HC Deb 20 January 1986 vol 90 cc19-34 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Channel fixed link.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of France, meeting earlier today in Lille, announced the decision of the two Governments to take together the necessary steps to facilitate the construction of a fixed link across the Channel by the Channel Tunnel Group. Copies of the joint statement are being made available in the Vote Office.

We will publish as soon as possible a White Paper that will give the full reasons for this decision. It will also chart the next steps to give effect to that decision, the treaty, the concession agreement and the legislation.

The two Governments were faced with four proposals of outstanding quality which reflect great credit on the firms involved. It is remarkable that such keen competition could develop to provide and finance privately a project of this magnitude. The key factors that led the Government to select the Channel Tunnel Group were as follows.

Eurobridge was eliminated largely on technical grounds. It is an imaginative and forward-looking proposal, but the technical risks make it too speculative for the two Governments to believe that it was likely to be financed and successfully completed.

The choice between Channel Tunnel Group, Channel Expressway and EuroRoute was a more difficult one. They differ widely as to their technical characteristics, their impact on the environment, their effect upon shipping, and their vulnerability to terrorist attack—all factors in the decision. The invitation to promoters made it clear that any fixed link had to be financed, constructed and operated without support from public funds, and without Government guarantees against technical and commercial risks. It is thus for investors ultimately to determine whether a fixed link is built. The Governments had to try to select the scheme which offered the best prospects of attracting investors' support.

Both EuroRoute and Channel Expressway answer the popular desire to drive from one country to the other with the independence and freedom of a drive-through link, but both have large technical risks. CTG's is a well-developed project, relying on well-proven technology and is both less risky and less expensive. It offers a fast and efficient rail shuttle service for road passengers and freight, with very frequent departures and no booking. It presents no problems to maritime traffic in the Channel, and is the least vulnerable to terrorist attack. Its environmental impact can be reduced to an acceptable level. The Government concluded that CTG was the best scheme to go forward to the market.

The Government remain very much aware of the arguments that the public would like a drive-through link. In due course, the conditions may arise when a drive-through link would be viable. We have therefore secured an undertaking from the CTG that it will put forward by the year 2000 a proposal for a drive-through link to be undertaken as soon as its technical feasibility is assured, and economic circumstances and the growth of traffic allow it to be financed without undermining the return on the original link. At a later stage, the Governments will be free to invite competitive bids for a further link coming into operation not before the year 2020.

I expect the signature of the Anglo-French treaty to take place in February, and the concession agreement between the Governments and the Channel Tunnel Group to be concluded shortly thereafter. The legislation will then be introduced into this House as soon as possible. Construction could begin by summer 1987.

Consultations in Kent have so far focused on the question of which scheme the Government should adopt. We must now concentrate upon making the chosen scheme as acceptable as possible. We will want to minimise the environmental impact, and to consider carefully the employment consequences of this development. We will be sympathetic if problems seem likely to arise in east Kent when the link opens some seven years from now.

We must arrive at satisfactory arrangements with the promoters for the disposal of spoil and on other environmental matters, and we will ensure that the necessary road infrastructure is provided. The White Paper will deal with these questions.

The Channel tunnel is a massive and difficult project. It will be a challenge to our engineers, our technicians and our financial institutions. Equally, I believe that it will be of great benefit to travellers and exporters alike in giving them cheaper, quicker and more reliable access to the continent of Europe.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

In opting for the Channel Tunnel Group tender, the Government—against the instincts and prejudices of the Prime Minister—have chosen a fixed link which has the potential of matching Britain's needs for an integrated transport policy. However, in rushing this decision through in such a tight time scale, the Secretary of State has broken his promise to Parliament on 9 December that he would publish a White Paper on the same day as the decision was announced. I suspect that this will not be the last of his broken promises.

A number of questions must be answered. Exactly when will the White Paper be published? Will the Secretary of State fight in the Cabinet to get a debate in Government time before the treaty between Britain and France is signed? The right hon. Gentleman said that the White Paper would refer to the treaty and various other things. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore answer this question precisely: will he fight in the Cabinet to get a debate in Government time?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that no obstacles will be placed in the way of those most affected by the scheme and that their views will be thoroughly canvassed by the Select Committee? What guarantees can the right hon. Gentleman provide that the British share of construction costs will be spent on British goods and that British labour will be employed on the project? As we know that the French are keen to gain the maximum advantage from this fixed link and to have the maximum investment in SNCF, will the right hon. Gentleman produce an investment plan in conjunction with British Rail so that BR can maximise the opportunities which the link may offer?

