HC Deb 27 February 1882 vol 266 cc1697-9

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether Her Majesty's Government will provide against the risks attending detached works of defence, as well as the expense of their construction, by requiring that the English mouth of the proposed Cannel Tunnel shall be within the effective range of the guns of the existing fortifications at Dover; and, whether he will lay upon the Table of the House a copy of any conditions or restrictions which he, or his predecessors, may have imposed upon the "Channel Tunnel Company" as required by the Act of 1875, c. 190, and the Act of 1881, c. 195, which provide that no experimental operations shall be commenced without the previous consent in writing of the Board of Trade?


Sir, with regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, I may remind him that some few days ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War informed the House that it was his intention to appoint a Scientific Committee—which, I am informed, he has since appointed—to consider the military, chemical, and engineering questions involved in the proposal to render the Channel Tunnel absolutely useless to an enemy in the time of war, or apprehended war. As soon as the Government obtain the Report of that Committee they will then proceed to consider, with the assistance of military advisers, the wider military questions involved, and will then, no doubt, be in a position to advise the House of Commons on the subject. With regard to the second part of the Question, I have to point out that there are two Acts of Parliament on the subject to which the hon. Gentleman refers, having reference to different undertakings. The Act of 1875 constituted the Channel Tunnel Company, and contained a provision such as that which he has quoted; but the experimental operations have never been commenced by that Company, and their compulsory powers having lapsed, they are now before the House with other proposals. Under these circumstances, the Board of Trade is not called on to interfere. In regard to the Act of 1881, that was the rival undertaking of the South-Eastern Railway, and does not contain any provision giving the Board of Trade power to interfere with experimental operations; but it does contain the usual condition making the assent of the Board of Trade necessary for any dealing with the foreshores under their management. A legal ques- tion has arisen as to whether the foreshore is in the management of the Board of Trade. The South-Eastern Railway Company contend that they have purchased it from the owner, and are claiming adversely to the Crown. I intend to consult the Law Officers of the Crown on the point. At the present time the workings of the Channel Tunnel have not gone below low-water mark. If they proceed to the three-mile territorial limit there is no doubt the Crown would have the right to interfere if it was thought necessary to do so.


asked, whether the right hon. Gentleman would now state the constitution of the Scientific Committee?


said, he might be allowed to reply, so far as he could, to the Question. He could not give the names of the gentlemen appointed; but he might say that the Committee consisted of three Royal Engineers, two Artillerists, and two Civil Engineers—gentlemen of great eminence in connection with explosives—under the chairmanship of Sir Archibald Alison.


said, he would ask for the names to-morrow.