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Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have had no indication of the matter that he has raised on a point of order and therefore I do not happen to have Hansard of 25 March 1993 in front of me. The hon. Gentleman may like to pursue the matter further with the Home Secretary, or perhaps he could seek advice from the Table Office. He knows that I do not give advice about procedure across the Floor of the House. If he does not wish to follow my suggestions, I should be very willing to see him to consider what I can do about the matter.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you rule regularly that statements by Ministers are not a matter for you, unless you are notified, and then, obviously, the House is informed. I should simply like to ask your advice, because, today, the news has contained general reports of the large police presence at the proposed M11 route in east London. In the past, when an incident has got out of control and led to injuries or death, it is then the subject of a statement before the House. I seek your straightforward advice on the best way to try to get the issue of the M11 route raised before problems arise rather than after. The problem is that,
Column 958if we wait for the next Home Office or Transport questions, the event will be over. When would be the best opportunity to raise such matters while the events are still current ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is asking for procedural advice. I have just made it clear that I do not give procedural advice. Tomorrow happens to be Thursday ; perhaps he should look at the business for Thursday.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you consider re-examining the practice of giving private responses to hon. Members on issues of privilege ? I shall not go into the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), but when you rule in private, by implication, unless hon. Members ask my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member who raises an issue of privilege, the rest of the House is denied that response. However, a public interest issue may well arise out of the action taken by that organisation in regard to the 17 Members of Parliament concerned. Will you reflect on my request and consider it ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Speaker of the House has total authority over matters of privilege. It would be a complete departure if the entire House were to be informed of the ruling. If the hon. Gentleman and others are seeking to change that, they must use the normal channels.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that is your position, but there is clearly a public interest issue. It is alleged that 17 hon. Members are affected by an individual organisation. Surely the wider public have a right to know, even though, as Speaker of the House, you may feel that your responsibility remains only to my hon. Friend.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require local authorities to identify residential properties of which the authority owns the freehold and which the leaseholders find hard to sell ; to require local authorities to make available mortgage guarantees to assist the sale of certain local authority leaseholds of residential property ; to enable local authorities to repurchase the leases of certain leaseholds of residential properties ; and for connected purposes.
The Bill is a rescue plan for some 70,000 home owners who, to all intents and purposes, are trapped in former council flats. More than half those who were induced or seduced to buy under the right to buy are or will be living in properties which simply cannot be sold. That is ironic because the majority of people who bought flats did so because they thought that it would be easier to move by selling than through council transfer lists.
One couple in my constituency bought their tower block flat for cash in 1981 and have since made it into a model home. They have been trying to sell that flat for several years. They have dropped the asking price by 50 per cent. and they have found several potential buyers, but not one of those buyers can get a mortgage--not even a 60 per cent. mortgage.
Another constituent bought a one-bedroom flat in a medium-rise block in my constituency in 1988. She subsequently married and started a family ; she needs to move to a bigger home. She has found potential buyers, but not one can obtain a mortgage, not even from the bank which currently mortgages the property.
Mortgage lenders have red-lined all high-rise and most medium-rise blocks of flats. On that basis, we can confidently predict that 70, 000 households will face the same problem in the future. Not only can the owners not sell, but many face higher service charges than they first expected.
The Conservative Government bear a heavy responsibility for that crisis. That is why my Bill requires them to act. The Government must not continue to shuffle off responsibility on to local authorities that have neither the full legal powers nor the resources to deal with the problem.
The Government promoted the right to buy to flat owners with quite extraordinary irresponsibility. The latest leaflet from the Department of the Environment warns potential buyers of possible high service charges and mortgage problems. But that only emphasises the Government's failure to issue those warnings when today's victims were buying their homes.
