Malcolm Wicks: I recognise that the hon. Gentleman broadly supports the clause, but he may have misunderstood its purpose. As we enter into partnerships with private sector bodies or voluntary organisations increasingly make use of payment by results. We need to know what those results are so that we can verify claims, which is why we need the new powers to track people with the help of Inland Revenue data. The hon. Gentleman suggests that the measure is intended to enable us to supply personal data to private sector or voluntary organisations, but that is not the case. The information is for internal purposes to help us to verify claims.
The Chairman: Order. It may help hon. Members if, while we debate this clause and the principle of schedule 5, we take the opportunity to debate schedule 5 itself, which is on page 61. The schedule and the clause relate to one another, and if any hon. Member seeks to catch my eye on any section of the schedule, in addition to the clause itself and the general principle, I shall hear them.
Mr. Hammond: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Conway, because we were broadly debating the meat of schedule 5.
I hear what the Minister says, but I cannot see how he will be able to avoid making information from the Inland Revenue available to the contractor by way of verifying any performance-related payment the Government intend to make to them. Say the deal is that if Fred gets a job the contractor gets £300; if Fred is still in the job after one year it gets another £200; and if Fred is earning more than £20,000 a year it gets a further £200. That would be sensible. However, when the Government say to the contractor, ''Here is your £500 payment for Fred.'' the contractor might ask, ''Why is it £500? Why not £700?'' In that case, the Government must divulge the basis on which they have calculated the incentive payment, which amounts to divulging specific information about an individual that has been gathered from the Inland Revenue.
The problem is not insuperable. Individuals involved in those arrangements have engaged with the process because they want it to help them. Rather than giving a broad power to the Government to exchange information between the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department could enter into an agreement with the individual, whereby he waives his right of confidentiality as a condition of going on to a programme. I would not have a problem with that.
Our consideration of the matter in this place will be less detailed and searching than scrutiny in another place. I suggest to the Minister that concerns will be
Column Number: 575expressed there. His Department must give cast-iron assurances that people will not find themselves, in his words, being ''tracked'' as a result of having engaged with his Department or one of its contractors. That would give rise to human rights issues, as well as general concerns about the increasingly insecure nature of Inland Revenue data, which at one time was considered to be absolutely sacrosanct between the Inland Revenue and the individual. I cannot think of another example where Inland Revenue data is routinely divulged on a disaggregated basis. I always thought that the working assumption was that a person's position vis-à-vis the Inland Revenue was a private matter between the two of them. We seem to be embarking on a dangerous departure.
Mrs. Humble: From my recollection as a member of the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, there is a section in that Act that allows for information sharing between the Inland Revenue and the Child Support Agency to cover instances in which self-employed absent parents did not divulge the details of their earnings to the CSA, which meant that it had great difficulty in assessing them.
I point that out to the hon. Gentleman as an area in which there is information sharing. However, I also recall that that Committee had a detailed discussion in which all hon. Members agreed that for the reasons outlined by him and my hon. Friend the Minister, there had to be strict controls on the information released. Parameters must be drawn around the circumstances in which information can be given. I should point out that I speak as an ex-employee of the Inland Revenue.
Mr. Hammond: We shall all bear the hon. Lady's last remark in mind. Her intervention is helpful, and she may be right about the CSA. My recollection in dealing with constituency CSA cases is that the information is more routinely obtained from employers, but I may be wrong.
Mrs. Humble: It was exactly because of the hon. Gentleman's point that that provision was included in the 1999 Act. The PAYE system can deal through an attachment of earnings with those in employment who are reluctant to pay the amounts that they should. The 1999 Act specifically dealt with those who were self-employed and not co-operating, which meant money was not going to their children.
Mr. Hammond: My experience of the CSA, which other members of the Committee no doubt share, is that despite its draconian powers, it is not spectacularly successful in ensuring that people who are not in conventional employment make the payments they should.
The hon. Lady highlighted an example of the use of Inland Revenue information for the purposes of other Government Departments. Although that is significant, her example is that of defaulters who fail to pay sums that they owe. That is qualitatively different from the circumstances that we are
Column Number: 576discussing, in which the people involved have done absolutely nothing wrong: they have not failed to pay anything that they should have paid, and no one is suggesting that they have cheated the system. Indeed, they are people who have done exactly what we want them to do: they have engaged with the system to obtain the appropriate help to get into work. Indeed, the fact that such a person has Inland Revenue records suggests an element of success. It would be different to track a person in those circumstances for the statistical gratification of the Department for Work and Pensions, and for its convenience in calculating payments to its contractors.
Malcolm Wicks: It will also be for the statistical gratification of the Opposition. Perfectly properly, they seek to scrutinise the Government by asking us questions about the success of the new deal and employment zones. We want to give better statistical answers than we have been able to do in the past.
I emphasise the point that we are taking powers—which we do not do lightly—with safeguards. Those powers will allow us to scrutinise Inland Revenue data for the purposes that I have outlined. The Inland Revenue data will not be passed on to private contractors, although we will need it to verify their claims. In any case, private contractors will probably have contact with many employees, and will obtain information from that source. If there were a dispute, we would not hand over Inland Revenue files to show that we were right; it would be up to the private contractor, if it wanted to, to seek the permission of the individual to get information to contest a claim. This is a cast-iron guarantee: we are not in the business of handing over Inland Revenue data to private contractors. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Hammond: I am reassured, but I am less reassured by hearing the Minister speak on behalf of a Government Department that employs contractors about the way in which he will deal with disputes. He will use his privileged information to assert that his interpretation is correct, and leave it to the other chap to try, without having access to that privileged information, to prove him wrong.
Malcolm Wicks: The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
Mr. Hammond: I am reassured by the Minister's confirmation—his cast-iron guarantee—that disaggregated data will not find its way outside his Department. The debate has been useful in that it produced that guarantee, but I predict, without any ability or wish to bind my noble Friends in another place, that they will want to look long and hard at the provision. This feature of the Bill is one concern that will probably be more expertly dissected in that place than it ever will be in this place.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Column Number: 577
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