Economic Crime

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

What steps the Government are taking to tackle economic crime.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Last week, the Government published a new economic crime plan in partnership with the private sector to create a whole-system approach to economic crime. Her Majesty’s Government are investing at least £48 million this year to bolster capabilities to tackle economic crime, including with the establishment of the National Economic Crime Centre, to increase the number of financial investigators and to recover more assets.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I welcome the new economic crime plan, and I agree we need more resources to finance people to tackle these various crimes. What more will be done under that new plan to strengthen our protections against fraud?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The new economic crime plan brings together all the different actors on the stage the Government have invested in and identifies all those areas that need to be solved. It is a better analysis of economic crime. We have set up the NECC to bring together all the assets of government—everything from UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office to the intelligence services—to focus on some of the biggest money launderers and to implement the new powers in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, to deal with criminals and money launderers and to take the money back from them.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West

Given that the Government are constantly telling us how much more money they are putting into funding the police forces across the UK, can the Minister tell us how many detectives were assigned to serious organised crime in 2010, and how many there were in the latest available data?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Given the economic character of that question, the best thing is for me to write to the hon. Lady with the detail of the number of financial investigators—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady has not been particularly specific. Does she mean the number of detectives within the National Crime Agency, within the Met’s serious organised crime command, within the regional organised crime units or within the local forces? I will send her the details so that she can analyse and discuss them.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I welcome the economic crime plan, but I do not see any mention of extending the “failure to prevent” offence to include economic crime. Is the Minister still keen to do that?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Absolutely. Building “failure to prevent” offences such as bribery and tax evasion into statute makes a real difference. It is important for us to give our law enforcement agencies powers to deal with, for instance, corporations that engage in conspiracies, because in the past that has been very hard to prove.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Poor pension transfer advice can amount to fraud, but in my experience local police officers often refer such cases to the Financial Conduct Authority, which often focuses on administrative penalties rather than criminal prosecutions. Will the Minister agree to meet me, and to review economic crimes against pensioners, so that justice can be done?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. While large sectors are regulated under the FCA, we have seen fraudsters exploiting marketing as a guise to escape that regulation. When we identify them, there are criminal investigations, but I should be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and hear more about his views.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

How will the forthcoming legislation requiring the registration of overseas entities prevent money generated through crime and corruption overseas from being invested in the London property market?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Transparency is the best disinfectant in such cases, and the Government are working hard to improve the operation of Companies House to ensure that we get to the bottom of some of these spurious companies. We are also fully committed to the establishment of a public register of property ownership in the UK, and are working with overseas territories to ensure that similar registers are established to cover ownership there.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

As capital moves ever more easily, it is imperative that we look again at the very limited circumstances in which large financial actors can at present be held accountable before the law. The Minister mentioned corporations a moment ago, but the Government’s economic crime plan totally fails to take on the issue of corporate criminal liability, which we must consider. Here is a very simple question: what are the Government afraid of?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have been talking about that issue for a long time, and we have been working hard on it. “Failure to prevent” in relation to tax evasion is now being rolled out, and the National Security Council discussed the issue more than a year ago. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, wait to see what happens, but we are determined to try to deal with it.