Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE 1999
HEWITT MP, MR
Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland
Office can be found at Appendix 1
240 All the witnesses are extremely welcome.
There is a bit of ground clearing, which we need to do in a moment,
to make certain that we know exactly who the witnesses are, because
there are slightly more witnesses than we were expecting. We are
particularly grateful to both the Ministers for coming and indeed
for so organising it that they could come together. We are the
more appreciative that Lord Dubs has come because this subject
is not his direct subject. He is very kindly standing in for the
Minister of State. This is very much appreciated by the Committee.
We will follow the usual rules of this Committee which is that,
first, if at any stage we ask you anything, or you give an answer
which you wish subsequently to gloss, either at the time or in
writing, we will be entirely happy for that to happen. Equally,
if there is a question which we fail to ask during the session,
which we need to ask in writing afterwards, we hope you will understand
that we might do this. We will endeavour to follow a logical order
of questions but we have a very full house in the Committee todaywhich
is itself an index of the importance which the Committee attaches
to this subject and constitutes a direct and warm welcome to youbut,
because we follow a logical order, the questions may come from
different parts of the horseshoe and not necessarily one after
another. I do not know whether there is anything either of the
Ministers would like to say, of a preparatory nature, before we
start asking questions. It would be helpful if we could clarify
that the names are in all the right places and we know who it
is we are looking at.
(Ms Hewitt) Chairman, thank you very
much indeed for that welcome. I do have a few preparatory remarks
that I would like to make in a minute, if I may. Perhaps I could
first introduce my two officials: Heather Massie, who is not John
Pavel, Head of the Excise Policy Group at Customs and Excise;
and Steve Kelly, who is Head of the Oils Policy Branch at Customs
(Lord Dubs) Could I, first of all, apologise on Adam
Ingram's behalf. He is very sorry that he is simply not able to
be here. On my immediate right is David Gibson, who is Deputy
Secretary at the Department of Economic Development in Northern
Ireland; and on the far right is John Ritchie, who is a Director
in the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland.
(Ms Hewitt) Thank you very much, Chairman, for giving
me this opportunity to attend at the Committee. I am very grateful
to you for rearranging dates and enabling both of us to be here.
I know that you have heard about the concerns of petrol retailers,
and the concerns particularly about smuggling, when you took evidence
from the Petrol Retailers Association and the Legitimate Oil Pressure
Group. Also, I understand you visited Northern Ireland and gathered
evidence directly on the ground. I want to stress that we, as
a Government, are also aware of the situation in Northern Ireland
with regard to the smuggling of road fuels and, of course, we
recognise the very real problems which this is causing, alongside
legal cross-border trading to legitimate retailers. I have had
the benefit myself of recently meeting two delegations from Northern
Ireland, one of whom was led by one of your own members, Mr McGrady,
who brought with him Tommy Gallagher and Joe Burn. The other,
David Trimble, came to see me, accompanied by Danny Kennedy and
his economic adviser, Dr Graham Gudgeon, so I have heard very
directly of the situation, particularly in the border regions.
Now I thought it would be helpful if I said a little about the
smuggling issue and then a few introductory words about the broader
policy context. As far as the smuggling is concerned, of course,
Customs and Excise take the lead in measures to deal with the
problem of smuggled fuel, but they are very much helped in their
evidence by a number of other agencies, including the Royal Ulster
Constabulary, Trading Standards, and the Revenue Commissioners
in Dublin. They have appointed a senior official in Northern Ireland,
Dick Kitchen, to co-ordinate the effort against smuggling, and
I understand a number of workshops have taken place with the other
interested party agencies. I believe you have seen for yourself
some of that work which has been done on the ground to counteract
the problem of smuggling. I hope that you would agree with myself
and my Ministerial colleagues that Customs are really working
immensely hard to try to contain the problem and identify the
smugglers and take co-ordinated action against them. I am very
happy to come back to that in more detail in response to questions.
