Economic Crime: Law Enforcement

– in the House of Commons at 12:25 pm on 7th July 2022.

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[Relevant document: Eleventh Report of the Treasury Committee, Session 2021-22, Economic Crime, HC 145, and Responses, Session 2021-22, HC 1261.]

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 12:27 pm, 7th July 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
notes that economic crime costs the UK economy at least £290 billion per year;
recognises that law enforcement agencies are significantly under-resourced to deal with the scale of the problem and can be unwilling to properly enforce existing laws;
is concerned at the fragmented nature of the enforcement landscape;
and calls on the Government to bring forward an economic crime enforcement strategy that allows for a significant increase in resource to expand and restructure the fight against economic crime, including money laundering and fraud.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate and Dame Margaret Hodge, who has worked closely with me on this issue. Too often in this place, we talk about legislation and not implementation. As the motion says,

“economic crime costs the UK economy at least £290 billion per year”— probably a lot more than that—and our agencies are “significantly under-resourced” and “fragmented”.

I would like to say that things will get better, but actually they will get much worse. That is not a criticism of the Government or any of our agencies, although there are criticisms to be levelled; the reality is that things are moving so quickly in this space and in the ability of organised criminals—people who deal drugs, traffic people across continents, fund terrorism, and steal assets from foreign jurisdictions and foreign nations —to move money around.

Let me set out an example of how easy this is becoming—these are all instances running through one platform. There is a hackers group called Lazarus, which is in effect a state-funded agency for North Korea that funds the North Korean weapons programme. There is also Hydra, a dark net drug dealing network, as well as Grandefex, which is run by organised criminals, and Russian Government agencies. The thing they all have in common is that they use a crypto-exchange platform called Binance, set up by a guy called Changpeng Zhao.

Reuters has investigated how those organisations used Binance to move money around totally anonymously between 2017 and 2021. Until 2021, this was regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, but still for this crypto -exchange, which moved bitcoins and lots of other currencies totally anonymously for those enterprises —for those funding terrorism and other nefarious enterprises —all people needed to do in order to register an account was to enter an email address. That was all people needed to do. There were no “know your customer” checks, no “know your client” checks and no ID requirements. People just had to enter an email address, which could easily be a fake one, and the money was moved around totally anonymously.

The owner of the organisation, Mr Zhao, said as recently as 2020, when speaking to his own staff, that he was driven by one thing and one thing only: growing his enterprise. This platform has now been banned in the UK as a regulated activity, but that does not stop UK people actually using it, because that is obviously how the internet works. He told his staff to “do everything” to increase market share, and spoke about “know your client” checks as being “unfortunately a requirement”.

The investigation by Reuters found that £2.35 billion was moved around in this way for nefarious ends, but a couple of billion pounds is just scratching the surface when we know that the amount of money washing through the UK is in the hundreds of billions of pounds. The UK plays a key role in this, and it is a role that we must acknowledge, and we must take responsibility for clamping down on this. We are getting nowhere near doing so at the moment.

We know that roughly 40% of our crime is economic crime, yet only 0.8% of our resources in man hours are dedicated to tackling economic crime, so there is a huge disparity. I think it is fair to say that the figure of £290 billion a year is a conservative estimate. It represents about 14.5% of our GDP as a cost to the UK economy, yet the application of resources to it adds up to 0.04% of GDP. There is a massive gulf in the cost to society and to this nation, as well as in many other ways. It is not just a financial cost, of course. As I say, there is drug dealing, people trafficking and all the things we are trying to tackle, yet money goes out through the backdoor to all these illegal enterprises.

Action Fraud reports on the impact on individuals, and I think that all of us, as constituency MPs, deal with individuals who have had money stolen from their accounts through things such as authorised push payment fraud. Action Fraud is not the most fit for purpose organisation on the planet. Anybody who has used it knows that the information just goes into a black hole, which is what Action Fraud is. It is going to be reformed, but just changing something’s name does not make it work. However, according to Action Fraud’s figures, £2.35 billion a year goes in that kind of small-scale fraud, which damages our constituents and small businesses directly.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare

I congratulate my hon. Friend and Dame Margaret Hodge on bringing this important debate to the House. Does he agree that to some extent our public debate about this is stuck in a 1980s time warp? We are all still talking about bobbies on the beat, when increasingly we need to have bobbies behind screens, patrolling digital highways rather than pavements. Without that, public trust in maintaining law and order and maintaining the credibility of the system will continue to be serious eroded.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend has much experience and expertise in this area as the former Government anti-corruption champion. He is absolutely right that we are tackling this in an analogue way in a digital era, and that we need to look at it completely differently. This is about enforcement and resources, and understanding the scale of the problem and meeting that with the right scale of response. However, we also need to look at legislative areas, because there are things we could do to make sure we get a better bang for our buck from our enforcement agencies, rather than just have more and more people, and I will talk about some other measures shortly.

On my hon. Friend’s point, at the moment 0.8% of our police and enforcement agencies’ time is spent tackling economic crime. Of the 20,000 new police officers who are going to be recruited, 725 are going to be dedicated to economic crime. That is better, but it is still only 3.6% of that cohort, so he is absolutely right. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that 90% of cases of economic crime are not even looked at, which is shocking.

The FCA is responsible for controlling money laundering in our financial organisations. Most of this runs through financial organisations—not just through the likes of Binance, which are shadowy enterprises—and I will talk about our main institutions in a moment. For money laundering purposes, the FCA regulates 22,000 organisations, which is a huge number, of which 5,000 are defined as high-risk organisations for money laundering. Last year it did 200 checks—only 200 out of those 5,000—and some of those were desktop checks, for money laundering. I would argue that we are never going to be able to tackle this just by having more and more people, although we do need more people.

This is not just about Binance. I am sure that, sooner or later, we will catch up with Binance. At some point in time, it will be banned, fined or something. In particular, the German regulators and the US enforcement agencies are on to it. Binance is based in the Cayman Islands, as Members might imagine. This is about our UK institutions as well.

If we look at our banks, we see that they have a horrendous record. HSBC was fined £1.4 billion for facilitating money laundering for Mexican drug cartels—the Escobars of this world—in 2012. That was a £1.4 billion fine, and it was fined another £64 million in 2021 for facilitating money laundering offences. In 2019, Standard Chartered was fined £840 million in the US and £102 million in the UK. In 2021, MT Global was fined £23 million by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for money laundering offences. NatWest was fined about £260 million this year, which was the first ever corporate criminal prosecution by the FCA. I welcome the fact that this year is the first time this has ever happened for historical money laundering offences. UBS has had the biggest ever fine—£3.2 billion by the French authority in 2019.

Danske Bank has facilitated £200 billion of money laundering offences, but it has not been fined yet. This has been identified, and it will be fined for the £200 billion of Russian money coming out of Russia and being spread around the world, with it all going through small banks in Estonia via Danske Bank—horrendous. We talk about how Putin funds his invasion of Ukraine. He does so by keeping a coterie of people around him who are stealing Russian assets and making him—there is no doubt about this—the wealthiest person in the world. However, we are facilitating this, because UK companies are involved in the shell companies moving that money around.

I could cite other examples of economic crime from my involvement with the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking. Criminal fraud at Lloyds HBOS was proven in 2017, and the cover-up associated with that is an utter disgrace. We are yet to see the Dobbs review, which later this year should identify the scale of the cover-up by Lloyds of what went on at HBOS. We have also seen the problems with Royal Bank of Scotland’s Global Restructuring Group, which devastated tens of thousands of businesses, in effect by defrauding businesses of their assets. On all those occasions, all those businesses ever got was a fine. Not a single senior executive in any of those cases has gone to jail. What we need is personal liability or this stuff will just be seen as a cost of doing business. That is the reality.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Mid Sussex

My hon. Friend speaks with knowledge and clarity about these crimes, and about the impact on constituents and the global impact—the two are very much interlinked. Many of my constituents have been impacted, to the tune of hundreds or thousands of pounds, which then filters into the global impact. How can we tackle this problem without people feeling that the answers are beyond them? We are talking about the global scale but this is affecting individuals; the two are inextricably linked and people want to see action.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

That is the right question. These problems are not difficult to solve if people are willing to apply the right rules. On the money taken from my hon. Friend’s constituents, there is probably an organised criminal gang behind that, contacting the constituent, saying they should move the money, and when they do that the money is probably moved through a mule account in one of the major banks and then off somewhere else, offshore, and it then disappears into the ether. The reality, of course, is that the banks would clamp down on mule accounts if they had the right incentive or the willingness to do so. These crimes can be stopped, but people will not stop them until that is in their interests to do so, and we need to make sure that is the case. Yes, we need the enforcement and enough people, but we need the people who are currently facilitating this, who are largely UK-based in this context, to be willing to prevent it.

The UK plays a particular role in all this economic crime. It is seen as a place where money is laundered, not necessarily where it is kept, although that is different in the case of kleptocrats or Russian oligarchs. The money is usually laundered in the UK and then goes off to other jurisdictions, largely the US. That is because of the consolidation of expertise in the City of London—we should be very proud of the City—and the financial organisations and the advisers who sit around them, who are also culpable in this regard. We have strong regulation in some areas and very weak regulation in others, particularly on offshore regulation, where in the UK there is a particular relationship between its domestic regulations and what happens offshore.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Banks are very strict with local customers, and rightly so, but not with the movement of large sums of money, unfortunately, including the £200 million sent from Estonia to Northern Ireland, which I understand has been highlighted on “Panorama”. The Government seem to focus on the ordinary account holders being regulated strictly, but they do not seem to have any level of regulation for the big money movements. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to focus on that bigger picture?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Gentleman is right. The regulations are there but the penalties are not sufficient. The people within Danske Bank knew that they were doing wrong when they moved €200 billion out of Russia and into other parts of the world, but there was no incentive to do anything about it because they made a huge amount of money as it flew through their systems. A local manager, a mid-tier manager or even a senior executive would think, “Well, we’re making money and nobody’s going to find out, and if we are found out there will be a fine down the line and I will have gone by then anyway.” So where is the incentive to clamp down if they are going to make lots of money out of it? After all, everybody has budgets and targets to hit, and bonuses on the back of them. That is the problem: the penalties and enforcement need to be different.

