HC Deb 29 June 2000 vol 352 cc1041-2
31. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

If he will make a statement on his policy towards serious fraud cases. [127062]

The Solicitor-General

Effective investigation and prosecution are the best deterrents to fraud. I have every confidence that the investigating and prosecuting authorities who come under the superintendence of the Law Officers—the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service—have had notable success in recent years in pursuing serious fraud cases.

Miss McIntosh

Does the Solicitor-General share my concern at the increasing delays in the bringing of serious fraud cases to prosecution? Can he assure the House that the Human Rights Act 1998, once implemented, will not add to the delay? That is particularly important when someone is accused of a serious fraud and is subsequently cleared.

The Solicitor-General

We are conscious of the problems of delay. That is why reducing delays and bringing persistent young offenders to justice appeared on our pledge card as a prominent pledge. Serious fraud cases are frequently complicated and their scope is often international, so inquiries must be undertaken in other countries. One of the difficulties that we have faced in prosecuting international fraud is that sometimes other countries are not as co-operative as we would want.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

In view of what my hon. and learned Friend says about the complexity of many serious fraud cases, and the fact that with new technology the situation can become even more complex, what steps does he believe the Serious Fraud Office can take to increase the speed with which cases are dealt with and the effectiveness of prosecutions?

The Solicitor-General

I have no difficulty with the speed with which prosecutions are brought. The Serious Fraud Office is successful. In the current financial year, for example, the SFO has achieved 12 convictions, as against four acquittals—a 75 per cent. conviction rate. Of course, conviction rates are not an absolute test of the success of any prosecuting agency.

Only last week, for example, the SFO secured convictions against two directors of the Ostrich Farming Corporation Ltd. They had been selling ostriches as an investment opportunity and had attracted some 2,800 customers. They had an annual turnover of £21 million, but the birds sold did not exist. It was all very much like the Opposition: heads in the sand and selling duff policies.

Madam Speaker

We now come to written question No. 5.