HC Deb 15 June 1973 vol 857 cc1867-971

11.5 a.m.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

I welcome this debate as an opportunity to learn something about a project which could well be described as both ancient and modern. It is not the intention of the Government either to announce a decision today or to ask the House to make one by implication. Indeed, more time is required by the Government as well as by Parliament and the public to consider all the information which has recently been made available.

I hope the House will forgive me if, in addition to making a rather long speech this morning, I trespass upon its indulgence and ask leave to speak twice in the debate in the event of a reply being necessary, when I would take the opportunity of answering any points of importance raised in the debate.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should put it in terms of whether a reply is necessary. Most hon. Members will be terribly disappointed if someone on behalf of the Government does not reply to the many valid points which I am sure will be made.

Mr. Peyton

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am always ready to oblige him but terrified of boring him.

I do not have to remind the House that the idea of a tunnel under the Channel has been considered for 170 years. During that time both the needs which it would be designed to meet and the methods of its construction have been revolutionised. The idea may be an old one, but it is nonetheless a possible answer to a pressing modern problem.

The Government recently published a Green Paper setting out some of the background facts in a modest attempt to assist subsequent consideration of the results of the studies. These results are now to hand. The British Channel Tunnel Company published on 15th May a resumè of the results of the joint economic studies undertaken by the consultants, Coopers and Lybrand Associates Ltd., in collaboration on the French side with SETEC/Economie. The companies have now published a fuller version of the consultants' conclusions, which has been placed in the Vote Office.

By the end of the month the company will make available the main technical and engineering appendices. These will form a document of very great size and one which I expect only a few people will be keen to read from cover to cover, but copies will be placed in the Library. Broadly speaking, the studies show the project as being feasible from a geological and engineering point of view and sound from a financial one.

The same consultants have submitted to me their conclusions on the transport cost-benefit study which they carried out at my request. Copies were made available in the Vote Office on Wednesday. The report will be published next week.

The report commissioned jointly by the Government and local authorities from Economic Consultants Limited on the impact, economic and social, which the tunnel could be expected to have upon Kent was published on 21st May.

Finally, I received at the end of last week the group's proposals for the financing of the project. These must be a matter for negotiation on which the House will not expect me to go into detail now, but I take the opportunity of saying that I am well aware of the need to ensure that the final arrangements are acceptable to the House. This completes the mass of material on the basis of which we must proceed to a decision whether or not to build a bored rail tunnel.

Alternatives have, of course, been considered. I should remind the House that in 1963 the then Government took a decision, which was endorsed by their successors, to investigate the feasibility and viability of a rail tunnel under the Channel. While I do not rule out for all time the possibility of a bridge, I am advised that its cost would be more than double that of a tunnel. It would, even if a rail bridge were included, pose serious problems for roads in Kent since there would be less encouragement to use rail. There would be serious navigational hazards in the Channel, and the absence of international agreement or any fully worked out proposal would involve postponement to a much more distant future.

Another possibility is that of an immersed rail tube, but I cannot think that this would have any very obvious advantages over a bored tunnel. Moreover, the problems of feasibility, cost, navigation hazards during construction and the need for extensive international negotiations could not easily or quickly be overcome.

The remaining alternative is that we go on as we are and continue to rely on and develop the existing means of cross-channel transport by sea and air. This would involve very considerable and continuing expenditure upon ships, port facilities, airfields and roads. The United Kingdom cost-benefit study has involved the comparison of two possible future cross-channel transport systems: one with a tunnel and all that goes with it, including a high-quality rail link to London; the other relying entirely on the development of sea and air transport.

The tunnel emerges from this comparison as a sound economic proposition, which will be cheaper in the long run. While the tunnel would involve large capital expenditure between now and 1980, thereafter it could carry increasing levels of traffic at low operating costs and with little new investment or renewals required. The investment in other facilities required if the tunnel were not built would initially be smaller, but higher operating costs and the need for replacement investment would outweigh this. Moreover, the tunnel would provide additional benefits to users through greater frequency and quicker journeys.

To build the tunnel as now proposed would cost in 1973 prices £468 million, or, if allowance is made for both inflation and interest charges, about £846 million, both figures, of course, shared between the two countries. The money would be raised privately. There would, therefore, be no additional burden on the National Loans Fund. But the fact that the bulk of it would be raised with the backing of a Government guarantee puts the project very much into the public sector and means that the Government would have a lively interest in securing an adequate rate of return. We shall need to have in mind that, while the venture is not one involving the hazards of a new technology, there are very real risks attached to it.

There would be virtually no additional expenditure on roads, but we should face the very real problem of a rail connection between the Channel and London. The choice would lie between squeezing the new traffic into the present system and providing, at a cost of about £120 million, a new high-quality rail link. The most practicable scheme would appear to be a route via Ashford, Tonbridge, Eden-bridge and South Croydon to the White City, with perhaps some passenger traffic going to Victoria. If that route were chosen, it would run mainly on or alongside existing tracks or in deep tunnel.

From the transport angle, the tunnel would provide British Rail with a new opportunity for developing both through-passenger services to the Continent and, for the first time, the prospect of long freight hauls. It might do something also to relieve the roads of several million tons of goods.

It might be appropriate if I now gave the House some figures for the growth of traffic, actual and expected. Over the past decade the number of passengers crossing the Channel to and from countries which might be served by the tunnel has grown by an average of over 10 per cent. a year. The number of accompanied vehicles has increased from 470,000 to over 1½ million. Freight, too, has grown substantially. In particular, the number of containers and roll-on/roll-off lorries is most striking. Much of this traffic has gone via the ports of south-east Kent. Indeed, perhaps the most startling fact of all is the 43 per cent. increase in lorries passing through Dover alone last year. It is expected that traffic will continue to increase, though perhaps more slowly, and in particular that the number of accompanied cars will by 1980 be double what it was in 1972 and that it will double again by 1990.

This traffic will not go away. It must, in the absence of some very Draconian restrictive policies, be catered for.

I come now to the question which, I know, will be of the utmost concern to the House and to all who have some anxiety that the tide of ugliness which so often threatens to engulf modern life should not roll unchecked over a very beautiful part of England. I start by expressing my appreciation of the way in which the Kent County Council and the other local authorities concerned have refrained from headlong judgments and have been prepared to wait until such time as it was possible to judge how the county of Kent and some of its hard-pressed towns would best be served.

I should like, if the House will permit me to digress, to express my especial indebtedness to hon. Friends who represent Kent constituencies, who have been assiduous in reminding me of the concern, interest and worries of their constituents and have given me much helpful advice. I refer very particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees), in whose constituencies the effects would be felt most. I am well aware of the anxieties felt in those places. I have visited the area myself on a number of occasions and am ready to do so again at any time when it might be helpful.

The study of the economic and social impact on Kent has presented a reasonably reassuring conclusion. While I have no wish to ignore the temporary problems which would arise in Dover in 1980–81, with seven years to plan it should be possible to keep those problems to a minimum. It is reassuring to note that, while new jobs off-setting those lost will be generated, the additional pressures on the area are likely to be small in relation to those arising from development planned for the area with or without the tunnel

The study is also reassuring in suggesting that the tunnel would not attract to Kent substantial employment which might have gone to the assisted regions. We are nevertheless considering very carefully whether there is any risk of adverse effects on the more remote regions which might offset the benefit to them of the availability of through rail services to Continental markets.

I hope that I may be forgiven if I prolong my remarks so as to make brief reference to further points of some importance—the eventual operation, the possible abandonment, what it is we now have to decide, the legislative requirement which would follow upon a decision to go ahead with the next stage and the possible timing.

The tunnel would on completion be handed over to an Anglo-French operating authority answerable to the two Governments which would appoint the members. While the details remain to be worked out, we have reached agreement in principle with the French as to how such a body should be set up.

We would not wish to find ourselves in a situation where, regardless of even the most fundamental change in circumstances, we would be under an obligation to complete. Under the existing agreements it is open to any of the parties to get out at any time. There are moreover, specific break points now, and in 1975, by which time some preliminary work costing between £20 million and £30 million will have been carried out.

The financial consequences of an abandonment as between the companies and the Governments would depend on the precise circumstances of the abandonment, but in any circumstances any costs which fell on the Governments would be shared 50:50 between Britain and France.

The next stage of the project which is the subject of the decision we now face is the expenditure of some £28 million on what would be the end of the preparations. But it would, of course, be one which would carry us out of the purely exploratory field and bring us measurably nearer the final stage of construction, which could start in 1975.

The legislative requirements would be first a relatively short Money Bill and thereafter a major Hybrid Bill covering both land and works powers needed for construction and the main financial and operating arrangements. Such a measure would be needed before the main finance could be raised or the principal construction work started.

I will now say one word about timing. The Government have not yet reached a decision. We are now considering all the information which has emerged and been published. We still have some outstanding points to settle, in particular the terms on which the money would be raised. We also want to take account of the views of Parliament which are expressed in this debate and the views of those directly concerned and affected and of the public as a whole.

While, therefore, there is no question of asking tile House for a decision at the moment, we have to recognise that this is a major project with four partners involved all of whom have devoted effort and resources to the venture. Moreover, the project managers, Rio Tinto Zinc in Britain and SITUMER in France, have collected together men and equipment and applied them to this particular project. The choice before us which we shall have to make is either to go ahead or to abandon. We cannot opt for cold storage.

It is possible under the agreement to put off signing until 15th November. If the Government's decision were affirmative we would announce it and introduce a Bill before the Summer Recess.

I have sought to deal with what seem to be some of the more important issues in this immense project. I realise that there is concern and anxiety that this decision should not be taken without due consideration and careful regard to all the interests concerned. I am sure that I am justified in saying that in forming a judgment and in coming to a decision we will have in mind the broader interests of our country.

11.26 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

The House greatly appreciated the tone of the Minister for Transport Industries, until right at the end of his speech. We greatly welcome the fact that he apparently has no intention of railroading a decision through the House. The Government have not made up their mind, he said. He referred to the desire to listen to the views of the House. But I feel strongly, as I am sure most of my hon. Friends do, that the implication of that is that we should not take a decision by 31st July but should take advantage of what is perfectly proper and legal and postpone the decision at least until 15th November.

On Wednesday when we debated Maplin I adopted a rather dogmatic tone because, rightly or wrongly, my mind is made up on that subject. Today I will adopt a quite different tone because I find on this matter that I am not at the moment able to make a final judgment, nor do I think that any person has the information upon which to base a final judgment. I started out, as I think a lot of us did, as an instinctive sceptic, tending to align this project with Maplin and Concorde and other grandiose investment projects almost all of which were designed for the wrong part of the country.

In the light of the evidence that has gradually come forward, I find that I have moved to a more favourable position. I am, perhaps, halfway along the road to Damascus. The trouble is that I still lack a blinding light. All I seem to have is a series of intermittent flashes, and they are not quite enough for the final conversion. I do not see how we can possibly take a decision in the next few weeks, because we still lack sufficient evidence to enable us to do so.

It will be generally agreed that the Green Paper was not the most intellectually high-powered document that has ever been presented to the House. It listed 22 further studies that were promised us, of which by my calculations only five have been delivered. We have had two critical reports coming out respectively on Monday and Wednesday of this week. For those of us involved in the Maplin debate, it has been almost impossible adequately to digest these substantial reports. There cannot be any question, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, of any quick or final decision. Therefore, everything I say will be of a highly tentative nature and generally in the form of questions.

Let us see where we can get on the information we have had so far. First, is it a good commercial investment for the two Governments and the shareholders? I believe that the statement of 15th May and the subsequent economic and financial studies, published on Monday, make a strong prima facie case for saying that the project is commercially viable, with net profits of £26 million in 1981 and £163 million in 1991. The assumptions about revenue appear, on the face of it, to be reasonable. There is merit in the so-called "known technology" argument that we are not dealing with something in the world of the unknown, such as the development of Concorde. Therefore, there appears to be the chance of a reasonable rate of return looked at in commercial terms and the project should be able to stand on its own feet commercially.

But that does not prove the case for the tunnel because the calculations are purely internal calculations on costs and revenue. They take no account of the full external effects on rail, road, shipping, and the airlines. After all, as the Minister rightly said, we are considering what is the most economic method of conveying across the Channel the huge and certain prospective increase in traffic. Is a tunnel the most economic method, or would it be cheaper to expand existing modes of transport, such as the ships, the airlines, hovercraft, and so on? I confess that for a long time I thought that concentrating on the existing modes would almost certainly be cheaper and offer a better rate of return.

However, since Wednesday we have had, though we have not been able to study it in detail, the cost-benefit study comparing the relative costs and benefits of proceeding with or without the tunnel. On a quick reading, I find the conclusions hard to rebut. They take into account all transport costs and benefits. They show that there would be considerable costs for the southern ports and shipping. Hovercraft would probably be eliminated altogether. There would be a cost to the airlines. Incidentally, the Minister has been wise to keep out of the Maplin debate, but it would be interesting to have his views, when he winds up the debate, on the implications of these figures for Maplin, because they show a slower rate of increase in cross-channel traffic than has been shown in any previous study or was assumed in the Civil Aviation Authority's Report.

There will, however, be more than offsetting gains in terms of passenger time and convenience, advantages to rail transport, and so on. The conclusion is that we would have an overall rate of return on a cost-benefit basis of 17½ per cent. We cannot take the study as final because so far it has simply been placed in the Library; it has not been published. We therefore still await the technical and detailed comments on it of such bodies as the Chamber of Shipping and other interested parties.

Mr. Peyton

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said. The study will be published early next week. It was rushed through solely out of a desire to get it into the hands of hon. Members before this debate.

Mr. Crosland

I was not criticising the Minister, but, when it is published, we must await detailed and technical comments.

So there is a prima facie economic case made out in transport terms, and if this were a conventional nationalised industry project it would show such a rate of return that it would go ahead with general good will on all sides.

Yet—but, but, but. I still have a certain suspicion. Perhaps it is only an instinct. Concorde and Maplin have probably gone deep into the consciousness of many of us. The tunnel project seems, at first sight, to be another concentration of resources in the South-East, which is the last place where we want it. There are severe worries about the environment and grave anxieties on behalf of Kent, in particular. The benefits, although they are real, nevertheless have a slightly trivial air about them. We are discussing mainly faster tourist traffic to the Continent, which no doubt we would like but which would not come very high in our list of national priorities.

The crucial question which we must ask is: are there any non-economic factors to be put into the balance? What are the wider social considerations which cannot be fully taken into account in any cost-benefit study? I wish to discuss one or two of those, although not at length.

First, and most obviously, there is the effect on the Kent environment, about which we shall listen with the closest attention to Kent Members who speak today. To the layman not coming from Kent there seems to be one obvious "pro", which is that with the tunnel Dover in particular and Folkestone to a lesser extent will be saved from a massive growth of car and lorry traffic involving at some point, as it certainly must, driving a motorway through both towns, with massive destruction of housing and the environment.

There is one obvious "con" argument; namely, the environmental cost of building the terminal and the environmental cost in particular to villages lying in the Cheriton area.

Then there is possibly the most important question of all—the effect on the rest of Kent of road traffic through Kent to the main terminal. A great deal of alarm has been expressed on this point. However, there seems no reason to suppose that there will be a large increase in road traffic going through Kent, for these reasons. Road traffic presumably is divided into three elements. On the one hand, there is the unaccompanied traffic—the foot passenger, as it were, the independent passenger, who does not go through Kent anyway, but starts from Heathrow or Victoria. When the Channel Tunnel is built, if it is built, he will still start from Victoria, White City, or wherever it may be.

It is hard to see that there can be much difference overall in the volume of accompanied car traffic because the bulk of it will drive through Kent anyway, whether we have a Channel Tunnel or not—either, without the tunnel, to Dover and Folkestone, or, with the tunnel, to Cheriton. The only increase in accompanied car traffic will be that amount of the traffic diverted from Southampton, Harwich and other ports. Figures are available for the amount of traffic likely to be diverted from other ports, which will, therefore, represent a net addition to the traffic going through Kent, but I have not had time to trace them.

Presumably there will be some gain in respect of commercial freight going by heavy lorries, which is the crux of the Kent environmental argument, because there will be some transfer of freight from road to rail.

It therefore seems to me, although I shall listen to more authoritative statements, that these factors broadly balance out. On the one hand, there would be a diversion of accompanied car traffic from other ports; on the other hand, there would be, we hope, a general transfer of freight from road to rail. As a result, no substantial difference should be made to the amount of traffic going through Kent. However, this is a matter on which we must have more information and confirmation. If anyone says that I am wrong, I shall be delighted to be corrected later.

The next environmental question is the wider question of the shift which we can expect generally from road to rail as a result of building the tunnel. It has been argued that this will galvanise the whole railway system in Britain by providing long, through passenger trains, encouraging container trains, and so on. I start as a strong instinctive pro-rail man, but here we move into the grey area of almost complete uncertainty and to a considerable extent we are discussing Hamlet without the Prince.

What we are considering is a project to get people and freight from Calais to Kent, but British Rail has proposed massive increased investment to get them from Kent to London and from London to Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and the rest of the country. Therefore, British Rail wants a new Ashford-South Croydon line, a new expensive London terminal and accompanying investment in rolling stock, marshalling yards, and so on.

The consultants have proceeded on the basis that the investment will be made, and, plainly, it is the sensible basis on which to proceed. Without it, we shall have no straight-through passenger services because Continental rail systems will be incompatible in respect of the loading gauge and methods of electrification. Without the investment, we are less likely to have advanced passenger trains, and without them the tunnel's potential take of inter-city passengers from air is much reduced; in other words, we would lose a major environmental advantage.

Without the investment, Southern Rail will have serious capacity problems near London during peak hours. It will have great difficulty in fitting in both commuter trains and services from the tunnel. Without the investment there can be no development of straight-through long-haul freight, and commercial users of the tunnel will be tempted to trans-ship into lorries at Cheriton once the crossing has been made. This would be, presumably, the biggest environmental disaster that could occur in the Kent area. It is the crux of the environmental argument. The case for this high rail investment strategy is therefore prima facie overwhelming.

But there are many unanswered questions. The Minister said that the cost was £120 million, but other figures of £140 million and nearly £160 million have been given. This cost is not included in the £846 million. The cost plays no part in any of the studies that have been done for British Channel Tunnel Company Ltd., neither the economic and financial studies nor the previous study of 15th May. But it plays an important part in the cost-benefit study.

There is a great deal that we do not know about the cost. We do not know precisely how it is made up. We have had no detailed statement from British Rail of precisely what it proposes and, therefore, by definition, no evaluation by the Minister or the Government of the precise rail investment involved.

We do not know, for example, about the London terminal. There has been much discussion about the Surrey Docks versus White City versus Victoria. For the first time, the cost-benefit study and the Minister's statement today assume that White City has already been chosen. This comes as news to the House. We must know the opinion of the GLC and Hammersmith Borough Council on this and whether it makes sense in terms of London planning.

Again, we do not know what may be the adverse environmental effects of the new railway line from Kent to London. At the conference of the Royal Society of Arts last week a great deal of anxiety was expressed by the deputy chief planner of the Kent County Council, and we should have a statement about it.

The most puzzling part of all is to know what will be the extent of the total rail gain. I understand from the consultants that the rate of return on the railway investment is likely to be extremely healthy, but I have not seen this demonstrated in any detail. There will, of course, be an enormous passenger gain but, if we are concerned with the environmental argument, the limited nature of the freight gain is disappointing. With every study of the Channel Tunnel that is made, freight plays a less and less prominent part. This is a great disappointment and we have now reached the position that only 16 per cent. of the revenue of the Channel Tunnel derives from freight and all the rest derives from passengers.