Councils such as Sheffield and Norwich which attempted to highlight the likely problems were overruled and overridden by Ministers, who threatened to step in and enforce the right to buy. Building societies such as the Halifax which predicted today's problems in writing to the Government in 1985 and again in 1987 were ignored. Government restrictions on service charge levels for the first five or 10 years of home ownership had the effect of disguising from potential buyers the likely cost of owning a council leasehold. My Bill is intended to provide a long-overdue way out of this nightmare for the people affected by it and I have
Column 960tried to base it on four clear principles. First, there must be a national scheme and a national solution. The extent of the problem varies considerably from one local authority to another. It simply would not be realistic to ask individual local authorities to meet their own local problems from their own resources.
Secondly, wherever possible, current leaseholders must be assisted to sell their homes on the private market at a fair market value. Thirdly, any public costs involved must be kept to a reasonable minimum and represent good value for money. Fourthly, no scheme should unfairly take resources away from the urgent task of improving and repairing the homes of current and future council tenants. It is on the basis of these four principles that I have drawn up the Bill. It will bring together the existing but inadequate powers of local authorities in a national and nationally funded scheme. In the first instance, local authorities would be required to draw up a scheme to identify flats which are unlikely to attract mortgage finance. Those schemes would need to be agreed with the Secretary of State. With the approval of the Secretary of State local authorities would then be required to offer a mortgage guarantee for all or part of the capital value of the flat. However, it is important to ensure that a mortgage lender who refused a loan based just on the nature of the property would be subject to action by extending the powers of the building societies ombudsman.
If in the end the guarantee were called, the local authority would have the choice of taking the property back into its own stock to let to someone from its waiting list, or of being reimbursed by the Government for the cost of meeting the guarantee.
Such an approach would help tens of thousands of leaseholders in the coming years and, by making properties marketable once again, would allow the price of those properties to be established at a level which reflected the relatively high service charges that council leaseholds are always likely to attract. But I also recognise that there will be some flats which, because of their structural condition and future repair costs, will probably never attract buyers, so the Bill also proposes that local authorities identify those properties and be enabled by the Government to repurchase them at a price reflecting any original discount.
That again should be funded by Government. The question of cost is bound to be raised, but in this case the logic of using local authority capital receipts, which were obtained by selling those flats in the first place, for the purpose of getting people out of this nightmare is unquestionable.
I do not believe that anyone denies that the problem exists or that it will be identified on an increasingly wide scale over the coming years, and the support that I have had for the Bill from hon. Members from Thurrock, Lewisham, Hampstead and Highgate, Waltham Forest, Greenwich, Sheffield, Plymouth and other parts of the country indicates the number who are experiencing these problems at first hand in their constituency advice surgeries.
It is now time for the Government to act. The problem has been dumped on local authorities for too long. There must be a national scheme, which should be funded and underwritten nationally. The Government must be prepared to stand up to the building societies. This Bill will enable the Government to do all three things. Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Denham, Mr. Clive Betts, Mr. Nick Raynsford, Mr. Mike Gapes, Mr.
Column 961Clive Soley, Ms Tessa Jowell, Ms Glenda Jackson, Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, Mr Neil Gerrard, Mr. Keith Hill, Mrs. Bridget Prentice and Mr. David Jamieson.
Mr. John Denham accordingly presented a Bill to require local authorities to identify residential properties of which the authority owns the freehold and which the leaseholders find hard to sell ; to require local authorities to make available mortgage guarantees to assist the sale of certain local authority leaseholds of residential property ; to enable local authorities to repurchase the leases of certain leaseholds of residential properties ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 29 April, and to be printed. [Bill 54.]
That the draft Channel Tunnel (Security) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 7th February, be approved.
The purpose of the order is to provide the legal framework for measures to protect the channel tunnel and international train services from acts of terrorism. It seeks to do that in two ways : first, by creating a number of new and serious offences against the safety of the tunnel and trains, and secondly by providing the Secretary of State with powers to direct the
concessionaires--Eurotunnel--and operators of channel tunnel trains to take measures to protect the tunnel, trains and related facilities against acts of violence. In both respects, the order applies to the channel tunnel a security framework very similar to that which applies to the civil aviation and maritime transport sectors. Although the tunnel was built with private money and will be run as a commercial enterprise, the British and French Governments have an important role in ensuring that its security is satisfactorily provided and organised. Article 5 of the 1986 channel tunnel treaty called for a
"special arrangement between the two Governments on security matters".
