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The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Two secondees from the private sector are working in the Serious Fraud Office, and two staff are on loan from other Government Departments. It helps the effective investigation and prosecution of serious and complex fraud if there is a good understanding between the SFO and the private sector and between the SFO and other Departments and agencies.
Mrs. Gillan : Does the Solicitor-General think that that is enough? Given the recent high-profile collapse of Customs and Excise cases, particularly the London City Bond prosecution, the Butterfield review recommended that there should be more systematic dialogue between Customs and other Departments. Does the Solicitor-General believe that that could be facilitated by more secondments between the SFO and Customs and Excise? If so, what can she do about it?
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Obviously, the SFO must achieve the right balance between permanent staff, those seconded and those employed on contract to increase capacity or bring in specialist knowledge during a particular case. She raises the question of Customs, particularly in the LCB case. A statement was made to the House in July by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury following the report of Mr. Justice Butterfield, who made a number of recommendations for building on progress already made in Customs and Excise investigations and prosecutions. There will be a report later in the autumn on how we intend to take things forward.
The Solicitor-General: Of the cases referred to the SFO, something like 40 per cent. of those that the SFO decides to take on for vetting result in prosecution. Obviously, many cases are referred to the SFO in which people have not realised what the SFO's remit is, and those cases are more appropriate to another prosecutions agency. So, something like 40 per cent. of those taken on for vetting end up being prosecuted. That is quite a high figure.
On whether all serious fraud that ought to be prosecuted by the SFO is being prosecuted, I think we must all agreeincluding the SFOthat the answer is no. Something like £14 billion worth of fraud occurs annually in our economy. The Attorney-General and I, like the SFO, are in no doubt that we must take white-collar crime very seriously. The law must be even handed in ensuring that those who are money laundering in the City are dealt with effectively and fairly.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Solicitor-General will recognise that there is great concern among the Opposition and outside the House about the collapse of the Customs and Excise cases to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) referred. Does the Solicitor-General recognise the need for all-party discussions on the implications of the Butterfield report? Will she meet me, and colleagues such as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) who expressed concerns to the Economic Secretary when he made his statement, so that we can ensure that fraud prosecutions are much better conducted in future, whether by Customs and Excise, the SFO or any other body?
The Solicitor-General: Of course, I will arrange for those meetings to take place. We would want to discuss these important issues of prosecuting Customs cases and serious fraud cases with the hon. Gentleman and any other hon. Members who take an interest in them. I will get back to him with a response. With more focus on the issue, with the right framework and procedures and with the right amount of resources allocated to serious fraud, I think that we can take matters forward.
The Solicitor-General (Miss Harriet Harman): Crime is international now and we need to work with our European counterparts and more widely internationally to combat it. To that end, I met other European Justice Ministers in The Hague in April to discuss and support the work of Eurojust, the European network of
Miss McIntosh : I thank the Solicitor-General for that reply. Does she realise that the criminal justice system goes to the heart of the system in each member state? Scotland prides itself on having its own legal system, as she is only too well aware. It would be entirely inappropriate for the Government to subscribe to common EU standards of evidence and procedure. Will the right hon. and learned Lady resist any attempt to impose on this country a uniform EU standard of criminal procedures?
The Solicitor-General: We want close co-operation. Crime does not recognise national borders and we have to ensure that if a crime is committed in one country, and the evidence is in a second, it can be prosecuted in a third. That is important for human trafficking, drug smuggling and dealing with money laundering and terrorism, as the hon. Lady will accept. That is one question. The other is accountability. It is certainly the case that while prosecution decisions that are taken in this country are taken independently, I am accountable to the House for them. That is important and it is the way it will remain. Of course, it is important that the House makes the decisionsthe substantive criminal lawand decides the procedures. The Convention material reflects the differences between legal systems throughout Europe. We definitely want to keep our own accountability and autonomy, but we must have more co-operation and we must work more closely together. We must work in a harmonised way to get to grips with international criminals.
20. Hugh Bayley (City of York): What additional resources have been made available to enable the Serious Fraud Office (a) to investigate and (b) to prosecute cases of bribery by UK citizens and companies abroad. 
The Solicitor-General: In this financial year, the SFO budget has risen to £23.41 million and it is due to increase further to £35.34 million by the end of 200506. The SFO plans to use some of those resources to expand its permanent staff numbers to approximately 300 by the end of that financial year. Each case referred to the SFO is assessed on its individual merits, including allegations of bribery by United Kingdom citizens or companies overseas.
Hugh Bayley : One of the consequences of the dreadful attacks two years ago on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon was that the House decided to enact legislation to make international bribery and other international financial crimes offences in British law.
The Solicitor-General: I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about those issues, which he has done so much to bring before the House. Indeed, I acknowledge his role in raising the issues covered by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. I would be happy to discuss with him the enforcement of that important Act.
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Attorney-General and I have the power to refer a sentence imposed for a limited number of serious offences, including rape, to the Court of Appeal if the sentence is, in our view, unduly lenient. In 2003, the Attorney-General and I referred sentences in 12 cases involving rape. The Court of Appeal increased the sentences in four, and seven cases of rape that we referred to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient sentences have yet to be heard.
Vera Baird : I am grateful for that answer. Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the courts are implementing the sentencing advisory panel's recommendation that they should sentence as harshly for rape by an acquaintance as they must for rape by a stranger? If she is not entirely satisfied of that, are not unduly lenient sentence applications, appropriately brought, a way forward?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. and learned Friend reminds the House that a key part of the sentencing advisory panel's recommendations was that rape that is supposedly acquaintance rape should not of itself be regarded as less serious than rape by a complete stranger. That recommendation was accepted by the Court of Appeal in their guideline judgment in the case of Milberry in December and that is what all courts should be following. However, if my memory serves me right, none of the cases that we have had to refer to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient sentences has involved a stranger rape, so we are looking particularly at how the Court responds to the importance of recognising all the circumstances of an individual case, and that rape by a husband, a partner or a friend can be every bit as violent and traumatising as rape by a stranger.