Another key reason why money is washed through the UK is that we have the overseas territories, tax havens that work on the same basis of common law—Jersey, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Money launderers do not want to pay tax on their money, so they put it through a jurisdiction with low or zero taxation. That is why the UK plays a major role in facilitating this, and also why it must play a major role in clamping down on it.

We do not do clamping down very well here, however. Our enforcement agencies have success in some regards, but they are nowhere near as successful as other jurisdictions, for example the USA, which is far more focused on this. The US has similar bribery laws to the UK, introduced in 2011. In 2020 the US fined organisations in the US £1.85 billion for bribery offences, which is more than the UK has fined in 10 years. The situation for money laundering sanctions is very similar: in 2019 the UK fined our banks £260 million in the entire year for money laundering offences, while the US fined £7.5 billion, including £2.5 billion of criminal sanctions. Almost every one of our agencies is underfunded and under-resourced in tackling this problem.

What do we need to do? My colleague the right hon. Member for Barking will talk about some of the measures, but I will focus on the key things that I think we need. We must ringfence a budget for tackling economic crime right across the piece in the UK, to see exactly how much we are spending on tackling organised crime. We need fewer agencies, too; the effort must be more consolidated so the lines of reporting are less fragmented and more direct.

Action Fraud must not just be a rebadged enterprise. It needs to be meaningful, and people need to have confidence that the offences reported to it will be dealt with. I was recently nearly scammed through WhatsApp when I thought my son had contacted me, but it was another person. I wondered whether to report it to Action Fraud, but I thought, “What’s the point? It’s not going to do anything about it.” That is why people do not report such incidents. Clearly, therefore, there are many more offences than the number reported.

The No. 1 thing we need to do is something the Government have talked about. We already have a failure to prevent offence. There is corporate criminal liability in the UK if people fail to prevent bribery in their organisation—that offence was introduced some years ago, I think in 2011—and also an offence of failure to prevent tax evasion. People cannot just stop that happening; they have to put the rules in place to stop it happening. The key thing is what they can do to stop this. They therefore put systems in their organisation to alert them to certain things happening, and they train staff that they cannot get involved in bribery or facilitate tax evasion. We need to extend that to failure to prevent economic crime.

The Government have been talking about this for some time, and the Law Commission has reported on it. It said we should introduce such an offence but probably for fraud alone, not for money laundering or things like false accounting. I think that is a big mistake. It is also very mealy-mouthed on including personal liability for directors; it says it could be added if they have the mental something—what is the word?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Thank you; that is right, whatever it means in English.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Thank you. On that basis, only if it can be proven that the directors had a guilty mind and were actually participating in the fraud can they go to jail. That is the wrong approach, and is not what the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 said. The Act said that those who fail to prevent accidents in their workplace could go to jail, and construction deaths dropped in the following year by 90%. We need to put in place an offence such that those who fail to take reasonable steps to prevent and clamp down on fraud can go to jail, without it also being necessary to prove that they deliberately facilitated the fraud. That would make a fundamental difference.

We must support whistleblowers, too. Most of the information on these offences will come not from our enforcement agencies or investigations by regulators, but from people within the organisations. Currently, those people are not protected—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I remind the mover of the motion that the guidance says they have up to 10 minutes, and the hon. Member has now spoken for longer than that times two. Perhaps, with a bit of focus, he will now bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I have so much to say on this; I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Finally, as well as beefing up the numbers, we should consider doing what we have done on unexplained wealth orders. Welcome Government legislation that was brought forward in the last Session capped costs for UWOs, and we should consider capping costs for all prosecutions of economic crimes to stop very wealthy individuals preventing our enforcement agencies from taking them to court merely because they have huge financial firepower that is much stronger than ours.

On that, I will conclude. I am very sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have taken so long, but, as I said, I could talk for much longer on this given the chance.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I remind the hon. Member that, at the end of the debate, he will have two minutes to conclude, not four. [Laughter.]

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking 12:49 pm, 7th July 2022

It is a bizarre day to be debating a really important issue. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for selecting it, and it is a privilege to follow Kevin Hollinrake, with whom I am working closely on many of these issues. I will say something a bit general before moving on. Have I got 10 minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker, or a little bit more?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

You are not constrained. All I would say is to focus—

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I will keep it tight.

It is shocking but true that it was the tragedy of the war in Ukraine that got our Government to start thinking about the serious threat that the country faces, in both our economy and our society, from the spiralling menace of illicit finance and all that goes with it. I have said many times in the House, and I repeat today, that we will never enjoy sustained, good economic prosperity on the back of dirty money. We earned the reputation on which our superb, successful financial sector was built by being a trusted jurisdiction, and we must maintain that. Today, we are in danger of losing that trust.

The US sees us as a high-risk jurisdiction similar to Cyprus, and Londongrad is becoming a popular term among many. We have moved off our perch as the world’s leaders in fighting economic crime. Moody’s has downgraded us, and we are slipping down the ranks of Transparency International’s corruption perception index. Everything is moving in the wrong direction. That is no surprise because, as the hon. Member said, economic crime is now massive. It costs the country £290 billion annually—more than a quarter of the Government’s total public expenditure—and all of us who are concerned with this area know that that figure is conservative. The latest figures from UK Finance that came out last week suggest that in 2020 there was an 8% increase in fraud, which of course is the biggest component of economic crime.

Much illicit finance, but not all, comes from Russia, through Russian companies and Russian individuals. As various Select Committee reports on the subject show, for too long we have turned a blind eye to the threat that Putin’s kleptocratic regime poses to our economy. Why did we do nothing after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, or after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in 2018? Those were two brutal attacks on British soil.

We must add to that the findings of a recent report by Buzzfeed News investigations, which established that between 2003 and 2016, there were 14 more suspicious deaths in the UK of individuals who were hostile to the Russian state. I will mention just three of them. Stephen Curtis, the British lawyer who helped the laundering of money—potentially billions of pounds—in the UK for wealthy Russian oligarchs, died in a helicopter crash in 2004. Alexander Perepilichnyy blew the whistle on a multimillion-pound Government fraud in Russia. He flew to Britain, and died of a so-called heart attack when jogging near his home in Surrey in 2012. The coroner’s inquest said that he died of natural causes, but evidence given, I gather, behind closed doors for national security reasons said that there was no natural cause determined. Some suspect that he was poisoned. Boris Berezovsky, who made his wealth during the collapse of the Soviet Union, was famous because he was key in supporting Putin and getting him into power in Russia. In 2013, he was found hanged in his home.

Those are only three of 14 cases, but in all of them the police concluded that the deaths were not suspicious. There was no investigation, or indeed any suggestion that those were Russian state-sanctioned murders, although the US intelligence services told our police that they thought the deaths were likely sanctioned by the Kremlin. Were the police just incompetent? I doubt it. Was there pressure from somewhere else—from either our security services or our Government—to turn a blind eye to the possibility that those were state-sanctioned murders? American intelligence officials told Buzzfeed journalists that Russian killers had been able to kill in Britain with impunity. They said that one of the reasons for the reticence of enforcement agencies to act was

“a desire to preserve the billions of pounds of Russian money that pour into British banks and properties each year.”

As we debate the failures of our enforcement agencies in tackling illicit wealth, we should bear in mind that the problem goes well beyond the funding, the skills and the effectiveness of the enforcement agency. If we are really to eradicate dirty money, we require action on a wide number of fronts, as the all-party parliamentary group for fair business banking and the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax have said. We have put together a good manifesto that could form the start of concerted action to rid us of this terribly bad thing. We talk in the manifesto about action on four fronts. We need smart regulation, much greater transparency, proper accountability and enforcement. We are debating enforcement today.

All those measures are interdependent, and I worry a lot that the Government’s response through the economic crime Bill, which should be with us in the autumn, will be too little and too fragmented. Reform of Companies House, for which we have argued for a long time, is necessary but not sufficient. So are reform of anti-money laundering regulations, and an open register of property owned by foreign countries. We need co-ordinated action on many fronts if we are to clean up dirty Britain.

Today, we are focusing on enforcement. Our performance is abysmal, our record in successfully bringing bad players to account is miserable and our commitment to doing the job properly is questionable. The evidence—the hon. Member already talked about some of it—is overwhelming. The Bribery Act was introduced in 2010, and in the UK we have had 99 criminal convictions and six deferred prosecution agreements. The USA, with a similar legislative framework, has had 236 convictions in the same period. As I understand it—I could not find one, but if I am wrong, I stand to be corrected—we have never pursued a criminal prosecution against a bank for money laundering or sanctions busting. We use civil measures, but never criminal ones. In 2019, we had civil fines of £260 million. In the same year, the Americans pursued criminal action against and secured £2.5 billion from just six banks, and they secured £5 billion in civil fines.

