Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers) 8:15 pm, 5th April 2005

My Lords, I do not say that in any sense to be disagreeable, but I noted the way that the noble Lord put it. I have an important point of substance that I hope that he will accept. Paragraph 1.22 in the most recent report states in terms:

"We asked the Minister to give consideration to three specific types of stronger safeguard"—

I understand those to be the safeguards in the amendment

"which in our view would make it more likely in practice that disclosures of confidential information under the Bill's provisions are compatible with Article 8 ECHR".

That is concerned with the disclosure of confidential information. It is under the section of the report that deals with disclosure. The section of the report that deals with use—the noble Lord read it out, but it is not the part that picks up the three safeguards to which he drew attention—states at paragraph 1.6 that the committee,

"found the Minister's response very helpful. We are reassured that there exist numerous procedural safeguards at the administrative level designed to ensure that information is only shared where both necessary and appropriate. We also accept the necessity for administrative level safeguards, giving concrete practical effect to the safeguards contained in the Bill, and that such detailed safeguards need not be spelt out on the face of the legislation itself".

It is absolutely right to point out that the committee goes on to say two things. The first is that it remains concerned at the breadth of the discretion in Clause 17(1)—the noble Lord drew attention to that. Secondly, it states in paragraph 1.8 that:

"It may well be that the administrative level safeguards supply this omission and make it clear that information is only to be shared internally if such use satisfies a test for proportionality which includes consideration of its necessity".

I read that out simply for these purposes and I noted the way that the noble Lord phrased the amendment. Particularly at this stage, in the Third Reading of the Bill, which we hope will soon become law—and we all support that—there should be no misunderstanding of the amendment. I remain in some doubt. It is not a doubt of principle, it is a doubt as to whether or not the noble Lord has, in saying that he is only concerned with use, picked up what the Joint Human Rights Committee says.

The point of substance, to which I draw warmly and respectfully his attention, is that amendments have been made as a result of the debate which has taken place, including the discussions that we have had in Grand Committee and on Report, which have put further safeguards in the Bill. The disclosure in the public interest, which, importantly, takes the matter outside the functions of Revenue and Customs, will now describe, if the House approves the amendment which I plan to move in a few moments, the types of disclosure that may be made. Importantly, it will include statements of the criteria—for example, in Amendment No. 13, if,

"the disclosure is made for the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime", or the disclosure is made,

"to a person exercising public functions in relation to public safety or public health".

The reason for drawing attention to the fact that, in the view of the Joint Committee, this matter is concerned with the disclosure of confidential information is that I have been trying to assure the noble Lord that the amendments that we are making regarding confidentiality touch on his concerns.