As far as the broader policy context goes, the road fuel duty
escalator is the cornerstone of the Government's environmental
policy in addressing global warming. It is vital, in our view,
if we are to encourage a sensible and sustainable use of road
fuels. It was introduced, of course, by the previous Government
in March 1993 as a way of meeting our Rio commitments. We continued
it as a very important part of our environmental but also our
fiscal policy. By 2010, if the escalator is maintained at the
current level until 2002, we expect to see a reduction in CO2
emissions of between 2 and 5 million tonnesa very significant
step towards meeting both our Kyoto commitments and our own domestic
commitments to substantial cuts in CO2 emissions. As well as that,
the revenue raised from fuel duties, as a whole, is some £21
billion a year. I think I have observed that the road fuel duty
escalator is sometimes held out as the sole cause of the problems
that have been experienced in Northern Ireland. I do want to stress
that this is really not the case. The price differentials that
have arisen in fueland, of course, which used to work the
other way roundhave certainly been exacerbated by the present
exchange rate between the pound and the punt, and now the pound
and the euro. Of course, that affects you in Northern Ireland,
just as it does everybody in the whole of the United Kingdom.
I do want to stress the centrality of the fuel duty escalator
to our environmental policy as a whole. That policy, of course,
works for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom but,
more broadly, we hope for the benefit of the people across the
globe. I know you will be looking at options to help ease the
situation in Northern Ireland and we will look at your recommendations
with great interest, but the more you can bear in mind this broader
environmental context into which the policy fits, obviously we
would be very grateful. I look forwards to your questions and
to answering those in as much detail as I can.
241 Let me ask a very general and open-ended
question, which I would like each of you in turn to answer. How
serious do you actually regard the problem that we are investigating
to your Department?
(Ms Hewitt) In terms of the Treasury,
there is, of course, a revenue loss as a result of both the legal
cross-border shopping and the illegal smuggling. But in the context
of the overall revenues from fuel duties, it is really relatively
(Lord Dubs) We regard it as serious because we do
not want to condone smuggling as an activity. Therefore, we are
satisfied that we are doing a great deal to limit the amount of
smuggling that goes on and to catch the people doing it.
242 This is really a question for Lord Dubs.
How far was the management of the problem in Northern Ireland
assisted (or the opposite) by the answer given officially from
the Treasury at an earlier stageand it was in line with
what the Economic Secretary has just saidthat really £100
million was a bagatelle from the Treasury's point of view and
really does not matter or count in the great scheme of things.
(Lord Dubs) I do not think our position
has been made difficult. We believe the overall policy is important,
both for Britain and for Northern Ireland, and there is sometimes
a price to be paid for it. That price is that, because we have
a land border, we have certain difficulties. I am concerned, on
behalf of the business interests who are suffering, but we have
had in the past situations where the movement has been the other
way and people have found that things are much cheaper in the
Republic and they have gone there. At times it has been cheaper
in Northern Ireland. This changes from time to time.
(Ms Hewitt) I would just want to stress that we in
Treasury and the other Chancellor's Departments completely share
the concern of Northern Ireland colleagues about the smuggling
problem, as well as the problem for particularly rural retailers.
In the case of the smuggling problem, we have put substantial
additional resources into Customs and Excise. We have increased
their staffing by some 13 officers this year, who are dedicated
to the problem of combating oil smuggling, so we certainly do
not regard that as a trivial issue in any sense at all.
243 My only other question is one for the Economic
Secretary and arises out of the supplementary comments you have
just made. In the context of the extra officers that have been
put into Customs and Excise in Northern Ireland, have they been
put in, in line with what I would describe as historic Customs
and Excise/Treasury practice, in terms of measuring what return
you are going to get from those extra people; or have they simply
been put in because the smuggling issue is one which you are determined
(Ms Hewitt) We have put them in because
we are determined to do everything we can to counter and to stop
if possiblecertainly to catchillegal smuggling.
I was not the Minister involved in the initial decision and I
would just turn to Heather on the question of whether there was
a statement to say that it was a spend-to-save investment.
(Ms Massie) Across the board, the allocation of our
resources is designed to focus operational resources on the areas
of greatest risk. So, therefore, it is always a question of relativities.
The fact that we have allocated additional staff to Northern Ireland
reflects the view we take of the increasing risk from oil smuggling.
I do not think it is a precise trade-off between resources and
revenue. It is question of looking at risks across the board and
allocating the resources to questions of highest risk.
244 Perhaps in helping to set the scene for colleagues,
I could encourage you to give us something of a handle of the
scale of the problem. We had a Mr Holloway of the Petroleum Retailers
Association here, and he said that during the course of 1998 something
in the region of a quarter of a million tonnes, which would be
a loss of revenue to the Treasury of over £200 million, had
been smuggled. Do you think he exaggerates the case? What is your
best educated guess?
(Ms Hewitt) Thank you for that question.
Yes, I do think those numbers are an exaggeration. It is not possiblecertainly
has not been possible for usto separate out the impact
on revenue of legal cross-border shopping and illegal smuggling.