Will the right hon. Gentleman do what he can to establish customs clearance facilities in major regional centres in order to encourage the carriage of long-haul freight by British Rail? Will he ensure that the terminal points from which passengers may travel are spread throughout the regions? Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that any public expenditure on infrastructure will he new money and will not be taken out of existing budgets?

Now that the Government have taken the decision, it is their duty to ensure that any benefits are evenly spread throughout the country. The Government have a responsibility to the nation as a whole.

Mr. Ridley

I was not clear whether the hon. Gentleman was in favour of the link. It is curious that we have had such a grudging response to this statement on the day when the Leader of the Opposition has made a speech—I saw the Tape as I came in—calling for a massive programme to reverse the decline in the British economy.

I shall publish a White Paper giving a mass of the information which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has sought and which other hon. Members will seek. The decision was taken only a day or two ago, so it seems right that I should postpone publication until full details of the decision can be included in the White Paper. I hope that the details will be published within a week or two, or shortly thereafter.

The question of a debate is, of course, one for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to consider.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to ensure that objectors to the scheme would have an opportunity to put their views. I confirm that they will be able to present their case as petitioners before the Select Committee in this House and in another place, if the Select Committee is prepared to give them status. I shall encourage the Select Committee to be as wide as possible in accepting petitioners.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman-he might even be pleased to hear this—that I believe that a good deal has been done between the British and the French railways, and between those railways and the promotors, which will result in large-scale orders for rolling stock. I am certain that all those who are concerned on the British side will do their utmost to provide as many jobs as they can on this side of the Channel.

We hope to site national customs controls as far as possible next to each other at the entry to the link of each direction of travel so that there will not be duplication or stopping for through passengers, but there still have to be customs and immigration controls.

As to public spending on infrastructure, there will be new money, in the sense that this is a new project. However, whether or not a new link is built, there will still be a need to expand the road system to the channel ports because of the great increase in traffic that is taking place.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

As one of my right hon. Friend's predecessors as Secretary of State for Transport who brought similar proposals before the House more than a decade ago, I congratulate him and welcome his conversion to the project. I express my appreciation at the success of his negotiations and promise my wholehearted support to the scheme.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for those wise words. In mitigation of what he said about me, I should point out the small difference between his attempt to get his link constructed and mine, which is that on this occasion no taxpayers' money will be involved.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

We welcome the decision that has been made today, and we are grateful for the fact that this project has been chosen and not one of the others.

The right hon. Gentleman said of the chosen scheme: "Its environmental impact can be reduced to an acceptable level." Does he agree that that can be done only if British Rail has adequate capital resources to make full use of the whole network, including the midlands, the north and Scotland? I realise that this is not in his hands, but will he try to persuade the Select Committee to hold hearings in Dover and Folkestone. This would be the right way forward, because people would be able to make their views heard.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the support that he brings on behalf of the Liberal party for the decision that we have made to choose the Channel Tunnel Group. I am sure that that will be as welcome to Liberals throughout east Kent as it is to the Government. I congratulate him on his courageous support for what he knows to be right. Massive investment will be required by British Rail. A conventional-speed train system will need about £290 million, and a high-speed train system about £390 million, and there will be futher investment in the shuttle rail equipment, which will be undertaken by the Channel Tunnel Group. Some large orders from the promotors and the railways are to come for this part of the project. It opens up great new opportunities for extending the railway system right from the north of our country into the farthest corners of Europe. I join the hon. Gentleman in hoping that the Select Committee on the hybrid Bill will be prepared to travel and hear evidence in the affected areas of Kent.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that his statement will not allay the c'eep and legitimate concern in east Kent about the implications of a fixed link? Therefore, will he accept the need for close and continuing consultation with the local interests likely to be affected? Can he give the House any reassurance that there will be a proper and continuing role for the ferries and ports of Dover and Folkestone? Will he reassure the House that any extra economic activity generated by the fixed link will be retained in east Kent and not be drawn to north-west France?

