Clause 4 — Fraud by abuse of position

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 26th October 2006.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:20 pm, 26th October 2006

I shall start where Mr. Garnier finished by supporting his commendation of the Law Commission and all those who have worked on the Bill. I include in that not only the Solicitor-General and his team, but those in another place who did the hard work before we started the Bill. That did a great deal to ensure that the Bill was in good order, so we had little to do in Committee and on Report. This is a good Bill, and I support it wholeheartedly.

Fraud is an extraordinarily important matter. I have long felt that we have not had adequate safeguards in place in this country to deal with white-collar crime or even minor fraud. As the Solicitor-General has said, there are three elements to making sure that the system is robust. The first is to get the legislation right; the second is to get the investigation right; and the third is to get the prosecutions and legal procedure right. The Bill is significant, although some areas of the law are still weak. The review will provide us with further food for thought in ensuring that we have an adequate battery of legislation in statute law.

I am less sanguine that we have got the investigation side of things right. I have listened to the Solicitor-General on the additional resources for the Serious Fraud Office and the City of London police. As he knows, however, there have been huge deficiencies in the successful investigation and prosecution of fraud in recent years. Our provincial police forces, which are very good at many things, are very poor in that particular area. They do not understand fraud, which they find difficult to investigate effectively. Too often, I have seen minor fraud in particular not being investigated properly, because the resources are not there. We must address that point nationally and locally to ensure that the resources are put in and that the expertise is available to do the job effectively. This is not a derogatory comment about the police, but it is sometimes beyond the normal competence of a police officer to deal with specific financial and accountancy issues, which are beyond the training of most police officers, most members of the public and most Members of Parliament. That is why we need dedicated resources.

On the prosecution of fraud, I do not accept that we need to move away from a jury-based system for the prosecution of serious fraud, and if the Solicitor-General intends to introduce a Bill in the next Session of Parliament that does that, we will resist it. Looking across the Atlantic, some of the largest fraud cases ever prosecuted—the Enron prosecutions—were put before a judge and jury in a Texas court. Why should it be thought that a British jury is incapable of assessing the facts in a case of fraud, when a Texas jury can deal perfectly adequately with such matters? It seems to me that there is no difference and that the Government are therefore barking up the wrong tree in trying the remove the jury element. There are ways in which we can facilitate the jury consideration of fraud trials and manage cases better, but those areas have not been addressed properly.

As far as this Bill is concerned, I am satisfied that it is good legislation, and I commend it to the House.