I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 48, 55 and 57 together.
The Customs and Excise staff are responsible for the control and certification of beef which qualifies for export refund under the EC Common Agricultural Policy otherwise known as the CAP. Beef may be placed under customs control either at the point of exportation or at traders' premises. The date on which beef is placed under control determines the rate of export refund payable. The certification by Customs and Excise staff of the type and quantity of beef placed under control forms the basis on which payment of export refunds is made by the Department of Agriculture and Food as the paying agency on behalf of the European Commission.
The Customs and Excise staff check the accuracy of declarations made by traders who place goods under control and for this purpose are entitled to carry out physical checks on the beef, to take samples and to check documents. They are also entitled to enter traders' premises to examine beef already placed under control as well as to examine traders' commercial records. Such records are also subject to regular audit by Customs and Excise staff.
The Customs and Excise staff have no function in relation to the EC scheme of aids to private storage and they carry out no controls in respect of that scheme.
There has been no change in the functions of the Customs and Excise staff in relation to the control and certification of beef for export refund purposes. The methods of control are kept under continuous review, however, and are subject to change from time to time to improve their effectiveness or to remedy any actual or potential defects which come to light.
I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a breakdown of staff numbers engaged in the control of beef for export refund purposes is not available. Virtually all of the Customs and Excise staff engaged in the control of goods at point of export would have some involvement from time to time in the control of export consignments of CAP goods including beef. Approximately 120 staff are engaged, as part of their duties, in the control of CAP goods at traders' premises. On average, these staff would spend only about 25 per cent of their time on such duties. Some 50 per cent of the staff in question are stationed in the Dublin collection and the balance are located in various customs stations throughout the country.
Control of CAP goods placed under customs control is carried out during visits by Customs and Excise staff to traders' premises. No officers are stationed full-time at such premises. Normally, no charge is raised against the trader for such visits. However, where, exceptionally, officers are required to attend at traders' premises to supervise unpacking or re-packing operations on beef already placed under control, the cost of such attendance is borne by the trader. The Customs and Excise staff are responsible to and report to the Revenue Commissioners.
I am informed by the Commissioners that no requests have been received from any outside agencies for specific inquiries to be carried out by Customs and Excise staff into alleged irregularities in relation to beef placed under control for export. I want to clarify the position in this regard. There has been a request from the Department of Agriculture and Food to the Department of Finance in one situation recently. Apart from that, the outside agencies refered to here are the Court of Auditors, the EC, or others.
I am also informed by the Commissioners that they have no record of any complaint in regard to obstruction of any of their officers by persons working in beef storage plants.
I am satisfied that officers of Customs and excise have adequate statutory powers for the performance of their duties and protection from obstruction. Obstruction of any officer is an offence under the customs Acts which is punishable by a penalty of up to £1,000.