Mr. Ridley

I should like to be as helpful as I can to my right hon. and learned Friend, who has done so much to represent to me the views and fears of his constituents—as has my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) who, as we all know, cannot speak for himself.

My hon. and learned Friend has made clear, as has my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees), the views and fears of constituents on the south-east coast of Kent. As a result of their representations I have decided to set up a joint committee consisting of officials, local authority representatives of the area and the promoters. It will be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and it will go into all the points of local concern and difficulty, in the hope of improving the impact of the scheme on both the environment and the economics of the affected areas.

I cannot accurately forecast the effect on the ferries to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred. However, I believe that there will be a continuing role for them, even after the link has been opened. Dover has some of the longer distance routes, as well as short sea routes. The growth in traffic is expected to be very great, and I am sure that the ferries will have a share of it. I am also certain that many people will prefer to choose one mode of transport rather than another.

When it is opened, I believe that this huge new artery will carry an immense number of passengers as well as a vast amount of trade between the continent and this country and that it will act as a magnet for new economic development and investment. If the planning policies of the local councils are right, there will be great opportunities for additional development in the east Kent area.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us view this project as simply the biggest election bribe in history? It is clear that this decision has been arrived at without due consideration of its implications for Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom and of its effect upon the merchant service. Will the right hon. Gentleman hold up this project until a commission has fully investigated all these aspects?

Mr. Ridley

The link will greatly benefit constituents throughout the country, including those in Scotland. If goods can be sent to the continent more quickly, more cheaply and without the risk of delay, and if people can travel to the continent more quickly, more cheaply and without the risk of delay, that will aid the competitiveness and trade of the whole country. These are not Government funds which could be spent in other directions. A great deal of this money will be international money. A great deal of this capital will go only to projects which are chosen internationally. It will not be possible to direct it elsewhere.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the Government have made by far the best and most sensible choice by choosing the Channel Tunnel Group's scheme from among the other fixed link options? Will he also accept that this is the only scheme that ensures that a substantial amount of the growth in traffic will still go to the ferry operators? Will he say a word about the plans for streamlining the handling of customs and immigration, in particular the possibility of on-train customs handling, since this would represent an important asset for the project?

Mr. Ridley

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. I welcome his support because he, too, studied this matter in depth when he had my responsibilities. He is correct in saying that this choice means that the opportunities for continuing the ferry operations are great indeed, although it is difficult to be specific about the precise amount.

My right hon. Friend asked about customs and immigration. We are working hard on this matter. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury is still hoping to find ways to improve this service. For many reasons, we shall need both customs and immigration. The reasons include the prevention of disease through plants and animals being carried through the link. Controls will therefore be needed.

I am anxious that a special arrangement should not be provided for the through trains which use the link which would be competitively disadvantageous for the ferries or for any other forms of transport. To concentrate both the French and the English controls at the point of departure in each direction will mean at least that passengers are stopped only once, and that control acts only once.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

In making the decision to have a fixed link, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on following the guidance of the Select Committee on Transport. I only wish that he had done so on the occasion of the Bill dealing with buses. The courage of the Minister has been mentioned, so I congratulate him on taking the hazardous line of disagreeing with his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her reported preference for another scheme. Will the Minister give an undertaking that when the White Paper is published he will make strong representations to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to ensure that it is debated and that a decision is taken by the House before the treaty with France is signed?

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The report of the Select Committee on Transport was most helpful. I am pleased that we have been able to agree with it entirely. The hon. Gentleman did a quick and expert job, and the Government are grateful to him.

This has been a rather frustrating time for the press, because its members have been unable to discover what has been happening. Some hon. Members may have seen misleading statements in the press, which, I am happy to say, are untrue. The Government are united in their choice, and we agree with the French as well.

Debates are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but there will be a Second Reading debate on the hybrid Bill.

Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his optimism about the future of the ferries is not shared by some of the ferry operators? Will he consider the matter carefully, to ensure that this decision has not sounded the death knell for the British merchant marine, which has served this country so well?

