HC Deb 20 January 1975 vol 884 cc1094-162

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

I move the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration; namely, the announcement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment today, that the British Government have unilaterally abandoned the Channel Tunnel project. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the motion to be put to the House, and the House for its agreement. I apologise to my Scottish friends for interrupting their business. This was no deliberate intention of mine, but it is one of the perils in the House.

The time to influence this decision may be limited until 12 o'clock tonight, but the matter is not irrevocable at this stage. The mathematical chances of the Government being persuaded to change their decision between now and 12 o'clock are not for me to calculate, but at least they are sufficient for me, and those who support the Channel Tunnel project, to try to persuade the Government to change their mind.

I declare, at the beginning, my faith in the Channel Tunnel project. It is a matter which has had setbacks over the 200 years of its history. Today's business is neither the first nor the last setback to which the tunnel has been subjected. As a co-chairman of the Parliamentary All-Party Group for the Channel Tunnel, I am determined to continue to work for this project in the years ahead as I have worked for it in the last 10 years.

I hope that one day the present Secretary of State for the Environment will accept an invitation to ride behind a railway engine through a fixed-link Channel Tunnel, between the United Kingdom and Europe. Whether that day will occur in 1980 or 1985, whether my right hon. Friend will be old and grey, as he thought this afternoon, or whether his hair will still be dark and curly, I do not know. I am certain that the invitation will be extended to him and hope that he will be able to accept it.

My intention is not to restate all the arguments for or against the Channel Tunnel. Most of the arguments that have been made against it were made against the Mersey Tunnel in the 1930s. By the time we came round to the second Mersey Tunnel in the 1960s, no one who had opposed the digging of the first tunnel underneath the Mersey was opposed to the digging of the second. I am not asking for a second Channel Tunnel at this stage. The arguments made against the project are not new to the House.

I repeat my own belief that, for the people on Merseyside, the Channel Tunnel is as important as the Mersey Tunnel. The tunnel will be an asset to Merseyside and to the north-west of the United Kingdom, not only for employment and trade but for leisure communications and other requirements, and will be as important as any section of motorway ever was for the United Kingdom.

Had the land between Europe and Britain never been flooded we would not have heard the arguments against, first, a mule track, then a road track, then a railway link, and, finally, a motorway. We do not often talk about the profitability of the M1, yet we often talk about the profitability of the Channel Tunnel.

The Labour Government are pledged to invest in the Merseyside, the North-West Region, and in British Rail, which is a nationalised industry. The Channel Tunnel would provide an opportunity for the use of British Rail's advanced passenger trains and freightliners, which ought not to be allowed to disappear. For the ordinary British people, to whom I belong and from whom I came, a fixed-link Channel Tunnel would be a growing asset for their work, employment and leisure

There has been opposition to the project because of its cost. However, any argument about the tunnel on the basis of cost applies to any alternative system. I do not see how the money so-called "saved" by the abandonment of the project will enable 7,000 tunnel sections to be used for building hospitals or schools, or that the money so-called "saved" on this project will automatically be made available for any of the other projects which both sides of the House support. My hon. Friends and I do not argue for an alternative use of the money, and we have to bear in mind interests and vested interests.

The arguments made against the Channel Tunnel were made against the Mersey Tunnel in days gone by. No one has been prepared to support an alternative, fixed-link rail or road system, or bridge. No one else has been prepared to put his money where his mouth is.

In criticising the decision made by my right hon. Friend I am criticising the decision made by the British Government, which is my Labour Government. It is a decision for which the Cabinet have collective responsibility. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to carry the can for the decision this afternoon, and he is perfectly capable of doing so. If I say anything in criticism, it certainly does not concern him personally, although perhaps over the last three years he has led his troops in different directions in this matter—first in the 1964–1970 Government, in favour of the Channel Tunnel project, and then, in perhaps what might be termed a "temporary trauma"—in the days when Labour was in opposition—against it. On two occasions last year he led his troops in support. He has outmanœuvred even the noble Duke of York.

Equally, my right hon. Friend has always written in the small print, so that if events came to pass as he foresaw, and there were reasons why he could not carry on with the project, he had the final clauses in reserve. He was never wholly committed. He was optimistic at times and he was disappointed at times, but he has never come forward as determinedly in favour of the project as I am.

We now have the present situation. I wish to concentrate on the reasons for the decision announced this afternoon, because charges were made against my right hon. Friend this afternoon by the Opposition that the decision was being influenced by "little Englanders" and Luddites in the Cabinet. I do not believe that for one moment. The Government have their share but the Opposition benches contain many more of such people. Even if a Conservative Government promised to carry this project through there would be a high price to pay in the disasters they would bring on the country.

I should like to ask a number of questions of my right hon. Friend. During the passing of the procedural motion on 18th November, the Government, in the words of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, made it clear that Parliament would have the ultimate voice in any decision taken. This is not a criticism of the Under-Secretary of State, who gave the promise in good faith and in the belief of support from the Minister and the Cabinet. The Cabinet is responsible for the decision. The decision was clearly made that Parliament would be given the ultimate decision, as was its right.

Since November we have read Press reports. There have been Press leaks, and information has come through various channels. It seemed that the Government were going to do nothing. They did not bring the Bill forward. They did not ratify the treaty. They were acting by default, as though they had decided that simply doing nothing would achieve the abandonment of the Channel Tunnel. My right hon. Friend has set up a fair number of inquiries from time to time. I ask him to make some inquiries about the source of the Press leaks over the last weekend, to see whether they came from the Department of Trade, the Department of Industry, his own Department, or from across the water. If we are to have information coming remarkably conveniently after 4 o'clock on a Friday I think we should ask for the source of that information at least to be sought.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend has been negotiating over the past few weeks with the companies concerned. If, by Tuesday or Wednesday of last week, at the latest, he arrived at a decision which meant the project would have to be abandoned, and if he failed to get an agreement with the companies, why did he not say to the House "We carry out our pledge that the House of Commons will have the right to the final say. We want that to continue. We have tried to carry through the negotiations with the companies in good faith, and we have failed to do so. What is the opinion of the House of Commons?" There was time last week for that to be done. There should have been time to have this on the Order Paper today if it could not have been done then. It certainly should not have been left for a back- bench Member to raise it on a motion seeking the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9. There was time for that decision to be reported. It was not done. I want to know why.

The third point concerns the compensation. It was questioned whether £15 million is our liability under the statute and the treaties. Whether we shall be able to persuade the French Government to bear their share of the £30 million is a matter of argument. Legally, the French Government are bound by the terms of the treaty, and our share will be between £15 million and £17 million.

It would seem that for £15 million my right hon. Friend has bought, with taxpayers' money two short access tunnels from the cliffs of Dover down below the sea. He has got the country 7,000 precast tunnel segments and some start on other kinds of work.

The main new Priestley boring machine is a brilliant piece of British engineering, of which everyone, regardless of party, should be proud. The machine is the envy of the French. The General is turning over in his grave at the thought that the French have to go to New York to buy their machinery, whereas ours is home-made. It was developed from the Mersey mole. The Priestley machine is now 150 feet below the Channel bed, about 200 yards from the shore, ready to start work tomorrow—£500,000 worth of British machinery. It has not done a stroke of the main work. It now lies down there to be mothballed.

If my right hon. Friend had found a way of keeping this project going for another six months, at most, at the cost of another £5 million at most, he would have got for himself, the British taxpayer and the British community another one and a quarter miles of tunnel, he would have used all the tunnel segments, and he would have had all the knowledge and expertise of actually tunnelling from our side.

My right hon. Friend would also have given time for British Railways to finish their report on the alternative rail links between London and the South and how they could fit in their advanced passenger trains and freightliners. My right hon. Friend could have given time for all the Kent local authorities to put in their proposals.

Even more important, my right hon. Friend would have given time for the Cairncross Committee, which he set up, to report to him its independent evaluation of the whole viability of the project and the results of its inquiries, its advice and its calculations on the alternative cost to the British taxpayer and the British community if the project were to be abandoned. For example, if this project is abandoned British Railways will have to invest twice the amount of the total compensation—£60 million—on British Railways ferry services alone by the 1980s. There will have to be twice as much investment in ferry ships as it has cost to abandon the Channel Tunnel. There will be alternative costs which we do not know, but which the Government may know. If the Government know them, why did they set up the Cairncross Committee to investigate and report? It would seem that the Government have done this by default.

If the argument were, "We cannot afford this project at this stage" I would accept the Government's decision, if it were part of a package deal, if it were brought to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if he said, "We are going through difficult times"—no one will deny that we are—" We all have to tighten our belts and cut our standard of living. We have to cut Government expenditure." We have been doing that—haphazardly and apparently without much long-term planning. If all those things were being done and if it were presented as part of an endeavour in which every Department of Government had to take its share in combating unemployment and inflation, and if everything else, including Concorde, had to have a cut, it might be acceptable. As it is, it would seem that only the mistake that the planners of the Channel Tunnel made was to put the tunnel entrance and exit at Dover instead of at Bristol.

If this had been brought forward as part of an economic package I could have accepted it. However, this seems to be an alternative way of proceeding. The attitude seems to be, "We shall cut this project, which is viable and practical and which would be a great asset, but we will allow other things to go forward."

I have kept my coments to a minimum. There are many other arguments which could be advanced. As my right hon. Friend may have gathered. I am very disappointed with his decision. I ask that he listens to what is said in the House tonight, even though the debate arises only on a technical motion that the House should adjourn. Over the past three years the House has given majorities in favour of the tunnel project of at least five to two. The House of Commons should not be easily dismissed when it declares its will with such majorities.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will at least give an undertaking that nothing will be done after the decision tonight that will finally and irrevocably force the abandonment of a fixed rail-link Channel Tunnel. I hope that, at worst, this is merely postponed till some time in the future. The sooner it is built the better.

7.16 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

It is by agreement between the official channels that I shall speak briefly now and that both Front Benches will have two speakers.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

Too many.

Mr. Crosland

This was a decision of the Opposition Front Bench. I am not criticising. We had intended to have one speaker, but in the light of the decision of the Opposition Front Bench we shall have two speakers. Both will be extremely brief.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

The decision was a joint one, and it was also agreed that both speeches on each side should be very short.

Mr. Crosland

Actually, the decision was not strictly a joint one, but this is not something that we should argue about now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) may be surprised to know that I have a great deal of sympathy with his argument. I do not at all resent his criticism either of the Government collectively or of myself individually.

It is fair to point out that, as my hon. Friend will know, in Opposition my right hon. Friend the Minster for Transport and I fought hard aganst strong Labour Party opposition to prevent the party from coming out completely and irrevocably against the Channel Tunnel. My right hon. Friend and I have fought very hard against much back bench opposition to keep the Channel Tunnel Bill alive, and we have fought equally hard to keep the project alive. That is worth saying for the record.

Of course, I should have liked to have, and have always looked forward to having, a final parliamentary decision when all the evidence was available, but this course of action was not possible for us. I am certain that it was right, in the very tight timetable imposed by the companies' claim for abandonment, that, before coming today, as I have, to make a statement to the House, I should have informed the other three parties in the tunnel project of what our decision was.

I agree with my hon. Friend strongly on his point about schools and hospitals. I agree with him and I disagree with my hon. Friend for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) here. If we do not build the tunnel, it does not mean that all these resources will go towards building more schools, more houses, and more hospitals. It means that these resources will go towards more ferries, more port development, more docks, and all the rest of it.

I accept all that my hon. Friend said about leaks. I can find no evidence that the leaks, which I greatly deplore, came from anyone in Her Majesty's Government. We are in a situation in which there are four separate partners, all of whom must be separately informed. The total number of people who know about that decision must be enormous. One can only speculate about the source of the leaks.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) referred to this as being a concession to Left-wing anti-Marketeers. The hon. Gentleman must know that both my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport and I are committed pro-Europeans and that the division of opinion on the Channel Tunnel project is not at all correlated with the question whether people are pro-Market or anti-Market. I give him and the Leader of the Opposition my personal assurance that this was not, in the sense that he implied, a political decision. He must accept from me that this was an economic decision. This is underlined by the statement, to which I alluded this afternoon, by the French Foreign Minister who made it clear that while he regretted this decision it would have no effect on other Anglo-French projects, or, generally, on Anglo-French negotiations or co-operation.

I hope to cover most of the points which have been raised. I shall deal with the main criticisms which have been made of the announcement which I made this afternoon. First, were we wrong on 26th November to seek a year's postponement? I am certain that we were not wrong. The timetable for the phase 2 studies and other studies was already extremely tight, in view of the fundamental reappraisal which had to be made of the Channel Tunnel project, in the light of the rate of inflation, the quadrupling of the price of oil, the prospects for slower economic growth and the slowing down in the rate of tourism.

