HC Deb 29 May 1957 vol 571 cc386-9
29. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what was the original estimated cost of the Tyne Tunnel and the estimated cost today.

Mr. Watkinson

The latest estimate for the road tunnel, including its approach roads, is about £12 million. The original estimated cost pre-war for a somewhat smaller tunnel was £2½ million.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of the fact that the estimate has increased since before the war, when the controversy as to tunnel and bridge was under consideration, will my right hon. Friend get into action with the building of the tunnel straight away in order that he may save money and improve our communications? Can he, therefore, give me a starting date and save the revenue?

Mr. Watkinson

That is a fascinating suggestion, and it shows why I was so anxious, if I could, to have a bridge instead of a tunnel, since it would cost a great deal less money.

30. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will ensure that the Tyne Tunnel retains the original priority it had, namely, following the completion of the Dartford Tunnel.

33. Mr. Fernyhough

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, now that he has made the decision to link the two banks of the Tyne by a tunnel, if he will give the approximate date when work on the project will commence.

41 and 42. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (1) when it is expected that work will commence on the construction of the Tyne Tunnel;

(2) why he has decided to consider the construction of the Tyne Tunnel in an order of priority related to other tunnel projects.

Mr. Watkinson

My predecessors gave an undertaking that the Tyne Tunnel would be the next to be authorised after the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel, and I shall do my best to honour that undertaking. It will be a very costly scheme, however, and I cannot say yet when it will be possible to include it in the road programme.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when that pledge was given the suggestion was that we could not start on the Tyne Tunnel until the machinery was available from the Dartford Tunnel? Can he let us know when the machinery will be available so that we may have an idea when we may exercise our pressure to get on with the job?

Mr. Watkinson

I will write to my hon. Friend and will let her know when it will be available.

Mr. Willey

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at this again? Does he not agree that the cost of the shields is a relatively minor part of the total cost, and that there is really no reason why the priority of one tunnel project should depend upon another?

Mr. Watkinson

That is not quite so, because we are now committed in this country to a very large programme of bridge and tunnel building— very much larger than the detractors of the road programme are prepared to accept— and I cannot overload the economy with too many of these large schemes at any one time.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the equivocation by himself and previous Ministers of Transport as to when the Tyne Tunnel shall be commenced is breeding cynicism bordering on despair in the North-East, and will he not give a firm date and make it possible for the local authorities to get on with the work in which they will be involved as and when this project is to be started?

Mr. Watkinson

There has been no equivocation, so I do not think I need say any more in answer to that supplementary question.

Mr. H. Morrison

Has it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that his hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) ought to be more grateful to him for the forthcoming way in which he has handled the matter in comparison with the not so forthcoming way in which he has dealt with the Humber Bridge project, with which I have some association, and have had in the past, a project which will also have to be considered in due course? Ought not the hon. Lady to be more appreciative of the generous way in which her right hon. Friend has met her?

Mr. Watkinson

That is a fair point by the right hon. Gentleman, because he made very powerful representations to me in respect of the Humber crossing, and I had to tell him that I could not see any prospect in the foreseeable future of constructing it.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Might I ask whether a Privy Councillor has any precedence over an ordinary back bench Member in matters of this sort?

Mr. Speaker

In accordance with the practice of the House, when a right hon. Gentleman rises I always call him if I can and if I think he can contribute something to the discussion.