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19 May 2015

Question Time: Justice - Monday 18 May 2015



In the light of the ongoing and serious problem of the sale of laundered fuel, Mr Irwin MLA asked the Minister for his assessment of whether current legislation is strong enough to deter a filling station operator from acquiring and retailing laundered fuel knowingly during today’s Questions to the Justice Minister, David Ford. Fuel excise evasion and the related legislation is a reserved matter and is the responsibility of HM Revenue and Customs and the Treasury. Between February and May this year, HMRC consulted on a discussion document relating to penalties, which is the first stage in a wider review aimed at making it hard for a dishonest minority to cheat the system, including, of course, filling stations selling illicit fuel. The Minister confirmed that "my Department and HMRC are organising a seminar on fuel laundering to be held in June. It will involve all relevant agencies and will be a forum to discuss whether there are areas in which more can be done".

Trevor Lunn asked the Minister what progress has been made in implementing those aspects of the Stormont House Agreement that fall to his Department. Mr Ford explained to the member "I am committed to implementing the elements of the Stormont House Agreement that fall to my Department as promptly as possible. Under the agreement, my Department is responsible for the establishment of the new historical investigations unit (HIU) and improving the legacy inquest function. The HIU will be an independent body to take forward investigations of outstanding Troubles-related deaths. The legislation required to set up the HIU will be progressed through a Westminster Bill. Drafting is at an advanced stage, and I expect the Bill to be introduced in Parliament in the autumn. My intention is to establish the HIU by summer 2016 and for it to be operational by the autumn of next year".

During Question Time the Minister also answered a question from Anna Lo on the Ministers assessment of the recent comments from the First Minister that termination for fatal foetal abnormality can be dealt with by guidelines rather than the proposed changes in law. The Minister said "the recent remarks by the First Minister on the subject of guidelines for abortion contradict previous statements by former DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots, when he said, on more than one occasion, that guidelines were unable to deal with cases of foetal abnormality and that such cases would require an amendment to the criminal law, which was a matter for the Department of Justice. It is therefore hard to understand the reasons for the First Minister’s comments".