To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to assist other parts of the country to follow the joint initiative of the Avon and Somerset constabulary and the West of England Society of Chartered Accountants, under which members of the society provide their expertise free to the police to assist in fraud investigations.
We warmly welcome initiatives such as this, where the police and the community act together against crime. I am sure that the help given by accountants in the fight against serious fraud in Avon and Somerset will be invaluable. I understand that a similar scheme also exists in the Metropolitan police and that co-operation in other force areas is under discussion. This is highly commendable.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, however valuable the training given to fraud squad officers in the investigation in particular financial fraud, it will never match the professional experience gained by solicitors, accountants and so on who are dealing with financial records every day? Will he therefore encourage the spread of the scheme and possibly involve the professions in training for this aspect of police officers' work?
I would be pleased to see a spread of this kind of scheme in appropriate circumstances. It is important not to under-estimate the high skills acquired by police officers specialising in this work.
Have not members of the Society of Chartered Accountants, on a number of occasions, pointed to the difficulties that arise when attempts are made to bring prosecutions for fraud against major defence contractors? As the law department of the City of London polytechnic has offered to carry out research into this sector, drawing on the experience of many of our European partners, will the Minister take up that offer, and even help with the funding of that research exercise, because the taxpayer would benefit immeasurably?
Will my hon. Friend also consider whether the kind of expertise that chartered acoountants can provide could usefully be made available to the Crown Prosecution Service? Often, investigations need an overall view to be taken before the case is sent to court. Such involvement could improve the number of prosecutions that result in findings of guilt in the Crown court.
My hon. Friend makes a very serious and useful suggestion. It was considerations of that kind that caused the Government to bring forward the concept of the serious fraud office, which employ accountants.