Letter to the Chairman of the Sub-committee
from Ms Dawn Primarolo MP, Paymaster General
When I appeared before the Committee on 28 November
I offered to provide a note about Treasury scrutiny of Customs'
It may be helpful first to explain that HM Customs
and Excise is a Department of State managed by a Board of Commissioners.
The Commissioners are established civil servants, appointed by
the Queen, with the Chairman of the Board corresponding in rank
to a Permanent Secretary.
The Commissioners are charged, amongst other
things, with the duty of collecting, accounting for and managing
customs and excise revenue. They are also responsible for enforcing
prohibitions and restrictions on imports and exports and with
the institution and conduct of law enforcement proceedings. As
Accounting Officer, the Chairman of the Board is accountable to
Parliament for the regularity and propriety of Departmental expenditure.
In common with other departments, Customs and
Excise has a Public Service Agreement (PSA) that sets out its
high level departmental aim, objectives and targets against which
progress will be measured. Progress towards delivering these targets
is monitored quarterly by the Treasury and reported annually in
the departmental report.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the minister
responsible for Customs and Excise and is accountable to Parliament
for the Commissioners' actions. It is practice for the Chancellor
to delegate day-to-day responsibility to a junior Treasury minister,
currently the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The role of
Treasury ministers does not include responsibility for the institution
and conduct of law enforcement proceedings.
I can confirm that minutes arising from the
meetings of the Board of Customs and Excise are not routinely
passed to Treasury officials. Often, it would be inappropriate
for Treasury officials to see such minutes, for example where
they deal with matters of taxpayer confidentiality, sensitive
case-specific information, or personnel management issues.
However, if a relevant issue has been discussed
at Board level, it is quite routine for Customs officials to discuss
it with their Treasury counterparts, or to brief Ministers, either
for their information or in order to seek their views and (in
the case of Ministers) their decisions.
17 January 2002