Clause 22 - Rewards

Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 13th January 2005.

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

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

This very short clause, which looks relatively innocuous, is actually quite important. It concerns the payment of informers who assist the Revenue and Customs, the new department, in the performance of its services. It is of concern, and those concerns need to be given an airing.

Throughout our considerations, I have sought, whenever I could, to tell the Paymaster General the clauses that I intend to discuss at least 48 hours in advance. Unfortunately, on this occasion, because we were both downstairs considering the Child Benefit Bill, and what with one thing and another, I did not tell her office that I wished to discuss the clause until 8.30 am today. I hope she can say a little about it. Perhaps she will want to come back to me if she cannot answer further questions I may have.

This is a money clause, as I understand it; that is why it is printed in italics. It is therefore not amendable in the other place, so it is up to us to   make sure that we are entirely happy with it. The payment of informers can easily lead to abuse. It is only a short distance from creating circumstances in which it may be alleged that agents provocateur had been paid.

There is always the danger of serious, unacceptable collusion between an informer, a prosecuting authority and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in trying to catch someone. The danger is that an informer and HMRC may become convinced that someone is guilty of a serious offence. A community of interest between them may be created, and they may end up harassing and persecuting someone in order to secure a conviction because they are absolutely sure that he or she is guilty. That person may not be guilty at all, or guilty of only a minor transgression, but will nonetheless be put through the wringer if there is abuse of the powers in the clause.

The issue of rewards has always been controversial, most seriously because it can lead to pure corruption and unacceptable collusion, whereby an HMRC official—I am not suggesting that this has gone on, but I am sure that the scope for it is always theoretically there—may himself be rewarded in some way for securing a reward for an informer. That would be serious.

It is well worth taking a close look at the clause, and I have a number of questions on it. First and most importantly, does it level up or level down the existing powers, which are slightly different from those in the legislation under which informers are permitted for the Revenue? I cite the relevant, short, passage from the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979:

''Subject to any directions of the Treasury as to amount, the Commissioners may at their discretion pay rewards in respect of any service which appears to them to merit reward rendered to them by any person in relation to any assigned matter.''

I ask Committee members to compare those words with those of clause 22 on page 11. The equivalent Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890 reads slightly differently. Under section 32—''Power to reward informers''—it states:

''The Commissioners may at their discretion reward any person who informs them of any offence against any Act relating to inland revenue or assists in the recovery of any fine or penalty, provided that a reward exceeding fifty pounds shall not be paid in any case without the consent of the Treasury.''

The Treasury has to give explicit consent for such rewards, and I shall come on to that. The phrase in the explanatory notes suggests that the clause grants similar powers to the new body. If one looks carefully at those two sections, one sees that that is about as far as one can go. In fact, those two powers are really quite different.

We have had the same sort of problem with the issue of powers for HMRC generally. I shall not run through all the points again, but when we debated clauses 4 to 6 we discovered that although the intention was to amalgamate sets of powers for two different organisations in a manner that left no overall change, that was very difficult to do. That is also what we have found on this issue. The important difference is that in both the previous pieces of legislation there was a reference to Treasury oversight. In this Bill,   Treasury oversight has disappeared altogether, as far as I can tell. It seems that we are creating a power to hand over very large sums without any limit from the Treasury.

I have concerns about that; everybody should until we have had more detail on how restraint may be imposed. The first obvious question is about who will vote for such sums to appear. Will the Treasury have any power of restraint whatsoever, even though that is not included in the Bill? Will the Treasury, even ex post, have the power to ask questions about whether the HMRC has exercised appropriately its powers under this clause? Again, we do not seem to have any information about how accountability for the clause will be exercised.

I have started to consider this issue in more detail in the past 48 hours, and have begun to come to the conclusion that—even with that reference to the Treasury being able, at least in principle, to withhold consent for Revenue rewards of more than £50 and to exercise some control on Customs—the existing arrangements, never mind the new arrangements, are inadequate. We in the public domain are not provided with the information on whether such powers are being exercised adequately.

