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The applicant must satisfy the authorising officer that HMRC has fully considered the subjects that we talked about earlier, including whether infringement of human rights is necessary and proportionate, and the authorising officer must believe that the actions specified to be taken on the ground are likely to be of substantial value in the prevention and detection of serious crime, as defined by law in both RIPA and the Police Act.

Within that context, these powers are rigorously managed, so that there is control and appropriate tasking for more junior officers to produce the information on which the more senior officers will make the decision. Quite tight internal regulation and mechanisms have been put in place. As now, the powers will be available only to appropriate and properly trained officers. We believe that systems are in place to ensure that that is delivered in a consistent way and to a high quality. These are very difficult and important issues, which traditionally have excited the most precise attention.

6.30 pm

Baroness Noakes: I thank the noble Baroness for that explanation. I would like to return to the bodies that, as I mentioned, have expressed concerns about this and invite them to consider the points made by the Minister. I am grateful for the trouble that she has taken to lay them out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 75 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 125 not moved.]

Schedule 11 [Revenue and Customs: regulation of investigatory powers]:

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 127:

The noble Baroness said: This is the last of my amendments, at least at this stage. The amendment concerns the additional powers in Schedule 11, which we have been discussing. When HMRC published its latest consultation document on its powers in January this year, it stated that it was the Government’s intention to extend various powers to former Inland Revenue activities now contained in Schedule 11. The document said:

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, repeated that when she responded to Amendment No. 123. My amendment seeks to ensure that that clear and unequivocal statement is in the Bill because, as far as I can see, it contains no such restriction.

The Minister will be aware that Sections 5 and 32 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act go beyond the prevention or detection of serious crime. Those sections concern intercept warrants and

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intrusive surveillance respectively. They are also available for use in the interests of national security and the safeguarding of the economic well-being of the UK.

We are not clear that it is appropriate that those wider circumstances should be available to HMRC. It seems to us unrealistic to think that HMRC will be involved with matters of national security, but if any such issues arose, the proper course would be to involve the appropriate authorities which could themselves, if appropriate, seek to use the RIPA powers.

Safeguarding the economic well-being of the UK is, at first sight, an interesting idea. But we believe that if HMRC needs extra powers, they should be available only if the tax issues concerned raise matters of fraud. If we take the example of missing trader intra-community fraud—better known as carousel fraud, to which the noble Baroness referred earlier—it is clear that the scale of that fraud is of national importance and potentially harmful to the economic well-being of our country. But it is fraud, none the less, and the rationale for using such powers by HMRC would be fraud-based and would need no other justification.

The Minister will be aware that HMRC, with the encouragement of the Government, have been steadily blurring the distinction between tax avoidance, which is perfectly legal, and tax evasion, which is not. There is a concern that if HMRC were equipped with powers that went beyond criminal activity, it might start to interpret the economic well-being of the UK to encompass the use of tax avoidance techniques.

Let me be clear that we do not carry a banner for tax avoidance. We do not encourage or condone it. But it is not illegal and should not be exposed to techniques such as surveillance. HMRC already takes extensive powers in tax legislation to deal with tax avoidance—that is why our tax code is so long and complex and now rivals India’s as the longest tax code. But if powers designed for serious crime or seditious activity were to be used for more routine tax administration, that would raise big issues of the nature of the state's revenue-raising arm and such issues should at least be considered by an independent commission, as I referred to when speaking to the Keith Committee report on an earlier amendment.

I hope that the Minister will agree that these new powers for HMRC should be confined to issues of serious crime and that she will agree to my amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Burnett: I am sympathetic to the thrust of the amendment. It tightens up the new provisions in relation to the regulation of investigatory powers by clarifying that they are for the purposes of tackling serious crime only and not for any other purposes.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope I shall be able to persuade the noble Baroness that her amendment is unnecessary. I understand the basis on which she puts it and her desire to see the words “tackling serious crime” on the face of the Bill.

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Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the relevant powers, such as intercepting communications, are available for a number of purposes including those outlined by the noble Baroness; namely, where they are necessary in the interests of national security or for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. Those purposes are mentioned in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 as the powers are available to a number of law enforcement and security agencies, some of which may need to use the powers for those purposes. However, the noble Baroness will know that HMRC only ever applies to use those powers for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime as set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. HMRC does not apply to use the powers for national security purposes or to protect the economic well-being of the United Kingdom as HMRC’s functions do not include those purposes and an application would be inappropriate and no doubt unsuccessful.

The amendment is also a little unclear in some respects. For example, it does not define what is meant by “serious crime”; it could be taken to be referring to the definition of that phrase in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 or it could refer to the different definition of that phrase in Part 1 of this Bill.

The amendment is unnecessary as HMRC can use those powers only for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime and the situation is completely unaltered by Schedule 11. The amendment may also inadvertently introduce uncertainty into when and how the powers can be used. I know that is not the intention of the noble Baroness. One has the definition of “serious crime”, as I have already said, in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. That definition provides that it is a crime involving an offence for which an adult who,

or a crime that,

That definition is not the same as that which applies for the purposes of serious crime prevention orders in Part 1.

Safeguarding the economic well-being was made clear in the debate on the RIPA orders. It relates to activity similar to the security of the state and was, therefore, for authorisation of the intelligence services and not law enforcement or HMRC. The powers could not be used to tackle tax avoidance, only serious crime. I hope that that gives the noble Baroness the clarity she seeks.

