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The BBC's Paul Anstiss
"The rail freight group say the plan is unfair"
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Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 09:09 GMT
Stowaway fines 'could ruin us'
Channel Tunnel train
UK rail freight operators oppose the fines proposal
Rail freight operators on the Channel Tunnel say government plans to impose fines for carrying illegal immigrants could put them out of business.

They want ministers to delay introducing penalties until agreement is reached with the French authorities on their immigrant controls.

The Home Office has sought consultation on moves to fine UK operators 2,000 each for allowing illegal immigrants into the UK in freight trains.

There is a serious risk that the service could close as a result of these new measures

Lord Berkeley
RFG chairman
Ferry operator P&O Stena Line has been employing security guards at Calais since early December to check vehicles boarding its Dover-bound vessels for illegal immigrants.

It has been fined 100,000 in the past eight months because of stowaways.

It is estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 asylum seekers try to enter the UK each month.

Rail Freight Group (RFG) chairman Lord Berkeley criticised Home Office plans to extend fines to the Channel Tunnel, and he said: "There is a serious risk that the service could close as a result of these new measures."

The RFG has told the Home Office that French railway company SNCF has not agreed to participate in such a scheme.

Lord Berkeley said: "The government is pushing forward with plans to fine UK train operators for something over which they have no control.

"Checks have to be done in France, and the only land available for rail freight there is controlled by SNCF.

Mother and baby found stowed away in Calais
A baby and her mother found by authorities in a lorry check
"For road, the ferry and Tunnel operators do have land where these checks can be done."

He estimates that rail freight company EWS would have been fined around 5 million last year had the proposed curbs been implemented.

Lord Berkeley said: "The government, having failed to engage the French authorities and SNCF in meaningful discussions, is seeking to fine UK train operators for its own failure.

"How can it expect UK commercial companies to take action where the government has itself failed?"

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19 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Panorama exposes immigrant racket
27 Jun 00 | Europe
Illegal immigrants: UK overview
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