Mr. Ridley

Some ferry operators are more pessimistic than I have been this afternoon about the prospects. However, it will be seven or eight years before any link can be opened. During that time we expect a massive growth in traffic to the continent, which will result in extra business for the ferries. The extent of the business that they will retain is hard to predict, but I am not pessimistic about the prospects for my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

As the transport unions have been especially careful to offer positive co-operation, will the Secretary of State suggest to the chairman of the Channel Tunnel Group that it is unhelpful to give the impression that he would be prepared to use non-union labour on a fixed link?

Mr. Ridley

Far be it from me to make suggestions to the chairman of the Channel Tunnel Group after we have made our decision and accepted the final proposals as modified. However, there may be some disagreement about what the hon. Lady has said. The customers using the link will place great reliance upon the fact that it will not be subject to strikes and interruption. The hon. Lady's question is a strange one. To ask to ensure the possibility of unionised activity and strikes is to sound a warning note of the true face of the Labour party.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of how bitter the opposition is in east Kent to the proposition? Is he further aware that, although I give the proposition my support on national grounds, I am sorry that I am unable to carry my constituents with me? Will my right hon. Friend offer my constituents and the environmental societies more than a hybrid Bill as a means of registering their complaints? Will he offer them consultation with officers in his Department, so that they will feel that they are being heard and that something is being done about their complaints?

Mr. Ridley

I am fully aware of the feelings in east Kent. My hon. Friend and I have visited the area and discussed the matter with local people. I share my hon. Friend's view that there is still much apprehension. In response to this, we shall undertake a major consultative programme in the area and, in addition, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will chair a co-ordinating committee of the local authorities, the promoters and the Government as problems arise. The procedures of the hybrid Bill Committee will allow almost anyone who is affected to make representations, not just to the Committee in this House but to the Committee in another place. Those are full and proper arrangements for hearing local objections, and I confirm that the Government and the promoters will do what they can to adapt the scheme to local requirements.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Govan)

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of us are resolutely opposed to a Channel fixed link, whether this project or any other, for the reason which the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged in answer to a previous question, namely, that this will suck further economic activity into the south-east of England, which is the last place in Britain that needs such stimulus? This is just another project that will widen the north-south divide, and it will be bitterly opposed, especially in Scotland.

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friends who represent Kent have expressed concern about the effect on Kent, although not in the sense that it will suck jobs from Scotland into Kent. I believe that the link will create some growth in jobs. The orders that will be placed for rolling stock and other manufactures will be of great benefit to the entire country. The fact that Scottish exports will be able to reach the continent more cheaply and more quickly should be recognised as a help to the competitiveness of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents and, therefore, to their advantage.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Will my right hon. Friend conduct careful consultations about conservation before producing a White Paper? Will he have discussions with the Nature Conservancy Council, which is the Government's adviser, and which wishes to put strong points to him?

Mr. Ridley

We are always keen to take what action we can to assist in improving arrangements for conservation. My hon. Friend will know that geography dictates where the tunnel will come out and where the service area will have to be. It would be difficult to change that now.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the Secretary of State aware that I and the majority of my constituents completely oppose the building of the fixed link? We live in an area of high unemployment, and we cannot understand why the Government can encourage the expenditure of billions of pounds on building a hole in the ground, instead of encouraging such expenditure on building structures above the ground. The construction of new schools, houses and hospitals would reduce unemployment in my area. This project will increase unemployment there.

Mr. Ridley

This is not Government cash which could be used to build schools, hospitals or other structures in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is international capital, which will go to projects only where investors believe they can earn a reward. It is far better that that capital should be used to build a Channel link than to build factories on the continent, which might make the competitiveness of the hon. Gentleman's constituents even worse. I repeat that a most useful benefit to the north of England and Scotland will be the fact that goods will be transported more cheaply to their markets. Transport is an important factor in industrial costs, and anything that we can do to reduce transport costs will help industry.

Sir John Wells (Maidstone)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great opportunities that will be created for new employment in Kent, despite fears of early local unemployment on the ferries and elsewhere? Will he encourage Kent county council and the district authorities to grant planning permission, so that Kent may grow, with great prospects for our people? In north Kent unemployment is as high as it is anywhere in the country.

