Schedule 3 - Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office

Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 13th January 2005.

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Amendment proposed: No. 99, in schedule 3, page 30, line 26, leave out 'specify' and insert 'give details of—

(a) the nature and outcomes of prosecutions undertaken,'.—[John Healey.]

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 81, in schedule 3, page 30, line 30, at end insert

', and

(c) statistics analysing the range and outcomes of prosecutions undertaken by the Director.'.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General 11:15 am, 13th January 2005

I shall be extremely brief as I know that other hon. Members have something to say about the schedule. My amendment is a probing one and it is   appropriate to have such an amendment. Perhaps the Minister will want to get back to me in writing, but it is important that we establish what the controls will be on the operation of the new RCPO and, in particular, what sort of reporting of its activities we will have. What measures of success will we create and have as targets for the RCPO, and how will they be published? Schedule 3 offers the prospect of annual reports. I hope that we can go further for so powerful an institution in the early years and that the Minister will say that at an early stage after it has been going for a few years we will have an opportunity to assess whether we have got things right. I hope that he will offer me some reassurances on that. I shall not go into more detail now, because we do not have a great deal of time and other hon. Members want to speak.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

I will not speak for long. I support the thrust of the proposal and I hope that, on reflection, the Minister will consider it as appropriate to be incorporated. Of course, the statistics would have to be properly anonymised, because there will be failed prosecutions as well as successful ones.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons)

Are there any public service agreement targets, or will there be a variant of the Government's target setting for prosecutions? Might it be better to use the word ''statistics'' in amendment No. 99? That would provide some specificity, which is sadly lacking in that amendment, which is woolly to say the least.

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

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chichester for tabling amendment No. 81. In many ways, the Paymaster General and I agree that, in the interests of open government and promotion of better public scrutiny, key statistics on prosecutions are a good thing and should be published. We tabled amendment No. 99 because we think that the wording is slightly better, but it catches what the hon. Gentleman intends with amendment No. 81 and I hope that he will accept it. We always intended that the RCPO should in its annual report set out statistics detailing the prosecutions that it undertook and the outcomes of prosecutions completed during the previous financial year. Similar statistics are now routinely published by Customs and the Revenue in their annual reports. I suggest to the hon. Members for Chichester and for Torridge and West Devon that if that set of prosecution statistics does not cover their points, perhaps they will want to raise them again, but we publish such data quite fully in other annual reports at present and we intend to do so for the RCPO.

I say to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that public service agreements are published. I would have expected him, as a former member of the Treasury Committee, to know that and to know what the public service agreements in place for Customs and the Inland Revenue are, but the short answer to his question is no.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

I am grateful for the Minister's remarks. On the basis of his assurance that amendment No. 99 fulfils everything that is intended in amendment No. 81, I shall not press amendment No. 81. I should be grateful though—I am sorry to trouble the officials with this—if the Minister would have drafted for him a letter clarifying that. I shall not trouble the   Committee in detail now, but the amendments look slightly different and it would help if I could have an explanation as to why they would have exactly the same effect, which is what the Minister has claimed. I have a couple of additional quick points to make.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right; the amendments are not the same. Ours is better, and I will happily explain that to him in writing.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

We operate with somewhat diminished resources. The Minister will understand that we do not claim always to be equipped to do the kind of drafting work that a Government can.

The Minister did not answer my more broadly based points. I am not sure that the reporting standards more widely are adequate for a new institution; we need some sort of commitment to a more broadly based examination of how the department has got on after a year or two. I would be grateful if the Minister considered that.

My last point is highly controversial; we have had a big row about it. I am not in any way challenging the appointment that caused such controversy in the Room a moment ago. However, the Minister and the Government need to recognise that public confidence in and respect for the appointments processes has been tarnished and damaged by, to say the least, some pretty unusual appointments and ways of appointing in many areas of Government—there are special advisers, a large number of peerages and allegations of cronyism all over Whitehall. If the Minister has to defend so vigorously an appointment that should have been unexceptional, perhaps he should consider not the specific criticisms, but the broadly based approach taken by the Government.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

Like most Committee members, I have some idea of how such appointments are made. It might help us if we got a letter from the Economic Secretary detailing the independent system of appointments that is pursued by the Attorney-General.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.