What steps she is taking to help ensure effective prosecution of perpetrators of fraud and economic crime.
What recent steps her Department has taken to increase prosecution rates for fraud and economic crime.
The Horizon Post Office scandal has appalled the nation. Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly prosecuted and convicted, and many were jailed, although they were entirely innocent of any fraud. On the other hand, covid-19 fraud is known and real. Estimates put it as high £16 billion, yet we have not clawed back a fraction of what has been stolen. Why were the innocent left to rot for so long, while the guilty go free to enjoy the fruits of their covid crime?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the appalling miscarriage of justice; I agree entirely with everything she said about Horizon and the Post Office. As she knows, steps are being taken to address that and work is ongoing. On covid crime, the Attorney General and I meet regularly with the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service to press for action on whatever is the pressing issue of the day. The CPS has charged a number of individuals in relation to precisely the fraud activities she refers to.
Is the Solicitor General aware that the Home Affairs Committee is currently looking at the whole issue of fraud and finding a huge problem with everything from romance fraud to fraud financing terrorism? Clearly, there is an urgent need for much better joined-up working between agencies and information sharing in this country, as well as on the international front. What discussions and experience has he had on which nations prosecute fraud more effectively than we do in this country?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. I commend him for his work on the Home Affairs Committee and look forward to the results of that work, which we will consider carefully. The Attorney General and I meet regularly with the SFO and the CPS to assess best practice and to see where lessons may be learned, both internally and from abroad. Intelligence sharing goes on between the respective agencies in any event, and we will look at what lessons can be learned from best practice here and abroad to take forward the points he raises.
In the past five years, law enforcement agencies, including the CPS proceeds of crime unit, have confiscated £568 million from criminals. Those agencies get to keep a tiny percentage of recovered assets and virtually no fines to help them continue their work. Why are the Government enfeebling the very organisation it relies on to win the fight against economic crime? Why will they not adopt Labour’s invest-to-save model of enforcement?
I commend the work of the enforcement agencies, which have rightly cracked down on the fraudulent activity the hon. Gentleman refers to. He is right that the Government have tirelessly pursued criminals with a view to recouping money, to prevent those criminals from benefiting from their ill-gotten gains. Among a number of positive outcomes has been £105 million being returned to victims.
I thank the Solicitor General for providing detail about what is happening, but, since the pandemic, fraud has cost the public purse more than £21 billion, much of that related to the Government’s own schemes. Public resentment is understandable, because, at the same time, prosecution for fraud and money laundering has gone down by more than 50% since 2010. Does the Solicitor General agree that the time has come for more action and that we should seriously consider an economic crime fighting fund to reinvest seized assets and profits into improving law enforcement against fraud?
The hon. Lady is right that this is matter of huge public concern, and understandably so. The Government worked very hard during the pandemic to ensure that support was provided, but clearly where people have taken advantage of a system, that must be pursued. That is why we are looking at the fraud strategy, for example, and the economic crime plan part 2. We will continue to drive forward to see what further action can be taken.
Every day, older and vulnerable people are preyed upon by fraudsters and scammers, be it online, by phone or on the doorstep. Will my hon. Friend reassure my constituents and the country that the Conservative Government, the police and the criminal justice system will do all they can to bring those immoral criminals to justice?
Yes, I can. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this, as people being taken advantage of is one of the great issues of our age. It happens to members of society of all kinds, but particularly to those who are elderly and vulnerable. Work continues on a number of sector charters, which have been successful in bringing forward positive outcomes. For example, 870 million scam texts have been blocked. We have taken forward work on the Online Safety Act 2023, as well as the charters I referred to, but I assure my hon. Friend we will continue to see what more can be done.
It is two years since the former anti-fraud Minister, Lord Agnew, resigned in embarrassment over the Government’s oversight of covid business loan schemes, describing it as “nothing less than woeful”. Can the Solicitor General tell us, in the past two years, how much of the missing billions, seemingly written off by the Prime Minister as Chancellor, has been recovered and what the Government are doing now to chase down the covid crooks?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to this. The public quite rightly expect the money that the Government advanced in good faith to help those who were challenged during the pandemic not to be the victim of fraudulent activity. Intelligence sharing goes on between the Serious Fraud Office, which, as he knows, prosecutes the most serious cases, and the Crown Prosecution Service, which has already charged a number of individuals. We will continue to do that both from our perspective and with the law enforcement agencies to make sure that the crooks to whom he refers are pursued.