HL Deb 05 July 1993 vol 547 cc1065-6

2.57 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is still their intention that the Channel Tunnel should be in open competition with cross-Channel carriers.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, it is the Government's intention to maximise competition on all cross-Channel routes. But the physical and legal circumstances of the Channel Tunnel may require a different approach on some matters.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. But is he aware that there is still one major inequality, despite the exchanges which followed my Question at the beginning of April? Is he aware that the airline and ferry companies are being charged enormous fines under the carriers' liability Act, while no one will be penalised when train passengers arrive in London via the tunnel without immigration papers, and the reason for that is apparently inconvenience?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, those who arrive by train will be in a different position to those who arrive by ferry or by air, as the latter will be subject to the carriers' liability Act. But I remind my noble friend that what has taken place is an interpretation of Article 4 of the Treaty of Canterbury between Britain and France which states that frontier controls shall be organised in a way that will reconcile as far as possible the rapid flow of traffic with efficiency of the controls. That is why, with regard to the shuttle trains, we shall have our immigration officers in France and with regard to the through trains between the capital cities immigration checks will take place on the trains.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is there not a further problem in that those who arrive by air or by sea can be sent back to the places from which they came at the expense of those who brought them here, whereas, because our passport control will be at the other end of the tunnel and on French soil, that situation will not arise?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, indeed it will not arise because the person coming to this country by rail will have to go through the immigration procedure before he arrives here, rather than, if one comes by ferry or air, landing in this country and then going through immigration procedures.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister concede that the ferry operators will labour under a very strong degree of prejudice as a result of this situation? How can he say that he is in favour of maximising competition, when in this area there will not be any competition and there is no level playing field whatsoever? Is there not, therefore, something radically wrong with the carriers' liability Act?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the carriers' liability Act is a strengthening of our armoury on the matter of immigration. I believe that the noble Lord is wrong to isolate one particular aspect. He will need to look at the whole panoply of controls that exist with regard to the Channel Tunnel, some of which apply strictly to the Channel Tunnel and do not apply to ferries and airlines. One cannot isolate one issue.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I fully support the principle of the 1987 Act. But does the Minister agree that it may fall into disrepute and appear to militate against open market policies if it is not applied evenly?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we certainly hope that it does not fall into disrepute. I repeat to my noble friend what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. This is just one aspect of a whole panoply of controls over the ferries, the airlines and the Channel Tunnel. There are certain restrictions that apply to the Channel Tunnel with regard to security, for instance, which do not apply to ferries and airlines. The Channel Tunnel operators feel aggrieved that they are being singled out in that respect. If my noble friend looks at the situation overall he will be reassured.