Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 170)



  160.  One last question, Chairman, if I may. In your December 1998 memorandum, paragraphs 19 to 21, you describe a range of future plans based on additional staff resources. Can I ask you three questions emerging from that fact. The first is what progress can you report under that heading of enhanced programme of visits so far. The second question, given the seriousness of the problem and the potential returns, would it not have been more appropriate and cost-effective to have deployed additional staff resources rather than redeployed them? The third one is what areas of other activity have you redeployed them from in this respect?
  (Mr Norgrove)  The new resources for this particular area are additional to what would otherwise have been the normal complement for Northern Ireland Collection. This is a decision which I could take to give Northern Ireland an extra six staff for this particular problem. They have come from the departmental part, as it were, rather than from the Northern Ireland part. All such additional operational activity we try to finance from non-operational work if we possibly can in the Department. In other words, the backroom support on the corporate side has been relentlessly plundered over the years and increasingly so for the efficiency savings which we can release into the operational area and that has been true on this occasion.

  161.  So you have reallocated financial and human resources according to problems?
  (Mr Norgrove)  That is right because this is a higher risk area than some of those areas from which we could make efficiency savings.

  162.  To what extent, if at all, have you thought of approaching Government for arguing for further resources?
  (Mr Norgrove)  Along with other Departments we conducted a Comprehensive Spending Review last year and Ministers took decisions, as you know, last December which explored a wide range of options including different resourcing levels. All options relating to increased activity, let us say in the excise area or the VAT area or on drugs, were put forward and were considered by Ministers. So the resources levels are something that Ministers would expect the Department always to be updating them on but of course decisions on resourcing levels are for Ministers.

Mr Hunter:  We could pursue that for quite a time but we will leave it at that.

Chairman:  It is possible we are into injury time in the sense that we may have a Division fairly shortly. I know Mr Beggs wants to ask a supplementary question. Mr Beggs?

Mr Beggs

  163.  Have you been able to confirm the anecdotal information we receive from time to time that tanks are being built into trailer units for the concealment of diesel on which duty has not been paid and that these tanks can be drawn off or switched off from within the cab of the unit?
  (Mr Norgrove)  The fuel can be drawn off from the cab. Yes, we do have evidence of that and I have seen with my own eyes such modifications to vehicles, yes, indeed it is happening.
  (Mr Logan)  The only thing I would add there is that is today, there will be other things tomorrow. The only way is for us to improve our intelligence. I think that through our intelligence we are getting sufficient information now to identify such patterns but then we have to gather further evidence before we can act.
  (Mr Norgrove)  Just a precision, if I may, on that last one, it is not so much duty free or duty unpaid we are talking about there, the duty is born in the Republic, as we have been discussing all along, but not the proper duty of the UK.

  164.  The information has come to me it is agricultural diesel on which no duty is paid at all but because the tank supplying the unit has duty paid, at the first sign of intervention or detection the illegal fuel can be switched off so that the proper fuel is running through the engine when detection is taking place.
  (Mr Norgrove)  Yes, we do have evidence of that. Again it is not quite duty free, as it were, it has borne a rebated duty. Is this anecdotal or hard evidence, Bill?
  (Mr Logan)  I am sorry it has taken so long to tell the Committee that I did the Road Fuel Testing job back in the 1970s and identified such things back then which were in effect isolated cases. I think, yes, there will always be that sort of case. We have had some evidence of it in the Province and I think Heather probably knows the national scene better than I do.
  (Miss Massie)  Yes, I think one particular circumstance in which this happens is that particularly refrigerated vehicles are allowed to use rebated fuel, red diesel or agricultural diesel, to operate the refrigeration units. Therefore, they are legally entitled to carry small quantities of rebated fuel so they will have two tanks, one for rebated fuel and one for fully duty paid fuel. It is the switching between the two tanks that you have been told about and certainly we have evidence of that happening.

Mr Beggs:  Thank you.


  165.  There are occasions when I conclude these particular sessions by asking whether there are any questions which you are surprised we have not asked. I will phrase it slightly differently on this occasion: is there any information you think we ought to have which we have not acquired as a result of the questions we have asked?
  (Mr Norgrove)  A couple of things leap to mind, if I may, Chairman. First, if I may, can we put some more precision on an answer we gave you earlier which related to one of the first questions about the system which operates between the Republic when movements of goods are under duty suspension to the United Kingdom. If I may ask Miss Massie to describe that?

  166.  Of course.
  (Miss Massie)  If I could possibly clarify that. The question you are asking was whether we would be informed by colleagues in the Republic if a movement was due to take place of duty suspended product between the Republic and the Province and my understanding is that we would not be routinely notified. What in fact happens is that the product is accompanied by documents which have to be receipted to demonstrate that the goods have arrived and that duty has been paid in the Province and that if those receipts are not received by colleagues in the Republic they will then investigate and through mutual assistance we would look into it. But there are a number of different procedures for the movement of goods and I will clarify them, if I may, together with the other information that I promised to provide.

  167.  Would that also include movements of duty paid diesel which would be taxed at the lower rate of the Republic?
  (Miss Massie)  If an individual wanted to move legitimately a quantity of duty paid product then clearly they would want to recover the duty they had paid in the Republic and in order to be able to do that they would have to demonstrate evidence that they paid duty in the United Kingdom before they could claim the repayment from the authorities in the Republic.

  168.  Because I do recall from a prior existence, this is a prior Northern Ireland existence rather than a Customs and Excise existence, the fact that there were occasions when either side of the border, because I acknowledge what Mr Norgrove said at the beginning that smuggling can occur in both directions, we would in fact have a conversation with our opposite numbers in the Republic about co-operation on particular issues at particular times. Can I just press you as to whether there is anything else in terms of co-operation with the south which it would be helpful to have which you do not currently have?
  (Miss Massie)  I will turn to colleagues to cover that. In my response, just to be absolutely clear about what I was talking about, I was talking about the documentary procedures which are in place for the movement of goods. As far as co-operation is concerned obviously that is a slightly different matter relating to individual circumstances.
  (Mr Logan)  This is from memory, I have not got the detail to hand, but the question was asked on 12 January in our discussion then about any instance of an importer or someone bringing duty paid from the south into the north and there had been no instances.

  169.  I will press my question. There are no current instances of the United Kingdom Government seeking help from the Republic because they feel they are not currently receiving it? That is not a criticism of the Government of the Republic; I can remember exactly the same questions of help coming northwards to us.
  (Mr Norgrove)  I am aware of none, Chairman.

  170.  If there are no further questions we thank you most warmly for your help. It has been a pleasure to have you appearing before us.
  (Mr Norgrove)  Thank you very much, Chairman. Could I just add one very small point. It is that the results that we have given you to update the earlier memorandum of our successes take us up to the end of February. It is a dynamic position. We are out there doing things even as we speak and any announcements of impending successes had I been able to tell you about them today I would have done and if they come up in the immediate future that is not intended as a discourtesy to the Committee, it is just that we were not in a position today to describe them to you.

Chairman:  I can remember from the time when I was Minister that I might well have been the last person to hear about any Customs and Excise successes so I would not regard it in any way disrespectful to us if you do not tell us in advance. We shall be delighted to see the news of them when they occur. Thank you very much.

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