My own view of the argument depends largely on whether this investment makes sense and whether—as I hope it does—it gives a big incidental boost to the British Rail system, but we still lack the information on which to judge, and I hope that the Minister will provide some more information in his winding up.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of rail involvement, will he say whether he thinks it will be possible for a freight train from, say, Paris or Frankfurt to get to Manchester? We know that with the new investment it could get to the new terminal at White City, but would it be able to get through to Manchester, and has that been taken into account in costing?

Mr. Crosland

I cannot answer the question, and that illustrates our dilemma. It is highly important to British Rail that freight trains should be able to go straight through to Manchester. If they cannot, many of the potential benefits of the investment will be lost.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

It is estimated that 90 per cent. of all containers used either on the Continent or in the United Kingdom could get through the tunnels to Manchester or Liverpool. Because of the size of the tunnels and containers, 10 per cent. could not get to Manchester or anywhere else.

Mr. Crosland

If it is true that 90 per cent. could get through for what in the studies is called the "low rail investment solution"—a matter of £15 million—we are wasting our time talking about £150 million, and that again illustrates our dilemma. None of us knows the answer.

Incidentally, something should be said about the proposal to confine the tunnel to rail only as opposed to trains carrying cars and trucks. This proposal has been put forward by the Conservation Society, Professor Bromhead in The Times and others. This proposal should be considered, though I do not think that it will stand up to critical examination.

I want briefly to turn to the regional effects. These are good for the French who want to develop the Pas de Calais as against Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, but are they good for the United Kingdom? Will there be greatly increased pressure in the South-East as I originally assumed? It appears that, unlike Maplin, this will be limited. The consultants' report to which the right hon. Gentleman referred suggests that not much difference will be made to the level of employment or the level of population. There will be an actual loss of employment in Dover. As the Minister rightly said, a good deal of development is planned for the area anyway and the net addition of jobs in consequence of the Channel Tunnel appears to be 2,000 in 1981 and less than 6,000 in 1991. On the face of it, it does not appear to be a major influence in accelerating development in the South-East as I feared it would be.

Will there be a loss of jobs in other parts of the United Kingdom? There will be some loss, presumably, as a result of the diversion of traffic from other ports. The main loss will be in Southampton and Harwich. In terms of regional policy, one cannot make great objection to that because both those places are in the prosperous South-Eastern and Eastern area. There will be some loss of jobs from Yorkshire and Humberside ports which concern me, and I am also concerned about the future effect on Grimsby and Immingham.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

In talking about loss of jobs, the right hon. Gentleman is assuming that there will be a diversion in absolute terms, not necessarily in gross terms. Might not many people prefer to approach the Continent from places other than the Pas de Calais, which, in spite of Queen Mary, is one of the nastiest parts of France?

Mr. Crosland

I agree with that assessment of the relative attractions of that stretch of French coast. On the question of people preferring to go from Harwich, this is certainly so and I have challenged the consultants on this. The opposition to the tunnel has said that there will be strong consumer preference by the holidaymaker for a longer journey. Personally I would never dream of going through this damned tunnel. I do not feel that I have started my holiday unless I have had a decent journey either on a ship or on a very slow train from Victoria to Milan, which is how I start my holiday every year. But the consultants claimed that in their studies in depth they had made allowance for this consumer preference.

On Yorkshire and Humberside I agree that we are probably talking not about a loss of jobs but about the loss of a certain number of years' increase in trade and jobs that would otherwise have taken place. I do not think that the diversion from Humberside can be very great. Our car traffic goes from Hull and Immingham to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and I do not think there will be much diversion there. Our freight traffic is mostly bulk freight which, in the nature of the goods, cannot be diverted. Moreover, if we get direct rail access there will be some boost to the general prosperity in some regions. That is the central question. In Chapter 6, paragraph 8, of the Green Paper we were promised a Government study on the regional aspects, and the Minister must tell the House when this will be published.

I should like to say a brief word on finance. For all their confident exterior and demeanour, the promoters of this enterprise are determined to wrap their project round in a considerable Government-provided cocoon. I do not blame them for that, but I blame the Government for their apparent eagerness to cosset them. Not for RTZ and Hill Samuel the rhetoric of lame ducks and standing on one's feet. They have no intention of standing on their own feet. Instead, the Government are bending over backwards to take on all the risks which the project involves in order to encourage them.

First, the Government are in effect subsidising the project by guaranteeing the loan capital, not only up to 90 per cent. of the present estimated cost but also any extra cost which the companies may spend over the final estimates of cost to be made at the end of phase 2 in 1975. As a result, the capital will cost the companies 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. less than the market rate. Without this subsidy the project would look much less attractive financially.

The companies' gain is at the expense of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the Exchequer has had to take on board an open-ended liability to bail out the bond holders if the project collapses. One curious argument put forward is that the reason for the Government guarantee is that in most of the other countries involved it is impossible to raise this sort of money without a Government guarantee. I have checked on this and find that it is total nonsense. In Germany, life assurance companies have to cover their life assurance in bonds carrying a Government guarantee. In France, any such restrictions are to be lifted at the end of this year. In Belgium, Holland and Switzerland, no institutions require a Government guarantee before they can lend. The argument is a piece of mythology which will not stand up.

Secondly, the so-called risk capital element has been freed from risk so far as decency allows. For example, when the Green Paper was published Chapter 7, paragraph 5, told us that the shareholders would start to receive money only when the tunnel was open and earning revenue. That is from 1980 onwards. But now we learn from the economic and financial studies published on Monday that they will receive 7 per cent. interest on their holdings during construction, before the tunnel has earned a single penny. So at worst the shareholders cannot face a total loss. Even if the Government abandon the tunnel at a later stage, as long as the companies do not agree to the abandonment—and they would be mad to do so—the shareholders will come out in the black.

The Green Paper shows that if the Government abandon the project today—supposing, for example, it were sacrificed to bail out Maplin—the shareholders would make between 60 per cent. and 100 per cent. on their money. The figures can be deduced from Chapter 7 of the Green Paper.

Thirdly, the economic studies, on which the case for the project is based, have been prepared for the project managers. The managers stand to gain about £37 million in management fees if the project goes ahead. I do not far one moment suggest that the project managers are fiddling the figures. Many of the people concerned are extremely well known to me and other hon. Members. No such question would ever arise. The consultants—some of whom I know personally—appear to have done an extremely thorough job whilst maintaining the highest standard of integrity. Nevertheless, with £37 million in the offing it would be surprising if the project managers did not lock at the project with slightly gold-tinted spectacles. The possibility of subconscious and unintentional bias makes it all the more vital that Parliament should have time to give all the facts its careful and critical consideration.

The House should consider many of the facts about which at present we lack the necessary data, particularly the rail investment and its effects, the regional effects and the environmental effects. Those are the three critical factors. If the regional and environmental effects can be shown not to be adverse, and if the rail investment proves to be practical and likely to give a boost to the railway system as a whole, I should find the case for the tunnel attractive. But that must be proved and so far it has not been proved. Until it has been proved, we must not take a decision in the House. I think it unlikely that the case will be demonstrated by 31st July. This should be the first of a long series of debates about the matter, such as we have had about Maplin and other major projects. During such a series of debates we can all of us gradually and steadily refine and clarify our views.

Mr. Speaker

May I make a special appeal to hon. Members about the length of their speeches? At least 20 hon. Members on the back benches want to catch my eye. If those who speak will discipline themselves to about 10 minutes each, I shall be able to call everybody.

11.55 a.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

It happens that most of the arguments which I wish to advance will follow closely the main argument of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). I acknowledge what he started by saying The right hon. Gentleman has a good brain for this sort of subject. We are, of course, being asked to resolve a matter of enormous complexity.

We cannot complain about any lack of paper when we consider the paper which has recently descended upon us. We can, however, complain that we have not had time to digest it. Although I keep fairly close to the subject, and have done so for some years, I do not feel in the least, in the light of the paper which has descended upon us, competent to make the right decision one way or the other.

The fact that we have been discussing the matter for 170 years is irrelevant. The facts of the past make no contribution whatever to the sort of considerations about which the right hon. Gentleman was speaking. To take up one of the last points which he made, I also think that we are discussing a project which illustrates the classic dilemma posed by modern technology in a parliamentary democracy. A team of experts is called upon by research and development tests to evaluate the viability and the feasibility of a certain project. Dedicated to their work, they advance phase by phase, each more progressively expensive than the last, so that, by the time that they are in a position to advise whether the project should be taken on, we have in reality passed the point of no return. I am apprehensive that that is the sort of slipway, with all respect to the technicians who have been working selflessly for months and years on the project, on which we could find ourselves.

No hon. Member from Kent can rise without declaring his interest. That is certainly essential when an hon. Member represents constituents as heavily involved as mine. If we go ahead with the tunnel, many of my constituents who live in an area of outstanding beauty will suffer adversely. My right hon. Friend intimated that he may reply to the debate. That being so, I ask him whether we are to make any provision for a normal type of public inquiry to protect the public interest. If we sign a treaty, do the normal provisions for a public inquiry, such as the inspector's report and the rest of it, have to go by the board? That is an important point of which the residents must apprise themselves.

On the other hand, if the tunnel does not come off, sooner or later a lot of men—for example, 800 men in railway works on which Ashford was founded—will look for work elsewhere. Naturally we must weigh these factors, but they do not count unduly with me in the conclusion which I have reached.

My main conclusion follows closely what the right hon. Gentleman was saying about the railways. The crux is to what extent the project will have the effect of diverting surface transport, passenger and freight, from road to rail via the tunnel. That is not a parochial consideration. It is not only a Kent consideration. It is true that it is highly relevant to the future life of Kent, which is becoming more and more a corridor between London and Europe. My colleagues know that, whether or not we have the tunnel, that result is inevitable.

The consideration I mention is relevant to the future of the railways and also to the environment far beyond the boundaries of Kent. Not all surface transport will start from London. It is also relevant to the crisis which is growing upon us which has been created by heavy vehicles—TIRs and the rest—about which some hon. Members are concerned. Not least, it is relevant to the commercial success of the tunnel. Therefore, it is a big consideration. On that matter I am entirely with the right hon. Gentleman.

Yet I am bound to say that it is precisely on this issue that I find the outlook foggiest and on which the material available seems to me the most equivocal and uninformative. The Green Paper is frankly ambivalent. I shall not make many quotations from the Green Paper but I must quote what the Green Paper says about the effects on the environment. At Chapter 1, paragraph 7, it says: This traffic is already damaging the environment of South-East Kent and the main approach routes. Chapter 1, paragraph 8, says: Without a tunnel increasing surface traffic will continue to pour into the ports. If we want to quantify the position, the rough figures are that by 1980, without a tunnel, some 2 million cars per annum will be moving on to Dover and Folkestone roads. That works out at about 200,000 an hour on a six-channel motorway. It would be about 400,000 vehicles if there were a tunnel.

Then the Green Paper in Chapter 4, paragraph 12, says: The Tunnel would give British Rail an opportunity to provide freight services over longer distances. Distances in this country are generally too short for the lower trunk haul costs by rail to outweigh the cost of transhipment for collection and delivery. That is true. The paragraph continues: 'Long-haul' freight accounts for only about a fifth of the tonnage carried on British Rail, but it forms about 2/5ths of the total on Federal German Railways, and 3/5ths of the French total. But the key sentence appears in Chapter 7, paragraph 12, which says: The terms of reference of this authority would be to manage the Tunnel as a commercial enterprise in competition with other means of Cross-Channel transport with a view to securing the best possible earnings on capital employed in the enterprise, without discrimination between road and rail-borne traffic. How are we to read that passage? If we are to hold the traditional balance between road and rail, the consequences of the tunnel could be not to reduce but to increase the volume of freight traffic passing through the corridor, not only in terms of established motorways but on the lateral pattern of roads, such as roads from the West in regard to which Kent and Sussex are ill served in terms of a motorway, and I pray that they may con- tinue to be ill served. At least 40 per cent. of surface transport now plying between other ports as well as these would be funnelled on to one surface route. That would be totally unacceptable.

Kent County Council sought enlightenment from my right hon. Friend in correspondence with the Department between May and June. The relevant point in the reply sent by the Department was as follows: The fact that the tolls on the Tunnel itself will not discriminate as a matter of policy, however, does not mean that there will be no incentive for traffic, especially freight, to use through rail services. That takes me no further forward, for I am still not clear how far we shall determine that rail shall take a share of surface traffic and how far we are prepared to ensure that that share would be secured. I appreciate that there are difficulties, but it is important to know what they are.

What are the limitations on an outright policy of differentials calculated to shift freight and cars from road to rail? What are the difficulties? Are they international, are they to do with the mad haulage industry or are they due to the statutory policy of British Rail? For as long as one can remember, we have adopted a passive attitude to the argument of road versus rail, but we cannot now hang that policy round the neck of this tunnel. Nor is it simply a question of discriminating in order to ensure the economic success of the tunnel because, as the right hon. Gentleman says, this project is not an economic one. It is not a project which private enterprise would embrace, without guarantees, simply on commercial grounds. There is an enormous public stake in this, and that would be justified if social advantages may flow from the project.

The point is made on this matter in the White Paper produced by European Ferries Limited, paragraph 8.1 of which says that there must be an overwhelming case of benefit in other respects to the community as a whole. I share that view. These benefits only flow if from the outset our policy determines that, given this expensive asset, rail shall be used to lift the crippling weight off surface transport in an area of alarmingly high pressure.

At what price will a man travelling from Edinburgh to Europe decide that it is worth putting his car on a railway flat? Is that price £10 or £15 or what? That is the kind of sum we should now be doing. In the longer haul, the bringing of Europe's land mass into the reckoning may of itself draw from road to rail, but one drawback to the use of rail for freight is the fact that few of our plants or factories have railway sidings. If there are to be developments in container freight and all the rest of it, they will need to know what the policy in terms of freight is to be. Many firms at the moment are relying entirely on the roads and have no sidings they can use.

It is not good enough simply to proceed hopefully. For all classes of road traffic there must be a positive policy of encouraging the use of the tunnel by rail, if need be by fiscal means. In so far as we succeed we shall make a positive contribution to our environment, offsetting some inevitable loss of amenity in an area of outstanding beauty.

My support or opposition to further progress on this project will rest on that proposition, which I venture to think is a substantial one. Without an assurance on that matter, I am not prepared to endorse a firm decision on phase 2 within the next few weeks on the basis of the information that is now available to us. The tunnel affords us a chance to shape our environment for the better, to avoid turning at least one county into a new kind of hell. If we reject that chance, as far as I am concerned this exercise will become a pointless one.

12.7 p.m.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), I see in this project a similarity with the decisions on Concorde and Stansted. One of the most important things about these major decisions which we are from time to time called upon to make is how we handle them and how we may improve the decision-making process. I suppose that in one respect the initial studies were a monument to the amateur planners of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had similar defects in common. Unfortunately, Concorde was the one that went ahead, with the disastrous results of which we all now know. Stan- sted, because of the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, was given a second investigation, and I hope that the Channel Tunnel will follow the same pattern.

I am concerned that in the first instance the widest possible examination of this project was not made. Among the questions which should have been asked was what are the possible links between Europe and Britain in terms of the Channel Tunnel. The Channel Tunnel concept fascinated most of us when at school, and we all know its place in history. We must look at what will happen in 10 years' time, and these things ought to have been considered in terms of what is happening in civil engineering. Anybody who has discussed these matters with civil engineers well knows their anger at the fact that the latest advances have not been considered and taken into account. We are dealing with a rapidly changing technology and the results of the 1963 White Paper are being put into effect when even in 1963 they were years out of date. This is the sort of thing which many of us find so wrong about the situation.

One always assumed that, since the idea had been around for so long, the investigations which had been carried out were adequate, but the situation is that they have not been adequate. I have asked questions on this topic from time to time in terms of the examination of alternatives and I have been given rather dusty answers. I put it down to the curtness of the Under-Secretary, but I certainly assumed that some basic work had been carried out. It was only after a period of years that I began to question whether the proper examination of alternatives had been conducted.

A further question that must be asked is whether those in the Department with responsibility for these matters have been carrying out the work that surely has been expected of them. I have concluded that perhaps they did not know of the alternatives and did not examine them properly. The foreword to the White Paper said that a number of other projects had been drawn up by other groups, which include in particular a scheme for an immersed tunnel for combined road and rail use and one or two other matters. The document said that these projects had not been examined in detail. They have had 10 years to examine those projects in detail and still have not examined them.

It is deplorable that the Ministry does not know about these other matters, and I came to the conclusion that I could not allow this matter to go ahead without taking some action. Earlier this year I got together a team of civil engineers, including land reclamationists from Holland and people involved in trench designs and drainage from Denmark. This was probably the strongest and most powerful body of its kind that could have been put together. We went to see the Minister for Transport Industries, who received us most courteously, to find out what examination had been made of this kind of project. It became apparent that the team with which we were confronted had not carried out an investigation of other forms of cross-channel link. It had not examined other possibilities.

It is horrifying when we are proposing to spend £1,000 million—I suppose that is as central a figure as one can pick for the expenditure likely to be incurred over the years ahead—not to spend the relatively trivial amount of perhaps hundreds or thousands of pounds to rebut the kind of arguments that we put forward.

I am not wedded to any particular scheme, but, when I hear in the House and elsewhere that other projects are just not on, I suggest that it should be the easiest thing in the world to rebut them. It should be extremely easy to rebut any ridiculous propositions. When one takes pages and pages of detailed investigation for examination and then finds that the people concerned have not the understanding to rebut those arguments, one must take a view that the Department has not been doing its job of carrying out the proper investigation which is its responsibility to do.

Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned £1,000 million. Does he agree that that should be halved to represent the British investment as opposed to the French investment?

Mr. Sheldon

That does not detract from the argument. The same can be said of Concorde. It is only half, but I am talking of the cost of the project as a whole, not the cost of our contribution.

I am not wedded to the particular scheme that I went to see investigated. I have not the expertise, and I have not the time for such an examination if I had. But I expect the Minister for Transport Industries to have undertaken the kind of investigation that was not forthcoming.

The scheme is for land reclamation, sandbanks, a bridge at each end and a tunnel in the middle, allowing for development at any time for both rail and road transport. That is one of the crucial missing elements in the Channel Tunnel.

As recently as a few weeks ago there was still discussion about danger to the bridge by cross-channel or other traffic. I find this astonishing. One of the central features of so many of these schemes is that islands on the sandbanks are created. Anyone who believes that a bridge can be knocked down by ploughing through these sandbank islands has not read the scheme. When we are to spend such large sums of money we have the right to demand the quality of decision that is transparently lacking in this instance.

I now turn to the disadvantages of the Channel Tunnel. The Minister said that he could not think of any advantages for a bridge-tunnel. I found that an astonishing statement. The first crucial difference is that the length of the tunnel would be 33 miles whereas the length of the tunnel in the Channel bridge-tunnel would be only seven miles. This is a crucial difference. It means that if at any time in the foreseeable future we want to use road traffic, ventilation problems will be absent. The Minister could not think of any advantages. What is proposed is no more than a tarted-up ferry.

Mr. Ogden


Mr. Sheldon

The road traveller will have to wait to get his car on to the railway in the same way that he has to wait to get it on to the ferry at present.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman is making a serious point, but I am sure he does not wish to misquote me. When I said that there were no obvious advantages, I was referring to an immersed rail tube. I did not use that phrase in referring to the bridge. The objections that I put forward to the bridge were on the grounds of expense and the fact that the project had not been worked out.

