Clause 31 - Functions

Part of Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 18 January 2005.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:25, 18 January 2005

Thank you, Sir John, and I welcome you back to the Chair.

In discussing the clause, which sets out the functions of the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office and the director in particular, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) raised a concern that had been put to him by the Law Society. He explained its questions about the interaction between the clause and clauses 54 and 55 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill currently also being considered in Committee.

It may be helpful for the Committee and reassure the hon. Gentleman if I explain how clause 54 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill links with the clause we are considering. It permits the RCPO director along with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Lord Advocate, or a prosecutor delegated by any of them, to issue a disclosure notice. Such notices can be issued only if the director—in our case, of the RCPO—has reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed a specified offence and that some other person has information that is relevant to, and will be of substantial value to the investigation of, that offence.

Such a notice excludes from a disclosure notice material such as confidential banking information or personal records relating to any business or profession. The prosecutor would still not be able to authorise the use of coercive powers in relation to materials specified in the notice. If the material is not voluntarily provided in response to the service of the notice authorised by the prosecutor, an application must still be made to a magistrate for a warrant to enter and search premises and seize that material.

It may help the Committee and the hon. Member for Chichester if I confirm the further assurances that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), gave to the Committee considering the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. The use of powers within Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is subject to a wide-ranging review, which was announced by the Paymaster General. The new powers in the Serious   Organised Crime and Police Bill, which were trailed in ''One Step Ahead'', the White Paper on organised crime, will not be exercised for tax offences pending the outcome of that review of HMRC powers. That was confirmed by the Under-Secretary during Committee proceedings on that Bill. Furthermore, the use of such powers will be subject to guidance issued by the Attorney-General to ensure that they are used only where they are necessary and proportionate.