– in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 26th January 2022.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make a statement on the Government’s plans to bring forward an economic crime Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, but, as I am sure he will appreciate, I am not going to speculate about the content of any future Queen’s Speech, which is the correct moment for the Government to be setting out their legislative agenda for the next parliamentary Session.
However, I can confirm that the Government remain committed to tackling economic crime, which is why my colleagues in the Home Office and the Treasury take the lead on this. In recent years we have taken a number of actions, including creating the new National Economic Crime Centre to co-ordinate the law enforcement response to economic crime and establishing the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision to improve oversight of anti-money laundering compliance in the legal and accountancy sectors. We delivered the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which introduced new powers including unexplained wealth orders and account freezing orders. We are determined to go further to crack down on dirty money to protect our security and our prosperity. With the publication of the fraud strategy and second economic crime plan this year, we will further level up the response to crack down on crimes of this type.
My Department is playing its part. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced plans to reform Companies House in September 2020. In 2021 we consulted on more detailed aspects of the reforms, and we will respond to the consultation soon. Investment in new capabilities at Companies House is already under way, with £20 million being invested in this financial year and a further £63 million announced in the spending review. The draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny. We are amending the Bill in line with the Committee’s recommendations, and in line with comments that the Prime Minister made to the House just yesterday. We will introduce the Bill and the broader reforms of Companies House when parliamentary time allows.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. As he knows, economic crime costs the people of this country £100 billion per annum, according to the National Crime Agency. The Government have committed themselves repeatedly to legislation to give our agencies the tools that they need to tackle this problem, and it was therefore concerning to hear from my noble Friend Lord Agnew—who recently resigned from his role as Minister responsible for countering fraud—that a decision had been made to drop the economic crime Bill from the legislation that is due in the next parliamentary Session.
This is not a notional white-collar offence; it affects real people in very tangible ways. Terrorists and drug dealers depend on it to launder and legitimise their money through UK banks, companies and properties. Up to 50% of moneys flowing through Russian laundromats, often used for tax avoidance, for stolen public funds and to launder moneys derived from organised crime, flow through UK shell companies. UK corporate structures were involved in arms deals which breached sanctions in Sudan. HSBC and NatWest have been fined hundreds of millions of pounds for allowing criminals and Mexican drug cartels to launder their money through accounts held at their banks. An estimated £5 billion or so of taxpayers’ money, in the form of bounce back loans, has been taken fraudulently because some banks have not applied the most basic of checks. Criminals, despots and terrorists involved in people trafficking, illegal immigration, drug dealing, extortion, kleptocracy, the impoverishment of nations, and fraud—including what is taken directly from the public purse, to the tune of £30 billion per annum—are all facilitated by some of the lax rules that we have in this country.
The Government have promised to tackle this issue—as my hon. Friend the Minister has said—by means of Companies House reform; to fund regulation by applying a small surcharge to the current cost of establishing a company in the UK so that we can close down those shell companies and trusts; and to introduce a register of overseas entities to reveal the real beneficial owners of UK property, and a corporate offence of failing to prevent economic crime so that, for example, banks can be properly held to account for granting those fraudulent bounce back loans.
All this, plus more resources for our agencies and new whistleblower protections, will boost this country’s reputation, tackle crime, and help to reduce our tax burden. Every Minister I have spoken to wants us to do this. The Treasury Committee wants us to do it, all our crime agencies want us to do it, and campaigners want us to do it. I urge the Government to introduce the legislation as soon as possible.
Let me first acknowledge my hon. Friend’s work on Companies House reform, on whistleblowing, and on general economic crime. He really has a handle on this issue, and his thoughts are always well received.
My hon. Friend is right to say that economic crimes are a significant cost to the economy. It should also be borne in mind that there are victims at the end of these crimes, and that they experience significant distress. We also recognise the national security implications of allowing dirty money from overseas into our financial system. We acknowledge the need for action on economic crime, and the Government have acted. My colleagues in the Home Office and the Treasury have begun reforms to the suspicious activity reporting regime, created the National Economic Crime Centre to co-ordinate the law enforcement response, and reviewed our money laundering regulations and supervisory regime. That review will produce a report by June 2022. We are legislating for the economic crime levy in the current Finance (No. 2) Bill. We are committed to building a framework that will deter such crimes from happening and to providing a framework that will ensure that those who commit such crimes can be held to account.
I thank Kevin Hollinrake for his urgent question today.
