Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30th October].
That, if a Bill is presented to this House in the same terms as those of the Channel Tunnel Bill as it was ordered to be considered before Parliament was dissolved, the Bill so presented shall be deemed to have been read the first and second time, and to have been reported from a Standing Committee to the House, and shall be ordered to be considered accordingly, and the Standing Orders and practice of this House applicable to the Bill shall be deemed to have been complied with.—[Mr. Frederick Mulley.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Minister for Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)
This motion was formally moved on 30th October and then adjourned to a more convenient time for debate. By its nature, it was necessary that the motion should be tabled at the earliest moment in the Session. In short, the purpose of the motion is to ensure that the Channel Tunnel Bill which was before the House last Session resumes at the point it had reached when the House was dissolved in September.
As the House knows, the Channel Tunnel Bill is a technical Bill to provide powers to acquire land and to carry out works in order that the tunnel may be constructed. In no way is it concerned with the proposed rail link, which is part of the tunnel programme. The Bill is a hybrid Bill, which means that it must go through the private Bill procedure, notably a Select Committee procedure, as well as all stages of a public Bill.
The Bill was initially introduced and given a Second Reading on 5th December 1973. We then had a General Election before the Select Committee could begin its work and the Bill was carried over to the following Parliament. The Bill was again given a Second Reading in April. Subsequently, it completed its Select Committee and Standing Committee stages, and that was the stage it had reached when the House was dissolved last September.
The eventuality that the Bill might not complete its stages before an election was foreseen in the Standing Committee. On the third day of the Standing Com 36 mittee proceedings the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) inquired about the arrangements made in the event of a dissolution, which the hon. Gentleman evidently then thought likely. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replied that a suitable motion would be put down to carry the Report stage forward because… the object is to avoid the expense of going through another Select Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 18th July 1974; c. 118.]That is the main purpose of the present motion.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
The Minister is quite right to say that I was under the impression at that time that the motion would be tabled before the House rose for the General Election. Was it never the Minister's intention that the motion should have been tabled at that stage?
§ Mr. Mulley
It will be within the recollection of the House that the House was dissolved in the recess and therefore the House did not meet to enable a motion to be tabled. I was coming to that point. Had the House been in session, as it was in February when the election was called earlier in the year, that probably would have been the preferable way of dealing with the problem.
The Select Committee, which sat for 12 days under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), gave full and careful consideration to the petitions before it. I understand that there were 13 petitions representing 70 organisations. Although it is difficult to give an exact forecast of what the proceedings cost, since the expenses were borne by the organisations and the local authorities concerned, I estimate the cost at over £40,000 in all, including the Department's costs.
The principle which the House has readily accepted—and we did so again on 31st October—is that private Bills should be carried over from one Session to another wholly to save petitioners' costs and the time involved in having to go through the important but necessarily lengthy Select Committee procedure. We have already carried over a number of private Bills to this Session.
I understand that there may be some petitioners against the Channel Tunnel 37 Bill who would like another opportunity to come before the Commons, but there are others who would not wish that to happen. In any event, if the motion is passed today they will all have the opportunity to go before a Select Committee in another place. The Select Committee discharges its duties on a quasi-judicial basis. Indeed, the effect of our motion, if carried today, would be that we should have here the Report stage which gives an opportunity for matters of detail to be raised and a Third Reading debate to deal with the general character of the Bill. All stages would have to be completed—both the private Bill and public Bill stages—in another place. There are adequate possibilities to deal with any aspects of the Bill if the motion is carried today.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe (Surrey, East)
I shall be grateful if the Minister in his opening remarks would deal with two points which exercise many of us who have constituencies along the line of the Channel Tunnel railway link and which could affect the views of the House on the motion. Could he hold out any hope that, if the Bill is reintroduced, the Government at Report stage will adopt a more sympathetic attitude than they adopted in Committee to the proposal for compensation to be payable to the many householders whose homes are blighted by the uncertainty of the railway line? Secondly, will he give the House an assurance that alternative routes for the railway link, including the tunnel into Kent, are being considered as real alternatives by British Rail and are not merely being looked at as last-minute options which they do not want to take seriously? If the right hon. Gentleman can give satisfactory answers to those two points, it might affect the attitude of the House to the motion.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am sure that many hon. Members are concerned about the rail link. I intended to deal with that matter a little later. It is not part of the motion and not part of the Channel Tunnel Bill. I would be out of order on this Bill if I were to deal with compensation for land to be acquired in connection with the rail link. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will help me by voting for the motion and allowing the Bill to go to Report, so that we shall be able to see how far we can meet the real 38 concern which he expressed. I should first deal with the question of precedents—
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
Following the point of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), could the Minister assure us that the details of the route will be the subject of public inquiries and that passing the Bill in this form will not preclude objectors from the opportunity of attending public inquiries about the details of what is involved in the Bill? This has caused a great deal of anxiety about the Bill, particularly going forward in this form.
§ Mr. Mulley
I will deal with the rail link in a moment, but out of courtesy to the House I should explain how the motion comes to be moved and the precedents and so on. The rail link is not part of the motion or of the Bill and passing both will not be prejudicial to the rail Bill which will have to be considered at another time. Public inquiries would not necessarily be part of that procedure.
There is no exact precedent, I am advised, for the motion, although it is of course usual for a hybrid or a Private Bill to be carried over from one Parliament to the next. A notable example is the late Lord Morrison's London Transport Bill which became the London Transport Act of 1933. That was carried over twice, but in that case I think that the motion was moved at an earlier stage.
But we are in a rather unusual situation, which arises from having held two General Elections in seven months, which no hon. Member would want to become a regular feature of our life. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the second Dissolution occurred in the recess. But the motion is in line with recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Suspension of Bills, called the Donoughmore Committee, which reported in 1929. [Interruption.] I am surprised that so many of my lion Friends should be offended by the prospect of doing something in this place which is not completely precedented. On most things, they tend to hold progressive indeed radical, views. I have always thought that we should try to adapt the proceedings and procedure of this House to meet the particular difficulties with which we are faced at present.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that I am one of the growing number of people who believe that there should be a lot of changes in this place, but he will also agree, I think, that when we had to act as we did a week ago last Wednesday, that was because we were placed in a position not of our own choosing but because someone had chosen to put it down in that manner. Would he agree that for some of us on occasions like this it is a question of killing the proposal by any means? Since he has chosen to table the motion in this Aunt Sally form, it is our job to knock it down.
§ Mr. Mulley
This comes conveniently in my remarks. My hon. Friend and many others are less concerned about the procedural aspect of the motion—
§ Mr. Mulley
—than they are about some of the other aspects.
I want to say a word now about the project itself and why this Channel Tunnel Bill is necessary. When the Labour Government took office in March, we had to come to a view whether to continue the phase II studies set up by the previous administration in pursuance of agreements and a treaty that they had signed with the French Government and with the English and French companies. The announcement that the Government had decided to continue with these studies so that the changing situation could be properly evaluated and the House and the country could be presented with a full set of facts on which to take the decision which still falls to be taken—whether to proceed to build a tunnel—did not imply any commitment to building the tunnel, not even a commitment in principle. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made this clear to the House in April.
My right hon. Friend also said that a group of independent advisers would be set up to monitor the phase II studies to ensure that they were asking the right questions and collecting the right data. I am glad to say that Sir Alec Cairncross has undertaken to chair that group. There have been some delays because of the election, but a number of people have been appointed and the group has already 40 begun work. We are extremely grateful to Sir Alec and his colleagues for undertaking this task.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
Could the Minister tell us what the terms of reference of the commission will be and when it will report?
§ Mr. Mulley
It is not a commission. On the present timetable it is expected that it will report in time to coincide with the end of phase II in the spring of next year. It has no precise terms of reference, because its main function is to advise the Government and the House how the phase II studies have been carried out.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
The Minister referred to this committee as "they". So far as I know, Sir Alec Cairncross is the only appointee at the moment, as chairman—and what is more, the terms of reference have not yet been published. Am I wrong? Have the members of the committee been appointed? If so, can he tell us who they are and what are the terms of reference?
§ Mr. Mulley
A parliamentary Answer to one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues last week set this out, but if there is any dubiety the Under-Secretary will give the necessary information when he winds up the debate. As I said, the Government made this clear.
Many hon. Members might think it odd—I would not argue too much if they did—that we are going through the process of enacting a Bill to build the tunnel and will possibly also have to go through the process of giving powers for a rail link without deciding first whether to build the tunnel. But this situation is one that the present Government inherited. I am certain that my predecessor came to these arrangements for good reasons, but that is the nature of the requirement of this Bill, that the Channel Tunnel Bill needs to be law before we can ratify the treaty signed last November. We are required to ratify it before 1st January next, otherwise it could be held that the British Government are unilaterally abandoning the tunnel.
The consequences of such a unilateral abandonment would be financial penalties. As the White Paper made clear last 41 year, the consequences would vary according to the circumstances of abandonment. If, in particular, the four parties agreed that the project was no longer worthwhile, or the companies decided to withdraw, then, as the White Paper made clear, private risk money would be lost and the Governments would have to meet their guarantees.
Work to the end of the current phase II is likely to cost about £30 million. Little of that could be saved by abandonment. Indeed, since virtually all the contracts are now let, the cancellation charges, making good and so on, would account for the greater part of any savings arising in the few remaining months of work. Exact figures are obviously a matter for commercial negotiation and the House will not expect me to attempt a closer estimate now, but any such savings are overshadowed by the fact that abandonment by the British Government now would, under the terms of Agreement No. 2, constitute Government abandonment in which the companies qualified for compensatory multipliers of their risk money amounting to about £6 million, to be borne, along with other costs, equally by the British and French Governments. Even if abandonment were contemplated, it must be recognised that the consequences of abandonment would outweigh any apparent savings, to say nothing of the fact that the option to proceed would be immediately closed.
That is why the Conservative Party presented the Bill which is the subject of the motion and why we decided in April to go along with it. It is necessary to have the powers that the Bill confers, without necessarily exercising them, before we can ratify the treaty which is necessary even to preserve the phase 2 studies and certainly without any commitment about what view the House may take on proceeding to the next stage. If the motion is not carried, therefore, we should have to introduce the Bill again in order to be able to comply with those agreements and the treaty which were signed last November.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's difficulty about getting information at this stage. Is he saying that the agreement must be signed by 1st Janu 42 ary, because my information is to the contrary? Surely it is possible for the two parties to the treaty to agree to put this date back.
§ Mr. Mulley
It is possible, by agreement, for the ratification date to be deferred, but in order to get that deferment without penalty we should have to show that we were exercising our best endeavours to proceed. The purpose of this procedural motion is to that end. It may be that even if the motion is carried today and even if every subsequent stage of the Bill is carried through with the utmost expedition, the Bill will not become law by 31st December. The exceptional circumstances which I am asking the House to take into account in considering the motion—that we have had two General Elections this year—will also be in the minds of our partners with whom we should have to discuss the question of deferment.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
I am sure that the Minister would not want to mislead the House. Surely he is not suggesting that the commitment to spend £30 million was taken without the approval of Parliament, which is what is implied in what he just said.
§ Mr. Mulley
The authority for phase 2 was taken by the Government of which the hon. Member was a supporter in a Bill that passed through all its stages in the House. Unless the hon. Member was missing on that occasion, he voted for it in the Lobby. This decision by the House had already been taken before we became the Government. Money had been committed and contracts let, and that was obviously a factor which we took into account in deciding to continue in the way that we did.
I am aware that the proposed high speed rail link between London and the tunnel portal will not be far from the minds of a number of hon. Members, particularly those with constituencies in the South East, in considering the motion. Indeed, one right hon. Member has suggested that this might determine the Lobby in which he and other hon. Members find themselves tonight.
The motion and the Bill do not and are not intended to deal with the powers necessary for the construction of the link. 43 Those powers must be secured by a completely separate private Bill to be introduced later by British Railways. Decisions are however due to be taken shortly about a number of aspects of the rail link so that its route can be determined and authority given to the Railways Board to complete preparation of its Private Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I recognise entirely that the General Election has tended to delay consultation with local authorities on key aspects of the route and its London terminal. We are, how-over, giving close attention to the link so as to avoid any unnecessary extension of the anxieties of residents which were represented to us so forcibly by a delegation from Surrey and Kent Action on Rail—that is to say, SKAR—before the election, a deputation which was so ably led by the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) accompanied by some of his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to reports in the Press yesterday which seemed to indicate that because British Rail was paying so much attention to the proposal for the Channel Tunnel and, previously, to the now dead Maplin plan, it was not able to pay so much attention to the high-speed development and planning of existing routes? Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that there will be no delay on these routes while this Bill is going forward?
§ Mr. Mulley
I have not seen that report but I shall take the matter up with British Rail. Some of British Rail's plans for increasing speeds on some of its routes will be expensive and this will have to be taken into account in its investment plans. I can certainly give my hon. Friend an assurance that whatever decision is taken—and no decision has been taken either about the Channel Tunnel or the rail link—it will not in any way prejudice the money available to British Rail for its services in other parts of the country. As was the case under the previous Government, this rail link is treated as a special item in British Rail's accounting and is in no way taken into account in its investment plans.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I will take careful note of all the 44 points raised in the debate, but I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that this is a procedural motion and that if it is passed it will in no way commit the Government to any future view about the tunnel. It will provide adequate further opportunities whether to hon. Members or to people outside who are concerned to put their points to a select committee. Therefore I hope that the motion will be agreed so that we may go on collecting the necessary information that the Government and the House want before coming to a final view about a very important project. I do not think anyone would want to take a decision of substance by the side wind of a procedural motion.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I say that the length of his speech today makes the Government's original decision to try to get the motion on the nod look a bit strange. He went into the matter in depth so that the original hope of getting the motion on the nod appears optimistic in the extreme.
§ Mr. Mulley
May I clear up that point? I would have been even more surprised than the right hon. Gentleman if the motion had gone through on the nod. In the proper course of events, if the House had been in session, the motion should have come at the end of the last Session and it was therefore necessary to give notice of it at the earliest opportunity, which was on the first day after the Queen's Speech. I never expected it to go through on the nod.
§ Mr. Peyton
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is wholly sincere in what he says, but I do not believe that that represents the view of the Government who looked exceedingly disappointed when they did not get the motion on the nod the other day.
I do not wish to detain the House at length. This is not the moment to go into the merits of the project. The fact that I have changed from one side of the House to another does not mean that I have changed my view about those merits. There is no need to go into them this afternoon because there will be other occasions to do so. I make one exception to that when I say that the Channel Tunnel provides the chance of a new epoch for 45 the railways and it would be sad if they were denied that opportunity.
The real purpose of the motion.—[Interruption.] I am doing my best to help the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say that it will be a long time before I would want to help some of those hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway. There are times when I feel slightly sorry for the incumbents of the Government Front Bench, and this is almost always when I look at those hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway.
The purpose of the motion is to save the money and time of those who have taken part in the cumbrous and ponderous procedures to which we subject legislative measures of this kind.
The right hon. Gentleman did not leave me clear as to what Sir Alec Cairncross will be doing, what his terms of reference will be and whether he will be having assistance of others. The right hon. Gentleman might, I think, have been in a position to tell us to which question Sir Alec will be addressing himself, and whether he will have the benefit of the advice of other people.
§ Mr. Mulley
My hon. Friend has noted this point and I think it would be for the general convenience of the House if he were to deal with it fully when he replied to the debate.
§ Mr. Peyton
Kindness prevents me from pressing that point now.
I say to the Government that there is a great deal of interest and concern among my right hon. and hon. Friends on behalf of those people who live in the area of the Channel Tunnel and in the area of the line of the rail route. I greatly hope that sufficient time will be given for this matter to be discussed and for the anxieties of those involved to be aired adequately.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised, during the course of further discussion of the project as a whole, to pay fairly frequent visits both to Kent and to the area of the rail route, so that people can at least have the satisfaction of expressing to him personally their great anxieties. It is no good talking about open government and then when an opportunity arises of allowing people to talk to the Minister and express their anxiety, not taking 46 that opportunity. It would be fatuous if such an opportunity were not taken. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would earn for himself the gratitude and appreciation of all concerned if he took it upon himself to personally do what I suggest.
I remind my right hon. and hon. Friend that this is purely a procedural motion. However, it gives them an opportunity to express the deep anxieties felt by their constituents who live in the area of the rail route. It is right that my right hon. and hon. Friends should take this opportunity, but I am sure that they will bear in mind that there will also be other opportunities to deal with the merits of the project.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I can understand the sentiments of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) because we are this afternoon debating what is, in effect, his Bill. He was the Minister of Transport when this proposal was first introduced. Nevertheless, I respect the fact that he does not appear to have changed his mind all that much, and I hope that he will accept that I have not changed my mind either. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that on the previous occasion when the Bill was introduced I was sitting where he is now seated and I was advising my colleagues in the Labour Party to vote against the Bill.
When the Bill was reintroduced for a second time, during the period of the last Labour Government, though the Government supported it, I voted against it, and I intend to vote against this motion tonight.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister has at last found a report from a Committee of the House which will support the procedure in which the Government intend to indulge tonight. Having seen some of the reports of Select Committees of this House, I believe that if one wants to find a justification for almost anything done in the House, one can do so. But to go back as far as 1929 to find a decision which relates to what the Government intend to do tonight indicates that my right hon. Friend's Department must have been looking very hard into this question.
We have been told about the precedent of the Morrison Committee, but I 47 am sure that it is appreciated that the motion connected with that Committee, and with the Transport Bill involved, was introduced before the Bill itself was introduced into the House. Now the Government propose to introduce a retroactive and, to my mind, regressive motion which deals with a proposal which has already been introduced into the House a couple of times. For my right hon. Friend to quote the so-called constitutional precedent of the Bill relating to the Morrison Committee is not in accordance with the procedure laid down in 1930.
I accept my right hon. Friend's point that if we pass the motion—I hope we shall not—it may save petitioners who wish to petition in favour or against the Bill the expense of petitioning again. But I point out to my right hon. Friend, and I think he is sensible about this point, that we now have an entirely new House of Commons. The Bill was first introduced two Parliaments ago. We now have an entirely new group of Members on both sides of the House. These new Members are bound to have completely different feelings from those hon. Members who were present when the Bill was first introduced last December.
Furthermore, we now have a completely changed economic situation. We are now told that we have an overall deficit on capital and current accounts on our balance of payments of about £4,000 million. That was not the position when the Bill was first introduced. We now have the possibility of yet another increase in oil prices. That was not the position when the Bill was first introduced. We now have the possibility—so we are told, in relation to tomorrow's announcements—of even more public expenditure cuts. That was not the position when the Bill was first introduced.
It is said that we can save the petitioners money. But the House would do itself far more credit, and we as politicians would do ourselves far more credit if we took account of the changing economic and political priorities that have arisen since the Bill was first introduced.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that British taxpayers' money is not involved in this. The capital would be raised on the world 48 equity and money markets by the Channel Tunnel Company.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I have asked over and over again that if the project is so good, if it is really the project to end all projects, why does it need a Government guarantee?
§ Mr. Wells
The hon. Gentleman asks why it needs a Government guarantee. It is for the simple reason that one cannot raise money, by going around the Stock Exchanges of the world, for an international project if it is to have the equivalent of trustee status unless it does have a Government guarantee.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I have always thought that the Stock Exchange was a rather irrelevant casino. I would wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is saying that the Stock Exchange is irrelevant in this context.
There have been several projects more hazardous than this that have not needed a Government guarantee. There has been, for instance, exploration of North Sea oil resources.
