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 was not pressing the noble Lord to intervene if he had not wished to. I emphasise that I have listened carefully to noble Lords' concerns, as I have throughout the passage of the Bill. We have gone a long way to meet the concerns that have been expressed in relation to confidentiality in a number of ways.

I wish to make a final and important point of substance. We do not differ in principle about the importance of imposing safeguards by law as to the way that information may be used. The difference between us, which I have some difficulty in understanding, is that we say on the on the face of the Bill that the Data Protection Act applies. That carries with it important statutory obligations. It carries with it the obligation that the principle of fairness shall apply in the use of information under the Data Protection Act. It carries with it the obligation to comply with the obligations of necessity. We do not say on the on the face of the Bill that the Human Rights Act applies, because, of course, it does. That is common ground between us. Actually, in a sense, we do say in the Bill that the Act applies, because I have signed a certificate saying that the Act, in my opinion, is compatible.

We do not have any disagreement that the Human Rights Act imports a requirement by law that the type of sensitive and confidential information with which the noble Lord is concerned may be an intrusion on privacy only if it is justified in accordance with Article 8(2). That means that it must be proportionate and for one of the limited purposes.

My real point is that, given that the law requires the Data Protection Act principles of necessity and fairness and the Human Rights Act principle of proportionality for limited purposes, and given that we have gone even further on the face of the Bill with public interest disclosure, are we not doing enough to say on the face of the Bill how information may be used? Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that the noble Lord has more than fulfilled the task that he set himself of drawing to the attention of this House the observations of the Joint Human Rights Committee.

We believe that we are achieving what is needed in order to safeguard taxpayer confidentiality in the use of the information. We believe that that is done in the way that the Bill presently provides and that there are—this is why I drew attention to it—difficulties with the noble Lord's amendment. I entirely take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, sought to deal with other difficulties in the way that he put the amendment forward, but it still does not meet the objective.

Therefore, in what I hope is a spirit of acceptance of the noble Lord's intentions, reassurance to the noble Lord about what we have been seeking to do and, in particular, reassurance that we agree with him, as I have agreed with all noble Lords from the very start, about the importance of the use of this information by HMRC, I hope that he will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.