§ Mr. Quentin Davies
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the circumstances in which the commissioners of Customs and Excise will disclose particulars of cases where proceedings for offences are compounded under section 152 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
§ Mr. Lilley
Section 152 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 is the most recent re-enactment of the commissioners' long-standing power to compound proceedings, that is to offer an alleged offender the option of paying a penalty out of court rather than be prosecuted. This power is used to resolve the majority of customs or excise offences, and enables them to be dealt with efficiently and effectively without burdening the courts or tying up Customs staff in lengthy court hearings. Hitherto, details of compounded settlements have not usually been made public.
The commissioners, having reviewed their policy on disclosure of compounded settlements, have decided that in respect of settlements made on or after 1 June 1989, details will be disclosed in the following circumstances:It will be the Commissioners' invariable practice to disclose details
- (a) to other Government Departments whose statutory responsibilities are directly affected; and
- (b) to the courts for sentencing purposes after conviction, in cases where there has been an earlier compounded settlement for a similar matter within the time limits specified for offences by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
- The commissioners will also disclose compounded settlements under two other circumstances
(c) to employers when it is apparent that
- (i) the nature of the employment has facilitated the offence; or
- (ii) where drugs offences or indications of serious alcohol abuse are involved, the nature of the employment or duties requires a high degree of unimpaired judgement or faculties.
(d) in response to enquiries from Parliament or the media about cases which have excited public attention, if disclosure is considered to be in the public interest.
In all cases, persons considering an offer to compound for an alleged offence will be warned when the offer is made that details of the settlement may be disclosed in the circumstances set out at (a) to (d) above.
The commissioners have considered the recommendation of Lord Keith of Kinkel's committee on the "Enforcement Powers of the Revenue Departments" (Cmnd. 9440), that the names of all persons making compounded settlements and particulars of the settlements should be published, subject to discretion to withhold the names of persons making full spontaneous voluntary disclosure of their offences. The policy now to be adopted reflects the commissioners' conclusion that, other than in the particular circumstances already described, it would 561W not be equitable or make the best use of their resources or those of the courts to depart from the present general principle of non-disclosure. The commissioners' general policy of non-disclosure of details of their dealings in individual cases will therefore continue to apply to cases which do not come within the circumstances described above.
I am satisfied with this outcome of the commissioners' review.