Clause 62 - Disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 16th March 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 40, in

clause 62, page 39, line 37, after '(2)' insert

'above or section 19 of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (disclosure of information held by revenue departments)'.—[Mr. Pond.]

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

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am interested in another point of clarification. I am always intensely nervous about provisions that allow different agencies to swap information, and I am even more nervous when one of those agencies is the Inland Revenue

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Is the hon. Gentleman declaring an interest?

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am not declaring an interest in this instance—not so far, anyway. We should not pass this sort of provision on the nod, because the principle is important. I am open to all the arguments about tracking down fraudsters and detecting benefit claimants' unjustified claims, but we have to be careful whenever we allow such pooling of information.

The clause refers to information moving in one direction, from the Inland Revenue to the regulator. I am not sure where the equivalent provision is for information going from the regulator or the PPF to the Inland Revenue—no doubt the Under-Secretary will able to point that out if it is in the Bill; we may have just passed it. I am sure that there is a two-way street.

Can the Under-Secretary tell the Committee what the limits are, in regulation or primary legislation, on the Inland Revenue giving this sort of information to the regulator? I am not suggesting that the new improved regulator should not receive information that is crucial to the issues that it will be tackling, but I assume that Inland Revenue legislation quite properly restricts the nature of the information that the revenue can pass to outside bodies such as the regulator. That is my sole concern.

Photo of Mr Chris Pond Mr Chris Pond Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

We shall continue our pillow talk on these matters. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that there is a two-way street. As he will be aware, clause 62 largely replicates section 109 of the Pensions Act 1995 and relates to the disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue to the regulator. It provides that the Inland Revenue will not be bound by the restrictions imposed by section 182 of the Finance Act 1989, so long as the information is used by the

regulator to discharge its functions. The regulator must treat information disclosed to it by the Inland Revenue as restricted information. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman's question in part. The regulator must not disclose that information unless the commissioners of the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise have given permission or—this is only a slight difference—for the purposes of any criminal proceedings.

Perhaps it would help the Committee if I gave an example of the type of criminal proceedings that we have in mind. Some offences that relate to pension schemes are not offences under the pensions legislation—theft, for example. We want to ensure that information disclosed by the Inland Revenue to the regulator can be used in criminal proceedings for such offences. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be keen to know what type of tax information may be relevant to the regulator's functions, and I am eager to enlighten him. Tax information could, for example, be details of how many employees an employer has. The hon. Member for Northavon, who has expressed considerable interest in those matters in our earlier proceedings, will know that employee numbers are relevant to enable the regulator to check whether an employer is required to designate a stakeholder scheme.

On the specific point about the gateway to the regulator from the Inland Revenue, I am advised that that is specified in the list in schedule 3—page 177, line 10. Any information that the regulator receives from the Inland Revenue under clause 62 must be treated as restricted information. I hope that that will give sufficient reassurance to the hon. Member for Eastbourne, despite his anxiety about any involvement of the Inland Revenue in the receipt of information.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.