Will the Paymaster General, at some point, supply me with a number of pieces of information about the exercise of the existing powers historically? Then we will have a mark in the sand for monitoring what might happen in the future. For example, how many claims have been made by informers on aggregate in any one year? How many claims have been paid on? How many claims have been paid on in full? Perhaps I could ask the Paymaster General for information on, say, the last three years. I do not want to make this an extraordinary task, but we may find that a particular year is disturbed by one particularly large payment for a special event. If we have a run of three years, we will get a feel for it. We can then work out from those numbers how much has been paid out on aggregate so we will know how many claims there have been, how much has been paid out and what proportion of those claims has been paid on aggregate.

I would also like some information—I realise this will not be that easy, but it should be possible to do—on the range of payments. Are they all a couple of hundred pounds for someone talking about some cigarettes that have come off the back of a lorry down the pub, or are these claims about very large cases? If we could have some idea of the range, and what proportion are in the order of nought to £500, £500 to £5,000 and so on. Of course, not knowing the numbers, I cannot possibly say what those ranges should be.

I fully understand that there is no way the Paymaster General will want to give me data on individual cases. That would indirectly lead to a breach of confidentiality, because someone who was paying attention, particularly the informer, would be able to work out quite a lot about the tax affairs of the person on whom he or she had informed. I certainly do not want to ask for the information to be presented in a way that could lead to such a breach. The questions I have asked, however, should enable that information   to be collected. Because the Treasury has to be consulted in each case, and we know that from existing legislation, this information must be in the Treasury somewhere.

Dawn Primarolo indicated assent.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

The Paymaster General confirms that. I am surprised that this information has never found its way into the public domain. I think that sooner or later somebody will start asking for this stuff under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but I do not think we need to go down that road. It is possible that one of the questions I have asked, for some reason that I do not know, is an unreasonable one. If it is, the Paymaster General will explain that to us and I am sure we will want to accept her explanation.

Armed with that information, we will then have a baseline for working out what will happen with the new Department. It would be helpful if the Minister was prepared to commit to publishing these figures annually in a similar form—we are only talking about four or five numbers—so that people can get a feel for what is going on in the field of rewards and payments for informants.

I have a couple of further points on the clause. I understand that there is an Inland Revenue manual on informers, setting out guidelines on how informers should be treated by staff. This is an eminently sensible idea. I do not think most of it is in the public domain. I ask the Paymaster General to look extremely carefully at whether that does need to be kept secret. I realise that small parts of it need to be kept secret, but I wonder whether large chunks of that document could be put into the public domain, in order to satisfy and allay public concerns about informers. Again, if we do not put it into the public domain, it is just the sort of thing which can be the subject of a Freedom of Information investigation; a fishing expedition. I think we can avoid that by putting it into the public domain now.

I have one final point to make. I have in front me the interesting research document on informers and the current practice. It largely governs how the police operate in that area. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is this Government's piece of legislation. It was brought in days before the October 2000 deadline for the Human Rights Act 1998 because it was felt that it needed to be on the statute books before the Human Rights Act started to trample over this territory. I am not an expert on whether the legislation working well. My information about that is confined to that one piece of rather sophisticated research that has been done by academics, and I am not going to rehearse the points that have been made.

However, what is happening in the police field is obviously extremely relevant to the way in which HMRC will operate. In that regard, in order to allay public concerns with respect to the legislation that governs the police, the Government have put the covert human intelligence sources code of practice into   the public domain. I have it with me and I looked at it last night. I could allude to some interesting questions in relation to the clause. I know that the Minister might not have all the answers to the questions that I have asked, so rather than ask some more now, I will leave it there for a moment.

The crucial point is that the code, because it is established under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, is effectively statutory guidance. I presume that the Inland Revenue manual will become an HMRC manual—perhaps the Minister will tell me whether that is the case—and it will presumably amalgamate guidelines that also apply to Customs and Excise. My last question to the Minister is whether that composite manual—whether it is called the code of practice or not, which does not really matter—will also acquire the quasi-statutory status that I understand the code of practice enjoys. I will stop there for the time being.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs) 9:45 am, 13th January 2005

We also have concerns about the particularly wide nature of the clause and we look forward to getting further details.

I want to highlight a couple of points. When things go seriously wrong and power is abused, sometimes the public and Parliament get a rigorous examination of the abuse of powers when those matters come into the public domain; I hope that they always would do.