Mr. Sheldon

I apologise if I misrepresented what the Minister said. I though that he was talking about this scheme, which is the most practicable one that has been put forward.

The two breaks per journey, which is the essential feature of the Channel ferries, will continue. The inflexibility of the scheme is one of the effects of having two railway tunnels side by side. It does not allow for expansion other than by almost doubling the cost when it is increased subsequently.

The Channel Tunnel, as at present conceived, places us more in the hands of the French than would be the case with a road-railway link. It places us in their hands not only because of industrial action, which is not so important, but even more important, because of tariffs. The question of sabotage is obvious. It is easy to sabotage a railway tunnel. It is more difficult with the larger number of tunnels in a road-railway link.

Reference has been made to the problems of servicing the Channel Tunnel which involve its being closed for six hours out of 24 hours—[Interrruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) may not realise that the scheme includes a railway tunnel as well. It has both road and railway tunnels. I am not suggesting a scheme to institute one for the other. I am suggesting that there are advantages in having both together. I should deplore any link that did not provide a rail element in it.

I now turn to the cost involved. The Green Paper, on page 16, paragraph 7.4, states that the private sector's stake is 10 per cent. of the total forecast and that the balance is to come from loans guaranteed by the Government. It is quite clear that this project is being virtually Government-financed. Any stocks that are guaranteed by the Government, in effect, become Government stocks. Therefore, we ought to be clear about that. The obvious comparison is the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, the liquidation of which was not one of the other successes of the Department. That showed what happened when we dissolved the link which was thought to be a Government guarantee and made the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board more independent.

This scheme is, in effect, being financed by the Government and its profitability is to be dependent upon the Government. Therefore, we shall have a situation in which the Government not only provide the finance but are responsible for so many of the factors that are likely to make it a success or otherwise. Successive Governments will influence the toll charges. The private investment is not at so much risk. It is dependent on what the Government do. The Government are to have a 90 per cent. holding so they have a vested interest to make sure that they do not lose their money. What is the element of private investment risk? It is a trivial 10 per cent. of the whole investment.

The investment depends for its return on two factors. If the project is successful the investors will obviously make money. If it is unsuccessful and the Government are involved, they will have to support it. Therefore, the Government effectively determine the minimum profitability. The maximum profitability is limitless. The minimum profitability will be determined by the Government. They will provide the floor because they stand to lose. There is no independence here in the case of the so-called risk-takers.

My right hon. Friend was right to try to find some sort of objective way in which a risk of this kind could be calculated. The idea of a partnership between investors and the Government was designed to give the Government an independent view of how other people looked at the matter, and if they were prepared to put their money on the table that was a sign that investment had an excellent chance of success.

But that would be true only if there were a real partnership between the Government and independent shareholders. The most important consideration for shareholders is that profit should be limitless in the upward direction, and limited in the downward direction by their estimate of what future Governments might do. In those circumstances, a proportion of 10 per cent. can never provide the independent assessment of risk which is the basis of this peculiar scheme.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. It would be better, on the whole, if hon. Members were not to interrupt speeches. If hon. Members notice that a speech is going beyond Mr. Speaker's advice, it is all the more important that they should not intervene if they can possibly avoid doing so, otherwise not all those hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate will be able to do so.

Mr. Sheldon

I am trying to bring my remarks to a conclusion.

The essence of the scheme is that it is largely for holiday traffic and for those who will go by car. The number of accompanied cars will double by 1980 and quadruple by 1990. That is set out on page 1 of the Green Paper. The proportion of holiday to business traffic is extremely high. It is reckoned that by 1980 holiday traffic will represent 77 per cent. of the total, the remainder being business traffic.

We have reached the stage at which a further examination of all the possible alternatives should be undertaken. I do not think that this matter calls for urgent treatment. All that we shall do by a further examination is to delay large numbers of holidaymakers whom we wish to assist and not necessarily put an end to the scheme. Stansted was known to be inadequately thought out, and we want a much closer and fuller investigation of this project.

The cost of the delay will not be important. This is not such an urgent matter that it cannot wait for a year or two, or even longer if required. I should very much favour a Select Committee to look into the matter, but whatever method is devised there is no doubt that further consideration ought to be given to what is proposed.

12.23 p.m.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)

In view of Mr. Speaker's plea for short speeches, I hope that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) will forgive me if I do not follow him across the Channel bridge, and that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) will forgive me if I do not follow him down his road to Damascus but, instead, concentrate on the M2/ A2 to Dover.

We appreciate that there are national considerations to be debated. These have been raised, and no doubt they will be raised again by others who do not have such a direct and continuing interest as I do in the tunnel as a phenomenon in East Kent. I shall concentrate on two local considerations that will influence me in coming to a decision.

I concede that those considerations are to a certain extent in contradiction and it is a question for me to decide how to strike a balance and where. The two considerations are the impact on the environment, and the impact on employment in East Kent.

On the matter of the environment, my constituents are, and have been for many years, rightly sensitive about the impact of cross-channel traffic. The sad accident at Watersend in my constituency last weekend served to emphasise once again the extent to which people living in and near Dover are exposed to danger and to a continuous battering of their sensibilities by this cross-channel traffic. My right hon. Friend described East Kent as the sump of this country through which the traffic—

Mr. Peyton

My hon. and learned Friend must not wrong me in this way. I have said frequently that there is a danger of an attractive and beautiful part of this country being treated as a sump by this almost uncheckable stream of traffic.

Mr. Rees

I apologise to my right hon. Friend if I did not quote him exactly. I know and pay public tribute to his continuing concern for East Kent. We were appreciative of his visit to the area, and we hope that we shall see much more of him if this project goes ahead.

There is continuing anxiety about the impact on the environment, and this manifests itself particularly in criticism of the road system. We are glad that my right hon. Friend has decided in favour of the eastern bypass to the port of Dover, a decision that was taken not a moment too soon. No doubt before the summer holidays there will be at least two weekends when traffic for the port stretches back to Lydden, and even to Canterbury. That is the kind of problem that we have to consider.

Will a tunnel ease or increase our problems in East Kent? My right hon. Friend has told us of the 43 per cent. increase in lorries and a likely doubling of passenger accompanied cars by 1980. All those factors are of crucial importance to people in and around Dover. Can we be certain that a tunnel will divert traffic, and particularly freight traffic, away from the road on to the rail system, or will it attract more traffic down to East Kent?

Will British Railways be able to improve their handling facilities, their services, their platforms, bridges and various other infrastructural points? Will they be able to offer such a good service at competitive prices that the logic for manufacturers in the North-West, on Merseyside—and I see in the Chamber the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden)—and in Birmingham will be to send their freight by rail rather than by road as they do now? It is no good expressing pious hopes that that will be the consequence of building the tunnel. I want to know in more detail what positive steps will be taken to make certain that freight will be channelled away from the road to the rail system.

We cannot be asked to take a decision about the tunnel in vacuo. It is not a question whether we have a tunnel or not, or even of the precise cost of the tunnel. The question to consider is what would be the consequences of building or not building the tunnel, because it is right that the people of East Kent should know the alternatives if a tunnel is not constructed.

Will there, for instance, be sufficient capacity in our existing ports and road systems to handle the inevitable increase in traffic by 1980 and 1990? If we do not have a tunnel, will there be a need for extra capacity at Ramsgate? Will my right hon. Friend sanction major developments at Richborough? What are the real choices open to us in East Kent in environmental terms?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) touched on the development of lateral roads. In my view, tunnel or no tunnel, we need lateral roads because heavy lorries switch from the M2/A2 to the M20/A20. Denton in my constituency, for instance, is now being subjected to traffic for which it was not designed. The country roads have been called upon to carry traffic for which they were not constructed. Tunnel or no tunnel, what plans has my right hon. Friend for our country roads?

My right hon. Friend has shown concern and sensitivity over the works that will be necessary if the tunnel goes through. But I must tell him that the current work on the borehole at Ayecliffe has touched off a certain amount of concern and alarm. If that is an example of how the project may proceed, I must tell him that it is not generally felt that there has been adequate consultation or an adequate chance for local sentiment to be tested. I know that the borehole itself is not a very large project, but there have been several changes of plan and it has made an impact in Dover.

If the major project goes through, I echo the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that the statutory procedures may be regarded as sufficient to enable the Government to dispense with some form of public inquiry. It would not be sufficient for us merely to examine it coolly up here in Westminster. There must be some opportunity for individuals in East Kent who are likely to be directly or indirectly affected to voice their concern and to require their particular problems to be taken into account. So I hope that there will be some opportunity for a public inquiry although I do not suggest to my right hon. Friend exactly what form that should take.

As for employment, it is not perhaps generally appreciated by hon. Members who represent other parts of the country that there is, and has been for some time, a small but nagging unemployment problem in East Kent, particularly in the towns of Dover, Deal and Sandwich in my constituency and in the towns of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). This unemployment, I am thankful to say, is yielding at last to the Government's measures, and we appreciate that. We look forward to an increasing volume of employment and job opportunities. It is not enough just to offer manual jobs; we need a whole range of jobs in East Kent for school leavers.

The single biggest employer or group of employers in my constituency is the port of Dover and the ferry operators and those who provide services connected with the ferries based on the port. Inevitably, there has been some concern, on the publication of the economic consultant's report, that there may be a loss of between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs by 1980 and more by 1990. I appreciate that that does not mean that the job opportunities will be diminished below those available at present, but it means that the continuing expansion of employment opportunities offered particularly by the port of Dover may be restricted if the Channel Tunnel is implemented. Perhaps this is not particularly in the Minister's field but we cannot divorce this matter from other questions about the tunnel.

Perhaps it is more a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but there are various questions which inevitably arise. What kind of services will be permitted at the station at Cheriton? If a wide range of services were permitted, it would offer opportunities for people from Dover comparable to those that they enjoy at the port. To proceed with increased services and facilities at Cheriton will militate against those environmental factors to which I have drawn attention, but this is a question of striking a fine balance. What kind of station does my right hon. Friend envisage at Cheriton?

Again, shall we have our fair share of office development and industrial development certificates? If there is to be a diminution of opportunities in Dover, some compensating development should be allowed for and encouraged.

Above all—again, I recognise the possible inconsistency between this point and earlier points of mine—what kind of competition does the Minister envisage between the ferry operators and the tunnel operators? Although, of course, we want to see traffic diverted to the tunnel—since the environmental considerations are paramount—none the less I do not want to see terms of trade so rigged that the ferry operators are driven out of business. That would be bad not only for Dover but for the country on general economic and strategic grounds. So some reassurance here is important.

Although we appreciate that it is not primarily Government money that will be involved, the Government are, as it were, the insurer of last resort. They are underwriting the bond issue. Therefore, there will always be the temptation, if, contrary to the projections of Coopers and Lybrand, the tunnel does not prove a commercial success, to rig trade in favour of the tunnel. That I would deprecate.

I know that there may be a weighty international and national case for the tunnel, but I am concerned that my constituency should not be asked to bear the greater part of the cost in environmental and employment terms. On the information available to me—I appreciate that we have had the economic consultant's report and the latest blue report from Coopers and Lybrand—there are too many unanswered questions, too many hypotheses and too many details, but details of crucial importance, that have not been dealt with.

So I hope that the House will not be asked to take a decision in a hurry. If it is, I must express this personal warning. I am afraid that the decision may be taken on the basis of emotion and not on a cool appraisal of the facts. A decision based on emotion may not be the decision that my right hon. Friend wants, and it may not be the right decision for this country.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) and I were parliamentary opponents in the General Election in Liverpool, West Derby in 1966. I forecast then that at some time I might follow him in debate, although I did not think that it would be on this occasion. I am grateful for his continuing interest in Merseyside as well as in Dover.

Before that time, shortly after I came to this place in the halcyon days of 1964, I was asked to become one of the joint secretaries of the all-party Parliamentary Group on the Channel Tunnel. They thought apparently that an ex-coal miner would be useful. Over a number of years, I have taken a particular interest in a Channel link, whether it should be over the sea, in the sea, under the sea or both in and under the sea. If one is in favour of one point of view, it is necessary to know a great deal more about the alternatives.

I am convinced that there is a need for a permanent transport link and that an underground and undersea double rail link will be the best means of achieving that object, and that we should go ahead with it as soon as possible. Over even the short period of eight or nine years, the emphasis about a cross-channel link has changed from the question in 1964 whether there should be a link to the question in late 1968 of what kind of link—a bridge, a submarine tube, a bridge-island-tube or an underground rail or road link. Lately, certainly in the last two years, the emphasis has changed more to an acceptance that there will be a rail tunnel and to the question of how we shall control it and ensure that the environment is not too much disturbed.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a major expansion in the sea ferries, in which some of my hon. Friends have a particular interest. There are few pleasures more enjoyable than a cross-channel ferry trip on a good day. But, equally, there are few experiences more miserable than a bad crossing on a bad day. I have some experience of and a continuing concern with the Merchant Navy.

To those who work, those who employ and those who invest in what we call the conventional sea ferries—I wish that there was more British investment in these sea ferries by having them built in the United Kingdom rather than in Holland and other places—a Channel Tunnel presents challenges which would cause possible changes of emphasis. But my hope and my firm belief is that there would be, and will continue to be, a growing cross-channel sea service expanding and meeting the challenges of the future. I cannot see for any period a major reduction in or disappearance of the main sea ferry traffic. The hovercraft is exhilarating and exciting—even frightening—but it is not really a mass transport system, and certainly not a mass heavy freight system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) referred to a rail and road bridge. That could be a very beautiful and exciting piece of engineering; it would be a lovely thing to look at whether a combined bridge and tunnel and island scheme or a straight bridge and tunnel. But my objection is based not only on cost but on the fact of putting any piers or supports or obstructions on the bed of the Channel in that area. For the sea ferry services the Channel is 20 to 22 miles wide, but for the deep-water services there are only four or six miles width of Channel running north-east and south-west. So any obstruction put on the bed of the Channel would very considerably put at risk the ability of the major shipping lines to move north-east and south-west. It could disturb the whole base of the Channel floor. There could be channel scouring and new sandbanks appearing. No one knows just what would happen.

Mr. Sheldon

This would be a trench covered over so that the bed would to all intents and purposes remain the same seven-mile-long undisturbed bed at the bottom of the Channel.

Mr. Ogden

I have not seen the scheme, details of which my hon. Friend has been passing round, but we had a major scheme submitted about six months ago. Whether it were a trench, an island or a road, there would be artificial islands and other unknown factors in a bridge or bridge and tunnel scheme. There would be the effect on the bed of the Channel and the effect on those very few passages for the major shipping lines in the most congested seaway in the world, north-east and south-west, between United Kingdom/Europe and the rest of the world. However, that has been looked at here, and in another place by Lord Davies of Leek—Davies the Bridge.

Almost similar objections apply to a tube tunnel on the seabed whether it be a sunken tube or not. There are disadvantages with a road tunnel. Everyone on Merseyside knows the difficulties that can be caused in the Mersey Tunnel, and that is only very short. It is not only the old "bangers" which break down there, but the modern and sophisticated heavy vehicles. We have to remember a speed limitation in a road tunnel of 40 miles an hour. We also know the effect on motorists of driving long distances on motorways. There is undoubtedly an effect on the ordinary driver of driving in the close surroundings of a tunnel, not to mention ventilation problems.

The defence aspect was mentioned a long time ago—when Napoleon was encamped at Calais—and more recently in a letter to the Manchester Evening News when the threat of foreign invaders pouring through the tunnel was mentioned. The coat of arms of the city of Manchester includes a map of the world and a whole swarm of bees, the symbolism being that the citizens of Manchester are busily engaged in commerce all over the world. It also appears that there are still a few busy bees in Manchester concerned about the threat of invasion.

What about British Rail? A rail tunnel under the Channel would provide for British Rail the long-haul freight journeys and passenger services it needs. The Carriage by Rail Act 1972, dealing with labelling of consignments, might prove useful. Most of the evidence leads to my belief that a double rail tunnel is what is wanted and should be provided, and provided soon. There are major details of cost to be dealt with, and details of control, but to me the outline is clear and should be supported. Details of cost and tariffs particularly would have to be very seriously considered.

I want to consider the effects of a tunnel on the rest of the country. It is time to recognise that, while Britain's membership of the EEC is an important political factor, the need for a Channel Tunnel would exist whether we were in or out of the Common Market, and opposition to the EEC ought not to be used simply as an excuse for or against a tunnel. It is time to recognise that this is not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) pointed out, a Maplin or a Concorde project. Delay will not reduce the costs, but increase them.

A real problem will be that of those whose land will be affected by the project, but there are some balancing factors; some people will lose and others will gain. The main point is the effect of the tunnel on the rest of the country, because it must be realised that the entrance to the tunnel will not only be at Dover but at Lime Street Station, Liverpool, or the Seaforth Docks there, or in Glasgow or in Wales and elsewhere. We might seek to persuade the Minister to start it somewhere in Yorkshire and let is meander round the North Sea, but that is not practicable.

The tunnel would be an attraction to the South-East. There will be another growth area—not just the London conurbation or Birmingham and London but this new area between London and the South-East. For speculators it could be another Klondyke, so there must be controlled investment. It is all right saying that Dover needs the investment, but other parts of the country need it much more. We must not think only of our own particular interest, whether it be that of merchant shipping or of constituency interests. We must talk in terms of broad advantages. That means that industrial development certificates and office expansion must be controlled. It is no good just having a limited dispersal of Government Departments from London, although we shall send 11,000 to Milton Keynes but only 3,000 to Scotland and 2,000 to Merseyside.

We must make sure that the British Government represent the needs of regional development areas to the EEC Commission, not only the Commission headed by M. Bourchette and that of our friend and former parliamentary colleague, George Thomson, but the other Commissioners. We must make certain that British Rail really uses the investment opportunities offered. For Merseyside this could be, and is, a challenge, and it could be an opportunity. I have had the dream ever since I came to the House that we could have in Merseyside the greatest westernmost port in Europe. The French and Belgians would have regional advantages of development in the area between Liège and the Pas de Calais. That is the advantage for them, but for us investment must be controlled and used rightly for regional development in order to benefit all the rest of the country and not only the South-East. The project should go ahead, and I hope that it will do so quickly.

12.49 p.m.

Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)

As speeches generally have run to about twice the length Mr. Speaker advised, I shall try to cut my time in half, much of what I wish to say having been said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes).

Like the hon. Member for West Derby, I have had the privilege of being one of the officers—a joint vice-chairman—of the Channel Tunnel Committee for the last two years. I was originally concerned with the idea in 1957 when the first Channel Tunnel study group was formed to look into this as a practical proposition.

I believe, as the hon. Member said, that opinion has now changed from whether any such link is desirable to the fact that a link is desirable. I also believe, despite what has been said, that the greatest trouble has been taken to decide whether it should be a bridge, a tunnel, an immersed tube, a road tunnel, a rail tunnel or a twin tunnel. Rio Tinto Zinc, before its appointment as project manager of the tunnel evaluation in March 1971, carried out a careful assessment of the alternatives. Therefore, I believe that what we are now discussing is not whether a more permanent link than exists at present is desirable but what form it should take.

In terms of traffic projection, despite what has been said I believe that freight traffic is liable to increase more than the present projections suggest. I think that there will be a substantial increase in traffic in the next 10, 20 or 30 years. In this context, one point which has not yet been touched on in the debate is that, quite apart from the air pollution resulting from hundreds of thousands of vehicles going through Kent, there is the question of whether cheap fuel will still be available. I believe that our successors will probably thank us if we go through with this project in providing an electrified rail link which will replace for the crossing oil supplies which may no longer be available at the low cost of today.

