|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Barnett: I would normally support my noble friend in whatever he said, but on this occasion I am only too delighted to do so, especially as he referred to the remarkable letter that he received from my noble
22 Feb 2005 : Column GC256
friend Lord Callaghan. I would want to support my noble friend Lord Callaghan anyway because he was kind enough to appoint me to his Cabinet. I am not sure that "kind" is the right word because I was Chief Secretary for five years in that government, but I was very grateful to him then and I am now. I am sure that every Member of this Committee will want to wish him well for many more years in good health.
I am pleased to support my noble friend Lord Sheldonand my noble friend Lord Callaghanin the point that he made. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General will throw away his brief, say how much he agrees with what my noble friend said and simply support the amendment. It is a simple thing to do and we could all then move on to the next amendment, because I cannot imagine that my noble and learned friend would want to resist the type of support given to this amendment. I briefly and strongly support the amendment and hope that my noble and learned friend will do so too.
Baroness Noakes: We support the amendment and I join in the good wishes sent to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. We certainly wish him well for the future and would like him back with us to join in our proceedings.
When the Bill was first published, there was to be no declaration. We were told that it was to be a matter of employment contract between individual members of the staff of Revenue and Customs and that organisation. It was only in response to strong representations by my honourable friends in Standing Committee in another place, coupled with representations made from outside, that the Government wisely took the decision to step back from simply letting it be a matter of a term in an employment contract.
What people hoped would appear was a reinstatement of the oath, but when the government amendment appeared, it came back as a declaration of confidentiality. I know that my honourable friends in another place regretted that the Government had not gone so far as to keep the oath, which was regarded as an important part of the relationship of the individual officer and his duties of confidentiality towards the taxpaying public. In another place, half a loaf is always better than none when there is no chance of overturning a large government majority, so there was no outright opposition at that stage because clearly progress had been made. However, I speak for my honourable friends in saying that they would regard the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, as infinitely preferable to what we have in Clause 3.
Lord Goldsmith: The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, as ever, is seductive in his invitations to all Members of the Committee. I hope that I made it clear at Second Reading how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Sheldon about the importance of maintaining standards of honesty, and in particular about the importance of maintaining a strong obligation of confidentiality in relation to taxpayers' affairs. In witness of that, the Bill contains important provisions
22 Feb 2005 : Column GC257
imposing the obligation of confidentiality subject to certain exceptions, which we will no doubt come to explore a little later in Committee, and imposing the strong criminal sanction for unauthorised disclosure. We went further in response to what was said in another place in recognising the symbolic quality of the witness declaration and have provided for that in Clause 3. Up to that point, I agree entirely with the noble Lord and indeed with other noble Lords who have spoken.
I also agreehow could I not?with the importance attached by my noble friend Lord Callaghan to the impression that making a formal statement has, as he says, on an impressionable young 17 year-old and will have on others. I want to associate myself with the good wishes sent to my noble friend and also to record the fact, as has been recorded in other places, that he recently passed a milestone in becoming the oldest surviving English Prime Minister. In any event, I send many congratulations and all our very best wishes to him.
But here I part company with my noble friend Lord Callaghan for one simple reason: although what happens in the Inland Revenue is referred to as an oath, it is not an oath at all. It may well have been one when my noble friend first joined the Maidstone tax office in 1929, but it has not been an oath since, we think, the 1950s. I shall find out the date and let Members of the Committee know what it is on a subsequent occasion.
The position in relation to the Inland Revenue is that Section 6(4) of the Taxes Management Act 1970 provides that any person appointed an inspector or collector, or appointed by the board to serve in any other capacity, is obliged to make a declaration in a statutory form. The form is set out in the Act. It provides:
"I, A.B., do solemnly declare that I will not disclose any information received by me in the execution of the duties which may from time to time be assigned to me by the Board of Inland Revenue except for the purposes of my duties or to the Board of Inland Revenue or in accordance with their instructions, or for the purposes of any offence relating to inland revenue, or in such cases as may be required by law".
So far as concerns Customs it is slightly less formal, but only slightly. All those who come to Customs and Excise as civil servants have to sign an employment document which specifically identifies that, as civil servants, they owe a duty of confidentiality to the Crown. There is also specific reference to the need to protect information which is held in confidence and other matters. What was inserted into Clause 3 of this Bill was a requirement for a solemn declaration.
Plainly that is a solemn declaration. I have no doubt that those who will be operating the system will want to make sure that they drive home to those joining the service, in the same way as it was impressed on my noble friend Lord Callaghan, what their obligations are by reminding them of thatby making the signing of the declaration an event which is memorable. Keeping the history and the tradition of this is precisely what Clause 3 does.
It is interesting that "oath" has remained when in fact it is not an oath at all. It is the substance of the making of a declaration, acknowledging obligations which are in any event imposed, but recognising the symbolic value of that act. Continuing that obligation to make a declaration is precisely what Clause 3 does.
Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will see that what has been done meets the concern that he has perfectly properly and rightly expressed about the need to emphasise the duty of confidentiality, which we want to continue in the new organisation as it was in the constituent bodies.
Lord Goldsmith: I cannot answer that question. All I can say is that that is what appears in part III of Schedule 1 to the Taxes Management Act 1970, which sets out the form in which a declaration is required for those who join the Inland Revenue.
Lord Newby: Is the declaration to be a separate document? I was racking my brains while the discussion was going on earlier about what I signed when I joined Customs and Excise. The reason why I could not remember it with the clarity of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was that it was not the same kind of document at all; it was just an employment contract. I subsequently signed the Official Secrets Act.
Will all officers of the new merged department sign a separate document analogous to the document signed in the past by officials of the Inland Revenue, or is it the Government's intention that it should be part of the broader document that they sign? I believe that it is the general view of this Committee that a separate document brings with it a solemnity which simply signing a broader document covering all kinds of matters does not.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Much of the revenue and customs work is now outsourced, where confidential information is handled by big international IT companiespreviously EDS in the Revenue and now Capgemini. What terms and conditions in regard to that are applied to the employees of those companies? Is a declaration required of them? I should imagine that the
22 Feb 2005 : Column GC259
same terms would apply across the board, whether the people have direct appointments within Customs or the Inland Revenue or are in the outsourced companies.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|