We assess from the Customs' end that the revenue lost through
both those activities, the legal and the illegal, was about £100
million in 1998. So that is our assessment of the revenue loss
but it does come from the cross-border shopping as well as the
245 From all the evidence that we have taken,
the problem appears to be getting worse because of the greater
duty differential. In your Department, has there been any assessment
carried out as to what is the medium-term likelihood? For instance,
the Irish media have been expressing concernfor them, not
for usthat they may be forced, because of European controls,
to increase duty on fuel. Would that reduce the differential or
would it affect us as well?
(Ms Hewitt) I am not aware that we have
made any projections looking to the future because, of course,
that would depend on a whole variety of factors: not only our
policy but, as you have indicated, the policy of the Irish Government;
and also the exchange rate, which, as I have said, is a rather
important factor in all of this. Customs are certainly going to
continue to try to update and refine their assessment but in terms
of what might happen in the Republic, the European Union, as a
whole, has signed up to Kyoto. Each of our European Union partners
will have to concern themselves as to how they want to meet their
share of the EU Kyoto targets and any domestic targets which they
may have set themselves, but that is a matter for the Irish Government,
as it is a matter for any other government within the European
246 It seems to me there are only three directions
in which the Treasury can move in order to alleviate the difficulty.
One is either to get good co-operation from the Government of
the Irish Republic, or alternatively they will be forced to increase
their duty; or enforcement; or some form of reduction for stations
around the border. Have you looked at those three? Which is the
most appealing to the Treasury?
(Ms Hewitt) On the issue of a Dutch style
scheme of supporting petrol stations around the border, I will
primarily get Alf Dubs to address that issue because it is really
one for the Northern Irish Office, but on the first two, there
is very close co-operation with the Irish authorities on the smuggling
issue. There are certainly discussions in a European Union context
about higher minimum rates, for instance, for oil duty. Clearly
that would be very helpful. We continue to make the case for that,
particularly on environmental grounds, although I do not think
there is any immediate prospect of agreement on that. We look
at the fuel duty escalator, as I have indicated, as a central
part of our environmental policy. It is not possible under European
Union law, nor would it be desirable, to try and have different
fuel duty rates for different parts of the United Kingdom. One
therefore looks at the possibility, which has been raised by several
people, of a Dutch style subsidy scheme. Now because that is a
subsidy and not a tax allowance or a differential duty rate, it
is not particularly a matter for the Treasury. If, at the end
of the day, Northern Irish Ministersor, in future, the
Assemblywere able to come up with a workable justified
proposal for a subsidy of that kind, we would not stand in their
way; but we do not, in general, favour the use of subsidies as
a way of trying to deal with the problem. This is because we do
recognise that within the European Union, within a single market,
one is always going to have cross-border issues; and in an open
economyindeed, this goes beyond the European Unionpeople
will increasingly travel or, in some cases, even use the internet,
to buy their goods in different places from where they live. I
think I am right in saying that people come from Ireland to Northern
Ireland to visits Marks & Spencer. Certainly a lot of people
come from France to visit Marks & Spencer in mainland Britain.
So that is a feature of an open economy and a single market. It
does create very real problems, as I have indicated, but it would
be a matter for the Northern Ireland Office to decide whether
or not a Dutch style subsidy scheme was a sensible way to go forward.
(Lord Dubs) We have obviously considered the possibility
of a subsidy scheme and we see a number of serious difficulties.
Firstly, a scheme on the Dutch lines is very complex indeed. I
think the amount of subsidy is related to the distance from the
border in the Netherlands, and we find that this would be hard
to do. It would be pretty costly. I think the difficulty affects
the petrol trade all over Northern Ireland. We cannot confine
the difficulty to the border, even in Northern Ireland, but it
goes further than that. It would be a costly thing. I think also
that it would be perceived to be unfair because there are many
other industries and businesses that do say they are suffering
from competition because of the exchange rate against the Irish
currency, and it would be seen to be unfair to help one industry
and not the others. Whether it would be effective enough in actually
dealing with the difficulty, I suppose would depend on the scale
of subsidy. I suspect that we might not be able to adjust it for
that to be properly effective. Above all, it would be an administrative
nightmare. We would have to set up a whole system to deal with
the subsidy. We would have to work out some turnover figure for
each petrol pump and so on. For all those reasons we feel that
it is not the best way forward. Now, could I say on enforcement,
if I could just endorse what has been said. We believe that there
is very good co-operation indeed between the Customs and Excise
people in Northern Ireland and our opposite numbers in the Republic,
as there is as good a co-operation on this and other issues between
the RUC and the Garda. We feel that co-operation is leading to
a significant number of detections in smuggling activity.
