HC Deb 21 December 1982 vol 34 cc501-4W

1. This is a summary of the sequence of correspondence and discussions between Government officials and representatives of Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., relating to the allegations made in the latter's press release of September 1982. It also reviews some further background to these allegations.

Sequence of correspondence and discussions

2. A number of national and local newspapers carried on 10 September reports of a press release issued by Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., entitled Is the British Government blackmailing foreign businessmen? which had made a number of very serious allegations against British Government officials, in the Inland Revenue and elsewhere. Mr. Sweeney, of Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., repeated a number of these allegations in an interview which he gave the same day on the BBC radio programme "World at One".

Management and Personnel Office (MPO)

3. On 10 September a copy of the Larsen Sweeney press release was received in the Lord Privy Seal's Office, stating: A synopsis and selected extracts of the report is available (at $3 to cover postage and handling) on request from the publishers: Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., PO Box 26, Maidstone, England".

4. On 13 September the MPO ordered two copies of the "synopsis and selected extracts".

5. On 16 September Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., wrote to the MPO, saying that the publication was "currently out of stock … because of unexpectedly high demand". Larsen Sweeney undertook to forward a copy gratis when the re-print was available.

6. On 22 September the Lord Privy Seal's office spoke to Mr. Sweeney, endeavouring to establish when the extract would be available. Mr. Sweeney explained that the full survey amounted to 800 pages of material stored on a computer, of which about 100 pages contained material relevant to the Civil Service. This was the "extract" referred to in the press release. Mr. Sweeney said that there had been problems in programming the computer to print the required 100 page volume, but, with weekend working, Larsen Sweeney hoped to have photocopies for Government departments at the beginning of the following week. Mr. Sweeney said that the material was also in demand from eg, universities.

7. On 29 September despite Mr. Sweeney's remarks above, the extract was not yet available (established in telephone call from Lord Privy Seal's office).

8. On 6 October the Lord Privy Seal's office spoke again to Mr. Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney said the required programmes were being run "this week"; but the work required much labour and was not a high priority for Larsen Sweeney. Nevertheless the material should be available "in a few days".

9. On 12 October, in a telephone call from the Lord Privy Seal's office, an employee at Larsen Sweeney said there were continuing technical difficulties but that the material might be available "next week".

10. On 20 October, in a telephone call from the Lord Privy Seal's office, an employee at Larsen Sweeney said that the material was still not available. This was now apparently due to material which had to come "from Denmark".

11. On 3 December, no material had yet been received by the MPO from Larsen Sweeney. The Lord Privy Seal's office noted allegations repeated in November issue of "Atlantic", in an article which concluded that the synopsis and selected extracts of the report were available (for $3). In a telephone call from the Lord Privy Seal's office, Ms Beverly Flint of Larsen Sweeney said that a "re-print" of the material ordered had become available and copies had been sent out to a number of those who had placed orders; but it had not been possible to satisfy all the demand. Copies of a further re-print would (she said) no doubt become available shortly.

Board of Inland Revenue

12. On 14 September 1982 the Board of Inland Revenue wrote, with Ministers' approval, to the Managing Director of Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. This letter

13. On 4 October the Inland Revenue received a telex reply from the Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. from Denmark. This telex

14. A meeting was subsequently arranged on 18 October between officials of the Board and Mr. Sweeney, of Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. In the event, Mr. Sweeney was unable to attend that meeting.

15. A further meeting was arranged with Mr. Sweeney on 3 November. On the eve of that meeting, 2 November, the Board received a further letter from Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. Attached to that letter was a list of questions which it was suggested Mr. Sweeney might pursue at that meeting. The letter did not produce any evidence to substantiate the allegations made in the September press release. It concluded, however, by saying that We may be in a position by the time of our meeting to show a number of filmed recordings of your staff 'interacting' with their clients. These recordings are being processed at the moment and thus if you have available at your office a U-Matic video player you may be interested in a viewing.

16. On 3 November the Board of Inland Revenue replied to Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., again welcoming the fact that Mr. Sweeney had agreed to attend an interview, and again impressing on Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. the need to make available any evidence which they might have. Arrangements were made to have available a video player for the meeting on 3 November.

17. At the meeting which took place in Somerset House on 3 November Mr. Sweeney produced no evidence to substantiate the allegations in the press release. Nor did he produce the promised video tapes, which were said to be still being "processed". He hoped however that they would be available shortly and that he would be able to provide other material.

18. Following this meeting, the Board wrote again to Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. on 10 November and again on 26 November. The Board have as yet received no reply to those letters. Nor have they received any video tape from Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd.

19. Throughout this correspondence, and the personal discussions with Mr. Sweeney, the Board have consistently

On the contrary, they believed that anyone who took the initiative in publishing allegations of this kind was under the clearest obligation to substantiate them, or to withdraw them. On the Government's instructions, they also made it clear to Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. from the outset that, if Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. failed to produce any such evidence, Ministers would wish to draw attention to that fact and invite the public to draw the inevitable conclusion.

20. Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. have consistently failed to produce any such evidence, over a period which now stretches three months from the date of their press release. Further background

21. In the absence of any substantive evidence from Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd., the Government have, of course, examined their own records to see if they can throw any light on the background to Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd.'s allegations.

22. Many taxpayers, or their representatives write to Treasury Ministers, if they are worried about a particular tax matter, or feel they have been treated unfairly. No one has written to Treasury Ministers saying that he has been the victim of a grossly improper or criminal incident of the kind alleged by Larsen Sweeney Publications Ltd. Nor has any such complaint been received at Revenue Headquarters at Somerset House.

24. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the Ombudsman) is responsible for investigating in depth allegations of error or maladministration by Government officials. Last year he completed investigations into 53 complaints concerning the Inland Revenue, and upheld 28 of them in whole or in part. That is, complaints for a little more than one in every million of the total of over 21 million taxpayers. None of the alleged incidents referred to in the press release by Larsen Sweeney Publications

October 1982 December 1980 December 1978
Earnings Income tax Earnings Income tax Earnings Income tax
£1 per week £ £ £ £ £ £
Average earnings 160.70 34.10 137.50 28.87 95.60 18.53
(161.90) (33.99) (151.92) (29.45)
80 per cent, average earnings 128.56 24.46 110.00 20.62 76.48 12.22
(129.52) (24.28) (121.54) (19.42)
120 per cent, average earnings 192.84 43.75 16500 37.12 114.72 24.84
(194.28) (43.71) (182.30) (39.47)
ISO per cent, average earnings 241.05 58.21 206.25 49.50 143.40 34.30
(242.85) (58.28) (227.88) (54.51)


Figures in brackets show earnings and tax expressed at October 1982 prices, by reference to movements in the general index of retail prices (all items).

Tax has been calculated on the assumption (i) that earnings remain at the level shown for the whole financial year; and (ii) that the individual concerned has no allowances and reliefs other than the married man's allowance and—in 1978–79—child tax allowances for two children under 11 years and one child between 11–16 years. Child tax allowances were abolished in 1979–80 and child benefit was increased; the figures in income tax in December 1978 are therefore not comparable with figures for the later dates.

Ltd. has been the subject of investigation by the Ombudsman. A check of his investigations back to the beginning of 1980 has confirmed that he has upheld no complaint against the Inland Revenue involving the kind of gross misconduct or impropriety by Revenue officials alleged in that press release.