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Lord Higgins: I entirely agree with the noble Earl. In reality, it is arguable that the clause is ambiguous in that crucial respect. Perhaps the Minister will undertake to look at it again. The noble Baroness has given a very comprehensive reply to the other points and I am inclined to accept the view she expresses with regard to warrants and magistrates' courts and so forth.

One other point arises--certainly not, I hope, in relation to my own interests. As regards premises, would it perhaps tighten the definition a little by saying "a dwelling house not used for a related trade or purpose" rather than carrying out any trade in the home. In the light of the earlier discussion in the House, it may be a poet or whatever. That perhaps would be a little tighter than saying that if any trade is carried out in the house, then they can go into what used to be called an Englishman's castle.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Obviously I shall take away both of those points for consideration. This is why I was baffled. When I started, it seemed to me that the criticisms or concerns of the two noble Lords were coming from an almost diametrically opposite position from my understanding of what the clause and the schedule are designed to do, which is to protect the position of employees in the eyes of inspectors so that they are not vulnerable to intimidation. Now that it has

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been pointed out, I shall obviously check that, so that there can be no misunderstanding on the part of the lawyers as regards the meaning of those words. If there is any ambiguity and the words can bear the construction which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, placed on them, then we are obviously very grateful to him for pointing it out. We shall obviously seek to clarify it.

The noble Lord asked about the dwelling house and the poet. I am happy to check whether the wording is as explicit as it ought to be or is too loosely drawn. If we believe that there are any concerns on this point we shall come back with a government amendment. I have no reason to believe that that is the case but it is the job of the House of Lords to scrutinise Bills for ambiguities or misunderstandings. I am happy that we should do so.

Lord Higgins: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 24 to 27 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Disclosure of information]:

Lord Higgins: I had intended to oppose the Question that Clause 5 stand part of the Bill but it may be more appropriate to raise my concerns on the Question that Schedule 5 be the fifth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Information]:

Lord Higgins had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 28:

Page 41, line 40, after ("information") insert (", other than information on the identification of persons,").

The noble Lord said: I shall not move the amendment at this stage because I suspect there has been a misdrafting.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 29 to 31 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 43, line 20, after ("1993") insert ("or Part III of the Pension Schemes (Northern Ireland) Act 1993").

The noble Baroness said: We are back to another of the Government's technical amendments. Paragraph 9(3) of Schedule 5 to the Bill inserts a new subsection (2A) into Section 182 of the Finance Act 1989 to define the expression "social security functions" for the purposes of that section, which prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of information held in the exercise of official functions.

Section 182 has effect throughout the United Kingdom, as will the amendments made by paragraph 9 of Schedule 5. References to "contributions" in the new subsection (2A) are already specifically defined to apply in Northern Ireland and references to statutory sick pay and statutory maternity pay have a currency throughout the UK. However, as it stands, new subsection (2A)(b) will work only for contracting-out legislation in Great Britain. This amendment inserts a reference to corresponding Northern Ireland legislation. I beg to move.

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Schedule 5, as amended, shall be agreed to?

Lord Higgins: I wish to pursue one or two points. Schedule 5 is concerned with what one might call Chinese walls and the extent to which information may pass from one government department to another. Over the years that has in some respects been tightened by statute and in other respects has been weakened. One point worries me. Paragraph 9(2) of the schedule states:

    "No obligation as to secrecy imposed by statute or otherwise on persons employed in relation to the Inland Revenue shall prevent information ... from being disclosed ... to the Secretary of State".
My understanding is that on matters of the kind that are being dealt with in the schedule such information would not normally be conveyed to the Secretary of State as such.

Perhaps I may give another example regarding the Treasury. It has always been the case that an individual's tax affairs shall not be disclosed to Treasury Ministers. There is always a Chinese wall between the Inland Revenue and Treasury Ministers. That is an important safeguard. I am not clear whether, quite accidentally I am sure, the paragraph to which I have referred would not enable private information about individuals' contributions being transferred without their permission to the Secretary of State.

My other point is one of drafting. Paragraph 8 of the schedule refers to Section 158A of the Pension Schemes Act 1993. When I came to look at the relevant section of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 I was unable to find Section 158A. I am not sure where it is. The Library has provided me with the Pension Schemes Act 1993, which I shall treasure. It may be that the Act has been amended subsequently but, if so, the Library appears to be unaware of it. Perhaps we can return to this point at a later stage. I simply ask whether there is any substance in my first point and no doubt we can consider whether the drafting is correct with regard to my second point.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I may receive a note from the Box on that point, but I do not know whether Section 158A of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 has gone astray or whether there has been some misunderstanding between the noble Lord and his source of information. We shall try to let him have an answer.

