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Government amendments Nos. 2 and 3 replace references to the commissioners of Customs and Excise in new section 4B, which is inserted by clause 2, with ones to the commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The merger of Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue under the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 took place after the introduction of this Bill. The hon. Member for Bath and others had to address the same issues when considering the London Olympics Bill. Hence the need to update the reference in clause 2.
Government amendments Nos. 100 and 101 need a little more explanation. Clause 2 provides for a gateway to allow for information to be exchanged between the National Lottery Commission and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The main purpose of the gateway is to allow the commission to seek information from HMRC in order to vet applicants for lottery licences to ensure that they are fit and proper persons, and to allow HMRC to obtain information to allow it to administer lottery duty. A similar gateway exists under the Finance Act 1993, but the clause updates the gateway to allow the onward disclosure of information to the National Audit Office in response to requests from the Public Accounts Committee.
The information provided by HMRC under that gateway is sensitive. Information that is held by HMRC is subject to a statutory duty of confidentiality, and is protected against wrongful disclosure by a criminal offence, such is the importance placed by the Government and Parliament on the confidentiality of such information. The Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 reflects the fact that there was clear cross-party support for the principle of ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect HMRC’s information. Having considered the strength of feeling shown on the issue in all parts of the House during the passage of that Act, I would not wish to weaken those safeguards. Therefore Government amendments 100 and 101 insert into the Bill a criminal offence of the wrongful disclosure of information received from HMRC. The terms of the offence mirror the offence that applies to HMRC staff. Information provided by HMRC to the National Lottery Commission will be afforded the same protection that it would have had had it been received by HMRC. That will reassure taxpayers that their information is appropriately protected within the NLC.
The amendment delivers the protection for customers’ confidentiality that is needed to ensure that the public have confidence in the way in which HMRC handles information that it obtains, and I have equal confidence in the management and staff of the NLC, who remain committed to the principle of confidentiality.
The first two amendments appear sensible, but I am concerned about the subsequent ones, which seem to allow a considerable amount of information to be disclosed. Although the purposes set out in the amendments seem to be sensible, I am not clear whether subsection (ac) in amendment No. 100 applies to any information that is disclosed by the NLC or whether information may be disclosed without the consent of the commissioners of HMRC. Can the Minister give some more information about the purposes for which the information might be disclosed without the consent of the commissioners and why that information might not have been sought from the commissioners in the first place? Chinese whispers are never an effective means of communication, and information that has been obtained from HMRC must surely be better communicated by that body in the first place.
Moving on to proposed new section 4C of the 1993 Act, I am not clear whether it applies to the disclosure of information by an individual or by the commission in general. Is it an offence for the commission to disclose information that it is not entitled to disclose or to require an individual who is an employee of the commission to pass on information that he is not entitled to disclose? Alternatively, if an allegation were made that an employee of the commission had wrongfully disclosed information, would it be a defence for him to say he had been instructed so to do by the commission?
To be honest, I did not follow the whole of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but I shall try to explain what we aim to achieve through the amendments. There is no dispute about the first two amendments. Their purpose is to protect the confidentiality of the information that the Revenue holds. If that information is passed to a third party, the same standards on confidentiality that apply to the Revenue must apply to the receiving organisation. That is what the amendments would achieve. The staff would have the same responsibility.
The other amendments would also apply that to the NAO and introduce consistency throughout the organisations—there is no dispute about that—and maintain confidentiality in the disclosure of information to the Revenue. Any third party, whether the NLC or the NAO, would under the same constraints as the Revenue. That is what the amendments would achieve. If there were a transgression by a member of staff, the same would apply whether they were Revenue staff, NLC staff or NAO staff.
Procedures will be put in place to deal with any transgression by an individual who has received information and the same procedures will carry through. That is the object of the exercise and that is what the amendments would do. We want consistency and protection of confidentiality for people who deposit information with the Revenue.
Have there been any cases of criminality within the national lottery to date that have prompted the change?
Amendments made: No. 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 22, leave out ‘of Customs and Excise’ and insert
‘for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’.
No. 100, in clause 2, page 2, line 26, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
‘(a)for the purpose of complying with an enactment,
(aa)in pursuance of an order of a court,
(ab)for the purpose of legal proceedings connected with the operation of an enactment relating to lotteries,
(ac)with the consent of the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs,
(ad)with the consent of each person to whom the information relates, or’.
No. 101, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—
(1)This section applies to a person—
(a)who is or was an officer or employee of the National Lottery Commission, or
(b)who acts or acted on behalf of the National Lottery Commission.
(2)A person to whom this section applies commits an offence if he discloses information received from the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in contravention of section 4B(3) and the information relates to a person whose identity—
(a)is specified in the disclosure, or
(b)can be deduced from it.
(3)It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section of disclosing information to prove that he reasonably believed—
(a)that the disclosure was lawful, or
(b)that the information had already and lawfully been made available to the public.
(4)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
(a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or to both, or
(b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.
(5)In relation to a conviction occurring before the commencement of section 282 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c.44) (short sentences) the reference in subsection (4)(b) to 12 months shall have effect as if it were a reference to six months.
(6)In the application of this section to Scotland or Northern Ireland the reference in subsection (4)(b) to 12 months shall be taken as a reference to six months.”.’.—[Mr. Caborn.]