Another vital question is by how far and by what means the Government, the railways and the Channel Tunnel Company could use their powers to switch traffic from the roads to rail, not just through Kent but from the West and the North. The rail links already exist in London through Willesden Junction to the North. How can powers be taken to ensure that this switch is made? If traffic is to be put on rail either in Calais or in Dover, it will be in the interests of all concerned to keep it on rail as long as possible. By the same token, it will be in the interests of all concerned to put it on rail as early as possible. That seems to be the key to what we are discussing.

I hope that we will have the general support of the House which I myself have found, having spent a considerable time on this subject. I should point out that I have no commercial interest in the project. Perhaps I wish that I had, but it is better in looking at these things not to be in the position of being able to be accused of trying to feather one's own nest. I believe that this project is of the greatest importance to the future of the country and I hope, allowing for the points which have been made on both sides, that in due course it will go ahead.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. Graham Tope (Sutton and Cheam)

In common with other hon. Members, I am not yet able to make a decision on whether this project is a good one. We do not have the information necessary. It could be one of the most beneficial environmental projects yet. On the other hand, it could be an environmental and social disaster. We cannot yet tell.

However, this country's seeming ability to build white elephants should make us wary in approaching this new venture. Having become embroiled in building Concorde for an undetermined and possibly non-existent market, we are about to invest £1,000 million in the Maplin development, if that goes ahead, which is the product of Government intransigence rather than the result of any logical process. Our experience of both projects should make us wary of this latest proposal. Having wasted, or being on the point of wasting, millions of pounds on Maplin, along with irreplaceable energy resources, we have to be sure that the Channel Tunnel project is worth going ahead with before we give our assent.

There has been a change in environmental debate in the last few years. For example, at one time when motorways were discussed, debate was limited to discussing a restricted number of alternative routes. Whether those motorways were really needed never seemed relevant. All that has changed. People are now looking at the question of whether a motorway is really needed in the first place.

This is similarly the case with the question of the third London airport. Originally the debate centred on the siting of the third airport and not on whether it was needed. These two examples have a bearing on the present debate. Having been pushed by such organisations as the Friends of the Earth, the Conservation Society and so on, we must recognise that the important and underlying question of any environmental project is need. That is the point at which the debate should start. There is no point in arguing about different sets of financial statistics or the myriad of alternative projects unless need is first determined. This is a de-date for questioning and analysing, and that is what I intend to do.

First, the Green Paper does not make out much of a case for the tunnel in terms of need. Paragraph 1.5 and 1.6, dealing with investment in cross-channel facilities, itemises money already spent or in process of being spent. These figures include £20 million spent by British Railways since 1965 on new ships, £45 million on improving road access, and £50 million planned for future road improvements. In other words, in the last 10 years at least £65 million has been spent to provide sufficient capacity to cater for projected increases in passenger and freight traffic. Paragraph 1.5 concludes: Major road improvements have already been made, and much more is now being done to bring the port routes to a standard where they can bear the traffic. It is therefore accepted that capacity for access routes is adequate or is being made adequate.

This project will have to be assessed in terms of the environmental effects of creating a new motorway system which will be needed to take vehicles to the terminal. It is all very well to say that we can help the amenity of the port towns themselves by sinking the traffic in the tunnel long before it gets to them, but what is to happen to the rest of Kent and the South-East? We must have full knowledge of the planned motorway links as soon as possible. Without this information and without the participation in discussion of people who will be most affected by the routes, this project should not move one stage further. In this connection I welcome the comments made by hon. Members about the possibility of a public inquiry, and I hope that the Minister will deal with this matter in his reply.

In the context of the problem of need and capacity, the report of the transport cost-benefit study is interesting. Without doubt, Section V of the report, dealing with services without the tunnel, should form the starting point of the debate. Having referred to the problems of peaking at a limited time of the year, and discussed the fact that some services appear unprofitable in peak periods, it goes on to say: it is … difficult to predict the most likely pattern of service that might develop with or without the Tunnel. But that is exactly what the report should be predicting. otherwise we have no way of telling whether the port facilities are satisfactory and whether they can be developed to cater for increased traffic.

Section V also makes it clear that extra capacity can be created, at least at Dover, to cater for larger ships. As this whole question of larger ships is important if we are to consider the possible alternatives, it is unsatisfactory that the report rules out any further discussion of it. I remember the excitement not long ago at the development of the hovercraft and the hydrofoil. Yet in two paragraphs this report consigns the hovercraft to the ashes of history. I fear that this may be indicative of a headlong rush to embrace the newest technological idea rather than a rational analysis of alternatives.

The section in the Green Paper on the services which will use the tunnel is introduced by a claim that the tunnel will not only connect the British and French railway systems but it will be a key link in the European rail network. That means that it will form an important element in EEC transport and regional policies. I heartily agree. One would, therefore, have expected consultations to be held with the European Commission on this subject.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way a moment?

Mr. Tope

I will, but I think it is better not to have too many interruptions, since we have been asked to keep speeches short.

Mr. Huckfield

I merely wanted to ask whether these were the hon. Gentleman's own words, and whether it would not be a better idea to have them put straight into HANSARD, if that were possible.

Mr. Tope

These are my own words. I think that it is better to deal with the matter in this way more quickly, since we have been asked to be brief. I wish to put the matter concisely, and for that purpose I have, perhaps, made more notes than might otherwise be necessary, so that I do not repeat myself. Moreover, this is the first opportunity which my party has had in the House to make these points and have them recorded accurately in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I had just spoken of the consultations which should have taken place with the European Commission. Obviously, Mr. George Thomson expected such discussions to take place, for he was quoted some time ago as having expressed surprise that they had not. When I asked the Minister recently about such discussions, I received the rather frosty reply that the time was "not yet appropriate". If the time is not appropriate now, when will it be?

Having been appalled by the scars created by motorways, I am even more appalled at the concept of a rolling motorway. My first impression of the proposal for a vehicle ferry service is that it will turn large sections of Kent into an asphalt jungle. The idea that we may actually encourage juggernauts to career about the country fills me with horror. We should be doing all in our power to get as much freight as possible off the roads and on to the rail system. Yet this proposed service will encourage road freight traffic rather than discourage it.

I am somewhat bemused by the statistics in this section of the Green Paper, which seem to indicate that only 10 minutes overall is allowed for both the unloading and the loading of a vehicle ferry train. My arithmetic is not good but I calculate, on the basis of a load of 260 vehicles per train, that each vehicle has three seconds to get on or off the train. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] My arithmetic may be wrong, and hon. Members will have an opportunity to correct that later.

Mr. Huckfield

The hon. Gentleman should look at the pictures.

Mr. Tope

In section V of the economic and financial studies, we have an interesting example of social science research. A series of investigations were held into the holiday habits of the British people, and we are told at one point that 20,000 people filled in a detailed questionnaire. I wonder whether one of the questions asked whether those who went on holiday abroad regarded the sea journey as an integral part of their holiday or whether they regarded it simply as a mode of transport on the way to their destination. I wonder also whether, in the consideration of the alternative of a tunnel, any distinction was drawn between single people and families with children. If I had any children—I have not been married long enough to be in that position—I do not think that I should like to sit cooped up in a wagon for any length of time.

The most compelling element of the tunnel proposal is the through rail services, both freight and passenger, to which hon. Members have already referred. As I have said, the vital need is to get freight on to the railways, and the idea of through rail services is therefore attractive from the point of view of both communications and the boost which it would give to British Rail. A substantial new investment in British Rail, with no cutting of present lines or services, and recognition that the railway system is a public service which should not be forced to make a profit need to be firmly established in the present rail policy review.

British Rail's ability to provide the sort of service needed by any Channel Tunnel is obviously linked to the discussions taking place at the moment on the future of the rail system. I hope we shall soon hear some positive news from the Minister on that subject.

A further factor which must be considered is the employment position in study area No. 29, especially in the town of Dover. The report on the economic and social impact on Kent spells out clearly the implications of the tunnel for the people of Dover.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I have noticed that he has in fact been reading his speech. I appreciate that he is trying to condense it and make it as brief as possible, but, although he is a new Member, he should know that the rule of debate is that one may refresh oneself, if necessary, from copious notes; and there is a subtle difference between that and what the hon. Gentleman is doing. However, I am sure that he is coming to the end of it, anyway.

Mr. Tope

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise, as a new Member, for not being aware of that rule. I am indeed coming to the end of my copious notes.

I was about to refer to the employment situation in Dover as shown in the report. For this purpose, to get the figures right, I must refer directly to my notes. A loss of 1,730 shore jobs is predicted in 1980, and a fall of up to 2,500 in the crews of ferries and hovercraft. In addition, there will be a serious decline in the hotel trade and a loss of up to 300 jobs in this sphere. Also, it has been shown in respect of other parts of the Dover area that up to 40 per cent. of the people living in an area work at the docks terminal.

The Government must tell us that they have firm proposals to cope with that almost certain decline in employment in Dover, which will be due, basically, to the construction of the tunnel. We need firm and decisive action from the Government on that score.

All the reports imply acceptance of a continuing economic growth rate and a continuing growth in our population. In fact our population growth rate is falling, and it is the growing view among right hon. and hon. Members that we must establish an optimum population and stabilise it at that point. Similarly, the god of unlimited economic growth is increasingly being challenged. I shall not tackle that point further now, but I feel that one should not assume continuing economic growth automatically in many years to come. History may well overtake us on that.

As yet, we have nowhere near the information which we must have to make a decision on this project. We still need reports relating to the environmental impact, the regional implications, the European regional implications, the financial future of British Rail, the employment situation and so on; and we shall need time to consider that information. For that reason, it is imperative that any decision which the House has to take on proceeding with this proposal must be postponed until after 31st July and not be taken until November.

1.8 p.m.

Mr. John Welts (Maidstone)

I shall not follow the oddities and quirks displayed by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope), who produced some very peculiar ideas in the long letter which he read out. Apparently, he thinks that there would be an increase in juggernaut traffic on a moving motorway. Does he not realise that the one hope of the "Chunnel" is that it will steer some of our juggernaut traffic on to British Rail? It seemed to me that the hon. Gentleman missed the great point.

I am passionately in favour of the Channel Tunnel, but I realise that certain questions still remain. I fear that a number of influential people in Kent are opposed to it for several bad reasons, and I hope that their fears will be allayed as far as possible. I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for the trouble he has taken in coming to Kent on many occasions, and for his promise to come again in the near future, to allay these fears. We are most appreciative.

There are some slightly startling things said. Our county council operates a news service and sends newspaper clippings to us from time to time. We recently received an item which said: Channel Tunnel. Railway official discloses that this project will involve …". The railway official did not "disclose" anything. The word "discloses" has a sinister connotation. I cannot help feeling that many sensible people in Kent are misled through the use of these rather foolish words.

Great play has been made about the environmental difficulties. Let us be realistic. If the tunnel does not come, the centres of the existing port towns will be quite intolerable in a few years. They will be devastated by the roll-on/roll-off development. There must be some new alternative if the environment of our towns is to survive. I believe that the tunnel is the best prospect. The terminal will be seen from the top of the Downs but, apart from that, it will be masked by the spoil that comes out of the tunnel.

From the top of the Downs the town of Folkestone is no beauty now. I appreciate the difficulty of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) in being forced to remain silent because of his appointment and I apologise to him, but I believe that anyone looking at the town dispassionately from the top of the Downs would say "It ain't no beauty at present." The terminal will not make the town any worse from the Downs. From ground level it will be masked by the spoil and the trees that will be planted.

The roads approaching the new terminal will be good. My right hon. Friend has promised us roads, and he took clear note of the speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) urging the Government to provide us with more lateral roads. These are essential. If we do not get these lateral roads, for the tunnel or existing ports, we shall be in desperate difficulty. I and one or two of my hon. Friends voted against our party two nights ago on the Maplin issue. One of my reasons for doing so was that I understand that 50 per cent. of the traffic now going in and out of Heathrow is on short hauls of under 500 miles. If British Rail can maintain the high speeds it promises, a great deal of that traffic will be diverted to the tunnel.

This is a realistic point and another reason for looking steadily at Maplin. The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) made an invalid point in my view in saying that we were putting a hostage into the hands of France. He said that France would have a stranglehold on us in many directions. He did not say what they were. He glossed over the industrial action. But I would say that British Rail has a great deal to learn from the French Railways in terms of international trains. All international trains go through in France, even if there is an industrial dispute. I trust that we shall not give offence to the French, who understand this so much better than we do.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) was right to say that the entry to the tunnel will be at Lime Street Station. This is the great national prospect. The environment in Kent can be protected by the entry to the tunnel being at Lime Street Station.

There are some local matters I should like to raise. One of our great anxieties is what will happen to our commuter traffic. Will our commuters be put to further inconvenience? I understood that the main Kent line which passes largely through my constituency will have a new parallel line laid alongside it. Thus commuters in my part of the country will be all right and will not suffer, even during the construction period. I would be grateful for an assurance on that point from my right hon. Friend.

I also understand that it is the intention of British Rail to use the existing track on the Tonbridge to Edenbridge section of the line. Usage of that track is minimal at present. It is only fair to remember that there are many people who bought houses abutting that line because the usage was minimal, with perhaps a train every hour. If they now find that there will be a train every two minutes or so they will suffer a serious loss of amenity.

For this and many other reasons I join my colleagues who have urged an inquiry. I see the need for some degree of urgency but there can be little difference between the end of July and early November, and the later date would give the House time to look again and it would give the Government an opportunity for broad-ranging public consultation with all interests.

1.16 p.m.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Woodside)

I will not delay the House for long because, as so often happens at this point in any debate, many of the things that one wanted to say have already been said, some exactly as one would have wished and others slightly differently.

I have been interested in a cross-Channel link for a long time. I should state that I have an interest in it as I am one of the Joint Chairmen of the Parliamentary Channel Tunnel Group. Other than my interest as a taxpayer, that is the total extent of my interest in the tunnel.

I began many years ago being interested in some kind of cross-channel link, and instinctively I thought a bridge was what we should go for. A bridge is much more attractive, much cleaner. It would be nicer to drive across in the fresh air and stop for a meal at one of the restaurants in the centre which were shown on the earlier plans. I do not know at what point the change came, but slowly I became conscious that there were three principal worries about a bridge. The first was the cost, the second technology and the third the navigation.

I do not think anyone doubts that a bridge would be dearer than a tunnel. The best estimate that we have has been that it would be at least twice as much. We have had legitimate complaints about the costing techniques used on the tunnel, but the current studies have been much more exhaustive than anything I have seen dealing with a bridge. At least we have some sort of reasonably firm course.

I turn to the question of technology. We are accustomed to the thoroughness of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) when he becomes involved in something. I feel that his action in taking a group to see the Minister for Transport Industries was typical of that thoroughness. I am glad that he has just returned to the Chamber. While I have no doubt that the technicians he took to see the right hon. Gentleman—

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

They were not technicians but highly-skilled professional engineers.

Mr. Carmichael

I am sorry if my hon. Friend thinks that there is something denigratory in the use of the word "technician".

Mrs. Short


Mr. Carmichael

I think that perhaps in higher education we have too much stratification. When I talk about technicians I am talking about people who know how to handle materials, irrespective of whether at some point they use pencil and paper or have some other type of training.

However, the people my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne took to discuss this problem with the Minister for Transport Industries were, I am sure, absolutely honest in their belief that all the techniques were available. In debates which I have heard and in which I have taken part on the question of Concorde and the TSR2 when I was a junior Minister, all the specialists believed that they had all the technical answers. It appeared that they had all the techniques and scientific understanding required. But in a project involving a bridge with spans of up to three kilometres we are approaching the edge of design capabilities.

I can understand the specialists' tremendous interest in the project, for it is a wonderful engineering challenge to high-grade people. However, there is no question but that the difficulties of building a bridge, or any combination involving a bridge, would be much more complicated than boring a tunnel in chalk, particularly as the geological formation in the Channel where the proposed tunnel would be bored has been placed there almost providently for such a tunnel.

Mr. Sheldon

Under the scheme the bridge would cover the distance between the sandbanks and the coast. It would not be used for through-traffic across the Channel. Therefore, very long spans would not be needed. The tunnel part, would be in the centre, where navigation takes place.

Mr. Carmichael

I am aware of that. As my hon. Friend knows, there are a number of schemes and it is perhaps understandable that there is some complication. I am sponsoring another scheme with my noble Friend Lord Davies later in the year. There may be room at some point in time for a bridge or a bridge combination, but I am fairly sure that if we want a reasonably quick link a tunnel is the best solution.

The English Channel is probably the world's busiest waterway of any size and the agreement of the maritime nations would be needed to put an obstruction in it. If we decided in favour of the bridge we would have ample time to go into the technicalities and the financial questions because it would be a long time before we reached the point when it would be built.

The co-Joint Chairman of the Channel Tunnel Parliamentary Group raised a relatively new point concerning fuel supplies. There may be difficulties in future if events continue as they appear to be going in America, and the question will arise whether it will be possible for people to drive from their homes in Britain to the South of France or any other part of the Continent.

As I see it, any form of bridge would carry only two lines of rail traffic. There would be no question of converting at a later date the road section of the bridge to rail because this would involve considerable increase in weight. It is said that if extra engines ran on the bridge there would be need for a considerable increase in weight-bearing capacity.

It may be asked why a Scotsman should be concerned with a cross-channel link. Cross-channel traffic will increase. I hope that traffic expands in other parts of the country. However, there is no question but that the greatest expansion will take place on the short route because of the geography. Therefore, as a Scotsman I am concerned about the importance of developing the possibility of people being able to put goods on British Rail wagons in Scotland which would then run right through to Dusseldorf, Milan, Vienna and other parts of the Continent. This would be one of the main advantages, not only to Scotland but to the rest of the country, of a Channel Tunnel.

I have spoken to a large number of people in industry, commerce and transport in Scotland over a number of years, and, while it would be dishonest of me to say that they were ecstatic about the idea of a Channel Tunnel, not one of them has expressed any objection to it. They all thought that it would do no harm to industry in Scotland and that the possibility was—some of them thought it was a fairly strong possibility—that great benefit would accrue to industry and the people of Scotland. The Customs clearance depots in Scotland have not being doing as well as we would have hoped. If there was a Channel link, we would expect that the wagons could be sealed by Customs officials at Gartsherrie, and sent straight to their destination.

Some means should be found of discriminating positively in favour of goods going abroad by rail. I do not know how it would be done. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that an analysis of the regional repercussions of a tunnel would be required, and we particularly need such an analysis in Scotland. I hope that this debate will stimulate some of the Scottish trade associations and perhaps one or two of the Scottish newspapers to make a survey and gather the opinions of Scottish people about the affects which a Channel Tunnel are likely to have on them.

A number of important questions have been asked in the debate, and we must await the evidence which will be produced by the Ministry. The figure of £120 million for rail investment has been mentioned. I should have thought that I could defend that figure in respect of the development required by British Rail on this side of the Channel. We need to get more information from British Rail on the question of investment. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne raised a number of points about financial arrangements which also need to be considered.

One, two or three years are important, although my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne did not seem to think that it was a matter of great significance with a project such as this. I believe that time is of considerable importance and that within a reasonably short period we should have a cross-Channel link. The first link should be a bored tunnel.

We must cut the delay as much as possible. I have the feeling that there is a general hope and agreement that a tunnel should be proceeded with. However, having ascertained the feeling of the House, I hope that the Government will produce in the near future some of the statistics which many hon. Members who basically support the idea of a tunnel think are required before the House can make a final decision.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next speaker, I ask hon. Members to note that we are slipping a bit. We must do better if all hon. Members who wish to speak are to be able to do so.

