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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for repeating the Answer given in another place. Certainly the press cuttings from yesterday are quite alarming and the chief concern of everyone must be that we can provide well-based reassurance to the public.
I wish to ask a couple of questions. Does the Minister recall that the Select Committee of this House on the Channel Tunnel Bill recommended that the Kent police should be responsible for security in the Channel Tunnel and that that recommendation was not accepted by the Government? Is that still the Government's view? In the light of these events, is it sensible to exclude the police in this way? Secondly, given that we are to expect a further statement after reports have been commissioned, will those reports which the Minister's colleague is commissioning include one from the Commissioner of Police on current security arrangements covering services through the Channel Tunnel at Waterloo and elsewhere?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we have discussed very briefly the effect of the alleged potential breaches of security which were highlighted in newspaper articles yesterday. There is little beyond what I said in my original Answer that I can usefully add to what has already been said. I wish to make two points. First, there is not and never has been a requirement for all passengers and vehicles to be searched. As was indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I do not intend to go into further detail as to the exact proportions, how and so forth, but it has never been a requirement that all passengers and all freight should be searched.
That is the crucial element. We are not sayingto my knowledge it has not been saidthat the security measures for the Channel Tunnel should be the same in all circumstances as those for airlines. There is a different level of vulnerability and a different level of threat. It has always been our intention to tailor our security arrangements to the level of threatthat is provided to us by our security advisersand the level of vulnerability of the mode. Those are the vital important factors relating to this situation.
To respond very briefly to the point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, I do not believe that it helps anyone to insist on much more stringent measures than are necessitated by the threat. The Government's aim has been to balance the level of threat and the type of vulnerability against the requirement for security measures to counter those threats.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the tunnel is peculiarly vulnerable to terrorism and other outrages by the nature of its construction and operation? Are the Government satisfied that the precautions now being taken are sufficient to prevent a catastrophic incident?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Channel Tunnel does indeed have a high degree of vulnerability. But it must also be contrasted with aeroplanes, which also have a very, very high level of vulnerability. It is extremely easy to destroy an aeroplane, as we were tragically shown with the example of Pan Am flight 103 at Lockerbie. A very small amount of explosive can do very great damage to an aircraft. Of course the Channel Tunnel is vulnerable. That is why we have put in place security measures. We believe that that level of security is appropriate to the current level of threat.
The questions that have been asked have been about how those security measures are operated. As has been said, we have asked for reports from the operators of those measures. When we have received those reports we shall decide whether further action needs to be taken.
To reply to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, which I am afraid I earlier omitted to do, about the role of the Kent Police in this matter, it is important to note that a great deal of what has been said as regards the allegations concerning security has been about people travelling on the Eurostar service from Waterloo. That must be balanced against the role of the Kent police, who will clearly not have a role in London but they do elsewhere.
Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords. We are continually in touch with the French authorities on these matters. They have security concerns as indeed we do. That is why we have decided on certain levels of measures. It is important to recognise that a number of authorities believe that there is also a considerable risk of attack from the French side as well as from the British side.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the question of the role of the Kent police is highly relevant in relation to the case that was put to him by his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who talked about the vulnerability of the tunnel? Is the Minister aware that the Select Committee of this House recommended specifically that the Kent police should be members of the safety authority? For some mysterious reason the Department of Transport would not accept that recommendation. Will he agree that it might be a good idea, in the light of general public concern on this matter, to look at that question again? It seems odd that the Fire Service is represented on that committee but that the police are not.
Secondly, on the matter of preparation for dealing with potential terrorist problems, is it not desirable, quite apart from getting reports from the two companies, to get one from the people who have direct experience; namely, the anti-terrorism branch of Scotland Yard?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, as I have indicated, the particular division of my department which deals with transport security issues liaises with the security services, the police and other bodies as it thinks fit to determine levels of threat, levels of vulnerability and how to go about preventing any attack.
The noble Lord referred again to the role of the Kent police. The Kent police are very important in that area and they have a particular role to play. I will investigate further the references that the noble Lord brought to my attention. If the noble Lord will permit me, I will write to him on the subject.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, the Statement today, based on a PNQ in another place, has arisen because the Observer newspaper did what it did. Does the sub-department in the Department of Transport for which the Minister is responsible ever check to see that what Parliament intended is carried out; or do we have to wait for newspapers to do this from time to time?
Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords, for the moment I cannot give the noble Lord the information that he asks. I will investigate the reference to the fires that he mentioned and I will make sure that he is made fully aware of the causes once the investigation is complete.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I hesitate to introduce a slightly different slant to this questionstill less do I wish to get into a debate as to whether I am pro or against Europebut there is a different angle to this issue which I hope might just be considered. We live in an age when travelling is more and more common; we all do it increasingly. I hope that the time will come when a journey from Waterloo to Paris might be regarded as no more than a journey from Westminster to Green Park or St. James's Park on the London Underground. I am bound to say that I would regard an explosion in that tunnel as being at least as dangerous as an explosion in the Channel Tunnel and just as damaging to everybody's prestige. I hope that we shall not go overboard on the one without having regard to the fact that there is a wider implication.
Lord Sefton of Garston: My Lords, during the passage of the Bill a question was raised about the carrying of insurance for the tunnel. The Government refused an amendment that sought to make sure that the Channel Tunnel company would insure the tunnel against any possible risk. Can the Minister tell the House and if not, perhaps he can put a reply in the Librarywhat insurance is carried in regard to the tunnel, who carries the risk and whether or not the people who are alleged to carry the risk have sufficient assets to meet any claim?
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