HC Deb 20 June 1988 vol 135 cc831-3
11. Mr. Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has yet received the report from the safety advisory committee about the construction of the Channel tunnel; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Mitchell

My Department has formally received two annual reports, but no reports on specific questions. Reports from the safety authority can be made to the Government. In general, they have been made and will continue to be made to the Intergovernmental Commission.

Mr. Taylor

Has my hon. Friend read the extraordinary report by Dr. Richard Haworth of the geological survey about the potential serious seismic risk which could affect the viability and safety of the Channel tunnel? Will he assure me that the safety advisory committee will examine the report? Secondly, will he assure us that the House will be told of the results of the inquiries?

Mr. Mitchell

I have not read the report, although I have read some accounts of it. The authority will be considering this matter. If there is anything untoward that arises from it, I shall ensure that it is reported to the House.

Mr. Tony Banks

Question No. 7 was not taken, but will the Minister tell me whether there will be any facilities for toads and hedgehogs to go down the Channel tunnel and cross the Channel safely?

Mr. Mitchell

There are 150 toad crossings on various roads in Britain. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman about the Channel tunnel, where special steps will be taken to ensure that rabid toads are not able to cross.

Mr. Adley

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that in any discussions on safety within the advisory committee he will not be consulting Mr. James Sherwood or Sir Jeffrey Sterling?

Mr. Mitchell

I can assure my hon. Friend that the machinery for consultation on safety, which was set out in the Channel Tunnel Bill, which was subsequently approved as an Act in this place, is being adhered to closely.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister recollect that way back in 1830— [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was a Minister then. Does he recall that in that year Dr. Dionysus warned that anyone travelling through a tunnel at more than 30 mph would be asphyxiated? Will he assure the House that Dr. Dionysus is alive and well and is representing English nationalism in Southend, albeit through an imported view from Glasgow?

Mr. Mitchell

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. The belief that passengers passing through Brunel's tunnels to the west country would be made deaf were proved to be wrong, and fears about safety will be proved wrong in this instance.

12. Dr. Marek

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what amount of room the various statutory authorities will need reserved for their purposes in an international train using the Channel tunnel; and whether this will have any implications for rolling stock construction.

Mr. David Mitchell

Customs and Immigration authorities are currently discussing their requirements with British Rail. Any agreed on-train requirements will be taken into account in the specification for the Channel tunnel rolling stock.

Dr. Marek

Will the Minister give the House an assurance that there will be on-board inspection on all trains using the Channel tunnel? Will he confirm, or deny, unconfirmed reports that Customs and Excise and immigration authorities require the equivalent of two carriages for their various tea rooms, searching rooms and interview rooms? Will he persuade them to conduct inter-frontier controls in the way in which they take place between France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and other continental countries, where their equivalents of Customs and Excise and immigration have about 35 places, not 150?

Mr. Mitchell

It is a requirement that there should be facilities for searches on trains travelling to the north of London, subject to agreement between British Rail and the authorities concerned. It has been our view until now that the appropriate way of proceeding with trains travelling south through Waterloo would be to provide the necessary facilities at Waterloo itself.

The United Kingdom concentrates its checking at its frontiers. We do not have identity cards, as most continental countries do, and we do not carry out internal spot checks as they do. For that reason, our demands are somewhat more than those of continental countries.

Mr. Watts

Will my hon. Friend explain to the Customs and Excise and immigration authorities that there is no need to make passengers disembark to be checked? If on-board checking works perfectly well on the continent, surely it can be made to work equally well for our purposes.

Mr. Mitchell

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mrs. Dunwoody

If there is any real difficulty, will the Minister explain to Customs and Excise that one way in which it can facilitate movement is by creating customs posts elsewhere, particularly in the north-west? I suggest that Crewe would be an excellent site.

Mr. Mitchell

For freight, British Rail is in the process of consulting about bases in the north which would be suitable for inland clearance depots and for the collection of freight for shipment through the tunnel. I hope that the hon. Lady will take some encouragement from that.

Mr. Ashby

Will my hon. Friend explain to Customs and Excise that there is now a Common Market, that there is a Single European Act, which comes into effect in 1992, that it is time it woke up to that fact and started to behave as we expect to be treated in other countries, and that it should start to be sensible about these things?

Mr. Mitchell

Some controls will still be needed after 1992 to counter drug smuggling, terrorism and things of that sort.

16. Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received from British Rail on facilities for incoming travellers on trains using the Channel tunnel, or at the Waterloo station Channel tunnel station, or at terminals for Channel tunnel trains at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Mitchell

The chairman of British Rail has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State suggesting that the Government should consider the case for having on-train customs and immigration controls on those trains that will terminate at Waterloo, as well as arrangements as provided for in the Channel Tunnel Act on those trains serving destiations to the north of London. We are currently considering the matter in more detail with British Rail.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the Minister aware that when the NUR group of Labour Members were the guests of the chairman of British Rail he produced an unanswerable case for the contents of that letter? Is it not the fact that, on this issue, Transport Ministers are foreseeing, prudent, wise, imaginative and understand the problems, and that the stick in the mud Home Office is being very unreasonable, but the Home Office is the senior Department and carries more clout than the Department of Transport?

Mr. Mitchell

I cannot accept that description of the Home Office, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to. Having said that, I must say that I have noted the consensus in the House for more progress to be made more quickly on how on-train operations will be mounted.