Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
MP, and MR PETER
100. The Home Office might take the lead but
do you not feel as the Minister responsible for transport, where
there are serious issues, that you ought to at least have the
opportunity of offering an opinion?
(Mr Spellar) We are kept informed of what other departments
do. If we felt that we had an input to make, we would make it
but it is very much which department is in the lead on which area
under the collective responsibility.
101. Can I understand you very precisely? Are
you suggesting that there are two parallel sets of talks being
held at the present time, one with the Minister for Transport
talking to the SNCF and to the Minister of Transport?
(Mr Spellar) Yes.
102. And the second parallel series of meetings
being held between the Home Office and the Minister of the Interior.
There is no joint working with both departments being represented
on the committee at the same time, talking to the French government
at a senior level. Is that what you are telling us?
(Mr Spellar) I am saying we have had meetings with
the Transport Ministry and the Home Office have had meetings with
the Interior Ministry.
103. You are saying that, yes, that is the situation.
There are two parallel sets of meetings?
(Mr Spellar) We keep in close touch with each other
as to what is happening on that.
104. Except that you are saying that some of
the aspects of these discussions must only be a matter for the
(Mr Spellar) No. The question I was asked was who
took the lead on these policy issues and the answer is it is the
Home Office who rightly take the lead.
105. Do you have any joint meetings between
the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office and the Ministry
of Transport in France and the Ministry of the Interior in France?
(Mr Spellar) We have not had that at ministerial level.
There will have been such meetings at official level.
106. Mr Thomas, are you aware of any meeting
at official level which has addressed this joint need for a package
of various measures in order to have some effect on the movement
of clandestine traffic?
(Mr Thomas) There has not been a meeting which has
gone into the details of all the individual matters on the agenda.
107. We have had a broad brush meeting, have
(Mr Thomas) I have led a UK delegation to a meeting
in Paris at which I helped with members from the Home Office.
Similarly in Brussels.
108. What does this Anglo-French Cross Channel
(Mr Spellar) That is a quite different body to do
with the management of Eurotunnel. It is the formal body for dealing
(Mr Thomas) There is the Intergovernmental Commission
which is the Channel Tunnel body which represents the two governments
dealing with the concession in Eurotunnel.
109. That was set up under the original Bill
and that is not something that we want to concern ourselves with,
for the moment.
(Mr Thomas) There is the Cross-Channel Commission,
set up largely at official level, on which the Cabinet Office
(Mr Spellar) They are responsible for security.
(Mr Thomas) It looks at issues which come up on the
border between the two countries. It has certainly been involved
in this subject. It was in that context that I led a delegation
to Paris. That was in the context of the Cross-Channel Commission
which has set up a sub-group on this matter. It only met once.
We pressed the French to have some additional meetings. They were
not ready to at that time and in the meantime work has progressed
without that body having to meet.
110. We have three sets of government departments
involved in this. We have the Cabinet Office looking at overall
security issues; we have the Department of Transport looking at
trying to improve the number of trains that move freight from
road onto rail and then we have the Home Office looking at the
immigration and asylum issues. Is that right?
(Mr Spellar) Pretty much so, yes.
111. Have you not been able to impress on the
other departments how far their failure to solve this problem
is absolutely sabotaging one of your key departmental interests?
(Mr Spellar) I do not think it is fair, if we are
talking about the domestic, British departments, to say that it
is their failure to solve this problem. They have been pressing
their French counterparts extremely hard in order to try and speed
up the process and to ensure that there is a resolution. Fortunately,
we are now seeing some progress in that direction, particularly
on the physical structure. That has to be matched by the provision
of police forces in order to be able to police and enforce the
restrictions that we hope will be in place shortly.
112. I did not ask you if you were taking the
lead on Home Office matters; I asked if you had been consulted
and you said no. You gave the impression that you did not see
why you should have been.
(Mr Spellar) Informed, yes, but I do not see that
we would necessarily be part of the decision making process on
113. You do not think you should be consulted?
(Mr Spellar) No. The lead department on asylum and
migration issues is the Home Office but it is important that within
those discussions that we are having with our French counterparts
we are aware of progress that is being made or otherwise with
their French counterparts.
114. Does that mean that you might find out
through discussions with French counterparts things that the British
government is doing that the Home Office does not tell you about?
(Mr Spellar) No, it does not. It means that there
is full exchange of information so that we are fully aware of
the developments that are taking place on the asylum and migration
side of government, but that the lead, obviously and rightly,
is taken by the Home Office.
115. Who do you think is responsible for impeding
the free flow of trade and goods through the Channel Tunnel because
of this problem?
(Mr Spellar) The problem is quite simply the organised
criminal gangs who are bringing large numbers of clandestine migrants
in who are seeking to enter the United Kingdom as illegal migrants
and who are then looking at whichever part of the system at any
time looks most suitable for getting into the United Kingdom.
Previously, that had been the road haulage sector. As we clamped
down on that, rail became more attractive. As Eurotunnel put very
effective barriers round their terminal, the freight terminal
became more attractive. The prime responsibility lies with the
organised criminals who are bringing large numbers of desperate
people to northern France in order to get access to the UK.
116. What responsibility would you say the French
government and your Department and indeed the British government
have in trying to deal with this problem?
(Mr Spellar) The next stage self-evidently was to
provide protection at the freight terminal at Fréthun.
It would have been preferable had those physical restrictions
been put in earlier, as we had been promised that they would be.
However, it is fair to say that now construction is moving on
apace in order to provide that protection, but that does need
to be backed up with a very strong, effective police presence
117. What could the French authorities do better?
(Mr Spellar) The French authorities could have built
the sort of physical protection before that they are building
now. They could have put in a more sustained police presence,
because it has not just been the level of police presence but
also the variability.
118. Variability of numbers, quality or status?
(Mr Spellar) Variability of numbers in particular.
While it was understandable during the French presidential election
that there was some diversion of police forces, that did have
an unfavourable effect on the situation at the freight depot.
119. Minister, can I ask you about the cost
of the slots in the Channel Tunnel itself while this hiatus is
taking place? I assume that there are long term contractual arrangements
in place for the picking of slots within the Channel Tunnel. As
far as you are aware, who is paying the bill for that at the moment?
(Mr Spellar) It is a slightly different position,
is it not, in that there is already a payment to Eurotunnel. I
have forgotten when that agreement expires.
(Mr Thomas) The current arrangement, which was a commercial
arrangement entered into by British Railways Board and SNCF, was
part of the finance for the construction of the Tunnel. It was
that British Railways Board and SNCF would pay minimum usage charges
for the first so many years of opening. As part of the deal for
the sale of what was BR's international rail freight section to
EWS, the SRA agreed to continue paying their share of the rail
freight charge. When the BR international rail freight business
was sold to EWS, part of the sale deal was that British Railways
Board would continue to pay the Channel access charge, this minimum
usage charge, until April 2005, I think, but I stand to be corrected
on that date. Should the amount of rail freight exceed that minimum
amount by that time, EWS would have to start paying the addition,
but I do not think there is any expectation on anybody's part
that it will.