247 I will not take any further the issue of
subsidy. Colleagues will want to do that. On the issue of enforcement,
how satisfied are you of the level of prosecution arising out
of enforcement action? I have to say that I am not as convinced
as you appear to be that a good job is being done here. The most
significant prosecutions came just immediately prior to this Committee
visiting Customs and Excise in Belfast. I am not sure whether
there was any connection between those two events but I am wondering:
is there not more that could be done as far as enforcement is
(Ms Hewitt) Would it help if I gave some
figures? I am sure Customs and Excise were pursuing active prosecutions
anyway, but perhaps you are really illustrating the merits of
Select Committees! Since the beginning of last year, Customs have
seized 68 vehicles, something over 884,000 litres of fuel. They
have had admissions of smuggling of a further 29.1 million litres.
A total of 39 people have been arrested. Twenty-seven cases have
been recommended for prosecution or compounding, and a total of
seven compound penalties have been imposed, totalling £78,300.
As far as the prosecutions themselves are concerned, there have
been five successful prosecutions to date, one of which resulted
in a 18-month sentence suspended for two years. Twelve further
cases are with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Now it is
perhaps hard to say whether the penalties that will be meted out
by the courts (if those cases are successful in securing a conviction)
will be enough to act as a deterrent to the smugglers but I think
one does have to stress that the court action and the threat of
punishment at the end of it is not the only deterrent. This is
because people who are found smuggling fuel and selling smuggled
fuel will also see their vehicles seized and not restored and,
of course, they could face substantial fines. Customs also has
the power to assess the smuggled fuel for duty in appropriate
circumstances. So there is a variety of sanctions there which
Customs is deploying and will continue to do so extremely assertively.
Mr Robinson: The temptation to go on, Chairman,
is huge but there is a large committee so I will pass the baton
248 And I will happily pick it up. You are talking
about enforcement action, but what you are actually saying is
one 18-month sentence, suspended for two years. It is hardly going
to put them off, is it, given that this is a multi-million pound
racket. Quite frankly, what sort of deterrent do you think the
current record of enforcement action is to the gangs and criminals
behind the fuel smuggling between Northern Ireland and Southern
(Ms Hewitt) My understanding is that
this is a relatively recent problem. The differential, having
widened, and the exchange rate having had the impact I have described,
has really created a problemand it is hard, as I say, to
assess exactly how much the problem is of smugglingin the
last 18 months or so. So there is a real problem there, but I
think it would be unrealistic to expect that we would have them
all behind bars in the first year or so. Now we have five successful
prosecutionsone, as you say, resulting in a suspended prison
sentencebut there is the pipeline of further cases that
are with the Director of Public Prosecutions, or waiting to go
to him, and some highly successful actions in terms of seizing
vehicles. I would have thought that those were effective deterrents
and that it is too early perhaps certainly to reach a conclusion
that we are powerless in the fight against smugglers. I do not
think that is true at all. Lord Dubs I do not know whether you
want to add to that.
(Lord Dubs) I cannot add very much. I think it is
based partly on detection and partly on intelligence information.
Therefore, the better the co-operation between Northern Ireland
and the Customs and Excise and the Garda in the Republic, the
more likely there is to be increased intelligence forthcoming,
which will enable more of these people to be caught, as well as
detection when they are simply driving along and stopped. So both
come into play.
249 I would like to see that. You have said,
that you think enforcement action taken thus far is an effective
deterrent. That is what you have said for the record. What evidence
have you, therefore, that illegal fuel smuggling is now reducing?
(Ms Hewitt) I did start by saying that
it is almost impossible to get an accurate estimate of the scale
of the smuggling. That is in the nature of smuggling. But I do
think that the numbers, in terms of vehicle seizures and admissions
of smuggling that Customs have so far achieved, are impressive.
I would also stress the fact that we have increased the Customs
staffing in Northern Ireland by more than 50 per cent since the
beginning of this year. So in the last six months Customs have
had an extra 13 full-time staff to deal simply with this problem.
We knownot from this situation but generally from what
works as a deterrent to criminal activitythat the most
effective deterrent is the fear of detection. The penalty you
get if you are prosecuted and convicted is only part of the picture.