On top of that—I am not criticising British Rail—we had the bombshell of the huge escalation of costs of the British Rail high-speed link. I believe that it had become absolutely clear that we could not, as a responsible Government, take the final phase 3 decision this summer. Therefore, it was right for us to seek an agreement with our partners to postpone that part of the decision till the summer of 1976.

When the companies rejected this, as they did, and rejected the French Government's proposals for a standstill agreement, as they did, and claimed abandonment, as they did, were we right to reject the package—a mainly non-negotiable package—which they put to us for continuing the project? I have no doubt that we were right. Financially, their proposals would have given the companies the whip hand right the way through any remaining negotiations but, even more important, they were trying to tie us to a quite impossible timetable, that by 15th March, this spring, the Government should, in effect, commit themselves to an entirely new package of proposals involving a final decision on the tunnel by October 1975. In my view, this was quite out of the question. Given the need to appraise the Cairncross studies, the revised phase 2 studies, and the alternative rail options put to us by British Rail, it was wholly inconceivable that the Government or the House would have been prepared to take a mature and responsible final decision to build before October 1975.

My next point concerns the railway specifically. It has been suggested in the Press that because British Rail is due to propose a new intermediate rail link option in two weeks' time we could have waited for that. If we are to believe the same Press reports, which are obviously accurate, the proposed so-called intermediate rail link which British Rail will put to us will still cost £100 million more than the original rail link, allowing for the change in prices—that is a comparison at constant prices—and all of that would have fallen on public expenditure when most parts of the House are urging us to control public expenditure.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)


Mr. Crosland

I shall not give way now. I think the sensible course is for a large number of Members to make short speeches.

In addition—let me emphasise this to Surrey and Kent Members of Parliament—it would take many months of continuing blight while we examined the various possible routes and alternative rail links through Kent and Surrey and the possible effects of alternative rail links on the White City at Hammersmith. There could be no question of coming to a final decision on the rail link within the timetable which the companies were seeking to persuade us to agree to.

Even though the companies have abandoned, and we have to accept that abandonment, should we have gone on negotiating with the French Government alone? My answer to that is "No", and for a fundamental reason. The negotiation would not have been in good faith. It is inconceivable, in my opinion, that the British Government, of either complexion—or the British Parliament—would agree in a few weeks or months to a 100 per cent. Government-financed project in the present economic situation and given the present constraints on public expenditure which are rightly urged on us by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

My next point is: even granted all this, was I discourteous in not meeting M. Cavaillé, the French Minister for Transport? I do not think that M. Cavaillé would suggest that I had been discourteous. In letters to him of 26th November, 6th January and 19th January I offered a meeting if he would like one, and I suggested that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport should fly to Paris last Saturday to see him. He replied that he thought no good purpose would be served by this.

It has been suggested in some French comments—not necessarily ones which one must take too tragically—that there has been some sort of betrayal involved in the Government's decision this afternoon. My answer is: nothing of the sort. We have been scrupulous in meeting our obligations so far as it lay within our power. But for the fact of two General Elections in 1974 we would have ratified the treaty by the due date of 1st January this year, and we are now acting fully within our rights according to the treaty negotiated by the previous administration. It is the companies which have claimed abandonment—not Her Majesty's Government. The Government asked for a due and sensible postponement, and that is what has been rejected by the companies.

I underline what I said this afternoon. This is in no sense placing a moral blame on the companies. They were acting wholly within their rights. Nevertheless, I emphasise what the facts of the matter are, namely, that it was the companies which gave notice of abandonment, after they had refused the proposal which initially came from the French Government and not the British Government, for a standstill agreement, for delay.

My next point concerns the 50–50 sharing of financial liability as a result of abandonment. I can understand the French Government's view that the responsibility for the present position does not lie with them. Nevertheless, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the sharing of the financial liability was explicitly laid down under the previous administration in the exchange of letters of 17th November 1973.

A number of points have been raised—rightly so—about the reaction of the French. I shall read to the House the statement—I do not know whether it has already appeared on the tape—by M. Cavaillé made at 5 p.m. United Kingdom time today. This is a translation, as is normal in these cases. [Interruption.] Well, I should like to try out my French: Le gouvernement français "— that is as far as I can go! I quote: The French Government has just learned of the statement of Mr. Crosland, the result of which is that the British Government have decided not to go ahead with the construction of the Channel Tunnel. The French Government would have wished to carry through this great enterprise in accordance with the agreements signed on 17th November 1973 with the British Government. The French Parliament, in conformity with the obligation undertaken, authorised the ratification of the Anglo-French Agreements on 16th December 1974 and the legislation was published in the Official Journal on 27th December 1974. The French Government considers that the problems faced were not insoluble and it regrets the decision to abandon the project. That is a reasonable response, I suppose. Nevertheless, hon. Members will judge for themselves how moderate or how violent a reaction they consider this to be.

I said that I would occupy only a quarter of an hour. Where are we now? The Channel Tunnel Bill will lapse. The project will be mothballed. We shall ask the Cairncross group to complete its work, partly because, in my view, it would be extremely useful to have its immediate reactions to the project but more particularly because we want its opinion on the method of assessment that has been used for this project in the event of the project's being revived at a substantially later date.

I conclude on this note. Although I am not as ardent a tunneller as is my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby, I am none the less more of a tunneller than many of my hon. Friends are, and I, personally, greatly regret that the project should end in this way. I have no doubt that what we suggested on 26th November was right, that we should seek a year's postponement for the Cairncross study, the phase 2 studies and the rail link studies, to enable us, in the summer of 1976, to take a rational and mature decision on the basis of full and proper evidence. But that has not proved possible. I could not, in all conscience, advise the House to accept the terms which the companies have put forward, and I must, therefore, reluctantly advise the House that the present project is dead.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) for initiating this debate, though I must say that it is not a wholly satisfactory way of proceeding—at this very short notice on a matter of such importance.

There are two issues which the House must decide. The first is the merits of the actual Channel Tunnel case, and whether it was right for the Government to take the action they did. Second—I think that the House ought to devote some time to this—there is the way in which Her Majesty's Government have chosen to behave during these past critical months. Whatever the merits or demerits of the case, the one thing which becomes crystal clear from the Secretary of State's words on two occasions now is that this was not the way to decide such a great issue.

I intend to speak for but a few minutes, and I shall not spend time on the merits of the Channel Tunnel scheme save to make two or three comments. First, any hon. Member who imagines that as a result of the cancellation of the project, there will suddenly become available a fount of public money for other purposes is wholly mistaken. The Secretary of State made this clear. It may well be that the result of the Government's decision will be extra public expenditure rather than less.

It will be essential—I regard it as of fundamental importance, and I hope to hear from the Minister for Transport about it—that the interests of the people of Kent should be protected. There will be those in Kent deeply affected by the extra volume of traffic thrown upon their roads, and their interests will have to be looked after by the Government in the light of the wholly new situation in which they have been put by the failure of the project to mature. We were glad to hear this afternoon that the Secretary of State intends to proceed with the M20. I strongly welcome that decision. Further action will have to be taken for Kent, and I hope that the Minister of Transport will take immediate steps to meet representatives of the Kent County Council to discuss the situation now facing them.

I believe that the very decision to go ahead with the M20 shows that not proceeding with the Channel Tunnel will not be a way of saving public money. Public money will still have to be spent. The traffic costs will still be there. As has been said elsewhere, traffic cannot be kept out by putting barbed wire round Kent. There will still be serious environmental problems and transport problems in Kent.

Second, I greatly regret the loss of the enormous opportunity in terms of expansion and profitability which would have accrued to British Rail as a result of this imaginative scheme.

Third, I hope that the Government will be able to show—with respect, the Secretary of State has not yet shown it on any occasion—that they have quantified the cost of not building the Channel Tunnel. What do they think the cost will be? I believe that the cost of not building the tunnel may well be far greater than the cost of cancellation in the first place.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have never said that we must proceed with the Channel Tunnel at any price, regardless of economic consequences. I welcomed the setting up of the Cairncross Group. All of us today have a common aim: we regard it as essential that particular attention should be given to public expenditure at this difficult time. As I say, I welcome the creation of the Cairn-cross Group so that the House, before it decided one way or another on whether to proceed with the scheme, could have a report from a properly commissioned impartial body set up by the Government for that very purpose.

I find it all the more astonishing, therefore, that the Government should have come to their decision without even waiting for the Cairncross report, the report of a study group which they themselves set up and which they themselves said would be one of the factors in the decision on whether to proceed with the tunnel.

Mr. Adley

Cairncross? Double cross.

Mr. Channon

I very much regret also—this is a serious matter—that the Government did not decide to wait for the report from British Rail on the new cost of the rail links and the suggestions which could have been put forward in the light of the Government's decision in November.

The reasons which the Secretary of State has frankly given to the House on two occasions today have not been those of public expenditure. He has not argued that. No doubt, he could not argue it because he has not waited for the Cairn-cross report. The reason which he gave for his decision, both in his statement this afternoon and in his speech this evening, has, in effect, been to throw the blame—I must use that word—for the decision upon the Channel Tunnel companies. He says, and he is right to say it, that there is no moral blame impugned or implied in his statement. We accept that, but I invite hon. Members to look at the terms of his statement this afternoon when they see it in Hansard tomorrow. It is clear in almost every sentence of the second part of it that he attacks the companies for the action they took.

The House must consider whether the companies were right in their decision in present circumstances. What was their position after November? The Government had changed their mind on several occasions. They cancelled the high-speed rail link, and they had changed their decision on a number of matters. They had not proceeded with the original date. The whole basis on which the companies had sought money from private persons and institutions to invest in this project had been changed by the Government. In the circumstances I do not consider that the House ought necessarily to think it unreasonable for the companies to say that the Government also should take account of this situation.

I do not feel that the House is necessarily the right place for us to argue the complicated merits or demerits of the detailed negotiations which must have gone on between the Government and the Channel Tunnel Company in the past few weeks, but I must remind hon. Members of what the Secretary of State said in his statement on 26th November: When I have received and considered the further phase II studies, the report of the Cairncross Group and the advice from British Rail on an alternative rail strategy, I shall report them to the House. Meanwhile, as I have repeatedly told the House, the decision on whether to proceed with phase III and build the tunnel remains completely open, and the House will have the fullest opportunity for debate before this final decision is taken."—[Official Report, 26th November 1974; Vol. 882, c. 246.] Instead of that, we have a debate after the decision has been taken, a debate in limited time, at a few hours' notice, at the instance of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby.

The right hon. Gentleman made that observation perfectly freely in the course of his statement. It was not forced out of him by supplementary questions or in answer to a snap question. It came in one of the most important parts of his statement. From the facts as they knew them al that time, what was likely to occur must have been immediately apparent to the Government. They must have known that the situation which arose on 9th January was the most probable event to take place.

If the Government thought that the companies' proposals put to them on 9th January were unsatisfactory, why did they not themselves come forward with new counter-proposals? What was unsatisfactory about the companies' proposals? Is it not a fact that they were wholly related to the agreement which had been signed by the Government and the companies? Was it not a fact also that the Government had repeatedly changed their position in the past? Was it not a fact that the Channel Tunnel Company was unable to get from the Government any protection for the shareholders who were, after all, risking their money in this situation, not even being in a position, I understand, to get from the Government an offer for the requested three months' breathing space to protect the interests of shareholders during that period? In the circumstances I cannot help wondering whether there was any alternative open to the companies but to take the action they took.

That, however, is not the main issue in this connection. The main issue, which must be crystal clear now, is that if the Government had been serious about wanting to proceed with the Channel Tunnel they could have come forward with constructive counter-proposals, in which case we should at least have seen between the Government and the companies a genuine negotiation in the public interest which would have allowed the decision to be taken not in this panic and rushed way but after we had had the full Cairncross study, after the report of British Rail and after the House had been fully acquainted with the facts of the case.

The Secretary of State must recognise that the way in which he has conducted this negotiation and the way in which the Government have handled the matter have done nothing to dampen the doubts and suspicions which surrounded the Government's attitude in this. It appears to many people inside and outside the House that the Government have seized upon a flimsy pretext for cancelling the project for reasons wholly unrelated to the overt reasons that have been given to the House.

The Secretary of State told the House on 26th November that the House would be fully consulted, that we should be given an opportunity for debate before a decision would be taken and that we should have an opportunity to reflect and consider on this whole important matter before the Government would come up with final solutions. After six weeks, in a situation which the Government created, and which was not surprising since nothing new has emerged which the Government could not have foreseen on 26th November, we are told that the Government have come to the conclusion, which breaks their original undertaking, to abandon the whole project.

It is my contention that the Government's handling of this situation has been such that they have not done their best by the country, they have not done their best by the House of Commons since they have broken a clear undertaking given to it, they have not done their best by the companies, and they have not done their best by the people of this country who wanted a rational and informed decision on whether or not to proceed. It is a sad day for Parliament that it should have been treated in this way on a decision of this kind.

For that reason I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to show in the only way open to them their disapproval of the way the Government have handled the matter.

