Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-244)
MR RICHARD BROADBENT AND MR MIKE WELLS
MONDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2002
240. So you cannot give us any more information on that.
(Mr Broadbent) I cannot do more than I have done today. I cannot give you statistical data which would help you split the cross-border shopping and the illegal market in Northern Ireland. The data is not there. I tried to give you my own judgements, based on operational experience, but there is no statistical data I can give you. I am sorry.
241. We are all budding revenue men here. We want to try to help you.
(Mr Broadbent) I much appreciate it.
242. Another question from a colleague on the problem we were discussing about getting rid of red diesel and bringing in invoices and you said there could be other problems with fraud. One of my colleagues has suggested a scheme in which the users do not have to present invoices for fuel to show exactly how much duty he or she has paid through the year but simply give an annual mileometer reading and be given a rebate based on how much fuel he or she could be expected to have used if they had driven that distance in that vehicle. This would be comparatively simple to calculate and check and would be an incentive to use fuel efficiently with consequential environmental benefits. It is an interesting idea, is it not? Do you want to take that away with you?
(Mr Broadbent) I will take that away.
243. In answer to Mr Steinberg you made a point about the Commission taking you to court because of what you were doing in Dover. This is quite an important point because in several answers you were saying that you have to balance what you can do. Could you say just a bit more about that? What exactly can you and can you not do in terms of searching lorries?
(Mr Broadbent) In the course of last year the Commission raised with us a number of concerns they have about the proportionality of our controls, primarily at Dover, but in principle at all ports, which we had implemented as part of our tobacco strategy and which, as was said in the PBR, resulted in a 76 per cent fall in the white van trade across the Channel. The points the Commission were concerned about were effectively under Article 7, which is the free movement of goods, which was whether or not we were obstructing the free movement of goods by effectively having too many vehicles stopped, by confiscating vehicles, the question of whether the punishment was proportionate. We have given them a lot of information to justify what we were doing, most of it based around the fact that we still stop very, very small numbers of travellers. We do try to focus our checks. Where we do stop them, a very careful due process is followed. There is no arbitrary judgement. We go through a process, discretion is exercised, there is an outcome. We have given them a large dossier of material and offered to engage in discussions with them and that is where the matter currently stands. They have ultimately to take a decision whether or not to issue an opinion against us which would then go to the court, or whether in the light of our representations to drop the matter.
244. Thank you very much for that answer and thank you for answering our questions in such an interesting way. It is obviously a difficult subject and you have a very difficult task but we are very grateful for what you are doing. Please convey our thanks to your staff, particularly in Northern Ireland, who clearly are doing a very difficult and sometimes dangerous job.
(Mr Broadbent) If I may say so, that last point is very important and I shall say that to the staff from this Committee because they do undergo quite a lot.
Chairman: Thank you very much. The public session is closed.