As the hon. Member said—it is worth repeating, because it is so shocking—the Financial Conduct Authority fined HSBC £64 million in 2021 for AML failures, but nearly a decade before, it was fined £1.4 billion in America for AML offences. Standard Chartered is a British bank, so we ought to be the ones who are really responsible for ensuring that it behaves itself. What do we get from it? Fines for wrongdoing under anti-money laundering regulations of £102 million. What do the Americans get? Over 800% more: £842 million. Yet we know from the FinCEN—the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—files that too many of our banks and too many individuals who work in our banks either passively collude with economic crime, or actively promote and facilitate money launderings. The banks that are implicated are so often the biggest British-based banks: HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered.

What we do in Britain is pursue the little businesses, the little men and women who are trying hard to establish new businesses here. That came home to me very much when I chaired the Public Accounts Committee and we had the leaks relating to HSBC—they were called the Falciani leaks. There were more documents relating to British accounts than, I think, for any other nation. There were 3,600 British accounts. At the time, the tax authorities said to us that there was cause for concern with about a third of those. Out of that third—about 1,200—they finally found 150 cases. How many did they pursue? One individual was charged. I could not find, in my search of Google, whether that individual was ever convicted. Look at how other countries dealt with it: every other country managed to charge more people, fine more people and get some compensation. The only thing that happened with us was that Rona Fairhead, now in the House of Lords, was on the board of HSBC at the time and was responsible for the audit committee. I cannot understand how anybody with that responsibility could not have seen a red flag when looking through the accounts from the Swiss branch of HSBC and seeing the profits being secured. The only thing she said was that she declared that the whistleblower was a criminal and that the only thing that HSBC should do was pursue the whistleblower and try to get him imprisoned.

Fraud is the crime that now affects one in 11 adults in the UK, yet convictions for fraud have collapsed by two-thirds in the past three years—cases up and convictions down. The number of criminal cases the Serious Fraud Office, in which we had great confidence, has under investigation has halved over the past three years. There have been some disastrous failures in the courts through the SFO with Serco and Unaoil, where it lost cases simply because it did not share information in a proper way—it failed to disclose relevant material to the defendants. There are lawyers in the Chamber. I am not one, but I cannot believe that it actually did that.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent analysis of the situation. At the moment, the SFO is itself being investigated by a former Director of Public Prosecutions and being sued by the people it should be investigating. It lacks the money, the personnel and the powers to do its job. It has a £53 million a year budget against hundreds of billions of dirty money. This is a peashooter against an elephant, is it not? This needs reform urgently.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I completely agree with those observations, which are so well made.

The National Crime Agency has dropped its prosecutions by 35% in the past five years. The record of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which we do not often talk about, is equally awful. It sees its purpose entirely as simply getting tax revenues in. That is important, but it also has a duty to ensure that anybody who acts unlawfully in the way that they deal with the revenue authorities—or, more seriously, evade tax—is pursued. Yet it simply does not see that as part of its functions. Compare that to the Department for Work and Pensions, where anybody who has an allegation of fraudulently claiming benefit is pursued with vigour by the authorities in that agency. A similar attitude should be taken to what I consider the serious crime of deliberately avoiding tax and not paying into the common pot for the common good.

There are some egregious cases of schemes dreamt up with no purpose other than to avoid tax. One example was Working Wheels, which hit my desk when I was Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. In that instance, the person who wanted to avoid tax pretended that they were selling second-hand cars. That created money that then whirled through the system to create a debt, which they were able to claim against the tax liability from their legitimate earnings. Chris Moyles was persuaded that he could become a second-hand car dealer. Telling people that you are a second-hand car dealer is fraudulent. It is a fraud. And why that is not pursued with the same vigour as somebody who tries to lie about their circumstances to get a better benefit settlement is beyond belief. One of our recommendations is that HMRC should have an absolute statutory duty to pursue wrongdoing with the same vigour with which it pursues getting money into our coffers.

All the agencies are grossly underfunded. The Government trumpet the £100 million they will get from the economic crime levy, but that is peanuts when set alongside what the banks themselves spend on anti-money laundering and what other countries spend. Under Biden, the Americans have increased their expenditure on enforcement by more than 30%, because they define it as a security issue. What have we done here? We have had a real cut of 4.5%.

We have lots of ideas that would not require a call on taxpayers’ money. We could enable a percentage of the fines collected from successful actions to be used to fund further activity and staffing within the enforcement agency. We could follow the American example and say that costs incurred by the defendant, were we to lose cases, should in no way be met from the public purse. Why should people against whom we allege wrongdoing in relation to Government funding be allowed such a contribution? One thing we will come back to is the sanctioning of individuals. We have frozen the assets of a lot of Russian oligarchs, but we have no mechanism to seize those assets. A move from freezing to seizing—we are doing some work next week to look at the practical changes that would have to be brought in to enable that to happen—would release more resources not just for enforcement activity but, in this instance, to help with the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war.

Staffing must grow. For example, there are only 118 employees to deal with more than half a million suspicious activity reports a year that the agencies receive. By my arithmetic, that is 4,250 reports per official. In Germany, there are 500 reports per official. In Australia, there are 1,400 reports per official. They are all better staffed than we are here. This is so much an invest-to-save activity. It is a nonsense that the Government do not distribute their resources in a way that enables that to happen.

There is also the chaos of our existing regulatory infrastructure, which is fragmented. As the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said, lots of stuff falls through the holes. A lot of whistleblowers and people come to me with cases, and I refer a case to one agency, which tells me to refer it to another, and it then disappears and I never hear about it again.

We must take on board the failure of the professionals to self-regulate. There are too many bodies; 13 bodies supervise the accountancy sector. The hon. Member and I met representatives of one of those the other day. I think that they have suspended seven people in the past year. That is a nonsensical figure in relation to the activity that is taking place—the collusion and facilitation of wrongdoing—so we have to sort out the regulation of the enablers and the regulator. There is an overarching regulator, which regulates all the regulators. That should be sorted out and personal responsibility must be taken.

I will make two other points. The most egregious case that I have come across—this is a comment on all our regulatory systems and our failure to enforce—relates to Lebanon, where there was a tragic explosion in a warehouse that had fertiliser, which was supposed to go to Mozambique. That resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and massive damage to property. A few weeks after that occurred, I got a phone call from a Reuters journalist with whom I regularly work. He told me that the company that owned the fertiliser was British-registered. I gave my usual comment about “hopeless, lax regulation” and did not think twice about it. About three weeks after that, I got a number of phone calls from people in Lebanon, the Lebanese Bar Association and others. It emerged that the company had been set up here as a UK-based company by a woman in Cyprus who was in fact the company service provider. She put herself down as the beneficial owner, but she obviously was not. She told HMRC that it was a dormant company, but it obviously was not because it was dealing in fertiliser. It then emerged that the real owners were Russian-Syrians and that the fertiliser was going nowhere near Mozambique, but to Assad to be used in barrel bombs to kill his people. That is a shocking story, but it demonstrates how our regulatory infrastructure and the failure of our enforcement agencies damages the lives of people not just here at home but abroad.

I have a final story, which, again, causes me great concern. After the Kazakhstan tragedy—a demonstration against the kleptocrats who run the regime where Russian soldiers were used to fire at the crowds and people were killed—two British academics came to me with their research, which demonstrated that there were 30 individuals in Kazakhstan who were involved in money laundering and human rights abuses and whom we should sanction. I used the privilege of the House to mention the 30 individuals in an Adjournment debate and then sent the list to the Foreign Office. A few days after that, I got a letter from one of the people I had named, asserting his innocence. Obviously, he wanted me to respond outside the House, so I acknowledged the letter and did nothing more. I then got a second letter with a phone call, asking whether we had received the letter. My assistant said that we had. I then got a letter from the desk at the Foreign Office asking me whether we had received the letter, whether we were responding and what we were going to do about it. I asked the Foreign Office why it was pursuing this and on whose behalf it was working. It said that it thought that it was important to facilitate relations between kleptocrats and British politicians.

That is shocking and leads me to think: are the Government really serious about bearing down on all the economic crime and corruption that week after week, year after year, we talk about in the House? If they are, they must pursue consistently and vigorously every instance of it, and not just the Russian kleptocrats—evil though they are—but kleptocrats elsewhere who are stealing from and killing their people and creating instability in the world.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 1:15 pm, 7th July 2022

I thank Dame Margaret Hodge and my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake—the chairs of the all-party groups on anti-corruption and responsible tax and on fair business banking respectively—for securing this important debate. As chair of the all-party group for whistleblowing, I also thank them for making the APPG’s proposal to create an office for whistleblowers a policy recommendation as part of their “Economic Crime Manifesto”.

The recently published “Economic Crime Manifesto” presents the Government with good recommendations on how they can robustly tackle economic crime. Taken together, the manifesto’s four umbrellas for reform—transparency, enforcement, accountability and regulation—work to stop economic crime from all angles and at all levels. I ask the Government to give proper consideration to the detailed proposals made in the manifesto, if they are serious, as I know they are, about fighting economic crime.

The motion recognises the enormous cost of economic crime to the economy of £290 billion a year. It calls for an economic crime enforcement strategy and a restructuring of the fight against economic crime. That is much needed and part of that, in my view, is the office for whistleblowers. That office, which comes under the manifesto’s “Accountability” heading, would go a long way to supporting the detection of economic crime by supporting the individuals responsible for detecting the majority of fraud.

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, in its 2022 “A Report to the Nations”, found that 43% of fraud was detected through whistleblowers versus just 15% by internal audit and 3% by external audit. Whistleblowers are the single most cost-effective detection tool yet, as it stands, there is little to incentivise whistleblowers to come forward with information. When they do, they face, at best, being ignored, stifled and gaslit and at worst, having their careers and lives destroyed. When an employee blows the whistle, they risk retaliation, harassment, unfair dismissal and blacklisting and, as we have heard in relation to some crimes, much worse.