7.43 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

I intend to be rather critical of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, yet expressing sympathy for him in what not only I but many hon. Members might regard as a situation in which he finds himself as the Devil's advocate. It seems to me, having heard the speeches he has made and having studied the history of his statements and his past attitude, that he is not entirely in support of what he is advocating. I recognise that this is a question of collective responsibility, and, therefore, the criticisms which I shall make are levelled not at him as an individual but at the people who have collectively, and in a majority sense, taken the decision.

I accept my right hon. Friend's points in his initial statement which were critical of some of the commercial interests and dealt with the pressures these interests have tried to exert on the Government. Like the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), I tend to think that the reasons put forward are more excuses than facts, and I believe that view is shared by many right hon. and hon. Members. The tragedy for the people of this country is that once again social and environmental considerations are being sacrificed for economic interests.

I should have thought that we had learned our lesson from the past but it would appear that memories are very short and we soon forget situations which develop. My right hon. Friend's justification for his decision—and I think that he will accept this—is confined mainly to the costs involved. Like the hon. Member for Southend, West, I have reflected on the report in Hansard on 26th November and on the points which were raised then. Apart from the financial considerations, there are many other factors which the House should have the opportunity of considering. For instance, has my right hon. Friend considered the loss to the community in respect of speed, comfort, the reduction of hazards and the energy problem, which we were discussing earlier today? Has he thought about the environmental questions, because there was a reference earlier to the joy which would be felt by many people at the decision? Reports in the Press suggest that as a result of today's decision there will be bonfires in celebration. Popularity is a good friend but a hard taskmaster, and the bonfires in the not-too-distant future may turn into funeral pyres because of the number of people who suffer environmentally because the tunnel is not built, a number far in excess of those who will benefit.

Some of the critics of the tunnel ask why there should be only one outlet to the Continent when there is a series of ports all along our coast, but if we cancel the tunnel what is the alternative? My right hon. Friend believes that these ports will have to be developed. Have we seriously considered the cost of developing these complexes to the point where they can cope with the volume of traffic which will increasingly demand access to the Continent, and the roads in England which will give access to these port complexes? The cost of this will be fantastic and the environmental effects tragic. The Government will come to regret the day this decision was made.

I speak as one who is concerned about the environment, the economic situation and the railway industry. We need a railway industry if we are to survive and if we are to retain the quality of life which most of the people in Britain require. This is a tragic blow for that industry. It undermines its confidence and the confidence of those employed in it.

In his statement earlier my right hon. Friend used the term "abandonment". In the course of subsequent replies to supplementary questions that was watered down to suggest that this might only be deferment. However, that is not a situation which can exist. We have to have a clear understanding about where we stand. On 26th November I and a number of other hon. Members asked the questions which covered the points which have been made. My right hon. Friend said on that occasion in reply to a question about whether a formal public inquiry should be set up: This is a subject on which the final decision can be taken in only one place, and that is in Parliament I agree with the hon. Member for Southend, West that the decision flouts the authority of Parliament and ignores the assurances which were given previously. On that occasion I asked for an assurance, which I thought subsequently I had obtained, that before a final decision was made the House would have the opportunity of considering the cost of the alternative to the Channel Tunnel. I felt that my right hon. Friend was sympathetic and that this was something which should be done, because he said: What we are asked to decide, and what Parliament must eventually decide, is which is the cheaper method of carrying across the Channel the inevitable increase in traffic. He went on: Is it to be the Channel Tunnel or is to be the heavy alternative transport investment in ships, hovercraft, port facilities and the rest, which would certainly be incurred by the country if we were not to have the tunnel."—[Official Report, 26th November 1974; Vol. 882, c. 248–9.] There has been no mention today of what these alternative costs will be not only in financial but in environmental terms.

I thought that my right hon. Friend and the Government had made it clear that before rushing madly into this sort of situation they would listen to the report of the Cairncross Committee. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give British Rail an opportunity to produce a viable transport scheme which will be to its benefit and to the benefit of the country in the future.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I go a long way with the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) when he points out that many more people will suffer from environmental discomfort as a result of the decision. Some hundreds of people would have suffered from the high-speed rail link; some thousands—maybe many thousands—will suffer from the discomfort of the new motorways and, lamentably, the new non-motorways of Kent. There are some roads in the county with a B classification of which the Minister washes his hands, saying that they are a county council responsibility, yet there are roads with that classification carrying a heavier load of traffic than the M40. With the abandonment of the tunnel these B classified roads will carry still more traffic.

It is perhaps good news for some of us in some parts of Kent that the Minister intends to proceed with the M20 and M2. But will they be extensions towards London as well as towards the sea? Are these roads to be extended properly, or will their existing western terminal points be left untouched for another generation?

This is a sad day for Kent, because we are losing a considerable volume of employment. I know that hon. Members from other parts of the country feel that the South-East is an area of affluence and full employment. They must be reminded that Kent is a peninsula, and that a man who lives in Kent can go only to London or the centre of the county to obtain new employment, whereas a man who lives with land instead of sea all round him can go in any direction for a new job. Therefore, new jobs are scarcer in Kent than elsewhere.

We are losing about 230 jobs on the tunnel itself and work at Ashford in building the segments for the tunnel and at Gravesend for repeat tunnel digging machines. Tunnel technology is a great part of British technology. It is not high-speed Benn technology, but sound, down-to-earth, under-the-sea technology, the sort of stuff that could have sold well all over the world. It is to be put in mothballs before it has even been turned over once. What a tragedy, both for employment in our county and for British technology! I do not believe that the Secretary of State has been entirely honest with the House in seeking to put the blame upon the companies. I want to make one or two clear points from what the companies have said as opposed to what the Secretary of State has said. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the package that the companies offered, implying that there was just one package. By contrast, the companies say: The British and French Channel Tunnel Companies have made proposals to the Governments which would have allowed work on the Channel Tunnel to continue. These included proposals which would shorten Phase II, complete Phase II, or prolong Phase II by a year in response to the British Government's request. Those are three possibilities for a start, so nobody can claim that what was offered was a package. The Secretary of State has not made it clear to the House that the companies presented the Government with alternatives to consider.

In a statement issued after the Secretary of State's statement this afternoon, the companies say: Since November the Companies have been discussing with the Governments ways in which the project might be continued and put forward a number of constructive proposals. Unfortunately, the British Government has been unable to accept these proposals with the result that the two companies are obliged to purchase within sixty days the shares and so on. The Secretary of State should have said that more than one proposal was put to him. The Minister for Transport might care to comment.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

We proposed to all our partners that what was necessary in the first instance was to get an extension of the ratification date from 31st December. We should have been happy if we could have obtained a protocol to extend that date to keep the options open while negotiations went on. But that accommodation was not forthcoming. We were quite happy to talk about dates and so on. The dates would have been in the hands of Parliament, but the companies laid down that, apart from a general programme which we could have negotiated by 15th March, they wanted in effect a decision on the tunnel by October of this year, because we would not have come to the House with yet another Bill without the House having come to a decision about the tunnel at least in principle.

The companies have the right to withdraw capital if they wish by 22nd March, with the premia written into the agreement. The most difficult matter was that they wanted to extend that so that at any time during the negotiations if they thought fit, or at any time before the main construction started, they had the right to withdraw their capital with substantial premia. That would have necessitated a substantial re-writing of all the agreements, and would have re-opened the whole question.

It was made absolutely clear to us on 9th January that the terms about the premia were not negotiable. The companies said that there was no point in going on to the other matters unless we accepted the re-writing of the agreements in that way.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for repeating in different words what the Secretary of State said. He must remember that there were many completely new shareholders who had come into the project, putting up about £8 million, as a result of the prospectus. The boards of directors of the companies would have been failing in their duty to their shareholders if they had not sought to protect their interests. Those new shareholders had come in on a prospectus with a break period, as it were. If the Government reneged on their decision, which they have done, that was the only time when the boards of directors could protect their shareholders. I am speaking not about the historic shareholders, who knew all along the risks they were taking, but the new shareholders who came in only from the beginning of phase 2. It is not unreasonable that they should be properly protected, with or without a premium. Obviously, the premium was what the boards of directors felt was the proper protection for their new share holders. That seems to me not unreasonable.

Mr. Mulley

It was for these reasons that the Secretary of State said that he did not blame the companies for protecting their shareholders. What the hon. Gentleman has not made clear is that, as well as protecting them in the current situation, they were seeking a new protection of premia at any time, even if the companies pulled out of the project, a protection which does not exist in the projected treaty.

Mr. Wells

But the Minister must realise that the Government's going back last autumn on the high-speed rail route had completely altered the situation from the companies' point of view. There had been a complete change, and, as the new shareholders had been invited to join, it was not unreasonable of the directors to protect them. Trade unions with which Labour Members are associated may well have been among the investors concerned. It is very likely that they were, and I should not be surprised if they wanted to be protected.

We should not get bogged down on this point, but I believe that the Secretary of State was less than fair to the House in not coming clean about it at the beginning.

I return to discussion of the merits of the case. We had in the tunnel a great British technological opportunity, at an admittedly high cost but a cost with no replacement. All the ships and ports and other facilities, particularly the hovercraft, which is so often broken down when one wants to use it, have to be replaced. The costs of replacement or of modernisation or of alteration of these facilities will be very high. As every hon. Member who has spoken so far has told us, there has been no costing of the alternatives to abandonment.

Four specific classes of people will suffer. First, the people of Kent who live in rural areas away from the railway will suffer because of the roads. Secondly, the people who live alongside the existing mid-Kent line will suffer through increased usage of that line. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us how much greater the usage of the line has been in each year of the last five. The fact is that the line has stepped up in usage every summer. It has never slipped back in usage.

The third group will be those who suffer from the employment point of view. Fourthly, the nation as a whole will suffer from the loss of this technology to exports.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)


Mr. Wells

The hon. Gentleman should go to Gravesend and ask the workers there. They will tell him that it is not rubbish.

Mr. Cohen

Or to Ashford.

Mr. Wells

Plenty of opportunities are now being thrown away. There is no doubt, as every other hon. Member who has spoken has pointed out, that we are losing out in the long term. Therefore, I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends and other supporters of the tunnel project will appear in the right Lobby this evening.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. Many hon. Members are anxious to take part in the debate—in my opinion, with every justification—and I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to make their speeches as brief as possible. If they do, I should be able to accommodate all those who have signified their wish to take part.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I welcome the statement made today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. As is well known, I have been a keen opponent of this project. I am also a member of the National Union of Seamen, which clearly has an interest in shipping, although my arguments, as hon. Members will know from my speeches, have been largely based on the economic aspect. I have constantly questioned the economic viability of the project.

My right hon. Friend's statement will be welcomed in the regions, particularly the under-developed regions, and in the ports themselves, including Hull, and by seamen in Dover, because of the consequential effects. I want to consider the consequences of the decision and put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport some questions to which I hope the Department will address itself. The consequences of the decision are of tremendous importance to our transport industries, and I want to look at some of the alternatives available to us, following cancellation of the tunnel project.

Obviously, in the crossing of the Channel shipping and hovercraft facilities are of vast importance. In large measure these facilities are provided by nationalised industries, particularly British Rail. The consultants' report on the tunnel contained estimates of future shipping prospects if the tunnel was built and if it was not built. It pointed out that if we did not build the tunnel, 40 new vessels would be needed by 1980 and 60 by 1990. In 1973 terms, the investment would total £51 million and £97 million respectively. All that would mean considerable work also for our shipyards, most of which are in under-developed areas.

British Rail management has been mesmerised by the tunnel. Most of its investment decisions of the last few years have been made in the light of the tunnel. That is particularly true of its shipping services, including hovercraft. Because of the tunnel project, there has been lack of adequate investment by British Rail in its shipping and hovercraft facilities. This has allowed its major private competitors to develop to such an extent that, now that the tunnel is cancelled, British Rail will find itself at a major disadvantage compared with the private sector, which has gone ahead with investment in new vessels and new hovercraft.

Last year the report of the Monopolies Commission on Channel shipping showed that British Rail ships were twice as old on average as those of the private sector—10 years compared with five. New types of vessel and the technology involved in modern shipping facilities are giving a tremendous advantage to the private sector. Further expansion and boom will take place now in shipping investment. This is particularly so with hovercraft, which British Rail, to its great credit, innovated. But it is now being outpaced by the private sector because of its lack of investment in hovercraft, largely because of its desire for the Channel Tunnel at the expense of all other things.

British Rail thus faces tremendous problems of investment, particularly in shipping. The management decision was to concentrate on the tunnel area and the tunnel services, and this has been reflected in shipping policy. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and I visited the port of Heysham, where British Rail is to close down its passenger Belfast-Heysham service, handing the traffic over lock, stock and barrel to the private sector, primarily because it would not invest in shipping. It has made agreements with private shipping concerns much to its own disadvantage. My right hon. Friend should look into the question of the Heysham services following the decision to cancel the tunnel and correct the situation by allowing cross-subsidisation. He should do so with regard to the rest of British Rail's shipping services as well.

