HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc436-7
9. Mr. John Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further progress has been made in the planning and negotiations on the Channel Tunnel project; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

The studies now in hand continue to go well, but I do not expect to be in a position to make a statement on the next steps until the first part of next year.

Mr. Hannam

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most firms and industries welcome this project? Could he give the duration of the journey time for an advanced passenger train between London and Paris through the proposed tunnel?

Mr. Walker

I cannot give an exact estimate, but obviously it will be a substantial improvement on the present position and it will be competitive with virtually all other forms of transport.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that we are already very oriented as a nation towards the South-East? Would he bear in mind that the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily the best for Britain's economy? Therefore, will he take into account the fact that by taking the route further west he might lengthen it but that it would not necessarily increase pro rata in cost?

Mr. Walker

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I must point out that the one advantage of this tunnel is that it will be linked with the whole railway system, which will give massive new opportunities to British Rail and will mean that in regard to the movement of freight British Rail will be able to organise a fast nation-wide service.

Mr. Maddan

Could my right hon. Friend say that, while negotiations are still proceeding and everything is not completed, nevertheless in regard to planning in the South-East the effect of the tunnel is being fully taken into account.

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Bradley

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a matter of vital concern for the future of the British Rail workshops at Ashford, and will he prevail upon British Rail management to defer its plans for a run down of manpower pending a final decision on the tunnel?

Mr. Walker

British Rail has considered the whole problem of Ashford, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the possibilities of this tunnel are not only important for Ashford but are of immense importance to the whole railway network.