HC Deb 24 February 1999 vol 326 cc440-6
Mr. Quentin Davies

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 46, line 3, at end insert 'except that, in the case of the authorities listed in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above, such information shall exclude the names or addresses of individuals.'. This amendment involves the important issue of protection of privacy. The Inland Revenue has a very good reputation in this country for preserving the privacy of taxpayers and not revealing personal information to unauthorised parties. We are proud of that tradition and want to preserve it. As the Inland Revenue is expanding its empire and absorbing another agency, concerns naturally arise about this issue.

Amendment No. 8 arises in connection with paragraph 3 of schedule 6. Schedule 6 provides a list of agencies and Government Departments to which the Revenue will be able to pass information. The amendment deals with paragraph 3 which lists, among the authorities that are entitled to receive information from the revenue, the Health and Safety Executive, the Government Actuary's Department and the Office for National Statistics. Those bodies have thousands of employees, and the House should be concerned at the thought that personal information might be passed unnecessarily into their hands. Hence our amendment.

We understand that aggregated, impersonal information regarding people's life expectancies, for example, may be required by the Government Actuary's Department and the Office for National Statistics. However, we see no reason why personal details should be revealed, and the purpose of our amendment is to protect the names and addresses of individuals. We received no explanation in Committee as to why that protection could not be afforded. I hope that the Government have reconsidered the matter and will accept our amendment in order to achieve that purpose.

Ms Hewitt

I will, if I may, expand on the points that I made in Committee. I hope that I shall again be able to reassure the hon. Gentleman on this occasion.

My first point is that the new section 122AA, as inserted by paragraph 3 of schedule 6, is not about creating new flows of information. The Contributions Agency already passes information to the Health and Safety Executive, the Government Actuary's Department, the Office for National Statistics and the occupational pensions regulatory authority. There is no statutory provision to permit those disclosures: the Department of Social Security makes them on the basis that they are in the public interest.

However, the Inland Revenue has a statutory duty of taxpayer confidentiality that does not permit the disclosure of information unless there is a specific statutory provision. So to enable the existing disclosures to continue once the Contributions Agency is transferred to the Inland Revenue, we must give the Inland Revenue appropriate statutory powers. That is the purpose of this section.

Mr. Quentin Davies

We have said all along that we do not object to information being provided for the obvious purposes that I have listed. Why does that information have to include personal details? If it does not—if it is only aggregated and impersonal information of the kind to which I referred—why cannot the Government accept our amendment, which offers explicit protection in that regard?

Ms Hewitt

I shall deal immediately with that point. The Contributions Agency currently provides information to the Health and Safety Executive so that it can conduct studies of mortality rates in certain industries, for example. The HSE provides a list of individuals to the Contributions Agency, which asks whether those individuals have died and, if so, the date of death and the office to which any claim for death grant was made prior to 1986. In those cases, the HSE will have the names and, usually, the national insurance numbers of the individuals involved, so it is not a question of the Contributions Agency disclosing individuals' medical records to the HSE without their prompting. The information permits identification of an individual, but only in so far as it relates to individuals whose names are already held by the HSE.

The Contributions Agency needs to be able to respond to the HSE's requests for information. To carry out the epidemiological studies for which it is responsible, it has to have information about actual individuals. If it cannot provide the details to match to the name, which would be the practical effect of the amendment, the work would have to stop.

On the Government Actuary's Department, the Department of Social Security collects statistical information from the national insurance record keeping system and the P14 employer returns—the returns of PAYE tax and national insurance contributions deducted—not least to enable me to answer statistical questions from hon. Members. This information includes personal identification details such as the national insurance number so that longitudinal studies of an individual's history of employment and pensions may be made. Some of that information is passed to the Government Actuary's Department. The identifier in this case is the national insurance number rather than the name or address, but it is unique. There may be two gentlemen called Quentin Davies, but they will have different national insurance numbers.

The Contributions Agency also provides statistical and financial information direct to the Government Actuary's Department to enable it to forecast contributions and contributory benefits. In those cases, and with transfers to the Office for National Statistics, it is highly unlikely that the information would be sufficient to identify individuals.