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was widespread recognition of the urgent need to get money out to support businesses as soon as possible, but what made Lord Agnew’s resignation statement this week so alarming was his criticism of how the Government are handling cases of fraud now we know about them, and the news that the Government may no longer be intending to bring forward an economic crime Bill.
Lord Agnew described the performance of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as “nothing less than woeful”, and added that it has
“been assisted by the Treasury, which appears to have no knowledge of, or little interest in, the consequences of fraud to our economy or society.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
To be honest, it is one of the few times in this Parliament that the two Departments have been consistent with each other. These are very serious allegations for a serving Minister to make, and I am worried by what the Minister has just had to say about the economic crime Bill, so let me ask him however about the Government’s intentions in his area and whether its commitments still apply.
First, is it still Government policy to legislate for a register of beneficial ownership of property in the UK, so that we can find out who really owns property in this country? Secondly, will the Government still legislate to prevent abuses of Scottish limited partnerships? Thirdly, will the Government still legislate to prevent the shortcomings in the unexplained wealth order regime highlighted by the recent case in the High Court of NCA v. Baker and others? Fourthly, will the Government still reform Companies House? If the register of British companies was more rigorously checked and policed, there would not have been as many fraudulent companies as there were to engage in fraud when the crisis began. Finally, can the Minister confirm that his Department’s latest estimate of the value of fraudulent bounce back loans is £4.9 billion, and that it is the Department’s intention to write off £4.3 billion of that?
This sorry episode reveals a Government far too casual with wasting taxpayers’ money, but there is also an aspect to economic crime that relates to the probity and integrity of our financial and political systems. I hope the Minister can provide me, and the House, with some much needed reassurance today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Our appetite for tackling economic crime remains undiminished, as it does with Companies House reform, which has been well trailed and well considered. We will continue to work in this area, but I cannot pre-empt what Her Majesty will say in the Queen’s Speech.
In terms of the bounce back loans, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend John Glen, made it clear in the House that HMRC did not produce the figure of £4.3 billion, and the money has not been written off. The figure was an inference by journalists, who subtracted £1.5 billion—the estimate of the amount to be recovered by taxpayer protection—from the £5.8 billion that was estimated as error and fraud in 2020-21. It was publicised before Christmas. Our Department continues to work with our fraud measures with partners in Government, the British Business Bank and all the partner banks who issued this money in the first place.
I appreciate that the Minister cannot be tempted to comment on what might or might not be in the Queen’s Speech, but based on what Lord Agnew said, if it were to be true, I please urge the Minister to consider that it will be about as popular as a cup of cold sick with anyone out there who is concerned about the fight against corruption or the fight for transparency. The well of excuses after three or four years of promising this piece of legislation or its related pieces has now run dry. This legislation is essential for the credibility of this country and this Government, particularly when we have a crisis in Ukraine and all sorts of Russian oligarchs waiting to move money into this country if they can, and when there are fundamental questions, as we heard in Prime Minister’s questions, about Westminster today. It is essential that we do not back away from this central piece of legislation, which is a touchstone issue for many stakeholders out there.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s work in tackling corruption and encouraging further transparency, which we have had several conversations about. We remain undiminished in our approach to tackling economic crime, for the reasons that he has given, and to Companies House reform, too. We will work with the Home Office and the Treasury to make sure we can get these measures in place as soon as possible.
“Lamentable”, “woeful”, “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” were just some of the words that Lord Agnew used to describe the Government’s action on economic crime. In resigning at the Dispatch Box in the Lords, he has shown a lot more courage than anybody on the Front Bench in this place.
Some £4.3 billion was lost in the covid schemes and as-yet-unknown sums were lost in Government-backed loan schemes to crooks and fraudsters, while some in this country got no support. For example, it was deemed too difficult to redress support for parents in the self-employment income support scheme. Lord Agnew also said that it was a foolish decision to kill off the economic crime Bill, and given the evidence that I have heard at the Treasury Committee during our inquiry on it, I wholeheartedly agree.
Many cases of economic crime could be halted if the Government tightened up Companies House, because reform is well overdue. They have huge volumes of evidence on that. There is no verification, it costs only a tiny sum to set up a company and the information on the Companies House register is—politely—utter guff. If the Minister looks at Graham Barrow’s account on Twitter, he will see some of the absolute nonsense that is entered on to the Companies House register and somehow accepted. All that has led to an open door through which crooks and fraudsters have been allowed to waltz off with public money and Government-backed loans. UK corporate structures, such as Scottish limited partnerships, allow that to happen—and have done for years.