Meanwhile, the bosses of economic crime gangs take money from hard-working taxpayers and funding from much-needed public services. Although the knowledge of having done the right thing may be sufficient reward for many, it is the personal cost that deters so many others. With little to look forward to but possible pain and suffering ahead, is it any wonder that people choose not to speak up?

To combat economic crime, we need a shift in society, where people feel confident to come forward and are supported in doing so. Disturbingly, the National Crime Agency believes that just 20% of incidents of fraud are reported. Although the Office for National Statistics crime survey reports more than 3 million incidents of fraud a year, the true figure could be five times that.

While a whistleblowing-positive culture will uncover more economic crime that will need investigating, the office for whistleblowers would support law enforcement. The office would be responsible for setting, monitoring and enforcing standards for the management of whistleblowing cases, would provide advice services and a clear avenue for disclosures, and would direct investigations and handle redress for whistleblowers. Although the current whistleblowing legislation covers only employees, anyone who blows the whistle—witnesses, contractors and many others—would be supported by the office for whistleblowers. If we want to combat economic crime effectively, we need to know about instances of it, to understand the scale. If we want to understand the scale, we need those with the information to come forward. If we want people to come forward, we need them to be able to do so without repercussions.

Serious and organised crime funds gangs and results in public and private money co-mingling with drugs, human trafficking, arms dealing and more. At a time when the state and individuals can least afford it, billions of pounds are being funnelled into illegal activities, despite modern and sophisticated crime detection techniques. Despite Government efforts over recent years, we are continuing to lose vast sums to criminals. That suggests to me that a new approach to handling economic crime is needed. I thank the right hon. Member for Barking and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for securing this important debate; I am happy to support the motion.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill 1:21 pm, 7th July 2022

I thank Kevin Hollinrake and my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge for bringing this debate to the House and for all their work in bringing together the superb set of proposals in the economic crime manifesto. It is an important debate for us to have, even on a day like this, for the simple reason that at the heart of every autocracy, every dictatorship and every tyranny is corruption. Those who enable that corruption enable dictatorship, tyranny and autocracy. Our country led the industrial revolution and is a proud hub for the global financial services industry. Just as we once destroyed slave trading around the world, it is imperative that we destroy economic crime around the world in the 21st century. That is why the debate is so important.

I commend the all-party groups for the publication of their economic crime manifesto. I draw the House’s attention to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s contribution to the debate—our report published last week. The conclusion that we reached, which is set out clearly at paragraph 14, is a pretty damning indictment of where we have ended up:

“The Government’s unwillingness to bring forward legislation to stem the flow of dirty money is likely to have contributed to the belief in Russia that the UK is a safe haven for corrupt wealth.”

The ecosystem of wealth managers, lawyers, PR merchants, bankers and estate agents who enabled Putin’s kleptocrats have contributed to the strength of Putin in Russia and therefore to the prosecution of war in Ukraine—that is the conclusion that the Foreign Affairs Committee came to last week.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

My right hon. Friend is speaking very well on the subject, as he always does. We have heard that the oligarchs use Londongrad as a playground, not just for leisure and lifestyle but for criminal activity, because law enforcement is too weak. What adds insult to injury is that when journalists and private investigators step up to expose what is going on, they are subject to punishment from the institutions of this country—the courts—through SLAPP, or strategic litigation against public participation. The people who are getting away with it are the people who should be in the dock.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

Exactly. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

I will quickly run through five parts of the economic manifesto that have to be at the core of the next economic crime Bill. One of the virtues of having this debate today, at this moment of great flux in our politics, is that I hope to put on the record the cross-party consensus that now exists about the provisions that need to go into economic crime Bill 2.

Many of us argued for a long time for the first Bill, which was rushed through the House in record time for obvious reasons. Many of the amendments that improved the Bill came from participants in this debate. What we are saying to the Government today, through the good offices of the Minister, is that the Bill did not go far enough—it did not begin to touch the scale of the problem. There is therefore an expectation that when the Government draw together the provisions of economic crime Bill 2, they will look at the economic crime manifesto, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report and the text of this debate.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The right hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. May I recommend that the Minister —or the Minister responsible, when that Minister is in place—also reads the Treasury Committee’s report “Economic Crime”, which sets out recommendations similar to those of the Foreign Affairs Committee?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The joy of the Minister’s position must surely be that Members of this House have done the heavy lifting for him. Between us, we have sketched out a pretty comprehensive catalogue of measures for the Bill: we have not quite put the clause numbers in, but I think we have set out most of the measures.

Those measures have to start with information about the crime. That is why we need the whistleblower provision, because whistleblowers are so often the source of intelligence, and it is also why we have to reform the suspicious activity reporting regime. Not only does the regime need widening so that it bites on more organisations such as estate agents but we have to find a way of pooling the intelligence that comes from suspicious activity reports and focusing on where we think the harm is greatest. Our Committee has heard that loud and clear, not least in New York last week, where our excellent consular team pulled together a wide-ranging discussion for us. Lots of banks, law firms and so on are saying, “Look, we are spending all our time running platinum-plated processes, but without sieving the information intelligently and focusing on the 0.01% of reports to which we really should pay some attention.”

My hon. Friend Andy Slaughter has drawn attention to the way our courts are being used to shut down journalists, which is the third piece of the puzzle. We need courageous journalists to speak the truth; we cannot use English courts to shut them down, as is happening in London.

There are some changes that we need to make to ensure that we have good information and intelligence. We then need to ensure that the regulator is in place. The argument about needing a better Companies House has been well rehearsed; it is just crazy that the “know your customer” provisions that bite on so many commercial organisations do not bite on Companies House, so it is recording directors with names like Mickey Mouse, and in some cases not recording directors at all.

I fully agree that we need criminal liability for directors as a third set of provisions. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is absolutely right to sketch out the parallel with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, which requires people to identify the harms of which their organisation may be guilty and put provision in place to prevent those harms from happening in the first place. Prevention is always better than cure.

We obviously need to transform enforcement. We need to double, at least, the budget for the National Crime Agency. We need to match, at least, the money that the private sector puts into law enforcement. We need to take steps to reduce the costs, which is the only way to start getting unexplained wealth orders through. In America they would love the power of unexplained wealth orders, but we have had to explain that they are currently useless because we just cannot prosecute them successfully through the courts.

On top of that architecture, we need to create one further set of offences to tackle the problem that in cases of corruption, the evidence that our agencies need is not carefully organised and filed away in Britain; it is offshore in jurisdictions where it is not available to us. When we cannot onshore the evidence, we have to somehow onshore the offence. We need to think about creating tough obligations on enablers, on company directors and on politicians in this House and the other place to declare anything that is suspect or corrupt. We almost need a suspicious activity reporting regime that allows us to prosecute people for failing to disclose things that they should be disclosing. That needs to carry a sanction which leads to civil proceedings for confiscation of assets. Unless we find a way of onshoring these offences, we will continue to be bedevilled by the problem of getting hold of the evidence that we need.

Out in the world, people are asking why on earth this place has not acted on economic crime. It is understandable that people should draw a connection between the flood of dirty money into our politics and our failure to act. It is a matter of tremendous regret that more than £7 million of the £54 million that has gone to the Conservative party in high-value donations has come from individuals with very suspect links to Russia.

Ehud Sheleg, who has been discussed in The New York Times, is deeply connected commercially with his father-in-law, Mr Kopytov. The New York Times recently revealed the way in which money came from his father-in-law to Mr Sheleg as a result of business activity in Russia—that was in the suspicious activity report—but when a number of us reported it to the National Crime Agency, the NCA just said, “Well, it has come from the bank account of a UK citizen; nothing to see here.” That is nuts, not least because there is now further evidence that Mr Kopytov is closely linked to business in occupied Crimea, and that money from that Crimean business went into Mr Sheleg’s account in 2018. Worse than that, Mr Sheleg’s father-in-law is now closely connected commercially to Alexander Babakov, who has been sanctioned by countries all over the world.

It is not a good situation for any of us when we have to raise concerns of this kind in the House, not least because we in the House will make mistakes. During a debate on 17 January, for instance, I said that Yuriy Lopatynskyy had questions to answer. I am glad that he has now answered those questions, and has given me reassurances that he has never had links with the Russian intelligence services. I am glad to be able to accept those assurances, and to apologise to him for any distress caused. However, it is not a good situation when we do not have regulators, intelligence agencies and police services that are able to tackle this kind of dirty money.

Dmitry Leus, I am afraid, is another example. There is clear knowledge of his recruitment by the FSB, who got him out of prison. He has a criminal record in Russia., and according to intelligence sources that I have seen, he is

“absolutely dependent on the FSB”.

However, he is also a significant donor to the constituency of Esher and Walton, the home of—I am not quite sure what position he is in at the moment, but he was Deputy Prime Minister last time I looked. The donation that went to the Prince of Wales’s charity was returned, but the Conservative party has not returned its donation.

We are not in a good situation when we are having to discuss this kind of money coming into political parties, and I therefore hope that the future economic crime Bill will ensure that the only money that can come into a political party is from profits that have been created here, in this country.

Let me end by again thanking the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton and my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking for initiating the debate.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 1:33 pm, 7th July 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake and Dame Margaret Hodge on securing the debate, and on the reports produced by their all-party parliamentary groups on fair business banking and on anti-corruption and responsible tax. Much of the debate so far has focused on what might be termed high-level and high-profile international and economic crime. I understand that, and I will touch on it briefly, but then I want to move on.

