HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc738-40
7. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is yet in a position to announce a decision on the Channel tunnel.

14. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is now in a position to make a statement on the Channel tunnel.

20. Sir Albert Costain

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is now in a position to make a statement about the Channel tunnel.

Mr. David Howell

The joint Anglo-French report has been submitted to both sides. Discussions with the French Government are continuing.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call first the three hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Taylor

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no near or projected need for a Channel tunnel and that none of the groups that have put forward schemes has done so without wanting some direct or indirect subsidy, guarantee, or indirect support from British Rail, the Common Market or the British Government? Will my right hon. Friend at least give an assurance that British taxpayers' money will not be used to support this white elephant, which seems to be supported only by contractors, consultants and fanatical supporters of the Common Market?

Mr. Howell

I can give my hon. Friend the firm assurance that the Government are committed to private finance. The Government believe that if a decision is taken in principle to go ahead with a Channel fixed link, it should be done without recourse to public funds.

Mr. Adley

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that he gives due weight, and nothing more, to those who, for political or even commercial, reasons, are mounting campaigns against the Channel tunnel? In the light of his discussions with the French Government, does my right hon. Friend feel able to assure them that when and if Her Majesty's Government reach a decision to proceed, they will be able not only to carry the House with them but to sustain the project? To make this possible, and in order to avoid the problems that occurred on the last occasion, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it would be advantageous to have political support as broad as possible across the political divide when he makes his decision?

Mr. Howell

Any giant project, particularly one based on agreement between two Governments, requires broad political support. I accept what my hon. Friend said. The first matter to be decided is whether there is to be a fixed link and, if so, which type.

Sir Albert Costain

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that had the previous scheme not been cancelled by the then Labour Government, the tunnel would have been open next year at a cost much less than is estimated for a single-bore tunnel? Is he aware that Folkestone in my constituency has had to put up with indecision for 15 years? Has not the time arrived for some finality?

Mr. Howell

I recognise the need not to repeat the long delays and uncertainties of past years when this issue was being discussed. My hon. Friend is correct in saying that uncertainty benefits no one. It leaves ferry operators or those who would invest in a fixed-link, if there was one, with doubts about the decisions that they should take. I recognise the need to reach a decision. I shall try to meet it.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Secretary of State aware that this would be another piece of grandiose lunacy like Concorde, which never produced anything? I put to the right hon. Gentleman the suggestion that I made to his predecessor: that the parts of the tunnel already dug should be blocked with a Concorde at each end and cemented over.

Mr. Howell

I am aware of the right hon. Gentleman's broad approach to this project.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Irrespective of whether one is for or against the project, can the right hon. Gentleman supply me with information about the dangers should the tunnel be blown up by terrorists? I seem unable to obtain this information from his Department or any other Department. I am especially concerned about the possibility of the flooding of Dover and the surrounding area. No one seems able to say whether it would be easy to send a car loaded with petrol into the tunnel and blow it up or to estimate the damage that would be caused.

Mr. Howell

Any final decision, if there were to be a project and construction of a tunnel, would have to take account of safety and defence considerations. The relevant Departments would be responsible for seeing that they were enforced.

Mr. Moate

Is it not of immense significance that the Cairncross report, commissioned by the Government to advise them, concluded that there was no overwhelming case for a fixed link? Does my right hon. Friend not detect the distinct odour of a very dead duck? Would it not be better to forget the whole project before wasting more time or money upon it?

Mr. Howell

All odours and sentiments and, of course, the economic analysis and report of Sir Alec Cairncross have to be taken into account by the two Governments and by those Governments individually in reaching a final decision in principle.

Mr. Bagier

Without going into the merits or demerits of the argument, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he agrees with his hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain)? Is it not about time that the right hon. Gentleman reached a decision? Does he agree that every conceivable argument has been put forward and that the prevarication that he seems to be practising is not fair to the House?

Mr. Howell

I hope to reach a decision as soon as possible.

Mr. John Wells

Is my right hon. Friend aware that uncertainty is causing great anxiety in the county of Kent, especially in respect of the completion of the M20 road link? People do not know whether they are coming or going. Does he agree that the delays and uncertainties of the preliminary work on the road link are most unsatisfactory? Will my right hon. Friend accept my assurance that the people of Kent are less worried about the possibility of a Channel tunnel fixed link now than at the time of the previous proposals? Is he aware that British Rail and the other consortia have put forward their plans much more thoughtfully and tactfully?

Mr. Howell

I note my hon. Friend's assurances. He is correct in saying that the uncertainty connected with a great project of this kind, when it is first brought forward, is debilitating. That is why I am anxious that we should reach a decision.