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 Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers) 8:38 pm, 5th April 2005

My Lords, we have discussed these issues in Grand Committee. As the noble Earl knows, I remain unconvinced of the need to add further to the Bill in this area, but I will say something more on the record, which I hope will give him comfort.

External scrutiny of the department and its processes already exists. As the noble Earl knows, I believe that the scrutiny is robust and adequate to the task. The department will be subject to investigation by the Adjudicator, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee, the Treasury Committee in another place, the courts and, of course, the Information Commissioner, who has extensive investigative and reporting powers.

There will also be external scrutiny of the conduct of HMRC officers by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Although some of those bodies scrutinise only complaints from members of the public, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee, the Treasury Committee and the Information Commissioner can investigate simply because they choose to do so, even where no particular complaint has been made.

The Information Commissioner already has a good relationship with the departments; I drew attention to that previously. I re-emphasise just one point: he has never reported that either department has misused the information that it holds.

Those are the reasons for not wanting to go further in the Bill, but I can go a step further in meeting the concerns raised by the noble Earl. The arrangements for delegation that will apply to HMRC will enable a single commissioner to take on the important role of co-ordinating, checking and ensuring compliance with the Data Protection Act. That will provide, as I have indicated in correspondence, a clear nominated contact who will be responsible for dealing with the Information Commissioner on relevant matters. It will ensure that the Information Commissioner, in turn, has a direct route through to HMRC at the highest level, should he need to raise matters with it. So, they should be able in that way to discuss any developments or concerns with a knowledgeable individual with the ability to make quick decisions and act with authority.

I am sure also that the debate that has taken place here will not escape the attention of the Information Commissioner, who has the power to take such steps as he thinks appropriate, having regard to the circumstances. Although I cannot, on this occasion, go as far as the noble Earl would like, I hope that the identification of a nominated commissioner will reassure him that the new department will continue to take its obligations seriously, every bit as seriously as its predecessor departments have done. I hope that the noble Earl will accept that, together with the scrutiny in the legal and administrative safeguards that will apply to HMRC which I have identified, that is an appropriate framework and will not, as, I think, he indicated, press his amendment.