When, on what date, will we see an economic crime Bill? When, on what date, will we see the registration of overseas entities Bill, for which I sat on the Joint Committee years ago and on which the Government have failed to act? Why are the Government so unconcerned that the UK is deemed Londongrad and notorious for the laundering of dirty money? Who benefits from that—is it Tory donors and their pals?
I think the last comment is beneath the debate. The hon. Lady talks about Companies House reform. Clearly, a lot of work is already happening in Companies House and it supports law enforcement on hundreds of cases each month. We want to get the balance right to ensure that new entrepreneurs can set up businesses through Companies House easily and affordably. There is much more reform to be done, however, which is why our appetite remains undiminished. She talked about Lord Agnew, who I thank for his work on this area. I worked closely with him to put measures in place to tackle fraud in bounce back loans and other areas of Government. He was a great servant of the Government and I regret the fact that he has gone.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake on raising the matter? I point out to the Minister that, over the last 10 years, the Government have made a lot of progress on this area but many hon. Members have put a lot of time and effort into working across the House to try to advance what is an important British agenda, not least at the G8 under David Cameron’s leadership. Companies House remains a good library, but it does not have investigatory powers, and it is there that we want progress to be made. Will he agree to meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and others who are concerned about progress in that area, together with those who run Companies House, to see whether we can make some progress?
My right hon. Friend raises some interesting and important points. I will ask the relevant Minister, likely Lord Callanan from the other place, to meet him, but I am happy to meet him either way.
I am sorry—the Minister is a nice chap—but we have been calling for this Bill for ages and ages. Time after time, Ministers come back to the House to say, “Yes, there’s going to be a public register of beneficial ownership,” but it still has not happened. They say they will do it in the overseas territories, but it still has not happened. They say that they will stop giving out golden visas to Russians with dodgy money coming into the UK, but it still has not happened. We in this country are a soft touch. If we want to send a strong message to Russia, particularly at the moment, we have to move swiftly and not say, “Oh, I can’t possibly comment on what legislation we might be thinking of in the future.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that—it was a shame he did not stop at his first sentence, but it was very kind of him. I appreciate all of those measures that he wants to put in place and, as I say, we remain undiminished on that. In the meantime, we have sanctions to tackle corruption from other countries. We already have very robust procedures in place, but we know we need to go further. That is why these measures will come, but I cannot pre-empt Her Majesty.
I associate myself with the remarks of praise for my noble Friend Lord Agnew, an outstanding Minister who asked searching questions of government at all times. It was a pleasure to work with him. May I press my hon. Friend about the work the Law Commission is undertaking on corporate criminal liability. It is due to present options early this year and I urge him, first, to use all expedition to get on with the job of legislating on economic crime and, secondly, to incorporate what I hope will be sensible recommendations from the Law Commission so that we can get corporate criminal liability in this country right? At the moment, the law is just not working and action is needed.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his work in this area as well. Because there has been no consensus, it is important that the Law Commission looks at this matter, because we are dealing with a very technical crime and if we are going to get the answers to it right, we have to get this right first time. We will, absolutely, consider that report in its fullest when it comes to us.
First, I congratulate Kevin Hollinrake on securing this urgent question and thank him for backing my Bill, which would have brought in that register of beneficial interests. When I mentioned this to the Prime Minister just this week, he pointed to the Leader of the House and said it would be introduced as soon as possible, but now look what has happened: the vehicle we would have used to do that is gone. So I ask the Minister: how can he say that he is taking this seriously, given that this Government say one thing and do the complete opposite, do they not?
I am afraid the hon. Lady is pre-empting the Queen’s Speech—Her Majesty will present this. There has been nothing pulled at all; Her Majesty will set out the Government’s programme in due course.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton on securing this important urgent question. The National Crime Agency, using figures supplied by the national fraud indicator, estimates that up to £190 billion is lost to fraud, with £140 billion of that coming in the private sector and £40 billion coming in the public sector. That is a huge amount, which could be best invested in our economies. Does the Minister agree that we need to reward and protect whistleblowers who are at the forefront of this? We are talking about the informed insiders who bring these issues to light; more than 40% of this crime is uncovered by whistleblowers. Does he agree that the current legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, is not fit for purpose and needs to be looked at again, and that we need an office of the whistleblower, which would bring together all of these areas?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and thank her for the work she does in this area. We have had a number of conversations and we will always look to see what more we can do to strengthen the whistleblowing framework in legislation. We do not necessarily agree on the end result, but, again, it is a complicated area that we do want to get right, for the reasons she set out. I will continue to work with her and with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton.
