HC Deb 13 January 1986 vol 89 cc764-5
14. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many letters he has received in his official capacity about the fixed Channel link; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ridley

Approximately 1,700 letters about the Channel fixed link have been received since the promoters submitted their proposals on 31 October 1985. Of these, about 1,500 have been from members of the public.

Mr. Taylor

Does not this correspondence show that the public would much prefer a third Dartford tunnel to a Channel tunnel? Will the Minister issue a warning to innocent investors who might be tempted to put their savings into this project that if private enterprise funds run out before the project is completed, there is no question of the Government bailing out the project or their savings with taxpayers' money?

Mr. Ridley

In relation to the first question, I do not consider that 1,700 letters from a population of 54 million is statistically significant. Secondly, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that no public finances will be made available if either of the projects that might be selected runs into financial difficulties halfway through.

Mr. Dalyell

Since the Under-Secretary of State most courteously answered my Consolidated Fund debate on 19 December, have the Government got any further in considering the problems of microsleep, driver hypnosis, and what could happen if people attempt to drive from Edinburgh to France and are fatigued when they enter the tunnel and do nuttish things?

Mr. Ridley

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, those matters have been analysed and considered, and the hon. Gentleman would do well to await the decision and the White Paper that will follow it. It will be impossible to publish that White Paper on the day of the decision, because the decision must come first, and the White Paper must be written thereafter, but it will provide the answers to the hon. Gentleman's worries.

Mr. Colvin

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for not being here earlier when my question was called. How many letters has my right hon. Friend received about Britain's ability to fulfil its NATO defence commitments should the Channel fixed link lead to a reduction in our ferry fleet? What mechanism will be used to monitor the position as the impact of the Channel fixed link becomes clearer?

Mr. Ridley

I have received 19 letters on that subject, and I do not consider that 19 letters can be taken as expressing major national concern. The impact on the ferry fleet of any fixed link depends radically upon which fixed link is chosen. The White Paper will attempt to provide an analysis of the impact of our choice on the ferry fleet.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Can the Secretary of State confirm that his noble Friend the Earl of Caithness advised the Merchant Navy and Air Line Officers' Association that the Government intended to maintain a ferry service and fleet? How will that be done? Can he also confirm that no treaty between Britain and France will be signed before the House has had an opportunity to analyse and debate the White Paper?

Mr. Ridley

I am not sure what my noble Friend might or might not have said. However, the impact of any choice upon the ferry fleet and the defence consequences will be spelt out in the White Paper. Debates in the House are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.