A Select Committee is looking at these problems, so I will not go into detail about them. I will merely press upon my right hon. Friend the need to have an urgent review of all the shipping services available. The Department should consider the expansion of our shipping facilities and how this may be done in order that the nationalised industries are not disadvantaged by legislation or tax advantages to private shipping. My right hon. Friend must allow them to make more investment now to meet the challenges that will arise in the next 10 years.

The criticisms I have been making have been largely of management decisions. It has always been difficult to make estimates in relation to the Channel Tunnel. Some have made estimates, while others have preferred not to. For the moment the Government's decision rests. However, it is felt by many that this matter will be resurrected in some 10 or 15 years. At the moment it appears that a decision has been taken.

What I wish to draw to the attention to the House is the management qualities of British Rail. My right hon. Friend referred to the costs of the British Rail link. He referred to the bombshell when it was shown that the estimate of £120 million for the rail link had increased to £360 million within 12 months. That would have meant £500 million for a rail link in 1980. I am working on the basis that the figures change within 12 months. That would have been the approximate cost.

How can any organisation when considering such a major investment make such a gross and stupid mistake in the costings? It is a matter that the French find hard to understand, and it is something that the House must also find difficult to understand. Indeed freightliner costing has closed the Hull-Liverpool link. I suspect the management qualities of British Rail. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend may be considering Mr. Marsh's contract and terminating it, if not sacking Mr. Marsh.

Railwaymen are sick of having generals, businessmen and politicians playing railwaymen. They would like to see real railwaymen who have a faith in the railway industry taking part in an integrated transport system. What I have been trying to emphasise is that an integrated transport policy is essential in view of the fundamental transport decision that has been taken. Clearly, British Rail must have more of the share of the traffic. We must utilise our rail system to the full because the congestion on the roads will be greater.

I appeal again to my right hon. Friend to consider the introduction of quantity licensing so that long-distance road traffic can be taken from the roads and put on to the rails. That is essential. I hope that my right hon. Friend is conducting an urgent review of an integrated transport system in view of this major change in our transportation network. Quantity licensing should be considered in that review and our shipping services should be considered as a crucial link. There should be major investment in that direction. I also hope that the management of British Rail will be given a damned good shaking up.

8.12 p.m.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

I agree with the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). My agreement with the hon. Gentleman will save me some time. I promise to be brief.

When I cast my mind back a long time I can remember, as a university student, having to write an essay called, "The southern drift of industry". The question that we had to answer was, what should be done about the drift? If it was a problem those many years ago—we were asked to deal with the problem of centralisation in the South-East—it is clear that the problem has grown to mammoth proportions. It affects the quality of life of people living in the South-East in all manner of ways. We often hear about the problems of overcrowded roads, pollution and the bad effects on water and the length of time involved in travelling.

If the Channel Tunnel project had gone ahead the effects of centralisation would have been carried to absurd lengths. It is my party's belief that one of the reasons for there being 12 SNP Members as opposed to a lower number is that when people in Scotland hear about the attention paid to such projects, which in their view have nothing to do with an integrated transport system, they have doubts about their representation.

I believe that today we all received a copy of a pamphlet entitled "Britain's Road Progress". I do not think that I was singled out for special attention. It is one of the best pieces of propaganda that the SNP has ever produced. Scotland has the lowest number of motorway miles in Europe. The A9 is a disgraceful road. I keep on writing to the Prime Minister asking him to travel on the A9 for his education. The road is a farce. It is an A road on which English tourists lose their way because they cannot imagine that it is an A road. The result is that they keep turning off it to look for the A road. The A9 takes heavy traffic and it is the link to the so-called oil-related development.

The Scottish people see most of their country cut off from trains of any kind. The old rolling stock is dumped on us for the few trains that run in Scotland. Hardly any sea links are left. We can fly direct from Scotland to only a few places. It is from that point of view that we regard the dropping of the Channel Tunnel as a welcome decision. We take that view on behalf of people who care about an integrated transport system. We also have doubts about the economic viability of the tunnel. They have already been mentioned. I shall not rehearse that point.

My party has a much better alternative to the Channel Tunnel, namely, an ocean span. As far as I know, that is not a matter that has been debated in the House, but it is one that is well known to Scottish Members. An excellent report was produced after years of study by the Scottish Council concerned with development and industry. The brief concept is that the narrow neck of land between the two great Scottish coastlines is unique and that the deep water on the west of Scotland would make a natural gateway to Europe. Containerisation could take place and the great ships of the world could easily go into the deep water of the Clyde. Its rocky bottom would mean that no heavy dredging would be required. That is a sensible proposition from the point of view of the whole of the British Isles. I commend it to the House as a much more sensible type of study for our great modern technology.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I speak as one who opposed the Channel Tunnel project from its inception. I convey to my right hon. Friend that none of us who opposed the project throughout feels tonight any smugness or self-satisfaction. We realise that many serious economic planning issues have been raised by the Government's handling of the project. We also realise that many issues of a highly technical nature were involved in the collaboration that took place between Great Britain and France. Such issues have also been raised by the Government's handling of the problem. It is with a note of concern rather than with a note of smug self-satisfaction that I speak tonight.

I do not speak as any kind of technological Luddite. I have always argued instead that, this being a country with a serious economic situation, it would be wrong to devote the resources involved in the Channel Tunnel project as a matter of the utmost priority and to let the project take precedence over industry, housing, poor schools and various other matters that the country so desperately needs. I have argued that such a priority for this country is wrong at this time.

I commend to the House the excellent contribution that was made in today's Times Business News by Hugh Stephenson. It exposes some of the myths which have been built up about the tunnel. We have been told that we have to have new investment in cross-Channel facilities. I praise the eloquence with which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) put forward that argument. But we must accept that throughout the year there is about 75 per cent. excess capacity on the basis of the existing services. I would have thought that when we have throughout the year that kind of excess capacity, and when 25 per cent. of the traffic crossing the Channel does so within a period of about 20 days, there is an argument not for building another fixed link but for re-arranging the present fares structure.

When we consider the feasibility of price reductions as revealed by the Monopolies Commission, I believe that the Government would have been far more sensible and correct if they had devoted their energies to carrying out the commission's recommendations rather than planning yet another fixed link. We have been told by various quarters that the cost will not be that great, and particularly not to public funds. Of course, we have seen the escalation of the cost of the rail link. The cost to public funds of the rail link plus the public guarantee could have been quite sizeable. I suggest that before this project was through we should have been asked to consider in resources terms a project that would have been analogous to the Maplin airport and seaport scheme, a project analogous to the London motorway box. The House would have been asked to sanction a project that would have totalled about £2,000 million of resources.

On top of that, there is the railway link. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has echoed sentiments about rail management with which I entirely agree. He knows, as many others of us who have studied this project throughout know, that British Rail had to be told to get interested in the Channel Tunnel, that orginally British Rail was not keen on the tunnel and had to be told from other quarters to become keen. So backward and so incompetent was the management of British Rail that British Rail was almost under orders to get involved and to get keen about this project. That is how forthcoming rail management was about this project until it was prodded.

Looking in retrospect at the resources cost of the project, what also worries me is the fact that Rio Tinto Zinc and all those others with that rather incestuous relationship with Rio Tinto Zinc made their cost projections on an assumption of an annual rate of inflation of 5 per cent. How can we possibly calculate the cost of a project like this on an assumption of an annual rate of inflation of 5 per cent. when even the National Institute in its most optimistic moments does not go below a rate of 25 or 26 per cent.?

This project was calculated on the assumption that the exchange rate of the pound would stay stable. It was calculated on the assumption that interest rates would go down. It was calculated on the assumption that the geology would not change. It was calculated on the assumption that the design specifications would not change. There are so many lessons that the Government must learn from Rio Tinto Zinc and the others in the handling of this project.

But perhaps we should not chastise Rio Tinto Zinc and the others too much, because they openly admitted to all and sundry that their real motive was not to benefit the railway and not to benefit the environment. The real motive of Rio Tinto Zinc and S.G. Warburg and all the other bankers who dominated the Channel Tunnel Company was to make money. The trouble is that an administration in the past was foolish enough to give them a guarantee that it would try to encourage them to make money. Let us be frank about this: the main promoters of this project, in all the intricate relations among themselves, were concerned to make money, to make a profit.

I cannot see how my hon. Friends can argue that this project would have been beneficial to the environment or the railway system when 80 per cent. of the revenue from it would have come from holidaymakers using their cars. It was even calculated that 75 per cent. of the holidaymakers using their cars would be willing to pay 42 per cent. more for the possibility of saving half an hour crossing the Channel. How could we possibly claim that British Rail would benefit when British Rail had only a 4.7 per cent. stake in the tunnel operating company alongside the 50 or 60 per cent. stake that the merchant banks had?

Then there is the fact that the British Government had already signed a treaty with the French to say that the British Channel Tunnel Operating Authority and the joint operating authority would not be allowed to discriminate in favour of the railways. It stands to reason that, with Rio Tinto Zinc and all those other people pushing to make money, the operating authority would concentrate on where it could most make money; namely, carrying holidaymakers with their cars on this gigantic underwater turnpike.

If my hon. Friends think that some kind of road/rail freight switch would have occurred with this project, they must know that the main expansion in freight-carrying capacity to the Continent is happening not between Dover and Dunkirk or between Folkestone and Calais, but from the East Coast ports. When one recognises that Continental rail traffic would not have been able to go any further than London and when one sees the Paddock Wood development by Transfesa, it is clear that with the Channel Tunnel Kent would have become nothing but a gigantic lorry park. Environmentally, the south-east of the country will gain from the cancellation of the tunnel.

The only way in which we can get a shift from road to rail in this country and the only way in which the financial and freight-carrying performance and capacity of British Rail will be improved is by changing the transport policy of the country. That is why the Labour Party is committed to a policy of co-ordinated and integrated transport investment. I do not think that quantity licensing will do a damned thing.

This is a resources argument. We are told that the Channel Tunnel would have taken up only 0.3 per cent. of our gross national product in resources. The trouble is that everything we debate in the House would take up only 0.3 per cent. of our national resources. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) because I believe that if we had started on phase II of the project we should not have seen a bypass or a house or a hospital completed in the south-east of England, because we should not have been able to get the labour, or the contractors, or the equipment. That, too, is a resources commitment that the project would have made.

I hope that the breathing space that we now have will enable the Government to examine afresh all their expenditure. I hope that the breathing space will enable the Government to plan afresh for the diversion of these resources into industry, houses, hospitals and schools. I hope that the breathing space will enable the Government to take stock and bring about the kind of Socialist order of priorities that the country needs.

8.27 p.m.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I shall respect the Chair's wish for short speeches.

The Secretary of State did the best he could to answer the damaging and able attack by his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), but he did not do well enough. This is a bad day for the House of Commons, because the Government have flouted their undertaking that we should be consulted before a final decision was taken.

It is a bad day for the people who believe in the competence and audacity of British engineering. It is a bad day for people who believe in the reinstatement of the railways as the major long-term carriers of heavy goods. It is a bad day for people who believe in general in the modernisation of British industry by ambitious investment. It is a bad day for people who believe in the necessity for closer economic integration with the Continent, whether by a free trade area or through the Treaty of Rome. It is a very bad day for people who care about the value of Britain's word in commercial undertakings.

The public has, I know, been concerned about certain details of the Channel Tunnel scheme. Many must have wondered whether the particular arrangements with the companies matched the needs of 1975. As the representative of Kensington, I have become convinced that a great deal more thought was needed about the proposals for a terminal at the White City. But these were problems that could have been overcome.

The Government have said very little to the House about the alternatives, and the public are bound to wonder whether this decision will mean more juggernauts, more delays, more investment in secondary projects, more unnecessary expenditure—and Britain becoming obsolete. The Secretary of State said that this was an economic decision. Certainly that is the reason for the panic action that the Government have taken.

But Britain's chronic weakness is the timidity of our investment, both public and private, over many years. How will this decision help?

Many people have listed the Channel Tunnel among what they call white elephants, such as Maplin. I have always felt that the tunnel is in a quite different category, because the traffic is already there; it can be seen to exist and to be expanding. We have to ask whether this is a sample of the way in which the Government intend to solve our economic weakness. We have read a lot about the Healey plan and the approach to the International Monetary Fund. The Government are planning to pile debt on debt by their recycling of petro-dollars. But they will only be able to borrow on terms.

I cannot help wondering whether this sudden announcement, so soon after the Chancellor's return from Washington, means that the Channel Tunnel has had to be offered up on the altar of the International Monetary Fund. Some hon. Members on the Government side may not recall the fuss there was in this House from their own benches when the IMF began to investigate their Government's investment projects in the 1960s. But they have all that coming again. It is ahead of us now. If they are to depend on borrowing from international institutions they will have to do what the officials of those institutions think is right. Cutting major investment projects may well be one of the things which has been dictated to the Government.