I suspect that the real reason is that the Minister and his right hon. Friends have given several undertakings. But by the sound of things the undertakings which have been given to the companies are not fixed and are not irredeemable. They do not have to be signed and in place by 31st December. Such undertakings do not justify the kind of railroading process that is now taking place. In view of the changed circumstances I believe that some of the undertakings which may have been given should not override the serious nature of the economic circumstances now facing us.
Throughout the year there is approximately 84 per cent. excess capacity on existing Channel crossing services. Throughout the year only 16 per cent. of the total capacity provided by the present ferry and hovercraft services is used. When there is more than 75 per cent. excess capacity on given services there is an argument not for engaging in new investment but for changing the pricing policy of the present services. I am endorsed in that view by the recent report of the Monopolies Commission. It was suggested that there should be certain price alterations in Channel ferry 49 services. It was suggested in that independent report that there should be a reduction in the number of services provided for crossing the Channel. The commission, which is in possession of all the relevant facts and circumstances, recommends not new investment but a reduction of existing investment.
Even since the Bill was first introduced into the House the total estimated cost of the project has increased from £846 million to over £1,500 million. All the calculations upon which the Bill and the motion are based are founded on the assumption of an annual rate of inflation of 5 per cent. I am sure that even the most ardent devotee of the social contract would not claim that we shall have a rate of inflation of only 5 per cent. The fact is that all the calculations are going forward on that basis.
Further, the calculations have all been made on the assumption that we shall have stable rates of interest and that we shall not have a change in the exchange value of the pound. However, we are once more hearing talk about devaluation of the pound. The calculations have been made on the assumption that we shall not have any unforeseen geology and that there will be no changes in the design specification.
Those are all reasons for a full, frank and thorough-going discussion, thereby allowing all those involved to consider the procedure from scratch.
Another matter which needs serious examination is that the miraculous success of this project is based on the assumption that 75 per cent. of holidaymakers with cars will switch to a means of crossing the Channel which will be 42 per cent. more expensive and which will offer the possibility of saving approximately half an hour. I know that holidaymakers may feel that they have a bit of money to throw around from time to time, but I suggest that this is not such a time. Surely we cannot put forward the suggestion that we should engage upon this kind of investment when approximately 75 per cent. of the beneficiaries will be holidaymakers with cars. That is not the kind of investment in which this country should be engaging.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
From where does the hon. Member get his 42 per cent. and on what facts is that percentage based?
§ Mr. Huckfield
Perhaps the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) will care to look at the figures put forward by the British Channel Tunnel Company. That is the company which is supposed to be making the money on this project. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the rates that it intends to charge compared with the ferry-operators' rates he will see that there is a price differential of approximately 42 per cent. On the 1973 figures there is an average of £25 for crossing the Channel by ferry and an average of £35 for crossing the Channel by means of the tunnel. Therefore, we have a £10 difference between ferry and tunnel prices even on 1973 prices. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that by 1980 or 1983 the differential could be even wider.
No doubt we shall be told that the tunnel project will in some way benefit the railways. I respect the sincerity of my hon. Friends who believe that to be so, but how can such a project be assumed to benefit the railways when the treaty that we have already signed with the French specifically forbids discrimination by the Channel Tunnel operating authority in favour of one specific rode of transport? In other words, any suggestion that we can in some way artificially make the railway rates lower or any suggestion that we can used discriminatory tariffs in favour of the railways is ruled out by the treaty that we have already signed.
What better evidence could this country want of the real intentions of the operators who will use the tunnel than that all the big haulage companies and the big international transport companies are already seeking planning permission to build massive road haulage depots in Kent near to the entrance to the tunnel?
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
Will my hon. Friend not concede that once the high-speed rail link is built, if it is to be built, and becomes part of the rest of the railway system, the traffic will be sent directly into the tunnel system despite the price difference? I am prepared to accept my hon. Friend's somewhat questionable figures, but on speed alone the railway services will be far more attractive for freight traffic than the existing services.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I know that my hon. Friend has spent many years on the 51 railways. I pay tribute to the service that he has given in that occupation. I am sure that even he will realise that the main difficulty is that the Continental railway wagons will not be able to get any further than London. His argument will hold water only if we alter the whole of the railway system. I do not believe that the Bill proposes to do that. The great difficulty for the railways is that it will only be possible to get through-traffic to London. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that this argument would hold water only if the whole of the British railway system were to change its gauge to that of the continental system.
I believe that we should not pass this motion because there are far more important social priorities to which the Government should be directing their attention. I was told in a parliamentary reply last December that nearly 500 of my constituents had been waiting for admission to Nuneaton hospitals for more than a year. I have been told time and time again that we cannot have the new primary schools that my constituents need, and we have also been repeatedly told that the National Health Service needs another injection of at least £500 million. My hon. Friends have also said how much more we ought to be spending on the needs of the disabled and on the social services. These needs are far more pressing, and I submit that they constitute much more deserving priorities to which the Government should be attending, and to which we as Socialists should be attending.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Will my hon. Friend explain how the use of a drilling machine under the South Coast will either build more schools and hospitals, or provide more hospital beds or teaching facilities?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am not an advocate of any particular brand of cement, but any housing chairman, who has had the misfortune to try to place a tender to build council houses when there is a by-pass scheme five miles away, will be aware of the difficulties of obtaining labour or resources in such competing circumstances. My hon. Friend, the Mem 52 ber for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) advanced the argument, which I know can be advanced, that it will require only 10 per cent. of the labour and resources of the construction industry. He must realise that 10 per cent. of the construction resources of this country—[Interruption.] These are the figures quoted in the official reports which even favour this project. My hon. Friend must realise that 10 per cent. of the construction industry's resources in this country—if we could devote them to it—could practically rebuild every major hospital in this country.
Finally, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister, whose sincerity I respect, has some personal doubts about this project, because he was with me on the Opposition Front Bench when we first advised the Labour Party to vote against the Bill. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister would dearly like to see a way of getting off the hook. I also believe that the French Government and the French President would like to see a way of getting off the hook. I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends tonight to join me in the Lobby, thus not only getting my right hon. Friend off the hook by opposing the motion but also making sure that the Government make a start by laying down some firm, Socialist priorities for the next five years.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
This is, I suppose, by way of being a second maiden speech. I should first like to thank those hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House who have welcomed me back. Perhaps an enforced absence of seven and a half months has in some ways recharged my batteries.
I should also like—and this is a very appropriate debate in which to do this—to make a reference to my predecessor which is more than a mere courtesy, because Bill Deedes, as we all know, has not, as is the case with so many hon. Members, either been defeated in the heat of battle or gone to retire to some lush pasture, but is still greatly involved and is now the editor of one of the great national newspapers. I know that both in my constituency and in this House Bill Deedes gave 24 years service, and if anyone here can equal that, he will have done very well indeed. Also, 53 from a personal point of view, he could not have been more helpful to me or to his constituents about this great question which we are discussing this afternoon.
I must admit that the seven and a half months fled rapidly, because the speech just made by my personal friend, if not my political friend, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) contained the same sort of nonsense he was talking about a year ago. For those of his hon. Friends who may feel that this is an embarrassment to him, I should perhaps point out that we were born within a few miles of each other.
All the remarks that the hon. Gentleman made about the changed situation and the changed circumstances are answered by the Cairncross Committee. Presumably it is the committee's job to look at the inflationary situation, the energy situation and everything else. As his right hon. Friend has already made clear, if the motion is lost today it will make very little difference for the immediate future. It may well cost more money rather than less.
This House, on Third Reading of the Bill and, indeed, the Government and the French Government at a later stage, at the end of phase II, will be able totally to reassess the situation. It seems, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman has been guilty of jumping the gun before any of us knows the situation. If we do know, then why was the Cairncross Committee set up? It is that committee's job to look into these matters.
Just because I have changed from the Government side of the House and am now in Opposition, and because I am now a Member of Parliament for a constituency that is as badly affected by the rail link as any, I have not changed my views on the desirability of the tunnel going ahead, assuming that it makes some sort of economic sense. I think that for the reasons put forward by my right hon. Friend, and by the Minister for Transport, we should be doing a nonsense if we went back to square one today.
One has to consider the situation of the local authorities concerned; and, as yet, little has been said about them. The leader of the Kent County Council has written to all hon. Members who represent Kent constituencies. It is a question, not just of money—important though 54 that is with the pressure on ratepayers—but of staff and expertise. All of us in the South-East are worried about the environmental effects of the rail link. We want our local authorities at both district and county level to be able to concentrate their minds when that link comes to be discussed. If we have to go back to square one and go through all the procedures again, it will cost our ratepayers a great deal of money—I am a Kent ratepayer myself—and involve the staffs of the various county and district councils in a great deal of work at a time when they ought to be looking after the real problems of the rail link.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Surely they will petition only if they feel that there is something worth petitioning about? They do not have to go through the procedure if they feel they have achieved all they could achieve by their earlier petitioning. If it is good investment to spend the money, it would be good for the ratepayers of Kent.
§ Mr. Speed
My view is that it is not good to duplicate it. My hon. Friend does not know necessarily what the situation would be if one had to reintroduce a Bill and start from scratch. If we say today that the motion should be passed and the Bill should go through its various stages in this House and another place, one of the things that worries many of us is how that will affect the rail link which is a fundamental part of the whole project. I believe that there is an analogy here with the way we progress our roads in this country. In supporting the right hon. Gentleman, and believing that this motion should be passed, I hope I shall not stray out of order in drawing to his attention the fact that if we could get the rail link right this would give us the time to get a proper answer to the very real worries of my constituents and those of many of my hon. Friends.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have a situation where, when one is to build a new road, one starts with the new public participation procedures which I understand he is continuing in the way started by the last Government. These procedures are at an early state and give the public proper information on the horizontal and vertical alignment of roads, an estimate of the costs, and an analysis of various other 55 problems. The roads in their design and construction by the road construction units in the Department require and command a multi-disciplinary approach. In other words, right from the start, there are people in the Department and in the RCUs who are not only road engineers but landscape architects, environmental and noise experts, and so on. It is my criticism of British Railways, and certainly one of the aspects that will be running alongside this Bill, that they do not apparently have at the present time this multi-disciplinary approach. The Royal Institute of British Architects highlighted this in its report a few months ago.
After the public participation when the route is selected by the Secretary of State, there is usually a form of public inquiry that takes places locally and then, when finally a decision is taken, all those aspects of the Land Compensation Act are brought into play to protect people from the effects of the road being built.
The procedures for building a new railway are Victorian. Indeed, they date back to Victorian times. I seriously question whether it is right that we should now be building new communication links of this kind with an old Private Bill procedure under the myth that railways are private entities. They are not. British Rail is having to rely on taxpayers' money for its very existence. I do not quarrel with that, but it is a fact of life, and British Railways cannot be compared with the old London North-Eastern Railway or the London-Brighton routes of the old Southern Railway.
Therefore, if this Bill is to proceed in the way I want, and the motion is to be passed tonight, a number of questions and suggestions need airing, which would certainly help me and, I believe, many other people who agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I will list them. Even if it is not possible for the Under-Secretary to reply to them all this evening, all of us in the South-East would like to have all the answers as soon as possible.
My first question is whether the Government are happy to have the Private Bill procedure used for a new rail link of this importance and magnitude. I believe that we are coming to the stage where such a project should be dealt 56 with by the sort of procedures we adopt for major road projects.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that there may be some forms of public inquiry but that he could not be too precise. Participation is the word now, and building a new railway line today is comparable to the situation of 20 years ago when building new motorways—perhaps even worse. The situation 20 years ago resulted in the M6 around Birmingham and the Westway in West London—and we know all the problems that caused. The Department has taken many steps forward since then but unfortunately the railways have not.
§ Mr. Mulley
I hope I did not give the wrong impression, I do not think there is any statutory provision under which a public inquiry could be held. It would have to be by private legislation. Part of the trouble is that a major railway line has not been laid in this country since Victorian times. That is why the legislation has not changed. Certainly new legislation would be necessary before that situation could be changed.
§ Mr. Speed
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I jotted down his remarks and I think that he said that public inquiries are not necessarily part of the procedure. There might be some form of limited inquiry in compulsory purchase orders, but I do not know for sure. I understand his problems, of course, and he understands my constituents' problems. Nevertheless, I should like to know whether some kind of commission of inquiry or public inquiry is totally ruled out, because these issues are local. The sort of participation that we all talk about has to take place if the right hon. Gentleman goes ahead with the tunnel and if I am to support the project and to convince my constituents that justice is not only being done, but is being seen to be done.
Secondly, if public participation is to be meaningful, we must provide the right kind of information for local authorities and the public, with up-to-date maps—not maps that do not show major developments, as happened on the British Rail consultation document when a very large development in Ashford was not shown at all—showing, ideally, not only horizontal but vertical alignments, which 57 are extremely important, and thereby getting the public to feel that they really are being consulted and not being sold some sort of pup or being bulldozed into something they do not quite understand.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that in the Select Committee that inquired into the Channel Tunnel, completing its work just before the last Session ended, we heard strong objections from Kent County Council, Dover Borough Council, Shepway Council, districts councils, parish councils, Kent conservationists and car ferry operators, among others. It may be that the weight of evidence we heard was largely overcome by the persuasiveness of the Government barrister, Mr. Boydell; but surely the hon. Gentleman would not claim that those bodies did not participate in discussions at a lower level with their people before they reached the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Speed
Indeed, I am sure that they did. I am anxious that the motion should be passed tonight so that we shall have the time and resources to look properly at the Bill, if that is what it must be, though I should prefer some other form of inquiry.
The documents produced by British Railways in connection with this matter—they will, no doubt, be looked at by all sorts of people in due course—contain all kinds of inaccuracies. I am not saying they are deliberate, but there are inaccuracies. There is a lack of information about the alignment of the line, about where it goes into Tonbridge, whether it will go underground or overground, about noise contours, and so on. We talk of representations, but these can be made only with the right facts.
The Channel Tunnel company did provide a lot of facts, so there was a reasonable and successful stage on that Bill, and I am concerned that we should be at least as successful now in being able to put forward our views. I must tell the House that the information available to me is not sufficient for Kent County Council, Surrey County Council or the various boroughs involved to make representations on behalf of those whom they seek to represent.
The third point is important. The right hon. Gentleman has overall responsibility 58 for transport. Is he satisfied that British Railways will adopt the right kind of multidisciplinary approach in building the railway? Will the Lovejoy advice on the environment be published and not just put away in some dark corner of British Railways? My constituents and, I am sure, those of my hon. Friends will be interested in that.
If the right hon. Gentleman is worried about precedent, I can give him one, namely, the special arrangements that I was making, and which I believe he has continued, for the treatment of the environment as it was affected by the M54 passing through a sensitive area of Staffordshire—the Telford motorway. There is an analogy between the treatment of that motorway and the proposed rail link to many parts of Surrey and Kent.
Fourthly—and this echoes what some of my hon. Friends have already asked—can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that all the proposed environmental solutions, including tunnelling in parts of Surrey and Kent, and what I call the Ashford tunnel solution which has been put forward by local authorities and leading citizens in my area, will be looked at and not just brushed aside?
Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that economic factors will not be paramount in determining the lines and construction of this high-speed rail link? From his experience of motorways the right hon. Gentleman will know that, in many circumstances, it is necessary to spend a lot more money to get the right environmental solution, whether it be a cut-and-cover tunnel under Epping Forest to the M16, or whatever it might be. It would be wrong if purely economic justifications were to be considered and not enough consideration was given to environmental factors. I hope that the Minister will insist that, at an early stage, proper noise contour maps are published so that everybody may understand how they might be affected in this kind of situation.
We have had a lot of good information about the tunnel itself. Because I want all that to go forward and the work not to be wasted I shall support the Minister tonight, but he must understand that we have a responsibility to our constituents and that we have many nagging doubts in our mind—I put it no higher 59 than that—about whether everyone is coming clean on the high-speed rail link proposals, whether we have all the right information and whether the Minister, using all the resources of his great and powerful Department, will ensure that we achieve the best environmental solution. We want to see that people are put first, not last.
One matter that dismays me is that when we first talk about great projects there is a certain enthusiasm, but later that enthusiasm fades away. When I was Under-Secretary, not a day passed without people imploring me to get more goods on to the railways and off the roads, yet when a project of this magnitude is put forward that would achieve that end the great British people, in their strange way, want to eat their cake and have it, too. They point out that the project contains 101 snags.
I believe that there is a great future for the railways in the project. I believe, too, that we can get goods and people off the roads, which is something I want to see achieved. But to do that we must plan the link, as well as the tunnel, with imagination, foresight and skill. All those qualities exist. Ever since the war, whether in the redevelopment of its cities and airports or in the building of some of its earlier motorways, this country has, frankly, made a botch of the job. In recent years, particularly with the coming of the Department of the Environment, I believe that we have been getting better and more sensitive in those matters.
I want to ensure that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, and all of us interested in this, including British Railways, do not make a botch of the rail link. If we do, we shall never forgive ourselves. Many people are vitally concerned that we should get it right. I am a believer in the tunnel, provided that the economic aspect is right. We shall presumably know that in a few months' time. The House would do itself a grave disservice and make a non-sense by going back to square one at this stage. I implore the Minister to listen to the issues that I have raised about the rail link because, as I am a believer in the tunnel, perhaps my arguments will carry more weight than those of some of my hon. Friends who do not want the tunnel at any price.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The matter before the House is concerned with a project very distant from my own constituency and from Wales in general. Yet I believe that it intimately affects the life of Wales, and I am afraid that if it came into effect it would affect Wales adversely.
Wales is a peripheral province over in the far west, a province that has to compete with the English regions of the Midlands and South-East which are far better equipped with the necessities of all the infrastructure involved in the matter of economic competition and those factors that make economic development possible. It is natural that regions within 100 miles radius of London should be so much better equipped than we are. Power lies, after all, in the metropolis. We in the peninsula of Wales are a distant country indeed.
Railways, for example, are closely involved in the subject before the House today. We have heard of the improvement to a certain route that will be involved in the project. In Wales we have seen our railways decimated.
Wales is an exporter of electricity. We export approximately 16 million units of electricity per day. Yet not one mile of railway in Wales is electrified. British Rail has a great deal of interest in the Channel Tunnel project, and I am afraid that some of the money that should be invested in Wales in developing and electrifying our railways will go instead into a project of the kind being debated. Wales would then suffer.
I note that the debate is taking place on the day before the Budget debate. Some people fear that tomorrow we may hear cuts proposed in our transport and railway system, and once again Wales may suffer further cuts instead of development. We do not have a network of motorways, or any great network of dual-carriageway roads or even trunk roads, to make up for that deficiency in our transport system.
Until Wales has her own metropolis and her own centre of government so that we can organise these things for ourselves, we shall suffer whenever we are pushed further from the centre of economic gravity. That is what will happen if the tunnel comes into existence.
61 That is what has happened with Britain's entry into the Common Market. It is why we have opposed entry into the Common Market, and why I opposed it when I was last in the House. I was one of only three Welsh Members who voted against entry. I feared then the effects upon our agriculture, upon our steel and upon the possibilities of attracting new industry to Wales.
The same consequence would follow the creation of the Channel Tunnel. It would exacerbate our difficulties in Wales. They are already far too great, especially in a country without a government. We are a nation without a government. We have England's government in Wales, and that is our misfortune. It is high time we had our own government.
I want the Minister to tell us whether he has done something that was not done when we entered the Common Market. Before entry into the Common Market no examination was made, and no inquiry to see what the effects of entry would be upon Welsh life. Has any inquiry been made to see what the effect of the creation of a Channel Tunnel would be on our economy and upon Welsh life? I hope that the Minister will answer that question at the end of the debate.