1.30 p.m.

Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon. South)

I will certainly endeavour to obey your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must declare a double interest in this matter, not of a financial character. If the high-speed rail link which is an essential part of the package is constructed, one end of it will destroy my house and the other end will render large areas of my constituency of Croydon. South uninhabitable.

So far, noise has not been mentioned, but this high-speed rail link will provide a regular service of super fast trains. It may be said that in the countryside it does not matter, but it matters very much in the built-up areas approaching London. A typical such area is my constituency, where there is already a shortage of land and a serious housing situation. I am concerned to find out the final line of route because it is a serious matter for those whose houses are near the track.

I do not hang my opposition to the proposals simply on the two considerations which I have mentioned, but they concentrate the mind most wonderfully. My main objections to the scheme are environmental ones. I object to the devastation which it will wreak in the fairest part of England. Kent used to be called the garden of England. It is in process of becoming the garden suburb of England and heaven knows what it will be called if the scheme goes through.

I hope that my right hon. Friend, whose difficulties I well understand, will feel from what has been said in the debate that it is not "on" to get by 31st July the green light for the exploratory stage 2. A mass of information is still to be received. Although it may be said that we have been arguing about the Channel Tunnel for the last 200 years, the public debate has been going only for about four or five weeks. What went before was largely academic. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that there were 22 studies to be considered after publication of the Green Paper. I totted them up to 18, of which I have read three or four. Many of the studies are still not available.

A decision to go ahead with stage 2 means an expenditure of £28 million. Very soon in major projects we take a step which involves relatively modest further expenditure. We then say that, after all that has been spent and all the studies that have been done, we must go ahead. I am not declaring final opposition to the scheme. I am saying that we still do not know the full implications, so let us not come to a firm decision by 31st July. I do not know what is the magic of that date.

I underline that it is the taxpayer who will have to pay because 90 per cent. of the money is guaranteed by the Government and if anything goes wrong the taxpayer will have to find the money. Let us not get the idea that private enterprise is putting up the money. It is not.

I said that my main criticism was the environmental one. I am deeply alarmed at the effect on Kent of canalising freight and passengers into a bottleneck behind Folkestone. The effect will be disastrous and it is inconceivable that the Government, who are facing up creditably to eradicating some of the scars of an earlier industrial revolution, and are supposedly dedicated to improving the environment, should turn Kent into a parking lot for juggernaut lorries. That is what would happen. Let no one imagine that the tunnel will automatically result in orderly canalisation of road traffic on to rail, which I feel sure is the objective which my right hon. Friend has in mind.

The United Kingdom is a small country and, whatever may be said, it is well served by roads. With a ferry terminal near Folkestone and a train leaving every four minutes—as was suggested in the Green Paper—nearly every motorist in the United Kingdom will drive his car there rather than incur the expense and delay of putting it on rail. I would do so, and I am certain that applies to people living anywhere else in the country. This must mean more roads to the Channel ports to service the rail terminal. We shall need not a few acres of parking, but square miles of it. If we are not careful there will be an unbroken line of stinking, belching ironmongery all the way back from the Channel port not to Ashford and Canterbury, as has been suggested, but to Maidstone and even the suburbs of London.

That is the price we shall have to pay. Anyone who has any doubt about that I ask to spend a weekend with me on the A20 where I live. On a Sunday night it is impossible to get one's car out of the gate even at this relatively quiet period of the year. I cannot imagine what will happen in the peak holiday months.

The same will happen with freight. The juggernaut lorries will hang on to the road, as they do now, for as long as they can. Why should people pay for freight to go on a piggy-back train and get lost in a marshalling yard on the way? It was the inefficiency of the railway freight services that drove so much freight on to the roads, and it will take a differential freight policy to get it back again.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), not for the first time, went to the heart of the matter when he said that the success of these proposals depended entirely on settling freight rates which were so favourable to rail that they acted as a magnet to take traffic off the roads. One might almost say that we would have to offer free passage across the Channel. That would be to make total nonsense of all the financial forecasts.

I have heard it said—and I believe it to be true—that the present arrangements, whether or not expressed in a treaty, prevent us from making special differential arrangements in favour of rail. If so, I urge my right hon. Friend to consider this most seriously. If we are to get the benefit which we are supposed to get from the scheme, it must be on the footing that an immense amount of traffic is removed from the road and put on to rail. Whatever happens, the ferry terminal behind Folkestone is a disaster. No one realises how enormous it will have to be to cope with the increased rail traffic.

The final argument is the economic-strategic one. I do not fear that armed men will pour into the tunnel on the French side and come out at the other end firing. What I fear is the vulnerability to sabotage on a modest scale of such a tunnel and the immense concentration of traffic that would be drawn through it. Now that we are in the Common Market, people going through the tunnel will not be subject to much checking or inspection of passports. It seems that the tunnel could become exceedingly vulnerable to the kind of urban guerrilla activity and its appalling effects which we see so often today.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to look at the matter carefully. We cannot give him the green light to go ahead on 31st July. Let him return to the House when we have had time to study the additional papers and when there has been genuine public debate on the matter. Let him then tell us what positive schemes he has for diverting road traffic on to rail so that the pressure will be taken off the overloaded roads, particularly in East Kent. That will give some hope to people who live in the towns and villages which serve the ports.

1.41 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

In view of the shortness of the time and the many hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall present certain points on the basis of what might be considered to be a vested interest. Perhaps I may be excused from attempting to justify my views because of the shortness of time. I represent a port as a constituency and I am sponsored by the National Union of Seamen. Therefore, I have a direct interest in the shipping industry. That industry, in the context of these plans, could well be the Achilles heel of the argument about whether the Channel Tunnel is an economic viability.

I do not think that the studies or the reports give sufficient attention to the great contribution which the shipping industry has made, despite claims in the 1963 White Paper that because of the increasing amount of traffic the industry would not be able to meet demand and that an alternative would have to be found of getting across the Channel.

In fact, tremendous growth has taken place. Over 500,000 vehicles were carried across the Channel in 1962 and 1½ million were carried in 1971. That is an annual increase of over 13 per cent. The industry not only met the demand but went in excess of the target which was set in the 1963 White Paper for 1980, which was passed in 1970. The shipping industry has, indeed, a surplus capacity. That is due to the peculiarity of having peak summer demands and having to carry sufficient capacity to meet it.

A great deal of technical innovation has taken place, much of it by British Rail, which has led to a reduction in the price of freight being taken across the Channel. That is a reduction in real terms and not an increase, as was envisaged in the 1963 White Paper. When estimates are made there is a tendency to make grave mistakes about the projection of traffic flows in the next 10 or 15 years. Nevertheless, objective appraisals have to be taken and decisions based upon them.

Insufficient time is being given to the consideration of the contribution which shipping makes. Shipping could meet the projected demands envisaged in some of the studies without great difficulty. That would mean that we should have to spend considerably more to develop port facilities. We should require vessels capable of carrying not 360 cars but approximately 800 cars. There would have to be faster turn-rounds and development in the port areas to enable the ports to meet the tremendous demand that is now taking place in this sector of transportation, and reduced rates. We should not dismiss too lightly the further contribution which shipping could make.

Let us look at the alternatives. We have talked about a bridge, a tunnel and various ways of getting across the Channel. The fact is that shipping has not been given enough emphasis. If we consider the argument for increasing shipping capacity there will be found a real alternative to the tunnel. The reports, at great length, consider the economic feasibility of the prospects and make certain assumptions, but the arguments are only as strong at the assumptions made.

We must bear in mind that Dover and other ports will be affected to a great extent. Many seamen, particularly those at Dover, will be concerned about unemployment arising from reports that over 80 per cent. of the traffic would be lost from the Dover area if the tunnel were able to attract the traffic. That is an awfully big "if" which depends on the assumptions involved.

The technical developments taking place in the shipping industry are being underestimated. We cannot write off the hovercraft as something which might come in the future. The argument about whether it can carry payloads must have been addressed at one stage to small aircraft. I believe that the hovercraft will have an important rôle to play. The development of LASH cargo lighters on ships being taken from various commercial ports throughout the world and unloaded into estuaries will change many of the transportation techniques which we now know.

We must not ignore the fact that at the moment holiday traffic goes mainly to the near Continent, and holiday tastes will change. Further, we are assuming that cars will continue to pour on to our roads at the present rate. We must consider whether we shall have enough petrol to feed them. These are important arguments which are coming very much more to the fore which we must consider and they affect the economics brought forward to justify the tunnel.

One of the important assumptions made in the reports about the viability of the shipping industry to compete with the tunnel is what the tariffs will be. The reports talk about the shipping industry having to obtain an 11 per cent. return on investment. In fact, the shipping industry for a long time has received considerably less if its statements are to be believed. I have arguments to advance about that in another context. It is a false argument to base economic arguments on a return considerably greater than that which the industry enjoys at the moment and which it continues to expand.

We must also consider the development of ports. The Government have been shown on many occasion to have no positive policy about such development. The Government leave the market to decide the financial rates of return to determine the kind of port facilities which we should have. The reports point out that the envisaged lost revenue to a number of ports—I include the Humberside ports as they could be particularly affected—as a result of the traffic that will go through the tunnel from the areas in the north will be £9 million in 1980 and £19 million in 1990. The investment in the ports will fall by £76 million by 1990.

That will have a tremendous effect on the ports. It will have an effect on their financial ability to meet the financial targets given to them by the Government. If that happens, it means that more subsidies will have to be given by successive Governments. The consequence will be that the Government will have to meet further expenses. Those expenses will have to be assessed as part of the social cost when we come to judge alternative means of crossing the Channel and the true cost of the tunnel.

I am concerned to get a proper assessment of the economic and social costs and thereby the true cost. Certainly mention has been made of regional costs. That is a matter which will be brought to the fore before any decisions are made. The South-East would be a magnet to industry. That applies not only to containers coming from Scotland but to warehouses and all sorts of industry which will want to get close to the embarkation points such as Dover. There would be tremendous growth in the South-East to the disadvantage of northern employment areas.

Many hon. Members on the other side have been talking about conditioning the influence of market forces. They have spoken about putting more traffic from the roads on to rail or making decisions which will interfere with the market forces. The whole basis of the argument is about the supremacy of the market forces. We seem to be conditioning an awful lot of our decisions on that basis. There are points to be made about how much British Rail will have to write off of its assets if it has to lose traffic from some of its harbours, such as Harwich, where massive development has taken place. We can consider, for example, the Parkestone Quay development with its container development.

Another matter which must be considered is that the cost of the high-speed rail connection to the tunnel is not included in the original cost. If that is taken into account, we must talk about another £250 million which the State will have to meet, because a nationalised industry is involved, as a consequence of such development.

There are other points about that which I should make if I had the time to do so. The reports suggest that there will be a loss of 6 million passengers and a loss of revenue of £29 million in 1980 and £46 million in 1990. There are assets in which the State has a strong investment interest and any investment loss will have to be underwritten by the Government. This is another matter to be considered.

On the subject of roads, it is true that there will be many road developments which will still go ahead even if the tunnel is built because people will prefer to go to the embarkation point, whether by ship or tunnel, by road. We have heard a great deal about taking traffic off the road and on to the railways, and that whole matter would have to be taken into account backed by all the proper surveys.

The question which is then to be asked is whether this project will be commercially profitable as an investment. This is where the assumptions become important. The Green Paper says that there will be no discrimination between alternative systems and that the market forces will determine whether ships or a tunnel is the most profitable. We are also told that there will be a 14 per cent. return on investment in the Channel Tunnel project. The assumptions are that the share of the traffic going to the tunnel will be the greater with a decline for shipping. It needs this share to guarantee revenue and returns on its capital. The share of the market becomes crucial, as also does the question of tariffs to be charged.

The shipping industry is prepared to compete provided that both competitors are on the same commercial basis. There will be a massive amount of capital involved in building the tunnel in terms of fixed costs. At any rate, the shipping world believes that it can compete with the tunnel, and retain its traffic, particularly when we bear in mind technological developments in shipping. If that view is right, clearly the shipping industry and all the technical experts will need to comment on the validity of the assumptions, in the consultants' record which justify their claim that the tunnel will corner this proportion of traffic. If, on the other hand, the shipping industry is wrong in its view, it will need to be proved wrong on a strict impartial economic appraisal of the Channel Tunnel. This is essential because such a decision would have crucial consequences. It must be remembered that at the end of the day we must guarantee the Government debt, especially so if the decision is the wrong one.

There is also the question of the attitude of the private money market and what rôle that will have to play. The Government have subjected the shipping industry channel freight rates to examination by the Monopolies Commission with a view to obtaining a reduction in prices. We suggest that such an examination should also be made of the Channel Tunnel project. If these are to be the governing factors, and if it is said that the Channel Tunnel will obtain a greater share of the market, we shall need to be given substantial evidence of that fact.

Most important, we must not make a decision by 31st July, for it would be absurd for us to be expected to do so, and we have until 15th November to make such a decision. Even with ail the reports which we have to consider, and with those which are still to come, we still need to have a proper appraisal and discussion of the evidence because there are fundamental issues—involving the soundness of advice, the full social and economic cost to the community, environmental costs, regional problems, transport flows—all of which affect transportation and our economy. I believe that all these matters would benefit from an examination by a Select Committee or by the Public Expenditure Committee which can make proposals to the House which we can then consider.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Although I agree with a great deal of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), I hope that we shall try to avoid coming to any absolute conclusions on this subject. I suspect that there is a desire to assimilate the information which we have been given and to avoid coming to a decision today, and certainly a decision as early at 31st July.

We see from the Green Paper that The idea of a Channel Tunnel has been discussed for about 170 years. Early plans came to nothing partly because they were ahead of the practical engineering techniques of their day, and further for fear that foreign armies could use it to overcome the 'moat defensive' of the Channel. Lest it should be thought that I am prejudiced against the tunnel simply because of the Continental adventure into which we have recently, and I hope temporarily, been led, I must hasten to correct that impression. I believe that the majority of people in this country would be sympathetic to the idea of a cross-channel link if it could be proved to be an engineering possibility, if it were considered to be economically right and not damaging in an environmental sense.

There is an instinctive sympathy for the idea of a Channel Tunnel which has always had a somewhat romantic attraction to British people. It is significant, however, that there has been no overwhelming response or enthusiasm for this particular project, and we should examine why that should be so.

The people of Kent have appreciated the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries has gone out of his way to stress all along, that he is totally objective and completely open-minded on the subject. I believe that the Government have not yet come to a decision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Indeed, I believe they have made enormous efforts to supply us with the maximum amount of information. We certainly cannot complain that we have not been given enough information. In the past few weeks we have been deluged with reports and I am terrified at the prospect that we are about to receive another 18. I do not particularly look forward to reading those documents. We have already had a 60-page report full of important statistical details, which I have not yet had a chance to read. We have also had a 300-page report on the economic and social impacts of the project in Kent. I shall not list the other massive documents we have had, but I do not believe that many hon. Members will have had a chance to study this mass of material. I understand that there is a waste paper shortage. When this debate is over I suspect that we shall be able to do a great deal to solve that problem.

I cannot understand why my right hon. Friend believes that he can convince this House or the country that a decision can be taken by 31st July. I cannot believe that he wants this matter to be rushed. I am sure he would not wish us to make a decision on the basis of the information which we have only just received or, indeed, on the basis of the information which is still to come. I urge him to come forward with a suggestion, not to postpone this matter to mid-November, but to give us a year. I do not know whether that period of a year could be taken up by a Select Committee examination of the situation, but we must have that sort of time scale.

Mr. Peyton

The point about an inquiry is constantly being made in this debate. I have referred to the need for a substantial Hybrid Bill if we go ahead. That would involve a very stringent inquiry carried out by a Select Committee of the House under the Hybrid Bill procedure, which is fairly protracted. That Committee would carry out a detailed inquiry which would enable all the various interests to put forward their views.

Mr. Moate

With respect to my right hon. Friend, I would remind him that we have had the recent experience of the Maplin Bill procedure. That was a Hybrid Bill and was considered by a Select Committee which went exhaustively into the matter. That examination, however, was inhibited by the limited and technical nature of the Bill. I do not believe that a Select Committee of that nature could make a wide-ranging inquiry into some of the aspects covered by this array of reports.

Mr. Mulley

I gave the House an opportunity to have the kind of Select Committee which the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) wants, because after the Second Reading of the Maplin Bill I moved that there should be a Private Bill type of Select Committee to consider the subject, but unfortunately the House was not willing to agree to it.

Mr. Moate

If I remember aright, the House was hardly present to support the right hon. Gentleman. I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State on this point saying that, if the matter were to be delayed beyond mid-November, the whole project could be jeopardised. If the case for the tunnel is so strong and if there are powerful environmental and economic arguments, surely they would not be jeopardised by putting off a decision for a year to allow the information to be studied.

It is not simply a question of coming to the right decision, because we all want to do that. It is a question of making sure that the quality of our decision-making processes in this House are adequate to deal with this type of proposition. There are immense economic social and technological implications. A Select Committee could sift that information and then report to the House with clear recommendations. There is an overwhelming case for such a committee and I am sure that it would have general support. I urge my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to this suggestion. He must have got the reaction today that no one wants to be rushed over this decision because we might come to the wrong conclusion.

My right hon. Friend in his opening remarks used a phrase which I appreciated when he said that he was concerned to prevent this tide of ugliness continuing to roll unchecked over a beautiful part of England. He also said that the House needed time. Unfortunately, he then said that he had to have a decision by 31st July.

I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that one of the major considerations to be taken into account in Kent in deciding whether this is a good or a bad project is whether it will succeed in transferring from road to rail a large proportion of the traffic that is at present flowing and will increasingly continue to flow through Kent. In order to find out the facts, I have deliberately tried to keep an open mind on the whole project. Certainly the economic consideration is of major importance. The figures can be analysed and studied. To a large extent they are projections based on matters of faith. They are assumptions that traffic will increase because millions of holidaymakers will continue to flow to the increasingly crowded and polluted Mediterranean. All these projections can be argued about and disputed. The argument whether this project will be profitable is not the sole criterion. We are entitled to make social investments in major transportation projects.

But I would leave the economic considerations and turn to the environmental impact on Kent. I thought that the Green Paper was very obscure on this point. There has been talk about the ferry terminal in London. Many people have the idea that a great amount of the car and passenger traffic and of the freight traffic would get on at the rail point a long way from the Cheriton terminal. However, from what I have read so far, I think that is an illusion. Certainly the passenger traffic would probably join the rail services a long way from Kent, but I suggest that most of the car traffic, based on experience of car ferry services from the North of England and down to the South of France, would drive down to the Cheriton terminal. Therefore, Kent is faced with up to 2 million cars a year coming on to our roads.

The next feature is freight traffic. Will the project succeed in moving freight from road to rail? Will it succeed in putting the traffic which is already containerised on to rail as well? I am not convinced.

Generally speaking, the figures for the amount of freight to be transferred to rail are a tiny percentage of the total goods now carried by road. Even if we look only at the roll-on/roll-off container figures—I will not bore the House by quoting too much from statistics, of which there are so many—we see that probably a little over a half of the roll-on/ roll-off traffic going to the South Coast would go by the Channel Tunnel. An increasing quantity of roll-on/roll-off vehicles would continue to go to Dover and Folkestone. Therefore, Kent must expect an increase in the number of roll-on/roll-off vehicles going along its roads to existing ports as well as to Cheriton. It is clear that the inland terminal would not be able to take the roll-on/roll-off vehicles. Therefore, any increase in traffic that the tunnel attracts from the roll-on/roll-off aspect will go by road to Cheriton. I should be grateful to my right hon. Friend if, at a later stage, he will confirm that I am right. If so, I cannot see that Kent can avoid a serious impact on its road network.