That arrangement has been made. The terms require each Government to ensure that the security of the fixed link, including the terminal areas, other sites and essential services, is satisfactorily provided and organised, and that the responsibilities are properly defined and exercised.
Thus, while the two Governments seek to co-ordinate policy, tunnel security is a matter for each Government separately. On the French side, it is normal for transport security to be undertaken by state agencies. In France --in the case of the tunnel, railway stations and freight terminals to be served by channel tunnel trains--most security functions will be undertaken by the police de l'air et frontie res and the douanes, or customs, although the operators will provide much of the security infrastructure and equipment.
In the United Kingdom, the responsibility for security of all modes of transport rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. However, it is established United Kingdom practice to place a duty on the transport operator to put the necessary security procedures and facilities in place. In the field of civil aviation, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gives directions, under the Aviation Security Act 1982 and the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, to airlines and airport operators, requiring them to carry out specified security measures. The same applies in the case of ports, ferries and shipping lines, under the 1990 Act.
The intention of the Channel Tunnel (Security) Order is to place Eurotunnel, British Rail and, in due course, British Rail's private-sector successors on the same legal footing. Each of those transport sectors is quite different from the others, and security arrangements must be tailored to suit operating circumstances and the nature of the threat ; but the legal framework can and should be very similar.
Column 963Eurotunnel, British Rail and the French railway network--SNCF--have submitted their detailed security proposals to the two Governments, in accordance with article 5 of the 1986 treaty and clause 23 of the associated concession agreement. This order will provide the means of implementing and enforcing those arrangements in the United Kingdom under section 11 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. In the course of drafting the order, Eurotunnel and British Rail were consulted about its terms and about the directions that the Secretary of State expects to make.
I should like to make one further point before referring briefly to the order itself. A police presence at the Folkestone terminal will be provided by the Kent constabulary, but it will be concerned primarily with law and order and not with the provision of protective security, which is the responsibility of Eurotunnel. In the event of a serious security incident, the Kent police would, of course, respond. The British Transport police, supported by the local police force, will fulfil the same role at the Waterloo international station and at Ashford international station when it opens, as well as at other stations and freight terminals throughout the country serviced by channel tunnel trains.
It may be helpful if I focus on the main provisions of the order and say a little about how they will operate in practice. The substance of the measure is contained in parts II and III. Part II creates a number of new offences against the safety of the channel tunnel and channel tunnel trains. These are serious offences, including hijacking, seizing control of the tunnel system, destroying or damaging channel tunnel trains or the tunnel system, and other acts likely to endanger safety, including the making of threats. All of the offences created in part II provide that a person found guilty will be liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life--in each case, the same as the corresponding offence under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990. Under article 9, proceedings for an offence under part II can be brought only by or with the consent of the Attorney-General.
The primary purpose of part III is to provide for the protection of channel tunnel trains and related facilities, the tunnel system, persons and property from acts of violence. It does this principally by giving the Secretary of State powers to direct Eurotunnel, train operators and others to put in place appropriate physical security measures and to carry out sensible security procedures.
Articles 14 and 15 are of particular importance. They enable the Secretary of State to require searches of traffic to be carried out before it may enter the tunnel system or board a channel tunnel train. This includes searches of passengers and their property, goods, the trains and the tunnel system itself. Outside the tunnel system, it includes also searches of premises used in connection with channel tunnel trains, such as Waterloo international terminal, including people and property on those premises.
