Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. The Home Office might take the lead but do you not feel as the Minister responsible for transport, where there are serious issues, that you ought to at least have the opportunity of offering an opinion?
  (Mr Spellar) We are kept informed of what other departments do. If we felt that we had an input to make, we would make it but it is very much which department is in the lead on which area under the collective responsibility.


  101. Can I understand you very precisely? Are you suggesting that there are two parallel sets of talks being held at the present time, one with the Minister for Transport talking to the SNCF and to the Minister of Transport?
  (Mr Spellar) Yes.

  102. And the second parallel series of meetings being held between the Home Office and the Minister of the Interior. There is no joint working with both departments being represented on the committee at the same time, talking to the French government at a senior level. Is that what you are telling us?
  (Mr Spellar) I am saying we have had meetings with the Transport Ministry and the Home Office have had meetings with the Interior Ministry.

  103. You are saying that, yes, that is the situation. There are two parallel sets of meetings?
  (Mr Spellar) We keep in close touch with each other as to what is happening on that.

  104. Except that you are saying that some of the aspects of these discussions must only be a matter for the lead department.
  (Mr Spellar) No. The question I was asked was who took the lead on these policy issues and the answer is it is the Home Office who rightly take the lead.

  105. Do you have any joint meetings between the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport in France and the Ministry of the Interior in France?
  (Mr Spellar) We have not had that at ministerial level. There will have been such meetings at official level.

  106. Mr Thomas, are you aware of any meeting at official level which has addressed this joint need for a package of various measures in order to have some effect on the movement of clandestine traffic?
  (Mr Thomas) There has not been a meeting which has gone into the details of all the individual matters on the agenda.

  107. We have had a broad brush meeting, have we?
  (Mr Thomas) I have led a UK delegation to a meeting in Paris at which I helped with members from the Home Office. Similarly in Brussels.

Andrew Bennett

  108. What does this Anglo-French Cross Channel Commission do?
  (Mr Spellar) That is a quite different body to do with the management of Eurotunnel. It is the formal body for dealing with that.
  (Mr Thomas) There is the Intergovernmental Commission which is the Channel Tunnel body which represents the two governments dealing with the concession in Eurotunnel.


  109. That was set up under the original Bill and that is not something that we want to concern ourselves with, for the moment.
  (Mr Thomas) There is the Cross-Channel Commission, set up largely at official level, on which the Cabinet Office leads.
  (Mr Spellar) They are responsible for security.
  (Mr Thomas) It looks at issues which come up on the border between the two countries. It has certainly been involved in this subject. It was in that context that I led a delegation to Paris. That was in the context of the Cross-Channel Commission which has set up a sub-group on this matter. It only met once. We pressed the French to have some additional meetings. They were not ready to at that time and in the meantime work has progressed without that body having to meet.

Andrew Bennett

  110. We have three sets of government departments involved in this. We have the Cabinet Office looking at overall security issues; we have the Department of Transport looking at trying to improve the number of trains that move freight from road onto rail and then we have the Home Office looking at the immigration and asylum issues. Is that right?
  (Mr Spellar) Pretty much so, yes.

  111. Have you not been able to impress on the other departments how far their failure to solve this problem is absolutely sabotaging one of your key departmental interests?
  (Mr Spellar) I do not think it is fair, if we are talking about the domestic, British departments, to say that it is their failure to solve this problem. They have been pressing their French counterparts extremely hard in order to try and speed up the process and to ensure that there is a resolution. Fortunately, we are now seeing some progress in that direction, particularly on the physical structure. That has to be matched by the provision of police forces in order to be able to police and enforce the restrictions that we hope will be in place shortly.

Mrs Ellman

  112. I did not ask you if you were taking the lead on Home Office matters; I asked if you had been consulted and you said no. You gave the impression that you did not see why you should have been.
  (Mr Spellar) Informed, yes, but I do not see that we would necessarily be part of the decision making process on that.

  113. You do not think you should be consulted?
  (Mr Spellar) No. The lead department on asylum and migration issues is the Home Office but it is important that within those discussions that we are having with our French counterparts we are aware of progress that is being made or otherwise with their French counterparts.

  114. Does that mean that you might find out through discussions with French counterparts things that the British government is doing that the Home Office does not tell you about?
  (Mr Spellar) No, it does not. It means that there is full exchange of information so that we are fully aware of the developments that are taking place on the asylum and migration side of government, but that the lead, obviously and rightly, is taken by the Home Office.

  115. Who do you think is responsible for impeding the free flow of trade and goods through the Channel Tunnel because of this problem?
  (Mr Spellar) The problem is quite simply the organised criminal gangs who are bringing large numbers of clandestine migrants in who are seeking to enter the United Kingdom as illegal migrants and who are then looking at whichever part of the system at any time looks most suitable for getting into the United Kingdom. Previously, that had been the road haulage sector. As we clamped down on that, rail became more attractive. As Eurotunnel put very effective barriers round their terminal, the freight terminal became more attractive. The prime responsibility lies with the organised criminals who are bringing large numbers of desperate people to northern France in order to get access to the UK.

  116. What responsibility would you say the French government and your Department and indeed the British government have in trying to deal with this problem?
  (Mr Spellar) The next stage self-evidently was to provide protection at the freight terminal at Fréthun. It would have been preferable had those physical restrictions been put in earlier, as we had been promised that they would be. However, it is fair to say that now construction is moving on apace in order to provide that protection, but that does need to be backed up with a very strong, effective police presence as well.

  117. What could the French authorities do better?
  (Mr Spellar) The French authorities could have built the sort of physical protection before that they are building now. They could have put in a more sustained police presence, because it has not just been the level of police presence but also the variability.


  118. Variability of numbers, quality or status?
  (Mr Spellar) Variability of numbers in particular. While it was understandable during the French presidential election that there was some diversion of police forces, that did have an unfavourable effect on the situation at the freight depot.

Chris Grayling

  119. Minister, can I ask you about the cost of the slots in the Channel Tunnel itself while this hiatus is taking place? I assume that there are long term contractual arrangements in place for the picking of slots within the Channel Tunnel. As far as you are aware, who is paying the bill for that at the moment?
  (Mr Spellar) It is a slightly different position, is it not, in that there is already a payment to Eurotunnel. I have forgotten when that agreement expires.
  (Mr Thomas) The current arrangement, which was a commercial arrangement entered into by British Railways Board and SNCF, was part of the finance for the construction of the Tunnel. It was that British Railways Board and SNCF would pay minimum usage charges for the first so many years of opening. As part of the deal for the sale of what was BR's international rail freight section to EWS, the SRA agreed to continue paying their share of the rail freight charge. When the BR international rail freight business was sold to EWS, part of the sale deal was that British Railways Board would continue to pay the Channel access charge, this minimum usage charge, until April 2005, I think, but I stand to be corrected on that date. Should the amount of rail freight exceed that minimum amount by that time, EWS would have to start paying the addition, but I do not think there is any expectation on anybody's part that it will.

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