Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to this group. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the steps that the Government have taken in relation to the failure to prevent fraud offence and the identification doctrine. These are significant steps, and he is right to say that they will obviously be followed up in future Bills.

It is worth remembering the scale of fraud in England and Wales in particular. Some 40% of crime is fraud against individuals, and clearly the scale of the cases against small, medium-sized and large businesses is also devastating. On Friday, we will debate the wider issues relating to fraud looked at by the committee on digital fraud, which I was privileged to chair. I am grateful that, from that committee and the work with my noble friend, the Fraud Strategy was published in early May.

I support my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier’s Amendment 110 and the associated Amendment 121, and have added my name to them. He and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, set out clearly why these amendments are necessary. There is no SME exemption in the Bribery Act or in relation to tax evasion.

I want to take on one of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Leigh. He talked about the survival of SMEs, and he is of course right to do so. I have not set up a small business but I have set up a small charity, and many of the issues are similar. If that small business or small charity were the victim of fraud, it would be absolutely devastating. One of the arguments here is the burden on small businesses of having to set up fraud-prevention measures, but they have to do it anyway these days because they have to be very cautious about anyone attempting invoice fraud or utility fraud. If they have an employee, they have to make sure that they are making best use and correct use of the corporate credit card, for example.

Noble Lords rightly referred to Clause 192 and the guidance that the Government will publish. We already have an example of it, as the Government have published the outline of how it would look. If this amendment is passed, it would be perfectly within the rights of the Government to set out clearly how that guidance should be interpreted by small and medium-sized enterprises, which are quite used to reading extensive amounts of guidance. If we want to have a broader debate about red tape and regulation, that is perhaps for another day, but they are used to dealing with much guidance. If they are likely to be victims of fraud, they will take that guidance very seriously.

I support these amendments and I support my noble and learned friend’s Amendment 125A on expanding the failure to prevent offence to money laundering. If we are going to introduce the failure to prevent offence, which I thoroughly welcome, we might as well do it properly and expand it to money laundering, which is also a huge a problem and one that the Bill seeks to tackle as well.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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My Lords, my name is on several amendments relating to failure to prevent fraud, and I support what has been said already and what was said extensively in Grand Committee on both failure to prevent fraud and the identification doctrine. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, moves his Amendments 110 and 125A, we on these Benches will support them.

I retabled my amendment on regulatory failure to prevent, which was well supported in Committee. I do not intend to move it but I have tabled it as a reminder that we have not yet covered the enablers, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, spoke about. This is probably the best route to do so, with regulators being perhaps best able to understand where actions could or could not have been taken. This recommendation was encompassed within the Fraud Act report.

We have, I suppose, gone a long way, and the Government have gone a long way within the remit covered by the Law Commission, which unfortunately included the harm aspect. As a lot of the crime that has come about through this enabling channel has been since that report was commissioned, this is unfinished business; we will necessarily have to come to this again. For now, we should strengthen the government proposals through Amendments 110 and 125A.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by acknowledging the great progress that has been made on the failure to prevent process through the debates in the House of Commons. There was significant movement there, which we of course welcome.

I say at the outset that if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, is minded to divide the House on Amendments 110 and 125A, he will have the support of these Benches. There are very good reasons for that, as have been outlined in the debate today. The statistics, particularly the 0.5% figure, are startling. Surely, we all need to take this incredibly seriously if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, we are serious about tackling the wider fraud issues, which seem to be growing daily. The numbers of people we all know personally who are affected by this shows the sheer extent of the problem.

I will make the very strong point that the issue of costs and burdens on SMEs has been overemphasised. If these processes are tightened in the way proposed, those very businesses will themselves be protected by the action taken on other companies. In particular, I completely support the extension to the money laundering provision in Amendment 125A.

We have had a really good debate throughout our proceedings on these measures. It would be so disappointing if, at this final stage, we did not go the full distance we can at this point, recognising, as we know, that more will need to be done in the future. We have the opportunity now and we should seize it.