Mr. Freeman : The responsibility for searching any train, whether passenger or freight, travelling through France and entering the channel tunnel will rest with the French authorities. In the case of traffic travelling through
Column 964the United Kingdom to the channel tunnel, all passengers and freight will be liable to search at the channel tunnel site. Anyone with freight or a car catching the Euro shuttle will be liable to be searched at Cheriton by security officers. All railway passengers will be liable to be searched at Waterloo international or at other appropriate points of embarkation. All British Rail freight will be liable to be searched at the point of origin--the point at which the container is packed--or at the consignor's premises if the consignor is an approved channel tunnel freight forwarder. I think that should answer my hon. Friend's question. If not, however, I shall be happy to give way again.
Sir David Mitchell : What I am anxious to know is whether British customs or other officials will search cars and other vehicles before they enter the system on their way to the United Kingdom. I am thinking of customs, security and animal-health checks.
Mr. Freeman : There are three separate issues in that. The order deals with security--the threat from terrorism ; it specifically does not cover customs, immigration or animal health. Those are separate issues. The order deals with security searches, and the responsibility for them will rest with the French rather than the British authorities for trains entering the tunnel from Sangatte. I shall write to my hon. Friend to give him fuller details about customs and immigration procedures and animal health, but the general principle that applies is that the French and British authorities will carry out the same functions in their respective countries as they would carry out for airline or ferry passengers moving between Britain and France. Although the question that my hon. Friend asked is not relevant to the order, if he tables a question to me I shall give him a clear answer. It will be for the convenience of the House if my answer appears in the Official Report.
Finally, it may help the House if I speak briefly about the preparations for opening the tunnel. That is the context in which the order is set. The plan is that Eurotunnel will open the tunnel on 6 May, when Her Majesty the Queen and President Mitterrand will officiate at ceremonies. Eurotunnel's freight and passenger services are matters for the company ; it will provide a private sector service and it will announce when the freight and passenger shuttles will run.
Scheduled rail passenger services run by British Rail, SNCF and the Belgian state railway will commence this summer. Delivery of the train sets is progressing well, and testing is under way. Services from Waterloo, the only station where passengers will be able to join a train, will take about three hours to reach Paris, and the Government believe that will offer a competitive service in terms of both convenience and pricing compared with the alternative modes of transport.
I can confirm that Railfreight Distribution is ready to commence services as soon as the tunnel is open for business. It is ready to go now. The intention is that by the end of the year about 11 freight trains a day will run in each direction, and in due course that number could increase to the capacity of the tunnel, which is 35 freight trains a day in both directions. Class 92 locos, which have been ordered by British Rail, should be available by the end of the year.
Column 965I plan to lay imminently the regulations concerning the concession that 44-tonne lorries with containers or swap bodies should be allowed in this country if they are moving to or from rail terminals--
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South) : As the Minister has gone into the wider question of opening the facilities, and as freight facilities through the tunnel will be available in the relatively near future, has any firm decision been made on the freight terminal arrangements for west and south Yorkshire?
Mr. Freeman : British Rail has now signed agreements in connection with the Wakefield freight terminal in west Yorkshire. Its construction will depend largely on public funding, partly from the local authority concerned--as the hon. Gentleman will know, it has taken action by selling one asset and retaining the cash in the expectation of making a contribution. Other funding rests with central Government to comment upon and support, and that proposal is with me now.
When the hon. Gentleman mentions south Yorkshire I assume that he is referring to the terminal at Doncaster, which may or may not require more modest public sector funding to support it. My understanding is that it was initiated and made progress on the assumption that essentially it would be financed without European or British Government funding. British Rail has committed itself to Wakefield and not to Doncaster. That may change, as has been speculated on a number of occasions, but it has not changed so far. We shall certainly keep the situation under review.
I answered a question yesterday, which may help the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. It was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and it concerned the intensification of use and noise on existing freight lines. I made the point that we accept that the Land Compensation Act 1973 has relevance to trains--especially freight trains--which work existing British Rail lines, where new work has been undertaken. It is a matter of legal interpretation and I simply draw the attention of the House to that answer.