We have had the advantage of the excellent report in July 2003 of the hon. Mr. Justice Butterfield into the London City Bond cases. In those cases, there was criticism by the trial judge of the role of the national investigation service and other branches of Customs and Excise. It is worth our paying considerable attention to the report. These matters have been debated in the House, and I suspect that that will continue.

Opposition Members are anxious to receive further information, such as knowledge of what safeguards will be in place. We would have liked those safeguards to be included in the Bill. We know the dangers surrounding the use of agents provocateurs; unreliability, difficulty with regard to evidence and openness to corruption. We want to know who monitors these practices and authorises these payments. How often does it happen? How much is paid? What is the competence and level of authority of those who sanction these practices and payments?

Before Report and Third Reading, we want proper safeguards to be in place in what is a very wide clause. We want to ensure that opportunities for collusion are nil, and that someone who is independent monitors this system. Does the adjudicator or ombudsman get a look in? Will the Independent Police Complaints Commission have authority to look into these matters and monitor whether they are done in accordance with the law and with scrupulous integrity?

There will be much more to be said on this clause when we have further information about it.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

I support the comments of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), as well as   those of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, on this very clear clause.

The Revenue department has made these payments for many years. It is proper in principle for it to pay rewards and inducements on occasion, provided that the system is properly accountable and controlled.

The Paymaster General suggested that previous practices will be carried forward, but I am not sure that that quite takes the trick here. That is partly because a new Bill should be an opportunity to provide a clearer and more precise statutory authority for practices of this nature; there is now a chance to take a look at previous practices without having explicit parliamentary authority. The other reason is that the clause appears to be even shorter and more general than the current statutory basis, which means that we are going in the wrong direction by reducing the clarity and detail.

There is Treasury involvement in these payments, but I have to say that when I was a Treasury Minister I do not recall authorising payments by Customs and Excise; certainly not on anything like an individual basis. I would be interested if the Paymaster General said what the Treasury involvement amounts to in what can be large payments. Will that be done in aggregate?

We are talking about public money and it is a function of Parliament to devote money to Departments for clear purposes on behalf of taxpayers. I agree with the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester. Our attitude towards the clause, both here and in court, will be guided by what the Paymaster General can tell us, because the background is not wholly reassuring.

As the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon said, there have been a number of high-profile cases in the past, particularly involving Customs and Excise, where court cases had to be abandoned at least partly because of the use of informers in controversial circumstances. The courts quite rightly look carefully at prosecution cases where the Government are running informers who may be claiming immunities in return for their evidence. If informers are being paid, or if they have been induced at an earlier stage, to behave in certain ways and to give certain evidence, that is naturally of great concern to the courts. It does not automatically invalidate the prosecution, but it means that both the courts and the House ought to look carefully at the propriety of those payments, who authorises them and the general question of accountability.

There is also the question of foreign involvement, because much of the work of the Customs and Excise, particularly, is not simply involved with revenue raising in this country; it is also about countering smuggling and always has been. Indeed, the historic powers granted to that department arose from its efforts against smuggling, particularly in the west country, where we make cider. In my constituency 300 years ago a customs official tried to put an end to the widespread smuggling and evasion of duty and was pinned to a tree by his ears by the local manufacturers as a warning. That was how they regarded the   question of enforcement. Doubtless, that led at the time to greater powers being given to the department, which is why when people visit Customs and Excise they see the ancient cutlasses and weapons used in countering illegality.

The history of that department, however, is rather different to the more recent history of the Inland Revenue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester mentioned, we would like to know whether the powers under the Bill for the payment of informers were modelled on the Customs experience or that of the Inland Revenue, because we are now consolidating them in a single clause.

I look forward to the Paymaster General giving some extensive information about the authorisation and extent of these payments. If she is not able to provide that today, I hope that she will at least promise it, particularly as it relates to foreign payments, because we could be interfering in the administrative and criminal justice systems of foreign countries. Just as we would be careful about allowing foreign Governments to pay British citizens in this country for the provision of information to other countries, so that must apply in reverse. The question of such payments, which is inadequately dealt with in the Bill and the explanatory notes, needs considerable elaboration before we are satisfied.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for Chichester raised questions on this subject. I agree with his starting point, which was the danger of a community of interest and of reinforcing behaviours. As he rightly said, that can be a problem for the police, because this is a very delicate area. I also agree that these subjects would make any Minister nervous. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) will know that the Gestalt cases, for instance, are investigations into cases that started back in the 1990s.

