Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord knows, I had not intended to press the amendments, so he need not have pointed out the fatal flaw, but I know that Ministers like to do so.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, officials like to make sure that Ministers do so. Ministers would much rather not.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I completely accept that point.

I was much encouraged by what the Minister had to say in particular about how confidentiality requirements would be drawn to the attention of those who come across taxpayer information as contractors. That was important.

As for committees, I do not want to rerun the debates that we had in Grand Committee about audit and other committees. I fully accept that audit committees are not at the heart of the problem and should not be burdened by controls by commissioners. My concern was with other kinds of committees. I am not sure that I am 100 per cent satisfied with the response, but we shall have to see whether it causes problems in practice. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 5:


"PROTECTION OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
 
5 Apr 2005 : Column 660
 

(1) Regulations shall make provision as to criteria for pre-disclosure assessment of the use of sensitive confidential information obtained from the taxpayer for a purpose other than that for which it is proposed to be made; and as to prior authorisation and external oversight.
(2) The criteria referred to in subsection (1) shall have regard to the nature of such information, and the purpose for which it is proposed to be used as being proportionate to the requirement for disclosure.
(3) Regulations under subsection (1) shall be made by statutory instrument and no such instrument may be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment has a very limited application. It is limited to the use of confidential information and to Clause 17(1), which is the source of some problems. The subsection states:

The amendment is quite distinct and separate from amendments concerning disclosure of information, relating to Clause 18(2)(b), (c) and (d). In the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, those paragraphs are wholly satisfactory—but not Clause 17(1), with regard to the use in the circumstances.

The fundamental issue of contention between the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General and myself is whether the safeguards proposed by the Bill, which reflect the advice of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, should have legal efficacy, according to law, under Article 8.2 of the convention, as proposed by the amendment, which in effect is a trigger clause for secondary legislation having legal efficacy. Is this not requisite to afford compatibility with the convention in this context, as to pre-assessment, prior authorisation and external oversight?

Before reading three or four extracts from the first progress report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which are strictly related to the matter, may it be said at once that all that that committee does is to advise both Houses on compatibility with the convention? That is objective advice, wholly devoid of any political motivation. Of course, it is but advice and it is open to either House to ignore it or reject it if they wish. The second progress report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights published on 2 February deals specifically with this at paragraph 1.17, which states that,


 
5 Apr 2005 : Column 661
 

8 p.m.

Paragraph 1.18 of the report states:

Paragraph 1.27 of the report states:

incidentally, the Government still rely on this. A copy of a letter arrived on my desk this morning dated 4 April—

Paragraph 1.28 of the report states:

Paragraph 1.29 states:

Paragraph 1.32 states:

Paragraph 1.33 states:

That is not relevant to the use regime with which I am concerned.

That advice was confirmed very shortly by four references to the second report. Paragraph 1.7 of the 13th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights states:

a letter dated 10 February had been received which still maintained the attitude which the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General maintains to this day—

5 Apr 2005 : Column 662
 

Paragraph 1.8 of the 13th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights states:

Having read that, you can see that in fact the drafting of the amendment intends to reflect the advice of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It is that advice on which I rely and not on any interpretation that I seek to put on it.

One final factor is relevant. Although the culture of Revenue matters is wholly disparate from that of the practices of the Customs and Excise, the HMRC to whom Revenue matters are to be preferred will now have a merged prosecution service. I see certain noble Lords here with experience of such affairs who have expressed certain anxieties about that during the passage of the Bill. What it comes to is quite simple. Is not the question whether protection of the taxpayer, advised to be a requisite by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and as reflected in the amendment, is fair and reasonable? I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page