HC Deb 16 November 2000 vol 356 cc1064-5
26. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

What progress he is making in the prosecution of financial crime. [137160]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

The Serious Fraud Office continues to deal successfully with an increasing case load. The Government have allocated increased funds of £3.6 million, £4.6 million and £5.6 million in the financial years 2001–03. In respect of those funds, the SFO has entered into a service delivery agreement published on 3 November, which sets challenging targets of increasing case load and reducing investigation and trial times.

Mr. Kidney

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there appears to have been no conviction for insider dealing for the past three years and that statistics for other financial crimes such as fraud and money laundering are not even kept separately from all other fraud offences? Does that not convey the impression that officialdom is not serious about the fight against financial crime? Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the prosecuting authorities for whom he is responsible are unbending in their determination to root out financial crime? Will he talk to his ministerial colleagues who also have responsibility for law enforcement to ensure that they share the same attitude?

The Solicitor-General

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that there have been successful insider dealing prosecutions—perhaps my hon. Friend should talk to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My hon. Friend, who has been heavily involved with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, knows that the Financial Services Authority will have a responsibility in this area, so we are very much on the case. The Attorney-General and I see the prosecutors from the Department of Trade and Industry regularly, and I shall certainly refer them to the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that juries are more likely to convict if the trials can be kept simple? That suggests the absence of conspiracy charges but the presence only of substantive charges and few counts.

The Solicitor-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the offences have to be put in a simple way to a jury. The SFO has had considerable success in doing that, demonstrated by the number of convictions that it has obtained in recent times. This involves introducing technology into the courts, and the Lord Chancellor has done a considerable amount in that regard as well. The director of the SFO has argued for a general offence of fraud on the basis that that would make prosecutions more efficient, and the matter is being considered.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the excellent work that north Yorkshire trading standards department is doing in that area of crime and of the successful prosecutions that have been brought? Is he content that a local authority organisation should have to take the risk of bringing these cases to court? If he is not aware of the matter, will he have urgent discussions with the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to review the position of authorities that have to proceed with such prosecutions?

The Solicitor-General

Local authorities certainly play an important role in that area. They prosecute under a range of legislation, such as the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and so forth. I am not aware of the north Yorkshire department's success, but I know that trading standards officials throughout the country play an important part in rooting out fraud.