My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many applications for warrants to search and enter premises, as provided for by Schedule 6 to the Finance Act 1976, have been made by the Inland Revenue since the Act became law; how many such applications have been granted; and how many such searches have actually been made.
My Lords, a total of eleven warrants under the new legislation has been applied for, granted and executed in one single operation against a group of persons suspected of serious tax offences.
My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the fact that every single application has been granted leads us to wonder whether these applications are more than mere formalities, and can he give us an assurance that each and every application is considered on its merits?
My Lords, very important safeguards are laid down in the legislation. In this particular case, each application was signed by two Commissioners of Inland Revenue personally and was submitted to the sheriff court in Scotland, and the sheriff was satisfied by information on oath that there was reasonable ground for suspecting the commission of an offence involving tax fraud and that evidence of it was to be found on the premises concerned. I may also add that, following that, eight persons were arrested, six of whom are in custody and two on bail. The position of the remainder is at present being considered by the Procurator Fiscal.
My Lords, is my noble friend prepared to give an assurance in respect of this and other instances in which the Act may be invoked, that when such executions take place the offending party is provided with a list of the documents that are extracted and taken away from the premises, and also that due access is permitted to the individual or company concerned, and to their professional advisers, in connection with the work they may have to carry out?
My Lords, what my noble friend says seems to me to be reasonable. I shall pass it on to the proper quarter.
My Lords, while acknowledging the overall success of these eleven searches, can the noble Lord say in how many of those eleven searches documents required were actually found?
My Lords, I regret I cannot answer that question.