The noble Lord asked about the interface of information. This schedule introduces provisions on the exchange of information between government departments which are needed to allow the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security and other bodies to carry out their functions following the merger of the Contributions Agency with the Inland Revenue as a consequence of our Bill. In many cases the provisions do no more than revise existing legislation on such exchanges of information to reflect the fact that the Inland Revenue rather than the Secretary of State is now responsible for contributions, statutory maternity pay, sick pay and contracted out pensions.

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In other cases the provisions reflect the fact that the way in which the Inland Revenue's duty of confidentiality has developed over the years means that it can disclose confidential information only where there is a specific legislative provision allowing it to do so. So a specific provision is needed in this schedule to enable the Inland Revenue rather than the Secretary of State to provide contributions-related information to the Office of National Statistics.

Section 158 allows Inland Revenue officials to speak directly to either DSS policy officials or Benefits Agency staff about the pension position of individuals or schemes. Without that facility, the Inland Revenue might not be able successfully to resolve an individual's query. As I understand it, there is nothing within the Bill that involves the passing of information to the Secretary of State.

It may be worth stressing at this stage that the changes which I describe do no more than allow the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security and other public bodies such as the Office for National Statistics continued access to the information that is essential for the carrying out of their functions. In effect, the boundaries across which information can be supplied need to be redrawn to reflect the fact that the Contributions Agency will become part of the Inland Revenue but will be formally separated from the remaining operations of the Secretary of State in relation to social security.

What these provisions do not do--I hope I am able to allay the noble Lord's concerns--is allow any new general pooling of tax and social security information. Such provisions have no place in a Bill which is designed to do no more than transfer specific responsibilities from the Secretary of State to the Inland Revenue.

If the noble Lord thinks it helpful, I am happy to enlarge on what information about the citizen may be passed between government departments. I shall develop that point if the noble Lord wishes. It appears from his nod that he wishes me to do so; therefore I shall say a little more about the detail of the schedule.

Paragraph 1 introduces new Sections 121E and 121F into the Social Security Administration Act 1992. Section 121E provides for information held by the Inland Revenue relating to contributions, statutory sick pay and statutory maternity pay to be supplied to the Secretary of State for Social Security or the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland for functions relating to social security, child support or pensions. The information in question is, for example, the National Insurance contributions record of an employed person which may be essential for the Secretary of State to determine whether the claimant is entitled to a social security benefit.

Section 121F is the companion provision covering in similar terms the reverse flow from the Secretary of State to the Inland Revenue of social security information which may be required for the purposes of the Inland Revenue's functions relating to contributions, statutory sick pay or statutory maternity pay.

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In practice the great bulk of the information that the departments require from one another will automatically be available to them through their joint access to the National Insurance record system computer. I say that to reassure noble Lords that the merger will not lead to a paper chase with the Inland Revenue and the DSS passing information backwards and forwards to one another.

Paragraph 3 of Schedule 5 introduces a new section, Section 122AA, into the Social Security Administration Act 1992. This provides the explicit statutory gateway for the IR to disclose the information it now holds in relation to contributions, statutory sick pay or statutory maternity pay to certain public bodies. Those bodies are the Health and Safety Executive, the Government Actuary's Department, the Office for National Statistics and the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority.

In each case the Secretary of State already provides the relevant information in relation to contributions, etc., to enable those bodies to carry out their functions. This new section allows the IR to continue to provide such information, for the same purposes, after the merger.

Paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 removes the existing Section 122A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. As Section 122A relates only to the supply of information by the Inland Revenue to the Secretary of State for purposes relating to contributions, it will become redundant once the Secretary of State ceases to have responsibility for contributions.

Paragraph 5 of Schedule 5 is another tidying up provision, again reflecting the fact that the Secretary of State no longer needs information (in this case from government departments other than the IR) relating to contributions.

Paragraph 10 again recognises that the Secretary of State will no longer need, or be in a position, to pass information about contributions to the Inland Revenue, which has assumed responsibility for them. It also makes clear that these existing provisions for passing information to the Inland Revenue are unchanged by the separate specific provision introduced concerning exchange of information on contributions, etc. That draws a clear line between the new disclosures of information concerning contributions, etc., and the existing ones concerning disclosure of tax information. The latter continue unchanged.

Noble Lords will note that this schedule does not extend to the Inland Revenue the extensive powers of information exchange, for example with local authorities, that the previous administration gave the DSS in 1997. On balance, we were not convinced that such an extension was an essential part of a Bill we intend as a transfer of present information flows.

In the light of those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord is able to withdraw his objection to the schedule and that the Committee will accept it.

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