Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
MP, and MR PETER
120. At the moment, the tax payer is paying
Eurotunnel for slots that are not being used by freight trains?
(Mr Spellar) No. At the moment they are paying a minimum
usage charge and therefore if those slots, for whatever reason,
are not being used they are still being paid for. They would be,
whether those are being used by trains or not.
121. Nonetheless it is the case that there are
empty slots being paid for by the tax payer which cannot be used
because of the hiatus.
(Mr Spellar) That is a slightly different issue to
the impact that this is having on the freight business.
122. What assessment have you made of the current
problems on the growth patterns in freight and rail set out in
the 10 year plan? Is that going to retard progress?
(Mr Spellar) Not a great deal because in terms of
volume the international rail freight business is a small though
important part of the freight business. It is however very important
as part of the Europe-wide policy of ourselves and other members
of the Community in order to shift freight from road to rail.
We do not under-estimate the significance and the importance therefore
of getting the system back and running, but in terms of the volumes
that we are looking at carrying this is a small part of that.
123. Are you confident that, when this is over,
if it ends in the near future, the freight transfer from rail
to road which has taken place can be reversed?
(Mr Spellar) That can be the case but I would not
anticipate that that could happen too quickly because a number
of companies where they have had to shift back to road will of
course have had to sign contracts for a period of time in order
to make that worthwhile for road hauliers. Again, I do not under-estimate
the importance of the difficulties that have been created.
124. Basically, the longer this goes on, the
more it will add to the congestion problems in and around London?
(Mr Spellar) Not necessarily in and around London
but particularly on the roads leading into Dover which is a significant
125. Those lorries come up via the M25 and predominantly
they will be going different ways around some of the most congested
parts of the country.
(Mr Spellar) Yes.
126. Frankly, this ought to have been for a
very long time a very urgent priority.
(Mr Spellar) It has been a very urgent priority from
127. It does not feel like it, observing from
outside. The impression those of us outside have had is that this
has been a slow, long, labourious process and very little progress
has yet been made.
(Mr Spellar) It has been a slow and long process.
British ministers from a whole range of departments, including
the Prime Minister, have been regularly raising this issue with
their French counterparts in order to get a remedy. I am pleased
to see that the physical construction is now taking place. It
would have been preferable had it taken place earlier but I would
remind you that this is on French sovereign soil and therefore
our scope is to persuade and encourage.
128. One suspects if the boot had been on the
other foot things might have happened rather quicker, but that
is another story.
(Mr Spellar) I am not aware that we can take unilateral
action on other countries' sovereign soil.
129. How does the imaging equipment that you
referred to earlier work?
(Mr Spellar) There are various types of equipment
that we are looking at. There is thermal imaging equipment which
is capable of detecting clandestine entrants in soft sided vehicles
and wagons. There are also acoustic detectors capable of detecting
vibration on trucks, set up in the chassis of a lorry, by the
beating of a human heart. Carbon dioxide detectors detect the
traces of CO2 exhaled by clandestine entrants. Again, those are
only effective with soft sided rail wagons.
130. How soon are they going to be in place?
(Mr Spellar) Discussions are taking place with SNCF
as to how and where those could be located.
(Mr Thomas) The expertise on all this equipment, which
is very much state of the art, lies with the Home Office and the
Home Office have been in discussion initially. They have some
of this equipment already at Coquelles and Dover.
131. Have you a clue how practical it is to
use this equipment? If you are doing one lorry, you can do the
one lorry and it can move on. If you are doing a freight train,
how long does it take to do the freight train effectively?
(Mr Thomas) I do not know. I expect the equipment
would probably be used not to test every single wagon. It would
only test the soft sided ones, not steel containers. As I understand
it, it can operate as the vehicle moves past it or as the train
moves past it.
132. You do not think it is going to slow trains
(Mr Thomas) It has not ever been used on a train.
I am speculating but I imagine that it would be used, for example,
as the train entered the yard slowly. This is very new equipment
and nobody has ever used it to check a train.
133. It is a bit hopeful?
(Mr Thomas) Exactly how it is going to be used is
beyond the wit of us.
134. One of the problems at Fréthun is
that trains spend too long there. If you want to speed it up,
I am not quite sure how this equipment is going to speed the process
up rather than slow it down and make the trains more vulnerable
at that depot. You have referred to gangs on several occasions.
What success are we having at prosecuting the gangs in this country
when they are collecting money from the people who have already
(Mr Spellar) You would have to ask the Home Office
about their overall success rate with regard to that.
135. Would it not be something that the government
ought to be publicising, because if we were having a success rate
it might deter some people from trying to get in in the first
place, might it not?
(Mr Spellar) Yes, although if those who were coming
in as economic migrants had their claims dealt with rapidly and
they were removed rapidly that would also be a deterrent.
136. If they were dealt with rapidly?
(Mr Spellar) And if they were removed rapidly.
137. Is getting EWS back on the rails as far
as this is concerned going to be trying to get compensation from
the French government or is it going to be extra assistance in
some way from the UK in order to make it viable and to encourage
more people to get back on to rail freight?
(Mr Spellar) In the first instance, any claim would
be with the French government and the industry is looking at the
options in that regard.
138. Are you helping them with those claims?
(Mr Spellar) We will certainly be prepared to provide
assistance on any information for them.
139. I know that there is still one question
that Miss McIntosh wants to ask you but what is it you really
think that you have agreed with the French government? I am not
very bright. Be patient with me. What have you agreed? Have you
agreed that SNCF and the French government will be responsible
not only for more physical constraints but also for an increased
police presence and, according to the word you have used, a consistent
police presence? Is that agreed?
(Mr Spellar) Yes. That is our understanding.