Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

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' Board minutes.

  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

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