I confirm that it is the intention that day and night services beyond London, principally up the east and west coast main lines, but including services to the west country and Wales, will enter service by the end of next year.
If there are points raised in the debate, I shall be happy to seek to answer them. The Government believe that the channel tunnel creates a marvellous opportunity for business men and for passengers in Britain who seek to go abroad for business or leisure. That it has been built and is ready for business is a great achievement. It will greatly benefit the rail system for passengers and freight and the order helps safeguard the tunnel and the traffic which will use it. We wish the channel tunnel well.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Let me start by making it plain that I strongly support the channel tunnel and I hope that it will be a success. I speak for most on the Opposition Benches, possibly not all, but I am sure that the same applies to those on the Conservative
Column 966Benches. We want to see that the tunnel is a success, that it brings maximum benefits to Britain and that those benefits are not confined to the south-east.
Clearly, if the tunnel is to be a success, it must be secure and safe. It is difficult to separate security from safety, although we recognise that the order is mainly concerned with security and security from terrorists. I suppose that the channel tunnel is the prestige engineering project of the remaining part of the century--perhaps not so much for France, but certainly for Britain--and it commands a great deal of public attention. As it attracts such attention, it is likely to attract terrorists and slightly potty attention-seekers who may threaten it.
We need a secure channel tunnel system and therefore we need a legal framework for it. The order provides that legal framework and I thank the Minister for his introductory remarks and for supplying briefing material. The general idea is that the approach is comparable to the security measures that apply to air and sea safety. However, the situations are not strictly comparable, an issue to which the hon. Member for Basingstoke may have been referring. While it is equally possible to blow up an aircraft, a ship and a train in a tunnel, it is impossible to blow up the air or the sea. The order may prove to be adequate as far as it goes. It is an effort to bring the law into line with current developments and to cope with current threats. The present body of the law is not satisfactory.
It is commonplace in all systems of security that they are as strong as their weakest link. Besides the legal provisions, we need physical security measures such as adequate perimeter fencing. More importantly, we must ensure that the security system is in the hands of staff who are properly trained and adequate for the task. Without that, the system will be almost bound to fail because those who will seek to subvert it will look for the weakest point and eventually find it. We must consider, and continue to consider, the parts that may be the least secure and the arrangements that may lead to bother.
We must consider the relationship between the Kent police and the French authorities, which will be responsible, as I understand it, for the tunnel and the terminals. We must ensure that the liaison between them is satisfactory to us and to them so that they both feel secure about the respective arrangements.
The British Transport police will be responsible for the security of the rest of the line, for the Waterloo terminal and, as I understand it, any other terminal in London--eventually, presumably, St. Pancras--and also for the freight terminals around the country. Is the Minister satisfied that the wide experience and expertise of the British Transport police, which they have acquired over the years, are being made available to the Kent police, that the Kent police are making proper use of it and that they will maintain adequate relations?
In an age in which terrorism is rife, many judgments must be made on how to respond to threats or warnings. They require assessment by some human being somewhere in the chain of command. Hundreds of warnings are
Column 967received about threats to the security of the railway and underground system in London. Stations are closed in response to those warnings on only a few occasions, because an individual somewhere near the top of the chain of command assesses all the information available and feels sufficiently secure to decide that it is safe not to close one or more stations in the system. If that person does not feel satisfied and secure, he closes the station. For such a person in the chain of command to be satisfied with anything to do with the channel tunnel, he will have to be satisfied that at all stages and in all places in Britain and France, the proper procedures have been followed and the buildings and rolling stock have been properly protected and inspected. Most importantly, that person must be satisfied that the staff were properly vetted before they were appointed, are properly accredited and properly trained and have been properly supervised. If that is not the case and he does not feel secure, on receiving some warning, that person may have to take it more seriously and order the closing of the tunnel to ensure that people are safe. He must feel confident that the system is working properly.
