HC Deb 23 April 1980 vol 983 cc438-9
5. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Minister for Transport if the studies at present being carried out by Sir Alec Cairncross include any into the benefits that Great Britain might derive from a Channel tunnel.

27. Mr. Adley

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to receive the report of Sir Alec Cairncross on the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Fowler

Sir Alec Cairncross will be advising me on the broad economic aspects of any Channel link proposal. I am discussing with him what work he should undertake following my statement in the House of 19 March.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Will that remit and that study include the possible commitment of private funds? Will it include an examination of the possibility of the commitment of funds from the EEC for this purpose?

Mr. Fowler

The answer to both of my hon. Friend's questions is " Yes ". We have made it clear that it is basic to the scheme that it must be financed by private risk capital. As for EEC money, we welcome the initiative of the Commission in proposing infrastructure aid. Clearly the tunnel would be a chief candidate for that form of aid. At present the infrastructure aid is merely a proposal.

Mr. Adley

In the light of current discussions on the United Kingdom contribution to the EEC budget, will my right hon. Friend consider an offer of funds from the Commission as a proper, sensible and relevant factor to offset the current imbalance?

Mr. Fowler

The EEC budget is a different issue. It is no part of the specific negotiations. It is the wrong time scale for immediate help. It is also wrong in terms of the amount that is under consideration. However, if an infrastructure programme comes from the EEC there is no question but that the Channel tunnel could become a candidate, and a good candidate, for that aid.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Minister ask Sir Alec Cairncross or someone to consider the severe dangers of terrorist activity if there were a tunnel? Is he aware that there would be nothing to stop bombs from being put on to the trains? No one seems to be able to decide what would be the result. Surely someone must consider this issue.

Mr. Fowler

A characteristic of almost every transport system is that it is subject to some form of sabotage. The security aspects will concern the two Governments, among other things.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Minister ask Sir Alec Cairncross carefully to consider the industrial development implications of establishing the Channel tunnel? Does he accept that if there are to be any benefits from the creation of the Channel tunnel they might not be spread equally within the United Kingdom?

Mr. Fowler

The effect of a Channel tunnel would be generally beneficial to the United Kingdom. We shall take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir Ronald Bell

Will the studies take into account the serious general economic disadvantage to Britain of this project?

Mr. Fowler

I do not think that there is a serious economic disadvantage in the Channel tunnel. It is one issue on which there is considerable agreement on both sides of the House. It is felt that it makes a great deal of sense to go ahead with it.