For us, the Channel Tunnel takes its place among the great expensive prestige projects in which a succession of Governments have been involved. It takes its place for us with the Concorde. It was described in this week's Economist as an underground Concorde. That is how it should be looked at. It takes its place with the MRCA. It takes its place with the Polaris and the Poseidon, and those things which I do not think that England can afford. Certainly, the Welsh taxpayer cannot afford them.
Therefore, we in Wales have a great deal to lose from this project, and very little, if anything, to gain. That is why I fear the adverse effect upon our country. I hope that all those who have the interests of Wales at heart will join us tonight in the "No" Lobby as we vote against the motion, hoping in that way to prevent the implementation of the Channel Tunnel project.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I do not want to take too long over this particular subject, because if the motion is not with 62 drawn those of us who will be in the "No" Lobby believe that we shall have a better chance of defeating it if the vote takes place at 7 o'clock instead of 10 p.m. It might help if the word could get around.
The debate started with the Minister saying that it was in some way a procedural motion, perhaps drawing the wrong conclusion that some of us were against it because we felt that the way in which the Government initially tried to introduce this measure was wrong, and we were therefore excited and agog about this particular method. My only comment is that it is a precedent. The Minister admitted that today. It is significant that we are now embarking upon procedures of this sort, by which it is hoped to get the thing through on the nod within two years of our having entered the Common Market.
§ Mr. John Wells
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member in order in speaking twice in the same debate? In fact, in HANSARD of Wednesday 30th October, the concluding column states:Mr. Skinner: We on this side of the House …It concludes:The Treasurer to Her Majesty's Household (Mr. Walter Harrison): I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.Therefore, the hon. Member is making a second speech on the same debate, because after that Question was agreed to, the following words appear:Debate to be resumed tomorrow."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October 1974; Vol. 880, c. 224–5.]Today is now "tomorrow".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
The hon. Gentleman intervened on a point of order on that occasion. As I understand it, and as is often the case, it might have been an extended point of order, but he prefaced his speech with the words "On a point of order". I therefore call on the hon. Member for Bolsover to speak.
§ Mr. Wells
Further to that point of order. He did indeed begin his first utterance on a point of order, which he then concluded. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) then made a brief speech, and Mr. Speaker made a ruling. It started 63 with a point of order, but there were two brief speeches.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It might have seemed so to the hon. Gentleman, and it often does to me. I call Mr. Skinner.
§ Mr. Skinner
With the permission of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will speak for the third time—or perhaps it is the fourth.
I was speaking about the question of the rather strange procedural motion which was used by the Government on that occasion. Most Government hon. Members do not complain about that. We expect the Government of the day to use the devices that are obtainable within the House of Commons. It would be honest of me to say that if I were in the Patronage Secretary's position, I should probably be doing things the same way. Most of the things which we do in this House are procedural matters anyway. The real power is outside; we interpret the events of the outside world, and our debates are in response. Literally everything we do is of a procedural nature.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because he is undertaking a fascinating constitutional exposition with which I wholeheartedly agree. But will he differentiate between the kind of motion that has been put down, and the fact that when many of us inquired when the motion would be put down, we were not told? I submit that there is a substantial difference between the actual motion which has been put down and the unfortunate fact that some of my right hon. Friends would not tell us when they intended to put down the motion.
§ Mr. Skinner
As I have already declared, had I been sitting on the Front Bench, and in an attempt to try to get the Bill—or something akin to it—through, then I would have adopted the same posture as they have adopted. I believe it is the back benchers' job in the present situation to find out how to prevent occurrences which they regard as unpleasant, but, more important, to change the procedures. That is what we should concentrate upon.
The lesson that we learn from all this is that there are ways and means by 64 which the Government can, if not in this instance, on some occasions at least, manage to bulldoze things through when the rest of us might not be fully aware of what is taking place. To some extent a new Member is placed in a somewhat delicate position by not having the opportunity of learning what those procedures are. The lesson, therefore, is that we should make sure that all or most of our attempts are concentrated upon changing many of the obstacles which prevent us from achieving things that we feel to be correct.
I do not complain about what the Government did. What I am complaining about is the motion itself and where it leads to. That is the real problem. The fight that we had in the election was about the language of priorities. It is true that night after night we hear most of the political pundicts telling us that we have the most gigantic crisis on our hands, and that once more the workers must pull up their socks, tighten their belts and do all the things workers have had to do in all the crises we have had since the turn of the century. They will have to drag the country back to a firm footing.
After all the talk about the secondary banks collapsing and the fact that we might be in the ludicrous position of baling out Slater Walker, has this ever been considered: here we have a motion on the Order Paper which, although it may be innocuous in itself. could lead to the spending—so my expert hon. Friends have told me—of at least £1,500 million. For some of us on this side of the House, that is what the motion is all about.
On the basis, therefore, that we have the problem of trying to get the country back on an even keel—for my part, certainly not to save the capitalist system—we are saying that we cannot afford to spend this amount of money. To that extent, we are saying that the motion should either be withdrawn by the Government or it should be defeated.
It would need a superhuman effort to achieve that end, but, if we do not achieve it tonight, I hope that the Government will take notice of what has been said in the debate and of the feelings of those who have not spoken, certainly of those on the Government benches. This is a matter fundamental 65 to the language of priorities of which I spoke earlier.
We are to have a Budget tomorrow. We are being told by the heavy quality Press that there will be cuts everywhere, that the schools projects in Whitwell, in Clowne, in Cresswell in my constituency, and the Chesterfield Royal Hospital, which badly needs replacing, will have to stand aside. I hope to God that what we are told turns out to be wrong. All these fears arise as a result of the so-called crisis which we are now facing.
I say that this is misguided policy. We cannot, however, judge on that matter, as we have not yet heard what the Chancellor has to say. But we are bound to take note of the constant concentration by the Press upon certain areas where cuts are due to take place. A Government Whip who was appointed fairly recently—he is an ex-railwayman—is quoted in the newspapers today as saying that he regards the rail cuts as serious, not merely in principle but for him. I reckon that he is perhaps privy to some of the things we are only hearing rumours about at present. That is not to say that he knows, but it suggests that he perhaps smells something wrong in the proposals regarding expenditure for railways.
We are, therefore, bound to feel strongly about a proposal to spend £1,500 million on the Channel Tunnel. It is a question, not merely of the motion itself, but of the whole idea that we are embarking upon spending this money when we have an ideal opportunity now to get rid of the project.
It is well known that there are some people in the Cabinet, and many in the Government, who are against the idea of the Channel Tunnel. It is my guess that there are occasions when back benchers can rescue them from their collective responsibility. It might be considered a bizarre idea, but in private many of them say that the idea of the Channel Tunnel is not for them. Therefore, we have this great responsibility tonight to get rid of the project once and for all.
I am told that the settling date is 31st December.—[Interruption.] "Not necessarily", I hear my expert hon. Friend say. I am certain that he is correct. It is important to recognise that if we manage to get beyond that date and if the parties to the treaty, namely, ourselves and France, have to put forward 66 an alternative proposal, we are getting nearer the date when we are likely to get the referendum. So I do not believe that we can completely dismiss the old Market phobia from our minds.
For those reasons, I believe that we have a job to do tonight, not to take part in any rebellion but to rescue our Government from the folly on which they have embarked and which they did not even have the audacity to include in the Queen's Speech. Had it been so important a measure, surely it would have ranked amongst the 26 Bills that were laid before us. If it had been as important as that, not only would it have been included but it would have been one of the matters brought before the House soon to be debated.
That is our job tonight. Somebody must take positive action to end the uncertainty that has surrounded this measure since it was introduced into the House. I believe that it is our job on this side—together with any others, wherever they may come from, who want to join us in the Lobby—to kill the Bill tonight.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
It is perhaps unfortunate that there should have been three speakers from the non-Conservative benches all opposed to the tunnel, when one understands that the Government have a Whip on to persuade their Members to go into the Lobby in favour of the motion.
It is important that we consider the realities of the situation. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said that this project might cost £1,500 million, and he repeated the figure several times. A far more likely figure is that of £846 million set out by the Channel Tunnel Company, that is, £468 million at 1973 prices, plus £192 million for finance and interest charges, plus £186 million for inflation. With this figure for inflation, it must be borne in mind that the revenue that can be expected in inflated terms would be greater than the revenue currently expected.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said that it was a prestige project. We must be realists about this. It is not a prestige project. It is a sound, deeply researched and desirable, viable transport undertaking. It is a project that 67 will be beneficial to future generations. The inflation that will overtake succeeding ferries and hovercraft will add to the price of future ship and hovercraft building, but this tunnel, once built, will be built for generations to come. It is not a pie-in-the-sky project but a serious and viable project.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) had his figures completely wrong, and I believe that he must have misheard my intervention during his speech, though I did not bother to intervene again. There must be Government guarantees for these bonds or nobody in the money markets of the world will buy them. They will be the equivalent, in international parlance, of British trustee stock, and unless they have Government backing they will not have that status and could not be sold in the stock exchanges of the world. It is imperative that the Government give the project their backing.
I want to turn strictly to the procedural motion, because we shall have many opportunities to debate the broader aspects in the future. There are certain dangers in a procedural motion of this kind, because a subsequent Government might want to resuscitate from Parliament to Parliament some highly undesirable measure that had fallen at an election. This, being a hybrid Bill, is in a special and particular category. It is essential that the interests of those who have already presented their case should be protected and that they should not have the cost of appearing twice. Again, the timetable is essential. We must press on within this limited timetable if we are to have before us the necessary facts and figures to decide whether the ultimate project is to proceed.
But the ultimate project itself will not cost the British public a great deal, as I have already made clear. Furthermore, it will not be costly in resources. One should get into perspective the resources that will be used. Four main items will go into its construction. First, there is the labour force. Only some 2,000 British people will be engaged at the British end. Secondly, only some 38,000 tonnes of steel will be used, which is less than one-quarter of 1 per cent. of the United Kingdom steel production. Thirdly, only 123,000 tonnes of cement will be used, 68 which is half of 1 per cent. of the total United Kingdom production. Again, this somewhat refutes the earlier argument of the hon. Member for Nuneaton. Lastly, only some 450,000 tonnes of sand and gravel will be used, which is 1 per cent. of the total United Kingdom production per annum. Therefore, the use of scarce resources is negligible. The boring equipment which will be used is well advanced; the manufacture of it is well in hand. I believe that the Channel Tunnel project is economically sound, desirable and financially sensibly based.
Having said all that in favour of the project and of the motion, I believe that we should have a critical look at the conduct of British Rail, which has been extremely slow to assuage the fears of the constituents of those of us who represent south-eastern constituencies. That is why so many Kent and Sussex Members are present, why several have already intervened and why others will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The fear is simply that of the unknown, and British Rail has been most unreasonable and unco-operative in going out to meet our constituents. It is a sorry contrast with the conduct of the Channel Tunnel Company, which has been exemplary. The company has made it quite clear that it will give good compensation to people who suffer—indeed, more compensation than they are entitled to by law. British Rail has made no such offer, although the property of tens of thousands of people is blighted, or temporarily blighted.
Our part of the country is an area of high population mobility. Many people bought houses at the peak of the housing market last year, and they now see uncertainty and blight hanging over them. I believe that British Rail has to come a great deal cleaner about this. Furthermore, the Chairman of British Rail, who makes appointments with Members of Parliament at 10 o'clock on a Friday morning, is either a wily old parliamentarian—as we know he is—or else he thinks we are a lot of twits. I suggest that the Chairman of British Rail should mend his manners in dealing with hon. Members of this House.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
We have had a somewhat bizarre 69 debate so far. Even after the comparatively short time that I have been a Member of the House, I never thought that I would live to see my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) defending so violently the traditions of the place.
§ Mr. Snape
However, let me say at the outset, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), that I was employed by British Railways before being elected to the House. My interest—some of my hon. Friends have said already that it is my only interest—is the future prosperity of the railway service. It does not arise from any personal financial reason, but I happen to believe that railway transport is the finest mode of surface transport today and will become increasingly important in the future.
Various figures have been thrown at us from various parts of the House about the total cost of the Channel Tunnel project. Clearly, when dealing with a project like this, it is difficult to be precise about the effects that inflation and other side effects will have on the total cost of the project, but they ought to be considered.
Some of my hon. Friends mentioned misuse of public resources. They should remember that in the context of this business we are not talking about any public money. We heard from the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) about the financing of the Channel Tunnel project. [Interruption.] Obviously there will be a great deal of public money involved on the construction of the high speed rail link from the tunnel terminal to London.
It could well be argued, I concede immediately, that there are perhaps better priorities for public money than increasing expenditure on the railway system.
§ Mr. Snape
But I remind my hon. Friends—I seem to be addressing most of my remarks to my hon. Friends—that in the manifesto on which we have just fought two elections we said that we should hope to see more investment in the British Rail network. We said also that we were keen to see far more heavy 70 freight transferred from the road system on to the railways.
I find it a twisted argument to say, on the one hand, that we demand that in the election manifesto and, on the other hand, to say that there are better priorities for the use of public money than spending on our railways.
Again, I make no apology for reminding my hon. Friends that the Channel Tunnel will not cost anything in public money. If any hon. Member on either side likes to come up with some figures, I should be delighted to give way.
§ Mr. Snape
That is not the same. The hon. Gentleman served with me on the Select Committee and forcefully expressed his concern about the guarantees. But that is not the same as saying that there is public money involved in the construction of the tunnel. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not argue about that.
§ Mr. Snape
I have already dealt with the rail link to some extent. No one can build a rail link without its costing money. That is a major item of public expenditure. Hon. Members opposite—some of them still wish to speak—will bring up the problems that the rail link will cause to their constituents, and it is proper that they should discuss them in the House. However, I note that the management of British Rail itself has come under considerable criticism for its attitude.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) talked about planning procedures regarding new railway lines. I only wish that the Department of the Environment, in which he served for some time, were as keen when it came to building motorways for the views of the general public to be heard as it appears to be on the question of the rail link.
§ Mr. Speed
If the hon. Gentleman had made that remark four or five years ago I would have agreed 100 per cent. with him. But 18 months ago new participation procedures were introduced by the Department of the Environment. I introduced them in this House and they have 71 started to work successfully. He will know from his own part of the world, the M6 for example, that the public were not consulted. That is now a changing situation, introduced by the last Conservative Government and followed up by this Government. We have made good progress on the roads.
§ Mr. Snape
Perhaps we can say, I hope fairly, that the general public today does not share his apparent complacency about motorways and road building. It has long been the practice of the Department of the Environment, which it appears to be carrying through despite the new procedures, not to talk about motorways running from A to B. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the M6 motorway. That started life as the Preston bypass. It now stretches from Coventry well into Scotland. When we talk about the rail link we are talking about the whole length of the link. Obviously there are a great number of people to consider and a great number of hon. Members who wish the fears of their constituents to be considered.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport recently opened the last link in a motorway stretching from Liverpool to Hull. I never remembered any planning procedures for the residents from Liverpool to Hull, so that they could object to this cross-country motorway. That is not the way things are done with motorways. We get a localised inquiry. A gentleman from the road construction unit will come along and say to local residents, "I am sorry, just a few houses will come down. But this will take all the traffic from your High Street and put it on the bypass." They are always bypasses, never motorways. It takes some time before the penny drops and someone adds up all the bypasses and discovers that they stretch from Liverpool to Hull. That is the difference between consultations on road development and railworks.
§ Mr. Speed
The hon. Gentleman must come up to date. I will give him chapter and verse. There was the M40 motorway, the A6 in Stockport, the Canterbury by 72 pass, the A27 in Brighton, the Chelmsford bypass. On all of these the public were consulted at an early date and their views listened to. They have taken part in the selection of a route.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. It is a little unfair, when there are so many hon. Members who wish to speak, that those who have had the opportunity to address the House should intervene at length. [Interruption.] It is not for me to say that speeches should be less provocative.
§ Mr. Snape
I am grateful for your guidance Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member and I can resume our battle later.
One subject that has not been mentioned so far is that of energy and our future energy resources. I anxiously await the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prestcott), who will no doubt tell us of the contribution that can be made by sea-going transport. By any stretch of the imagination and on any figures, it must be conceded that cross-Channel traffic will grow a good deal in the next decade. Irrespective of whether the tunnel is built, some road transport has to cater for this growth. If the tunnel is not built the resources expended on the expansion of existing modes of transport are likely to be at least as great as the cost under discussion for the tunnel and the associated railway.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the Monopolies Commission report accepts that on current cross-Channel ferry services there is excess capacity of 86 per cent.? My hon. Friend repeatedly refers to this proposal as a great rail investment. Will he bear in mind that British Railways has only a 4.7 per cent. stake in the British Channel Tunnel Company?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is the second long interruption that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) has made, although he addressed the House. There is a long queue of hon. Members waiting to speak.
§ Mr. Snape
I do not know from where my hon. Friend gets the figure of 86 per cent. excess capacity. If he refers to the proceedings of the Select Committee on 73 the Channel Tunnel he will see that among the people giving evidence against the tunnel were the shipowners. We had the doubtful privilege of looking at various balance sheets and projections provided by those gentlemen at the time. To quote one example, Townsend Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd. plays a considerable part in the cross-Channel business and its profits went up by ten times in a decade although not one penny piece was paid in income tax—nor does the company intend to pay income tax in the foreseeable future. If that company can do that and still have 86 per cent. excess capacity, perhaps we should attract the management of Townsend Thoresen to British Rail.
The alternative to the tunnel with a high-speed rail link might in the future give hon. Members even greater cause for regret. We might conceivably end by having a tunnel and no rail link, which would be worse than having no tunnel at all. It might then be necessary not only to turn that part of the South Coast into a massive lorry park but to construct yet another motorway between the terminal and London. Perhaps the fears expressed by hon. Members about the high-speed rail link would then be doubled or trebled having regard to the noise, pollution and dislocation that such a motorway might cause.
According to the latest publication of the British Tourist Authority's Travel News, the ratio of tourists using the tunnel from the Continent is likely to be 6:4. To talk of a great drain from Britain to the Continent is pure conjecture.
I am greatly in favour of the project because of its likely effect on the future prosperity of the railway service. The railway industry has suffered a sad decline in the immediate pre-war years and since. The tunnel and the rail link constitute the first railway development this century. If we let this opportunity go by the board, I prophesy that the decline of the railway system is likely to continue. What happens then to some of the environmental considerations mentioned by hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House?
The tunnel with its associated high-speed rail network is an essential part of our future transport strategy. If the House rejects the proposals it might well reflect in future that it made a wrong- 74 headed decision. It is essential that the Channel Tunnel and the rail network should be built, not only for the prosperity of the railway system but for the prosperity of the country.
I remind hon. Members who referred to the connection between the Channel Tunnel and the Common Market that shares in a channel tunnel company were quoted on the London Stock Exchange almost three-quarters of a century before the idea of the Iron and Steel Community was a twinkle in the eye of the post-war European statesmen. Europe will be there whether or not the EEC exists. I share with some of my hon. Friends their detestation of that bureaucratic organisation, but it is none the less essential that Britain should play its full part in transport planning and the use of resources. It can best do so by giving the green light to the Channel Tunnel and the expansion of the railway system.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I do not intend to keep the House long because I know that hon. Members who represent Kent constituencies badly want to get their word in. I have not the experience or legal knowledge to expound upon the precedent which was created in 1929, so I shall not speak against the motion.
