Clause 25 - Confidentiality, &c. Amendment made: No. 56, in clause 25, page 13, line 2, after 'Constabulary', insert 'or the Scottish inspectors'. — [Dawn Primarolo.]

Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 13th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendments made:

No. 57, in clause 25, page 13, line 30, leave out 'only'.  

No. 58, in clause 25, page 13, line 31, leave out second 'and'.

No. 59, in clause 25, page 13, line 33, at end insert—

'(8) In the application of this section to Scotland the reference in subsection (6)(b) to 12 months shall be taken as a reference to six months.

(9) In this section ''the Scottish inspectors'' has the same meaning as in section 23.'.—[John Healey.]

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

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Members have rightly taken the issue of confidentiality very seriously. I want to explain how the operation of clause 25 relates to the responsibilities given to the HMIC and the IPCC, which we have just discussed.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will do so briefly, but it is important to have it clearly on the record, because the HMIC and the IPCC will carry out inspections and investigations of the HMRC and during their work they will need access to sensitive or customer-confidential information. Disclosure of information to the HMIC and the IPCC is covered in clause 17 and was discussed at some length earlier in Committee. Clause 25, however, restricts the use of such information to inspections or investigations of the HMRC, prohibiting further disclosure without the consent of the commissioners. It also establishes unauthorised disclosure as a criminal offence.

HMIC will inspect areas of work within HMRC relating to the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system. It is not envisaged that HMIC will routinely focus on specific incidents, but in some cases it may do so and need access to confidential information. Even when that happens, HMIC will not usually need to refer to any specific confidential or sensitive information in its reports. For that reason we specified that it may not disclose any information without the consent of the commissioners.

The IPCC will, as we have discussed, investigate allegations of criminal conduct or gross misconduct against HMRC officers and in some cases that will require access to confidential information. The IPCC has procedures for keeping complainants informed during investigations and producing reports on its findings, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

The IPCC provisions for disclosure during investigations into the police are restricted in regulations made by the Home Secretary and currently restrict disclosure of information during the course of an investigation, for example in the interests of national security or to prevent crime. We will add to those restrictions in regulations to protect confidential HMRC information. However, positive and qualified provision ensures that we do not limit the IPCC's established role to investigate serious allegations and provide assurance to the public about its handling of such matters.

The provision ensures that HMIC and IPCC staff will be subject to the same restrictions and penalties regarding disclosure of information as HMRC staff.  

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs) 10:45 am, 13th January 2005

I am grateful to the Economic Secretary for that explanation, but can he assure the Committee of something? Clauses 23, 24 and 25 are useful and important and add to transparency—and I hope that they will make taxpayers even more convinced than hitherto that the actions of the Revenue and Customs are under scrutiny. As we have said before, it is important that we have a just and equitable tax system, or else it is deeply corrosive of morale and makes collecting tax even more difficult. I hope that the Economic Secretary can confirm that if the IPCC needs and requests sensitive information in the course of an investigation, it will get it and there will be no inhibitions on that.

I appreciate that members of the IPCC who deal with such matters will have to sign the relevant oath and other confidentiality agreements. That is right and proper. However, they need the tools to do the job and I hope that no obstacles at all will impede them in their task.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Gentleman and I share the concern to see the greatest possible confidence in the work of the HMRC and the greatest possible degree of transparency, without compromising the responsibilities and functions of the department.

During discussions of clause 17 we debated at some length the disclosure of information to the IPCC and HMIC. We intend the external scrutiny bodies to have open access to the work of HMRC. That is an important principle that helps to reassure Ministers and the public that the bodies are providing the level of scrutiny of HMRC that we are setting them up to provide under the Bill. I hope that the provisions of clause 17 and the general reassurances that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General and I have given the hon. Gentleman this morning will convince him of that.

Clause 25 deals with the other side of the issue: any disclosure of confidential information that the two bodies may need to undertake, the grounds on which they may do so and the limits that it is right to put on them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.