HC Deb 09 February 1977 vol 925 cc1457-9
Mr. Speaker

In calling the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), may I say to him that no one will object if he takes less than 10 minutes?

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

I appreciate that implied compliment, Mr. Speaker.

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 with respect to the implementation of recommendations by the Parliamentary Commissioner; and for connected purposes. The background to the Bill is in House of Commons Paper No. 496, the Fifth Report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the Ombudsman, published on 24th June 1976. In paragraphs 15 and 16 on page 197 a case was reported in which the Ombudsman had recommended remission of taxation which had been incurred due to long delays by the Inland Revenue. The Ombudsman said: The Department do not agree and I therefore report that there has been maladministration by the Inland Revenue in this case; that it has caused the complainants to suffer injustice; and that injustice has not been remedied. This prompted me to make further inquiries to see how far the Ombudsman's recommendations have been met in full by other Government Departments.

From Written Answers to Questions on 24th January it appeared that in the 12 months ending 31st December 1976 the Home Office, for example, was the subject of 22 investigations in eight of which the Ombudsman found some element of maladministration. In none of these cases was a case still to be rectified. In other words, the Home Office had met the Ombudsman's findings. Equally, in the same 12 months, the Department of the Environment was the subject of 47 investigations, and in 12 cases an element of maladministration was found. Where rectification was possible, it was made.

In bringing forward this Bill I do not seek to cover a wide range. Most Government Departments are implementing the recommendations of the Ombudsman. The largest number of cases involved stem from the Inland Revenue. For example, in 1971, out of 67 cases in which the Ombudsman found maladministration, 39 involved the Inland Revenue. In the past five years there have been eight cases in which the Inland Revenue has been charged, as it were, by the Ombudsman with injustice which has not been remedied and where taxpayers have suffered due to maladministration. It is with the question of remedy that I am particularly concerned in the Bill.

The Ombudsman has made a variety of recommendations in the eight cases. These have included tax rebates, suggestions for ex gratia payments, and so on. I want to pay tribute here to the work of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration under the distinguished chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), whom I am pleased to see in his place. Nothing of what I am seeking to bring before the House in any way implies criticism of the work of the Select Committee, because that Committee has given a great deal of attention to the problems arising from recommendations in respect of the Inland Revenue, and it is clear that some ex gratia payments have been made since June 1975. But there still remains the serious question of the handling of future cases.

I should also mention in passing that the cases are not confined to the Inland Revenue. In 1974–75 there was a case involving the Customs and Excise in which, once again, the injustice had not been rectified. I question whether it is fair to impose on the Select Committee the duty of going through the very difficult and detailed arguments and considering literally hundreds of cases before being able to exert influence. It is perhaps also inevitable that in this way there is delay.

The purpose of the Bill is simple. It would make a four-line amendment to the 1967 Act, ensuring that the Ombudsman's report when laid before Parliament would provide an opportunity for hon. Members to seek, by affirmative resolution, that the Ombudsman's recommendations were implemented by the Department concerned.

This would allow individual hon. Members the opportunity to ensure that cases which, after all, they are responsible for initiating, were followed through to their logical conclusion. It should in the circumstances I have described allow for debate in which the Department concerned—the Inland Revenue or whatever—could put its point of view. The use of the affirmative resolution procedure could, if necessary, ensure that the matter was rectified as I have outlined.

Above all, it would ensure that hon. Members would feel able to maintain the close personal involvement which springs from their own initiation of these cases, and in that sense I am glad to have three hon. Members opposite supporting me in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael Marshall, Mr. Michael Alison, Mr. Charles Irving, Mr. Robert Rhodes James, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. Hal Miller, Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. Ivor Stanbrook and Mr. Edwin Wainwright.