I turn now to the road aspect. I do not think that the Government have faced the full implications to our road system of establishing such a tunnel at Cheriton. The A2, which will take a lot of the traffic, because we shall certainly not be able to restrict it to the M20, is still to be built up and improved to dual carriageway, not motorway, standards. There is no plan for a proper east-west route. Is traffic from the West to continue to go to London and then go to the South? We must consider that point.

I suspect that the M20, even if it is improved and completed to the standards suggested by my right hon. Friend, will not be adequate to cope with the millions of vehicles that would head down to the terminal.

I am not convinced that on balance we shall succeed in transferring back to rail the amount of traffic that we would like. If it can be proved and shown that this is the opportunity that most of us are looking for to give that extra boost to British Rail to help secure the transfer back from the roads to rail in the volume that we would like to see, I believe that it will weigh considerably in our minds. However, at the moment I do not believe that the evidence substantiates such a claim.

As a Kent Member I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) about his conclusion on the environmental impact. He claimed—I think wrongly—that many people in Kent were opposing the project as such for the wrong reasons. Broadly speaking, the people of Kent have been extremely patient and careful to retain as much objectivity as possible about a project which could do immense damage to the county. They have retained that objectivity, and want to do so, in order that they may make the right decision. If the project can be of environmental and economic advantage, I am sure they will agree to it. However, if they have to make an early decision without having studied the facts and figures, they will be inclined to say "No."

My hon. Friend suggested that we should not worry about the effect of the terminal, because to a certain extent it will be concealed from view by the slag heaps—that is an unconvincing argument—and that the view of Folkestone from there is ugly anyway. I do not think many people would agree that the environmental damage to that part of the country would not be serious. We must weigh that factor as a serious debit against the whole project.

I urge my right hon. Friend to give the House and the country time to consider the project properly. If the formula is right, it could be an exciting project. However, to rush it through might destroy it, and I do not think that the House would want to sanction something over which we had had such inadequate scrutiny.

2.7 p.m.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) covered a number of points which I should like to mention. I hope he will understand if, to save time, I deal with them as they come up in my remarks.

Before going on to my main remarks, I feel I should make two brief apologies. The first is for not hearing a number of speeches in a most interesting debate. This was due to an engagement that I had to keep. However, I heard the speeches by the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) at the beginning of the debate and most of the speeches that were made this morning.

My second apology, if it needs to be made, is for being something of a newcomer to a debate on transport matters. Therefore, I am not as expert on this subject as some previous speakers.

During the debate I began to ask myself a number of questions. First, why has the Channel Tunnel project come on the scene so suddenly? Secondly, why is there such a hurry to get a decision and something done about it? We have not had an answer to either of those questions.

The Green Paper suggests two possible answers. In the introduction it mentions our entry into the EEC. That suggests to me that from on high there was an instruction to the Department "Get out that file on the Channel Tunnel and have another look at it as we are now in the Market."

The whole matter appears to have been got out in a great hurry. The hon. Member for Faversham used the word "romantic". I wonder whether this project is looked at in that way. If so, it seems the wrong way to look at it.

Clearly, the Green Paper is concerned about the great increase in traffic passing through Kent and has seized upon the Channel Tunnel project as a possible answer to the problem of the amount of traffic that will obviously need to cross the Channel in the next decade or more.

Along with many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I am extremely anxious about the speed with which the Department appears to wish to handle the matter. I share the opinions that have already been expressed about the need to consider this project fully and with adequate time. I echo the remark that the fact that this project is an old one in people's minds has no bearing whatsoever on the issue, because it has to be considered in terms of the circumstances of today, and not the circumstances of 1963.

When we are considering it, surely we ought to do so in terms of two main factors. The first, which strikes me particularly, is that there is little doubt that in the 1970s we are living in a period of rapidly changing technologies in all forms of transport and that these changing technologies are bound to have an important influence on the decision that we take on the Channel Tunnel. The APT, a whole series of technical developments, computerisation, and so on, are all examples of subjects on which the Department of the Environment should take decisions of some kind or give some leadership on them.

On a number of occasions hon. Members have referred to the need for the House to consider the subject of the Channel Tunnel and study its implications in detail. One of the things that we lack in a discussion of this subject is proper leadership from the Department on transport questions in general. A whole number of questions need to be considered. I think that in particular in this year and decade a new transport strategy needs to be looked at more carefully and more fundamentally than ever before. I detect, as I am sure many hon. Members do, a desire to re-examine a whole range of questions relating to transport policy.

The earlier trend towards urban motorways has now moved in the other direction with the decision of the GLC to go against them and the decision of other authorities to look again at the wisdom of that policy. Questions are being asked about the future of the railway system to which we have no answers. There are also questions to be answered about the future of the commercial transport system in the country.

All those issues must bear upon, and be relevant to, the Channel Tunnel decision. All those questions being related, they need to be studied as a whole, and we require a great deal more guidance and leadership on these issues than we have so far had from the Government. The Channel Tunnel is being considered as a small isolated project which we can decide upon and of which we can see the implications as we go along in our studies. That is the wrong way to look at it.

I suspect that one reason why this is being looked at by the Government with urgency but without the depth of study that is necessary is that, for some reason which I cannot make out, they accept without question the involvement of private capital in this project. I do not understand the logic of that, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's views. We cheerfully go ahead with Maplin, with urban motorways and with investing public money in transport facilities of this kind. The Government do not appear to need to extend the involvement of private capital in this project, and I ask myself whether the Government are devaluing the importance of the decision by being able to say that as private capital is involved that is a help and it makes it an easier decision for them to take.

I do not think that that is right. We should look more carefully at some of the issues that have been mentioned, because any decision about transport is not just a decision about how to get from one side of the Channel to the other. It is a decision about the movement of freight from Dresden to Birmingham, or of passengers from Liverpool to Nice, or wherever it is, and it is in that context that we must look at the decision that we are discussing today.

There is one constituency matter which I feel bound to mention because it is important and has been alluded to by others. Being a lover of Kent, I share the concern that has been expressed by hon. Members who represent Kent constituencies about the damage that could be done to Kent by the building of the tunnel. It is relevant to mention that if this roll-on/roll-off facility comes into being as part of the project and the M20 is built to first-class standards, even if the consequence is that it will have no effect on the villages of Kent, it will have a direct effect on my constituency, since the M20 leads into the A20, and the A20 and A2 run through my constituency. Already in Greenwich I have far too many warehouses which take up valuable acreage but provide very few jobs, let alone skilled ones, for people who live there.

Wherever one lives in the country, the effects of the tunnel will spread far wider than the county of Kent, important though that is, and wherever the motorway system leads, the place where it ceases will inevitably be affected because the roads there are likely not to be suitable to carry the kind of traffic coming from the Channel Tunnel.

I had hoped that a project of this kind would be seen as a real opportunity for the Government to make a policy decision about public transport and about the whole question of the need to transfer traffic from road to rail. I do not see it being considered in that light. This was a great opportunity for the Government to see the tunnel as part of a comprehensive policy and to make a number of policy decisions about the way in which the whole project should be managed. Would it not have been possible for it to be seen as an end to the freightliner service, and for the Government to look into the possibility of British Railways increasing the percentage of merchandise going by rail freight to the extent that one finds in Germany, France and other continental countries?

I should have thought that a motor/rail facility would be vastly more attractive as a result of the project. The thing becomes competitive as soon as an overnight period is involved. If someone is travelling from a British provincial town to the South of France, overnight travel by rail and the use of a sleeper begins to make that facility competitive compared with having to drive all the way to one's destination. This is another opportunity to get traffic off the roads, and I am doubtful about the wisdom of the terminal at Cheriton.

Has that question been considered? Is it not possible for the tunnel to be seen as a means of providing an outlet for and a way in for freight travelling between the Continent and this country? Secondly, could it not be seen as a transport link for passengers with or without accompanied cars, I doubt the wisdom of including roll-on/roll-off facilities in this project.

I know that we are rightly being asked to limit the length of our speeches, but there is one further point to which I should allude. The matter was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). It is the whole issue of competition in transport. We on this side of the House have become increasingly convinced of the unwisdom of allowing competition—and particularly unfair competition—between one form of transport and another for a particular service. In view of that, the way in which the tunnel project ought to be considered is not as a form of competition for the ports, but as something which, technically, can provide the best form of service for a certain kind of transport.

Secondly, the tunnel project should be linked with the transport system as a whole as a proper planned decision, and not as a rather haphazard and rushed decision which the Government are apparently making on this subject.

2.20 p.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett) did well to try to relate this matter to general transport problems, but any of us who have been interested in them for a number of years will agree that it is much more difficult to reach conclusions as to the best trends for transport in the future.

Many hon. Members in this interesting debate have spoken with a lot of constituency interest. This project is not important to my constituency, except marginally. The Dorset ports of Poole and Weymouth will no doubt be affected—they are already feeling the impact of the heavy lorries from the Continent—but this will not affect us nearly as much as it will other people.

My reason for intervening in this debate on this vast project, which is based on many assumptions, several of which have not been verified and which we wish to see verified, is my interest in the shipping industry. It would be wrong for an island country like this, with a shipping industry that is earning a vast amount of foreign exchange, with a bigger merchant fleet than ever before, not to look fully at the shipping aspects of this proposal.

Up to now there has been very little reference to shipping in this debate. Shipowners have not been opposed to the general principle of the Channel Tunnel and they have been extremely co-operative in providing information to those who have it at heart. But I am a little disappointed that there has been no dialogue on the subject and that the information they have supplied has not been used as well as it might have been.

I am disappointed that the British and French consultants did not get together until May. The time scale is very important. This mass of paper has only just been provided to us and there has not been time to study it. I do not see how we can do so before 31st July. Therefore, it is a great pity that shipowners have not been brought into all this to a greater extent already.

This brings me to another question, the interests of the French Government in all this. Although I am a Francophile, I would suggest that there are more advantages in this for the French than for us. One has only to look at the developments at Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and the decline of the French Channel ports to realise that they have a lot at stake in this matter.

The table on page 23 of the blue paper shows some interesting figures. Any Channel Tunnel project will be a 50–50 show but at present, in the French straits Britain has 70 per cent. of the work and the French only 30 per cent. Although it is true that, when one moves further away from that area, the advantage is not so great, there is a danger that we shall get less out of this than the French Government. Therefore we need a great deal more time to examine this project.

Shipowners still maintain serious doubts about it all. First, I share the doubt about the total need for the project, which has not been firmly established. Second, some of the assumptions and predictions on which it is based have not been fully proved.

Third, I detect in all the papers a lack of recognition of the attractions of some of the other ports on the East Coast. From the point of view of many shippers, these attractions have, I believe, been seriously under-estimated and they will remain, Channel Tunnel or no Channel Tunnel.

Fourth, and perhaps in some ways most important, I was very disappointed that the Minister could not give any definite estimate of the likely cost for British Rail of making the necessary connections.

Mr. Peyton

My hon. Friend must have misheard me. I gave a figure of about £120 million for the first-class rail link.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I understood that British Rail itself had given a figure of £500 million on a previous occasion. This is an important point.

There is no doubt that the amount of traffic passing across the straits has increased and will increase. In some of these papers there has been a tendency to take to task the ferry owners for having unused capacity of 74 per cent. But that is an advantage in providing for the peak periods. Surely it is the duty of a service of this kind to provide for the public at the peak periods.

It is significant that no fewer than 130 regular services already run from no fewer than 16 United Kingdom ports. It is still extremely difficult to determine the effect of the tunnel on these services, but the fact remains that, under the existing system, there is a great deal of flexibility and that flexibility may be to the advantage of shippers and passengers alike.

Over the last 15 years the ferry owners have been remarkably successful in providing for the increased traffic. It is perhaps significant that the cost of transmitting freight across the Channel, despite inflation, is still no higher today than it was 10 years ago. Therefore, before we do anything that will detract from this expanding branch of the shipping industry, we should think very carefully.

There will be inevitable competition it there is a Channel Tunnel but it is essential that it should be fair competition. it would be wrong to assume—this assumption is made—that there will be a soft reaction from the ferry owners, that they will cave in and hand over the lion's share of the new traffic if it wants to go through to the Channel Tunnel.

The East Coast ports certainly have a big part to play in future. It is significant that at this moment some 11,000-ton ferries for the North Sea trade are on order to replace ferries of only 4,000 tons. So a great deal of progress is being made in this direction.

I am glad to know that rail expenditure will be only £100 million, although I find this a little difficult to understand.

Mr. Peyton

The present estimate by British Rail for the provision of a first-class rail link between London and the Channel is about £120 million.

Mr. Crosland

With the terminal.

Mr. Peyton ind

incated assent.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I am very interested to hear that.

This brings me to my general doubts about the whole of this project. I am surprised at the amount of reliance which seems to be placed on the expansion of motor-car traffic through the Channel Tunnel, all the more so when I think of the amount of personal choice involved. Very little time will be gained, although the figures for getting cars on and off the flats are remarkable. Anyone with experience of Motorail will know that the time taken to load and secure and then to unload vehicles from a single train is more like an hour and a half than the short time forecast here.

I am a little unconvinced about comfort by the drawing in plate 3 of the Green Paper, a kind of "tunnel of love" picture of people travelling along in their cars on these flats and looking very happy. When travelling by Motorail, I have always been thankful that I did not have to sit in my car while it bumped along. Has any thought been given to the problem of double springing? Both the flats and the cars have springs. This may have consequences which have not yet been fully worked out. If Motorail can be improved so much, why is British Rail not doing it now?

Until I looked into the matter I had expected that fares might be lowered by a Channel Tunnel, but we now read that they will be no lower than those now charged by the ferry services which are operating at only 74 per cent. of capacity, because of peak period provisions, which raises the charges that have to be made. On the credit side we are interested to note that regular services even at peak periods can be provided for motor cars using a Channel Tunnel.

I can see great advantages in passengers being able to go from one capital to another in Europe. On the other hand, as one who travels round Europe I find that I and many others seem to use rail services less and less, and I very much doubt whether the time is still here for expansion of rail services when air services are so quick. I must express a further doubt about British Rail, which is perhaps a little unkind. Much has been said about the opportunities offered for British Rail, but I wonder whether the time has not passed when British Rail is capable of grasping these great new opportunities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I do. A very good point made by one of my hon. Friends was that a lot of modern factories are being built without any railway sidings at all. That is a very relevant factor if we are thinking of attracting much of this industrial traffic back to long-distance rail.

If this project goes ahead, it will be a great pity if the resultant spoil is deposited in the sea. Some years ago I went to Gibraltar and found that a lot of spoil was being removed from the Rock and dumped in the Atlantic. I was able to stop that going on. The spoil was added to the runway, extending it a quite considerable distance. On my next visit I had a rather nasty landing—I landed within a few yards of the sea. I was indeed very grateful that the spoil had been used properly and not just dumped in the middle of the Atlantic.

Merchant shipping, which is making such enormous contributions to our balance of payments, is entitled to the fullest consultation and its interests should not be unduly jeopardised. It would be quite wrong if there were to be gradually introduced some form of hidden subsidy so that shipping interests had to meet unfair competition. It is essential to establish from the start that any competition must be absolutely fair. It is not right for an island nation to subsidise with public money in any shape or form competition with our shipping industry.

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) when he spoke about spoil from the tunnel. I only hope that what happened to his forebears in Northumberland and Durham does not happen in Kent and that there will not be lots of spoil heaps.

We have so far heard two outstanding points made by Kent Members. They are extremely worried about the environment and they are anxious about getting freight on to the railways and off the roads. I wish that that had been the attitude of the Conservative Party during the era of Dr. Beeching, because we might now have more railways left to which to transfer road traffic.

I sympathise with the anxieties of the hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) about the drilling of a borehole in his constituency, but I must tell him that we must worry about what is good for the country. The approach that the debate must take is whether this Channel Tunnel will be good for Britain, whether in the last instance it is important for us to have it. If it is important, whatever may be the environmental damage—and it is very good that nowadays such damage is looked at much more carefully than in the past—Kent should be prepared to accept this small amount of damage. After all, we have to put up with oil refineries on Teesside and hydro-electric schemes in Wales and elsewhere. If we are to have a Channel Tunnel, I hope that the Kent Members will appreciate that point and put it over to their constituents.

I declare an interest as an ex-railway man and a Member who is sponsored by the NUR. As a result, I am interested in having the tunnel. It affords a very exciting prospect for British Rail, and a tremendous amount of responsibility falls on the Minister for Transport Industries to see that British Rail gets the chance of taking advantage of the opportunities opened up to it. I shall watch with close interest.

In an intervention a moment ago the Minister said that £120 million will be the cost of a first-class rail link between London and the tunnel, plus the terminal buildings at each end. I hope that that will not be the total use made of the tunnel. I want to see the necessary expenditure provided to put such places as Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow into contact with it.

Before we can take off the roads and on to rail the sort of freight that the Kent Members have been worried about we must make these arrangements. Much of the freight from London and South-West London will continue to go to the tunnel by road, but where there is a prospect of making a big inroad into road freights will be by putting Northern and Midlands freight on the rail link long before it reaches the South of England. I hope that the Minister will assist British Rail to a great extent to meet that sort of cost.

All the joint preliminary studies that have been made by the railway industries of the various countries show that passengers will pay. The best estimate reached in the reports of the French and British consultations as to the two Channel companies is that in the first complete year 8½ million passengers will use the train service but that it might rise as high as 12 million in 1990 compared with the present 3 million passengers now carried by rail and sea. That will be a dramatic increase. Many passengers who now make their way to the ports in their own motor cars will join a train starting from the terminals at the White City or elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) expressed understandable fears, particularly when it seemed that his own back garden was to be affected, and also mentioned the effects on his constituency. I understand from information I have been able to glean that if the terminal comes into the White City area the routing will be done in such a way as practically to eliminate interference with the environment. It is thought that from the White City to Clapham Junction the existing South London line could be used. From the neighbourhood of Clapham Junction to South Croydon it is proposed to have a tunnel that would avoid a certain amount of environmental damage. From then on practically to the South Coast the additional line would be alongside the existing Southern Railway. So there seems to be a desire far greater now than in the past to take environmental damage into consideration, and past practice shows that this will be done far better if the railway lines run alongside in that fashion. Although there is a certain amount of concern amongst Kent Members, I hope that they will not overemphasise it when considering the possibility of this project getting an early start.

There are certain gauge problems. The rail gauge itself is not changed but there is a problem with the construction gauge. We shall experience considerable problems with incoming Continental traffic which could have the effect of its not getting further than the rail terminal. But if the terminal at White City is built, that problem would be solved and there would be complete interchangeability between the White City and elsewhere. I hope also that there will be studies to ensure, for example, that liner trains and other trains are able to go into the Continent. With a little adaptation to the construction gauge, we could at least go one way into the Continent without too much worry about incoming traffic.

There is also concern about how much the tunnel will affect freight. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is worried about the effect on steamers. I believe that the growth rate envisaged will take care of a lot of that. At the worst, there may be a mark-time period for shipping traffic, but I cannot see the ferries being driven out of business. I see them running in competitive fashion. If one has faith in growth on such a scale as that expected, I believe there will be room for both.