The Secretary of State leaves us with this question: is he the sort of man who is prepared to stand by the things in which he believes? I am afraid that the way in which he has tackled this decision does not give me confidence in him. We know that he is a committed European. We know that he has believed in and fought for this project. Yet he now seems so read to abandon it, so suddenly. It is not enough to hint, as he did, that it might be revived later. If he believes in the tunnel but has lost his battle, his proper course is to resign.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I am relatively pleased with what I heard on television and radio over the weekend. That is not to say that I was listening-in every half hour. I was against the tunnel principally, because of the resources question, which has been adequately covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). Notwithstanding what my right hon. Friend had to say, I am certain that the transfer, or release of resources will, perhaps not marginally, assist him in his other great task, which I know he wants to begin as quickly as possibly, namely, the building of more houses and the releasing of resources to meet other social needs.

Even though we do not want to overstress that argument, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that this marginal shift of resources is bound to help. I am relatively pleased with the decision because it will, marginally, shift the regional imbalance. Again, that is not to say that we should over-egg this particular pudding, because it will be extremely marginal. In government, as in most other things, it is the marginal shifts which are the most important and significant. It is rare, in any strata of society, to get a fundamental shift. Most of the changes that occur are marginal, even if it is a miners' strike bringing down the previous Government. At the beginning the decision is marginal.

I have been an anti-Marketeer from the outset, unlike some hon. and right hon. Members who tend to use the European argument according to the prospects of job preservation or job improvement, and so on. While my anti-Market views have not become interwoven with prejudice they have influenced my thinking just a little. To that extent I am pleased with what my right hon. Friend has had to say.

The most important point about the tunnel was that it would have been a private venture. That does not mean that it would not have been using vast amounts of taxpayers' money. It would have used a lot of such money, seemingly without any accountability.

Mr. Ogden


Mr. Skinner

We have not got much time. My hon. Friend has had a fair crack of the whip. He knows much better than I do the people who would benefit. I have never seen any of them. I believe that this decision helps back benchers. I well recall that during the period of this Government we were engaged in a batle to establish a position on the Channel Tunnel and obtain its cancellation as quickly as possible. At that time we were beginning to realise that in the mind of the Secretary of State and in the minds of several prominent members of the Government there was a degree of hesitancy. Therefore, it needed a push, and some of us were prepared to push reasonably hard.

The Guardian compiled a list of Members of Parliament—it did not include me—who were elected at the February and October elections and who had had the gall to vote against the Government on this matter. Perhaps that newspaper will record tomorrow that those Members who decided to take their parliamentary lives into their hands should get some credit for rescuing my right hon. Friend and his colleagues from the collective responsibility which was creating more than a small degree of disturbance in their minds.

It is perhaps disturbing that this matter was decided in an almost continental fashion over the weekend. However, those Members who go into the other Lobby tonight had better bear in mind that this is the way in which such matters are decided on the Continent. If the British people are brainwashed and a lot of money is lavished this year on propaganda to keep this country in the Common Market—I hesitate to anticipate the result—hon. Members had better get used to less consultation and more continental-style methods of announcing decisions, because the Ministers will take charge from beginning to end.

The erstwhile leader of the Scottish National Party—the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing)—said that the pathway to Europe would be through Scotland and not the Channel Tunnel. I hope that the Scottish nationalists and, perhaps more important, the whole of the Scottish nation will bear that sentence in mind, among all the trivia which the hon. Lady spoke. She is not as anti-European as most of us thought.

I welcome the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—[HON. MEMBERS: "Relatively."]—relatively. They were a shade better than the remarks which he made on the Clay Cross question.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. John Moore (Croydon, Central)

I am sure that the House will be happy if I do not endeavour to continue the lecture which members of the Parliamentary Labour Party obviously have had on many occasions. My colleagues do not need such dissertations, although I am excited to know that I am in the company of another ardent pro-European.

Since becoming a Member, I have been intimately concerned with the Channel Tunnel project. It is a vital constituency matter for me. I became a Member with the belief, and I still believe, that at some stage in our history we should have a land link with the Continent. However, properly, I have to take cognisance of the views of my constituents.

I was a particularly ardent attender of the meetings of the Standing Committee and I became increasingly distressed at the extraordinary lack of thoroughness in the work preparations behind the basic statistics for the rail link. It would be almost tragic for us as a society to embark on a similar national project in the future on the basis of such appallingly badly researched work. At our final meetings in July we were still discussing the link in terms of £120 million. It is destructive to democracy to discuss the matter on that basis and to be told on 26th November that £373 million was not adequate in terms of certain environmental factors relating, for example, to my constituency.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State is to allow the Cairncross Committee to finish its work. It seemed as it in the Standing Committee the sensible attitudes of my constituents were being propagated and that there was a prospect that the citizens of Croydon would not have their houses torn down in the course of the construction of the tunnel. I hope that the Cairncross Committee's report will eventually vindicate the citizens of Croydon.

There is another major facet which needs attention and study for the future. As a newcomer, I found in studying and debating the Bill that there were extraordinary complexities in hybridity. My constituents have suffered from the complexity that surrounds the Land Compensation Act 1973 in its relationship to nationalised industries. New Clause 6 moved in the Standing Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) merits further attention.

On the basis of the cost that even now has not finally emerged, my view is that in our current economic state the project is not commercially viable. The £373 million which has been mentioned for the link is not the final figure. We must remember that funds would have to be raised for the project, funds which would probably be taken away from other social projects. I do not see how the Government could recommend such tax-raising at this juncture in our history.

The worst possible outcome would have been postponement. My constituents, and the constituents of other hon. Members through whose area the link was likely to run, would have been more gravely affected if no decision had been announced. I congratulate the Minister on making a decision now. I trust that the decision will have the effect of removing the blight from which my constituents suffer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be more emphatic in his final comments than he was in answering questions on his statement. His anwers to some questions might have the effect of creating permanent blight. I hope that he will make his and the Government's attitude slightly more emphatic.

Mr. Crosland

May I make quite clear on the question of blight that there is no possibility of the project being revised within a time scale which could conceivably allow the blight problem to continue.

Mr. Moore

I thank the Secretary of State for that comment. Those who are on the route of the Channel Tunnel will now be fully aware of the emphatic nature of his final remarks.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I declare my interest as a member of the National Union of Railwaymen and Secretary of the All-Party Committee on the Channel Tunnel.

I wish to make clear at the beginning of my remarks that I disagree with my right hon. Friend's decision to cancel the Channel Tunnel project. However, I was grateful for his contribution to this debate, which was certainly much less flippant than his attitude earlier this afternoon, when he seemed to be more interested in the prospect of convolutions of view within the Tribune Group than in attempting to answer the questions which were put to him from various parts of the House. Perhaps I should inform him that the next meeting of the Tribune Group will be held on Monday next at 4.15 p.m. I am sure that its members will welcome the right hon. Gentleman, as I hope they will welcome me to that meeting.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) appeared to take the view that the Secretary of State for the Environment was blaming the Channel Tunnel companies for the cancellation of the project. Having heard the statement made by the Secretary of State on 11th November, I do not see why the hon. Member should be surprised at the situation in respect of those companies. However, does he think that the situation has altered significantly since 11th November in such a way as to bring forward the bombshell of today's announcement? I hold no shares in any of the private companies, but I do not find it surprising that private companies are not prepared to accept what seems to be a never-ending saga of delay and indecision by the Government.

I take a different view from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen), who absolved from blame my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Transport. Having heard both of my right hon. Friends on this topic over the past year or so, I have taken the view that they approach this project with the enthusiasm of a couple of Trappist monks advocating birth control. They have done their best to denigrate the feasibility of the project on every occasion, both at meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party and on the Floor of the House.

I do not blame the private companies for deciding that enough is enough. Perhaps we should look at the question of alternative investment before blithely accepting the decision about cancellation. Some of my hon. Friends are the first to complain when Ministers agree to matters without prior consultation with the House or their own political party, yet this afternoon they appeared to greet my right hon. Friend's announcement with delight. They cannot have it both ways. Either there is consultation in the House or in the ranks of the Labour Party or Conservative Party, or there is no consultation. It is all very well to greet with delight a decision made out of the blue—even though news of it has been leaked over the weekend—but there are other considerations to be borne in mind.

On the question of an alternative, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said that £60 million would be required by British Rail's Shipping Division alone between 1975 and 1980. The Shipping Division is a comparativey minor company in terms of cross-Channel activity. A great deal of extra investment will be needed in the privately-owned companies. Anybody who has examined the balance sheets of the privately-owned companies or has read the minutes of the Channel Tunnel Committee will realise that the British taxpayer will have to pay for new investment because the private companies are too shrewd to pay British tax.

One in particular—I think it is the largest in the cross-Channel business—is European Ferries, which was advertising in the newspapers over the weekend and in the share tip columns that these were the shares to buy, and that with more than 200 shares one could have half-price travel to the Continent. This is the sort of company that today's decision will benefit.

The roll-on roll-off car ferry business across the Channel is increasing all the time. There was an increase of 20 per cent. in 1974 and all the indications are that it will continue to increase in the future. Surely this is the very business that would be captured by the railway industry with the Channel Tunnel link. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) has returned to the Chamber, because I find it surprising that he cannot understand the fact that the roll-on roll-off business could so easily be attracted by a through rail communication to the Continent.

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), who has left the Chamber, made one or two points about the Scottish transport system and Scottish railway men. I wonder whether she bothered to consult the Glasgow and West Scotland District Council of the NUR—which could tell her a few things about integrated transport and the railway industry—before she criticised the Channel Tunnel so bitterly, because it is quite apparent that she is badly in need of some advice.

The freightliner network in this country, as we have recently heard, is being run down. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) raised the question of the Hull-Liverpool freightliner service before Christmas. It is a fact that freightliners are not particularly competitive over compartively short distances. Here was an opportunity for freightliner services all over Great Britain, including Scotland—and there are depots there—to have through links to the Continent. It was a prime opportunity for removing heavy lorries from the roads of England, and Kent in particular, which are cursed with them at present. I have listened over the past year to objections to the high-speed rail link, and now the latest British Rail proposals. I wonder whether some of the people who have been active behind the scenes in promoting the justifiable fears of the residents are not more interested in seeing the railway link cut out of the project. Even if the high-speed railway link were used to its maximum capacity, the adjacent residents would hear nothing for 50 minutes in every hour.

In my constituency I have two motorways and a main line railway link. There are also the largest marshalling sidings in the Midlands—at Bescot. I would willingly show any hon. Member a thick file of correspondence on complaints about motorway noise, but I have yet to receive one letter of complaint about noise from the railway link.

I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not have reason to regret the decision when the motorway planners come forward, as they surely will, with their proposals to take away the expected growth in traffic. The excuse will once more be trotted forth that this is the only way of removing heavy traffic from towns. I hope that hon. Members will not have cause to regret what is being done today.

There were many potential benefits to British Rail arising directly out of the tunnel. Despite the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, the White Paper issued by the previous Conservative Government listed the benefits. Given the time situation, I shall not repeat them tonight, but they included the growth in passenger traffic and motor-rail traffic and, above all, in freight.

Had the previous Conservative Government still been in office we might well have ended up with the worst of both worlds. They were determined to have a Channel tunnel. I very much doubt whether, under the original proposals, we would have had any sort of railway link. I am sure that would have been the worst of both worlds. Moreover, to see this project destroyed tonight for the benefit of very marginal, short-term financial gain would be disgraceful.

I have listened to speeches dealing with the use of resources. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in one of his accurate, factual and passionate statements, mentioned that he would prefer to see the construction of houses, hospitals, schools and other such buildings, of which this country is so short. I agree that one cannot have it both ways.

One would think, listening to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, that the building industry was working flat out now and that we would be diverting resources from eminently worthwhile projects.

We know that the building industry is the latest of the lame ducks in the queue for a public hand-out. Let us have no nonsense about diverting resources which could be used elsewhere. We would not be doing that. These resources are very much under-utilised now and will be so in the future.

The management of British Rail has received its share of hidings in this debate. Far be it from me to seek to defend it. I subscribe to the view that the top management of British Rail would be hard put to run a prosperous chip shop, let alone manage the railway industry.

However, on the question of the high-speed rail link, it is fair to British Rail to point out that the line of route, the amount of tunnelling necessary, and the different options available are being changed time and again. One cannot expect accurate estimates to be given in that situation.

Turning to the question of the contrast between the way we treat the railway industry and other industries, according to the Sunday newspapers, £2,600 million has been given in public subsidies to the aircraft industry alone over the past decade. Are we now to see the one worthwhile new railway project sacrificed for the benefit of the Concorde and the MRCA? It seems to many of us that that is the case.

