Director of Public Prosecutions

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1989.

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Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman finally meets the Director of Public Prosecutions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Tomorrow."]—yes, tomorrow, does he expect to discuss the scandal at NatWest, County NatWest, Phillips and Drew and the way in which the crooks in Tory-dominated firms are getting away with blue murder? Will he tell the DPP that it is no excuse for business men, often earning more than £100,000 a year, to say, "We do not understand the niceties of the law"? Will he also tell the DPP that he should act extremely quickly because those well-paid men may follow the example of Cameron-Webb and Dixon of the PCW syndicate, fly the coop and end up in America? Under this Tory Government is there not one law for the directors who support the Tory party and another for the old lady who has a tin of pilchards out of Marks and Spencer?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

The County NatWest papers have been referred not to the DPP but to the director of the serious fraud office because he is the appropriate official to consider them. That is all that it is proper for me to say at this stage, other than to suggest that it does not assist the course of justice to shout, or even to say quietly, the sort of remarks that the hon. Gentleman made. Such matters must be dealt with in a sensible, ordered and balanced way, because that is the way that justice is done in this country.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that most right and hon. Members appreciate his comments? However, ordinary people look to him and others to ensure that where fraud is found in an organisation, those at the top do not escape the penalty.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

Fraud is an extremely serious criminal offence, wherever it is found. That is why a great deal of trouble is taken to investigate proper allegations, to establish whether criminal proceedings are justified, and to ensure that prosecutions are properly prepared before they begin. I agree very much with my hon. Friend's comments, and I am grateful to him for them.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

Despite the Attorney-General's dismissal of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman concerned that the Tory enterprise culture seems to have spawned a few mulit-million pound viruses in the City? The real problem is that such incidents are not occurring at the fringes of the City but at its very centre. Will the Attorney-General confirm that decisions about investigations and prosecutions are consistent and made without partiality or prejudice as to the rank, title, seniority or antecedents of the individuals concerned?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

Certainly they will be. Whether it is congenial to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that such decisions will be taken without concern to rank, title, status or anything else, I rather doubt. Of course it is right that all prosecution decisions are taken by reference to the Attorney-General's guidelines, laid down by my predecessor and now incorporated in the code for Crown prosecutors, a copy of which is in the Library, under the statutory authority of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. It is extremely important that such matters are examined absolutely impartially and fairly, and without regard to extraneous considerations.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I appreciate that my right hon. and learned Friend cannot say much about County NatWest because a report has gone to the serious fraud office. While dissociating myself from the hysterical remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is widespread consternation about the report's suggestions and allegations of bad handling and of dishonest behaviour in the City? There may be suggestions that that behaviour is tantamount to fraud or is fraud, and does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that it would not be enough for the House, and that it would be outraged, if just a small number of lower level executives were to be the scapegoats for what happened and there were no resignations at the higher level?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I repeat, misconduct of any kind connected with a breach of trust, and particularly in respect of the affairs of the City of London, is very serious. Whether or not it amounts to fraud is a matter for the director of the serious fraud office to consider in due course. However, no one who has paid attention to the comments of my noble Friend Lord Young of Graffham when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry can be under the slightest illusion as to the high degree of gravity that he and the Government he represented attach to such misconduct. The matter was referred by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to two inspectors, and a very thorough report was prepared and published, which has been sent to the director of the serious fraud office. The gravity that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House attach to the matter is entirely understandable, but the proper authorities must be allowed to do their job.