Circumstances have changed a great deal since the White Paper on the Channel Tunnel Project was debated. At that time the Secretary of State, then speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, moved the following amendment to the motion which called for approval of the White Paper:whilst not opposed in principle to a Channel Tunnel, declines to approve a ' rolling motorway ' scheme which threatens both regional and environmental objectives, pre-empts scarce resources, lacks the support of a fully integrated transport strategy, and in its financial arrangements subordinates the interests of the taxpayer to those of private capital; and demands an independent inquiry into alternative transport strategies, including a rail-only tunnel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October 1973; Vol. 861, c. 1505.]Those are the views which I have tried to express since I became the spokesman for the Liberal Party in March last. If those were the issues on which the right hon. Gentleman opposed the Channel tunnel then, surely he should be even more opposed to it today bearing in mind the economic situation.
75 My party divided the House on the Second Reading of the Channel Tunnel Bill, and I supported the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) who has been consistent in his opposition. The hon. Gentleman and I wished an inquiry to be held, and in Committee he expounded at great length certain other views on which we were in the minority of two.
There is concern in Kent about the rail link, particularly about the noise element. I have here a document lately prepared for the county council which shows that the rail link would cause unacceptable noise within 100 to 150 yards of the proposed line. If that information is correct, we should be far more concerned about what we are approving tonight.
There is also concern that many of the petitioners to the Select Committee did not have sufficient opportunity to express their views. I am not suggesting that the Committee did not do a thorough job, but the Defenders of Kent, a strong community body, felt that it had been unable to put its views as strongly as it wished. The body was ruled out of order on legal grounds on many of the issues it wanted to put forward.
I am still of opinion that the public inquiry should have been held. We are told that the reason why a public inquiry could not be held was the great hurry to get the Bill through, so that the treaty could be signed at the end of the year. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) told us that the understanding now is that there has been a change in France. There is a new President and it is believed that President Giscard d'Estaing is rather anti-Channel tunnel.
I should like to quote from the Journal of Public Transport published in Basle which commented as follows:Valery Giscard D'Estaing is of the opinion that his country's image overseas will be better served by technologically superior vessels carrying the French flag to major seaports throughout the world than it is by a luxury liner drifting about in the Caribbean. This is in keeping with the sober politics of the French President who intends to abandon or put back other money-draining prestige projects such as Concorde, the Aerotrain and the Channel Tunnel.We are entitled to ask the Minister when he replies to the debate to give 76 the House the latest estimate of the cost of the Channel Tunnel. Must we wait for the Cairncross report? What is the point of going ahead with the tunnel if we do not know that we are to build the rail link? Obviously there will be a great deal of trouble over that project.
Surely the right thing to do now, at top level, is to seek postponement of the project. I have never denied the fact that the Liberal Party believes in the rail link and the rail link only. However, I believe that there should be an inquiry into the rail link and the tunnel. When the economic situation has changed we may take a different view. If the Government are to spend £30 million on the project, then it is nonsense to abandon it entirely. I shall be going into the Lobby with the hon. Member for Bois-over (Mr. Skinner), and if he can arrange that it will be at about 7 o'clock I shall be delighted.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
On this occasion I should declare an interest since I am a sponsored Member of the National Union of Seamen. I am clearly interested in what will happen to alternative transport systems in the event of the Channel Tunnel being built and what effect it will have on shipping. If it is to mean redundancies among seamen as a result of ships being withdrawn, then naturally that will be a great concern to me.
I do not intend this evening to consider solely the powerful shipping argument. Indeed, I have looked at this project on economic grounds and I must confess that I have become appalled at the scale of the operation. I should like to put before the House some of the facts of the situation and to say why the House should reject the motion when considering the proper use of public resources.
The Minister in opening the debate said that this was an unprecedented Bill. This is not a matter which the House is likely to ignore since a great deal of the time in this House we tend to be conditioned by precedent. I am all for throwing them over. On other occasions when we have looked at legislation, we have been told by the Front Bench how important precedent is. I hope that the Government will bear this point in mind 77 this evening and remember that the Bill at the time of the late Herbert Morrison involved a motion which was laid before the House before the Bill was considered rather than afterwards. That is an important point to remember. Therefore, we are taking an unprecedented step if the motion is passed.
If the motion is defeated, as I hope it will be, it will not interfere in any way with the cash flow needed for phase II of the exploration proposals. Furthermore, if we do not pass the motion tonight it will still be possible to ratify the treaty. There are certain requirements in the treaty which need to be observed and one includes the passing of the Channel Tunnel Bill which involves this House in certain actions. The important thing to remember is that the Bill is based on a treaty and seeks ratification of a treaty between two countries. It is the obligation that is embodied in the treaty which we are being asked to accept in the Bill. Because of the consequences involved in this process, I wish to point to various considerations bearing on tonight's vote.
Why do I personally wish to see the measure delayed? Let me start by saying that if we defeat the motion it will not mean that there will be no prospect of building the Channel Tunnel. All we shall do is to hinder and delay the process, but that in itself will not prevent the Channel Tunnel being built. It will perhaps have the effect of giving more time for reflection and to consider the huge issues involved. We shall then before we take a decision have an opportunity to consider the reports which the Government rightly have put in hand.
The trouble with projects of this kind is that once a decision is made they get carried along on their own momentum. Once schemes are embarked upon we are then suddenly told, "We have spent so much public money on this project, and it will be a waste of that expenditure if we advance no further". There has been a huge tooling project in respect of the machines to build the entrance to the tunnel and the whole thing has been carried along on its own momentum. This is what concerns a number of hon. Members.
Another reason for not accepting the motion lies in the guarantees in the treaty and indeed underlying the Bill itself. This relates to the financial provisions which 78 were agreed to in 1973. The importance of the guarantees is that they are the lynchpin of the argument whether the project will involve public expenditure or private expenditure. It has already been said in the debate that the money will be raised in the markets and will be guaranteed by public money, and that this is what must happen with this investment.
We all know that there is a great deal more money being raised by private enterprise on the private market in regard to oil exploration in the North Sea. In the early stages of the Channel Tunnel project the Labour Government considered the mix of public and private money and hoped that 30 per cent. of the money would be raised in the private market and that there would be some kind of financial discipline. But in the event the private market raised only 10 per cent. of the capital and was not prepared to raise any more, even though the terms offered were extremely attractive.
Therefore, we must consider a private funding of only 10 per cent. of the figure of £900 million, or £1,400 million, which is the later estimate. That latter figure takes into account the delays in the project, higher inflation and interest rates and all the rest of it. I shall not go into the formula, but I am sure the Minister is well aware of it. Therefore, about £900 or £1,200 million of the total figure will not come from the private market.
If the project makes a profit, the public return will be limited solely to the British Rail link investment. That in itself is enough reason to cancel the Channel Tunnel project. The project will involve an investment of over £400 million to build the link between London and the tunnel. This was estimated at £160 million only 12 months ago.
This will be public investment and will be guaranteed by the Government. It is not likely to come from the profits of British Rail. The key to the argument is the Treasury guarantee.
It has been argued today that if inflations raises the costs, then so it raises the revenue. The costs are certain because one has to build the project, but the revenue is much less certain. The problem is to tie in the guarantee with 79 the certainty or uncertainty of revenues. This is what we must consider when deciding whether this is a private or a public project.
If the project were solely a private venture, we should still argue about the environmental consequences, traffic flows, regional implications, and so on, but let us look at the matter solely on the grounds of public investment, with Treasury guarantees having to be observed. If the project is not profitable, then as an investment concept of £1,200 million it is a tremendous concept. If we are to invest on that scale, then the project will have to compete with other pieces of public expenditure and to observe the social priorities. The project has not met this criterion. It tends to masquerade as a profitable venture and on that ground it is hoped that it will get through with the project.
On Second Reading of the Bill as reported in column 966, the Minister said that the Bill must be passed to allow the project to be subjected to examination. So the Cairncross Committee was set up because we were not satisfied with the economic data provided by the consultants—who were also consultants to RTZ and the Channel Tunnel Company. That is not the most impartial way of checking such figures, which are very important. Setting up that committee rightly showed the Government's doubt about the projected revenue estimates.
But there is other evidence. The Minister also said on Second Reading that the project should be agreed so that it could be examined in a private Select Committee and in a public committee. The Chairman of the Select Committee was my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall). The main argument from among the private interests came from shipping, which would face the major competition. The argument was that, in the traffic that the tunnel would be able to capture, as much as 80 per cent. of all tourist traffic presently going by ship even though the consultants accepted that the price differential would be 30 per cent., which would mean £10 or £11 less on a journey by ship.
One has to judge how the traffic might be apportioned, but the treaty which the 80 Bill ratifies clearly stated that the purpose of the tunnel would be… to secure the best possible earnings on capital employed in the enterprise.That is the purpose of the Bill. One has to bear in mind that the private interests will be represented on the tariffs committee and will be able to determine the tariffs in conjunction with the Government.
The problem that the Select Committee had to take into account was that it was the view of the shipping interests that there would be a 45 per cent. cut in the differential between the two systems and if that were so, 80 per cent. of the traffic would not go via the tunnel, bearing in mind that only 17 per cent. of the tunnel's revenue would come from freight—a point that British Rail should bear in mind when talking of this as a transportation problem. The rest would come from the tourist traffic—and goodness knows what will happen to that in the next few year. But they are banking on 80 per cent. of the revenue from that traffic.
If the shipping interests are right—the facts seem to bear them out, because they have built bigger and faster vessels and reduced the real costs, as the Monopolies Commission has confirmed—and if they can keep their share of the traffic, the tunnel will not get the revenue which is essential for it if it is to achieve a profit, as assumed by the consultants. If it does not make a profit, it will be under pressure to reduce fares and to run the alternative transportation, namely shipping, off the seas.
The shipping interests argued for a guarantee that the Channel Tunnel Company would not take this action to prevent public money, through the use of the Treasury guarantees, being poured into the project. Giving evidence on their behalf to the Select Committee was a Mr. Hill, an accountant with a company which advises on the finances of public and local authorities, who was associated with the Mersey tunnel. He has experience of tunnel financing. He said that the consultants' figures, which are heavily contested, were embodied in the treaty.
If those figures are suspect—after all, the Government have set up the Cairn-cross Committee—that means that we are asked to ratify a Bill whose financial implications are based on figures that 81 we do not accept or which are in considerable doubt. Alternatively, if the consultants' figures are right in these agreements, clearly there is no objection to putting in the guarantee that interests like shipping would not face a run-down in traffic due to unfair competition by the tunnel authorities.
If the figures are wrong, there is every possibility that public money will be used to the extent of £1,200 million.
Talking about the Treasury guarantees, the Select Committee said:While the Committee thought it would not be proper to make such an amendment, they believe that the House, during the further passage of the Bill, should seriously consider the whole question of the operation of the guarantees, particularly with a view to preventing their possible misuse.Nothing was done about that recommendation, and throughout the Bill's stages in the House, despite the public examination that the Minister called for, no change has so far taken place.
The railwaymen's case was valiantly argued in that Committee by one of my hon. Friends. The Minister said on Second Reading that one of the gaps in the Bill concerned the diversion of traffic from road to rail. The treaty specifically forbids any discrimination in terms of traffic. There is no guarantee that the Bill will be, in the words of some Conservative Members, a boost for rail. Although we all want some transference from road to rail, that would be against the express provisions of the treaty which the Bill would ratify. That is another reason for delaying the Bill. We would ratify a Bill against the Government's desire on traffic discrimination. It has been made clear that we need not be governed by the date of 1st January. It has been agreed that both parties can negotiate a new date.
Petitioners' costs of £40,000 have been mentioned. But that is money paid by the local authorities which opposed the Bill, some of which are on record as being ready to go through the same procedure again for further consideration of new data. The cost is not on the Government but on the local authorities, who are willing to go through the procedure. As for the £6 million maximum penalty, that is a highly marginal sum on a project like this, and it is doubtful whether we would face it. We are not exercising our responsibilities properly if we say that these 82 matters can be dealt with in another place.
As for British Rail, one of the first through transport networks was the freightliner and that did not produce many jobs for the railway lads; it put an awful lot of them out of work. The costs of the London link have risen from £160 million to an estimated £400 million. I hope that we shall be given some definite figure today of what it will cost British Rail to make this link down to Dover. We should delay the Bill until we know it.
I should like to see alternative British Rail investment on high-speed links. There is also a good deal of talk about cutting back on branch lines. Another hon. Member and I are concerned in just such a case at the moment. In Lloyd's List today, British Rail's traffic manager in Scotland is reported as having complained publicly that they want only £6 million to develop a rail network to service the North Sea operations but cannot get it. It is extraordinary to talk about spending £400 million in the South when they want only £6 million in Scotland to develop a network for the North Sea bonanza. I am sure that the Scottish National Party would support that point as well.
This project should not go ahead. British Rail has not considered it properly. It has not taken into account the write-off of its shipping profitability. Its ports will face serious losses and its hovercraft services will face severe competition. These are direct costs for British Rail. These are all matters that the House should consider in rejecting the motion—as British Rail have not considered them.
The regional consequences have not been properly considered either. When the consultants talk about a loss of £55 million to the air operators, that will mean losing a lot of aircraft investment. If there is a £100 million saving in ships, our shipyards lose that amount of orders. When the ports save investment amounting to £76 million that means that the North Sea and other ports will lose as much as 46 per cent. to 90 per cent. of unitised traffic and face further financial difficulties. All these interests have important secondary effects in that other industries depend upon them. They are labour intensive, not capital intensive, and they benefit the North and not the South. They are 83 all nationalised industries or are in the process of being nationalised.
Under the tunnel scheme 50 per cent. of the net revenue will be shared with the French, but at present Britain dominates shipping and air links between the two countries and gets the major share of the revenue. If the tunnel goes ahead we shall give half that money away. We oppose the project because the economic facts are against it and because we should await the Cairncross Committee's report. It is an unsatisfactory Bill which gives priority to the wrong thing in view of what we shall probably hear from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor tomorrow. Priority should be given to hospitals, schools, houses and other such things—part of a Socialist priority.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Like the hon. Members for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) and Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), I urge the House to reject the motion. The mere fact that the Bill has been before the House twice before and has been killed off by General Elections is no reason for assuming that third time round we should deem it to have been read the First and Second times and to have been reported from Standing Committee. That is a very dangerous precedent.
This is a new Parliament. Many hon. Members are here for the first time and took no part in the debates on the merits of the scheme over the last two years. I am totally opposed to the Bill and to the motion. Time is short, and I shall be brief in presenting the reasons why I believe that it would be in the national interests to reject the motion.
Much has happened since the Bill was first introduced, not least in economic and financial matters. I realise that the Government must try to get the Bill through Parliament by the end of the year because of an agreement that was made between the French and British Governments and the two Channel companies some time ago. I realise that they run the risk of incurring severe penalties amounting to several million pounds. Is it not true, however, that the climate in France is now totally different from what it was when the Bill was first introduced?
84 The French President, M. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, is not very enthusiastic about the scheme. He has already gone on record as saying that he would like to postpone the project, if not shelve it altogether. In view of that, what steps has the Minister taken to ask the French Government whether they will agree to the postponement of the signing of phase II?
§ Mr. Mulley
I discussed the matter with my French counterpart before the election. Obviously the situation in France will depend on what decision the House takes tonight. If the House takes an adverse view of the motion, I would not be in a very strong negotiating position.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I should have thought that the Minister would be in an even stronger negotiating position. I know the French as well as the Minister does, and I suggest that if he were put in a position of not being a free agent and had to say that the House of Commons was his master, his position would be that much stronger.
Why is there such a rush? There must be doubts in the Government's mind or they would not have set up the Cairn-cross Committee. Before we take any steps should we not await the findings of the committee? We have only a few months to wait for those findings.
§ Mr. Mulley
Criticism of the timetable comes a little ill from the Conservative benches, although I know that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) was never an enthusiast for the project. All our difficulties stem from the timetable, agreement and treaty signed by the Conservative administration. We have already managed to find some extra time for the rail link Bill, but the agreement and treaty mean that unless we have the powers in the Bill we cannot confirm all the arrangements that the Conservative Government made.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I certainly bear some of the collective guilt, but privately I opposed my side as I oppose the right hon. Gentleman. All three major parties in the last election referred to the economic and financial position and the gravity of the situation that faces this country. They all said that economies had to be imposed across the board. They all 85 agreed that there should be drastic cutbacks in public expenditure.
The question of precisely what is public expenditure is complicated. It is too detailed to consider here and now whether a guarantee is public expenditure, but public expenditure will be incurred if British Rail goes ahead with the 80-mile rail link. Here we are rushing ahead like the Gadarene swine with the proposals for a tunnel and high-speed railway, the costs of which are escalating every day.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East referred to a short article in the Economist last week headed "Underground Concorde". As that journal pointed out, the original estimate last year for the rail link was £120 million. Because of pressure—quite rightly—from the environmentalists, that estimate would escalate to about £350 million if much of the link was built underground. Now, with inflation continuing and costs rising, the figure is in the region of about £400 million to £500 million. That does not take account of the vast compensation that British Rail and others would have to pay on environmental grounds if the scheme should by any misfortune go ahead.
In a short time, therefore, the estimated costs of the rail link alone are greater than the original estimate for the tunnel itself, a cost which is now put at some £1,500 million. What a lot of nonsense this is. The route of the rail link has not even been decided on, so that any figures at the moment are at best only guesstimates.
There has been a lot of talk about freight being moved off the roads and on to the railways, but half the traffic for the tunnel will consist of cars and lorries meeting it at Cheriton, having motored through Kent, so that the county will not benefit from this unnecessary and expensive rail link.
Another objection is that my constituents have been denied the right adequately to express their views since British Rail and the Government are taking advantage of nineteenth-century procedures for acquiring railway land and are denying my constituents who live along the probable route the chance of having their case fully heard in public. When he was in opposition, the Secretary of State for the Environment supported 86 my request for a public inquiry. Now that he has the power to arrange it, he has done nothing whatever about it and has changed his coat completely. At least, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has been consistent in his support for the project.
I oppose the Bill also because of its implications for an overall transport policy and for national security. A single fixed link is intended to attract traffic from numerous sea crossing and air routes. If the tunnel succeeded in that and much of our continental traffic were to be channelled through France, there would be real cause for alarm.
My constituents, many of whom commute to London, are already subject to countless annoyances and disruptions through strikes or go-slows by railway workers. France at the moment is steadily moving Leftwards and there is a considerable chance that the Communists might get into power in France. The French Confédération Générale du Travail is hardly less a power in France than is the TUC in Britain. The mind boggles at what could happen if French or British railway workers acted in concert over disputes on wages and conditions of service.
If the project goes ahead, we will be as dependent on the good will of the French railwaymen as we are, alas, on the English railwaymen.
In these violent, terrorist days when more and more movements—political, economic and even academic—are increasingly willing to use force to obtain their ends, the chances of disruption and damage will clearly be increased if a tunnel is built. Even a telephone threat of a bomb in a train in the tunnel would mean suspension of all traffic until a thorough search had been made. But the whole idea of the Channel Tunnel and a high-speed rail link is to provide a continual stream of fast-moving trains, day and night. It would defeat the whole purpose of the tunnel if every train had to be searched for a possible bomb.
I ask the House, on grounds of finance and economics, on grounds of environmental, pollution and transport policy and in the interests of national security, to refuse to approve the motion and to support the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in his attempt to rescue his Ministers from their collective responsibilities.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The last remarks of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) were some of the best I have heard, at least in this Session. I hope, with due respect to the hon. Member for Seven-oaks and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that some of my hon. Friends will note the company they intend to keep in the Lobbies.
On a previous occasion I said that I had been in the Conservative Lobby once, that I did not enjoy the experience and that I hoped the occasion would not arise again. I managed to fulfil that hope. My hon. Friends who honestly oppose the motion should consider some of the remarks the hon. Member for Sevenoaks made—for example "Why this great rush?" He asked: "This matter has been on the go only since 1880. Let us keep it for a centenary."
