HL Deb 27 November 1990 vol 523 cc893-4

2.39 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to prevent animals infected with rabies entering the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the State Veterinary Service and our wildlife scientists have been fully involved in devising the measures to be used once the tunnel is operational. Those have yet to be finalised but will include the use of sealed trains, physical barriers and grids, and the continuous use of baited traps in the tunnel and terminal areas, together with vigorous cleaning and inspection procedures.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that physical access through the tunnel is now possible? In view of that, is it not a little disturbing that she has said that precautions will be taken when the tunnel is operational? Will she assure the House that precautions are being taken now?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the only reason that I did not include that information was that it would have made my Answer so long. Eurotunnel has implemented measures agreed with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to prevent the possible entry of rabies-susceptible animals while the tunnel is being built. Those include fencing, staged security zones, visual observation at openings in fencing and a system to ensure that any animals which are seen in the tunnel are reported. Ministry staff visit the construction site regularly to ensure that standards are maintained.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend assure us that the steps that she has mentioned will be effective in preventing animals coming in not on their own feet, so to speak, but when carried on railway trains?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in other words, smuggled animals?

Lord Renton

My Lords, if I may be allowed, surely the important point is, for example, that there should not be rats or other wild animals on goods trains or vehicles bringing rabies into the country?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, forgive me for not understanding my noble friend's original question. It is important to remember that disease knows no boundaries. Outbreaks could have serious consequences anywhere. Checks must therefore be possible to safeguard human, animal and plant health. Our aim is to devise arrangements which limit the risk of disease outbreak without serious disruption of freight traffic through the tunnel or elsewhere.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, which animals are carriers of rabies? For instance, are bats carriers of rabies?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the answer is a wide variety of animals. I have some interesting facts about bats. There is no evidence of natural transmission to terrestrial mammals of the rabies-related virus found in some species of insectivorous bats on the Continent. The general provisions for preventing animals from entering the tunnel will also stop colonisation by bats. This is so interesting, my Lords, that I shall continue. While it is possible that an infected bat could cross the Channel on strong winds, the threat is extremely small. Imported bats are subject to six months' quarantine or, in the case of vampire bats, life.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether special arrangements for public health have been, or will be, made for the Folkestone and Dover areas, together with their hinterlands, so that if an outbreak occurs facilities will be in place to deal with it?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord of that.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that during the time of the last Labour Government very far-reaching precautions were set up to combat any possible outbreak of rabies? Will she confirm that these are still in place and that they have not been cut down or reduced for economy reasons?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I hesitate to suggest that there is any connection between the last Labour Government and rabies. The precautions are indeed there.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, has the noble Baroness any evidence that these animals wish to enter the United Kingdom?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, everyone wishes to enter the United Kingdom.