The more people we have working on this problem and the more effective
co-operation we have, as Lord Dubs has indicated, the more that
people who have moved into this illegal smuggling business will
decide that the risk of detection is simply too big a risk to
250 Let us move on. For the record, what you
are saying is that you are not sure whether it is getting worse
or getting better.
(Ms Hewitt) I do not have the evidence
to tell you whether it is going to get worse or better just at
251 Our evidence certainly indicates that the
problem is endemic and that there is a general feeling of the
acceptability of smuggling. For many years it used to be smuggling
butter and milk and cows and sometimes it went north and sometimes
it went south. There is also significant evidence of paramilitary
involvement in the illegal fuel racket. Is there not a compelling
case to invest even more in Customs and Excise, in enforcement
action, to stem the flow of funds into the coffers of paramilitaries,
both on the Republican and the Loyalist sides who, from the evidence
we have received, stand to benefit tremendously from the continuation
of this particular activity?
(Ms Hewitt) We have given Customs and
Excise the resources that we believe they need to deal with the
problem that they are facing. Certainly the view that Customs
and Excise have given to Ministers is that they have now got the
resources that they need to tackle this problem. If they decide
that they need more resources, then I am sure they will come properly
to Ministers and tell us so, and we will then have to make a judgment.
(Lord Dubs) As far as the RUC are concerned, they
are well aware of what is happening, and I am satisfied that they
are doing everything they can to stem the flow, whether it is
done in association with paramilitary organisationsit would
be surprising if some time it were notor whether it is
done in terms of illegal activity for financial gain. As I say,
I am reasonably satisfied that the RUC are doing what they can,
that they have the resources with which to deal with it, and that
they are getting good co-operation. In the end there are so many
small roads, there are so many ways things can be taken across
the border, that one cannot stop it all. One would be naive to
suggest that. The thing is to stop the bulk of it and to catch
the big operators who may be behind some of it.
252 Finally, Chairman, Members of the Committee
would certainly encourage Ministers to take a look at the aerial
photograph that we have seen. It does not appear to be an agricultural
environment any longer.
(Ms Hewitt) I am intrigued by that invitation.
253 May I deal, first of all, with the role of
the Northern Ireland Office in this issue. Lord Dubs spoke earlier
about the seriousness with which the Northern Ireland Office treats
this issue. May I ask: how long has Adam Ingram been the Minister
responsible for the oil and petroleum smuggling issue in the Northern
Ireland Office? Which Minister was responsible before Adam Ingram
was appointed to that responsibility? Why did it take over a year
before a Northern Ireland Office Minister was prepared to meet
industry representatives, if you feel this is a serious problem?
(Lord Dubs) Adam Ingram has been the
Minister in charge of the Department of Economic Development since
May 1997. He was appointed just after the election. Baroness Denton
was the Minister who preceded him before the election. Adam Ingram
met the industry just recently. The Secretary of State has met
the haulage industry. Adam Ingram and I are both meeting the industry
again next week or the week after. I think we are sensitive to
the concerns and we are happy to meet the industry and discuss
it further with them.
254 So what you are saying is that Adam Ingram
has been dealing with this issue since he was appointed a Minister
in the Northern Ireland Office over two years ago.
(Lord Dubs) Yes. He has had responsibility
for that and another department since the election.
255 With respect, Lord Dubs, there is a difference
between having responsibility and dealing with an issue. The evidence
I have is that the Northern Ireland Office has ignored this issue
for some time. That whilst there has been responsibility as such,
they have rather left it to Customs and Excise to get on with
it, and that the Northern Ireland Office, at Ministerial level,
has not really been engaged with this issue until recently.
(Lord Dubs) I cannot speak for the details
of Adam Ingram's workload over the last two years. It would be
presumptuous of me to try. I believe we have been aware, as a
Government, of the issue. However, it has hit the headlines only
over the last few months in a big way. In one sense it is a recent
issue, if one looks at the columns of the newspapers in Northern
Ireland, and if one hears the representations made by the industry
and by politicians. It has only stepped up greatly in the last
two months compared with what it was before. I would be very surprised
if Adam Ingram had not devoted himself to this issue ever since
he was appointed after the election.
256 I will only comment, Chairman, that our Committee
has been engaged in this inquiry a lot longer than two months.
We, as a Committee, identified this as a serious problem some
time ago. That is why we embarked upon this inquiry. Therefore,
I am bound to say that your response does indicate that NIO has
come late to the issue, but we will leave it at that.
