Clause 12

Part of Employment Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 14 October 2008.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 5:00, 14 October 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in clause 12, page 14, line 9, leave out subsection (1).

This amendment has a similar rationale as that of amendment No. 15 in that it concerns the balance between enforcement powers and the freedoms of business. As the Minister said, it is tied in with clause 11. This is a probing amendment to seek clarification of the clause and its proposed effect.

HMRC has extensive powers as a result of the amalgamation of the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, not least those under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which were provided for HMRC’s fiscal functions by the Finance Act 2007. I agree with my noble Friend Baroness Wilcox and reiterate  her concern that there must be a real need for the massive extension of investigative powers proposed in the clause. More concerning perhaps is that it could represent the proverbial thin end of the wedge. I would not wish to hamper HMRC’s good work in enforcing the national minimum wage, but I am hesitant about freely handing it a hammer to smash a nut when it may have a perfect adequate nutcracker in its box of tools.

I would be interested to hear from the Minister what tools the clause provides to HMRC that it does not already possess, and in what circumstances it may feel it necessary to use them. For example, in what circumstance do the Government envisage HMRC using the investigative powers? Will they be used for all offences, or just for indictable offences? My understanding is that the clause is permissible only on the basis that the offence is now indictable, but will the Minister confirm that that is so?

Given the discussion in the other place about the scarcity of indictable offences, which the Minister confirmed during our previous debate on clause 11 stand part, we must ask whether the powers are necessary given the resulting reduction in civil liberties? In other words, the clause 12 power is dependent on clause 11, which has not been proved to be necessary. I am as yet unconvinced that HMRC has found itself in a situation in which those new proposed powers were necessary, and I should be grateful if the Minister would point me to specific evidence of that need.