In relation to those very high-level matters, we definitely need to do more to tighten the rules on money laundering. I agree that the Bill that became the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 was much improved in the course of its passage, and we should certainly seek to tighten and improve the provisions of the second Bill when it comes before the House.

We also need to do more about corporate criminal responsibility and liability. The issue referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton relates to what, in law, is called the identification test. It concerns the mens rea, or guilty knowledge, of the “controlling mind and will” of a company, and the requirement to identify that controlling mind and will—a term which, in practice, has tended to mean only a very small cadre of senior managers, which makes it impossible to make the company liable for acts carried out by anyone who is other than part of that controlling mind and will, the very tight-knit group at the top who may be carrying out fraudulent acts for or on behalf of the corporate entity. The system is different in other jurisdictions, including the United States, and reform in that regard would be helpful and sensible. As the right hon. Member for Barking pointed out, it has proved easier in practice to prosecute small companies than to prosecute large ones, because the management structures of the large companies are often more diffuse, and under the current law it is therefore harder to identify those who constitute the controlling mind and will.

An extension of the duty to prevent offences would also be wise, and the Law Commission has recommended it in relation to fraud, but I think we should be open to going further. My one caveat, which I think the Law Commission flags up in its options paper which it published month, is that there is not always an exact analogy between health and safety at work offences and fraud offences. To convict for fraud, there has to be the additional element of dishonesty, either knowledge or “connivance”—a term that it often used—and, of course, dishonesty is not always a requisite element of the offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. A distinction may need to be drawn, and I think we have not gone as far as we could have. I am not saying that we cannot look at this, but I think it is important to bear that distinction in mind.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare

Would my hon. Friend care to venture an opinion on the Law Commission’s recommendations concerning the potential for fixing the “controlling mind” legislation and legal approach? Could that be improved sufficiently to provide a decent alternative to the “failure to prevent”, or is it fundamentally unfixable, and would such a path therefore not lead to success?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

The Law Commission often offers a sensible way forward, and I urge the Government to adopt those recommendations and try to implement them swiftly. This involved considerable work and a great deal of expertise and advice, and I see no reason for us not to move on the “controlling mind” test quite quickly, even if we needed to look a little further at the “duty to prevent” test. Neither of those is unfixable. They offer a sensible way forward in relation to the “controlling mind” test”, and I hope the Government will act.

The other matter I want to raise in respect of larger-scale frauds is the work of the Serious Fraud Office. It certainly involves controversy, and there are some issues to which the SFO needs to respond in relation to the conduct of certain cases. I hope very much that we will see the full publication of Sir David Calvert-Smith’s report on one of those cases. On the other hand, to its credit, with a staff of 250-odd, the SFO has secured for the Consolidated Fund, through payments under deferred prosecution agreements—of which there are now 12—the recovery of some £1.6 billion. If a modest percentage of that were ringfenced, and, rather than going back to the Treasury, were held and reinvested in the budget of the SFO and allied crime-fighting agencies, that would be a massive step forward in providing it with the resources with which to deal with serious international and corporate crime.

In one of the cases that we spoke about recently when the Justice Committee visited the SFO, the disclosure material involved some 1.9 million documents. Dealing with those is a massive task. The SFO could invest in more artificial intelligence for searching documents. There are some legal complexities surrounding that, but it is doable, and is already done in commercial civil litigation. However, it is necessary to invest in it. If some of that money from the deferred prosecution agreements were ringfenced and reinvested, it would be money very well spent.

Having spoken about those large-scale matters, I hope that we will not forget that there is a great deal of “small-scale” fraud—small-scale in the global picture, that is, but very big and important to the victims of fraud. The Justice Committee recently conducted a number of hearings on fraud in the justice system. The message of the evidence we heard from Victim Support was “Do not think that fraud is a victimless crime, which is all too easy to do”. That view was supported by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which reported that some 74% of fraud victims were emotionally impacted by the crime. At the very least, someone will feel that they have been made an idiot of; more often, they will have lost what may be a small sum of money for a bank, but is a lot of money to them. They will feel vulnerable thereafter, almost betrayed. So this is not a victimless crime, and we should never allow it to be thought to be so. This is coming from the people who have been talked to because they have reported the offence of fraud. There are estimated to be 3.7 million incidents of fraud but according to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, the majority of them are not reported. We need to do a lot more on that everyday fraud.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

The hon. Gentleman talks about this subject as well as about the major frauds. I was shocked to find out that in 2020-21 fraud accounted for 39% of all crime and that the average investment fraud deprived the victim of £14,000, which is a significant sum of money to an individual. Is it part of the problem that we are not taking this seriously enough? If we were, we would no longer be relying on Action Fraud, which I thought the Government had agreed to wind up and replace with something effective.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

It is extraordinary that fraud accounts for nearly 40% of all crime but only about 20% of police resources go into it, which is disproportionately low. The hon. Gentleman is right about the failures of Action Fraud. Every one of us will have seen that in our own constituency caseloads. It is clear from the evidence that we heard that Action Fraud is not working effectively. The stats told us that 876,000 frauds were reported through Action Fraud, CIFAS and UK Finance in 2021. On average, about seven frauds per minute are being committed. Of those 876,000, only about 58,200 were then disseminated for further investigation, and about 28,700 were passed on to the police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which sits behind Action Fraud. So even if someone gets through and gets anything done, only a small percentage of the cases are acted on. Ironically, for people who can get their case to court, the conviction rate is about 85%, but only a tiny percentage get to court. We have to do an awful lot more to get these cases to court in the first place, and that means much better treatment of victims and witnesses in those fraud cases.

The chair of the Bar Council, Mark Fenhalls QC, has said that

“this country has to decide whether or not it is interested in taking on the issue of fraud.”

The chief executive officer of CIFAS, Mike Haley, said it was surprising that

“there is no national strategy for fraud. There is an action plan, but it is a plan without a strategy.”

It would not be a bad thing for Ministers to upgrade the action plan into a proper full strategy and to have a Minister with overall responsibility for that action plan.

We need to look at the role of the financial institutions in high street fraud and credit card fraud. Often they are running very profitable retail credit card operations. Perhaps they could make a small investment and show willingness as responsible business people to contribute more towards anti-fraud measures. That might be regarded as a sensible and responsible type of business activity to assist with the significant costs that people have to meet.

We have to recognise that it is not just the big frauds that are international. The CPS, giving evidence to our Committee, stated that 75% of the fraud crimes that it prosecutes have an international element. That does not mean that they are Russian oligarchs or kleptocrats. It might mean that they are coming from foreign servers, for example, or they might be foreign-based scammers hitting not businesses but individuals through insurance fraud, scamming bogus products and so on, while based overseas. We need to find ways of improving our international co-operation around tracking down those matters. This all indicates that although good work is being done, it is not being done at the scale that is necessary or commensurate with the level of the problem and the harm that is done. There is the economic harm, but I stress that there is also social and personal harm, as the Committee heard. I hope we can use the upcoming opportunities to redouble these efforts, and this debate is very timely in that regard. I commend the reports from the all-party parliamentary groups, and I hope the Government will take on board the responses that we will be sending to the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office from the evidence we drew up only recently, as a spur to further and co-ordinated action. That is the most important thing.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:44 pm, 7th July 2022

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Robert Neill. He always brings a wealth and breadth of knowledge to these debates and we thank him for that; it certainly adds to the focus and the direction in which we wish to go. I also give my sincere thanks to Kevin Hollinrake and Dame Margaret Hodge for their contributions. They have been terribly helpful to the debate today and we thank them for that. Others have contributed as well, and they have all added their experience and knowledge to the debate.

The Government stated in July 2020 that economic crime represents

“a significant threat to the security and the prosperity of the UK … This has a significant impact on the UK’s economy, competitiveness, citizens and institutions”.

It is therefore imperative for our own economic progress that we have an efficient strategy and proper guidelines to enforce punishment for economic crime. All right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken have indicated the direction in which we want to go and what needs to be done.

I would like to start with some figures, to give a real insight into the depth of economic crime in the UK. A total of 14.5% of the UK’s annual £2 trillion GDP is taken in economic crime. That gives us an idea of the magnitude of the issue. Some £190 billion of our losses come from fraud and a further £100 billion from money laundering. London has been described as a laundromat for corrupt money, and in 2019 the Treasury found many failings in relation to legislative guidance on tackling economic crime. We must do more to ensure that the resources are there to tackle economic crime properly. They are clearly not up to scratch at the moment, hence the billions of pounds that have been lost to theft over the last period of time. I very much look forward to the contributions from the shadow Minister and, in particular, from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, who will endeavour to answer our questions, as he always does.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Government fast-tracked the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 to crack down on the elites and the dirty money in the UK. As a result of today’s debate, I hope that the Minister will give us an update on where we are, how the situation has improved and whether we can take any other steps here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to do better. The Government must make tackling economic crime a much higher priority, especially as it is a threat to our national security. We had some discussions on that in the urgent question this morning, and we have had other discussions in this Chamber and in Westminster Hall on the same issue.