British Railways have a large amount of study to do and it will involve cost. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not cut short at £120 million for this direct route to London. I want him to help meet the cost of such things as containerisation, automatic coupling on the Continent, and bulk traffic freight. All these are aspects of transport which can be utilised by British Railways, given the operational know-how and the opportunity. This project could be a great injection for British Railways not only to their operational sector but also to their workshops. There is a tremendous challenge here. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) will get the assurances he needs so that he can throw his not inconsiderable weight behind this scheme, preferably at an early date.

2.53 p.m.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

Like the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) and my right hon. Friend for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), I must admit that to me the most attractive feature of the case in favour of the Channel Tunnel is the prospect of linking our railway system with that of Continental Europe. I admit to a prejudice in favour of railways. I like and prefer to travel by rail, and many of my constituents are involved in the railway industry. So my personal inclination and my duty as a constituency Member happily coincide.

I believe that there would be obvious advantages to British industry and to the travelling public if the 11.000 miles of our railway network were linked directly to the much larger Continental network. I shall not detain the House by analysing what by now has been established, I hope, as the obvious. Chapter 4.7 to 4.12 of the Green Paper is broadly in support of this proposition.

The statement by the British Channel Tunnel Company Ltd. on 15th May included two encouraging passages. The first was: British Rail plan to operate fast and frequent trains to major Continental destinations. The second pointed out that the tunnel would also be used by long-distance freight services and added—I ask the House to mark these words: Apart from roll-on/roll-off facilities, there would be freight-liners running between a number of cities. The Green Paper contains similar statements.

Those of us who are arguing the case for rail integration find all of this very encouraging until we examine in detail the problems of running rail services between Britain and the Continent—let us say, liner freight services from Manchester to Milan, Leeds to Lyons, and Sheffield to Stuttgart, to take a few alliterative journeys.

There are substantial difficulties. They are mentioned in the Green Paper and the supporting documents, but they are not analysed in detail or quantified, and we are given no idea of how they can be overcome. Nor is much account taken of them in the ultimate proposals. Chapter 4.9 is one of the key paragraphs in the argument. But it does not include a reference to the question of couplings which are different. It also says that it might not be possible to marshal freight wagons from one system to another through the tunnel.

These are formidable difficulties which unless resolved would make it impossible to run the very through services between British Rail and the Continental system which I, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries wish to see.

In another place, the Government confirmed their intention to link the whole of the British and Continental systems—I emphasise "whole"—and not just to link London to Folkestone. But that statement was qualified by the Minister in charge with these very important words: … subject to a solution of the very considerable problems set out in paragraph 4/"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 2nd May 1973; c. 163.] We have heard nothing more about a solution to these problems. Reference has been made to methods of improving the rail services from the Folkestone terminal of the tunnel to the London area. We are offered a high investment strategy and a low investment strategy, but these only link the Folkestone end of the tunnel to the London area. They are not integrating the systems as I wish to see. I want the figures for the total cost of integrating the British rail system with the whole Continental rail system.

Indeed, this must be one vital matter upon which we want a great deal more information. It is certainly a far bigger figure than the £163 million put in the cost-benefit study report as being the high investment strategy cost of linking the Folkestone end of the tunnel with the London area.

I have put down one or two Written Questions to my right hon. Friend on a number of these matters. On 9th April I asked him a general question about what it would cost to get compatibility between our rail system and the Continental rail system which would be necessary. His answer contained these pregnant words: The cost of modifying the British system would be very high."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April 1973; Vol 856, c. 223.] I wish to know, and, therefore, ask my right hon. Friend, whether it will be possible to link the British and Continental rail systems through the method of a Channel Tunnel at a reasonable capital cost. If it not possible, then as far as I am concerned one of the major reasons if not the major reason, in favour of a tunnel disappears.

Of course, the case in favour does not rest solely on this railway argument. But the motor car argument, which has substantial financial muscle behind it, is less convincing on environmental and financial grounds. These have been deployed in the debate already.

The tunnel would concentrate more and more of the cross-channel road traffic upon the south-east corner of Kent, with grave consequences not only for Kent but—this point has not yet been made—for the balance of our entire road system in this country. I regard that point as additional to the regional argument already deployed Indeed, I believe that there is a grave danger of the Channel Tunnel becoming a Channel funnel and distorting the deployment of our national resources.

The cost-benefit study postulates an internal rate of return of 17.6 per cent. Like the right hon. Member for Grimsby, I should like to go through the assumptions and calculations in some detail before I accepted the relevance, let alone the finality, of that figure in our decision to build or not to build.

What is more, I should like to hear the views of the Treasury on the resource implications of building the tunnel. What would it mean in terms of our civil engineering resources, and in terms of the types of steel required, nearly all of which, I understand, would be of those categories of steel now in short supply?

Therefore, in company with most hon. Members who have spoken, I draw the conclusion that we need further information, especially on the railway matters on which I have concentrated, before we make a final decision. I am a firm believer in the old military maxim that time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted. Indeed, the whole project could well be put to a Select Committee in the next Session of Parliament, as has been suggested. In the meantime, I should not be disposed to make a final decision on the project, but, if the Government were to force me to do so quickly, I should be bound to vote against it.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

I am glad to speak following the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), because he put his finger on the spot. Indeed, his speech was entirely complementary to that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). The two towns have something in common, and I have something in common with them, since the Acton area would have some of the marshalling yards and service areas for a Channel Tunnel terminal, wherever it came in London.

There have been references to Maplin. The trouble here is that we do not have all the objectives of the tunnel clear—the mode of operation, the basis of tariffs, and so on—but, whereas in respect of Maplin these matters were obscure because of the lack of paper, in this case they have been obscured by the amount of paper. These are the very matters which the Government must make clear, and they have not done so.

With few exceptions, everyone agrees that the question turns on railway matters. One could have a pure ferry function tunnel with virtually no rail links, or it could be a purely rail link tunnel with no Cheriton terminal or Sandgate terminal at the other end. The Government must make the balance clear. In my view, far from making it clear, they have done everything to make it unclear. In a letter to me of 16th February, the Minister said, in response to my suggestion that the tunnel gauge trains should he brought further into Britain, that it would present environmental problems to have these large trains (not only higher and wider but also vastly longer than any others in Europe) passing every few minutes across the countryside. These are the double-decker channel ferry trains. I do not know what Kent Members would say to that. I was resident in Cheriton for a year, and I can understand the impact of the terminal on that pleasant town and its hospitable people. Yet the Minister talks of the environmental problems as a result of these trains coming further into Britain. He went on to say in his letter: … we are anxious to see that as much traffic as possible passes on through trains. One cannot have it both ways.

In paragraph 7.12 of the Green Paper, dealing with operations, we are told that the tunnel should operate without discrimination between road- and rail-borne traffic". But that is the very discrimination which people have been asking for and which, so far as I am concerned, from the standpoint of the way in which it is done, must be a prerequisite of "Yes" to this proposal.

Another matter of fundamental importance which has not yet been mentioned is the difference between geographical distance and commercial distance across the Channel. Under the Channel, any traffic would, no doubt, have to pay between three and five times the cost of travel on land. In other words, from Calais to Dover the commercial distance is 100 or 200 miles of ordinary rail track. This means that the actual cost of movement of, say, wagons or container traffic will be very much weighted at the southern end of the route.

It would conceivably be possible to have a tapered tariff to give great advantage to areas in North and West Britain. In other words, a tariff could be arranged from Calais to parts of Britain giving advantage the longer the run. In this way, at one stroke we should have a valuable instrument of regional policy which would not only help the regions but help the railways.

It might be possible to have a single tariff to every freightliner terminal in Britain. If one wished to have a differential freight scale, for various reasons to which we shall come in due course, there could be a rebate in respect of particular terminals one wished to encourage.

Such an arrangement would be a valuable tool not only in doing what many hon. Members opposite have urged—that is, in transferring traffic from road to rail—but in the implementation of regional policy in Britain as well. It could do more, because it could ensure the continuation of some existing services, services for which there have been pleas in the Chamber today. We do not want to have social disruption as a result of redundancy among those who man the existing surface facilities.

There have been references to defence. The old-fashioned idea of troops going through the tunnel is out, but there is such a thing as diplomatic pressure, and the French would be in a strong position in this respect. It would, therefore, he only prudent to maintain our selected surface links or, indeed, perhaps all of them.

The advantage is not in having a tunnel or not having a tunnel. What matters is the sort of tunnel and the way in which it would be operated, the sort of tariffs decided upon, and the manner and mode of the tunnel's operations. Unless it is managed in the interests of the nation as a whole, in some of the ways which I have mentioned, we should, in my submission, have none of it. On the other hand, in transport and environment terms it could be a great asset—a tunnel similar physically to any other tunnel but managed in such a way as to give all the results which almost every hon. Member has called for. But the Government have not said whether this is their intention. Unless and until they do, despite the plethora of paper we have had, I feel that the House must say "No, not until we know the answers."—and they must be the answers for which I have asked.

2.57 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

We are all saying that we want more information and more answers. Hardly any voice has said "No" to the tunnel. I confess to being an unenthusiastic believer in the idea of the Channel Tunnel, but I could be turned into an enthusiast on certain conditions. I want answers to certain questions, and it is to these that I shall address myself.

I am not against better links between this country and the Continent. We cannot duck our responsibility in relation to the growing economy of all the nations of Europe. We are part of Europe. We cannot duck what is happening or turn our backs and wish that it was not. Neither can one turn one's back on the growing amount of tourism among the European countries, which is very much greater than it is between the countries of Continental Europe and Britain. The barrier is 22 miles of sea.

I am concerned about the environmental effect on Kent. I cannot help but be concerned. I have not met one of my constituents who has asked me to support the Channel Tunnel. Rather I have had to support with them the idea of such a tunnel as something we may have to pursue and develop environmentally. We must protect the environment of Kent, and I know that my right hon. Friend has taken great care to convince us in Kent that that is part of his determination.

I am not worried, as a Kent Member, about the need for more roads in Kent. I am sure that no hon. Member would think that. Only this morning I had a telephone call from Fleet Street to tell me that another juggernaut had crashed in one of my villages where the A2 to Dover is barely 22 feet wide. Roads are certainly needed. I believe that two motorways are already needed for traffic either to the ports or to the portals of the tunnel.

The idea of a rail tunnel alone is the wrong answer. This is a Maginot Line mentality which does not meet the needs of modern transport. It is not the fashion to go by rail, much as the railway enthusiasts may tell us that it is or could be. We are talking about a system as proposed in the White Paper of a bored rail tunnel with a roll-on/roll-off system. It is no different from the 35 minutes taken now to cross the Channel by hovercraft using the same system.

My main worry about the bored tunnel system, thinking only in terms of the road traffic, is that it must cause the traffic flow to stop to board the trains. This would be a blockage in the traffic flow between this country and the Continent and vice versa. We all know that the slightest mishap on a motorway crowded with traffic can cause a tailback for miles with many hours of delay and frustration. I am not convinced, therefore, that this system really meets the modern demands of transport, whether for tourists or businessmen using their cars to travel from one place to another or whether for freight transport by road. The idea of having to stop and board a train and then to get off at the end of the crossing is not in tune with modern transport

I am also concerned about the detrimental effect on the environment which the portal of a tunnel, the stoppage in the traffic flow, must bring with it Industries will grow up there. However much the Government of the day will try to control it, there will be a strong demand for certain types of industry, warehousing, despatching, assembly and so on to be established at the portal where there is a change and a stoppage in the flow of freight traffic.

It has been argued that the tunnel will be the catalyst which will attract back to rail the freight now so dangerously crowding and cluttering our roads. I wish I could believe that. We are not in the nineteenth century, the day of the great railway revolution. We are nearing the end of the twentieth century when road development is the greatest thing happening in surface transport. We have only to look at modern port developments in Europe around Antwerp and Rotterdam to see this. There are massive motorway connections to such ports while the railway connections are insignificant.

This railway tunnel idea is still the brain-child or the idée fixe of the railway enthusiast. I cannot blame him, but it is a fact that we all rather love the idea of trains and some love them more than others. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has told us that he likes to go on holiday by train. I would like it if I could get on at Victoria at 8 o'clock in the morning and be in Paris by 10.30 a.m. This is some way off.

On the other hand, if I were taking my family abroad I would like to have my car with me and I would like the stoppage at Cheriton and a stoppage on the other side. These are the facts about the trends in transport whether we like it or not. We could be fundamentally wrong if we thought that we could persuade people to go back to rail or to put their cars on Motorail.

This railway tunnel idea was conceived in the last century when the railway revolution was at its height. It was then that the bankers got behind it, as they got behind railway development across the world, realising they were on to a good thing. There was a man in 1803, Albert Mathier, who had the idea of building a road tunnel to carry stage coaches. I am not suggesting that this was necessarily a practical idea then, but to think today in terms of a road crossing is a very different thing. His idea was that the tunnel should come out at an artificial island in mid-channel.

That idea is being thought of again today and we must examine it. It has been dismissed far too easily by the Government in the White Paper. Much more detailed examination of it is required by the Government and by a Select Committee so that the public may know whether it matches the modern way of travelling rather than suffer the stoppage involved in using the railway. The idea of driving a car or lorry across Kent, across the Channel and then into France without stopping makes more environmental sense than having to drive on and drive off a train, with all the delays and frustrations which that would cause and the consequential damage to the environment, at least on the British side, which it would bring.

Professor Baker of the Imperial College has submitted his plans to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries and they have been published at the Institution of Civil Engineers. They involve a combination of two short tunnels and a short bridge between the two artificial islands in the Channel on the Varne and Le Colbart sandbanks. This is not an impossible concept. It is proven engineering and it must be examined because it would provide for a free flow of motor traffic between the two countries. It would include the railway link, which should not be neglected.

The plan is attacked by the mariners. It is said that the idea of establishing two islands in the centre of the Channel on existing sandbanks which have been there from time immemorial would be a danger to shipping. I suggest that it would be the reverse. It would be like putting a central reservation down a motorway. We would be creating in the Channel two seaways for shipping, each seven miles wide, separated by two artificial islands, complete with all the navigational and radar aids which could better control the passage in crowded shipping lanes in the Channel to the right and left.

This is so important a suggestion that we must have more information from the Government about it. It must not be dismissed in one paragraph. I hope my right hon. Friend will ensure that we get ample time to discuss this matter well before November.

3.8 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hucfield (Nuneaton)

I noted with fascination the adulation of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) of roads and road traffic, at the same time noting his almost permanent opposition to juggernauts. However, I do not intend to take up the intricacies of his personal transport policy.

The total size of the investment which we are considering is of approximately the same magnitude as that of the Maplin project. If we add together the cost of the tunnel, the rail access to London and the various peripherals, the figure is almost the same as that for Maplin. My suspicion about the tunnel project is similar to my suspicion about Maplin, namely, who is to get the benefit? Just as I am rather suspicious of the property companies which are waiting to move into the London docks when the Port of London Authority moves down the river to the new port at Maplin, I am rather suspicious about the benefit which RTZ and one or two private companies will gain and the loss which State-owned industries, including BEA and BOAC, and some State-owned shipping industries, will suffer. This is yet another example, under this Government, of private profit and public loss.

I am fascinated by the forecasts of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) and some Conservative Members about the potential railway traffic which the "Chunnel" will generate. Anyone who has made even the most cursory or peripheral study of some of the figures realises that it depends on the demand elasticities for the services concerned.

The entrenched hold which European air services have on business traffic has been mentioned. With the comparative cost of air fares and first-class rail fares, I wonder whether the tunnel will make the undersea journey sufficiently competitive with the air journey, bearing in mind the rail inter-city pairs and the businessmen's services which are springing up in aviation.

I wonder how much diversion of leisure traffic to the tunnel there will be, bearing in mind that two of the biggest growth areas in tourism are the package tour, which makes use of charter aircraft, and the growing preference for taking the family in the car. I cannot see motorists putting the family and the car on a Motorail service. The Motorail service operated by British Rail with a limited degree of success is an expensive and elitist motoring concept and not one the ordinary working man will be able to consider at present prices.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) doubted whether many of the roll-on/roll-off lorry services would switch to rail. I cannot see many British hauliers either piggy-backing or containerising their freight shipments to the Continent. I cannot see a great shift to rail without fundamental changes in our transport policy. What will happen is that the lorries will go down to the Cheriton terminal area just as they do now and to Dover and Folkestone, but instead of using the ferry they will use the tunnel. I cannot see this big shift of road haulage traffic on to the railway network.

Most road hauliers do not want the tunnel. They favour Maplin, for the simple reason that the east-west road infrastructure will be improved. They see no significant improvement in the road infrastructure for the tunnel apart from the M20, which will rapidly become overloaded. Most road hauliers—and I totally disagree with them—favour Maplin as opposed to the Channel because it carries with it the promise of an improvement in the east-west road infrastructure.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South spoke of integrating the British Rail network with a large part of the Continental railway network. To the extent that this brings down the minimum economic tonnage that can be carried, it could be an advantage. The present minimum economically viable tonnage which British Rail can carry is 500 or 600 tons—a big load. Going by the experience of the American railroads, the eastern seaboard railroads, because of their short hauls, make losses and the transcontinental railways—for example, Southern Pacific—make profits because of their longer hauls. To the extent that the linking up of our railway system with Continental railway systems means longer hauls, and to the extent that that brings down the minimum economically viable tonnage which British Rail can carry. British Rail may gain an advantage. The reason why a great deal of traffic does not go by rail is that the minimum which the railways can economically carry is too high.

The Continental railways are not very integrated for the carriage of freight. The traffic between Italy, Germany and France certainly is not well integrated. The freightliner containers which hon. Gentlemen on the Government side have been talking about and which they hope will lead to an increased percentage of traffic being carried by rail in this country are not carried by European railways. It is most significant that none of the Continental railway systems has gone to freightliners. They have either gone piggy-back, with their own kind of private siding traffics, or have adopted the very vehicles which cannot be carried on our railway system.

The main reason for the use of juggernauts coming through Kent constituencies and the main reason for the use of such a high percentage of the 40-ft. international standard container, particularly in Holland, is that the Continental railways cannot handle that traffic. It is interesting Ito note that the only Continental freightliner service British Rail has operated—namely, the one from Paris—has been withdrawn because it did not attract sufficient traffic. Whereas I can see the potential for increasing the range of haul for British Rail, I hope that hon. Members and the Minister will accept that there are some significant differences in the emphasis which can be placed on railway traffic.

British Rail, in conjunction with the National Freight Corporation, has gone for the freightliner concept. Continental railways have either gone for piggybacks or for their own railway vehicles, which will not fit this country's system.

It is fine for hon. Members on the Government side to talk about the great shift to the railways which is supposed to happen. That is a rather different attitude from the one which Government Members adopted in 1968. At that time the Labour Government were trying to push through a Bill which would shift more traffic to the railway. Conservative Members were in total opposition. They wanted freedom for lorries to go all over the country day and night, carrying whatever their operators chose. Some Government hon. Members have made a staggering turn-round if they are now saying that they want artificially to restrict road traffic and artificially to support the railways. I hope that the Minister, if he believes that as well, will say so.

Finally there are the political consequences. President Pompidou needs the tunnel because the whole of the North-West of France is a depressed area. We do not need a tunnel because the South-East is not a depressed area. Similarly, President Pompidou needs the tunnel because he realises that the more economic incentives he can promise to that part of France, the more success will be gained for his party in the forth- coming presidential elections. I hope that, when the Minister says something about having to take this decision by July, he will say something about the fact that President Pompidou wants the decision taken by July.

