HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc455-7
25. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether his Depart- ment has discussed with the European Commission its proposals for action in the field of transport infrastructure; and, if so, with what result.

Mr. William Rodgers

The Commission's proposals to improve the arrangements for consultation on the development of transport infrastructure were agreed at the Transport Council held on 20th and 21st December 1977.

The Commission's draft regulation providing for financial help for transport infrastructure projects of Community interest is under discussion in the Council Transport Working Group. It is impossible to say when it will be put to the Council or what its decision will be.

Mr. Dalyell

Is my right hon. Friend able to explain to incredulous officials in the Council Transport Working Group how it is that we have managed to let go to rust and get stuck in the mud one of the most sophisticated tunnelling machines for any Channel tunnel? Who and where in my right hon. Friend's Department is the person responsible for what seems to be a monumental and grotesque piece of incompetence?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that my hon. Friend is being rather unfair. I know that he is concerned, and he is right to relate the matter to the infrastructure projects in respect of the Channel tunnel, which have been explored by the Transport Council, to which it was referred.

I say to my hon. Friend with great respect, as I know that he is well informed about scientific and engineering matters, that were the tunnel one day to be built—I am not expressing a view on that—the equipment that was appropriate on the last occasion might be unsuitable on the next.

Mr. Marten

May we have an assurance that there is no intention on the part of the British Government to waste money by building Channel tunnels?

Mr. Rodgers

In reply to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) in July 1977 I expressed the position of the United Kingdom Government, namely, that we stood where we stood at the time of the announcement of the abandonment of the previous proposition. I think I said that it would be ungenerous for us not to consider any proposition to come to us from the Community, especially if it involved a financial contribution to the funding of such a tunnel.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Although I am no pro-Marketeer, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the reasons that were originally given and accepted by both Front Benches in favour of the project, which would do more good for inter-European trade than any other EEC regulation?

Mr. Rodgers

If my hon. Friend wishes to lobby to that effect, he is entitled to to do so. However, the possibility of a Channel tunnel arouses strong feelings either way. For the moment I rest on the simple consideration put from the Government Dispatch Box by, as it happens, the late Mr. Anthony Crosland that it cannot feature in our present priorities given the economic difficulties through which we have been passing.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

As we are told that the economic difficulties are getting so much better, is it possible that the Government will give the working party's paper a fair wind? Is the working party considering the Channel tunnel seriously?

Mr. Rodgers

What the working party does or does not do is not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. I have said that I shall consider any propositions put to the Government, especially if they are propositions that include a substantial contribution to the infrastructure costs of a project that would be an advantage not only to this country, if such it would be, but to the whole of the Continent and not only to France.