We have seen some of the most intensive sanctions in our history imposed on Russia to ensure that oligarchs and business owners cannot operate in an illicit manner outside their own borders. That is an important and welcome step, but given that economic crime accounts for some 40% of all crime in the UK, there is more regulatory action that we should take. We must have a strategy that encompasses all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton referred to the “Panorama” programme and to the dirty money that came from Estonia right across Europe and ended up in one of the banks in Northern Ireland. In my intervention I referred to regulation for domestic customers, which is clearly there. I understand the reason for that regulation and I am in no way saying that it should not be there, but I have to question just how this can happen. Is it down to the bank? It happened to be the bank that I am a member of—I know some of the regulations the bank enforces on its customers because I am one of them. I understand that, but when I hear about £200 million moving across, it concerns me.

Paramilitarism in Northern Ireland has been significant in money laundering and in the criminal activity that it is involved in, whether it be money lending, protection money, drugs or, in the case of the IRA along the border, fuel laundering. The Government have made significant attempts to address all those issues, but many of those paramilitary groups have bought properties and businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom. I would love to see more attention being focused, through the legislation, on those paramilitary groups, who are criminals living off the backs of the local communities that they say they protect. They do not protect them; they take advantage of them and brutalise them. As a Northern Ireland MP, I am keen to see how this legislation can squeeze the paramilitaries, on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, who are taking advantage of good local people.

We also need to consider the impact of cryptocurrency. I am sure that there are many cryptocurrency experts in the House, but I am not one of them. I have little or no knowledge of cryptocurrency. I am old-fashioned in preferring to use cash if at all possible, although I now use cheques and credit cards following covid-19, but cryptocurrency is becoming a more popular mode of finance among younger generations.

Not a week goes by when I do not see a story in the local or national press warning about cryptocurrency. I am not sure whether those warnings are heeded or whether there is regulation to ensure people are not caught by its sting. The Minister will give us his valuable knowledge of cryptocurrency and what is being done to regulate it, to monitor those involved and to ensure that our constituents do not find themselves in bother. There must be proper regulation of crypto-assets, with intensive efforts to ensure that people are not misled by the thousands of online scams. It is all too easy to make an onscreen decision, but people need to be aware that the decision is made once the button is pressed.

Consumers lost £754 million to online scams in the first half of 2021. I have been contacted by numerous constituents who have been victims of scams, and I suspect that others in this House will also have constituents who have been victims. Unfortunately, probably not a week passes without someone in my constituency finding themselves the victim of a scam, whether it is successful or whether it is stopped in time. The police issue a statement in the local press back home every fortnight warning of the latest scam, whether it is people knocking on doors or online scams. People are fairly trusting, by and large. More often than not, the people who are hacked or who find themselves the victim of online scams are of an elderly and vulnerable generation. A few months ago, an elderly gentleman in my constituency lost some £30,000 of his savings to a scam by being trusting. These things happen regularly, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland regularly advises people to be careful.

People should be careful with their information and when using online bank accounts. People are not aware of how much fraud there is in the UK. Our focus is often on large-scale dirty money and money laundering involving oligarchs—the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned the “Panorama” programme—and we forget about normal consumers who have their money taken every day and every week. The House must do due diligence to ensure that people are aware of the scale of the problem.

I will now conclude and give the Front Benchers the time they deserve. I welcome the numerous actions that the Home Office, the Treasury and the Minister have taken to ensure more efficient regulation and checks against economic crime. However, we have seen substantial sums of money coming to the UK through fraud and money laundering, so severe action and regulation is needed. We must ensure that the Treasury allocates the correct sustainable funds and staff to enforce proper punishment against economic crime, which is ever-evolving and becoming increasingly advanced.

I call on the Minister and the Government to take this into consideration, as I know they will. I am sure the Minister will answer some of our concerns. As we look to future policies to tackle economic crime, I praise him and the Government for all their work thus far. We need to be smarter than those who try to outsmart us.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 1:54 pm, 7th July 2022

It is a pleasure to come to the House this afternoon. Even with all the chaos and politics outside, we have come together to have a very good debate and to share comprehensive ideas and solutions to the ongoing issue of economic crime.

I thank Kevin Hollinrake and Dame Margaret Hodge for coming together to secure this debate. We often all agree whenever we have such debates, and it is for the Minister to respond to our comprehensive agreement and suggestions. I have often been in discussions on economic crime in which all the experts in the room have solutions but the Government are way behind in implementing them. I urge the Minister to work with his colleagues and others to bring those experts together so that we can get to some kind of solution. It feels like we have been talking about this throughout my time in Parliament, and there has been relatively little action.

Enforcement is crucial. The Government can have the best rules in the world, but if they do not follow through with enforcement, as they have not in many cases, there is almost no point in having those rules at all. If criminals realise that they are going to get away with it, the rules do not matter. I am sure the Minister will address what has been said about the Financial Action Task Force but, again, there is a gap between the rules and the enforcement; between what the FATF has said about the UK and the UK regime and the actual reality on the ground.

A number of Members highlighted that things move fast in this area. The hon. Members for Thirsk and Malton and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) both mentioned crypto-exchanges and cryptocurrencies, which is a fast-moving and fast-developing situation that means money can move away from people very quickly. Tracing that money then becomes incredibly difficult.

It strikes me that perhaps the Government need to get further into the expertise of this sector, because the criminals who do these scams and financial crimes are always several steps ahead of the Government on the technology, skills and expertise. It takes the Government and legislation an awfully long time to catch up with the fraudsters’ expertise.

The issues with Action Fraud—or inAction Fraud—have been set out very clearly by many people. It has been a problem for years, and I understand that the Scottish Government do not pay into Action Fraud because they do not see the value. They get nothing from it, so instead they look to our police force to deal with fraud. I will talk a wee bit about that, too.

We have a crime campus at Gartcosh just outside Glasgow. When Assistant Chief Constable Patrick Campbell gave evidence to the Treasury Committee as part of its economic crime inquiry in early 2021, he talked about the value of the crime campus. There are 27 enforcement bodies in one location, so people can speak to each other as they go about their business. They are made to communicate because of the useful way in which the campus is set up.

Patrick Campbell also talked about Scotland’s economic crime and financial investigation unit, detailing that 150,000 officers are tasked with serious organised crime and high-level fraud, and 17,000 people are gathering that information on the frontline and making sure that people know where to report these crimes. That contrasts with the fragmentation across the plethora of UK agencies, as the Treasury Committee’s report highlighted. Nobody has proper responsibility and proper oversight over economic crime in the whole UK, which really shows when it comes to enforcement.

Some very good suggestions have been made, and I would welcome more executive responsibility and liability for economic crime. A duty to prevent economic crime is crucial, and a good comparison was made to the Health and Safety Executive. Because nobody is responsible or accountable for economic crime, it is difficult to see anybody doing anything about it. I would extend that to social media companies—some of the evidence we took in the Treasury Committee reflected this—because they are where an awful lot of fraud happens these days.

I went to an event in this place with TSB Bank, which sent me some more information about the levels of fraud on social media platforms. It reported that between January and March, 70% of that fraud came through Meta companies—24% on Facebook and 46% on Instagram—with 4% on Snapchat and 23% on other social media platforms. Why is Meta not being held to account for the fraud on those platforms? It is not Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat that have to pay up for such fraud, but the banks. That fraud is not the banks’ fault. They are not facilitating it; the social media companies are.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Lady makes an important point. The point about the failure to prevent offence is, of course, that it does not just apply to the banks; it could also apply to the companies she talks about, which are facilitating the scamsters who facilitate the crime. It could also apply to the senior executives in the organisations she refers to.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I absolutely agree. The hon. Gentleman made a point about the fraud coming through on his WhatsApp. There is a real problem there; such fraud is taking place on those platforms. If they did not exist, perhaps the fraud would happen in a different way, in a different place. However, social media companies ought to be taking real responsibility. TSB said that one of the highest value incidents within the period I have mentioned was a £3,000 fraud carried out against somebody on a social media platform, with the average amount of fraud being £415. That is a lot of money for people to lose. Many people on social media might not be on particularly high incomes, but they might buy and sell across marketplaces. We see fraud where someone advertises a games console, and when people pay the money over, it never arrives, because it was literally just a picture of a games console. Some people then try to pass that on to somebody else, and more people get scammed. This is a real issue. TSB ran a sample across a week and found that 67% of those purchase scams were happening on Meta. The Government need to do an awful lot more to understand the levels of such fraud, how it is happening and how we should go about chasing it down. There is an awful lot more that can be done in that regard.

I come to the issues that Dame Margaret Hodge so excellently and comprehensively set out about kleptocrats, Londongrad and the dirty money washing through the City of London and other places. The Government should be seeking out the experts on that, getting them to come in and exploring these things with them. I am referring to experts such as Oliver Bullough and other journalists who have done so much to expose this. Why is this still happening? Why is it still being allowed? What opportunities are there in the economic crime Bill to nail this down and do more than the Government have done so far? Although the first economic crime Bill was a welcome reaction, it was pretty small scale, and an awful lot more needs to be done.

As I often say, more needs to be done on Scottish limited partnerships, which have been used so well to facilitate such fraud. It has spread, as it does—if we push down the bubble in the wallpaper, it will come up somewhere else—to Irish limited partnerships. What discussions have the Government had with the Irish Government about what our failure to tackle this has done to their limited partnership system? What progress and what dates can the Minister give in respect of the register of overseas entities? We have talked about that for years, and nothing has yet happened. The Scottish equivalent has been set up and is operating, and the UK Government are behind.

Let us consider the impact on the wider economic system, on sanctions and on Russia. I understand that Bill Browder said this week that the UK is the world’s biggest destination for dirty money from Russia, and that

“there has not been a single Russian economic crimes prosecution in the UK”.

Why is that? What are the Government doing to ensure that nobody can get off scot-free?

