HL Deb 26 January 1978 vol 388 cc467-9

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper and I have to declare an interest in that I am president of the National Council on Inland Transport.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have studied the letter from Herr Gscheidle, West German Minister of Transport, to the Secretary of State for Transport dated 9th September 1977; and what action they propose to take to facilitate faster Customs clearance of freight sent to this country by rail from abroad.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is in correspondence with Herr Gscheidle and is looking forward to discussing this and other issues when he sees him in London. Customs procedures affecting rail freight have been closely scrutinised and some possible improvements are already under examination.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that very encouraging reply. May I ask three questions arising from that reply? First, will she convey the congratulations and good wishes of all those concerned who have organised this meeting? Secondly, will a Statement be issued after the talks have taken place? Thirdly, during the talks, will special concern be shown to the matter of clearing in Britain by the importer, which is covered by English law, bearing in mind the situation in European countries where the agent can clear goods for the importer and thus expedite matters?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the bouquets; we do not often get bouquets thrown at us. I will convey his views to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The visit is timed to take place some time in the spring. I cannot say whether there will be a Statement after it, but I am certain that, with such an important visit and conference, there will be some publication or circulation of material afterwards as to what was happening. So far as the delays in the clearance of railway goods by Her Majesty's Customs are concerned, we have been checking on this, but no evidence has been found that Customs clearance is a significant cause of long delays. Where all the necessary papers are available, the wagons are normally cleared within the day of arrival. The exceptions are mainly due to spot checks on some wagons, and they are to ensure that the entry controls are maintained. Any delays that are due to a lack of the necessary documentation are not the fault of the Customs but of the forwarding agent. However, I am sure that these and all the other points are matters which will be considered by my Secretary of State and Herr Gscheidle when they meet.


My Lords, are the Customs procedures for these importations now on a computer? If not, could the computer which is available at London Airport for this purpose be used?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I regret I cannot give the noble Lord an answer offhand, but I will make inquiries and write to him.


My Lords, is it not a fact that the German Minister's letter is concerned with the great decline in international rail traffic with this country? Would it not help to improve the position if rail traffic, both wagon loads and containers, was put on an equal footing with roll-on/roll-off lorries, particularly in regard to inland clearance for Customs?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am quite certain that that will also be one of the subjects discussed by my Secretary of State.