|Tax Credits Bill
Mr. Flight: I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 4, at end insert—
The amendment is one of several that we drew up to help the authorities in their investigations. It would provide for the exchange of information among Government Departments for the purposes of checking eligibility. The Bill defines eligibility in detail, but the process of checking it will not be easy. Access to other Departments' records would be of use to the Inland Revenue for making checks or for sampling for accuracy. The amendment is designed to add clarification and to probe the Government's intentions.
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Dawn Primarolo: The amendment proposes that entitlement to tax credit should be conditional on the claimant being lawfully in the United Kingdom. The Committee will be reassured to hear that the Government do not intend to make tax credits available to people who are here unlawfully. However, it is not necessary to amend the Bill to achieve that result.
The Bill already allows regulations to be made excluding persons subject to immigration control from entitlement to both the working tax credit and the child tax credit. This is a complicated area. It depends on the status of the person subject to immigration control. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs is no doubt aware that a person requiring leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but who does not have it—that is, a person here unlawfully—falls within the category of persons subject to immigration control. That is made clear in section 115(9) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, to which clause 38 refers.
The first limb of the proposed new section is not necessary. It has been covered. It is cross-referenced in immigration law and there is provision for regulations to specify. The second limb would give the board access to information held for any purpose by other Government Departments to enable it to establish whether a person should be excluded from entitlement on the grounds of being in the United Kingdom unlawfully. I hazard a guess that I would not get an amendment that would give the Inland Revenue such wide powers to access information in any Government Department in the interests of deciding entitlement through the House of Commons let alone the House of Lords. The hon. Gentleman is familiar with the important balance that we strike in the tax system on taxpayer confidentiality, the existence of information gateways and their tight control. It was the subject of discussion on a recent Bill, which completed its passage just before Christmas. The issue of where the Revenue should have powers was hotly contested.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government share his concern that the Revenue should have the information it requires to make correct decisions about a claimant's entitlement. I am not convinced that we need such vast powers to do so. It is not the Inland Revenue's role to police the immigration laws. Its role is to ensure that the rules for entitlement to tax credits are met. As I mentioned, those rules will include rules on entitlement for those subject to immigration control. The provision is in clause 38.
For the new tax credits, the procedure will be the same as for the working families tax credit, where the Revenue determines entitlement without direct access to the information held by the Home Office. I have decided that a regulatory power is necessary here because discussions are taking place at the Home Office about immigration and asylum and methods for ensuring that someone is here legally and therefore receives their legal entitlement. It is not a sensible approach to include provisions that may change and may necessitate a return to primary legislation. The regulations will replicate the interaction that occurs now on the working families tax credit.
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I am grateful to Opposition Members for tabling the amendment, which raises an important point. I am sure, however, that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs will agree that it is not the Committee's role to make the Inland Revenue responsible for all Government policy, including immigration controls. We need to follow the immigration policy laid down in legislation. The information gateways proposed by the hon. Gentleman are much wider than we need and would concern all citizens in this country. Nevertheless, he raises an important point to which I am sure that he will return: ensuring that only those who are eligible will receive the tax credits. I hope that he accepts that the cross-reference to the immigration laws and status give us the necessary powers.
Mr. Flight: In simple terms, under the powers proposed in the regulations, can the Inland Revenue check with the immigration department if it suspects that a claim is from someone who is not lawfully resident in the UK?
Dawn Primarolo: One issue that might be considered, along with immigration controls, is whether an individual who has entered the country has applied for and been allocated a national insurance number.
I think that we would not ask the Home Office directly, but the tax department can use its information to cross-check whether a person exists and other checks may be made elsewhere in the tax system to reinforce that. We are prohibited from disclosing taxpayers' information to the Home Office, but there are ways of cross-referencing. The Inland Revenue has the same problem as other Departments: someone who is here illegally will not be in the system and the Home Office will not know about them either. Information gateways to the Home Office will therefore not resolve the illegality issue. The only question is whether such people were subject to immigration controls; there are other ways of checking an individual's documentation.
On that basis, we can deal with the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman without extending the Inland Revenue's powers, which would probably frighten the living daylights out of honest taxpayers, who would worry about whether we were disclosing information. On reflection, he may wish to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, as it is unnecessary.
Mr. Flight: I thank the Minister for her response. I would not wish to extend powers more than is justified and therefore to reduce privacy. The Minister has answered the probing question underlying my proposal. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 15 January 2002|