To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will investigate the (a) adequacy of the grounds and (b) quality of decision-making in her Department in pursuing prosecutions of contractors for alleged fraudulent claims or other irregularities relating to the claims made for the work undertaken for or on behalf of her Department in respect of foot and mouth disease.
The prosecution of contractors for alleged fraudulent claims is a criminal matter. In such cases, Defra would refer the matter to the appropriate authorities tasked with deciding whether to prosecute or not.
On the civil side, claims are initiated on the advice of Defra's lawyers. In the commercial disputes pertaining to the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 this advice has been provided by external commercial law firms in conjunction with forensic accountants and quantity surveyors after detailed review of contractor accounts. In many cases Defra has been successful in resolving disputes through negotiation and/or alternative disputes resolution procedures. Other disputes are being pursued through the Courts.
Defra has a public law duty to protect the public purse. It will do so unfailingly in all circumstances where the evidence is sufficient to meet legal requirements in either a civil or criminal context.