Today is a sad day for the British people, for the future prospects of British industry, and for British Rail in particular. It is an even sadder day for those railwaymen who believed the Labour Party election manifestos of the last two elections, which promised a greater share of public resources for the revitalising of the railway industry. It appears that there is to be no revitalisation in the near future.

I hope that tonight the Minister for Transport will reflect upon the let-down of the future prospects of British industry, investment, and trade. The Government have let down those railwaymen who gave their support to the Government and the Labour Party.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind hon. Members that they should be as brief as possible so that everyone wishing to speak can be accommodated. It is proposed to begin the winding-up speeches at 9.30 p.m. thanks to the generosity of the Front Bench speakers who have given up some of their time. I appeal to hon. Members to take five minutes apiece.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I believe that the Secretary of State made a very good case for his decision when he opened the debate. Hon. Members on the Liberal bench consistently requested over the past 12 months that the ratification of the agreement with the French should be delayed. It will be remembered that we said so in the House and in Committee. We asked that this should be done. We were told time after time that it was not possible.

It has been obvious to us for a long time—I agree with the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore)—that our economic situation and the soaring rate of inflation could not permit construction to proceed at this time with the sort of involvement to which the Government were committed.

It is a fair criticism to make that the discussions the Minister referred to in his statement should surely have started much earlier—that is, after 26th November—both with the French Government and with the two Channel Tunnel companies. The Minister's undertakings to the House, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), have been rightly criticised. This debate should have taken place before the decision was announced this afternoon.

We are entitled to ask whether the companies now consider that the costs are so prohibitive as to make the project completely financially unattractive to them. Those of us who made a visit to the Channel Tunnel project at Folkestone last spring were told by one of the directors of the company that inflation was then soaring so much that those concerned had great doubts about whether they would be able to proceed if inflation continued at that rate. We all know that it has.

This afternoon we were given a figure of the costs to date. I did not hear the reply to my question whether the French Government would meet half those costs.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that the Cairncross Committee will continue with its deliberations and that the findings of the committee will be published. Does this apply to the British Railways study of the alternative rail link which, if Press reports over the weekend are to be believed, are reaching an advanced state? As I understand it, British Railways are to use existing rails and it will not involve blight, except possibly in an inner London area.

We rightly supported the abandonment of the earlier high-speed route. Did the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who I understand is a member of the National Union of Railwaymen, see a film on television the other night about the Japanese experience of these high-speed routes? People were depicted in that film who had suffered considerably and were bitterly opposed to what their Government had allowed to be foisted upon them.

We on this bench have always taken the view that a public inquiry should have been held long ago at which all the alternative cross-Channel routes could have been openly discussed and the evidence properly cross-examined and that the matter should not have proceeded in this way, not with the Cairncross Committee.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) has left the Chamber. He made a violent attack on the hovercraft. This is just one of those developments that Britain has allowed to slumber but which the Americans have now taken up and they are building 2,000-tonners. We have a little of the offshoot from them. I use the hovercraft service from Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Southampton consistently, week in week out. Apart from when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party is on board, the hovercraft never breaks down.

In principle we still consider that a rail-only tunnel is the right concept. This is a concept which the Secretary of State himself supported up to about a year ago. I hope that this will prove to be the case. I think that the evidence for it will prove to be more and more conclusive as the price of oil continues to soar.

We support the Government's decision, despite the bad manner in which it has been brought to the House, and welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that the works already carried out will be looked after on a care and maintenance basis. I hope that this will apply also to the boring machine.

I hope that the minutes of the Select Committee will be read with care. I hope that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will have a say in these matters, because both he and I have some responsibility. He pointed out that the costs of this tunnel could have been 30 per cent. less if we had not gone for the rolling motorway idea. That was a concept which we on these benches consistently opposed. Had we gone purely for a rail-only tunnel, the cost would have been much less.

I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the whole project on the basis of a completely integrated European rail system.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

May I begin by saying that I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) that the Government should have a close look at the new clause which we moved in Standing Committee. We might well have won a Division, but it would have rehybridised the Bill and made a complicated Bill even more complicated.

One of the most interesting things about this debate is that it was initiated by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), who is not a Conservative Member and does not sit for one of the constituencies in the South-East which are particularly concerned with this project, but is a Member for the great city of Liverpool in the North-West. This fact shows that the concern about the Government's decision is widely felt and that many people all over the country will be affected by a very unfortunate and damaging decision, particularly as it comes at a time when, on both sides of the Channel, great steps forward are being made on the tunnelling itself.

I visited the sites on both sides of the Channel in August and I saw men of great experience and skill working under very difficult conditions, with water falling on them but nevertheless determined to carry on with the work which they thought was in the best interests of the two countries. When one saw the old French tunnel of 100 years ago, extending a little way under the Channel, one was reminded that it was Queen Victoria who stopped the old tunnel, and I wonder what hon. Members opposite will think when in future they are named with her as being the reason for stopping this tunnel.

The Government's attitude has been very confusing. Future historians—and the Secretary of State is a historian—will find it difficult to understand what the Government have been up to. In December 1973 they voted against the Second Reading of the Bill. In April 1974 the Minister for Transport reintroduced the same Bill, and he gave what seemed to be convincing reasons for doing so. The basic difference was that he wished to have more time for a report. He set up the Cairncross Committee. It took several months for that committee to come into being. Nevertheless, we accepted that the whole basis of his argument was that there were technical reasons for continuing with the Bill but that the Government wanted a further report and they were going to ask these wise men to produce one, and now they have not waited for it.

Incidentally, I do not understand why the October election has been given as an excuse for the postponement. After all, the period of the election was one when we are not sitting here anyway. Therefore, I do not see why we could not have resumed consideration of this matter when we came back after the election.

I feel that the Minister for Transport has been let down by the Cabinet. He gave undertakings which he cannot keep. The Under-Secretary, who is not here tonight, also gave definite promises that after the Cairncross Committee reported and before the Government had come to a decision we would have a debate in Parliament, and this has not happened.

In addition, there is the British Rail decision. I regret giving up the idea of the high-speed train. Nevertheless, I recognise that Government money was involved. It is understood that there is a shortage of money and that the idea had to be put back for the time being. But what is going to happen in the future? Are we going to have these new roads which are so vital not only in Kent but in London? The South Circular will be even more vital than before, and that will incur Government expenditure. If we are not careful, the road problem will be worse than before, and so will the railway problem.

It has been suggested that there is something wrong in the Channel Tunnel company wishing to make profits. But the Channel Tunnel company consists, among others, of pensioners and such people. They have all put money into the company. The company wants to continue. People have faith in it, in spite of the increased costs. Yet the Government, and the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) in particular, think there is something wrong in making profits. I wish that British Rail, the National Coal Board and the National Bus Company could make profits. Life would then be very much easier for many of us. I just cannot follow it.

We have had many debates during the past 18 months on all the prospects for this great enterprise, which could, I am sure, be a great thing for our country. The Government have come to a unilateral decision without the agreement of the French Government or of either of the Channel Tunnel companies which have given of their expertise and money to take the project forward. They have done it also without Parliament. This is a bad day. The Government have made a bad decision for Britain.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

This is a tragic day in the history of our country. The Secretary of State has made a wrong decision. Although he may be confident, comfortable and even smug in believing that he has satisfied the short-term requirements of the financial problems pressing on his Government today, I believe that, as Secretary of State for the Environment, he will rue the day when he so damaged his reputation as to make this decision.

Britain is not moving forward today, and the principal reason is the attitude of responsible Ministers and statesmen such as the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Government are not taking the right decisions. Somehow, they duck the issue time and again. As a result of what we learned through a leak on Friday, we now know that on yet another problem the Government have ducked the issue and failed to match the real demands of Britain's needs in a few years, in even so short a time as 10 years from now.

How do the Government imagine we can continue our trade with Europe, our greatest trading area in the world, without a communications link in 20 years? Communications in 20 years will not be by vehicles propelled by oil. They will use some other energy, and that other energy will be electricity generated, I suggest, by either coal or nuclear power. We are not to have that link. Yet the right hon. Gentleman proudly says that there will be no blight because there will be no tunnel. It is completely out of his mind and his plans. It is a tragic day when Ministers take Britain backwards. We should have Ministers and a Government trying to take Britain forward against all the odds and against all the costs. A tragic decision has been made.

I am speaking nationally at the moment when I suppose I ought to be speaking regionally. In my county of Kent there will be many people dismayed to think that I am supporting the Channel Tunnel project. But I do support it. I am still prepared to go ahead with the tunnel. I remain convinced that we need this link for our trade with Europe because, whether we are in the Common Market or not—and we are in at the moment—we shall still carry on trading at an ever-increasing rate. In the last three years the traffic build-up on Kent roads to the Channel ports has been rising at over 40 per cent. a year, and it will go on rising at that rate.

Speaking regionally, or, to call it that, even parochially, I asked the Secretary of State this afternoon whether he could give an assurance that the M20, which is part and parcel of the link with Europe, would be built, and he gave me such an assurance. I must tell him that the projections by his Department and the Kent County Council have already shown that by the year 1990–91 the traffic going to the Channel ports will be shared almost equally between the M20 and the A2, the latter being an A road, not a motorway.

To this day the Government are talking of modernising the A2, which at present carries 92 per cent. of the continental traffic to Europe and goes through my constituency—right through it, there not yet being a bypass—and the Minister for Transport proposes that that A2 road should be modernised by the addition of single carriageway routes round Canterbury and into Dover. That is the most ridiculous suggestion to come from any Government—that, as we look to the future of our major trade route, we should "modernise" it, as it is called, with single carriageway routes. It is just not good enough. It is a joke, a bad joke, a joke in bad taste.

The Minister must think again. He must go back to his Department. If he and his right hon. Friend cannot look ahead with the Channel Tunnel project, at least let them look ahead and recognise what disaster has ensued during the past 20 years from the non-planning of roads in Kent. This time let them think of true planning, and of planning not just roads in Kent but roads out of Britain into Europe. That is what we must have. Let them think big, and this time do the right thing.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

The Secretary of State made one point absolutely clear this afternoon and again this evening—that this was an economic decision, not a political one. It is very difficult to see it in that light, however, since the decision seems to have been taken entirely in a vacuum.

I wish to concentrate on the cost of not having the tunnel. How in the future are we to cope with some of the things mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), such as the travel requirements of British people travelling to the Continent and beyond? Pre-energy crisis projections showed a fourfold increase expected between 1970 and 1990. We can expect 1975 to be below expectations, but after North Sea oil comes on flow we can expect travel to be up to expectations in 1980, and beyond by 1990. One can hypothesise on how London would be operating today without the Underground or how Merseyside would have developed without the Mersey Tunnel. Considering those cases we can postulate how Britain will prosper without the Channel Tunnel.

My second point concerns how we shall meet future shipping requirements. In the last seven years, according to the Government's figures, overseas trade showed an increase from £4 billion seven years ago to £14 billion now. This trend will continue—sometimes increasing, sometimes slackening. The figures take no account of shipments through Europe to destinations beyond which without the tunnel will have to go on top of the water rather than beneath it, usually by a more circuitous route which will increase inconvenience and, very often, the time and cost.

What are the Government's plans to meet these increasing requirements? How is the country to pay for better shipping, particularly shipping through the British Rail shipping division, better rail links to those ships, better port facilities, and larger grants for improved and new road links to and within the ports? I have raised this final point more than once with the Secretary of State and some of his hon. Friends as it affects Newhaven. How are we to afford better inland road systems, trunk roads to relieve the bottlenecks and the byways which juggernauts tend to take on leaving the ports, more and better bypass routes and relief schemes such as the sadly and repeatedly delayed relief scheme for South Street, Lewes? This route assumes a new dimension because it is part of the major road from Newhaven inland.

Immediate action is needed. An urgent review of resources and their application must be made. The road and rail links are very real social expenditures to people who are involved closely with them. There must now be, in the light of this sad Government decision, a reassessment of resources. The decisions and reactions which flow from it must be made part and parcel of a package which will be in the interests not only of the South-East and Sussex but of the nation as a whole.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Three hon. Members are still rising to catch my eye. I think I can accommodate all three by 9.30 p.m. if each is brief.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I welcome the Government's decision. I constantly voted against the Channel Tunnel Bill. I welcome the decision for financial reasons, as I am sure that it is not only right but inevitable that sooner or later escalating costs—rising interest charges, the cost of rail links, and so on—would have meant cancellation, and the sooner it came, the better.

I also welcome the decision for environmental reasons. I accept that there are many different arguments on the matter, but I believe that on balance it will be beneficial to Kent. The decision is also welcome in the context of the Minister's desire to see cuts in Government spending. I hope that it is an earnest of other things to come from other Departments.

Although I constantly opposed the Bill, I have been very much a supporter of a rail-only project. Therefore, I can well understand the sense of disappointment and frustration that will be felt by all those working on the planning and construction of the tunnel and those in the county councils—Kent County Council, in particular—who have worked so closely with the Government on the project. It is a tragedy that the whole project has been approached as it has been, but I am sure that the decision is absolutely right, in view of that approach.