There has been a change in the climate in France, the hon. Member told us. I have a news flash for him. I quote:Autumn gales in the Channel yesterday and today have caused cancellation of all cross-Channel hovercraft services, considerable delays to sea ferry services, sickness and discomfort to passengers. Ambulances have been directed to meet Channel ferries to succour sick and disabled passengers.It seems that at least the climate today is the same on both sides of the Channel and a fixed link would avoid the difficulties I have just mentioned.
I wonder whether there would be all this fuss about a fixed rail link in a tunnel under the Channel had the North Sea never flooded the land between the British Isles and the mainland of Europe. Had that not happened, would we not have pack horses, ordinary roads, then motorways and rail links all operating?
This is the fifth debate in two years on the Channel Tunnel. This is partly due to there having been General Elections and partly due to the introduction of legislation and Bills. Thanks to the generosity of the Chair, this debate has not been limited merely to the motion before us. It has, in effect, been another Second Reading debate—and rightly so. No one can complain that the House has not had ample opportunity to debate and to bring forward counter-proposals, although, thank goodness, the hon. Mem 88 ber for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has not tonight brought up the suggestion about a barrage.
Other schemes have been considered on a number of occasions, but no one outside the House has been persuaded to put up any money to back an alternative to the tunnel. Thank goodness that while we have been talking in Parliament work has been proceeding on the construction of the approaches to the Channel Tunnel. Those involved in this have been doing a very good job.
I remind my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench that the Labour Party have fought two General Elections within the past 12 months with the following slogans:Actions—not words".Labour gets things done".Give us the majority to get on with the job.So far as I am concerned, one of the reasons why I wanted the country to give us a majority was to enable us to get on with building the Channel Tunnel. We have talked about it long enough. We should get on with the job.
More delay, more uncertainty and more doubt will mean less work for people in Kent and in the regions, and the costs, whether to the travellers or to the taxpayers, will be greater the longer the delay continues.
I want the motion to be passed. I shall leave my other comments on the details of the Bill until later. The motion will simply mean that proposals which went through in the last Session of Parliament will be carried over to this Session.
I have consistently supported the proposals for a Channel Tunnel while others have consistently opposed the project. The Labour Government from 1964 right up until 1970 were preparing the way for the Channel Tunnel. Then, in 1972, in opposition, we wavered and we were to a certain degree opposed to the tunnel. I then found myself in the minority and I spoke against the view then being expressed by the majority. I abstained from voting in the Lobbies. That was entirely within my rights as a Member of the Parliamentary Labour Party. At one time I was in a majority and I obeyed majority rules, and when I was in a minority I still obeyed majority rules.
89 Yet today there are those who are saying that they will take their consciences into the Lobby against the Government. I do not think that they should vote against their own Government early in a Parliament. They will have to make up their minds on this matter. But there must not be two sets of rules, one set for me when I am in the minority and one set for them when they are in a minority. There must be one set of rules for the whole of the party.
My right hon. Friend will try to persuade some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but even if he were the Archangel Gabriel he would not be able to persuade them, because their opposition is not only to the Channel Tunnel but also to the EEC. Inside or outside Europe, in or out of the Common Market, Britain needs the Channel Tunnel. So let us get on with the job and see what the majority will be.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
Each month since 30th April, when the Bill had a Second Reading in the last Parliament, has seen an increase in inflation. It is now impossible to forecast with anything like certainty what the ultimate cost of the Channel Tunnel project will be. But I believe it to be certain that the last official estimate of £846 million will eventually be seen to have had a quaint historical interest which will remind us of the "glad confident morning" of the Concorde project
High in the importance of the ingredients of the whole project is the high-speed rail link. The cost of the link is now known to be vastly in excess of what was originally supposed and put forward with confidence. If the Bill is passed, the Government will ratify the Channel Tunnel Treaty. Ratification depends upon the enactment of the Bill by 31st December. It commits us to the principle of constructing not only the tunnel but the high-speed rail link and the rail terminal at each end. That is included in the exchange of letters between the two Governments and in the agreements which are annexed to the treaty.
Contrary to what the Minister said earlier this afternoon, the Bill does have something to do with the rail link. It is a subject of critical importance to the 90 South-East as a whole and to Kent in particular. Neither on the tunnel project as a whole nor on the rail link has there ever been an independent public inquiry into the merits.
Further, there has never been any public forum established at which the proposals could be tested by the adversary process of cross-examination. The principle of the project could not be questioned in the Select Committee and, although we have had five debates on the matter, absurdly little is known at this late stage about the nature of the rail link, its effect on the environment, or its cost.
Rather late in the day it is announced that Sir Alec Cairncross has been brought in to have a general look at the project. The Minister was not able to tell us his precise terms of reference. As I understand it, he is to be asked to advise on the adequacy of the original assessments. Nothing very precise is put forward about that. An independent inquiry into the rail link has always been refused.
This is not a project in respect of which the facts and the cost are clear for all to see. It is a project in which 90 per cent. of the capital is to be raised by Government guaranteed bonds. It may be necessary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) said, to have Government guarantees so as to raise this sort of money on the international market. But the Roskill Commission in its final report on the Maplin project, rejected this method of financing the project on the ground that the entire cost of failure would be borne ultimately by the taxpayer. The significance of the rise in inflation is surely that the risk of ultimate failure is getting greater all the time. In the end, if the Government guarantees have to be called, the taxpayer will find upon his table an enormously inflationary excess tax demand.
That is the background to the proposal that this new House should reject its normal and proper opportunity to require the Government to prove afresh their case for the tunnel in these changed circumstances. That is why I believe that this is not merely a procedural motion but a matter of much more fundamental importanceif the whole apparatus involved in this Bill were set into operation it would be extremely difficult, no matter what may be the out-turn of the considerations in phase 2, to go back 91 on the completion of the whole enterprise"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December 1973; Vol. 865, c. 1311.]Those are not my words but are the words of the Minister in a previous debate. I am glad to adopt them. I believe that they are sound. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman ever uttered a truer word. He has certainly not done so since taking office.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I shall keep my remarks short and I shall not introduce too many facts. Hon. Members may laugh about that, but there have been so many facts flying across the Chamber that the real argument has become confused.
The real issue is about the allocation of resources. I do not consider that I have been sent here to judge every case on its merits. That presupposes that we have unlimited resources. We are here to make a judgment on the importance of various issues as they arise. Twice this year in my election address I have told my constituents that I was not coming here, and did not want to come here, to support grandiose spending schemes while thousands of homes in my constituency have outside toilets. I have said that twice this year, and this is the second time I have been returned. I shall vote against the motion.
Last week many of the newspapers reported that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was bringing in a plan for new homes. It seems that we may be going back to prefabs. If my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government think that Labour Ministers were sent here to support measures involving the misallocation of resources, whether public or private, let them think again.
This is a matter on which we must make judgment. We must decide whether the project will go ahead. We have heard a few facts. We have heard about 123,000 tons of cement. It seems that that was not thought to be a large amount. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should put the 123,000 tons of cement with the 300 million house-bricks lying on the side of the M1 motorway and build the damned houses.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
I confess to being cheated of what I thought 92 would be a cheerful experience—namely, to hear the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) posing as the defender of constitutional propriety. However, I pay tribute to him for being utterly candid, as one would expect of the defender of the Clay Cross councillors. It seems that the hon. Member is all for bending rules provided that they are bent in his favour and not against him.
On this occasion the Government are bending rules and it seems that there is no apt constitutional precedent for what they are doing. Of course we are debating a procedural motion, and therefore I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) or deal with the merits of his case. On any view there will be another occasion—there may be tens of occasions—when we can canvass the whole matter once again. We have already had five or six debates on the merits of the tunnel and the substantive issues which will arise.
Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) I shall be interested to hear on another occasion the altered financial implications of the tunnel. It may be that the consortium is hoping to tap Arab money for its bonds. In that event we shall have the interesting spectacle of the descendants of those who so signally failed to roll back the Red Sea financing the Channel Tunnel project. We shall have to debate on another occasion whether public money should be committed to the high-speed rail link. I am very doubtful whether in our present financial straits it is possible to approve public spending on the rail link. I do not believe that this is the occasion to debate the issue.
There is a practical point which concerns those whom I represent. If the motion is not carried and if the Government reintroduce the Bill, there will have to be another Select Committee. All those who were interested in the deliberations of previous Select Committees will probably feel obliged to petition again.
I have not been in touch with all the private bodies from East Kent who petitioned on the last occasion. I have, however, been in touch with the Kent County Council as, I believe, has my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). It is particularly pleasing to 93 hear my hon. Friend speak from a position in Kent. I have been in touch with the county council and the Dover District Council and both of these bodies have conveyed to me emphatically that they do not want to put the ratepayers and, indeed, their own officers to the trouble and expense of a further petition. This is a practical point which the House should take into account.
I have no doubt that the other private organisations which gave evidence before the Select Committee are of the same mind, although I am not authorised to speak for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will no doubt speak for certain interested parties, and the House will be interested to hear what he has to say.
On that practical ground, therefore, I shall support the motion, provided that the Minister shows that he is a little more sensitive than he has demonstrated himself to be to the feelings of the people of East Kent. We need rather more assurance than he has been able to give us up to now.
I ventured to intervene in the Minister's speech about the Cairncross Committee, because I had put down a Question and I had not at that point received the answer. I have now received it, and I am therefore slightly better informed now than I was earlier this afternoon, but not much better informed, because no formal terms of reference are envisaged and the committee is not to report until some unspecified time next year.
What I want to know—and I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us when he replies to the debate—is how the Cairn-cross Committee will proceed. Who will be appointed to the committee? We know that two members apart from Sir Alec himself have been appointed. Who else will be on it? Will local interests be represented? Will the committee be allowed to hear evidence? If there is not to be another Select Committee in this House—I know that there will be one in another place—it may be that some of the interested parties would care to give evidence to Sir Alec Cairncross and his committee.
At present we are totally unaware of how the committee is to proceed, whether the members will hear witnesses, whether 94 they will go down to East Kent or how they will approach their task. The Minister should give us clear reassurance on this matter.
On the question of the Select Committee in another place, we know that Labour Members are apt to sweep aside the deliberations of another place as being of relatively little importance as compared with our own deliberations. However, if we are not to have another Select Committee in this House, how much regard will the Minister pay to the conclusions of the Select Committee in another place? I know that he cannot commit himself to accept everything it says, but we should like to know what views he will have. These are matters of great importance to the people of East Kent.
At my request—and I am arrogant enough to claim credit for this—my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who was then responsible for these matters, agreed to set up a consultative committee so that he, members of his Department and the interested parties in East Kent could meet from time to time to iron out the problems that can arise when there is a great environmental project to put through. There was one meeting of that committee before the February election and I believe that the present Minister presided over another before the October election. It has come to my notice, however, that it is now being suggested from the Department—perhaps not by the Minister himself—that these matters could be sorted out on an officer-to-civil servant basis: in other words, the elected representatives of East Kent will not now necessarily meet him and his Under-Secretary on a regular basis.
This goes clean against the spirit of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend. I hope that the Minister, or his Under-Secretary when he replies, will give us a categoric assurance that that committee will meet regularly, if the motion is passed and if we proceed to the next phase, so that the elected representatives—the councillors in East Kent and on the Kent County Council—will have a chance to meet him regularly and not simply his civil servants. That was the tenor of the undertaking which was given, and nothing less will satisfy us in East Kent.
§ Mr. Mulley
I have met the Kent County Council and the district councils on more than one occasion, as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, but once the Bill was presented by the hon. and learned Gentleman's Government many of the matters which were contained in the Bill were overtaken by events. Indeed, as I understood it—I met them on a number of occasions—their concern was about the rail link, about which we are having continuing meetings.
§ Mr. Rees
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is having meetings about the rail link. Indeed, he has met me and a number of my hon. Friends on this, and I pay testimony to that, but this is not the whole problem.
Again, the Minister shows that he has not entirely grasped the type of problems that arise when a major environmental project is started in a certain part of the country. There are all sorts of problems, such as the question of removing the spoil and so on. The right hon. Gentleman would dispel a great deal of criticism if he were to give the assurance for which I ask, because the suggestion has emanated from his Department that it would be sufficient if officers of the local authorities concerned merely met occasionally with civil servants in his Department. I am telling the right hon. Gentleman quite plainly that that will not dispel criticism in East Kent.
§ Mr. Mulley
I willingly give that assurance. I merely said that I had been doing that, and I have not changed my plan. I have even discussed the spoil question with the East Kent Council.
§ Mr. Rees
I am very glad to hear that. For that reason alone this debate will have served some purpose, because we hear now from the Minister that he will perhaps be a little more sensitive than in the past to our feelings down in East Kent.
We know that the Government proceed, in this as in everything, with a certain ambiguity and do not choose to let their left hand know what their right hand is doing. One appreciates their local difficulties. Indeed, I observed, as I studied the Minister this afternoon, that he evoked a certain sympathy because most of his remarks were really directed 96 behind him rather than in front of him. But he must pay some attention to those of us on this side of the House who represent constituencies. He must show that he is genuinely anxious to hear and respond to our views. On the basis that he will do so, I shall support him tonight for the practical reason that I do not want to put the ratepayers of Kent to further trouble and expense. If in the future the Minister does not show himself to be sensitive to the various problems that are likely to arise, he must expect no support and no quarter, at any rate from me.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
One of the difficulties the House faces is the fact that a fairly wide-ranging debate on the merits and demerits of the tunnel has taken place on what is basically a procedural motion. It may well be understandable that this has happened, but it is nevertheless unfortunate.
Had it not been for the accident of two General Elections in one year—one within seven months of the other—the Bill would have been taking its normal passage through the House. We should have been facing the situation, the Bill having reached the stage it had reached prior to the General Election, of the Bill coming to the House on Report and then having a Third Reading where the merits and demerits of that section of the Bill could have been thrashed out and, indeed, can still be thrashed out before being sent to another place for consideration.
I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) that I am as concerned as he is about the building of houses and the use of resources for hospitals, roads and the like. These issues are uppermost and paramount in our minds. But the difficulty of a particular Bill and a particular procedure when two nations are involved, with two separate actions taking place on each side of the Channel, makes for difficulties which, although we may not be entirely swayed by them, must be taken into consideration.
The French, for example, are already well advanced with their own rail link. With all due deference to the environmental objections of Conservative Members, as an ex-serving railway man I should like to see the rail connection advanced just as quickly here. As a 97 North-East Member, I am concerned, or perhaps a little swayed, by the environmental problem that exists, but I am more concerned than hon. Members opposite by the fact that the tunnel will be in the south. I wish the Channel were a lot nearer where I represent, in Sunderland. I should welcome the end of the tunnel and everything that goes with it in my area.
I wish the environmental lobby of the Members from Kent luck, but I am not swayed by the environmental argument. They are fortunate because in these days people are worried about the environmental problem and whatever is done the environmental conditions will be looked at very carefully indeed—certainly a damned sight more carefully than was the case when the old coal owners dug their pits in my part of the country.
It is important, too, that there is a static link. We must ask ourselves if the existing facilities between the two countries are adequate. Are the shipping links satisfactory? With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), are they satisfactory in bad weather and the like? Is the aircraft situation as good as it could be, often knocked about as it is by fog which causes landings in places such as Manchester and elsewhere instead of where one would like to land? It is of great importance that a quick, efficient alternative route should be built, and it can be.
I cannot but agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) when he points out that the growth potential of traffic both to and from Europe is considerable. I feel that there is a great need for all means of transport to and from the other side.
My main intention for joining in the debate is—
§ Mr. Bagier
My hon. Friend says "As a representative of the NUR," and I have no doubt that equal emphasis will be put on the fact that he is a representatives of the National Union of Seamen. Let us accept that point. Nevertheless, I have made my case why the tunnel can and should be debated other than on this motion. The Chair has been exceedingly 98 gracious in allowing such a width of debate. The motion refers to the peculiar difficulties of this Bill. Because a General Election intervened, the progress of this measure was stopped.
It is felt, rightly or wrongly, that the procedure of the House could be adjusted—that is the purpose of the motion—to avoid the considerable cost and time involved in taking the Bill through all its stages again. I have heard it said by some of my hon. Friends that considerable sums of money poured into the pockets of the QCs and lawyers who represented the petitioners in Select Committees and the like. If it is suggested that that is not known to new hon. Members, I recommend that they go to the Vote Office and obtain copies of the Select Committee Report and all the debates which have taken place on this Bill.
What is being asked for tonight is merely that the First Reading—on which there is no debate anyway—the Second Reading—the debate on which is there for anyone to read and take note of—and the Select Committee and Standing Committee Reports—which can be examined—should be accepted by the House in order to save the expensive process of going back to square one. The motion seeks to allow the House to go on to the Report stage, when each of the Standing Committee's proposals can be examined in detail. Following that, on Third Reading there can be a wide-ranging view of the Report stage and the measure could even be thrown out then if the House so wished. This is a procedural motion and I hope that the House will allow the Government to proceed with it.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) has tried to play down the constitutional importance of what is before the House today. I took particular exception to his remark that there had been the accident of an election. Elections do not happen accidentally. They are, I presume, planned in the minds of Prime Ministers and Leaders of the House. I submit that it was up to the Government so to organise their business that if they wished to ensure that a certain item should be suspended and carried forward to the next Parliament they put down the appropriate motion on the Order 99 Paper; and they did not do so. That is a point of great constitutional significance.
I should like to devote my few remarks to the procedural question, and I return to the Minister's opening speech. It has been our pleasure to hear the Minister speaking on this subject on many occasions in the past couple of years—and I say "pleasure". I admired the sincerity with which he originally opposed the Bill. I admired the ingenuity with which he subsequently supported it. I am not sure, however, that he carried the same conviction today. I felt that his heart was not in the case he tried to make for the motion.
First the Minister said—I think that we have heard these words before—that by passing this motion, and, indeed, the Bill, we still create no commitment to the Channel Tunnel project. We heard that on phase 1. We heard it on the initial financing Bill. Now we are told that, because of what we said on that earlier Bill, we must go ahead with it, because if we do not pass it we shall have to meet all the penalties of early abandonment. We are increasingly told on all these major projects that we can never go back, that we can never stop, because we are already committed to such a large extent.
I am sure that the Minister will accept that the House would not wish to be—I use these harsh words—financially blackmailed at this or any other stage by being told that it cannot reject the Third Reading simply because of these penalty clauses, which I feel are a little vague and not really positive, although there are, obviously, opportunities to renegotiate.
It was also said by the Minister that in Standing Committee it was said that there was a possibility of a General Election and, of course, the possibility of this motion. I think he was being a little disingenuous. We know that the reference there was to a carry-over motion in the previous Parliament. That motion was not moved or accepted in any form by the House and on that ground he was not making a fair reference when he referred to that remark in Standing Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman also said, "What we are doing today compares with Private Bill procedure ". There is a 100 world of difference between this Bill and a Private Bill, and it is confusing the issue to suggest that that is not so. In the case of a Private Bill, broadly speaking, the House of Commons is exercising its rôle far more as an adjudicator than as a legislature, and there is a strong case for allowing Private Bills to be carried over. Here we are talking about a major Public Bill. It is, of course, hybrid, but the hybrid element is only part of it. On a major Public Bill we are seeking to establish a very important precedent whereby legislation of this kind does not fall when Parliament ends.
We have a new Parliament; we have new Members. The Second Reading of a Bill is theoretically the only time when we should discuss the broad principles of a measure. So I submit that this Parliament should have the right to consider the whole matter in broad principle on Second Reading and to reject it if necessary.
