Clause 10 - Powers to require information
Mr Alan Johnson (Minister of State (Employment and the Regions), Department of Trade and Industry; Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman is right: clause 10 is important in providing the necessary backstop for dealing with the minority of employers and employees who do not want to co-operate. It will be essential to counter fraud and negligence.
I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. He wants to make sure that Inland Revenue officers have no power to dig around in issues that should not concern them. I draw his attention to the overriding principle set out in clause 10(1), which contains the word ''reasonably''. The information must be reasonably required in order to check out whether there is an entitlement to statutory paternity or adoption pay. That provides an absolute safeguard in that an Inland Revenue officer must have good grounds for supposing that the person from whom he wants to obtain information has information relevant to the matter in hand—indeed, that it is critical to the matter in hand.
If the Bill were drafted in the way set out in the amendment, an additional and unnecessary step would be imported into the process. The officer would have to prove the former partner's or employer's status at a specific time, which would be unworkable. Indeed, their status might be part of the dispute. An employer could argue that an employee left their employment on a date before the entitlement to statutory paternity pay started, while the employee could argue that they were still employed. To sort that out, the Inland Revenue officer would need to see payroll and personnel information, but the employer could refuse to co-operate by maintaining that they were not the employer at the time of the entitlement. It would be difficult for the Inland Revenue to pursue that if the amendment were carried. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can appreciate the problems that that might produce.