Clause 319 - Declarations

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 15 January 2002.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

May I deal with this clause and schedule 5 at the same time? That will avoid any need for a substantive debate on schedule 5.

Clearly, the oaths provided in schedule 5 are designed to ensure that the same degree of confidentiality will apply as the Minister explained applies to the Inland Revenue generally. What problems will be caused by the taxation functions of the Assets Recovery Agency being discharged by staff who might perform the other functions of the agency, too?

The Inland Revenue's status and reputation for confidentiality is substantially based on the fact that it is a discrete organisation. I know that we talk about Chinese walls in solicitors' firms when there may be conflicts of interest. However, I wonder how the process has been thought through in practice. If staff are interchanged to perform the different functions of the Assets Recovery Agency, it could cause problems. I wonder if the Minister and his advisers have given any thought to ensuring that such problems do not arise.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:30, 15 January 2002

Clause 319 requires the director and his staff to make a declaration of non-disclosure of taxpayer information. The text of the declarations that they must make is set out in schedule 5. The declarations are similar in wording to those that the law requires the commissioners of Inland Revenue, and Inland Revenue staff, to make. They will place the agency on an equivalent footing to the Inland Revenue in relation to the confidentiality of taxpayer information. The Inland Revenue has always given great importance to the confidentiality of such information, and it follows that that information should not be vulnerable to inappropriate disclosures just because it is held by the Assets Recovery Agency.

The declaration states that the person who signs it will not make any disclosures of information that they receive through their functions under this part of the Bill. The exceptions to the rule are disclosures made for the purpose of carrying out the functions, for the purposes of a prosecution for any offence relating to inland revenue, or in any other such cases required or permitted by law.

I do not know what more we can do. The hon. Gentleman mentions a difficulty that can be dealt with only if we get the right culture into the new agency. I am sure that the Revenue has struggled with the issue.

It has, over a long period, built a reputation. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is aided by having a discrete function. I do not believe that the agency will always have specialist staff who deal only with taxation, although that may be the case to some extent. It will certainly help the staff to stick to the declarations that they are required to make.

I do not believe that we can make any more provision within the Bill to ensure that the same standards apply to the staff of the agency as to those of the Revenue. That will require effective management and the establishment of the kind of culture that we want, which will lead not only to the expertise necessary to ensure that some of the Bill's powers are used well, but also to the maintenance of the confidentiality that we want people to expect.

Clause 319 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.