While the Minister wrings his hands, London has become the jurisdiction of choice for dirty money. The levels of fraud are soaring upwards in the wrong direction. We have waited years and years for the open register of beneficial ownership of companies and it has not appeared, and we have waited years and years for corporate liability reform. How much longer do we have to wait? How much worse are this Government going to let fraud and money laundering get before they get off their collective backside and do something?
What I am not going to do is pre-empt Her Majesty.
May I associate myself with the remarks praising Lord Agnew, who has done great service in government? Will the Minister ensure that, at the same time as he develops this policy, we ensure that the UK is also home to new innovations such as fintech and the extraordinary growth of cryptocurrencies? Those innovations have the potential to disrupt finance just as social media has disrupted communications and online shopping has changed retail. Post Brexit, the UK has the chance to be the home of fintech, which not only can be an economic driver, but can help to cut fraud and financial crime because of the transparency it brings. Will he make sure that we get this right and that new legislation is fit for the future, so that Britain can be the home of this revolution?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have to get the legislation right, not only because we want to tackle economic crime, but because we do not want to stifle innovation and the investment in this country that makes us the highest receiver of foreign direct investment in Europe and one of the highest across the world. This is a great place to do business, to set up, grow and scale up.
The whole House would love to believe the Minister’s words, as would Northern Ireland, where paramilitary money has been turned into a vast empire, especially along the border, and economic crime is rife. The evidence is not great, though, given the casual writing off of £4.3 billion-worth of bounce back loans; the fact that Companies House is in such chaos that people can avoid paying debts by going bankrupt one day and starting a company the next; the fact that in the middle of the Ukraine crisis we have threatened sanctions on Russia yet we are not taking action on the dirty money from Russia, which flows into London and props up the Putin regime; and the fact that the former fraud Minister said this week that the Treasury has little interest in or little knowledge of fraud. The evidence is not great for the assurances that the Government are serious about tackling fraud.
As I said, the £4.3 billion figure cited is an inference by journalists; that money has not been written off by this Government. We are working with partners to ensure that we tackle the fraud that is clearly in the system, having given the money out at a crucial stage in the pandemic to enable businesses to survive. On the phoenix companies that the right hon. Gentleman talked about, that is exactly why we introduced the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Act 2021, which tackles such directors, but there is clearly more that we need to do, and we will do it when parliamentary time allows.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake and endorse everything he asked for. I know the Minister cannot anticipate the Queen’s Speech, but may I ask him to read the debate the House had on lawfare last Thursday, to which the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, our hon. Friend James Cartlidge, responded? Right now in our courts, in cases that are being investigated, litigants are outgunning the Serious Fraud Office. Oligarchs are basically waging lawfare in judicial review against our regulators and preventing these cases from being prosecuted properly. Will the Minister speak to our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice and make sure that any future legislation takes into account the threat of lawfare?
I agree that the lawfare debate was incredibly interesting and enlightening. We will make sure that we work together across Government to take all those matters into consideration when drawing up future legislation.
The former Minister Lord Agnew said that fraud in government is rampant—it is estimated to be approximately £30 billion a year—with a complete lack of focus on the cost to society or indeed the taxpayer, yet what we have heard so far from the Minister today is complacency. We need action now, because criminal fraud and money laundering are financing organised crime, drug trafficking, prostitution and much of society’s ills. The Minister needs to step up and get on with the job, legislate and go after the fraudsters who have stolen taxpayers’ money.
The hon. Lady is right about tackling fraudsters. That is why our determination to introduce legislation in this area is undiminished. At the other end of the scale but still adding up to a lot of money, universal credit, as well as being more responsive to claimants, was itself an anti-fraud measure. One of Lord Agnew’s great qualities was his attention to detail—to the small acts that had big implications but were often missed. We will bring that learning to bear across government.
The Department uses the National Investigation Service for frauds worth more than £100,000. The National Audit Office has reported that the service received 2,100 intelligence reports last year, but only 50 were investigated. The NAO has identified that as a lack of capacity, so rather than waiting for the Queen’s Speech, why does the Minister not speak to the Chancellor and ask for some extra funding for the service to pursue those frauds?