On another point the right hon. Gentleman said, "The petitioners still have the right to petition the House of Lords." That is true; but they always do. If he is saying that it is enough for them to petition the House of Lords, then he is saying that, generally speaking, this feature of procedure is an unnecessary duplication. I submit that it is not so.
The right hon. Gentleman and others have made the strong point that petitioners would be put to unnecessary expense. I pointed out earlier, in a brief intervention, that they need be put to that expense only if they wish to do so, and if they felt that it would be a productive and sensible course of action. If Kent County Council feels that it does not need to petition, and feels that it has achieved all that it could, that is its decision, and I would not criticise it if it decided not to go through the procedure again.
There are other petitioners, many of whom took a very active rôle, who would be pleased at the opportunity to make their case and make further points to the Select Committee. I quote a letter from The Defenders of Kent, which was sent to the Minister, and of which I have a copy. They are eminent objectors to the Bill, and they state:As far as we are concerned we would be delighted to petition again for the benefit of Kent.101 Therefore, we should be careful not to put words into their mouths when we say that we are endeavouring to save them money. Many people would welcome the chance to petition again. Therefore, the convenience argument is something about which we should be careful.
§ Mr. Costain
I am following the hon. Gentleman's logic with great care, but does he not appreciate that once another petition like that of the Defenders of Kent is submitted, the local authorities must defend their interests in case something is gained by the petitioners which weakens the authorities' position. My local authority has already spent £20,000, excluding what has been spent by the county council, and it does not wish to incur further expense.
§ Mr. Moate
I am not sure that I follow the point, but I believe it to be most unlikely that it would result in an amendment adverse to the position of the county council. If it were worth spending that money, so be it. There is so much at stake for the county that I am sure an extra examination of the position would be a useful investment. All I say is that there would be other petitioners who would be willing to come before another Select Committee.
The Minister referred to the Cairncross Committee. To a certain extent he had our sympathy when he told us that the appointment of the committee had been delayed by the General Election, but we were first told about the committee in April, it has taken eight months for any action to be taken, and I understand that the committee is still not fully appointed. We have the chairman and a couple of nominations. No doubt, the Minister will tell us what the committee's full complement will be and when he expects to appoint the other members. Is it satisfactory that it should take eight months to set up a committee of this nature? The election might have delayed the matter by a few weeks, but during all the previous months Ministers and the Department of the Environment could have been busy appointing those people. Yet suddenly it is desperately urgent to get the matter through by 31st December.
§ Mr. Mulley
I should like to make one matter clear. The previous Govern 102 ment, the hon. Member's own Government, were not proposing to have any independent committee at all. They were going to do the whole thing as arranged at phase II. Clearly we wish that the Cairncross Committee could have started earlier. It is at work now, but it could not do any useful work until it saw how phase 2 studies were coming out from the mechanism set up by the Tory Government.
§ Mr. Moate
I welcome the Cairncross Committee. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have voted against my own party on the issue on frequent occasions. I should have been more sympathetic had the Minister gone ahead with his promised intention to have a proper inquiry into a rail-only link. The right hon. Gentleman would then have had my wholehearted support. But that was not to be.
I want to make a serious point about the Cairncross Committee. We are now told that it is likely to report, I believe, by next spring. That does not give the committee very long—only three, four or five months at the most. During those months the committee members are, presumably, expected to analyse the vast quantity of material available, and not to accept all the data produced by the experts. They are presumably expected to carry out original research. Can we believe that a proper and searching inquiry into the Channel Tunnel and its alternatives can be made in such a short time? I consider that the House and the country are being let down in respect of the Government's promise to have a far-reaching inquiry into the alternatives.
I turn again to the constitutional position. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that there is no exact precedent for a motion of this kind. It is the first occasion on which a Bill of this kind has been put to the House of Commons to curtail the legislative process, without there having been a carry-over motion. I gather that it is true that there was a report—I believe it was the Donemore Report—that recommended this approach; I believe it was in 1929. I think the right hon. Gentleman omitted to say that the House of Commons at that time decided that it did not want to adopt that procedure. That emphasises the point that we are considering an important matter.
103 I refer to Erskine May on the subject, which says:Provisions have been made for a provision … for the suspension of bills from one session to another … but various considerations have restrained the legislature from disturbing the constitutional law by which parliamentary proceedings are discontinued by a prorogation.Erskine May is positive on that point, that Parliament in the past has considered it and decided not to proceed.
Yet here we are with a Bill which the Government tried to slip through on the nod, although right hon. Gentlemen disclaim that intention. We are considering a major constitutional matter, yet it is being discussed in this way, whereas I submit that it would have been far more satisfactory had it gone to the Procedure Committee. We are setting a dangerous precedent, because all the arguments being put forward relate to cost, convenience and the uncertainty that will continue for that much longer.
Could not those arguments be deployed about large areas of public legislation? Might they not be put forward, for example, about a land nationalisation Bill? We may imagine the uncertainty that that would cause. If such a Bill were not to be completed by the end of a parliamentary Session we would have these arguments of convenience, cost and uncertainty put forward in favour of a carry-over motion, or of the matter being taken up in the next Session of Parliament from where it left off.
The sovereignty of Parliament is fundamental and the right not to be bound by the action of our predecessors is fundamental, too. Even in special circumstances, such as on Private Bills or even on Hybrid Bills, where we consider it an overwhelming argument that there should be a continuation, the matter should be considered much more seriously by the Procedure Committee and not be dealt with in this manner by the House.
The principle of Bills falling at the end of a Session is one of the most important disciplines on Governments, a discipline saying that they cannot force through too much legislation or too much controversial legislation against the House's wishes. If the argument is put forward that an election has intervened, it is an even greater discipline upon them. The election is their choice. If they 104 choose not to bring forward a carry-over motion, that is their fault. It is not up to us to try to help them out and make it more convenient for the Government.
§ Mr. Mulley
I wish to make a simple point. The constitutional objection to this Bill is that it is being carried forward twice. One election was the choice of the Prime Minister of my party, and the other election was the choice of the Prime Minister of the hon. Gentleman's party, so I do not think that one can make politics out of that.
§ Mr. Moate
There is not much political advantage in it for me anyway, because I seem to have been opposed to successive Governments on this issue. The difference is that in the previous case the carry-over motion was put properly by the then Conservative Government to the House of Commons. They dealt properly and constitutionally with the position. Now we are asked to make a far-reaching alteration in our procedures, not for the convenience of the petitioners but for the convenience of the Government.
If this were a matter of overwhelming urgency and great public importance, perhaps one could go along with it, but I do not feel that the building of the Channel Tunnel is something that has such overwhelming public importance or public support, that it is of so great a priority, that we have to take it through in this way.
I have steered clear of the merits of the argument about the Channel Tunnel, but the circumstances have changed substantially. That alone would be enough to justify the House of Commons looking at this matter once again. The costs have soared astronomically. One hears talk about British Rail being lukewarm about the proposal. One has seen various reports. One was referred to earlier about British Rail complaining that the planning of electrification projects has been delayed because of preoccupation with the continuing Channel Tunnel project. It is already diverting resources that could be better employed.
There is an overwhelming case, in my view, for cancelling the project. I have never made any bones about that. I think it is a bad project. It is a bad allocation of priorities, and environmentally it will do more harm than good for the County of Kent. There is now an 105 overwhelming case for at least going slow on the project, at least for having a proper public inquiry and exhaustive examination of all the costs. There is no case whatever for rushing it through in this way. I hope that the House will reject the motion this evening.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I shall start with a few comments on the procedural position. I do not speak from the point of view of the constitutionalist and I regard many of the procedures of the House as antique. But it seems to me that if one is to look at the procedures of the House, one should not do so on a motion of this kind on a subject entirely different from the actual procedures themselves.
Further, it seems entirely unfair and illogical to talk about the radical wing of the Labour Party being suddenly concerned with tradition, while at the same time assuring the House that it does not matter too much if the stages of the Bill are not pursued in this House because they are to be dealt with in the House of Lords. For anyone concerned for the democratic structure of government, the other place is hardly the apotheosis of democracy. In the view of some of us, it should be abolished, and the sooner the better. But one cannot have it both ways. It cannot be said, on the one hand, that we are out of place in being traditionalist, and, on the other, that the Bill is going to an undemocratic place where further objections can be levied.
I am concerned about the procedures. Let us have something straightforward. Let us have a debate about our procedure—and, hopefully, that will take place about the broadcasting of our proceedings.
§ Mr. Mulley
No one has suggested that the House of Lords is a substitute for proper consideration in this House. The Report stage and Third Reading follow. The House of Lords would have the Select Committee, but the Select Committee is obliged to act, and in my experience always does act, as a quasi-judicial body. It is no sense a political body, and that aspect of the other place I should not have thought my hon. Friend would want to criticise.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. I should have thought that 106 there was a case for saying that where one hands over a degree of power and emphasis to the House of Lords it bolsters the existence of that place. Its quasi-judicial functions are an integral part of the whole. One cannot easily separate them.
I want to touch briefly on the costs of the project. I voted against the Bill. It was the first time as a new Member that I had even contemplated voting against my own Government. It was a momentous occasion for me. But during the recent election campaign the Channel Tunnel project came up. My constituents were far more interested in the sort of priorities that have been discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but principally on this side, and where, for instance, I have asked for special consideration to be given two schools in my constituency—Hartington and Swire Smith—which are badly in need of replacement but have been told that this is not possible.
It can be argued that there are some accounting technicalities involved in the Channel Tunnel, but if I go back to my constituents and say that I have voted for a massive expenditure on a tunnel which will not directly benefit them, because the vision of a short, quick, cheap-day return to Paris does not hold out much attraction for them, and if I go back and say that we supported a Channel Tunnel Bill, which involves expenditure of £1,400 million, they will ask, "What about local expenditure? Let us get our priorities right."
So on the basis of cost, and the appeal to the people outside, what we ought to do is to delay this matter, to squash it, until the report of the Cairncross Committee. It makes entire logic that, if one is setting up an independent committee to assess the position, one should receive its report and then start on one's legislative way.
One of the Achilles heels of this project is undoubtedly the fact—-in my view at any rate—that the rail link is not a part of the Bill. One has a horrible suspicion that this will finish, if it goes ahead without the rail link as an integral part, like the new wholesale fruit and vegetable market in London at Nine Elms where there was provision for a rail link. But the railway goes through the centre, and it was an extra cost that 107 was deemed not possible when the market was constructed. Everything goes in now by road. Indeed, if we did embark on this sort of rail link, would it prejudice other railway priorities? This has already been mentioned in the debate. It is a cause of some concern.
British Railways will face some problems. There is the hum-drum diesel multiple-unit which is nearing the end of its life. It will be replaced at some stage in the future at a cost of several million pounds. If British Railways are faced with a high-speed rail link—a showpiece railway—over perhaps the next five or 10 years, it is almost certain that priorities will be diverted into the high-speed rail link and the mundane, cross-country intermediate lines will be run down more and more. It is certainly a worry, in my view, that, even associated with the rail link, the priorities will become somewhat mixed.
Fifthly, I am a little concerned about the attitude of the Government that, because something was already there, put there by the previous Conservative Government, they have to take it over. I always felt that, when we were elected into office, we did not necessarily take the path that, because a Conservative Government had done something, we should necessarily follow. One of the strong arguments during the election was that some things that the Conservative Government had done we should definitely not follow but should oppose and change. The argument that, because certain decisions have been made we should accept them, is very weak. There is also a misunderstanding by people outside. They say that the Labour Party when in opposition voted against this Bill but that when it became the Government it took up the matter and brought it forward. The public find it difficult to understand that a party took one view, went to the country, and took another view when it achieved office. The public like politicians to be consistent.
One of the things that concerns us all is the cynicism and disenchantment with which we are greeted. When we stand on platforms and expound our ideas, people say "Politicians never keep their word. They do not carry out their promises". The last Labour Government carried out their promises in fair 108 measure. That was one of the things of which I was proud during the last election campaign.
I should like consistency about some of the less politically controversial issues, such as the Channel Tunnel. I have always taken the view that it is not "My Government right or wrong", but "My Government subject to critical review". Hopefully, the Government will keep on the right political path because there are Members on the back benches scrutinising their actions. Those actions, in the main, have been very good so far. But we want to make sure that that scrutiny takes place tonight.
The Minister said that if we vote against this measure tonight, the option to proceed immediately is closed. That makes the position very clear. We can vote on the question of precedent on the procedure issue. We can vote on the cost. But either way, if we vote against the Bill, the Channel Tunnel project will be ended, we hope, once and for all. I think that the public will say "Good. The Labour Government have got their priorities right". That is why I shall vote against this procedural motion tonight.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I should like to declare an interest in RTZ Europe which does not have any involvement with the Channel Tunnel, but which is a subsidiary of a member of the consortium.
I believe that we should vote against the motion this evening and preserve for the House an entitlement to the Second Reading of the Bill. We should do so because the most critical assumption of all, determining whether or not this project is acceptable to a majority of the House, is now clearly coming unstuck.
The most critical assumption which has prevailed to date, is that it is possible to finance 100 per cent. of the cost of the Channel Tunnel without recourse to £1 in cash from the Exchequer. In other words, although it may be necessary to use Treasury guarantees for 90 per cent. of the cost of the Channel Tunnel project, it will not be necessary at any time to draw on those guarantees. That assumption is now looking increasingly weak and, at the very least, 109 it is right that the House should preserve its entitlement to a Second Reading, when that assumption may be more fully and more searchingly tested.
The two critical assumptions in the costing of this project are, first, the assumption that is made about the rate of construction-cost inflation, and, secondly, the assumption that is made about the rate of interest that will be borne on the debt that will finance the overwhelming part of the project. It would appear that the assumptions used to date are considerably lower than what will prove to be the case in practice.
Regarding the assumption about construction costs the right hon. Member the Minister of Transport in a Written Answer to me last week said:The estimated out turn cost—of the project—of £846 million … assumed an annual rate of 7 per cent. inflation in tunnel construction costs…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 225.]I do not believe that it is possible to find a fully comparable index for construction-cost inflation as this is a unique construction project.
But I would draw the attention of the House to the figures produced by the Department of Employment in its Monthly Digest of Statistics for September. The figures show that over the last year for which figures are available, from September 1973 until August of this year, the increase in basic weekly rates of pay for manual workers in the construction industry increased by about 20 per cent. That seems to represent a substantial rate of inflation in the construction industry and suggests that the assumption of 7 per cent. inflation of construction costs per year throughout the lifetime of the construction of the Channel Tunnel may have to be sharply revised upwards. If that has to happen, it is likely to have an apparent effect upon the out-turn cost of the project.
The Minister also gave me the figures assumed for the estimated interest rates behind the estimated forecast cost of £846 million. In his answer to me last week, he said that the interest rate assumptions that had been used were interest rates of between 7½ per cent. and 10 per cent. Having consulted the Financial Times this morning, I can only say that for all 110 short-term money, money up to one year, it is necessary to pay a rate of between 10½ per cent. and 13 per cent. and that at the moment for any money longer than two years, two to five-year money, the interest currently quoted is about 15 per cent.
It would seem that this, too, is a key assumption about the cost of the project which is likely to have to be revised considerably upwards. If that is the case, one must have serious doubts about whether even the Money Resolution of the Channel Tunnel Bill will be adequate to cover the cost of the project. The House needs to consider whether it is right to forfeit its entitlement to a Second Reading of the Bill on this score alone.
I turn to the question of the cost of the rail link. I was somewhat surprised when the Minister suggested that consideration of the rail link was not germane to this motion. Many hon. Members have made the point, particularly my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), that the cost of the rail link and the commitment to the rail link are integral parts of the motion. They are integral parts because as the Minister said, he needs the Channel Tunnel Bill in order to be able to ratify the Treaty. But, as he will know, in the third schedule of the treaty there is a clear commitment in effect to construct a high-speed line.
In the third schedule of the treaty there is a commitment that, on the British side, there will be railworks carried out:to enable a journey time of one hour to be achieved between the London terminal and the Tunnel.This means that there is a clear commitment in the treaty to fulfil the commitment to construct the high-speed line.
§ Mr. Mulley
I did not say that the rail link was not germane to the problem of the tunnel. I said that any arrangements for construction of the rail link would need separate legislation and that whether the motion or the Bill were passed would not affect that situation. That was what I wanted to make clear.
We have already deferred the start of the rail link Bill. It should have been brought before the House, on the hon. Gentleman's own Government's timetable, this month. But, because of lack of consultation, we have deferred it and, if need be, we shall defer it again.
§ Mr. Stanley
I do not deny that separate legislative powers will be necessary to construct the rail link. I am pointing out, and I do not think the Minister will dispute this, that the day he ratifies the treaty he will be under a treaty obligation to construct that rail link. If he fails to construct that rail link within the timescale specified in the treaty, it is possible that the two Governments may incur penalties. There is therefore an implicit, indeed, an explicit, commitment in the treaty to construct the rail link and the ratification of that treaty is dependent on this legislation.
As hon. Members have mentioned, the cost of the rail link is an essential feature of this debate. Yet, the House has had a pitiful display from British Railways in the costings which they have been able to make available to us. The last official costing obtained from British Railways was £120 million. We now know that the figure is likely to be well in excess of £300 million. We do not yet know what the fully escalated cost will be, the cost which fully reflects the interest charges on the rail link, or the cost which will include the full costs of compensation. It may well be that the total cost of the rail link—all of which will be met by the taxpayer—will be about half or two-thirds on top of the cost of the Channel Tunnel itself.
I believe that we should vote against the motion. We should not give the substantial legislative powers and treaty powers—which would be given if we pass this motion—until the House is better provided with the essential financial information that we should have.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Horam (Gateshead, West)
I am not an expert on collective responsibility—as I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is these days—or an expert on the railways and the Channel Tunnel as are some of my hon. Friends who have spoken today. Nor am I a member of the Tribune group, which appears to be one identifying feature amongst many of those who have spoken against the Channel Tunnel.
§ Mr. Horam
I was about to point out to my hon. Friend that I am not a member of the Tribune group. I, too, am against this project, speaking though I do from a position of woeful ignorance, not being a member of the Tribune group or an expert on railways or the Channel Tunnel, and so on, and I have never previously spoken on this subject in the House.
In acknowledgment of that fact, and as I have not been in the House for the last hour or so, though I attended the earlier part of the debate, I intend to speak only briefly.
This is not fundamentally a project which is in the national interest. As time goes on, it appears to be less and less in the national interest. One of this country's outstanding problems is that we are failing to generate enough cash for investment. In these circumstances, it must be right, in principle, to avoid large-scale projects with long lead times which are inherently, because of that fact, more of a gamble, and instead to concentrate on small-scale projects which are more flexible and from which we can know the scale of return more rapidly and accurately.
In this case it means not going ahead with the Channel Tunnel but instead concentrating our facilities and resources on developing roll-on-roll-off facilities along the east coast of this country. That is the right way to spend the money and the right area in which to spend it—the right area geographically.
That brings me to my second point. While it is certainly not in the interests of the country that we should have a Channel Tunnel, I believe it is even less in the interests of the region I represent—together with many other hon. Members—the Northern Region.
Basically, my point is about the allocation of scarce resources. At times of economic stringency—my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover and for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) rightly talked about the need for social priorities at such a time—I believe that both human justice and economic common sense point towards directing the scarce resources we have to those regions and areas of our country where there are unemployed resources to 113 be brought into use. That is the fundamental point. I cannot conceive of a project more ill-suited to that particular point, and my own interests in the Northern Region, than one in the very toe of the south-east of England.
I know that some of my hon. Friends who are members of the National Union of Railwaymen are in favour of the project because they believe it is in the interests of the railway. However, as we have) seen already, and as has been referred to more than once, there are two sides to that story. Though I support railway investment in principle, I am against this sort of railway investment in this sort of area. In my view, this project should be abandoned. Therefore, I cannot support the Government on this motion.
