Serious Fraud Office

Attorney General – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 2nd July 2015.

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Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent 9:30 am, 2nd July 2015

What his future funding proposals are for the Serious Fraud Office; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The Serious Fraud Office is a small and demand-led organisation that comprises investigators, prosecutors, accountants and other specialists. The model, which is known as the Roskill model, gives the director of the SFO the flexibility to have the right combination of expertise to tackle the most complex and large cases. The current blockbuster funding approach allows him to take on cases that are exceptionally demanding in terms of resource, such as the LIBOR case, while avoiding the need to constantly maintain high levels of permanent staff, which are not always necessary.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

The SFO going cap in hand to the Treasury when it wants to take on a major case could mean delaying justice. Why not let moneys recovered by the SFO be kept by it so that it has autonomy?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Attractive though that proposal sounds—I take it in the constructive spirit which I know the hon. Gentleman intends—my worry is that that is an even more uncertain means of funding the SFO. The advantage of blockbuster funding is that it allows the SFO the flexibility it needs, allows significant amounts of money to be allocated to its work, and proves the point that funding will never be a bar to the work of the SFO in investigating serious fraud.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Installing temporary IT equipment in courts for SFO prosecutions is eye-wateringly expensive and a drain on SFO resources. Does the Solicitor General agree that we need to look again at this issue to establish whether the taxpayer is getting value for money?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Solicitor General may know of my long-term interest in this matter. We all want a Serious Fraud Office that is fit for purpose; this Serious Fraud Office is not. We go back to the catastrophe that was the daft prosecution and dawn arrest of the Tchenguiz brothers. As he knows, if we have a weak SFO, it relies on other accountants, such as Grant Thornton. That is not a healthy relationship for the SFO.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to previous failures, but things have moved on considerably in the right direction since the appointment of the current director in 2012. It is important that we give our full-throated support to the work of the SFO because, as the hon. Gentleman says, if there are doubts about the integrity and efficacy of that important arm of the prosecutorial authorities, we are in serious trouble indeed. I hope he will recognise that progress is being made.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Progress might be being made, but why is the SFO not performing better than it is, and what international comparisons have been made to identify better examples that it could follow?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I do not have chapter and verse on international comparators today for my hon. Friend, but I am more than happy to have that discussion with him. The Roskill model, which allows prosecutors and investigators to work hand in hand, is essential when it comes to this type of offending. It works and it must continue to be supported. Whatever the framework within it, that model of investigation is very important.