I will try to answer the points raised by all hon. Gentlemen where I can. I say ''where I can'' because, as the hon. Member for Chichester rightly flagged up, this moves into sensitive areas of identification of taxpayers. I need to be extremely cautious in what I say here, and some of the information is not information that a Minister would be privy to.

Let us be quite clear; Ministers are not told whether or not there are informants, whether or not they are running and whether or not anything has been paid by way of a reward. That is quite rightly at the discretion of the commissioners with regard to cases. I shall try and answer this by giving the context, and information, within which these decisions are taken and where the checks and balances are. I think that is what the hon. Member for Chichester particularly wants to get to. I can give him some of the information he asks for. I am not sure I can give him all of it on his questions of how much and when, but I will make as much progress as I can.

First, the clause does not confer any new powers, but does consolidate the existing powers to pay rewards. There are no set amounts as to what has been paid in the past or may be paid in the future. This depends on the quality of the information, and the   criteria for that remain unchanged. The Bill uses the Customs wording of ''rewards for meritorious service''. Treasury consent is not required for HMRC, because the legislation has gone closer to Customs than to the Inland Revenue process, because Customs has oversight by the National Audit Office, and these matters are scrutinised regularly. In fact, the Customs and Excise rewards system was subjected to a National Audit Office inspection in 2002–2003. During this inspection, no adverse comments were made about the management, or the rationale used in relation to the calculation of the rewards examined.

The hon. Gentleman quite rightly goes on to say, ''What about manuals, or criteria and guidelines?'' The Inland Revenue manuals are published as part of open government, but some sections are kept back because they would assist the wrongdoer; the point that the hon. Members for Chichester and for Torridge and West Devon and the right hon. Member for Wells made.

The new department will inherit ring-fenced codes, one for the former Inland Revenue matters and one for the former Customs matters. Those are available. Full new guidance would only be needed if the powers were aligned. We had a debate about powers, after which the hon. Member for Chichester issued a press release. This is a matter, I think he would agree, for the review of powers and considering these issues as sensitively as possible.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I read the article. The information is out there, the codes are out where they can be, published as part of open government and ring-fenced by the arrangements here. That will continue.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether details had been drawn up for operating the system of rewards, and whether they could be published.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether details had been drawn up for operating the system of rewards, and whether they could be published. There is a slight problem with that, which he touched on. I cannot publish the details because to do so would enable the recipients of rewards to work out how much tax had been collected, which would breach taxpayer confidentiality. Such tensions are constant in this matter. Those rules could also be used to manufacture information so that a higher payment is made when that is not warranted. The use of informants will be subject to external scrutiny. The National Audit Office will scrutinise the payments, and it will have something to say.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

Indeed. The next question is about the procedures. That external scrutiny is addressed in clause 23. Its aim is to ensure that procedures are in line with the very best practices for law enforcement, which the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon rightly referred to. Despite the difficulty and greyness   of this area, we seek to maintain the checks and balances and to reach for the best standard, as we also seek to do with regard to the prosecution service, which we will discuss later.

I can give the amounts that are involved. In the two-year period of 2003–04, Customs paid nearly £1 million.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

Two. Inland Revenue paid less than £20,000 per annum. I apologise; I may have misled the hon. Gentleman. I am talking about one year only; the sums of £1 million and £20,000 apply to the single financial year of 2003–04.

The reason for that difference in amounts is the different nature of the fraud criminal offence being pursued; the right hon. Member for Wells touched on that. There is a difference between drug smuggling, where Customs and Excise would be involved, and what is called tax cheating, on which the Inland Revenue would work.

I do not have the figures to hand to answer the question about the amounts over three years. However, I am prepared to take advice on whether I can give the amounts for more than one year without allowing people to start drawing comparisons. I am not referring to Members of Parliament of course, as they are fully entitled to do that. I will get the relevant figures, and write to the hon. Gentleman with that information.

