My Department has regular discussions with HM Treasury on a wide range of issues. Fuel fraud is primarily an excise offence and, therefore, an excepted matter that falls to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which works closely with the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland and its counterparts in Ireland.
Despite the fact that over the past six years more than £2 billion has been lost in revenue as a result of criminal activities through fuel laundering, HMRC has taken only 28 cases to court, and there has been only one custodial sentence, which was suspended. Does the Secretary of State believe that that is an adequate response from HMRC or the court system in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and I appreciate his knowledge of this subject, as Minister of Finance and Personnel. He makes a very good point, which I have discussed with David Ford, the Minister of Justice. We have agreed that we should work together so that Northern Ireland sentences can be appealed against if considered too lenient.
In the Select Committee’s recent report, we identified as a major problem the fact that a marker had not been developed sufficiently quickly. Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with HMRC about the development of that marker, which would make fuel fraud and laundering far more difficult?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his question and congratulate him on a very interesting report, which showed that real progress had been made—£250 million lost in forgone revenue down to £70 million, which is a major improvement. He makes a very good point about marking. There is an HMRC strategy and there is also a memorandum of understanding that has been signed with the Irish Revenue Commissioners. We keep in close touch on this matter.