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Lord Goldsmith: I hope that I can. This clause does not provide the commissioners with any new coercive powers over taxpayers; that would be a matter of concern, plainly. To take the example of confidentiality that the noble Earl gave, it does not allow them to override the express obligations in that regard that one finds in other parts of the Bill.
It is not unusual to provide that people can do things that are ancillary to their substantive powers, which are transferred. As the noble Earl said, examples are given in the Explanatory Notes, which refer to,
"gathering of information relating to the exercise of its functions . . . establishing advisory bodies . . . entering into agreements . . . acquiring and disposing of property; and . . . promoting, or assisting in the promotion of, publicity about the tax system".
It is sensible to make such provision in the Bill. The noble Earl is right to say that that is treated as implied; indeed, it is implied with regard to Customs. But there exists a clear precedent in Section 1(2) of the Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890, which gives the commissioners all of the,
Customs and Excise has always had the implied powers to enter into contracts and do all the things that the clause would permit. It is recognised in the commissioners' Letters Patent, even though it does not appear in the Bill. I have helpfully been provided with a copy of one, which states that the relevant person is appointed,
It goes on. The matter is recognised already in relation to Customs and Excise and explicitly in relation to Inland Revenue. The clause does not take those powers further than that, and certainly does not provide for any new coercive powers or undermine the protections about which we have talked in relation to other provisions.
How does the Minister interpret the clause so that it covers only benign things such as contracts and data, rather than slightly less benign things such as coercive powers? What leads to that interpretation?
Lord Goldsmith: I shall take the two examples put to me. One is that the commissioners might say, "Actually, we think it expedient to disclose this taxpayer's information much more widely than the Bill provides". That would not be permissible under the clause, if only for the reason that it would contravene an express provision in the Bill, which sets out expressly the obligations. A general power of this sort could not override those.
Equally, where coercive powers would be set out clearly in a Bill"in this and that circumstance, you can search premises if you have a judicial warrant" or whatever it may beyou could not use a power of this sort to circumvent those clear express permissions, subject to express conditions. You could not therefore use an ancillary power of this sort, well recognised in statute in the private sector, to give yourself a coercive power over a taxpayer when it is clear that the scheme of all the legislation is that those coercive powers are explicitly set out. That is how I would explain the matter.
Baroness Noakes: My point is that you could use the power to fill a gap. I understand that you could not use the ancillary power to override an explicit set of provisions. However, the power is very widely drawn and something may not be explicitly provided for. It seems capable of interpretations in ways less innocuous than the noble and learned Lord suggested earlier about contracts and information. That is the heart of our concerns on the matter.
Lord Goldsmith: One has to read on. The commissioners may not do anything. That would be a wonderful power to have; I hope that such an Act is passed and that Ministers of the Crown are included as its beneficiaries. The commissioners,
To take that a stage further, commissioners could not say, for example, "We think that it would be expedient to go out and apply the thumbscrews to a taxpayer who is not answering our questions as we would like", if only on the grounds that it is clear that the structure of the tax Acts and Customs and Excise Acts is that, where there are powers to compel a taxpayer or someone else to do something, they are spelt out explicitly. I am confident that the courts would not regard such a power, however widely expressed, as giving power to do something coercive of
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that sort when it is plain that the whole scheme of the legislation spells those things out explicitly, subject to all sorts of safeguards such as those referred to. I am not sure that in relation to each and every tax one would not find a code stating what one can and cannot do in terms of coercive powers, and there simply is not room to say, "Well, we think we'll add something else", when Parliament has not explicitly given us the power to do that.
The Earl of Northesk: Once again, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, at least for offering me a modicum of reassurance. I remain rather concerned about the clause and I suspect that I may well have to return to it at a later stage, if only to try to satisfy myself that some form of constraint is placed on it. I can see, as my noble friend Lady Noakes has pointed out, that potentially the clause could generate a degree of leakage on the margins. But, in the mean time, I am happy to withdraw my opposition to the clause standing part.
"(A1) The Commissioners of Revenue and Customs may arrange for valuations of property to be provided in accordance with subsection (1) and the officers of Revenue and Customs who provide such valuations shall be known as the valuation office.
(B1) Where subsection (A1) applies, the Commissioners shall nominate one of their number to be responsible for the valuation office."
The noble Baroness said: I was surprised to find that Clause 10 had no counterpart in existing legislation and that, indeed, there was no statutory basis for the valuation office, which has operated as a semi-autonomous part of the Inland Revenue for many years. It was formed in 1910 and, to use the Whitehall jargon, in 1991 became a Next Steps agency. It is a significant body. It employs around 5,000 staff and operates from 85 offices.
While no harm is done by the valuation office having only an informal existence, it is clearly proper for it to be placed on a statutory footing. However, Clause 10 is curious because it is headed "The Valuation Office" but the term appears nowhere in the clause itself. So the existence of the valuation office will remain in the shadows, existing only in the heading to a clause after the Bill becomes law.
Amendment No. 24 would do two things. First, it unambiguously provides for the existence of the valuation office, and I am sure that, in particular, the staff who work for the office will be pleased that their organisation will, for the first time, have a proper statutory basis. The name of the office is clearly an important part of that. Earlier today, we spent a lot of time talking about names, and clearly a name is important for the parent body. I believe it is also important for the significant body that exists within it.
Secondly, the amendment would ensure that valuation office matters were represented at the highest level in the commissioners of Revenue and Customs. I believe that in
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the past one of the commissioners has sometimes taken specific responsibility for the valuation office, although I do not believe that that is current practice. As I understand it, the chief executive of the valuation office reports to the chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue. I believe that the former practice, involving another commissioner with less onerous responsibilities, was a sensible approach with one commissioner dedicated to valuation office issues, although my amendment would allow either approach to be taken.
The noble and learned Lord will note that I have not included in the amendment a requirement for a commissioner to be engaged full-time on valuation office matters because that would clearly be too inflexible. But the amendment requires that when the commissioners come together, the valuation office will effectively be at the tablein particular when issues affecting the valuation office are raised. Again, I believe that the staff of the valuation office would be reassured by that. I beg to move.
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