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Baroness Greengross: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is now an increasing number of carers caring for longer and longer because medical advances ensure that the people they care for have a longer life expectancy? Many of those carers need and wish to work for all the reasons that we understand. Therefore, a much more flexible working pattern is essential. A very good example is that created by BT, which many more employers need to follow. A tsar or somebody with the task of co-ordinating the work that is done for carers could encourage such an initiative and perhaps ensure that it happens.

Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. The 2001 census showed that in England and Wales there were 5.2 million carers—one in 10 of the population. We wish to encourage employers to show flexibility in the arrangements for staff who have caring duties. I will not repeat the answer that I gave to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley on a tsar, but we are well seized of the need to support carers in this area.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, will the Minister answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, about when the national carers strategy would be reviewed? When will that review commence? When will it be complete? That information is essential to local authorities, which will have to introduce the White Paper provisions on a cost-neutral basis.

Lord Warner: My Lords, we have already started the national carers strategy review. The White Paper set out some of the agendas that will be tackled in that area.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, before we get to the new legislation based on the White Paper, does my noble friend recall the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act, passed three years ago? What are the Government doing to implement that Act?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we are taking that agenda forward, as we always do with regard to carers. I will give further and better particulars to my noble friend in writing.
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Lord Colwyn: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that this week is eating disorders awareness week. Following the helpful comments of his honourable friend Rosie Winterton yesterday, could he confirm that the Government recognise the tremendous work done by the parents and carers of the 1.1 million young people who suffer from these disorders?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I was aware of it. I always support my honourable friend Rosie Winterton, and I confirm my support for what she said.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that some grandparents are caring for their grandchildren because their own children are incapacitated in some way? I come across this as chair of the National Treatment Agency with drug-using parents. Grandparents who are carers are given little support and respite, yet they save the state a lot of money. What is the Government's view of that?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we recognise that some grandparents provide care. In those circumstances, they can claim child benefit and possibly child tax credits. Local authorities are in such circumstances empowered to assist with the care of children and young people who are not looked after.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend the Minister agrees that—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we are in the 24th minute of Questions.

Oil Companies: Northern Ireland

2.59 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Glentoran and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question. In doing so, I remind the House of my interest as president of the Heavy Transport Association.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the likely impact on the local economy and tax revenues of the proposed withdrawal of major oil companies from Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the major oil companies have not withdrawn from Northern Ireland. My understanding is that for commercial reasons there has been a change of ownership in the petrol market, with the major oil companies divesting themselves of their retail assets; that is, the forecourts. The change of ownership is not thought to have had a material impact on the key economic variables that pertain to that sector or the economy as a whole.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I think that he will understand the reasons
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for the petrol companies' decision. Does he recall that the fuel policy I introduced on 17 January last year provided that all heavy goods vehicles leaving Great Britain should do so with a nearly full tank of fuel? That policy also facilitates harmonising the rate of duty on road fuels between the north and the south of Ireland. Would that not do a great deal to alleviate the current difficulties?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I recall the innovative suggestion that the noble Earl made at that time and, indeed, the response from my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham to bring the matter to the attention of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. On tax harmonisation, the fact is that we have a UK tax system designed by the Treasury, and there are no proposals to change it.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, has the Minister noticed in the course of his travels that at present there is hardly a single petrol or diesel outlet left within about 15 miles of the border with the Republic? Is that not due to the lack of harmonisation of tax rates?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, there are several factors at play. In less than the past 10 years the supermarkets have moved into petrol retailing. Customers have decided, as indeed any cost-conscious motorist in this country does, that they will not fill up on the motorway. If one is cost-conscious, one moves off the motorway. People have chosen to take advantage of going south to purchase legitimately—it has nothing to do with smuggling. There is bound to be a change in the market. However, there are still some 400 or 500 petrol retail stations in Northern Ireland.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the greatest losses of revenue comes from the smuggling activities of some paramilitary organisations across the border and the doctoring of agricultural diesel fuel? Does he agree that, if a blitz was made by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs on retailing outlets, there would, given the amount of fuel sloshing around, be fairly easy pickings for it? Should it not get on and do that?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the point is well made, but there has been a lot of activity. Last week, for example, the Assets Recovery Agency froze assets worth more than £700,000 from alleged fuel smugglers. Both cases were referred by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. Between April 2000 and March 2005, HM Revenue and Customs seized 10 million litres of illicit fuel; disrupted 17 organised crime gangs; dismantled 77 laundering plants; seized more than 4,000 vehicles; and secured 27 convictions for oil fraud. There is a serious issue. If people in Northern Ireland complain subsequently that their engines do not work because someone doctored the fuel with acid and they did not remove the acid before the sale took place, they have only themselves to blame for buying from bucket shops.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, is correct. Does the Minister agree that
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the problem could be reduced if more resources were available to HM Revenue and Customs on the ground? A precedent for self-funding has been set by the Assets Recovery Agency, which uses some of the assets recovered to fund itself. Could not that precedent be adopted by HM Revenue and Customs?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not being over-defensive. There are serious problems, but they are being addressed. Since 2005, HM Revenue and Customs has increased the number of officers engaged in tackling oil fraud in Northern Ireland from 25 or 26 to more than 160. It has maintained that level of resource since that time. Lessons are being learnt. The Organised Crime Task Force is looking at options for how petrol-licensing powers can be announced. We have to knock the issue on the head; it is a serious problem that must be addressed. It is not all about smuggling, however. There is the issue of cross-border sales and the introduction of supermarkets into retail, which has been an innovation in the past few years but is bound to have distorted the market.

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