Schedule 23 - Data-gathering powers

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 9th June 2011.

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Question proposed,That the schedule be the Twenty-third schedule to the Bill.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have a brief question on the schedule. The Minister will know that in paragraph 4(3)(a) on page 355 of the Bill, the word “reasonably” is used in relation to the specified notice for such time. I am sure that the Minister is across the detail of that. What does he define as reasonable? A 90-day time limit is currently in place, but it is being removed and replaced with a time

“reasonably specified in the notice”.

Does he expect the limit to be maintained at 90 days, or will “reasonably specified” mean fewer or more than 90 days? If so, “reasonably” seems to give a lot of discretion to HMRC, and I would welcome clarification of what the Minister defines as reasonable.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I have sat on a few Finance Bill Committees, and the definition of “reasonable” comes up from time to time. Before I respond specifically to the right hon. Gentleman’s question, may I briefly set out—

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

Absolutely. I will reasonably briefly set out what schedule 23 is about: modernising existing powers covering data gathering. There are five specific changes, but to save time I will not go into all the details. The minimum time to comply has not been specified but, as the right hon. Member for Delyn says, the schedule allows a period that is

“reasonably specified in the notice”.

Few of the existing powers contain time limits, and HMRC already acts responsibly in allowing an appropriate period in each case. Typically, that is 90 days, and there is no intention to change standard practices. Many notices are issued routinely every year, so data holders assemble the data knowing that the information will be required at the appropriate time, but in exceptional circumstances in which information is urgently required, it is considered reasonable to allow a shorter period, and the legislation allows for that. It mirrors the approach in schedule 36 to the Finance Act 2008. Perhaps I should have checked to see whether I asked the same question during the proceedings on the 2008 Bill from where the right hon. Gentleman is sitting.

It is worth pointing out that if it is considered unduly onerous to comply within the full time limit, and unless the data form part of the person’s statutory records, there is a new right of appeal.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 23 accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 24 agreed to.

Clause 87 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 25 agreed to.

Clauses 88 to 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 26 agreed to.