On the question of how many were paid in full and how many paid per case and range, will the hon. Gentleman forgive me if I say that I would like to take advice on whether I can put that information into the public domain? I will get back to him on that. I understand why he would like that information, but I need to be clear that I will not be giving out information to people who will be able to make comparisons.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

The Paymaster General says that she will take advice on whether she can give that information. Is she referring to some legal bar or administrative obstacle, or to a purely practical problem? Bearing in mind that she now has the ability to do so, because the numbers are collected in the Treasury, will she consider whether such information should still be available once the Act comes into force? I ask because the Treasury will then no longer have the automatic statutory right to see the amounts and to approve cases. Even though the amounts have not come before Ministers, they are clearly somewhere, because that is what the Bill requires.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I was coming to that point. I am trying to be as helpful to the Committee as I can without inadvertently stepping into a delicate area. I am keen to ensure that I give all the information possible to the Committee. By ''advice'', I meant that I would like to speak to my officials about the boundaries.

My next point is about whether the amounts could be reported. Clearly, we would not do that on an individual basis. That cannot be done, and is not done now. There are global anonymised reports, but those   are not released, either, at the moment. However, the total budget is reported to the National Audit Office. It is in the department's votes.

I am neutral on this matter; I would like to take it back with me and see what can be done about it. I think that the point is important and, as regards access to information, I would like to be as helpful as possible to the hon. Gentleman on this matter and others. I am prepared to reflect on the benefits of some sort of globalised, anonymised figure, although I did not have any plans to do so, as long as I do not step into that sensitive and highly delicate area. By ''globalised'' I do not mean the world, of course; I mean the aggregate figures for the department.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon raised a point about Butterfield and the investigations. Butterfield considered the question of rewards and made no recommendations. That takes us back to the NAO point, because of course there is no greater check on Government and how its departments spend taxpayers' money than the National Audit Office and the Comptroller and Auditor General, which are powerful and important. It is scrutinised carefully for exactly the reasons that hon. Members have touched on today.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon went on to ask about criteria and the level of authority. I think that that is covered in what is already published, but I will check, and I am certainly prepared to write to members of the Committee so that they are quite clear about the level of authority and how it operates.

The right hon. Member for Wells made a number of important points, reinforcing the issues raised by the hon. Members for Torridge and West Devon and for Chichester. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that this is an issue on which Parliament should be properly informed where appropriate, but that the departments need to be able to engage in this activity at their discretion.

None the less, there must be strong checks and balances. I hope that I have demonstrated that. First, there is the NAO. The Customs practice of reporting and being scrutinised by the NAO is in the Bill. Secondly, clause 23 deals with the external scrutiny of the actual handling. The payment of rewards is dealt with in clause 22, and external scrutiny of the handling—via, I think, the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office, but I will come back to the Committee on that—is in clause 23. The criteria and handling of that are as laid out in the codes. [Interruption.] I am sorry, it is Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, not RCPO, that supervises. That ties back into the point that the hon. Member for Chichester was making about police standards and high standards.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

If I may just clarify my point first, because I made a mistake, and we need to make sure that the record is correct. The external scrutiny is by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and that is the right place for it to be done. We are trying to   anchor it in at that point. I have nearly concluded, but I will briefly take one intervention.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs) 10:15 am, 13th January 2005

Briefly, I agree that the National Audit Office scrutiny is the sort of sanction that Liberal Democrat Members look for, but I have not quite understood whether the NAO audits all of the payments each year or whether every now and again it makes an audit on an as-and-when basis.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

The NAO audits the departments every year, in order for the accounts to be presented to Parliament. As I understand it, what happened in 2003–04 was a specific revisiting of the root and branch consideration. I do not think that that would necessarily be done annually. It was, so to speak, a random check; I should not say that, because I do not know whether it was.

The NAO undertakes its duties as it thinks appropriate, in order to report to Parliament that all the money is accounted for. I am not exactly sure why in that year the NAO decided specifically to examine those issues to which we are referring, over and above the normal audit. It would be free to do so every year if it wants, but that would be a matter for it in considering the accounts. Such examination is not required by the Bill and would not be required by any action of the departments. That is a matter for the NAO to decide.