Although there are arguments and disputes about the environmental benefits—we are all crystal-gazing when we make such judgments—I am sure that in the south-east of England tonight there will be far more rejoicing than regrets.

But the Secretary of State and the Government are not immune from the criticism levelled at them of the way in which the matter has been handled. They are to be criticised for having abandoned with such alacrity pre-election promises about a rail-only link. Secondly, they are seriously to be criticised for the six months' delay in setting up the Cairncross Committee. If they had set it up promptly, as they promised, the committee could well have reported by now, and the House would have the benefit of its advice. Having set up the committee, the Government disregarded it and cancelled the project before receiving its advice.

We are confronted with a cancellation at this eleventh hour. There must have been negotiations on the question of abandonment over recent weeks, and an announcement could have been made last week to give the House prior notice. Yet we have the pretext of cancellation on the grounds of technical and contractual difficulties. I am sure that the French Government are right when they say that the matter could have been soluble, given the political will. To hide this simple policy decision behind the pretext of legalities is less than helpful and honest to the House.

The panic way in which the cancellation has been carried out is extraordinary. At lunchtime today we were told that the project was dead. Then we were told that it had been put in mothballs. There is a significant difference of emphasis for people living on the route and in the area concerned. It was later confirmed that the project is dead. That is very good, but at lunchtime the Government did not know whether Cairncross would continue. This evening we were told that it is to continue. That shows an extraordinary rush and confusion in the Cabinet and in Government circles.

There is much more that I should like to say, but two of my hon. Friends wish to speak. Therefore, I shall simply make two other serious criticisms of both Governments. The first concerns the whole appalling story of British Rail's involvement in the project. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) is right. It would be difficult now to proceed on the basis of the new costs that British Rail is putting forward. How can we be sure that the rumoured £260 million will be anywhere near right? Neither the House nor the Government can be expected to proceed on such inadequate researches and poor estimating.

The other lesson I draw from what has happened concerns the absence of a public inquiry on one of the most important planning proposals ever to come before the country. There have been endless discussions and debates, and many documents have been produced, but they are no substitute for a proper public inquiry, where the documents can be scrutinised and those involved can be subjected to tough cross-examination, with the presentation of other options, as happened with the Roskill Commission on Maplin, for example. I hope that if every such a project is reviewed there will be a far better approach in terms of a public inquiry.

I welcome the decision, and hope that many of the other points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) about roads and the improvement of port facilities will now receive close scrutiny by the Government, and that the Government will approach those matters with understanding.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

As the Channel Tunnel project involves my constituency I must express disappointment that my time is limited in which to make the points that I believe should be made. I am reassured by a letter that I have received from the Minister for Transport which says that he will see me and discuss the matters that concern Folkestone. That gives me some relief, but it does not prevent me from making criticism of the way in which the operation has been carried out. Such criticism has been set out in terms by many hon. Members.

I have lived with the Channel Tunnel project in my constituency for 13 years. Nine years ago the present Prime Minister agreed with the President of France that the Channel Tunnel would be built. It is noticeable that in his statement the Secretary of State was careful to ignore that side of the situation.

I wish to point out one or two matters to those who are delighted that the Channel Tunnel project is being stopped. If it is to be stopped—and we understand once and for all that that is the position—what will happen to the M20? The Secretary of State has said that the M20 will be built. At present there are seven lines for the M20. The Shepway Corporation is extremely worried, because the M20 now finishes in a housing estate of the old Folkestone Corporation. There are no links to the docks. The road joins a single carriageway road and no proposals have been put forward for an extension to the docks.

We know from our own experience that the British Railways Board built a dock at Folkestone without any reference to the road routeing to it. The Folkestone residents are entitled to be told clearly what the planning prospects entail. That applies not only to Folkestone but to Hythe. Hythe is a narrow town. We have been waiting for eight years for some ideas to bypass it. All the time we have been told that it has not been possible to make a decision, as the Channel Tunnel has not been agreed. May we be assured that progress will be made with a Hythe bypass? May we be assured that the car parks will be considered? Only today we heard that two ferries collided. It seems that every time the Channel Tunnel is discussed something happens to a ferry. On the last occasion, a bomb was found in the harbour. May we be assured that that will be looked after?

Further, may we be assured that the Cheriton site will not be used as a car park? There were arguments for using it as an entrance to the tunnel. It was said that there was no need for the car park. I should like to continue for longer, but I am not able to do so. What will happen to the Channel Tunnel entrance site?

Perhaps I may introduce a little humour to the debate. I suggest that the site would be a very good hotel site and that the tunnel would make a marvellous indoor golf driving range. It would bring the Japanese into the country. Why not a luxury hotel and a golf driving range down the tunnel? That would provide a fascinating experience.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

Although I have only two minutes, I must pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). He has been most concerned throughout the project to look after his constituents. I am sure that he must be in somewhat of a turmoil today.

I shall start and finish my brief speech with a prophecy. The first is that many people, particularly those in Kent and South-East London, will now be waving the flags. Will they be doing so in five or 10 years' time? I suspect that it will be the Chicago Midway and the O'Hare story once again.

I stood shoulder to shoulder with the Secretary of State on the question of Maplin. I am afraid that we shall have to part ways today. To me it is extraordinary that a Socialist Government should be taking a decision which is bound to bring delight to the private ferry operators and inordinate dismay to British Rail. I deprecate the uncalled-for and unwarranted attacks on Richard Marsh. They were something which we could have done without. In the year in which Britain will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington railway, the Secretary of State's decision will be a significant but unfortunate milestone in the history of the railways. The tunnel represented for British Rail its greatest single development project since electrification. The Secretary of State has a great deal to answer for in the way he has kicked British Rail very firmly in the backside today.

I conclude with another prophecy. The project may be dead, or in mothballs. I suspect that dead it may be, but it will not lie down.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) into the realm of prophecy. This short debate is not really on the merits of the tunnel; we have discussed them often enough before. It is on the Government's attitude and handling of the matter. Listening to the Secretary of State's statement today, having pondered over the leak we had a during the weekend and heard what the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters have had to say, I conclude that the Government have stumbled into this decision with a mixture of relief and irresponsibility.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has been gallant and totally consistent in his support of the project from both sides of the House, and on a number of occasions I have had good cause to acknowledge his courage and honesty in pursuit of what he believes. I do so again today. I echo his first question: what is the opinion of the House of Commons on this matter? I regret, as he did, that we should have had our first taste of the news from the weekend Press.

It was right that the hon. Gentleman should ask: what of the earlier votes which have taken place in the House of Commons, all of them in favour of the project, now to be lightly waved on one side? What about the undertaking that the Secretary of State gave on 26th November that a debate would precede and not succeed a decision? I ask the Minister of Transport to apply himself in particular to the question of what is the opinion of the House of Commons on the matter. Does he care?

Secondly, what are the costs of the alternatives? If the Government knew what the costs of the alternatives were, why did they ever set up the Cairncross Committee? If they did not know, why did they not wait just that extra month until Cairncross had reported and filled the gaps in their knowledge?

The Secretary of State told us that he had fought to keep the project alive. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) compared the right hon. Gentleman's fighting with the enthusiasm shown by two Trappist monks advocating birth control. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman can reach down into a depth of experience that I cannot rival, but at least he gave some proper tinge to the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State for this project. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman—we have heard him on a number of occasions—has hovered his way to and fro on the road to Damascus, and now, without conversion, he has shuffled off it into some wayside lair of his own.

I ask the Minister of Transport to pay particular attention to a point about which there may well have been some misunderstanding. The Secretary of State said that the companies had demanded a final decision by October. I am informed that that is not the case. What the companies asked for was an earnest of the intentions of the Government to continue—in other words, the deposit of the Hybrid Bill by October, it being then assumed that, having deposited that Bill in October this year, they would be in a position to reach a final decision by, say, July or October next year. The Bill being through by next July, the companies would be in a position to reach a final decision by the end of this year. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to clear up this point because there is a genuine misunderstanding. I put it no higher than that at this stage.

There is a second misunderstanding that appears to have arisen, to judge from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. He said that the companies had declared their proposals to be non-negotiable. I am assured that that is not the case, that in fact what the companies put forward was put forward merely as suggestions to enable discussions to continue. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is listening to this. I have had these assurances since the Secretary of State made his statement, and, knowing the right hon. Gentleman as I do, I am confident that he would not wish to impute to others words that they have not said and would wish to see this misunderstanding, as it plainly is, cleared up with speed.

I personally regret that in the statement this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman used the words such as "take advantage of our inability to ratify". It appeared from those words that the Government were deliberatedly engaging in a manœuvre to make the companies the scapegoat for the Government's own scruffy conduct.

The only point at which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman is on his disapointment on receiving the estimate of £375 million. I find it difficult to understand, as he did and as did my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), how the figure could have rocketed to that extent in so short a time.

I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central that, although he may rejoice now, this problem is one which has only been pushed into the background and his continuency, like others in Kent and Surrey, will continue to suffer from the inundation of traffic that this country has not the courage to tackle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) challenged the Government to assess the cost of not building. So did my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who has a special problem. On the other side of the House, the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) again repeated the question "What is the cost of not building?" and asked what were the consequences for the railways, as I did. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells)—[Interruption.] I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen and will answer some of these questions. We are bored with seeing Ministers sit on the Front Bench and not even make a note of the questions that they are asked.

Mr. Mulley

I listened very carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends and took a note. I think that I can deal with the right hon. Gentleman when the time comes without any notes.

Mr. Peyton

Without any notes? That is so interesting. We shall listen carefully to see whether, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman answers these questions, particularly those asked by my hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) was concerned about where our country was heading and what we were to do about our roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) was deeply concerned about the lack of planning of Kent roads to fill the gap, and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) repeated his own deep anxieties about this problem.

I do not want to detain the House at any great length and I hope that a number of hon. Members will forgive me if I do not go into what they have said at great length. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made some comments and had some rather nasty things to say about Mr. Richard Marsh. I think that the nicest thing that I can say about them is that they are very unlikely to do Mr. Marsh much harm.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) gave us a long dissertation about what a bad thing it was to make money. Some people might sometimes pause to think what a pity it is that in this country more people do not make money, because this country would not be in its present parlous position if they did.

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) gave convincing proof that, whatever else she had thought about, she had not thought very deeply about the Channel Tunnel. She may be grateful that the prospects of her being Minister for Transport in this country are very remote indeed.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

May I remind the right hon. Member that, with my colleagues on this bench, I represent 30 per cent. of the people of Scotland? Bearing that in mind, and the road chart I showed this House, which is well imprinted on the minds of the people of Scotland who do a bit of travelling and who see motorways end the minute they hit the Scottish border, I feel that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are ill-founded and ill-informed.

Mr. Peyton

I am sure that the whole House will judge in its own way whether that intervention was interesting.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps you can understand that sometimes we on this bench wonder whether this is a Scottish House in any sense of the word. It looks as if the British House is not particularly interested in the affairs of Scotland, as was shown by the attendance on the benches during the Scottish debate earlier today.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Every hon. Member in this House has equal rights.

Mr. Peyton

I have three questions to address to the right hon. Gentleman and I earnestly invite him to pay attention to them. First, do the French Government agree that the companies are to blame for this present situation and for the British Government's present position? Second, what are the costs of the alternatives? I am glad to know that Cairncross is to continue. Will the Government undertake to publish at the earliest possible date a full estimate of the costs of providing facilities alternative to the Channel Tunnel? Third, why was the House of Commons offered no debates in fulfilment of what looks very like a solemn pledge and undertaking given by the Secretary of State on 26th November?

I very much hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, whatever their views on the merits of the tunnel project, will see fit to condemn the Government for their irresponsible handling of this matter. We believe that in the way they have conducted themselves they are giving one further and important item of evidence to a watching world that this Government in particular are not a Government upon whose intentions anyone can for long rely.

9.44 p.m.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I am sure that it would be the wish of all hon. Members that I should say how satisfied we are that, through the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), we have had the opportunity of this debate, which permits us to set out matters in rather more detail than is possible by question and answer. I hope that the many Conservative Members who have written to me—sometimes several times a day—seeking the cancellation of the tunnel and the rail link will at least listen to the arguments before they follow the passion of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) or the truculence of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), thinking that they have a case for voting against the way the Government have handled this matter.

I never cease to marvel at the way in which the right hon. Member for Yeovil roars in opposition, compared with his behaviour when he had responsibility for these matters. I shall have something to say about his concern for Parliament when I deal with the questions he asks.

We all understand the great disappointment of many hon. Members who have spoken, including my hon. Friends the Member for West Derby, Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) and West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and the hon. Members for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) and Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). However, the real issues before the House are: why has this happened now, and why was the House not given a full opportunity to consider and debate the matter?

