With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 120, in clause 71, page 44, leave out line 40.
No. 121, in clause 71, page 44, leave out line 41.
No. 122, in clause 71, page 45, leave out line 1.
The clause allows for the sharing of information by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be included in the “information gateway”. It would allow information to be shared with devolved authorities. Put simply, our amendments would specifically prevent the disclosure of information relating to income tax and tax credits.
Again, earlier we spoke at some length about the sensitivity that is abroad about data and information sharing, not least because of some of the scandalous errors that have taken place over recent months. It would be unkind and unnecessary to speak at length about the Government’s embarrassment or to blame the Under-Secretary personally for the profound incompetence shown by the Government, although of course he accepts collective responsibility. With those few words, and not wanting to exaggerate that point, I await the Minister’s no doubt ready response.
Sandy Leitch, as has been said, correctly identified the need to improve the integration of employment and skills as an important policy agenda. That would serve the goal with which the Committee has been occupied over the past few weeks, of moving more people who are out of work into learning and then into long-term employment.
Clauses 71 to 75 will provide an all-important means for us to assess, in a joined-up way, whether we are delivering on that goal. The intention behind the clauses is simple: to enable data to be made available to researchers in Government and beyond, and in the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland, so that that assessment can be made. The data will be used for two forms of analysis: first, to determine whether low-skilled individuals are moving into sustainable employment and then progressing in work, rather than falling back on to benefits; and, secondly, to explore the economic returns on the qualifications and skills that individuals achieve. Current legislation puts a duty of confidentiality on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions in relation to the data that they handle. Unless the disclosure is lawful for other reasons, or the information is in the public domain, an express legal provision is required to enable data to be shared outside HMRC. That takes the form of information gateways, which the Bill creates.
All of us as constituency MPs have come across people who might be in employment for a month or two, but then fall out of employment simply because they do not have the skills to progress in and hold on to their jobs. The clause provides a means by which we can analyse those data to see whether our qualifications and the routes set out by Sandy Leitch are working, and whether we are getting the progression we want. We all share those aims. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels able to withdraw the amendment.
These are sensitive issues. People’s tax affairs are private matters, which one would expect to be handled with appropriate discretion—hence our amendments. We do not have time, nor would it be appropriate, to debate the tax credits system now, but we all know from our constituency casework that it is a nightmare. In the light of what has occurred in recent months, there is fear in every hearth and home in Britain that the Government are about to spread personal data far and wide.
Having said that, this is not the time to press the amendments. Our case has been made; the sensitivities that I have described will no doubt ring loudly in the ears of Ministers and, one hopes, these matters will be handled with greater discretion in future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Clause 72 stand part.
Clause 73 stand part.
Government amendments Nos. 201 to 205.
Government new clause 7—Benefit and training information.
Government new clause 8—Revenue and Customs information.
Government new clause 9—Use of information.
If no one wishes to speak, I will put the Question that clause 71 stand part of the Bill. As many as are of that opinion, say “Aye”.
For clarity, let me say to the Committee that we have just had a debate on amendments to clause 71, which the Committee decided to give leave to be withdrawn. I made it clear to the Committee that the next Question for debate was that clause 71 stand part of the Bill, and I read out a list of other measures to be debated at the same time, which are listed on the Chairman’s selection list. My understanding is that the Government wish to replace clause 71 with a new clause; therefore, unless I misunderstand their intention, when I put the Question that clause 71 stand part of the Bill, the Government Members would say “No.”
My fear was that Government Members misunderstood on what clause I had put the Question, which is why I made it clear that we were dealing with clause 71. I shall put the Question again.