New section 122AA provides a statutory basis to allow the Inland Revenue to disclose certain information to four organisations to whom the agency already discloses information. It may identify individuals in the sort of situation that I described, but only so far as is necessary for those organisations to carry out their business. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that his amendment is unnecessary because most of the information will not permit the identification of individuals, while his amendment would prevent the effective operation of, in particular, the HSE. With that reassurance, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I am glad that the hon. Lady has evidently thought carefully about this. Once again, the assurances are on the record. It is important for the agencies that will administer the Bill that they should be. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

6.43 pm
Mr. Timms

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Third Reading debate traditionally provides an opportunity to thank hon. Members who have taken part in our debates. I am grateful for the work and help of my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary. This has been a good example of joined-up government and of how our Departments work together.

The Bill has also been an interesting example of disjointed opposition. It has rightly been asked why, given the clear Treasury interest in the Bill, and with Social Security and Treasury Ministers working together, no member of the Opposition Treasury team appeared during our deliberations. I can reveal the reason: the shadow Chancellor supports the measure. When the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) was challenged on the point by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security on Second Reading, he said that the shadow Chancellor's position would become clear when he voted that evening. He was right; it became crystal clear. The shadow Chancellor did not vote that evening. He declined to support his colleagues in the Lobby on Second Reading because he has always been a strong supporter of this measure.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) has been indefatigable in his questioning, for which I pay tribute to him. He is also on record as having supported measures along these lines. He put his name to the report last February of the Tax Law Review Committee, which called for a merger of the appeals processes for tax and national insurance. It is difficult to reconcile that with the position that he took in our debates. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to his energy.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) has been supportive, if, thankfully, less vociferous. I pay tribute to his diligence, and am pleased that he is in his place. Once we rid the debate on the Bill of the baggage that Conservative Members tried, and failed, to attach to it, we are left with a sensible administrative measure that reduces burdens on business. I have referred several times to the report of the 1994–95 deregulation task force, chaired by the shadow Chancellor, which recommended the merger of the Inland Revenue and the Contributions Agency. That urged the Government to action. The Bill takes forward that action. I urge Conservative Members to join the Government, the business community, the Liberal Democrats and even the shadow Chancellor in supporting the Bill, which I commend to the House.

6.46 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies

We made clear yesterday what we thought about the Government's project to undermine the national insurance system. We think that it is a very damaging and thoroughly disreputable project which not only breaks the consensus on the national insurance system that has existed since the coalition Government in the second world war, but goes against all the assurances that the Government gave the electorate in the past. As we saw last night, it is much against the principles and conscience of many Labour Members. It is a thoroughly bad project which we shall continue to oppose. We shall have many opportunities to do that in Committee on the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, which goes upstairs next week.

I do not want to repeat arguments that are important but which the House has heard in the past 24 hours, so I do not believe that there is any useful purpose in proceeding with discussion this evening. This is a very bad Bill for a very bad and nefarious purpose. It does no credit to the Government, who have used every trick in the book to try to disguise from the British public the reality of what is going on.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 344, Noes 89.

