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Lord Grabiner: My Lords, perhaps I may raise one matter in direct response to one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. Sometimes it is not possible to detect whether or not a business is a corporate person. A partnership is not a corporate body in English law. Almost certainly a local newsagent is not a corporate body; it is a one-person business. I believe that in a case of that kind, not only may it not be possible to identify the corporate body but a corporate body may simply not exist. Therefore, one can only talk to someone who may be the principal of the business or who may be an agent or servant of the principal.

Thus, the corner newsagent may simply operate under the rubric of a personal business without having any corporate structure. He may have an employee who works in the shop. That person will be an employee or agent for the purposes of the type of inquiry which we are now discussing. I suggest that that would be an appropriate case to come within the language of the paragraph of the code of practice to which the noble Lord drew attention a moment ago.

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In a case where the corporate body exists and can be identified, then, according to the draft of the code, in most circumstances it would not be appropriate to approach the individual; it would be appropriate to go direct to the corporate body.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I could, if noble Lords wish, present a full argument about the amendment. However, in an effort to save time I shall home in on the concerns that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and add to the helpful points that were made by my noble friend.

The code states that we shall address an inquiry to an individual only when we cannot identify a corporate body. The noble Lord asked about the circumstances in which that would be the case. Some possibilities were outlined by my noble friend, but I shall give a couple of examples that may clarify the situation with regard to possible servants and possible agents. We will need to address a request for information to a servant only when we cannot identify a corporation to which to address the inquiry. For example, a language school operating in the UK may be a small part of a large international organisation and we may have difficulty establishing the legal identity of the UK part of the organisation. If the language school could not or would not provide sufficient information to enable us to address our inquiry to the corporate body, we should address it to the most senior appropriate person in the language school, such as the head of the school in the UK.

In another example, we may want to obtain information from a cheque shop because we believe that a claimant is cashing girocheques but reporting them as stolen. If the cheque shop was not a limited company--this point was made by my noble friend--there would be no corporate body to which to address the inquiry. If the staff in the cheque shop could not or would not provide sufficient information to enable us to identify the person carrying out the business, we would have to address the inquiry to the most senior appropriate person in the cheque shop, such as the manager. One could complicate the example further by suggesting that the manager might tell us that the owner of the company lived abroad.

Similar provisions apply to agents. For example, a large university might contract out its record-keeping duties to a commercial data management company and ask us to direct our inquiries about whether a claimant was one of its students to that company. The data management company would be the university's agent.

I could give other examples but the significant point is that we should go to an individual only when we cannot identify a corporate body. We do not expect that to happen often; it usually happens when complicated histories are associated with an organisation, perhaps because the owners are abroad or responsibilities have been delegated to a body to act as its agent. In such cases, it would be helpful to have those powers. The issue has been raised in discussions

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on the draft code of practice between business representatives and officials. Businesses generally want corporate liability rather than liability for individual employers and we are confident that our provisions will meet their concerns in that regard. We are happy to continue talking and if we need to strengthen the draft code in that respect, we should be happy to look at the matter. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, we shall certainly need to consider the matter carefully. With the Minister's undertaking, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 3:


    Page 2, line 23, at end insert--


("( ) Any authorised officer wishing to obtain information under this section shall make an application to the person holding it through that section of the Department of Social Security responsible for the investigation of fraud.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend, is, in a way, the mirror image of Amendment No. 4. Amendment No. 3 relates to the way in which the department or local authorities will make inquiries of the kind that are described in the Bill. There is a strong case throughout for that being done through a centralised system rather than through a system that allows an authorised person to make a request for information from a bank or other body. Amendment No. 4 relates to what happens at the receiving end of the request, although it is helpful to consider Amendment Nos. 3 and 4 separately.

The provisions in the code of practice relating to structure are helpful in several respects. As we proceed, it may be helpful to try to establish how the code will operate. Paragraph 1.4 of the code, for example, states that people asking for information will be trained and will work either in one of the department's area intelligence units or in the national intelligence unit. I take that to mean that inquires will come from those working in the area intelligence unit or the national intelligence unit. If so, the point that we seek to establish in the amendment--there was some confusion about drafting at an earlier stage of the Bill's passage through the House--would not be pressing. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that all inquiries will be made, as the draft code states in paragraph 1.4, through the area intelligence unit or the national intelligence unit.

Paragraph 4.19 states that all inquiries will be conducted through centralised intelligence units--I emphasise that that is in the plural. If I understand the situation correctly, the system will be centralised only to the extent that a request comes through a series of units rather than from a single unit. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the situation.

Another point arises in relation to paragraph 4.3, which sets out the information that may be asked for. It seems to suggest that, although the request for information will be made through a relatively--

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perhaps completely--centralised system, there may be a request to send the information back to a more diffused position, from which the inquiry originated. Later we shall discuss questions arising from the rather complicated structure that the Government seem to have in mind for the relationship between the various classes of official. At this stage, is it the intention that, even though a request has been channelled through a centralised organisation, it may be asked of a request, "Please send back the reply"--that is implied in paragraph 4.3--and that that should be sent to the individual who asked for the information in the first place? If that is the situation, it raises questions that we need to consider. Requests should come from the centralised system and the reply should be channelled back through the same system. When one views together the two paragraphs to which I referred, it is not clear whether that is the Government's intention. It would be helpful if the Minister would clarify exactly what the Government have in mind. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I hope that I can be relatively brief. The code will be statutory and inquiries can come from only the 14 central points--there is one point in each of our 13 area directorates and one in our national intelligence unit. I confirm the noble Lord's expectations. The provision is in the code, which is statutory, and its provisions will be binding. Business need have no concerns about that.

The address to which the request will be sent back will be that from which it was sent. In other words, it will be sent back to one of the 14 units. We may need to clarify the wording in the code to make it clear that that is our intention. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the Minister is probably right; perhaps we should look at the second of the two paragraphs to which I referred. It gives the impression that replies may go back in a way that is different from that through which it was received. It was good of the Minister to provide the code in the first place. It will be helpful to pick up various points as we proceed, and although doing so may delay our proceedings a little, I hope that it will not do so by very much. No doubt later there will be wide-ranging consultations. The sooner that one picks up points, the earlier they can be corrected. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 4:


    Page 2, line 23, at end insert--


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