I have concluded my remarks, Mr. Hurst, and I sincerely hope that I have given as much information as is helpful to the hon. Member for Chichester. If there are any points that he still wants clarified, I would be happy to listen and I am sure that he would be gracious enough to allow me to write to him and to other members of the Committee to fill in the gaps, should there be any.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

I am very grateful to the Minister for having listened carefully to what I said and for her attempt to answer as many questions as she could, more or less on the hoof. I am not one of those who thinks that Ministers should carry great wodges of highly detailed information in their head and by some miracle be able to parrot from it on demand. It is far more sensible to ask for information and get it in written form, so that others may also take a look at it. That is what 21st century scrutiny should be all about. I shall not prolong the point, but it leads me to wonder whether this Standing Committee procedure that we have for the scrutiny of Bills is remotely adequate for the kind of legislation that we deal with these days. We need something much more sophisticated, as almost every other country has decided.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that he is straying outside the confines of the clause.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

Yah. I could not possibly disagree with that. I never do disagree with you, Mr. Hurst, and I certainly do not disagree with you, even privately, on that one.

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to come back to me and to other Committee members by letter on some of the further detailed questions that I asked.   Would it be possible for her to do so well before Report? I have become a bit concerned even about our existing level of transparency. It seems to hark back, to some degree, to an earlier era—decades ago—when there was far less access to information generally; I am talking about the existing rules as laid down in statute. Therefore, I would not be entirely happy anyway and we have an opportunity to look anew.

My concern is also raised by the fact that at least in theory the Treasury was in a position to poke around a little now and again if it so wanted, and if something particularly egregious appeared, to alert Ministers to it. That is often the function of a spending control Department and is legitimate: it often starts with money and leads to a consideration of other, broader issues, which is how it should function. I expect that is partly why those clauses were in the original legislation.

I am concerned that the reference to the Treasury has now been removed. I asked for information from the Paymaster General before Report, because if she feels unable to give me the level of basic transparency that is required I might want to return to this issue then. Perhaps she could, in her letter, also deal explicitly with the kind of arrangement that she thinks can be put in place to ensure that there is the maximum level of transparency that is consistent with the efficiency of a reward-and-informer system. We need such a system, it is right that there should be one and it is crucial that we have something in place, given how the Bill is drafted.

The Paymaster General referred to the level of scrutiny that already exists and in doing so made my point. I do not think that she was having a go at me—far from it—and I am not having a go at her now. However, she talked about the external scrutiny by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and the National Audit Office reports. The NAO will do a general audit, but that will not remotely go into the detail of the questions that I have raised. The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon was right to draw that point out in an intervention.

If the NAO thinks that there is something egregious, it can launch a value for money study, which may uncover all sorts of things, but those are ad hoc and periodic studies, not annual reports and reviews. The Paymaster General has just described two or three different avenues by which there will be some scrutiny. Perhaps those should be brought together. However, there is no statutory basis for that and it would be wonderful if she came forward with her own amendment on Report that achieved that and put us back, broadly, where we were. The Treasury should have a role and there should be some statutory commitment to a level of transparency higher than that which we have at the moment. Such a process will enable the different levels and types of scrutiny that already exist to be drawn together. I look forward to her letter and will take it from there.

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

This has been another constructive debate. I agree with what the hon. Member for Chichester said in a measured way. I am grateful to   the Paymaster General, who always considers questions conscientiously and does her best to reply—and it is not an easy job. Those of us who have never had the good fortune to be on the Government Benches can only wonder what it is like.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is leaving the House, so he has not got much time if he wants to cross the Floor.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

That is enough generosity.

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

Perhaps the Paymaster General will look again at the scrutiny by the National Audit Office. Such is the sensitivity of the payments that they are open to possible corruption, so whenever they are made they should always be audited annually by the NAO. That was the thrust of my earlier intervention. I hope that the Paymaster General will consider the matter; we shall no doubt return to it on Report. I am grateful for her commitment to write to me about the level of authority and competence of the individual who will sanction the payments in the new Inland Revenue and Customs department.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.