HC Deb 23 December 1981 vol 15 cc973-4
3. Mr. Marlow

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to make a further announcement on a Channel link.

11. Mr. Fox

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the latest developments on the construction of the Channel tunnel.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Howell)

My French colleagues and I are pursuing joint studies with the aim of reaching a decision of principle as early as possible next year. All options are open, including that of relying on the development of existing services.

Mr. Marlow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a private project, if not underwritten by public funds, is just the sort of exciting venture to fuel public self-confidence in national recovery?

Mr. Howell

I agree that it is an attractive prospect, if it can be achieved in co-ordination with our French partners. Clearly, talks with the French must go ahead. This is an international project and co-ordination with the French has to be maintained. We hope for rapid progress. I share my hon. Friend's belief that if it is achieved it could be an exciting and important project.

Mr. Fox

What criteria are involved in the schemes that have been presented to my right hon. Friend? Will he reassure us that his civil servants are not ruling out schemes because they come from one or two individuals?

Mr. Howell

None of the schemes that have been presented to the Government have been ruled out. I had the opportunity to see the details of all the schemes that are being put forward by the promoters, including the proposition that the existing ferry systems should be developed. Nothing has been ruled out. There has been no change in our position on the criteria. Britain is looking to the private sector to finance the project and bear the commercial risk.

Mr. Bagier

The Secretary of State is right to say that consultation has to take place between the French and the British, but will he undertake to inject some dynamism into the discussions? It appears that a long time is being taken before any decisions are reached.

Mr. Howell

We are anxious to make rapid progress. Talks are constantly taking place with the French at official level, and ministerial exchanges are also taking place. Both the French and ourselves recognise the need to reach a decision in principle on whether there should be a fixed link, and to do so as early as possible.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend tell Mr. MacGregor and the British Steel Corporation that the last Channel tunnel project foundered because of political disagreement in this country, much of which had to do with Kent, and with the railway unions, which, I think, have now changed their minds? Does he realise that many of us believe that the tunnel will be of major assistance to British Rail? Will he continue to bear in mind that it is necessary, as far as possible, to get all-party agreement on the project so that it does not founder as the last one did?

Mr. Howell

All the considerations, including those mentioned by my hon. Friend, have to be borne in mind in reaching a decision in principle and choosing between the preferred options.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the Secretary of State confirm that legislation will be required before a Channel link can go ahead? Will he undertake to publish a White Paper as soon as possible, so that any benefit that might accrue to the country as a result of a Channel tunnel or link can be evaluated for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just the South-East of England?

Mr. Howell

I confirm that legislation would be needed for a fixed link, but it is too early to say what form it would take. It is too early also to confirm or give undertakings about the form of statement or presentation, but I note what the hon. Gentleman said.