We have invested in a number of schemes, including an investment in the National Investigation Service to boost its capacity to investigate cases of serious fraud, especially within the bounce back loan scheme. It received £5 million in the 2020 spending review and made recoveries worth £3.1 million in 2021-22, exceeding its targets. It has investigations into bounce back loan frauds and other areas, and we will continue to work with it.
I know that the Minister will agree that my constituents have the right to expect that victims of economic crime will get the same redress as for other crimes, including where the victims are taxpayers. He will also welcome the many comments that I have had from businesses in my constituency about the speed of the support that was made available to prevent failures. In respect of Government-backed loans during the pandemic, does he think it would be helpful for the British Business Bank to be required to release performance data on the lenders to provide transparency on banks’ activities at the time?
I thank my hon. Friend for all his work throughout the pandemic. In his position as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, he has been asking probing questions. With the British Business Bank, we have tried to get the balance right between the transparency required to tackle the issue and the speed at which we can act, so that we are not consuming too much of its resources. It is early days in terms of fraud and recovery, but yes, data will become available.
How can the Minister reassure us when one of the reasons for the Government’s reluctance to act was highlighted in the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russian interference in our democracy as the large amounts of Russian and other dirty money that flow into Conservative party coffers?
I come back to this point: there is no reluctance to act. What I cannot do is pre-empt Her Majesty. Our appetite, as I say, remains undiminished. It is just a shame that the right hon. Gentleman hides behind Intelligence and Security Committee papers to throw political accusations when what we are trying to do is make sure that the taxpayers of this country get value for money and are not losing money, that the number of victims of economic crime is reduced and that they get their recoveries. Let us not make it a party political issue.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill that online platforms such as Facebook should not be allowed to profit from the advertising of known frauds and scams? As part of the online safety regime, they should be required to proactively block and withdraw advertising that promotes known frauds and scams.
We are really aware of the issues and we appreciate the comments in that report. As that Bill progresses, we will consider them with all due process.
The introduction of universal credit has led to a big increase in fraud. The current growth of economic crime and corruption poses an existential threat to financial services—one of our biggest and most successful business sectors—and therefore to the UK economy as a whole. Does the Minister accept that effectively tackling this scourge urgently requires an economic crime Bill?
I dispute the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about universal credit, but yes, tackling economic crime requires legislation. That is why we remain undiminished in our appetite to push this forward.
My hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake has very eloquently described the reason for and priority of bringing forward new legislation, but that opens the door to questions about the effectiveness of, and the force with which, existing legislation will be brought to bear on the key issue that Lord Agnew raised: fraud within the BBLS and CBILS during covid. We know from Lord Agnew that there were issues with fraudsters because of processes in the British Business Bank that were not up to scratch. We know from Lord Agnew that there were some banks—maybe two out of seven—where fraud was a priority.
The Minister has a choice to make. Will he come down on the fraudsters with a slap on the wrist or with a mighty hammer? I know which I would choose. What is he going to do?
I suspect that we have the same choice, frankly, with that mighty hammer. But what we have to do first is make sure that we have those processes in place. The British Business Bank obviously had to scale up very quickly in the pandemic, but we are working with it and the banks, which are our first port of call in this, as it is a delegated scheme. We want to make sure that the worst-performing banks scale up to the best-performing banks in tackling this, and we will continue to work on that endeavour.
The lawfare debate, which the Minister described as “interesting”, identified how money launderers use UK courts to cover up unlawful activity, so the term that he has used is a slight underestimate. The Minister responding to that debate said:
“the Government are poised to act.”—[Official Report,
Given that they have abandoned their economic crime Bill, given that the Attorney General is investigating malpractice at the Serious Fraud Office, which she is supposed to supervise, and given that too much oligarch money flows into the Tory party, how poised are they?
May I ask the Minister just how bad the level of economic crime has to be before the Government bring the Bill forward? Can he also set out to the House how well worked our legislation is? Many of the proposals have been promised for years and years. I think he will find that there is quite a lot of support across the House to bring those measures forward piecemeal. We still have three months of this Session, so why wait for the Queen? Let us bring some forward and get on with them.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to get this right. It is a technical and complex issue, and we will continue to work with people who are experts and knowledgeable in this field to make sure that we can get that legislation totally in place so that we can push it through in good time.
