Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE 1999
HEWITT MP, MR
300 I would like to receive those figures more
(Mr Gibson) I would imagine they are
already in the Library. If not, we will make sure they are. They
are part of our normal two-year census of employment in Northern
301 This is a formal request to have them extracted!
(Lord Dubs) We will make sure that those
figures are sent to the Committee.
302 We are coming up to six o'clock. You have
been extremely patient and very comprehensive in your answers.
There are one or two loose ends I would just like to pick up before
we close. This is not something which has been previously covered.
I would just like to ask Lord Dubs to remind us how many crossing
points of the border there are which could in fact sustain a loaded
(Lord Dubs) Chairman, I do not think
I know that. I am going to look to my officials to see whether
Chairman: It can be added to the information
being given to Mr McWalter.
303 We have seen evidence of loaded tankers going
down what are called boreens in Northern Ireland so I think the
answer is going to be rather large!
(Mr Gibson) I suspect there are a large
number, but if we can get any tangible information for the Committee
we will certainly send it to you.
304 There are two loose ends in terms of evidence
which the Economic Secretary gave in relation to information which
we had earlier been given by Customs & Excise and I would
just like to clear them up while we are all together. I think
at a very early stage in our examination the Economic Secretary
said that differential duty rates were not permitted under EU
(Ms Hewitt) There would have to be a
305 That qualification resolves it. If I may
say so, the original statement avoided being categorical.
(Ms Hewitt) Forgive me. It must have
been later in the discussion I did refer to the issue of derogations
and the ones that existed for Member States that, as it were,
brought those differentials with them into membership of the EU.
306 I was not thinking simply of the differentials
which were brought in at the time of the original negotiation.
I will tell you what Customs & Excise told us: "The United
Kingdom would have to apply for a derogation under Article 8(4)
of Directive 92/81. No derogations have been granted to permit
reduced rates to be applied in particular regions other than those
agreed during the course of negotiations of the Directive itself."
I acknowledge that, and you have answered it by saying that we
would have to apply for a derogation.
(Ms Hewitt) We would have to apply for
a derogation. No new derogations have been granted.
307 There are Italian examples in addition to
the Greek island ones which you gave us.
(Ms Hewitt) Yes, I think they are Italian
and I think there is a French derogation and the Greek one, but
no new derogations have been granted and I do not think there
is any prospect that even if we applied for one we would get it.
308 I want to go back to the exchange you had
with Mr Hesford about the French scheme, where I had the impression
you were not being encouraging about the ability to apply the
French experience to Northern Ireland.
(Ms Hewitt) No, I am not particularly
encouraging. In essence the difficulties are exactly the same
as for the Dutch scheme. It would primarily be a matter for the
Northern Ireland Office and Northern Irish ministers to decide
in the light of competing resources because any scheme of this
kind is going to cost money and the question then is what is a
lesser priority which money will not be spent on, or less money
will be spent on, in order to make the resources available. The
Dutch scheme I have looked at in somewhat more detail than the
309 So far as the French scheme is concerned,
as I understand it they have requested a derogation for reduced
rates of excise duty on diesel used by commercial vehicles for
12 tonnes or over up to a particular level of annual consumption.
So you would acknowledge that a derogation could potentially occur?
I say that because Customs & Excise advised us in their own
memorandum on February 18th that provided the same terms were
available to anybody buying fuel in France, in other words of
other nationalities, "this would not offend any state aid
principle because it is not of regional benefit."
(Ms Hewitt) I believe that is correct.
(Lord Dubs) I think the French scheme is not regional,
it covers the whole of France and I think there would be some
difficulty in principle in applying that sort of scheme to Northern
310 I was not seeking to suggest that that would
be a recommendation. I just wanted to make sure that we were clear
on the facts in terms of the answers which we had been given.
(Ms Hewitt) The test is always does this
constitute an illegal state aid.
311 Customs & Excise advised us that in this
particular instance it would not. My third observation is an observation
and not a question, but it does go back to the unwillingness of
Ministers to meet delegations until very recently. I cannot be
absolutely certain, but I think it was on March 24th that Mr Ingram
told me that no delegation had at that time been seen by any Northern
Ireland Office minister. So we are talking about a development
which really has only occurred in the course of the last three
months or so. This Committee, just as we would not claim any credit
for the Customs & Excise seizures before we called upon them,
believes strongly in the Chinese principle that there is no limit
to what we can achieve provided we do not mind who gets the credit!
We are not in any way suggesting that it is our questions which
have led to a greater willingness of Ministers to see people from
the outside world. I believe I am right in saying that the CBI
have published a statement this week saying that in fact what
we have been talking about today is now beginning to have an effect
on the Northern Ireland economy and that simply underlines the
importance of the inquiry to us as well as to you. I am conscious
that a coincidence has occurred and I really have no way of knowing
whether Mr Gibson is pleased about it or not, but I believe I
am right in saying that Mr Gibson retires from the Northern Ireland
Civil Service at the end of this week. Whether he would have liked
to have been somewhat other than here today I cannot tell, but
because he has given evidence to us on a number of occasions,
this Committee would like to wish him a very happy retirement
from the Northern Ireland Civil Service and to express our appreciation
for the way in which he has given evidence to us in the past.
(Mr Gibson) Thank you very much. I have
always been well received and I have always enjoyed the verbal
interchangeI think battle would be the wrong word! Thank
you very much. I appreciate that.
Chairman: We are extremely grateful to you both
for coming together on the same day and we particularly appreciate
the way Lord Dubs fielded a series of questions in an area which
is not his natural responsibility.