Problems may arise. At the moment, the people in the British Transport police who make such decisions have confidence in the system because they are accustomed to working with British Rail, London Underground Ltd. and their own staff. With regard to the tunnel, they will have to feel secure that the arrangements made by the Kent police and the French police are satisfactory.
The Minister has not touched on something that is quite possible under the order--the contracting out of some of the security duties to private sector security firms. A feeling of security and safety is crucial to the success of the tunnel. If the Minister and Eurotunnel want to contract out security duties to people like Group 4, they can write off any thought of profits because no one will use the tunnel if such people are involved. The Minister and Eurotunnel must stick with the British Transport police--the BTP--and others of our police forces. They must not try to save money by contracting out the basic duties of the state and the organs of the state. That is why we believe that no one other than the BTP should be involved in such matters all over the system in Britain. It seems that the responsibility of the British Transport police will range from the tunnel up to, and including, the Waterloo terminal.
What about the arrangements for freight and the security of freight terminals? As my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) pointed out, it is far from clear whether some of the terminals will ever exist. The terminal in Wakefield that the Minister confidently proclaimed was going ahead is but a theory at the moment. We do not know what security arrangements are being made there.
The House must be satisfied that there will be proper security arrangements wherever freight is assembled. If that is not the case, the well-informed terrorist will be able to load something on to the freight train, time it properly and explode it in the tunnel. As I said at the outset, the strength of any security system depends on the strength of its weakest link. If terrorists can gain access because of shoddy and slipshod approaches to security in parts of the country well away from the tunnel, they will exploit those arrangements.
Does the Minister intend that the Secretary of State should exercise his power to require restricted zone status on all or part of the freight terminals around the country?
Column 968Given that, as a result of the Government's obsession with the private sector, some freight terminals may be privately owned, will the Minister guarantee that the BTP will have the right of entry and search in respect of all those terminals and that there will be no question of a challenge to their authority in that respect? Will the Minister guarantee that there will be secure perimeters? Will he guarantee that staff will be properly vetted and that no dodgy outfits will supply security guards for those premises? People inside and outside the House, and everyone who wants to use the channel tunnel, must be interested in getting reassuring and honest answers to those questions.
We realise that there are problems about public disclosure of certain security measures and arrangements. However, security is related to safety. When it comes to safety, there is an obligation to disclose, to the public and to those who are interested, what safety arrangements exist. I do not believe that duty of disclosure has been met by Eurotunnel, by the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority or by the Government. There has been far too much secrecy and much of that secrecy has been bad for the tunnel's reputation. It has not protected the reputation of the tunnel. I have always believed in the old but good saying, "Tell the truth and shame the devil." There is also concern, among people who are bothered about such things, about the independence of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority. The authority will have authorised the safety system and it might then supervise it. It will not be keen to point out shortcomings in the system that it has helped bring into being. Information on safety tests has been kept secret. It was extremely foolish of Eurotunnel not to allow television cameras in during the quite proper and deliberate overloading of the electricity circuits when one of the insulators collapsed. The television cameras should have been there to show that a great deal of damage was not caused. I cannot understand why the television cameras were kept out. If what Eurotunnel was saying was true, it would have been better to say that what happened was a minor incident and almost an automatic part of the testing. Instead, Eurotunnel created an aura of secrecy and all sorts of harum-scarum stories have been told and that is to the disadvantage of the company and to all of us who believe that the tunnel should be working safely as soon as possible. As the Minister knows, there has been disquiet all along about the decision that drivers and passengers should travel with their vehicles on the shuttles. There is also still disquiet about the open-sided wagons which are intended to carry lorries. They are not thought to be very safe. I have received expressions of concern from the Fire Brigades Union--the FBU--about aspects of fire safety in the tunnel.
People may say that the FBU has a vested interest, and it does. Members of the FBU will have to enter the tunnel and fight an inferno if one occurs. Everyone else will be running away, but FBU members will be entering the tunnel to try to put things right. The Government should have taken more notice of the Fire Brigades Union than of some alleged safety experts, sitting comfortably in their offices, who will be sitting comfortably there if there is a catastrophe.