So far, I am very disappointed in what I can see of the Government's general approach to regional development problems and to devolution, which is part of regional development. In particular, I am disappointed in their approach to the Northern Region, which is doubly at a disadvantage not only by comparison now with the South and the Midlands, but also with Scotland, strengthened as it is by the oil boom which is now developing in parts of that country.
Therefore, we are at a double disadvantage, and the only help we have had from the Government so far is a doubling of the regional employment premium, which merely restores it to the 1967 level. That, too, was done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not by the Secretary of State for Industry, which is the key Department in this area.
Until there are more coherent and more directed policies from the Secretary of State for Industry in the matter of regional development—given that we are moving into a period of increasing economic stringency when valid choices must be made, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, between very difficult alternative projects—I feel that this may not be the last time that I shall withhold my support from the Government until they do something about this matter.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I had arranged to be in Italy this weekend, but as soon as this debate was announced, I took the view that it 114 was essential to come back to this country in view of my constituency problems. When I found that I could not get back before three o'clock, I abandoned the weekend. Little did I think that the procedure motion debate would follow the course that it has taken.
Listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam)—and I recall that he was my election opponent three or four elections ago—and appreciating that he is one of the few hon. Members who know the problems of Folkestone, I was surprised that he introduced the subject—and I do not intend to follow his example—of the effect on the North-East region.
I have participated in all the debates and discussions about the Channel Tunnel. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) mentioned five debates. He has forgotten the private motion that I moved some six debates ago in the far and distant past. I raised the subject then, some eight or nine years ago, because my constituency has been inflicted for nearly 11 years with the shadow of the Channel Tunnel.
I do not enter this debate with the idea of seeking to heal the breach between the parties opposite. I said in the General Election that if the Labour Party got back to power, there would soon be a split between the left, right and middle. Little did I think that a month and a day would pass before the split that we are seeing today.
I am anxious that this matter should be cleared up. The future happiness of my constituents depends on what happens about the development of the Channel Tunnel. I have a number of constituents whose houses are affected. In Standing Committee we were able to obtain an assurance that when the Bill went through, such people would get their proper compensation.
I have a number of constituents who are very much affected. One has been affected for 11 years. We should not allow a procedure motion or a split in the Labour Party to push these people further back in the queue.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) has put forward the same arguments in each of the debates. They would be jolly good arguments if they were accurate. The same mistakes are 115 repeated time and again. I would be out of order if I were to pursue this.
We are discussing whether the Channel Tunnel Bill should be reincarnated at the First Reading stage or whether we should take it over where we left it in the last Parliament. Some hon. Members have been speaking as if they had only to vote against this motion and they would kill the whole Bill. I ask them to reflect on this. The House knows that I have been quite enthusiastic about the Bill because I realise that we need some facilities at Folkestone and cannot have them in present conditions.
If those who are opposed to the Bill allow the motion to go through and we move to Report stage, I hope that amendments will be allowed to range rather wider than one would normally expect for a Bill that has come, as a virgin as it were, from Committee. We shall then have the opportunity to discuss the amendments. I have a number of them, occasioned because British Railways have not shown the same understanding of constituency problems as has been shown by the Channel Tunnel Association and RTZ. British Railways' public relations are even worse than their timetables.
If they want to get measures through with the support of this House, they have to learn that there must be greater attention to and consideration of our constituents than has been the case. I commend to them the experience we have had with RTZ which has managed this rather well and gone to incredible trouble to meet our constituents. If there are those who want to dowse the Bill and who think that by voting against the motion tonight they will dowse it for good and all, then they are wrong. Surely they understand the rules of the House sufficiently to appreciate that if this is lost the Government can immediately, next week if they wish, introduce a new Channel Tunnel Bill.
What the opponents of the Bill should do is to vote for the motion and let the Bill go to Report and then beat it at Third Reading. If they do that, the Bill cannot be introduced for another 12 months. That would really scotch it. If they stop it, what alternative proposals do they have? If we abandon the tunnel and they whoop with joy saying that Kent 116 has been saved, they present Kent with an even greater problem.
The majority of Kent Members are in favour of the tunnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) has always been against it, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has put up some cogent arguments against it and I admire him for it. If he succeeds in killing the Channel Tunnel, how will he explain to his constituents the enormous amount of extra travelling they will have to undertake? That is his problem, not mine.
Tonight we have to decide whether we put this Bill back or whether we decide to save my local authority further expense. It has already spent £25,000. I do not know where the Minister got the figure of £40,000 for all Kent authorities. I have here a letter written by my local chief executive saying that the district has already spent £20,000 to £25,000. I imagine that the total spent by the local authorities in Kent is more than £100,000.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting that figure. I did not want to be accused of exaggeration. I do not have access to the figures, which are private to the local authorities, and I formed an estimate on the advice of parliamentary agents. I did not seek to collect the figures. What the hon. Gentleman says strengthens my argument.
§ Mr. Costain
I am grateful to the Minister. The Bill has been hanging over the heads of my constituents for 11 years. If we reject the motion tonight and the Bill is reintroduced there will be another nine months' gestation. Whether at the end of the nine months we shall produce a white elephant, I do not know, but in fairness to my constituents and to the procedure of the House, we should approve the motion.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
It has been said that a lawyer can drive a coach and pair through an Act of Parliament. The Government are apparently attempting to drive freight and passenger trains, motor cars and heavy lorries through the procedure of the House of Commons. I have no objection to changing the procedure of the House of Commons if the change is justifiable. I cannot, therefore. 117 agree that it is not justifiable to carry over a Bill from one Session to another if it is in the same Parliament. When it is in a different Parliament, however, it is absolutely indefensible, because it breaches a constitutional rule that one Parliament is not bound by the decisions of its predecessor. That is the kind of action that the Government are trying to take tonight, and I am utterly opposed to it.
Apart from that, I am opposed to the principle of the Channel Tunnel Bill. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), in his honeyed accents, says that this is only a procedural matter, but in my opinion it is the thin end of the wedge, and at the risk of mixing my metaphors I want to nip it in the bud before it gets any further. I do not want to wait for Report stage, as the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) suggested. I want to nip it in the bud right away.
Several hon. Members are trying to get the Secretary of State for Industry to approach the Cabinet for £80 million to save a vitally necessary project, the HS146, and with it the whole of the British civil aircraft industry. The Secretary of State for Industry, while sympathetic to our cause, has not yet said that he is able to get this money from the Cabinet because of the economic situation. Yet the Government are gaily flinging caution to the winds and proposing to embark on a project that will cost £1,500 million at today's prices.
The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) argued that the taxpayer will not have to pay one penny of the £1,500 million, but a guarantee by the British Government is a responsibility or a commitment to fork out the money if need be. Therefore, we have to take it that the Government are committed to 90 per cent. of £1,500 million if need be. That is indefensible in view of the economic situation. Much more vitally important projects will have to be shelved for the present because of the crisis, a crisis which will baffle the strongest of Governments. We are told, however, that we shall embark on another project, not nearly as important, which will cost £1,500 million.
The only excuse which could be offered which would cause me to vote for the project would be if the Government could prove that the money we would lose by getting out of it would be greater than 118 the money we would spend by going into it. The Government have not convinced me of that and, therefore, with great regret, I shall not be in the Government Lobby tonight.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Moore (Croydon, Central)
I shall endeavour to be brief and may concern myself with the procedural motion, which might be somewhat unusual.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I am glad that the hon. Member is drawing the attention of the House to the subject matter under discussion.
§ Mr. Moore
My constituency in Croydon has not been mentioned yet it has a marked involvement in the project, as do Kent and Surrey constituencies. I am in some difficulty in knowing which way to cast my vote tonight. Despite being in fundamental agreement with the Channel Tunnel project, I have difficulty in understanding and accepting the rationale of the Government Front Bench.
I listened to what was said with considerable care but I require a great deal of convincing on the need for the establishment of a precedent. Later in the Session we are to debate the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill, in connection with which similar suggestions may be made for overriding established procedures. There has to be a crying need before we can agree to the establishment of a precedent. It has not yet been proved to me either from my constituency's point of view or from the Channel Tunnel point of view that there is urgency, and urgency surely must be shown before we create a precedent.
I draw attention to what the Under-Secretary of State said in Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill:If it is not possible to have a Report stage before the recess, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be a suitable motion put down to carry it forward."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 18th July 1974; c. 118.]I accept that the Under-Secretary of State was unable to arrange a Report stage because of the recess. However, the Government were capable of producing a flood of White Papers during the recess. They clearly knew that an election was coming, and if they could produce a series of White Papers they could have 119 set up a formal procedural motion prior to the dissolution of Parliament.
I am concerned about the timing. Discussion of the procedural motion seems to have taken a strange course. It is suggested that this is the end or the beginning of the tunnel. It is not. If the project is so vital, and if time is so urgent in advance of the ratification of the treaty, it should be possible for the Government to reintroduce the Bill even if the motion is lost tonight. We should then have the opportuinty for debate.
Whether we vote "Yea" or "Nay" is irrelevant in considering the £30 million. The £30 million is committed and will be spent. We are talking about approximately £6 million referred to by the Minister.
What I am concerned about, and what leaves me in great doubt as to the way I shall vote, is my memory of the Standing Committee proceedings. In that respect I must think of my constituents' interests, and those interests seem to argue for delay. I should like to draw attention to what was said during the fourth sitting of the Standing Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill when we were arguing for improved compensation features. Conservative Members of the Committee were concerned about the need for improving compensation for those affected by this vital national development. We argued that the blight in this instance was different from the normal planning blight and on that occasion we had great sympathy from the Under-Secretary of State. However, our amendment was not able to be accepted in the Standing Committee.
Let me quote what the Minister said on that occasion:The real difficulty arises, however, when we try to include these provisions in the Bill, not in a statement made by my right hon. Friend. It would almost certainly introduce a further element of hybridity and the Bill would have to go back to be examined, and perhaps an opportunity provided for an additional petition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 23rd July 1974; c. 210.]Despite the sympathy of the Minister on that occasion, we were told that the Bill was so constructed that it would not be possible to provide the compensation features which all of us representing constituency interests were seeking. Clearly, that one factor means that unless there 120 is shown to be a crying need for this provision—a need which has not been proved to me—we should think in terms of delay in allowing the Bill to go forward again. We believe that the clause on which we had a certain amount of sympathy from the Minister should be reintroduced with the new Bill. There would seem to be unanimity on that point.
Although we have endeavoured to talk about the procedural motion, there has been discussion on the overall costs of the rail link and their relative escalation. I hope to have a denial of the fact that the figures have not increased massively from the £120 million which was discussed in Committee. Obviously, in the debate many hon. Members have endeavoured to defend their constituency interests and it has been said that the figures have increased substantially. Have they increased to £350 million, £450 million or £500 million? I am not merely bandying figures, becase I realise that one must be responsible when dealing with these matters, but, if the figures are in that category, does this not substantially change the possible commercial nature of the project? If so, does it not raise fundamental questions on the whole nature of the project?
I say all these things as a supporter of the project. I await with great interest and concern the Minister's reply because I repeat that unless far better arguments are adduced, I am in doubt whether I can support the motion.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) said that he was in some doubt as to how to vote on the motion. Those who recall the early hours of 11th October will appreciate that my hon. Friend's constituents also appeared to be in some doubt about how to vote, but at the risk of uniting the Labour Party for the first time tonight, let me say that we are glad that they voted as they did.
The debate has had about it a mixture of a Consolidation Fund Bill debate and a series of maiden speeches in which hon. Members have raised constituency problems. I shall try to take neither course but to try to speak strictly to the motion.
It is appropriate that we should be debating this subject on a day when in the 121 Channel the hovercraft and other services come to an end for the time being. Let us not assume that the termination of the service happens only in the winter. On 1st August my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) and I went over the Channel in the hovercraft to visit the Channel Tunnel works on the other side. However, we could not get back on that day in August because the crossing was too rough for the hovercraft. We wished that we had had the opportunity to return through the tunnel. Incidentally, we saw the beginnings of the works at Folkestone, and we can well appreciate the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain).
I believe that we should come to a decision on this matter as soon as possible. Many participants in the debate appear to have missed the point. They have asked questions, but so many seem to have based their arguments against the procedure motion on a wrong premise. If we defeat the motion we shall destroy the whole idea of the Channel Tunnel. The discussions in Standing Committee were of immense importance and I was disappointed at what happened following the Minister's assurance that the motion would be tabled before the Summer Recess. We all know that that did not happen, although it is past history and I shall not argue that matter further.
I am also concerned about the situation affecting the Caircross Committee. When the Minister moved the Second Reading of the Bill last April we mocked him slightly because the Government were putting forward a Conservative Bill—a measure against which they had voted the previous December. One of the reasons then given by the Minister for his change of attitude was that the Government had decided that there must be a further inquiry which would be set up as soon as possible. We welcomed that statement. We were later told that the inquiry would complete its investigations in the early months of next year. We are now over half way through that period and still the committee is hardly in existence and has not got very far, if any distance at all, with its investigations. I know that the Minister of Transport has great responsibilities, but I 122 believe that on this occasion he has been rather slow in taking action.
Much play has been made in the debate with the rights of back benchers in the face of Governments forcing through Bills from one Parliament to another following an election. I believe it is right that that should be so. One opposer of the Bill, an industrialist, wrote to me and said that if there were a precedent established tonight the Government after Third Reading might even reintroduce the 1970 Ports Bill. I assure that correspondent that that is not likely to happen, although perhaps I was the right person for him to approach.
What is clear from the debate is that back benchers are doubtful about the procedure. I believe that the argument is right that the Government should reintroduce the Bill at this stage, but back benchers seek to make the point that no Government of any party will get away with these things automatically at any time in the future.
It must be remembered that in Standing Committee there was a most important discussion of compensation. We tabled a new clause entitled "Compensation in respect of Proposals of British Railways Board". At the end of that Committee and before Parliament rose for the summer I tabled an identical new clause for Report stage. I warn the Minister that if we pass the motion tonight I shall table that clause yet again, because it is vital that the rights of constituents in Kent, London, Surrey and Sussex should be fully protected.
With those provisos, I think it is right that back benchers should express the view that they regard these matters very seriously indeed, but in the special circumstances I shall support the Government.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
May I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on your good fortune in coming into the Chamber just in time to hear my speech?
I should like briefly to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry). Most of those of us who now remain in the Chamber took an active part in the Committee on the Bill. I should go through the rigmarole again of 123 saying that I still have the few RTZ shares that I spoke about before and that I am a member of the Railway Correspendence and Travel Society. I am not a member of the Tribune group, I am not in awe of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is not present, and I am not a member of the National Union of Railwaymen.
The problem tonight is that we are all making the same speeches that we have made before—but that is probably the strongest argument for supporting the unusual procedure that the Government propose. No one could really suggest that this subject has not had a thorough parliamentary airing. I certainly see nothing to make me change my views, which have always been of support for this project.
We regularly hear that the public are fed up with squabbling politicians. This is one of those issues for which, with a number of honourable exceptions whose views have been sincerly and consistently expressed, like my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), the majority of hon. Members have expressed support. That also should not be considered a fearful conspiracy, especially when people complain about politicians who say "Yes" simply because someone else says "No".
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) referred to the need for consistency among politicians. I did not intervene to remind him that the majority in favour of our application to join the Common Market in 1967 was 466. Some in the then Labour Government have apparently changed their views since. But the consistency shown by many hon. Members on the Channel Tunnel is still evident tonight.
We have heard, not surprisingly, the inevitable discussions about outside toilets in Perry Barr and schools in Keighley. To my knowledge, neither RTZ nor British Rail is in the business of building schools or outside lavatories. We have to keep reminding ourselves that this project will not be financed by the Department of Education or the Department of the Environment. Nor, I must regretfully remind certain hon. Members, is it possible to build the tunnel from Aberdeen.
124 The cost of not proceeding at this stage would be a cost to public funds. I recognise that it would be nothing in comparison with the total cost of building the tunnel, but if it is accepted that the majority of hon. Members have consistently supported the tunnel it will be seen that to reject the motion would be deliberately to put a burden on public funds.
As a supporter of British Rail and a railway enthusiast, for which I do not apologise, I regard this project not as a squandering of money but as a major investment in our railway system. To prove that I have no doctrinaire blood in me, I would say that I want to see British Rail successful. The Channel Tunnel will give enormous opportunities to the railways to offer really attractive rates for long-distance freight, which they have lacked in the past.
I have one final reason for supporting the Government. I have a niggling fear that this may be the first of many occasions stretching over the months ahead when the social democrats of the Labour Party Front Bench, or most of them, will need a great deal of help and support. We have seen what I might call the Taverne-Milne-Griffiths clan dealt with in recent months. I look fretfully ahead to the time when the Government recommend to the House acceptance of the magnificently renegotiated terms for staying in the Common Market and a special National Executive Committee meeting of the Labour Party decides that the proposals should be rejected, leading to internal fratricide the like of which we have not seen for many a long day on the benches opposite.
Therefore, on the basis—I put it no higher—of taking a stance which I suspect some of us, if we are to support Parliament and what we believe to be in the national interest, are likely to have to take in the coming months, I shall be going into the Lobby with the Government tonight.
§ 7.56 p.m.
Mr. Bernard Conlon (Gateshead, East)
The second speech that I made in this House after my election in 1964 was on an agriculture Bill. For my sins as an engineer speaking on agriculture, I was put on the committee dealing with the Bill. That committee sat many times 125 and before we had completed our work the Prime Minister decided on an election. After the election, I and others were put on precisely the same committee and did over again the work we had done before over many months.
I thought then that was a complete waste of time and taxpayers' money, and that, if we could find some device for avoiding a similar occurrence, that would be in the interests of the House, the taxpayer and certainly those unfortunates who had to sit on the relevant committees. So the Government are right to make this recommendation. If the motion were rejected, precisely the same Bill would be presented to go through First Reading, Second Reading and Committee all over again. The House of Commons would be treated to similar proposals which it would be recommended to approve.
The return to the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) reminds me of a lovely story. My hon. Friend opposes the motion. It is no secret—he makes no secret of his views at any time—that he is also opposed to the Common Market. The story I heard was that another of my hon. Friends once said that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was so much opposed to the Common Market that the next things he would oppose were French letters and Dutch caps. Whether that story is true I do not know, but some people who are passionately opposed to the Common Market are probably opposing this motion for the wrong reasons—
§ Mr. Conlan
My hon. Friend has an advantage over me, then.
We have to treat this matter purely and simply as a question of procedure. If the House is opposed to the building of the tunnel, surely that decision will be taken on Third Reading. Why commit us to proceeding with the work which has already been started if all that is necessary is for the House to decide yea or nay about the Channel Tunnel? As I understand it, unless the motion is approved the nation will be committed to expenditure without necessarily getting the work and construction completed. 126 Whether or not the work is done, money will be spent.
Those of us from the provinces would prefer that some of the expenditure be made on the regions instead of on the Channel Tunnel. I think that tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have a considerable amount of bad news for us. Many of our cherished hopes and dreams for the future will be smashed. My hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam) and Blaydon (Mr. Woof) are discussing with the Secretary of State for Social Services the cherished hope of a hospital in their area. We would prefer the money to be spent on such projects in the regions, but we must not deceive the House and the nation about the importance of the motion tonight. If it is approved, a great deal of money, time and Members' inconvenience will be saved and the House will still reserve to itself the final decision on the Channel Tunnel. The House should therefore approve the motion and get on with the business before it.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan), I shall oppose the motion tonight in the Division Lobby. I shall not take a great deal of time to explain why.