(Lord Dubs) However, may I say, we treat
it very seriously and, as I said, the Secretary of State has had
meetings with a sector of industry. Adam Ingram has. We are both
having a further meeting with the industry, as well as dealing
with numerous representations from politicians and other people.
We treat this as serious and I believe we have always done so.
257 I welcome that, Chairman. My colleague, Mr
Salter, was probing in terms of whether this problem is increasing
or decreasing. Are you aware, for example, that in the last two
weeks alone complete tanker loads of diesel, smuggled from Ireland,
have been offered to retail filling stations in London, and that
the profit margin on each tanker load is £8,000 in cash?
Is it not the case that this problem is, in fact, extending now
beyond the confines of the Island of Ireland? There is evidence
of the smuggling having reached Scotland and now we have evidence
that it has reached London. Is it not the case that the problem
is increasing, and not just increasing in terms of Northern Ireland
but indeed throughout the United Kingdom?
(Ms Hewitt) There are reportsand
Customs and Excise have made me aware of themof cheap fuel
being offered to retailers in the London area. There was certainly
a case in Liverpool of the smuggling of Irish green diesel by
ferry from Dublin by a haulier based in Liverpool. That was between
August 1997 and June 1998. In June 1998 Customs staff arrested
the participants and seized a number of vehicles and green diesel.
The green diesel was described in the shipping documents as cream
or tallow and the case is currently awaiting court proceedings.
But it is very difficult to envisage a wholesale smuggling of
fuel into Great Britain from the Republic of Ireland. This is
because there are relatively few entry points into the mainland
and, of course, those are capable of much closer control than
the long land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
That control is particularly easy to achieve when you are talking
about commercial movements by tanker. It is, as I say, a very
different matter with respect to the land border with Northern
Ireland, where you have small roads and large numbers of crossing
points. There is no complacency at all, either amongst Ministers
or Customs and Excise, about this threat; and the entry points
at ports are aware of that risk and are looking at that route.
258 You referred, in your opening remarks, to
meetings you had had with political representatives from Northern
Ireland, and I am sure that has been valuable. Could you confirm
whether, in fact, you have had any meetings with industry representatives
on this issue? If not, is it your intention to have meetings with
industry representatives to hear, at first hand, the problems
they are facing?
(Ms Hewitt) Following representations
to the Government generally from, for instance, the Road Haulage
Association, we made the decision to establish the Road Haulage
Industry Forum, which was formerly chaired by John Green and is
now chaired by Helen Liddell, as Minister of Transport, and of
which I am also a member. So we now have a forum for Ministerial
contact with the industry. I think that has been welcomed by the
industrycertainly by the Ministersas it is an extremely
useful forum in which to engage in debate on these issues.
259 Therefore, you have no plans yourself, at
this stage, representing the Treasury, to meet with industry representatives
to hear, at first hand, their concerns about the problems that
they are facing; and to hear some of the suggestions that they
have to make?
(Ms Hewitt) If you are talking generally
about the problems facing the road haulage industry, specifically
the petrol industry, I am pretty certain, (and I will double check
for the record), but I do not think that I have been asked for
I have explained to the political representativesand indeed
in Parliamentthe situation; the reason why we have the
fuel duty escalator. I have also explained the steps that have
been taken, in terms of strengthening Customs and Excise against
the smuggling, but I suspect that a discussion with the petrol
retailersand particularly a discussion around the subsidy
Dutch style of proposalwould really be one for my Northern
Irish colleagues rather than me.
(Lord Dubs) Of course, as I indicated,
we do have such meetings and we are going to go on having such
meetings, but the point we must make is that any points which
are made to us in those meetings are certainly communicated to
the Treasury or DETR as appropriate: so that Patricia and her
Treasury colleagues will be aware of what is said to us by the
Northern Ireland industry.
(Ms Massie) In Customs and Excise, both at an operational
and at a policy level, we have had long contact with the Petrol
Retailers Association in Northern Ireland. We have had meetings
going back over several years. We have always reported the outcome
of those meetings and those concerns obviously to Treasury Ministers.
1 Note by witness: Both the Paymaster General
in July 1998 and the Economic Secretary in October 1998 were approached
for meetings by lobbyists on behalf of petrol retailing associations.
Ministers receive many requests for meetings than they can accept
and in both these instances Ministers were fully aware of the
PRA case from their contacts and meetings with Customs and Excise
and felt that a personal meeting was not necessary. Back