HC Deb 31 March 1971 vol 814 cc1473-4

Monsieur Jean Chament, French Minister of Transport, visited London yesterday for talks on the Channel Tunnel with Mr. John Peyton, Minister for Transport Industries.

The talks were held at Lancaster House, where M. Chament and the French Ambassador, Baron de Courcel were entertained at lunch and where the two Ministers later held a joint meeting with British and French representatives of the international private group which in 1970 submitted proposals to the two governments for the finance and construction of a rail Channel Tunnel.

A list of current membership of the private group is beneath.

The two Ministers have since announced that they have chosen the Group for the further pursuit of the project and that the next phase is to begin at once.

The two Ministers and the Group have agreed the Heads of Terms on which the completion of final studies and preliminary works will be undertaken, and the basis for negotiating the terms on which the Tunnel could subsequently be built and operated.

The Tunnel would be financed partly from private risk-capital (10–30 per cent.) and partly by government-guaranteed debt. Private-sector Companies set up by the Group in Britain and France would arrange the finance and construction, hand over the completed Tunnel to the operating authority and be remunerated from its revenues. The Companies would receive a share of profits and a degree of control over the commercial policy of the tunnel related to the degree of risk they assumed, subject always to a sufficient degree of public control to safeguard the public interest.

For the meantime, the Group have agreed to make an immediate start, at their own expense, on the first phase of these final studies, lasting one year. The two governments would buy these studies from the Group, at cost, if, for any reason, the Governments and the Group should be unable to enter into a formal agreement covering the next stage of the project.

On present estimates the final decision to build the Tunnel would be taken in 1973, with the Tunnel coming into service in 1978.