3.18 p.m.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

Hon. Members have been invited to be brief. I shall be brief and I shall try not to repeat any of the arguments, pro and con, which have been put forward during the debate. I find myself in the unusual position of being almost wholeheartedly in support of everything that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said. All my instincts are that we should go forward with the project so as to establish closer travel links with the Continent. Possibly the Channel Tunnel is the best way to do that. At the same time, I am in doubt because I feel that I have not given enough study to the matter and that the House has not had enough time to consider all the aspects.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) went into most of the matters which worry my constituents. There is no doubt that there is not great enthusiasm about the tunnel, although some people are in favour of it. In fact, there is a good deal of apprehension. That apprehension is on three grounds. First, it is not believed that sufficient thought and attention has been paid to environmental matters. What will be the effect on the lives of people living in Kent? It will be the people of Kent who will be mainly concerned.

My constituency will be very much concerned about the proposed expansion or the building of a new line. I have no details of the line which would extend through Ashford, Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Croydon to London. What will be the effect on the lives of the people in my constituency between Tonbridge and Edenbridge? I do not know and they do not know.

I have a feeling that the Government, for some reason which I cannot fathom, are trying to rush this matter through the House. I do not understand why my right hon. Friend should want to lay the Bill before Parliament before the end of July. The Government cannot possibly expect to get the Bill through all its stages before the House rises, even if they present it in July. What is the advantage in presenting the Bill in July? Why cannot we wait at least until November, when we shall have a little more time to consider the various aspects which have been touched upon today by most speakers? There are a number of worries in the minds of hon. Members, and one concerns the question of how much reliance can be placed on the argument that the freight encouraged by the enlarged line will relieve road traffic in West Kent. I do not believe that that will be the case. I do not believe that we shall see a diminution in the use of the roads, but we shall still need to increase road capacity as well as to look to increased use of the railways.

Are we committed morally or in any other way to the French to go ahead with this project as fast as possible? If we are so committed, we should be told. If we are not committed in that way, I do not see why my right hon. Friend should not politely tell the French to wait until we have time to study the matter in more detail. I urge him not to introduce a Bill at least until November.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

Almost every speaker in this debate has welcomed the opportunity to discuss the Green Paper in an open-minded way, but it cannot be said that there has been much of a welcome for the Channel Tunnel project in the present state of information.

The Minister in his opening remarks showed himself to be hypersensitive to the feelings of the House of Commons and said that he did not wish to bore us. That is an attitude which I should like to see more widely adopted by some of his colleagues. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall listen with rapt attention if he takes the opportunity to answer the many questions put to him in this debate. To assist him in his task, perhaps I may try to indicate one or two of the answers I should like him to give, because I believe that they would give the House considerable satisfaction.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that he approached this matter sceptically. I confess that my approach to the subject is different from his because, by instinct rather than by an economic analysis, I tend to be in favour of the tunnel for two reasons. I am in favour of the tunnel first because I believe that some new kind of link is inevitable at some time. All our experience shows that the longer one messes about with a project, the more expensive and the more difficult the situation becomes. This point was put cogently by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden).

Secondly—this is where my difficulty arises—I am in favour of the project because I feel that it is essential to have something on the lines of this project to assist our railway system. It is surely absurd in this day and age that on occasion we should be cut off from the Continent—I have had this unhappy experience once or twice—by sea or by air. Therefore, I admit a prejudice towards the project, but I come to exactly the same conclusion as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby that it is impossible to come to any kind of decision about the proposals on the information which we have been given.

The main thread which has run through the debate—and I rarely recall such unanimity, which I am sure the Minister has noted—has been on the question of timing, not so much the timing of the project as the timing of the decision. As the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) said, if there has been an agreement with our French partners that certain decisions have to be made on certain advice, it is most unfortunate that those responsible in the Government did not see to it that those who produced the date on which decisions have to be taken were not also involved and were not aware of the other kind of timetable introduced. Frankly, it is out of the question that this House should be asked to take even a decision in principle before the Summer Recess. Today is 15th June. By my arithmetic, which is not immaculate, we have about six weeks for this House and the country at large to study this matter.

Quite by chance I happened to see an answer given by one of the Minister's colleagues in the Department of the Environment about the average time taken by Ministers to give decisions on planning appeals that had been through the whole gamut of a public inquiry. Of course, hon. Members do not have the vast number of officials and other assistance to help them that is available to Ministers. The average time taken to give a decision on a planning appeal—some of the matters are quite small; for example, whether a second house should be built in somebody's garden or relating to relatively minor stretches of road—is 52 to 56 weeks. Surely, Ministers taking that amount of time to come to what are no doubt important planning decisions can hardly ask the House of Commons on this mammoth planning decision to take less than six weeks. The same Department is responsible in each instance.

The right hon. Gentleman must go back and tell those who will take these decisions that it just will not do, that the House of Commons will not take a decision before the end of July and that, if any attempt is made to force it to do so, many hon. Members, who in general are not unfavourably disposed to what the Minister wants, may vote against this proposal when, if more consideration were possible, they might take a different view.

The second point about which we need to be absolutely clear is the character of the decision that we have to take. If the Government came to a decision, I should not object to their announcing it before the recess. Indeed, it might be advantageous for us to go away and ponder it during the recess.

If there is to be a Bill, may I ask whether it is to be a short Money Bill or a Hybrid Bill? Surely the Government do not think that they can get a complicated Bill through the House this Session even if they introduce it before 31st July. The House would object to the Second Reading of any Bill which could be implied as a firm decision.

This is to be the second stage or, as the Minister put it, the end of the preparation and the commitment of £28 million. I think we all know that that will be a moral commitment to go through with the whole project unless the second stage reveals technical and other difficulties which could not have been foreseen. I do not think that in an arrangement of this kind with one of our friends and allies we can pull back in 1975 solely on the ground that we have changed our minds, revised our priorities on regional planning, or for this or that reason. Unless something new comes out of the second study, I believe that it will be difficult to get out of a decision taken now. That is why it is doubly important that we make this decision with the benefit of all the information, and with an opportunity at least of reading such information as we have already been given.

The regional point has been mentioned. I think that the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) deserves study. In the interests of time I will not go into all the details. However, it is alarming that, with Maplin, which I believe is a great mistake, the South-East should have this enormous injection of resources and capital expenditure. My geography is limited, but I realise that any kind of Channel link—whether the proposed tunnel, a bridge-tunnel or bridge—must be in South-East England. However, there is no reason why the airport must be in South-East England. Those of us who represent other parts of the country are worried that there will be no money or resources for important regional development—roads, ports, improvements to ports and other developments that we would all like to see taking place. We are worried that there will not be any resources available for those regional developments, because if these two projects go along together they will create an enormous problem.

If there is to be a Hybrid Bill, I ask the Minister to take a different view from that taken by his colleagues in connection with the Maplin Bill. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has much more respect than have some of his colleagues for Tory principles and traditions. Until 1949 it was the practice for a Select Committee to go through every Hybrid Bill as if it were a Private Bill. The then Labour Government took the moderate view that that was inappropriate in a number of cases, but they were vehemently opposed on the Floor of the House by the then Conservative Opposition who wanted to perpetuate the practice. The 1949 procedure still prevails, and I offered the House the opportunity of using it in connection with the Maplin Bill.

It would help considerably if, at the beginning, it were made clear that instead of the Government taking the decision rather than the House of Commons, except in response to the urging of the Whips, a Select Committee would consider the matter—like proving the preamble of a Private Bill—and if necessary take evidence to assist it in deciding on the merits of the case.

We need to know a lot more about what will happen to the railways. As several hon. Members have said, that question is at the heart of the matter. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and the hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) are clearly involved in the decision that we might take. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) said, it is one thing if this project will mean a lot more business, particularly heavy goods and freight business, for the railways, but quite another if, as my right lion. Friend the Member for Grimsby said, it merely provides a more convenient way for people to travel to the Continent for their holidays. I am the last person to want to stand in the way of people taking their cars to the Continent if they wish to do so, but in terms of spending public resources it is a low priority if that is to be the main purpose of the project.

I should like the Minister to say that he will authorise the spending of the sum of £120 million. I presume that that is at 1973 prices. I hope he will be able to tell us that the matter is settled, or that it soon will be. What about the terminal? Is it to be at the White City, which from the point of view of the railways, I understand, would be desirable? When is that decision to be made?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) said, the great attraction of the scheme is that for the first time it provides British Railways with an opportunity of getting into the long-haul freight business, but we want to be sure that there will be a possibility of long hauls not only between London and places on the Continent but also between the Continent and Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and, not least, the great city of Sheffield.

What is the position with regard to the confused arguments about the extra capital investment that may be necessary? I understand that there is no gauge problem but that there is a problem facing Continental trains because of the size of our platforms and fixed installations. Will additional investment be necessary to enable French trains to travel from Paris to Manchester or Sheffield, Birmingham or Wolverhampton? How much money will be involved?

I have a feeling that at some stage the EEC Commission will get into the act. I understand that it has not been informed of the position by either Government, but I am sure that it will not permit a situation in which the only communication between Britain and the Continent is by British Railways and there are no reciprocal arrangements.

The position of the railways ought to be made clear. As, quite understandably, the Government have taken no decision on this matter, we ought to make it abundantly plain that the investment needed for the railways to meet the tunnel requirements will be provided by the Government and will be in addition to any investment which I hope will be authorised as a result of the review that is taking place into the needs of British Railways in terms of their capability to provide freight services, to improve their commuter services and, above all, to make a contribution on social grounds to getting as much traffic off the roads as possible. We all know that it is now broadly accepted that it is impossible for any railway system to work on the basis that it has to pay its way year by year. It is bound to need an operating subsidy. We must keep these two things completely separate. The rail links for the Channel Tunnel would be an additional cost in the calculations about the tunnel.

Since the Minister has taken a terribly long time to tell us his thinking about the future of the railways, this may also persuade him that perhaps six weeks is a bit short for the rest of the country to make up its mind about the Channel Tunnel. The Government have been thinking about the future of the railways for about three years. There would be no complaint if the right hon. Gentleman let us know his thinking about the railways in this country before 31st July, so long as he does not ask us to deal with the Channel Tunnel by that date.

The Minister said that there would be virtually no extra cost for roads. Does this mean that all the roads will be built anyway? Will there not be additional demands on some roads? I thought from the speeches of some hon. Members representing Kent constituencies that they thought that the existing road plan would not be adequate for the tunnel.

I hope the Minister will not make the mistake that was made over the M1 and the M4—in other words, finding that they have to be extended because they cannot carry the traffic. This means that, when everyone has realised that two lanes are too few, these roads are limited for a long period to one lane while a third is being added. I hope that, if these motorways are to be constructed now, they will have the capacity necessary to meet the reasonable expectations about the tunnel.

Finally, I do not, and indeed cannot, complain about private investment being the broad basis of the scheme. If I did, the Minister would tell me that it was agreed by my predecessor and the then French Minister in 1966. But the House will need to satisfy itself fully on the detailed arrangements, which are not yet finalised. From what I have learned, it looks as if this will involve the kind of consortia that in France have recently been got together to build the motorways—for instance, the Paris-Chartres motorway. Irrespective of whether it works well, as I suppose time alone will tell, I was not impressed by the toll, which I gather works out at about 2p a mile. No one who discusses tolls has ever taken into account the idea that a 50- or 60-mile journey might involve the payment of paper money for the toll. I hope that the Minister will not apply this idea to our own motorways.

Every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken has said that many questions remain unanswered. Not only do we lack information; we lack the time and opportunity to analyse and assess it. While I have the highest regard for the right hon. Gentleman's powers of persuasion, I doubt whether he will persuade us today that the Government have so far made out a case for proceeding. The matter was well summed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). We must make it clear that any attempt by the Government to rush through a firm decision on this important subject will lead many hon. Members who might otherwise be inclined to support the Government to vote against them.

We should not be asked to take a decision without several more debates like the one we have had today, and preferably not on a Friday. The idea of having a debate on Friday and then later the Second Reading of a Bill committing us in principle to spending well over £1,000 million, or at any rate half of that sum, would be absolutely preposterous. I would have loved to hear the Minister address himself to that theme if our positions had been reversed.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Peyton

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) for the courteous way in which he has spoken on behalf of the Opposition. I remarked at the outset that the Government welcomed this debate as an opportunity to learn something of parliamentary opinion, and it has proved a very useful opportunity.

Opinions on the merits of the Channel Tunnel have varied for a long time. Lord Randolph Churchill, in a colourful moment, made the remark: The reputation of England has hitherto depended upon her being, as it were, virgo intacta. Mr. Gladstone felt: It is not so much that I am in favour of the tunnel as I am opposed to the opponents of it. It is not always that I find myself overwhelmed by my sympathy for statements made by Mr. Gladstone but on this occasion I find myself in some warm accord with him.

The right hon. Gentleman commented on the time it took to settle planning appeals. We are not concerned with planning today, but I cannot resist the comment that it has always been my private opinion that planners—and I am not a planner—have laboured under the delusion that they will live for two or three times the allotted span and that, therefore, time is on their side. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that if we did introduce a Bill, as I have said we would in the event of a favourable decision by the Government, it would be a short Money Bill and would be introduced by the end of July.

I am not sure that I go all the way with the right hon. Gentleman in his complaint that he has not got enough information. I have some sympathy with him over the lack of time to digest it, but if he goes away with a suitable trunk at the weekend with the information already available in it he will be able to spend a very fruitful time and realise that a great many of the questions he has so shrewdly asked are answered there.

I recognise that rail investment is very important. I will certainly look with the railways, as a matter of urgency, at possibilities of their making some early announcement of their plans. Incidentally, it would be my hope to make some announcement about the Government's plans for the railways before we rise for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Mulley

For the railways in this country?

Mr. Peyton


The right hon. Gentleman also asked about consultations with the EEC. These would have to take place. Many transport Ministers in the Community have already expressed to me their views, or the views of their countries, on this project. We would wish to report the matter to the Commission just as soon as there was a project to be reported, but until the French and British Governments have reached agreement at least on the next stage, to go ahead, I do not think that there is yet anything worth reporting.

I am particularly grateful to the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) for the way he approached this matter. I welcome most of what he said. I believe that on the question of the raising of money with Government guarantee there is a certain amount of highly mis- leading advice in orbit. Some of it has come my way too. I believe the position is that it would not be necessary in law for there to be a Government guarantee, and, with a long protracted operation very much of a public character, it is unlikely that money would be raised very easily, particularly on the Continent, in support of such a project except at an exorbitant rate of interest.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) both made very discerning speeches. My hon. and learned Friend faces problems in his constituency, and I want to say how much I appreciate the restrained attitude he takes to these difficult problems and also the concern he always shows to reflect tile interests of his constituents to me. The same goes for my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone (Mr. Costain), who, under a vow of silence, has been sitting behind me. He finds himself readily released from these vows as soon as he leaves the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) made comments about the beauties of Folkestone. He does not seem to have fully appreciated those beauties. I had the utmost difficulty in restraining my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone from leaving his seat, and I would advise my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone to keep away from him.

If the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) will forgive me, I will not answer him at length. I am aware of his arguments and his concern that alternatives have not been adequately considered. I hope he will do me the favour of reading what I said earlier, because I think I have answered his point adequately there. At any rate, I am grateful to him for his acknowledgement of the fact that I saw him and Professor Baker.

I was grateful to have the support of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir D. Dodds-Parker), who has been for so long such a staunch supporter of the project and in the course of a very short speech allowed some sign of his support to creep in towards the end. I am grateful to him.

I have already answered the point raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) about consultation with the EEC. I would only add that I thought it was really my duty to consult the House of Commons before I went about consulting a mass of Continental bodies not immediately concerned with the problem.

I was very grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael). Perhaps he would be kind enough to advise the right hon. Member for Grimsby on the state of Scottish opinion. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was here when the hon. Gentleman made his speech, but the hon. Gentleman said that he had heard widely expressed opinion in Scotland that the tunnel could do no harm to Scottish industry and might even be of considerable benefit.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) I can only express very great sympathy. The destruction of his house and the almost similar fate which he apprehends for his constituency is indeed a dark prospect. But I think he at some stages in his speech allowed himself to stray ever so little over the boundary which separates moderate statement from hyperbole. A parking lot for juggernaut lorries as the ultimate fate for Kent is, I suggest, a slight exaggeration. Moreover, it remains the Government's hope that, if the tunnel is built, Kent will be spared something of that fate. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I understand his apprehensions and, even if he does not ultimately get satisfaction over his house, it will be my hope to satisfy him that every effort which can be made to assist his constituency will most certainly be taken.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made several points on behalf of the shipping industry, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby). The hon. Member mentioned his association with the National Union of Seamen. If that union would care to bring a deputation to see me to express its views on this subject, I shall be very ready to receive it at any time. As regards the shipping industry also, I am sure that the Chamber of Shipping will be the first to admit that I have pressed upon it opportunities to come and express its views to me, and I now repeat publicly that it will be welcome at any time to do so.

The main points and anxieties expressed by right hon. and hon. Members have concerned the diversion of road traffic to rail, the planning of the railway link, the question whether a tunnel is necessary at all, and the desire that the expression of local opinion should be adequately met. The House has been concerned also about the environment and about regional issues, as well as about the timing of further steps. I shall now endeavour to deal as well as I can with some of those matters.

First, on the question of diversion of traffic to rail, the consultants expect that 60 per cent. of the freight going through the tunnel will be through-rail freight. I am currently discussing with British Rail ways and means of increasing the amount of freight using the tunnel. Incidentally, in response to the point raised about discrimination in relation to the various kinds of traffic using the tunnel, I should emphasise that the operating authority will be under constraints not to inhibit the use of the tunnel by any particular traffic, road or rail. It does not mean that the Government are free to do whatever they like.

Now, the question of railway planning. The final planning will await the decision to go ahead, and will then take place over the following 12 months at the same time as the £28 million programme of work to which I referred in my opening speech.

If hon. and right hon. Members will look at some of the documents that have been produced and at some of the traffic figures, and will ponder on some of those to which I referred this morning, I do not believe that they will seriously challenge the need for additional transport facilities. Some may even conclude that the tunnel could play a useful part in meeting that need, which will not just go away.

The regional aspect raises questions which I would not wish to answer briefly at the end of a debate. It is something which the Government take seriously and will certainly seek to deal with fully in any White Paper accompanying the announcement of the Government's decision. I would be wrong if I sought to ignore the remarks made on both sides of the House about the timing of the following steps. What I said in my opening speech was that the Government are now considering, because there is no point in hanging about, all the material available to them and to the House as a matter of urgency in an attempt to reach a conclusion on whether this great project should be advanced by a further stage.

If the decision were affirmative the Government would wish to announce that decision before the end of July in a White Paper and at the same time publish the short Money Bill, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I am not suggesting that he would wish to see such a Bill railroaded through. I am certain that the Government will take due note of what has been said by all hon. and right hon. Members about the need to avoid undue haste. I hope in return that the House will take note of the point I tried to make this morning that projects of this kind simply cannot be put in cold storage for a year as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked.

There are some outstanding issues which are matters for negotiation between the two Governments and between the two Governments and the Group. Foremost among those are the financial proposals which have just been received from the Group. I recognise that when the Government eventually present their conclusions to the House they will also have to justify the financial terms which are now a matter for negotiation. I am most conscious of the need to satisfy the House on that point.

I conclude my remarks by repeating my thanks to the right hon. Member for Grimsby and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park for the reasonable and restrained way in which they have approached what is a complicated and difficult problem. I apologise for any inadequacy for which I may have been personally responsible.

Mr. John Stradling Thomas (Monmouth)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave withdrawn