HC Deb 28 November 2002 vol 395 cc459-60
36. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What recent representations she has received on prosecution of serious fraud cases. [82002]

37. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

When she next expects to meet representatives of small firms organisations to discuss policy on prosecutions of fraud. [82005]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman)

I receive letters about serious fraud cases, and the Attorney-General and I regularly meet the director of the Serious Fraud Office, Ros Wright. I have not met small firms' representatives specifically to discuss fraud, but I am well aware that it is a problem not only for big companies and rich individuals but for small business and people on low incomes. The work that the CPS and the SFO do on fraud is very important.

Miss McIntosh

Is the Solicitor-General aware that, in their response to the Criminal Justice Bill, the General Council of the Bar and the Criminal Bar Association of England have said: We oppose the suggestion of trial by judge alone in cases of suspected jury interference and fraud cases."? Does she agree that trial by jury must be maintained for all fraud cases? Were we to dispense with it, it could lead to a flood of actions for breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Solicitor-General

I am aware of the views of the Bar Council on all aspects of the Criminal Justice Bill. We take its views extremely seriously. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Bill emanates from the Home Office. There will be a Second Reading and a full debate next week. I suggest that she raises those issues with the Home Secretary, and in the House next week.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Is the Solicitor-General aware that small firms often suffer disproportionately from fraud? There have been many scams recently, including the Nigerian e-mail scams, the UBR reduction offer scam and the grant application offer scam. Such scams sap morale among small firms, and divert attention from the creation of wealth and jobs. Is the right hon. and learned Lady going to make an effort to tackle the problem and streamline the prosecution of fraud process?

The Solicitor-General

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is right to say that fraud is not a victimless, technical offence. It can cause redundancies, real hardship and the loss of homes and businesses. As far as we can tell, it costs the economy about £14 billion a year. We work closely on this matter with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Home Office and the Treasury. We need a cross-Government approach, and sufficient resources to investigate and prosecute fraud. I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter today.

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