At the moment, fire fighting arrangements are to be provided by the Kent fire brigade. As I understand it, it
Column 969would be possible for Eurotunnel to provide its own private fire fighting arrangements under the law as it stands. I do not think that is sound. It would damage the reputation of the tunnel and the Minister should guarantee that the Government will not permit Eurotunnel to use any fire services other than the Kent fire service on this side of the channel and its opposite number in France. We must also consider the arrangements for the control of goods carried through the tunnel. What will happen to hazardous substances? As all hon. Members will be aware, there is no hazchem code in Europe. As that code has been very effective here, what efforts have the Government been taking to extend it to Europe? I hope that the Government are not back-tracking on the code or regarding it as a burden on business. It is a good idea, it adds to safety and it helps business.
I accept that I have referred to safety matters, but they affect security. If the system is intrinsically less safe than it might be, what might have been a relatively minor incident could turn into a catastrophe as a result of some inherently unsafe aspect of the operation of the tunnel.
We do not have enough information to judge the order entirely, partly because safety studies have been kept secret. As I understand it, Eurotunnel has still to present the full safety case to the safety authority. I understand that it has yet to carry out the full dummy runs with live passengers. The safety case cannot be approved by the safety authority until those dummy runs have been carried out to the safety authority's satisfaction.
I am told that similar runs have not yet been carried out in respect of the shuttle. It is getting rather late. If those tests are not carried out in the next few months, it will be very difficult for the authority to stand up and say that it is not satisfied when that might defer for a month or so the opening of the tunnel. Sufficient progress in that regard has not been made.
Recent delays in the commercial use of the tunnel are as yet largely unexplained by Eurotunnel. Whenever something happens and a swift, honest and straightforward explanation is not proffered, that damages the tunnel's reputation. The best way to calm people's fears is to tell the truth and get it out as quickly as possible. I believe, and have always believed, that the channel tunnel should be a great boon to this country, giving us access to the benefits of the European railway network. That would be of advantage to those who want to travel to Europe and to those who want to shift their freight there. If the tunnel is going to work, it is necessary absolutely to convince potential users that it is secure and safe.
I welcome the order, but I am not entirely convinced that it is fully satisfactory. The Minister must, in all honesty, answer several questions to the House and to the people who desperately want to travel through the tunnel and send their goods through it.
Sir Roger Moate (Faversham) : The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) understandably made the point that it is very hard for the Opposition and, indeed, others to judge the adequacy of security and safety arrangements for the tunnel. I underline the hon. Gentleman's comment ; we all have to accept what is being offered to us. The British public and others who will use
Column 970the tunnel must place their faith in the safety arrangements. The order has hon. Members' agreement and support. The Chamber is very quiet--it is almost empty. My right hon. Friend the Minister will have little satisfaction in knowing that if the Government have got it wrong and if anything should go wrong, the Chamber will be very full indeed. A tremendous amount is at stake and there is great public interest in making sure that the Government have got it right. The hon. Gentleman said that he supports the concept of the channel tunnel and that he wishes it success. I am not a supporter of the channel tunnel, but I wish it success. Many years ago, before our first application to join the European Community, somebody said to me :
"What is this ditch that us from France divides? 'Tis but a moat." I wish that a major geological fault had been found in the channel which would have prevented us from even dreaming about the tunnel linking the continent with the United Kingdom. However, the tunnel is built. One of my fundamental objections to it was and remains that the main users will be heavy lorries and many motor cars which will use it as a rolling motorway. That will inflict considerable environmental damage on the county of Kent. The major source of tunnel revenue will be traffic using our roads and that short stretch of tunnel as a rolling motorway.
