the last year, nearly 86 per cent. of defendants were convicted.

From my professional experience, I know that many of the cases that the SFO has to tackle are difficult, many are complex and many need substantial investigation beforehand. They are not simple cases. I will, however, do my utmost, with the director of the SFO, to ensure that it continues to have what I regard as a satisfactory record, certainly in recent years.