I wish to talk briefly about Companies House, because I always do, and I will continue to do so until it gets fixed. Companies House is utter guff, and the register is full of complete nonsense. Will the Minister meet Graham Barrow, an expert in this area, to talk about the timescales and the process for reforming Companies House? Graham Barrow pointed out that on Tuesday this week, 4,063 new companies were registered at Companies House. That is not a sign of a booming legitimate economy, but a sign that something is very wrong with Companies House. For example, Wendy Siegelman, a journalist in the States, pointed out that a company was registered in Edinburgh in December 2020 under the name of President Donald John Trump. When she flagged that up with Companies House, the response was:

“The person was no longer President of the USA at that time.”

That is entirely missing the point; I do not think that Donald Trump is living and registering companies in Edinburgh—I think he is somewhere else in the world, doing other things just now. Companies House should be taking these issues a lot more seriously.

More seriously for the Government, Martin Williams of openDemocracy has mentioned that fraudsters have been exploiting Companies House to set up companies in the names of officials at the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. This identity fraud being perpetrated through Companies House should be of great concern to the Government, not only because it is government officials being affected, but because you, I or anybody else, Madam Deputy Speaker, could be affected by a company being registered in our name. We would then become somehow liable for it, despite perhaps never knowing anything about it. Companies House reforms are well overdue. It must be an anti-money laundering supervisor in its own right, and it must ask for verification of not only our companies, but individuals.

I could talk for longer on this—I could talk until the cows come home or we lose a Prime Minister, whichever comes sooner—but I will leave it at that. There is an awful lot to be done on this, and the Government need to listen to the experts. The Government need to get them in, get them around the table and figure out how to fix this properly, once and for all—or give Scotland the powers to do so, and we will do so ourselves.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:05 pm, 7th July 2022

It is a pleasure to be here. I would not normally be in this debate, but what has happened with the National Security Bill Committee, statutory instruments and various other things leaves me here. I say firmly that I have learned a huge amount while sitting in this debate. First, I thank my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge, a dear friend, for securing this important debate, along with Kevin Hollinrake. I am glad that he took on some of the technicalities about cryptocurrency. My husband sometimes talks to me about that, but I cannot say I am particularly across it. I say that to highlight a problem, which has been raised by John Penrose: we in this legislature, and in our law enforcement, are grossly behind, acting in an analogue form in a digital world. The writing has been on the wall in that regard for some time, and I fear that we have not kept pace at all.

I could not agree more with what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said about Action Fraud. I believe it was Alison Thewliss who called it inAction Fraud, which is a considerably better way to describe it. What surprised me most was what the hon. Gentleman said about banks that everybody in this country trusts being fined so much money for laundering the money of Mexican drug cartels, among many other things. He spoke for the nation when he expressed disgust about there being no criminal charges laid against banks. The public would be absolutely appalled to hear that, especially given how ready our agencies are to chase up our constituents if they fall foul of something, as many Members have pointed out. His solutions were good and well thought through, and I am an absolute fan of a preventive duty, as the Minister may well know. I think we have to act to put preventive duties in place to address those who are considering turning a blind eye and taking the fines because they have big pockets. We need to firmly place this in their wheelhouse.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking will be so missed by this House when an election comes—that could be in the next 25 minutes—because she has been a giant in the fight against dirty money. She said that there can be no prosperity for our country based on dirty money, and that call should be taken incredibly seriously. When she tells stories such as the one about the situation in Lebanon, we cannot sit back and act as though the receipts into our nation result in some sort of prosperity that gives us a reason to turn a blind eye. I, as a British citizen, along with every British citizen in my constituency, do not want my country being used as a place to hive off the interests of people who make barrel bombs for Russia and Syria to try to kill people—people who then have to flee to my constituency. I never want to hear a story like that again. Anyone who thinks that our prosperity should rely on such activity ought to know that it harms our nation, so we must act.

My right hon. Friend reminded us about the heinous run of murders and suspicious deaths that are linked to dirty money. This is not just about receipts, especially where Russia is concerned. It is chilling that Russian killers have been able to kill at will in the United Kingdom because of a reliance on dirty Russian money, and she highlighted some of the cases. Just this morning, we had to have an urgent question in this House because, at the height of one of those murders—the poisoning in Salisbury—our then Foreign Secretary and now Prime Minister met Alexander Lebedev without officials and without putting anything on a public record. These are dangerous instances; we are lying down in the face of what is, as my right hon. Friend highlights, not just dirty money, but murder and deceit.

My right hon. Friend reminded us that enforcement is abysmal. I can assure her that she is not alone in calling it abysmal. Enforcement in relation to all crime in this country is utterly abysmal. It is no surprise to me that economic crime is falling foul of the same dreadful regime—of falling charges, falling convictions and failing cases. In the face of this, the NCA faces cuts of 20%, so my right hon. Friend’s concerns about the agency’s ability are not about to get any better. Both the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton and my right hon. Friend compelled us to take seriously the recommendations of both all-party groups, and the Opposition absolutely will.

Mary Robinson spoke about the importance of whistleblowers. I totally agree with that, especially when we hear about whistleblowers dying mysteriously. It is no small thing to step forward about crime, but when we are talking about organised crime, the highest level of protection is undoubtedly needed. My hon. Friend and neighbour, Liam Byrne, made an impassioned plea. He said that we in the UK should be leading the world on ending this corruption; instead, we have advertised ourselves to Russia as a safe haven, and much more must be done.

The Government’s economic crime Bill is long overdue. For far too long, our country, and particularly our capital, has been a hotspot for dirty money. The Bill does not need to be overdue, from what I have heard in this Chamber today. All the amendments and recommendations are out there. They have come from the Justice Committee, as highlighted by Sir Robert Neill; from the all-party groups for whistleblowing and on fair business banking; from the Foreign Affairs Committee; and from the Treasury Committee. Good work has been done, so why is the economic crime Bill so overdue? The illegal war in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression have brought that into sharp focus, but let us be very clear that it should not have come to this.

The National Crime Agency said in 2020 that there was a “realistic possibility” that money laundering alone in the UK amounted to hundreds of billions of pounds annually. The first economic crime Bill was delayed for years, with the Government blocking Labour amendments that have reformed Companies House and left Russian oligarchs with fewer places to hide. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central highlighted very clearly what is going wrong in Companies House.

Meanwhile, economic crime continues to rage across this country. Fraud now accounts for more than 40% of all crime, as we have heard, yet less than 1% of police resources goes to tackling it. Millions of people are scammed every year, but, as with so many other crimes, nothing is done. Only one in 1,000 fraud offences is prosecuted, and the Serious Fraud Office secured only two convictions in 2020-21—just two! That is one more than the number of Government prosecutions for child trafficking, because that was just one. Enforcement across the board is down on every form of harmful crime.

Has the Minister ever tried to refer a crime of fraud? Many Members have talked about their constituents and, in fact, themselves. I can tell him that I have tried to refer such a crime. There was literally a person using my name and my details to book a hotel—I knew it was happening because, when they were checking into the hotel, it appeared on my Google calendar. I know that they checked in because I did the sleuthing. But when I tried to report it, I might as well—I will not swear Madam Deputy Speaker—not have bothered. I was able to ring that hotel, find out that somebody had checked in—they were literally in the hotel when this was happening—and yet nothing was done. I am a Member of Parliament. Imagine what it is like for somebody who is not a Member of Parliament. I got absolutely nowhere.

The hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Bromley and Chislehurst both mentioned the fraud strategy. Where is it? We are waiting for it from the Home Secretary. I am afraid to say that, when it comes to fraud, the Government and the Home Office have been missing in action.

I know that it has been a stressful day for the Minister. His entire Government have collapsed around him. He is one of the few Ministers left standing and one of the few Ministers who has not had to cancel parliamentary business today, but, despite all of that, I shall not let him off the hook. I hope that he will take this opportunity today to answer a number of important questions, many of which the Opposition have been asking for many months. Will the second economic crime Bill, promised in the Queen’s Speech, be introduced before the recess, or will it meet the same fate as so many others? Will this Bill, like the Victims Bill, be promised in multiple Queen’s Speeches before we even see it in draft form? Will the Home Office finally bring forward a fraud strategy—a promise that the Minister, although possibly not this particular Minister, made months ago? Or, again, will this be another broken promise?

Will the Home Office finally axe Action Fraud, which anyone who has fallen victim to fraud, will know is a completely failing service? If it does, will the Minister update the House on what steps are being taken to replace it and whether the replacement will be something that actually functions? Given the National Crime Agency’s hugely important role in tackling fraud, will the Minister rule out the 20% staff cut that the Government have reportedly asked the NCA to make?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:17 pm, 7th July 2022

This is certainly an interesting day to be responding to a debate. As is the case with the shadow Minister, this is not my usual field, but I agreed to respond to this debate about a week ago. [Interruption.] It is always nice to have those comments from the Deputy Leader of the Labour party. It is always a pleasure when she joins us.

I thank my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake and Dame Margaret Hodge for securing this debate, and all the other Members who have contributed. It was good to have the rare chance of hearing from my good friend, Jim Shannon.

We all agree that economic crime poses a threat to the integrity of our economy, and to the security and prosperity of the UK and our allies. Let us not forget the innocent victims who suffer both emotionally and financially at the hands of unscrupulous fraudsters. Economic crime, as outlined by many who contributed, affects more UK citizens more often than any other crime type, and we have heard many examples of that today.

The UK has one of the world’s largest and most open economies, and London is one of the world’s most attractive destinations for overseas investors. Those factors make the UK attractive for legitimate business and contribute to our prosperity, but the Government accept that they also expose the UK to the risk of money laundering via some of those processes.

