HC Deb 10 March 1982 vol 19 cc830-1
4. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Secretary of State for Transport when he now expects to make a decision on the building of a Channel tunnel; and what the cost implications for his Department will be.

9. Mr. Whitehead

Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to make an announcement of the Government's policy towards the Channel tunnel.

Mr. David Howell

I expect to receive the report of the Anglo-French study group in the course of the next few weeks. I shall then wish to consider and discuss it with my French counterpart, but I do not expect a decision to be long delayed. The Government's intention is that the British share in any fixed Channel link which may be decided upon should be financed entirely by the private sector.

Mr. Winterton

When my right hon. Friend announces his decision, will he designate the sponsor of the scheme? Will he also tell us how the additional funds are to be provided for British Rail if, as the Government have implied, they would like a 7-metre rather than a 6-metre tunnel?

Mr. Howell

If it is decided to have a fixed Channel link, the type of scheme decided upon will determine the promoting group that is best suited to providing such a scheme. If a scheme involves extra expenditure over the years by British Rail, that would have to be taken into consideration when fixing its investment ceilings, external financing limits, its overall pattern of finances and any other demands on its funds.

Mr. Whitehead

Is the Secretary of State aware of the old saying: Hope deferred maketh the heart sick"? Given that many of us are heart-sick after yesterday's Budget and that many of us are supporters of capital projects for the regeneration of British industry, is there not a need for a speedy decision on this major project, which could make a substantial contribution to such regeneration?

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman should be more cheerful after a Budget that everyone recognises will be very good for industry and for industrial development. The Anglo-French studies have gone ahead quickly. Once the French became involved in the studies they moved quickly, and I am hopeful that we shall be able to keep to the timetable that I gave in response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Mr. Michael Marshall

Will my hon. Friend expand a little further on what he understands to be the private investment interest in the project in Britain? What is his understanding of the involvement of private French capital?

Mr. Howell

I understand that on this side of the Channel eight groups have put forward schemes as promoters for the fixed Channel link. They recognise the Government's requirement that there should be no recourse to public funds. They intend to propose schemes that will satisfy that criterion, although until the nature of the scheme is clearer none will be able to do so. On the French side of the Channel, too, there is a greater inclination to look at market sources of finance than at purely State resources, as was originally suggested.

Mr. Bidwell

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that an admirable Select Committee on Transport is currently hard at work and that it has recommended the 7-metre tunnel? In the exchanges that have taken place—I hope—across the Channel has the right hon. Gentleman discerned more enthusiasm among the French than among the British?

Mr. Howell

I had the honour of appearing before that Select Committee. It has done excellent work on the fixed Channel link. As I told the Select Committee, there is enthusiasm for a project, provided that the finances can be sensibly organised. The respective Governments have made it clear that they would like studies to be made so that a decision in principle can be reached.

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