Economic Crime

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 24th March 2022.

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Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

What steps she is taking to ensure effective prosecution of economic crime.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington

What steps is she taking to ensure effective prosecution of economic crime.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Solicitor-General

The Government’s plans on tackling financial crime are outlined in the economic crime plan, which recognises the important roles played by both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office. In the year ending September 2021, the CPS prosecuted over 7,600 defendants where fraud and forgery were the principal offence, and the conviction rate was 84.9%. Over the last five years, the SFO has secured reparations for criminal behaviour from organisations that it has investigated, totalling over £1.3 billion.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I thank the Solicitor General for that answer. It is important that the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office adapt to the ever more sophisticated techniques that criminals are using to commit fraud and evade prosecution. Can my hon. Friend share any examples where either the CPS or the SFO has sought to change its working practice to evolve with the changing nature of economic fraud?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the threat is evolving, which is why the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to merge its specialist fraud, organised crime, and international headquarter divisions into one new directorate—the serious economic, organised crime and international directorate. This will increase flexibility, enhance capacity, build resilience and ensure that learning is shared to improve expertise in tackling economic crime.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington

I appreciate that answer. Can my hon. and learned Friend update the House on the process of replacing the services currently provided by Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Solicitor-General

The programme to replace the Action Fraud service is being funded as part of the £400 million investment in economic crime, so no additional money, as I heard sotto voce from the Opposition Bench. As well as continuing improvements to the reporting process, including the call centre and website, the new programme will also deliver vastly improved data and intelligence capabilities, and 350 new investigators and intelligence officers.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Economic crime and fraud are not simply at the very top level; they are volume crime. They are the most likely crimes to affect ordinary people, and neither the police nor the authorities are equipped to deal with them. Is it not about time that we got serious on economic crime and made sure that we invested in the investigating process that can make a real difference, as that is not happening?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: fraud is a cruel crime. It is not a victimless crime and it can destroy lives. That is why it is so important that the proper resources are allocated, as I indicated. A total of 7,600 individuals have been prosecuted for fraud, with an 85% conviction rate. We also have £400 million more going in. Moreover, over the past five years, £500 million has been secured by the CPS in confiscation orders, returning more than £120 million to victims of fraud.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Attorney General

At the heart of any legislation on economic crime is the basic principle that anybody who wants to make money in the UK needs to obey the UK’s laws. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that P&O had “broken the law”, that we will be “taking action” against it, and that we will take it to court

“under section 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992”.—[Official Report, 23 March 2022; Vol. 711, c. 325.]

Can the Solicitor General tell us, as part of the team of Government lawyers, whether he agrees with the Prime Minister’s statement? Does the statement reflect the team’s own legal advice to the Prime Minister, and, assuming that it does, what are the next steps in the legal proceedings that the Government intend to take against P&O for breach of the 1992 Act?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Solicitor-General

The Government absolutely deprecate and abhor the actions that have been taken by P&O, and the Prime Minister was very clear about that. What we will not do is indulge in point-scoring, but we will take every possible step within the law. The right hon. Lady will understand that that requires an important liaison with the Insolvency Service to ensure that we know what the position is. If the law allows for a prosecution, I can tell her that this Government will not hesitate to take every action necessary.