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is great potential for further development arising from the link. However, such development must depend on the planning policies pursued by district councils. I have been in close touch with the chairman of Kent county council, who came to Lille with me early this morning. We have throughout discussed the problems and opportunities which the link presents. I undertake to keep in close touch with the Kent local authorities to ensure that every opportunity is taken to help.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

Given the considerable public interest in having a drive-through link in addition to the rail tunnel, does the Secretary of State accept that the year 2000 seems a long way off? What steps will he take to encourage the CTG to tackle the technical problems involved well before that deadline, and how firmly committed are the French Government to the concept of a drive-through link at a future date?

Mr. Ridley

Both Governments would have liked to see a drive-through link, but the problems are fairly formidable, in the sense of a 5 or 6-kilometre stretch near the French coast where the strata are difficult and unknown. It will be of great assistance to drive the bored tunnels of the CTG through those strata, whet more information about the possibility of a bigger tunnel for a drive-through link can be gathered. There was always doubt about the ventilation system proposed by Channel Expressway. With further advances in that technology, and with the greater geological information that we hope to obtain, it may be possible to drive a bigger tunnel through at a later stage. The CTG's undertaking, which will be spelt out and put into the White Paper, makes it possible to do that fairly soon, or, in default of that, for a further invitation to be made to promoters so that a drive-through link would come into existence by the year 2,020.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must bear in mind that we have an important debate after this. I know that this is an important matter, but many hon. Members who are now rising also wish to take part in the subsequent debate. Therefore, I shall allow questions to continue for a further 15 minutes. However, I ask for brief questions, because that will probably lead to briefer answers.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

As a noninterventionist Minister, can my right hon. Friend explain why all his busy intervening in the past few days has not achieved the winner for which he and the Government were pressing last week, and instead has resulted in what many hon. Members see as game, set and match to the French? Moreover, in view of the widespread misgivings in all parts of the House about the project does he understand that his Bill now faces a grim uphill struggle through the House, and that Parliament will do the job which, because of the timetable, the Government have not yet been able to do, which is to scrutinise the project thoroughly and defend Britain's and the public interest?

Mr. Ridley

I assure my hon. Friend that negotiations with the French were at times quite hard. We achieved what we wanted on a number of matters, particularly in the area of railway finances and railway deals, and in respect of the many matters which will be the subject of the treaty and the concession agreement. I can further assure him that everything that he has read in the newspapers is not accurate; that, although we finally agree, there was a good deal of argument with the French, and that the British Cabinet has achieved its preferred objective, which is the Channel Tunnel Group scheme.

Regarding the time scale, it will take more than a year for the hybrid Bill to pass through both Houses of Parliament, and it will be possible to carry it over at the end of the Session, so ample time will be available. It will be up to hon. Members who sit on the Select Committee, and noble Lords, to ensure that all these matters are fully considered and explored in depth. That is the right time to carry out such an in-depth exploration, because we could not possibly have done that with three or four schemes.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

If this project, which the Minister has welcomed so enthusiastically today, is to bring fresh employment and renew our economy, it no doubt had a high priority on the list before any prudent Government. Now that the Government's responsibility for financing the project has been taken over by private captial—we hope entirely—may we assume that that has freed a considerable sum which can be used to finance projects in regions which are at present hard hit, for example the through-Manchester rail link, or even the retention of the Oldham-Rochdale rail link?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman makes a mistake which is typical of the Socialist party, in that he does not understand the difference between Government money and other people's money.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

Will my right hon. Friend be as forthcoming as possible about the independent advice that he has received, and in particular give us maximum information about the environmental impact study, which is extremely important to Kent?

Mr. Ridley

The environmental impact study will be published with the White Paper. I agree that it is extremely important, and we want to give the maximum amount of information we can, together with the other matters dealt with in the White Paper.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

What on earth has possessed the Government to recommend that this expensive, unnecessary and vulnerable project should go ahead, except as a stunt for electoral considerations on both sides of the Channel, without even a public inquiry into the profound environmental effects and the damaging implications for the regions?