Division No. 74] [6.48 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Browne, Desmond
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ainger, Nick Buck, Ms Karen
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Burden, Richard
Allan, Richard Burgon, Colin
Allen, Graham Burnett, John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Burstow, Paul
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Butler, Mrs Christine
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cable, Dr Vincent
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Atkins, Charlotte Campbell, Menzies (NE File)
Ballard, Jackie Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Banks, Tony Caplin, Ivor
Barnes, Harry Casale, Roger
Barron, Kevin Caton, Martin
Bayley, Hugh Cawsey, Ian
Beard, Nigel Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Begg, Miss Anne Chaytor, David
Beggs, Roy Church, Ms Judith
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clapham, Michael
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bennett, Andrew F Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Benton, Joe Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bermingham, Gerald Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Berry, Roger Clelland, David
Best, Harold Coaker, Vernon
Betts, Clive Coffey, Ms Ann
Blackman, Liz Cohen, Harry
Blears, Ms Hazel Coleman, Iain
Blizzard, Bob Connarty, Michael
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cooper, Yvette
Brake, Tom Corston, Ms Jean
Brand, Dr Peter Cranston, Ross
Breed, Colin Crausby, David
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Simon (Southward N)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Humble, Mrs Joan
Dafis, Cynog Hurst, Alan
Dalyell, Tam Hutton, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Iddon, Dr Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Illsley, Eric
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dawson, Hilton Jamieson, David
Dean, Mrs Janet Jenkins, Brian
Denham, John Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Doran, Frank Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Drew, David Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw Keeble, Ms Sally
Ennis, Jeff Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Etherington, Bill Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Keetch, Paul
Fisher, Mark Kemp, Fraser
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Flynn, Paul Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Follett, Barbara Kidney, David
Forsythe, Clifford Kilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Rt Hon Derek King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Don (Bath) Kirkwood, Archy
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Foulkes, George
Fyfe, Maria Lepper, David
Gapes, Mike Leslie, Christopher
George, Andrew (St Ives) Levitt, Tom
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Linton, Martin
Gerard, Neil Livingstone, Ken
Gibson, Dr Ian Livsey, Richard
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Llwyd, Elfyn
Godman, Dr Norman A Lock, David
Goggins, Paul Love, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin McAllion, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McAvoy, Thomas
Gorrie, Donald McCabe, Steve
Graham, Thomas McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McDonnell, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McFall, John
Gunnell, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McIsaac, Shona
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hancock, Mike McNulty, Tony
Hanson, David MacShane, Denis
Harris, Dr Evan Mactaggart, Fiona
Harvey, Nick Mallaber, Judy
Healey, John Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Heppell, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Marshall—Andrews, Robert
Hill, Keith Martlew, Eric
Hinchliffe, David Maxton, John
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Home Robertson, John Meale, Alan
Hood, Jimmy Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hope, Phil Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hopkins, Kelvin Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Mitchell, Austin
Howells, Dr Kim Moffatt, Laura
Hoyle, Lindsay Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, Michael Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moran, Ms Margaret Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Soley, Clive
Morley, Elliot Spellar, John
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Squire, Ms Rachel
Mountford, Kali Steinberg, Gerry
Mudie, George Stevenson, George
Mullin, Chris Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stinchcombe, Paul
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stoate, Dr Howard
Norris, Dan Stott, Roger
Oaten, Mark Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Öpik, Lembit Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Organ, Mrs Diana Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Palmer, Dr Nick Temple—Morris, Peter
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pendry, Tom Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Perham, Ms Linda Thompson, William
Pickthall, Colin Timms, Stephen
Pike, Peter L Tipping, Paddy
Plaskitt, James Todd, Mark
Pound, Stephen Touhig, Don
Powell, Sir Raymond Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Trimble, Rt Hon David
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Truswell, Paul
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Prosser, Gwyn Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Purchase, Ken Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Tyler, Paul
Quinn, Lawrie Wallace, James
Radice, Giles Walley, Ms Joan
Rapson, Syd Wareing, Robert N
Raynsford, Nick Watts, David
Rendel, David Webb, Steve
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Welsh, Andrew
Roche, Mrs Barbara White, Brian
Rogers, Allan Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rooker, Jeff Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Rowlands, Ted Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Ruddock, Joan Wills, Michael
Salter, Martin Winnick, David
Savidge, Malcolm Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sedgemore, Brian Wise, Audrey
Shaw, Jonathan Wood, Mike
Sheerman, Barry Woolas, Phil
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wray, James
Shipley, Ms Debra Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Singh, Marsha Wyatt, Derek
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Mr. Greg Pope and
Mr. Kevin Hughes.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Johnson Smith,
Amess, David Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Key, Robert
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Baldry, Tony Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Bercow, John Lansley, Andrew
Blunt, Crispin Leigh, Edward
Boswell, Tim Lidington, David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Loughton, Tim
Brady, Graham McLoughlin, Patrick
Brazier, Julian Major, Rt Hon John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Mates, Michael
Burns, Simon Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Butterfill, John Moss, Malcolm
Cash, William Nicholls, Patrick
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Norman, Archie
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Ottaway, Richard
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Page, Richard
Pickles, Eric
Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey Randall, John
Collins, Tim Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Colvin, Michael Ruffley, David
Cran, James Sayeed, Jonathan
Curry, Rt Hon David Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Shepherd, Richard
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Duncan Smith, Iain Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Swayne, Desmond
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Tapsell, Sir Peter
Fabricant, Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Garnier, Edward Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Gill, Christopher Taylor, Sir Teddy
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Townend, John
Gray, James Trend, Michael
Green, Damian Viggers, Peter
Greenway, John Walter, Robert
Grieve, Dominic Waterson, Nigel
Hague, Rt Hon William Whitney, Sir Raymond
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Willetts, David
Hammond, Philip Wilshire, David
Hawkins, Nick Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Hayes, John Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Heald, Oliver Woodward, Shaun
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Yeo, Tim
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Horam, John Tellers for the Noes:
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Sir David Madel and
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Mrs. Eleanor Laing.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.

It being after Seven o'clock, and there being private business set down by direction of THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), further proceedings stood postponed.