Baroness Noakes: I am grateful to the Minister both for setting that out and the confirmation that HMRC currently only uses the powers on serious crime. I think, however, that she has confirmed that HMRC could in theory use the powers for other purposes. It may be that an application is regarded as inappropriate today, but that may not be the case for all time.

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The point is that HMRC can only exercise its power within its authority. It must act in the way in which it is currently constrained. I tried to explain that the provisions were brigaded in that way because a number of different agencies would use the same Act. Each agency would therefore be entitled to use those provisions, limited to the authorisation given to them by virtue of their nature. HMRC’s role is therefore constrained as I have indicated. It would not be able to use its powers on the two other categories; that would be outwith its jurisdiction.

Baroness Noakes: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that, but whether HMRC’s functions could not fit within the economic well-being of the UK remains untested. I hear what the Minister says about how it would be interpreted today, but that is not my point: we are leaving in the Bill the possibility that the powers could be used other than on serious crime. If that is not a problem, I hope that the Minister does not resist the principle of an amendment limiting the powers to serious crime if that is honestly what the Government seek to achieve with the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining why the amendment is imperfect. That will help me to refine and hone it for a later stage of our proceedings. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 128 not moved.]

Clause 76 [Orders of the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers]:

[Amendment No. 129 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 129A:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 130 to 132 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 132A:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 76, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 77 and 78 agreed to.

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Clause 79 agreed to.

Schedule 13 [Repeals and revocations]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 133:

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“In section 417(2)— (a) in paragraph (b), the words “or 52”; (b) in paragraph (d), the words “or 200”.

In section 419(2)(b), the word “52,”.

In section 420(2)— (a) in paragraph (b), the words “or 52”; (b) in paragraph (d), the words “or 200”.

In section 422(2)(b), the word “52,”.

In section 423(2)— (a) in paragraph (b), the words “or 52”; (b) in paragraph (d), the words “or 200”.

In section 425(2)(b), the word “52,”.

In section 426(2)— (a) in paragraph (b), the words “or 52”; (b) in paragraph (d), the words “or 200”.

In section 427(3)(b), the word “52,”.

In section 428(2)— (a) in paragraph (b), the words “or 52”; (b) in paragraph (d), the words “or 200”.

In section 429(3)(b), the word “52,”.

In section 430(2)— (a) in paragraph (b), the words “or 52”; (b) in paragraph (d), the words “or 200”.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 80 to 82 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until a time to be notified on the annunciator.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 6.45 to 7.10 pm.]

Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No. 2) Bill

7.10 pm

Brought from the Commons; read a first time.

Then, Standing Order 47 having been dispensed with:

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I know that noble Lords will have followed closely the events of this week in Northern Ireland, and I shall not detain the House with a long speech as we have much to get through this evening. This is an historic week for Northern Ireland. When the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party sat alongside the leader of Sinn Fein in the Parliament Buildings at Stormont yesterday, they took Northern Ireland closer to a final political settlement than anyone has ever before thought possible.

The first Member of Parliament who came into my office when I became a Minister at MAFF 10 years ago was Ian Paisley, who came in about the beef-on-the-bone ban and its effect on Northern Ireland farmers. He came to see if he could get an exemption for them. The first time I had contact with Gerry Adams was when I was a Home Office Minister and Sinn Fein was sponsoring orphans from the Balkans so that they could have respite in Northern Ireland. There were problems with visas and passports. The point is that my first contacts with them were on bread-and-butter issues that looked

27 Mar 2007 : Column 1618

forward rather than backwards. On my evidence, and that of everyone who has contact since yesterday, we can believe that they will work together for the people of Northern Ireland. We can put our trust in them to deliver on 8 May.

The pictures made clear that this is the time for Northern Ireland to move forward. Anyone who has a cursory look at the media and the reporting of yesterday will see that there is no question about that. We want a Northern Ireland where locally accountable politicians take responsibility for the future and work for the common good without sacrificing principle or integrity. That is far better than direct rule Ministers who are, at best, second best.

I do not need to remind the House of the tortured history of Northern Ireland over the past four decades. However, Northern Ireland is no longer known to the world as a bad news story and has not been for some time. Anyone who looks at the investment and the cranes around Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast, can see that. The security situation has been transformed. The IRA has declared its war over and decommissioned its weapons. Sinn Fein has committed to active support of the police and criminal justice institutions. There has been a new beginning to policing and the rule of law that stretches right across the communities.

While referring to policing, I shall briefly answer one of the points made during this afternoon’s debate. I do not want to recite that debate, but if that order had not gone through, there would have been a serious problem because competitions for the police are not in discrete blocks. I was aware of that, but I did not want to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, at the time. Today, we are still recruiting from competition 8, yet there have been 12 competitions. People join only as other people leave, retire or whatever. All that would have stopped dead if the order had not gone through. It is not the case that we could have waited until the next competition and then looked at it.

The final piece in the jigsaw is long-term political stability, which has proved to be elusive. There have been numerous attempts by Governments of both Administrations. We pay tribute to all Ministers of both parties who have participated over the years in public and behind closed doors and who have worked together to broker a deal that would stick. We also pay tribute to our colleagues in the Irish Government.

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