Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative 8:00 pm, 5th April 2005

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment proposed by my noble friend. Throughout our scrutiny of the Bill, he has been consistent in arguing the case for the principles of prior authorisation for and pre-assessment of the criteria to be applied to disclosure of taxpayer information. In so doing, he has sought to put in the Bill the legitimate concerns expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which he is such a distinguished member.

Indeed, it is salutary to reflect that notwithstanding the frequency of the correspondence between the Paymaster General and its chairman, the JCHR remains of the opinion that in the interests of transparency, certainty and "foreseeability" some element of provision in this respect should appear in the Bill.

It is to the credit of my noble friend that at this late stage of the Bill he has moderated the terms of his amendment even though, as I understand it, the JCHR continued to favour a provision that would afford a measure of judicial oversight. Despite that, my noble friend has drafted a more limited and modest amendment that only requires regulations that,

"make provision as to criteria for pre-disclosure . . . of . . . sensitive confidential information obtained from the taxpayer".

Equally, I am well aware that the actions and operations of HMRC in respect of the disclosure regime will have to be compliant with both the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act. That is not, and never has been, the point at issue. Like the JCHR, I believe that there are voluble justifications, not least—and I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General would agree—the importance of confidentiality to the integrity of the tax base in affording taxpayers degrees of certainty about the disclosure regime by ensuring that appropriate protections of their interests appear in the Bill. I support the amendment.