The Minister will be aware, and certainly his Treasury colleagues are aware, of the activities of Patrick McCreesh and Philip Nunn, of Blackmore Bond notoriety. Nearly five years after their dodgy and probably illegal sales tactics were first brought to the attention of regulators, those two are still allowed to continue in operation at the helm of a veritable spider’s web of companies, collecting scores of yellow cards, and some red cards, for breaches of statutory obligations. They are subject to no personal sanction, other than the occasional closure of one of the companies that they wanted to close down anyway. How much longer are we supposed to be satisfied with a regulator that, in one case, accepted the registration of a 10-year-old as a company officer? When are we going to have a regulator with teeth to drag dodgy directors out from hiding behind company nameplates in order for them to be held personally responsible, in a way that correctly reflects the fortunes that they have made and the financial misery they have inflicted on their victims?
I know the hon. Gentleman has used that example on a number of occasions. It is a particularly pertinent example but, as I say, Companies House reform is foremost among our priorities and it will come as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake on securing the urgent question.
From migrant boats to county lines, the golden thread that runs between them is illicit money flows. Although the national cyber-security strategy and the economic crime plan, and the measures in them, are welcome, what we really need is a Bill to bring this forward. May I urge my hon. Friend to use his good offices to make that case, in order to deal with not only some of the big issues but the low-level frauds that are affecting so many of our constituents? Let us not forget that it is the No. 1 crime in this country at the moment.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area and those comments. He is absolutely right: the theme in this is economic crime—county lines and those kinds of things. That is why the Business Department, the Treasury and the Home Office are working together to get this right and to tackle all of that in the round.
Fraud is a traumatic experience, which makes reports that victims are having their details collated and sold on the dark web as part of a so-called “suckers list” extremely worrying. What can be done to protect victims from being targeted a second time, and will the Minister ensure that this is a particular focus of the Government’s work moving forward?
First, we need to do lots of work on awareness of scams and those kinds of areas, which fall into my direct remit. Action Fraud is taking more and more of a position here to support victims and—the hon. Gentleman rightly referred to this—to tackle the immediacy after the event and to make sure that it cannot happen again.
Cyber-criminals prey on vulnerable people in all our communities. Yesterday’s launch of the very first cyber security strategy was an important step forward, but will my hon. Friend the Minister continue to work with Ministers on further measures that will strengthen the UK’s resistance to cyber-fraud?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the Government’s cyber strategy. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of this area, which the Government are tackling. We will continue to do more as time allows and as we get more and more information. The legislation needs to be right for the 21st century. It needs to keep up with the areas—cyber, the dark web and so on—that criminals are using.
I thank the Minister for his answers so far, but after the recent resignation of Lord Agnew following a lack of consideration for an economic crime Bill, there have been many calls for that decision to be reconsidered or reviewed. The Bill was set to protect and better manage the UK’s economic prosperity. May I gently remind the Minister of the £26 million robbery of the Northern Bank in Northern Ireland by the IRA? Experts state that moneys have been laundered through legitimate businesses. Alongside that, there is the £396 million of fuel duty that has been lost to the Chancellor. Through an economic crime Bill, we can address the issues relating to the IRA’s illegal and murderous activities. Will the Minister confirm to the House that every action will be taken to ensure the Bill is introduced as soon as possible to take on those who live off the backs of others?
I thank the hon. Member, as ever. He raises the really good point that not all economic crime is international. There is a lot of home-grown economic crime and he cites just one of a number of crimes happening in Northern Ireland and across the UK. Yes, we will ensure that we bring forward measures to this place to be scrutinised and pushed through as soon as possible.
Fraudsters, criminals and bad people take advantage of measures introduced in response to crises, whether financial or otherwise. This is an incredibly complex area. Every Member will have had constituents who have lost out one way or another through fraud over the years, so I hope the Minister will take the sentiments from across the House—I think every party in the House has spoken today—expressing concern about this issue and the delay that has come about. May I urge him to take two things into account? He says he is learning lessons. Will he learn the lessons from the response to the financial crisis, when our banks introduced measures that led to the virtual confiscation of, for example, more than 16,000 customers from the Global Restructuring Group within RBS? And can he please learn lessons to try to ensure proper corporate behaviour by lenders? Secondly, he mentions Action Fraud. The threshold for Action Fraud to investigate, or urge the police to investigate in various forces, is incredibly high. As a consequence, while we all urge our constituents to make contact with Action Fraud, invariably nothing follows.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We recognise those constraints, which is why we are looking at replacing Action Fraud with a new organisation based with City of London police to try to tackle the areas he raises. We will also learn the lessons. He is absolutely right. We want to get the balance right, so that we are confiscating the right amount of money from the right people—the criminals.