The motion would have been better brought before us on Wednesday, the day after the Budget, when we would more fully have understood where the Government's spending priorities lie in what is allegedly a very precarious economic situation. I should like to lay a wager that if the debate had taken place the day after instead of the day before the Budget, we might have had a different result in the Division tonight. What we most definitely would not have had was theoretical argument about destroying some of our sacred cows in our constituencies, because after tomorrow there will probably be no theory involved in the argument. Tomorrow, every hon. Member will have projects of one kind or another of social importance to him and his constituents probably falling by the wayside.
I oppose the motion because as we progress each step of the way it will become more and more difficult for Parliament to stop the Channel Tunnel 127 project. Some hon. Members have mentioned that a project of this sort takes on a momentum of its own and rolls on in spite of any opposition to it. There are innumerable examples in the history of public expenditure since 1945 which prove that, once Parliament and the Government embark upon a folly, they never turn back from it but simply continue to pour money into it. And so it is likely to be with the Channel Tunnel. I oppose the motion because it paves the way for the Bill and the Bill paves the way towards the final commitment by the British people to the Channel Tunnel.
I am not opposed to a channel tunnel. I am an anti-Common Market member of the Labour Party but I am not a fool. I should like to see our communications with the Continent improved. In principle, no one could oppose the improvement of communications systems, but this is a question of priorities. I am in favour of the sun shining all day and the rain only coming on at night, but I know that that is not likely to happen. In the same way, I am in favour of the Channel Tunnel but not with our present economic circumstances.
I have no hesitation in voting against the motion tonight because it was not contained in the Labour Party manifesto or in the Queen's Speech. It was one of those measures which was to be laid before us at a later date.
I know my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary very well. Like me he is a Scottish Member and he represents the Kelvingrove division of Glasgow. He comes from a family with impeccable Socialist credentials. Not only is he involved in politics, but members of his family are involved in Socialist politics, so I know that I am speaking to the converted when I say that the language of Socialism must be the choice of priorities.
In present circumstances, can a Labour Government actively involve themselves in something that could lead to an enormous expenditure when, by our own admission, by the admission of the way we campaigned before 10th October, we have an enormous problem in housing the homeless? So enormous is the problem that we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State 128 for the Environment the ridiculous statement that he is thinking of solving the immediate housing problem with a new generation of prefabricated houses and mobile homes. What sort of priority is it that allows us to contemplate the Channel Tunnel when we are telling the homeless that perhaps a new generation of prefabs, a caravan or a mobile home site is the best means that the Socialist Party holds out for ending that acute family problem?
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary's wife—I do not say this unfairly, as he well knows—is involved as a Socialist in Scotland in asking for better social provision for underprivileged children. She is on record as condemning the system which in Scotland produces children in the West Central part who are condemned to fail from the minute they are born. What sort of system of priorities is it that permits us to know of that problem and yet support and contemplate the Channel Tunnel project?
My hon. Friend is also aware that North-East Scotland will bear the infrastructure burden for the whole of the British isles in the course of the extraction of North Sea oil. We cannot get a motorway built where the A9 already runs, although on any count we should be entitled to expenditure on road-building there. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) referred earlier to the claim by British Rail in Scotland that it could not get the necessary £6 million to invest in facilitating the transport of certain basic materials to the North Sea oilfields. Yet here we are talking of going ahead with the Channel Tunnel.
One hon. Member argued that this might be an acceptable area for public expenditure. If the Government have money available—I question that—for public expenditure and transport, they should look at transport in the rural areas and in the cities where the systems are breaking down and where whole sections of the population, young and old, who cannot drive a motor car because of age or financial circumstances are being deprived of reasonable transport facilities.
Tomorrow afternoon my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is likely to come before us and say that we are in a highly precarious economic circumstance. 129 Every one of us as constituency Members, as the Socialist Party, as the Opposition party, as the Scottish National Party and the Welsh National Party, will have to mark time on a number of projects that we wish to see progress. It will be impossible for me to listen to that tomorrow afternoon after what I have listened to today.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not include the tunnel in his election address, but he appears to be telling the House that he is privy to information that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tomorrow make slashing cuts in public expenditure. Was that in the hon. Gentleman's election address?
§ Mr. Sillars
The hon. Gentleman should not confuse my election address with the Labour Party manifesto. There are on occasions differences. The hon. Gentleman should refer to the concluding speech in the debate on the Queen's Speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. That speech, in my view, gave us a trailer for tomorrow's Budget Statement. I am no more privy to Budget secrets than is the hon. Gentleman, but I am at least a half-intelligent member of society and I think I know what is going on and what we are likely to be told tomorrow.
I say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that we are a Socialist Government in power and that this time we should get our priorities right, but by no stretch of the imagination can this project be included in our correct priorities.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)
This has been an extremely interesting and full debate. Those of us who have taken part in previous debates on the Channel Tunnel have already heard many of the arguments. During the last Second Reading debate on this matter I suggested that if the project came up again hon. Members who are regular speakers in these debates might start sending their speeches by post to one another.
This is an important question. I do not want to deal individually with all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, but I welcome back to the House the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) who today made what I might call his 130 second maiden speech. In his previous incarnation in Parliament he was in the post that I now hold.
I hope that in dealing with a number of subjects connected with the tunnel I might be able to touch on various points raised by hon. Members. In the last Parliament I promised that a motion would be produced, but that was not possible because Parliament was in recess when the General Election was called. I do not know what arguments would have been put forward had a motion been put down at that time. The arguments might have been similar to those we have heard today, with the exception that we would have been blamed for anticipating what the next Parliament might do rather than for carrying over the matter from that Parliament to this one, about which there have been complaints on this occasion.
A number of hon. Members referred to the present economic and financial situation. The White Paper published by the Conservative administration in September 1973 estimated the cost of the Channel Tunnel project, exclusive of the rail link, at £468 million in 1973 prices or £846 million in outturn prices allowing for inflation, the cost of raising the money and servicing the debts during the construction period.
The rate of inflation and the cost of borrowing money has obviously increased since these figures were computed and they are all subject to revision in the course of the current phase II studies. It would however be naïve to argue that inflationary trends have of themselves put paid to the project, since inflation affects also the revenue side of the equation. Whether it does so to exactly the same extent is again something which will come out of the phase II studies and should not be prejudged one way or another.
§ Mr. Stanley
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the revenue involved is made up from at least 60 per cent. of holiday people taking their cars to the Continent for their holidays and that the rate of buoyancy of that pattern of holiday traffic is much more likely to be influenced by the cost of motoring rather than by the general level of inflation, either in this country or overseas?
§ Mr. Carmichael
There have been changes and these will have to be considered during the phase II studies. The various matters raised, including future traffic trends, will be looked at.
There is no denying that the increased cost of fuel, particularly oil, must be expected to have some effect on costs and travel habits. On the other hand the tunnel as an efficient means of crossing the Channel, with access to electricity generated from more than one fuel source, is less affected than some modes by rising oil costs. I can assure the House that all these considerations are being taken fully into account and will emerge as part of the final assessment before decisions have to be taken.
I recognise the body of opinion which regards as inappropriate the commitment of sums of such magnitude to this project in times of economic stringency. Many hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) raised this point.
I should, however, point out that in the nature of the project only half of the total cost falls to be raised on this side of the Channel. What is more, none of the cost falls on the Exchequer except in the event that the Governments could conceivably be called upon to honour their guarantees of the loan finance. There can thus be no question of diverting the money concerned to the projects in the public sector to which some hon. Members might wish to give higher priority. If the question is restated as one of real resources we must, I suggest, consider the possibility that in the absence of a tunnel the total investment ultimately necessary to accommodate the volume of cross-Channel traffic predicted might exceed the cost of investing in a tunnel.
This does not, I recognise, meet the arguments of those who are specifically concerned with employment in, for example, Dover and other ports which existing modes of crossing the Channel provide. I can, however, reiterate previous assurances made in Select Committee and elsewhere that these aspects will be fully taken into account in the United Kingdom transport cost-benefit study which is currently being revised. Having regard also to the work of the Cairncross Group, which I emphasise has full opportunity to consider such aspects of the 132 project as it sees necessary, I can assure the House that there is no risk of decisions being taken next year without proper consideration of every aspect raised in debate today.
One point rightly brought out by a number of hon. Members, particularly those from the South-East, was that relating to the rail link and its cost. The White Paper published by the Conservative administration last September estimated the cost of the high-speed rail link at about £120 million in 1973 prices. British Rail have since then been developing the scheme and the estimate, which even allowing for inflation is clearly now likely to be substantially higher. A number of major environmental aspects of the route are, however, still very much under consideration, and until both the local authorities, British Rail and the Department have had an opportunity to reach a definitive view of these aspects and options it would be premature to venture revised figures or, even more important, seek to interpret them in terms of return on the investment concerned. I can, however, assure the House that figures will be published as soon as possible and in any case well before any decision has to be taken about the tunnel itself.
I recognise, of course, that Exchequer investment in the rail link must be distinguished from private investment in the tunnel itself, and that we are in times of some economic stringency. This has been stressed by a number of hon. Members, particularly on the Government side of the House.
The expenditure concerned will not, however, arise for some time and may not lie within the range of measures which the Government may have in mind for dealing with our immediate problems. It may be possible that any decisions by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer tomorrow will not really affect the question of whether we should build the rail link—
§ Mr. Sillars
I take my hon. Friend's point that expenditure may not arise until some time in the future. Suppose, however, that as a result of tomorrow's announcements a hospital project is postponed for five years. Would it not have to compete five years hence with other claims on public expenditure for projects such as the tunnel?
§ Mr. Carmichael
At that point a decision would need to be made on the priority. The Government are suggesting that these matters will be thoroughly examined, including the time scale, and that a decision will be made when it is required to put out the money for this development. The decision will be made in terms of the best return for the outlay of money in a transport sense—namely, the development of the ports and the roads and various considerations involving the tunnel. These matters will be discussed and developed at great length by the Government.
I now turn to another matter that affects the people living in the South-East—namely, the rail link and the noise that may arise from it. There are environmental problems which must be considered. One of the factors which we and British Rail will need to take into account in deciding on the route is the noise likely to be caused by the running of high-speed trains. British Rail have measured noise levels on the sensitive areas of the line using special equipment which has enabled them to make realistic predictions of the noise likely to arise from the proposed use of the line. These surveys were completed in mid-October and British Rail are now preparing contour maps based on predictions from these measurements.
British Rail hope that those maps will be available for the more sensitive areas of the route—including Tonbridge, Croydon, Paddock Wood and Ashford—by the end of November, and further contour maps will follow for other sections of the line. I recognise entirely that local authorities cannot be expected to express a final view of particular route options until they have an opportunity to study those maps. This is one of the factors to be taken into account in reviewing the timetable for decisions on the British Rail Private Bill.
§ Mr. Carmichael
They will be the property of British Rail.
I now turn to the question of a public inquiry. It is obvious that as much information as possible would need to be given at a public inquiry to enable a 134 decision to be made on the high speed line.
Hon. Members will need no reminding that the Private Bill procedures through which British Rail must seek the necessary statutory powers to construct a new railway line will include Select Committee proceedings in both Houses, during which those who are affected by the proposals can petition against them. Such persons can certainly include groups representing amenity or environmental interests. There would be distinct disadvantages in supplementing these proceedings with a preliminary public inquiry. One of these disadvantages would be that the period and area of planning blight would be considerably extended. Many hon. Members are aware that planning blight has been a big enough problem already.
Another disadvantage is that the case of petitioners in Select Committee might well be weakened if the findings of the inquiry were against them. However, at a recent meeting with Surrey and Kent Action on Rail—SKAR—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would be prepared to consider the adequacy of arrangements to take account of the views of objectors once British Rail's proposals for the route of the link were submitted to him. I cannot yet say what the outcome of this further consideration may be, but I know the House will welcome and respect my right hon. Friend's assurance.
Considerable interest has been expressed about the Cairncross Group. My right hon. Friend on Second Reading said that he was unhappy about certain aspects of the Channel Tunnel project as a whole and he wished to have it examined by an independent body. He had in mind not a strict parliamentary committee or a Royal Commission but a group which could be considered to be above suspicion and totally independent.
The Secretary of State was fortunate in securing the services of Sir Alec Cairncross as the chairman; Mr. David Lea, who is secretary of the economic department of the Trades Union Congress; Mr. Sargent, a Group Economic Adviser of the Midland Bank; and Professor Alan Wilson, who is the Professor of Urban and Regional Geography at the University of Leeds. There are no formal 135 terms of reference. The rôle of the group is principally to advise the Government on the calibre of the phase II studies on which the decision whether to proceed with the main construction of phase III must, in economic and financial terms, eventually rest. A report will be made available from the group before Parliament is asked to take that decision. Other appointments are due to be made, but the immediate issues are largely economic and all the economists required are already appointed.
The group has already got down to the initial phase of its work, which concentrates on evaluating the character of the phase II studies at a stage where additional work can still be commissioned if necessary to corroborate any items on which the group would not expect the Government necessarily to be satisfied at a later stage.
§ Mr. Carmichael
In fact, I said:Other appointments are due to be made, but the immediate issues are largely economic and all the economists required are already appointed.
§ Mr. Carmichael
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I prefer not to give way because I shall be finished very soon. We have had a very long debate and I have given way to a fair number of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman but I put this question to his right hon. Friend earlier in the debate. Will people be per-
§ mitted to make representations to and give evidence to the Cairncross Group?
§ Mr. Carmichael
Certainly people will be able—as they can now—to submit written evidence to the Cairncross Group. I think that the group may well supplement that evidence by oral evidence, and it is at complete liberty to do so if it so wishes, but it would accept written evidence now. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that that is so.
'The group enjoys substantial latitude in developing its procedures. It is, of course, open to the group to consider evidence from interested parties—this is the hon. and learned Gentleman's point, and it is exactly what I said earlier. If the committee wishes it can have oral evidence, or the public are entitled and perfectly free to submit written evidence to it.
If the Channel Tunnel Bill is once enacted, no further legislation is necessary to enable the main construction phase to proceed. I want to be very clear about this. Parliament would, however, be given the opportunity to vote on so important a question before any such final decision was taken, possibly by means of a further White Paper or similar document associated, of course, with the report of the Cairncross Group.
I cannot be any stronger than this. My right hon. Friends and I are just as anxious to have the final and independent appraisal of the Cairncross Group. If this motion is carried this evening—and I certainly hope that it is—we still have the Report stage, Third Reading and the proceedings in another place. After that, Parliament will still be given the final decision as to whether the project as a whole should continue. I hope that the House will approve the motion.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 168, Noes 115.139
|Division No. 6.]||AYES||[8.30 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Booth, Albert||Coleman, Donald|
|Anderson, Donald||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Concannon, J. D.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Conlan, Bernard|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N.)||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Cook, Robin F. (Edin. C.)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Broughton, Sir Alfred||Costain, A. P.|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood)||Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Pr)||Cox, Thomas (Wands Toot)|
|Bates, Alf||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle)||Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast)|
|Benn, Rt Hn Anthony Wedgwood||Carmichael, Neil||Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony|
|Benyon, W. R.||Clemitson, I. M.||Crouch, David|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Davles, Ifor (Gower)|
|Boardman, H.||Cohen, Stanley||Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)|
|Davis, S. Clinton (Hackney C)||Irvine, Rt. Hon Sir A. (L'pool)||Rodgers, William (Teesside)|
|Deakins, Eric||Jackson, Miss M. (Lincoln)||Roper, John|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Janner, Greville||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)|
|Dempsey, James||John, Brynmor||Rowlands, Ted|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Johnson, James (Kingston W)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Dunnett, Jack||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Sheldon, R. (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs G. P.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Silkin, Rt Hn John (Lewish)|
|Eadie, Alex||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Edelman, Maurice||Judd, Frank||Small, William|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun.)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Kaufman, Gerald||Snape, Peter|
|Emery, Peter||Lamond, James||Speed, Keith|
|Ennals, David||Leadbitter, Ted||Spicer, James (W Dorset)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Eyre, Reginald||Luard, Evan||Steen, Anthony (Liverpool)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W.)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Faulds, Andrew||McElhone, Frank||Stott, Roger|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||MacGregor, John||Strang, Gavin|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mackintosh, John P.||Swain, Thomas|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Maclennan, Robert||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth N)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Tinn, James|
|Freeson, Reginald||Magee, Bryan||Torney, Tom|
|George, Bruce||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Urwin, T. W.|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Ginsburg, David||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Golding, John||Meacher, Michael||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Grant, John (Islington C.)||Mikardo, Ian||Ward, Michael|
|Grocott, Bruce||Millan, Bruce||Watkins, David|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Moonman, Eric||Weetch, Ken|
|Hamling, William||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Weitzman, David|
|Hardy, Peter||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Wells, John|
|Harper, Joseph||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Moyle, Roland||Whitlock, William|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Hatton, Frank||Murray, Ronald King||Williams, Alan (Swansea)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Oakes, Gordon||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Ogden, Eric||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Parker, John||Woodall, A.|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Pendry, Tom|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Rathbone, T.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hunter, Adam||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Mr. J. D. Dormand and Mr. Walter Johnson.|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Pardoe, John|
|Beith, A. J.||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Park, G.|
|Bell, Ronald||Kelley, Richard||Parry, Robert|
|Body, Richard||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Penhaligon, David|
|Brotherton, Michael||Kinnock, Neil||Perry, Ernest|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Lambie, David||Phipps, Dr C.|
|Campbell, Ian||Lee, John||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Canavan, Dennis||Litterick, Tom||Prescott, John|
|Cartwright, John||Lomas, Kenneth||Price, C. (Lewisham W.)|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth S)||Loyden, Eddie||Reid, George|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||McCartney, Hugh||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||MacCormick, lain||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Corbett, Robin||Macfarlane, Neil||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cormack, Patrick||McNamara, Kevin||Rooker, J. W.|
|Crawford, Douglas||Madden, Max||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cryer, G. R.||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S.)||Ryman, John|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Marten, Neil||Sedgemore, B.|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Mayhew, Patrick||Selby, Harry|
|Doig, Peter||Maynard, Miss Joan||Shaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilf)|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Mendelson, John||Short, Mrs R. (Wolv NE)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Miller, Dr M. (E. Kilbride)||Sillars, James|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Miller, Mrs Millie (Redbridge)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Aberdare)||Moate, Roger||Stanley, John|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Molloy, William||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Molyneaux, James||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Flannery, Martin||Moore, John (Croydon C.)||Taylor, Teddy (Glasgow, C)|
|Freud, Clement||Morrison, Peter (Chester)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Gould, Bryan||Mudd, David||Thompson, G.|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Nelson, Anthony||Thorne, S. G. (Preston)|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Newens, S.||Tierney, Sydney|
|Henderson, Douglas||Noble, Mike||Tomlinson, J.|
|Hooley, Frank||O'Halloran, Michael||Tomney, Frank|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Onslow, Cranley||Tuck, Raphael|
|Wainwright, R. (Colns Valley)||Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)||Woof, Robert|
|Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Williams, A. L. (Havering)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Watkinson, J.||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Welsh, Andrew||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|White, Frank (Bury)||Wise, Mrs. Audrey||Mr. John Ovenden and Mr. Leslie Huckfield.|
|White, James (Glasgow P)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That, if a Bill is presented to this House in the same terms as those of the Channel Tunnel Bill as it was ordered to be considered before Parliament was dissolved, the Bill so presented
shall be deemed to have been read the first and second time, and to have been reported from a Standing Committee to the House, and shall be ordered to be considered accordingly, and the Standing Orders and practice of this House applicable to the Bill shall be deemed to have been complied with.