Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Thomas Palmer, Petrol Retailer

SUBJECT: THE ILLEGAL SALES OF FUEL OILS IN NORTHERN IRELAND

  There are two aspects of this subject, which I feel require some elaboration, namely:

  1. Illegal sales to non-retail outlets, e.g., road hauliers, taxi companies, coach companies, distribution companies, etc.

  2. Illegal sales by fuel retailers, licensed and unlicensed, to the general public.

  Gordon Brown has stated that the aim of government policy in relation to fuels is to protect the environment and reduce pollution. He will not achieve this by excise duty manipulation in isolation: just as petrol storage is currently under licensing requirements, so should diesel, red diesel and kerosene. I enclose for your examination the following documents:[2]

    (a)  Copy of petrol licence for own site.

    (b)  Copy of electrical certificate in support of application for petrol licence, duly certified by a member of the NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting).

    (c)  Copy of regulations governing the storage of petrol as issued by Lisburn Borough Council.

  As you are aware, the main thrust of the PRA (Petrol Retailers Association) argument in proposing a solution to the problem of illegal fuel sales in Northern Ireland is to have price equalisation on both sides of the border. This is absolutely essential, irrespective of the method which is deemed best to achieve it. However, even with price equalisation, there will remain the twin problems:

    (1)  fuel quality, i.e., where dyed fuel has been "washed" in cat litter or acid and then passed off as legitimate road fuel;

    (2)  environmental pollution and damage. This is caused by unregulated fuel retailers and non-retail bulk users of fuel with their own fuel installations.

  To combat this I would propose:

    (a)  the licencing of all premises which have fuel tanks and fuel pumps, whether for retail or own personal use, irrespective of the type of fuel, i.e., diesel, kerosene, petrol or red diesel. This would entail an annual site visit by an inspector, similar to that currently conducted for petrol storage;

    (b)  an annual fuel quality test encompassing all the fuel tanks at each premise. Where the fuel is found not to be of merchantable quality, the owner of the premises should be legally required to divulge the name of his fuel supplier or face substantial penalties. Habitual offenders should be subjected to frequent irregular spot checks, and their premises closed and their equipment confiscated in the most serious cases.

13 January 1999


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