Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:38 pm on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative 8:38 pm, 5th April 2005

My Lords, your Lordships will have noted that I have softened my original stance on this issue. Whereas previously I sought an obligation on the Information Commissioner to make an annual report on the operation of HMRC's disclosure regime, I have re-drafted the new clause to confine it to a report on the first full year of operation.

As I have already made clear, I am only too well aware that the Data Protection Act grants an appropriate power to the Information Commissioner to conduct a review should he deem it necessary. Indeed, as revealed by the letter from the Paymaster General to the chairman of the JCHR, that continues to form the substance of the justification given by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for resisting the amendment. Like the JCHR, I hold to the view that, given the importance of taxpayer confidentiality to the integrity of the tax base, it is appropriate that a report on the first full year of HMRC's operation should be obligatory rather than discretionary.

A further motivation for the new clause is the way in which the role and functions of the Information Commissioner have expanded in recent years. Inevitably, exercise of the discretionary power under the DPA to report on HMRC will be subject to any resource and budgetary constraints that that increased—and increasing—workload places on the Information Commissioner. Accordingly, reliance on that route to proper oversight has about it the character of willing the ends but not the means. That being so the new clause addresses that at proposed new subsection (3) by requiring that adequate resources be made available. I beg to move.