It is obviously vital to have got safety and security right. I am aware that a tremendous amount of work has been done by the Department of Transport and by authorities in Kent in ensuring that ambulance, fire and police arrangements are adequate. I have the utmost faith that they have got them as right as they possibly can. I have no wish to intrude upon the continuing negotiations to get the arrangements right. Although my constituents and all the people of Kent want to make sure that services are well provided, they want reassurance that the costs of providing such services will be borne fully by the channel tunnel authorities. I would welcome such reassurance from my right hon. Friend on that point.
Another point that is just as important as cost is the capacity of the services to deal with an emergency in the tunnel without overstraining available resources for my constituents and other people in the county. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on that point in particular.
Let us consider, for example, ambulance services. I have no doubt that training will be adequate to cope with emergencies in or at the end of the tunnel, but it would not be acceptable if, in an emergency, many ambulances from the county were suddenly taken away from their normal duties and other emergencies could not be covered. Will my right hon. Friend give a specific assurance to me and to the people of Kent that they will not be deprived of emergency ambulance, police and fire cover in the event of anything going seriously wrong in the tunnel? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will understand the importance of that matter in terms of cost and capacity and that he will reassure us accordingly.
I now raise another small point on which I doubt whether we will be able to have a full and satisfactory answer now. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made a very important point about bomb scares. One hopes that the security arrangements will prevent real security problems, but the biggest problems will be threats. If the authorities are to take a threat seriously, they will have to close the tunnel and the ensuing congestion at either end
Column 971and the chaos would be great. As the hon. Gentleman said, there will be the problem of potty individuals issuing threat after threat. It will require considerable judgment on the part of people in control to decide when such individuals are potty and when they are serious.
My right hon. Friend mentioned penalties for threats and said that life imprisonment could be the maximum sentence. The travelling public need to know a little more about just how the channel tunnel authorities will try to prevent frequent disruption of traffic in the face of such threats. I suspect that the answer is to emphasise the nature of penalties and the steps that will be taken to trace the idiots who make such threats. We must be serious about imposing very tough penalties, because the consequences for the travelling public will be great. Reassurance on that point would be most helpful. My right hon. Friend mentioned that people and cars would be liable to search and that freight could be searched at certain points. Will being liable to search mean that people will be regularly searched? Will there be an automatic search process as is applied when one travels on an aircraft or, indeed, when one enters the Palace of Westminster? Will there be automatic scanning? One hopes that people will not be delayed and subjected to rigorous searches, but it is obvious that there must be some security checks.
This matter is hardly relevant to the order, but I now refer to my right hon. Friend's parliamentary answer on the intensification of noise on existing routes which will be used for freight transport. I certainly welcome progress in helping people on such routes, but, unfortunately, the problem always lies in the small print. Even my right hon. Friend's answer on that point today referred to where new works had taken place. Thank heavens my constituency will not be affected in that way--I hope. Existing routes in my constituency could be affected, but they are not designated as freight routes. I feel strongly that we must not be too legalistic or small -minded. If we are going to make the tunnel work, we have to be fairly generous with compensation arrangements and noise insulation for routes that are affected by intensification of use, but which have not necessarily been created by extensive new works in the legal sense.
My right hon. Friend mentioned 44-tonne vehicles and the order to allow them to travel on roads to the freight terminals. I am very suspicious of that. I voted against an increase in lorry weights and I will do so again. I can understand the argument for 44-tonne vehicles going only to terminals, but I should like to know how tough we will be on restricting routes to freight terminals. I find it difficult to understand, under our system of road transport, how tough we can be in preventing vehicles from using certain routes. Are we satisfied that they will not cross inadequate bridges or that money will be made available to strengthen bridges? I am a great believer in freight routes. Are we to have freight routes and heavy lorry routes and will rules be applied to the 44-tonne vehicles? I fear that could be the thin end of the wedge and that we might see an order increasing lorry weights more generally.
Of course one welcomes the order. One hopes that the channel tunnel will be a transport success. It is vital that we get the security and safety arrangements right. One hopes that this order contains arrangements that will prove entirely satisfactory.
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