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 Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers) 8:00 pm, 5th April 2005

My Lords, just before I address the substance of the comments made by the noble Lord, I want to clarify one aspect of the information-sharing provisions in the Bill, which it would be useful to put on the record. The noble Lord referred to the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office. Information from that office may be disclosed to HM Revenue and Customs under Clause 41(2)(b) for the purposes of any of HMRC's functions.

I am grateful for the explanation of the substance of the amendment and of what the noble Lord seeks to achieve. I understand his intention, but in any event I have some technical problems with the amendment, even before one comes to the intention. The amendment does not require regulations to be made before information may be used by HMRC. It does not connect with the other provisions in the Bill, so it would appear that the provision could simply rest on the statute book while HMRC properly carried out its functions and used information for a variety of purposes in accordance with the law, as is done at the moment.

If Parliament were minded to make regulations, there would remain something of a conundrum in discerning what they ought to address. The issues that Parliament is charged with addressing in the regulations are not clear in the draft. I see that the noble Lord proposes that:

"Regulations shall make provision as to . . . prior authorisation", but I respectfully suggest that it is unsatisfactory to state that without being clear about the detail that Parliament wants to be provided. The amendment does not say who should provide that authorisation or whether it is intended to apply in relation to all cases, or give criteria to identify in which cases it should apply. Although I respect what the noble Lord has in mind, it does not seem a satisfactory way of leaving matters at this stage in a Bill.

I have the same problem with the proposal that:

"Regulations shall make provision as to . . . external oversight", because, in that, Parliament is not saying what sort of external oversight it has in mind, particularly given what has been said already on record about the external oversight that takes place. If we passed the amendment, we would be leaving it apparently entirely open either for the executive to make regulations that in some way touched on the requirements mentioned but without any detail, or—this worries me even more—to leave the debate on what Parliament had in mind for another day when the regulations came back. We would have the debate all over again.

I also have to say, again with great respect to the noble Lord, that he introduced the amendment on the basis that he was concerned with the use provision in Clause 17, not the disclosure of confidential information under Clause 18. However, the passages to which he particularly drew attention from the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights were related to the provision on disclosure of confidential information rather than to the use provision.