The public/private economic crime plan published in 2019 provided impetus and direction for our collective efforts in this area, including strengthening law enforcement and increasing domestic and international co-operation. There has been progress in tackling the threat. For example, in recent years we have built some key capabilities, including the creation of the National Economic Crime Centre and substantial reform of the suspicious activity reports regime.

As a number of hon. Members touched on during the debate, we have enacted the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, introducing reforms to enable law enforcement to take more effective action against kleptocrats who launder their funds in the UK. We have also legislated for a levy on the anti-money laundering regulated sector, which from next year will raise £100 million a year to help us to combat economic crime.

I hear some of the concerns expressed by colleagues about the potentially fragmented nature of the enforcement landscape, yet I would emphasise that that does not mean there is not joint and co-ordinated working between the law enforcement agencies concerned. The ever-evolving and clandestine nature of economic crime requires a multi-agency response, drawing together the relevant expertise, capability and resources to effectively tackle this challenge head-on.

The Government believe that the National Economic Crime Centre plays a leading role in setting strategic priorities for the enforcement response to economic crime and bringing agencies together. The NECC leads intensification campaigns to prevent, prepare for and protect against economic crime and to pursue those responsible for it. Co-ordinated by the NECC, the joint money laundering intelligence taskforce serves as a world-leading model of best practice, enabling tactical and strategic intelligence sharing between the public and private sectors to better tackle economic crime and support high-priority operations. However, we recognise the need to go further, as many hon. Members have set out.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I note the Minister’s theoretical description of what happens, but the practice, for anybody who puts any allegation that we get from whistleblowers into the system, is that it just gets passed from one agency to another and it then falls down a black hole and we never hear about it again. While theoretically co-operation and co-ordination take place, in practice they do not. The other thing I would say is that, if in practice the system is working so brilliantly, why are prosecutions and convictions down by so much when we know economic crime is going in the opposite direction?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We would accept there is a need to go further and certainly, following today’s debate, we look forward to the debates we will have on the forthcoming Bill. From what we have heard today, I think Members across the House will have thoughts, opinions and valuable contributions to make on how we can strengthen our regime, in both its legal construction and its direct impact.

We recognised in the 2021 spending review the need to invest in this area. The economic crime levy, combined with public contributions, is now an overall package of £400 million to tackle economic crime over the next three years. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the National Crime Agency established a new combating kleptocracy cell specifically to combat corrupt elites, their dirty money and those who enable them to abuse our financial system. We also recognise that we need to further empower law enforcement through the forthcoming economic crime and corporate transparency Bill, which will be designed to tackle economic crime and protect our national security while supporting enterprise. The Bill will include much-needed reforms to Companies House and limited partnerships, with additional powers to seize suspect crypto assets more quickly.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I welcome all reforms of Companies House, but will the Minister put it on a proper footing and make Companies House an anti-money laundering supervisor in its own right, so that it does not have to rely on third parties to fulfil that function?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We will set out the details in the Bill and we look forward to the debates on it, but certainly we are clear that the registrar of companies should become more of an active gatekeeper for company creation and a custodian of reliable data, including powers to check, remove or decline information submitted to it. In her contribution, the hon. Lady rightly gave the example of someone setting up a company in the name of “Donald Trump”. Clearly that was not a legitimate company being established—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members may have missed that particular example.

Some of the changes are on identity verification. In my normal role talking about immigration, we do quite a range of work on ensuring that people can validate who they are and what their status is, and we want to bring a lot of that practice into the area of company formation to remove some of the worst examples we have heard about today. I accept that many people will see that as overdue, but it needs to be done and it is something we intend to legislate on and bring forward as a key change to our enforcement structure, to ensure there are fewer opportunities to abuse the system of company registration here in the UK.

Comments have been made about the resources of the National Crime Agency. We have increased its budget year on year since 2019. Taking all NCA funding into account, its budget has increased by 32% since 2019.

In response to concerns on corporate criminal liability laws, which a number of colleagues picked up on in the debate, we have sought to establish whether there is a case for change. I think it was my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill who referred to the Law Commission and the review we asked it to undertake. As he rightly says, it sets out several options for reform; he outlined his view that he would like to see us accept them, and we are assessing them. Certainly, that is something we specifically asked the Law Commission to do because we believe it is an area that needs careful consideration.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

I know the Minister wants to assess the options, but he will be aware that that debate has been ongoing for a number of years now, well in advance of its referral to the Law Commission. The matter has been debated in political circles and in legal and judicial circles for a great deal of time and there is a huge amount of information there, so I hope he can come to his assessment very quickly.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Obviously, it would be tempting for me, at the Dispatch Box in the current situation, to make a raft of pledges on behalf of the Government about all the things I might like to see happen. At this stage, I will say that I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for coming to a conclusion on our assessment fairly quickly.

My hon. Friend Mary Robinson in particular talked about whistleblowers. We recognise the value of whistleblowers’ being prepared to shine a light on wrongdoing and we believe they should be able to do so without fear of recrimination. I want to make it clear that workers can seek redress through the whistleblowing regime if they are dismissed or suffer detriment because they have made a protected disclosure. It is worth noting that uncapped compensation can be awarded by an employment tribunal to reflect this.

If a whistleblower does not feel they can blow the whistle to their employer, they may make a disclosure to a prescribed person. There are over 80 prescribed persons and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy regularly publishes guidance for them and updates the list of prescribed persons.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I appreciate the fact that the Minister is covering this brief. On the point he makes, if whistleblower legislation works, then why has my constituent Ian Foxley, who blew the whistle on GPT Special Project Management in 2011—a company that was found guilty last year and faced £28 million in financial sanctions—been without a single penny of compensation or a single penny of earnings for 11 years? The legislation is not broad enough or all-encompassing, and it needs urgent reform.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As always, my hon. Friend makes a powerful case for going further. He will be aware that the Government have committed to a review of the whistleblowing framework, and we are considering the scope and timing of that review. We would certainly be happy to engage with him about how that could be taken forward effectively, particularly given examples such as the one he has cited, although he will realise that I do not necessarily want to comment on individual cases from the Dispatch Box.

This has been a helpful and productive debate. I reassure colleagues that the Home Office and the Treasury, when leading the policy response for Government, ensure that we do so through a governance structure that oversees activity across the system. This is not the only area where our two Departments work together in the national interest to deliver the overall objectives we wish to see.

In closing, I again thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to this debate. This is an immensely important subject and an area in which we will shortly see significant legislation brought before the House for colleagues to scrutinise, examine and develop, as I know they will want to. Certainly, from what we have heard in this debate, there will be many positive and constructive engagements in that debate. That is something we very much look forward to, because, as has been said, this is not just about tackling crime; it is ultimately about keeping our nation and its allies safe.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 2:29 pm, 7th July 2022

This has been an excellent debate. I thank all Members across the House for supporting the application for the debate and for their contributions, and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I have learned an awful lot in addition to what I know from having looked at this issue for some time. “Coalitions” is perhaps a bit of a dirty word in the Conservative party, but I am a big fan of them, actually. I invite everyone who has spoken in the debate and anybody else interested in this issue to work with our all-party groups on this agenda, because we are not going away—we will make sure that future legislation is fit for purpose.

It is fair to say that, for whatever reason, we have turned a blind eye to this issue for too long. Ukraine has been an eye-opener because we have suddenly realised what it means and facilitates. I welcome the economic crime Bill mark 1, but mark 2 is coming along, with the reforms that will come from it. I urge the Government to look at the economic crime manifesto and include what they can in there, and also make provision in other areas, particularly on failure to prevent, whistleblowers, and beefing up, co-ordinating and strategising our resources.

It is great to see so much cross-party agreement on this. With all the work of the Justice Committee, the Treasury Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and our all-party groups, it involves MPs and peers across the political spectrum. It is time we opened our eyes. We have been a world leader in facilitating economic crime; we now want to be a world leader in fighting economic crime.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

“That this House
notes that economic crime costs the UK economy at least £290 billion per year;
recognises that law enforcement agencies are significantly under-resourced to deal with the scale of the problem and can be unwilling to properly enforce existing laws;
is concerned at the fragmented nature of the enforcement landscape;
and calls on the Government to bring forward an economic crime enforcement strategy that allows for a significant increase in resource to expand and restructure the fight against economic crime, including money laundering and fraud.”

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure you that I have informed the Minister concerned. I hope you will be able to advise me on how to shed light on a series of confused and potentially misleading comments made by the Prime Minister and his Minister regarding Alexander Lebedev. During his appearance at the Liaison Committee yesterday, referring to a meeting in April 2018 in which he met Alexander Lebedev, the Prime Minister stated:

“I have certainly met him without officials.”

This is a significant revelation and something no Government Minister has ever commented on under questioning. But during the urgent question earlier today, the Minister appeared to contradict the Prime Minister’s claim that officials were not involved, saying that the Prime Minister did involve his officials. Later in the session, she received word from the Prime Minister that he thinks he told officials. We must get to the facts.

This is not just a question of integrity but demonstrates a complete disregard for British national security. What action can be taken from the Chair or by Members of the House to ensure that Ministers keep their promises to us, to the Crown and to the British people to allow us to get to the facts of this whole murky business?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order. I note that she says that she informed the Minister, quite correctly. It is not for the Chair to determine these matters, but those on the Government Front Bench will have heard what she had to say, and I hope that they will pass back that we would expect the record to be corrected if it needs to be. In addition, the Table Office may be able to advise the right hon. Lady of other ways she might like to pursue the concerns that she has raised.