There are two separate problems. First, why did we not ratify the treaty by 1st January this year—a point made forcefully by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who spoke for the Liberal Party? The House will recall that on the day following the Queen's Speech we tabled a motion to enable the subsequent stages of the Bill to be resumed at the point that had been reached in the previous Parliament. One cannot move much quicker than that. Objection was taken to that procedure by hon. Members, including a large number on the benches opposite. We had the debate as early as we could and, by a majority, the House agreed that we should adopt the accelerated, novel parliamentary procedure. We could not have done more to proceed with the Bill as quickly as possible.

However, by this time it was clear that no one—I repeat, no one—could have got the Bill through this House and another place by the end of the year. Statements had been made on behalf of a large number of objectors. The proceedings in the Select Committee took three or four weeks. We had no reason to suppose that the matter could have been dealt with by the end of the year. It was therefore necessary for us to consult our partners, the French Government, and the two companies, about getting an extension of the date. There was no point in following the parliamentary procedures without that extension. We approached all the parties in good time. All that would have been required was agreement to a date later than 1st January. The processes of the House have to begin again after each General Election. When the date was fixed by the right hon. Member for Yeovil he had in mind a period of over a year to get the Bill through. Therefore, I do not think that we can reasonably be criticised on this matter.

The rail link created new problems. More time was needed to collect all the up-to-date information, so that public opinion as well as the House could make an informed and proper judgment on the merits of the case. The Government have never budged from that objective.

The only reason why we have not been able to continue collecting the information together and putting the final decision to the House on whether to proceed to stage 3 and the construction of the tunnel is that certain procedures were set in motion when we did not ratify. It would not have been possible to complete the processes of this House and other place by the end of the year—the date fixed by the right hon Member for Yeovil when he signed the treaty. He could not at that time have had in contemplation the possibility of two General Elections.

We had no proposals from the companies about the dates before the deadline of 31st December. I had some preliminary discussions with the French Minister, and the French Government would have wanted a protocol to give time for us to ratify and for further consideration between the four parties as a result of our wishing to look again at the question of the rail link. No proposals came from the companies. For the Conservative Party to accuse us of mishandling matters is almost as monstrous as it is for the right hon. Member for Yeovil to taunt us with a lack of courage If the right hon. Gentleman had been a man of courage he would not have asked the House to approve further studies of the project. He would have asked the House to take a decision. The purpose of all this documentation is to defer that decision until a later stage.

It must surely have been in the contemplation of the right hon. Gentleman that the events that have occurred could occur. In Agreement No. 2, 15 out of 70 pages of close type deal with abandonment, and much of it deals with what would happen if the British Government, or either Government, did not ratify by the end of December 1974. The negotiation of these complex arrangements must have taken an enormous amount of official and ministerial time.

We were not able to do anything about the companies. I express my own assessment, no one else's, but it seemed to me that they were waiting for 1st January to arrive. They slapped in their notices at the earliest opportunity, on 2nd January. The agreement provides that there must be a minimum period of notice of 15 days. The companies gave us 19 days' notice, expiring today. Had they wanted a real negotiation they could have given at least a month's notice for these matters to be discussed and for Parliament to debate them.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil raised an important question about the proposals not being negotiable, which was made by the companies on 9th January. Their main argument was that they wanted to safeguard the position of the companies' shareholders. They made clear that not only should the shareholders, during the current phase, have the right to withdraw their investment on 22nd March—with premiums of £2.10 for £1 for the phase 1 invester and £1.40 for £1 for the phase 2 invester—but that that option should remain open until the moment when the Channel tunnel was actually being built.

That was an entirely new arrangement—an arrangement which required the renegotiation of these agreements and an arrangement which my right hon. Friend and I felt we could not recommend to the House. If it had been thought to be a reasonable provision, I would have thought that then Conservative Ministers would have included it in the agreement which they drew up. I wonder what kind of criticism we would have received from both sides of the House if, while further studies, such as Cairncross and the others, were taking place, we had found that a good deal of private capital already in the investment had been withdrawn without awaiting the assemblage of all the information and without a final decision on the tunnel having been reached.

These were the considerations before us, and I fail to see how we can be accused of any discourtesy to the House or how, having regard to the public interest, we could have made any other recommendation than that which we have put to the House today, namely, that if the companies' terms cannot be negotiated and if they are not terms which we can accept, we must look to the abandonment situation envisaged to the tune of 15 pages of close type.

Mr. Peyton

Instead of the Minister's quoting from that book, I wonder when he will answer any of the questions that he has been asked.

Mr. Mulley

I am explaining where the responsibility lies.

The environmental damage in Kent is an arguable proposition. I have always taken the view that Kent would be better off with a tunnel than without it, but many people in Kent take a different view.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did the Minister not say that he would remember the questions and answer them?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. Mr. Mulley.

Mr. Mulley

I thought I had done rather well on some of the questions.

On the subject of the road programme, I confirm that it is part of the package of the M20. I have already written to the Chairman of the Kent County Council inviting him and his colleagues to meetings to discuss the issues that now arise. We have also written to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) so that we may go into the detailed but important matters which he raised on behalf of his constituents.

On the subject of alternative costs, we have not worked out what the alternative costs would be—[Interruption.] That was the purpose of the Cairncross and phase 2 studies, which cannot possibly be completed, because the last thing the Labour Government wanted was a notice in the form in which it was presented to us, so that we had no option but to follow the agreement signed and sealed by our predecessors.

I was asked about the view of the French Government. I always find French Ministers not only capable but very willing to speak for themselves—

Mr. Ogden

I beg to move, That the Question be now—

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that is necessary.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 218, Noes 294.

Division No. 61.] AYES [10.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Buck, Antony Drayson, Burnaby
Aitken, Jonathan Budgen, Nick du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Alison, Michael Bulmer, Esmond Durant, Tony
Arnold, Tom Burden, F. A. Dykes, Hugh
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Carlisle, Mark Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Awdry, Daniel Chalker, Mrs Lynda Elliott, Sir William
Baker, Kenneth Channon, Paul Emery, Peter
Banks, Robert Churchill, W. S. Eyre, Reginald
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Benyon, W. Cockcroft, John Fairgrieve, Russell
Berry, Hon Anthony Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Finsberg, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, John Cope, John Fisher, Sir Nigel
Blaker, Peter Corrie, John Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Costain, A. P. Fookes, Miss Janet
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Crawshaw, Richard Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Bradley, Tom Crouch, David Fry, Peter
Braine, Sir Bernard Crowder, F. P. Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.
Brittan, Leon Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Gardiner, Georgs (Reigate)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Buchanan, Richard Dodsworth, Geoffrey Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Glyn, Dr Alan Langford-Holt, Sir John Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Latham, Michael (Melton) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Goodhart, Philip Lawrence, Ivan Rossi Hugh (Hornsey)
Goodhew, Victor Le Marchant, Spencer Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Goodlad, Alastair Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Royle, Sir Anthony
Gorst, John Lloyd, Ian Sainsbury, Tim
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Loveridge, John St. John-Stevas, Norman
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Luce, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) McAdden, Sir Stephen Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Gray Hamish Macfarlane, Neil Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Griffiths, Eldon MacGregor, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
Grist, Ian Mackintosh, John P. Shepherd, Colin
Grylls, Michael Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Silvester, Fred
Hall, Sir John McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Sims, Roger
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Sinclair, Sir George
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Madel, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Hampson, Dr Keith Mates, Michael Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Hannam, John Mather, Carol Spence, John
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hastings, Stephen Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Havers, Sir Michael Mills, Peter Spriggs, Leslie
Hawkins, Paul Miscampbell, Norman Sproat, Iain
Hayhoe, Barney Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stainton, Keith
Heath, Rt Hon Edward More, Jasper (Ludlow) Stanley, John
Heseltine Michael Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hicks, Robert Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Higgins, Terence L. Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Stradling Thomas, J.
Holland, Philip Morrison, Peter (Chester) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Hordern, Peter Neave, Airey Tebbit, Norman
Howell, David (Guildford) Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Neubert, Michael Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Hurd, Douglas Newton, Tony Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Normanton, Tom Townsend, Cyril D.
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Nott, John Trotter, Neville
James, David Onslow, Cranley Tugendhat, Christopher
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally van Straubenzee, W. R.
Jessel, Toby Parkinson, Cecil Viggers, Peter
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Pattie, Geoffrey Wakeham, John
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Percival, Ian Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Jopling Michael Peyton, Rt Hon John Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Pink, R. Bonner Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Kaberry, Sir Donald Price, David (Eastleigh) Walters, Dennis
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Prior, Rt Hon James Weatherill, Bernard
Kershaw, Anthony Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wells, John
Kimball, Marcus Raison, Timothy Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rathbone, Tim Wiggin, Jerry
Kirk, Peter Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Winterton, Nicholas
Kitson, Sir Timothy Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Young, Sir G. (Ealing Acton)
Knight, Mrs Jill Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Knox, David Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lamont, Norman Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Eric Ogden and
Lane, David Rifkind, Malcolm Mr. Peter Snape.
Abse, Leo Buchan, Norman Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Allaun, Frank Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Anderson, Donald Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Deakins, Eric
Archer, Peter Campbell, Ian Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Armstrong, Ernest Canavan, Dennis Delargy, Hugh
Ashley, Jack Cant, R. B. Dell, Rt Hon Edmund
Ashton, Joe Carmichael, Neil Dempsey, James
Atkinson, Norman Carter-Jones, Lewis Doig, Peter
Bain, Mrs Margaret Cartwright, John Dormand, J. D.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Duffy, A. E. P.
Bates, Alf Clemitson, Ivor Dunn, James A.
Bean, R. E. Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Coleman, Donald Eadie, Alex
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Edelman, Maurice
Bidwell, Sydney Conlan, Bernard Edge, Geoff
Biffen, John Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Bishop, E. S. Corbett, Robin Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cormack, Patrick Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Boardman, H. Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) English, Michael
Body, Richard Cronin, John Ennals, David
Booth, Albert Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Cryer, Bob Evans, John (Newton)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dalyell, Tam Fell, Anthony
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Davidson, Arthur Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Brotherton, Michael Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Flannery, Martin
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Loyden, Eddie Ryman, John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Luard, Evan Sandelson, Neville
Forrester, John Lyon, Alexander (York) Sedgemore, Brian
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Selby, Harry
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) MacCormick, Iain Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Freeson, Reginald McElhone, Frank Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) MacFarquhar, Roderick Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Mackenzie, Gregor Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
George, Bruce Maclennan, Robert Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Gilbert, Dr John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Ginsburg, David Madden, Max Sillars, James
Golding, John Magee, Bryan Silverman, Julius
Gould, Bryan Mahon, Simon Skinner, Dennis
Gourlay, Harry Marks, Kenneth Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Graham, Ted Marquand, David Spearing, Nigel
Grant, John (Islington C) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stallard, A. W.
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Grocott, Bruce Marten, Neil Stewart, Rt Hn M. (Fulham)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Stoddart, David
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mawby, Ray Stott, Roger
Hamling, William Meacher, Michael Strang, Gavin
Hardy, Peter Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Harper Joseph Mikardo, Ian Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Millan, Bruce Swain, Thomas
Hatton, Frank Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Miller, Mrs Millie Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Heffer, Eric S. Moate, Roger Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Henderson, Douglas Molloy, William Thompson, George
Hooley, Frank Molyneaux, James Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Hooson, Emlyn Moonman, Eric Tierney, Sydney
Horam, John Morgan, Geraint Tinn, James
Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Tomlinson, John
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Torney, Tom
Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Huckfield, Les Mudd, David Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Murray, Ronald King Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Newens, Stanley Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Noble, Mike Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Hunter, Adam Oakes, Gordon Ward, Michael
Hutchison, Michael Clark O'Halloran, Michael Watkins, David
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Watkinson, John
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Orbach, Maurice Watt, Hamish
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Ovenden, John Weetch, Ken
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Owen, Dr David Weitzman, David
Janner Greville Padley, Walter Wellbeloved, James
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Park, George Welsh, Andrew
Jeger, Mrs Lena Parry, Robert White, Frank R. (Bury)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Penhaligon, David White, James (Pollok)
Jenkins Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Perry, Ernest Whitehead, Phillip
John, Brynmor Phipps, Dr Colin Whitlock, William
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Prescott, John Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Price, C. (Lewisham W) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Judd, Frank Price, William (Rugby) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Kaufman, Gerald Radice, Giles Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Kelley, Richard Reid, George Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Kerr, Russell Richardson, Miss Jo Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ridley, Hon Nicholas Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Kinnock Neil Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lambie, David Robertson, John (Paisley) Woodall, Alec
Lamborn, Harry Roderick, Caerwyn Woof, Robert
Lamond, James Rodgen, George (Chorley) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Rodgers, William (Stockton) Young, David (Bolton E)
Leadbitter, Ted Rooker, J. W.
Lee, John Rose, Paul B. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Thomas Cox and
Lipton, Marcus Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Mr. Laurie Pavitt.
Litterick, Tom Ross, William (Londonderry)
Lomas, Kenneth Rowlands, Ted
Question accordingly negatived.