Annual reporting: Adequacy of resources

Part of Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 11:00 am, 22nd November 2016

No. As I said earlier, we have spent money updating and making sure that ELMER is maintained, but we are also in the process of drawing up a SAR reform policy. There are a number of reasons why there are so many referrals—380,000-odd—but the Bill will hopefully cut that number. We want quality, not quantity. At the moment, we are getting quantity, partly because in the suspicious activity regime, if a body makes the report, its defence is halfway there—that is the tick-box bit that is highlighted in the report. Also, many institutions currently report a fragment of the transactions, because they say that they are unable to report the complete transaction due to data-sharing barriers. That is why this Bill removes those barriers. Hopefully, instead of 15 pieces of a transaction being reported as 15 separate SARs, we will get one, because one institution will be able to report the transaction from beginning to end.

We are already taking steps to reduce demand on the system. The system is working; people should not think it has stopped working. The challenge is the analysis, and making sure that we act on the suspicious reports and are quick enough to discard the ones that are not, because we want quality, not quantity.

This time last year, we agreed a £200 million capital improvement budget for the National Crime Agency between 2016 and 2020. That is a huge sum of money for it to spend on a whole range of capital projects to bring them up-to-date. We all have lessons to learn—Labour Governments and Conservative Governments—from rushing into IT replacement projects that cost much more than anyone envisaged. It is therefore important we get the new SARs regime right before we replace the system. I assure hon. Members that that is at the forefront of my mind. We are not going to fall over—that is the main thing—and we will make sure that when we replace it, we do so with the right system, so that we are not all back in this Committee Room in a few years’ time saying, “The SARs regime is not working.” I hope that clarifies the point for the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton.