§ Mr. John Townend
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received about circumstances in which Her Majesty's Customs and Excise would pass information about the affairs of a taxpayer to him; and what reply he has sent.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke
I have received a letter on the subject from Mr. Patrick Noakes.
I have replied that information relating to the affairs of taxpayers is regarded as held by Customs and Excise in confidence. It is generally released to third parties only with the consent of the person concerned. There are exceptions where there is statutory authority for disclosure and in a limited range of circumstances where disclosure would be in the public interest, for example in connection with the investigation of offences or with criminal prosecutions.
Treasury Ministers are however liable to account to Parliament for the actions of officers of Customs and Excise. Customs and Excise may therefore consider it necessary to forewarn Ministers of particular cases which are likely to attract attention in Parliament or in the press. Such information would be passed only in exceptional circumstances. There would be no question of details of the investigation or the affairs of individual taxpayers being discussed, or of Ministers intervening in the course of the investigation.
Given that this means Ministers do not influence the outcome but are simply informed of a contemporaneous or immediately past event at the same time as the news reaches the public domain, it protects Ministers from expressing ignorance on (by then) public developments about which a reasonable man would expect a Minister to know.