HC Deb 27 January 1971 vol 810 cc525-8
10. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a further statement on the Channel Tunnel.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

I met M. Chamant, the new French Minister of Transport, last week-end and discussed with him the Channel tunnel project and the proposals for its finance and construction put forward by a private international group last July.

Both Governments will now discuss the proposals and possible modifications of them with the group before reaching conclusions. We shall be discussing with the group also how an early start can be made on the further studies which must precede the final decision on the project itself.

Mr. Sheldon

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the White Paper is eight years out of date, it is now about time that the estimates on which it was based were revised, and his own Department has consistently refused to give us information on traffic densities which we know it has? Will he prepare a White Paper setting out the objectives of the new scheme, and will he revise the whole concept of this tunnel link, bearing in mind that the Stanstead project was small by comparison with the expenditure in this case, and will he now look at the matter afresh from the point of view of the environment in the whole of the region concerned?

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman has asked me quite a lot. For most of the period to which he refers, his right hon. Friends were in charge of my Department.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am endeavouring to answer the question. I shall certainly consider the usefulness of another White Paper; I am sure that it will be necessary before very long, and it is just a question of the timing. As regards the stage which we have now reached, what we are embarked upon is the final studies dealing with the feasibility of the project and the economics, which, of course, play an important part in the final decision.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Are the promoters of the scheme still seeking a Treasury guarantee of their investment, or are they prepared to risk their own money?

Mr. Peyton

It is a bit of both, Sir.

Mr. Ogden

Perhaps I should declare my interest as I was one of the two honorary secretaries of the inter-party Parliamentary Group on the Channel Tunnel, in which a fair number of hon. Members are concerned.

Among the galaxy of talent in the Department—eight in all—is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister who will make the decision? Second, is he aware that it seems that the French Government are much more concerned, much more active, much more interested and much more capable in getting the project moving than are his own Government?

Mr. Peyton

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the elegance of his compliments, which are well deserved. The decision on the project itself is for the Government as a whole. It is a very important matter, and one for which I have some responsibility.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

As one of the two joint chairmen of the Parliamentary Channel Tunnel Group to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has referred—which means, I hasten to add, that none of us, as far as I know, has any commercial interest in the scheme—may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, having looked at the traffic projections for the next ten years, he reckons that it is necessary to look urgently at any additional form of transport such as this? Second, after the 14 years since the scheme was first put forward, does not my right hon. Friend now agree that there is need for an urgent decision or at least a statement of intent by the Governments concerned?

Mr. Peyton

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for what he said. I think that we have reached the stage now of embarking on the final studies. I very much hope that those studies will confirm the faith which my hon. Friend has always shown in this important project.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

I welcome that the right hon. Gentleman is to pursue his inquiries with some urgency, but will he not agree that, quite apart from economics, the tunnel will be the only means of crossing the Channel not subject to fog risks, and, incidentally, is it not obvious from the previous studies that it will be the cheapest way of crossing the Channel and that the scheme will be profitable?

Mr. Peyton

I think that I can agree without risk that, if the tunnel were built, it would be a means of crossing the Channel without interruption by fog.

Mr. Costain

The delay in coming to a decision is causing serious inconvenience and unemployment in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that my constituents are most anxious to be assured that this will be a viable link before they will accept what will be some infringement of their privacy?

Mr. Peyton

I am well aware of the degree of hardship which must have been imposed, and is still likely to be imposed, on my hon. Friend's constituents. He has never hesitated to make these points very clear to me. I shall bear their problems closely in mind.