Mr. Ridley

The Government have been persuaded to go ahead because there appears to be a strong desire for better communication links with the continent. It would be a foolish Government who sought to frustrate that when the link does not cost any public money. For a whole day on a motion from the Opposition Front Bench the House debated whether there should be a public inquiry, and it decisively rejected the idea, in my opinion, rightly.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I am thankful for the fact that a scheme has been chosen which will have the least short-term bad effect on north-east Kent, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for recognising the need for Thanet to be able to compete on equal terms for cross-Channel traffic. Therefore, I am particularly grateful for his undertaking that, given the consent of Kent county council, he will commence immediately the trunking of Thanet Way. Since his visit to Thanet in December, what further consideration has he given to the communication links between Thanet and the Channel tunnel, so that Thanet and the whole of north-east Kent may benefit, as he suggests, from such a venture?

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says, but both Thanet Way and the other routes to which he referred are in the main local, not national, roads. If Kent county council puts forward any of the schemes for priority treatment, we shall do our best to assist under the TSG allocation, but the council must suggest the priorities. My hon. Friend went so far as to suggest trunking Thanet Way. I promised to look into that, and I cannot yet give him a definite answer.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Minister aware that this is another example of Common Market madness, and that all the talk about jobs for people making the products needed for the Channel tunnel is similar to what we were told by his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when the Tory party was dragging Britain into the Common Market without a vote? Why have the Government come up with this without a mandate from the British people? It is a stab in the back for the north, the midlands, Scotland and Wales, as opposed to the few down in the golden triangle. Why does the Minister not give all the hon. Members who dragged Britain into the Common Market a shovel and let them build the tunnel? We shall never get one then.

Mr. Ridley

It is interesting that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is the first hon. Member to mention the Common Market this afternoon. As far as I am concerned, the agreement is an Anglo-French agreement resulting in an Anglo-French treaty to facilitate Anglo-French trade. The vote on this matter in the House in December seemed to be a good mandate for proceeding.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that while in the medium and long-term the economy of Kent may benefit from the project, in the short-term places like the Medway towns may find that their already inadequate road systems are grossly overloaded by any additional prosperity coming into the area? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will give sympathetic consideration to proposals to improve the road structure in that area?

Mr. Ridley

During the next eight years there will not only be many people employed in constructing the link, but there will be an increase in ferry traffic. In the next eight years, direct employment will continue to improve. I note what my hon. Friend said about roads, and I have made it clear that the Government will be sympathetic and assist with road programmes in Kent which are affected by any fixed link. As projects come forward, they can be considered by the committee to which I have referred. The Government will do all that they can to assist any untoward effects that the link might have upon transport in Kent.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Is it not a constitutional outrage that a project of this size and importance should be lumbered on the country following consultation in a Cabinet committee and a Cabinet meeting, when the building of a power station can call for a public inquiry lasting three years or more? Is that not scandalous. The Minister lectures my hon. Friends about Socialists not understanding the difference between public money and other people's money, but he does not seem to understand that the enormous cost of the project will be met out of national resources. I can think of 1,001 better ways of using national resources in my neck of the woods, rather than using them in south-east England.

Mr. Ridley

What is an outrage is to take 10, 20 or sometimes 30 years to make up our minds about major infrastructure projects when other countries can do that in a matter of months. If we are serious about development and jobs, we should of course consider environmental, wildlife and employment aspects, but we ought to be able to do that more quickly than we do. If we really want to see the employment that should arise from the link, we must take action within a reasonable time scale.

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in principle and specifically, I welcome the historic decision revealed today? I also welcome the rapidity with which the decision was reached. Nevertheless, is my right hon. Friend aware that, while welcoming the commitments that he has given today, the House will continue to press him and succeeding Governments on two points that he has made? I am referring, first, to the consultation arrangements to take into account the real concerns of people throughout Kent; and, secondly, the commitment by the Government and the promoters that the project will not require public money, now or in the future.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It has been suggested that the Government have taken this decision with undue rapidity and that we have been rushed. I assure my hon. Friend that in delivering the decision today, 20 January, as promised, we have not been unduly rushed and that we did not need more time to come to a decision. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of consultation with Kent and, as I have said to several of my hon. Friends, the Government intend to pursue that vigorously. I give a categorical undertaking that, apart from the improvement of road and rail infrastructure, no public funds will be made available for the project.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Secretary of State does not want to be aware of how offensive the project will be to everywhere north of Watford, as he did not mention the unemployment consequences there. Can he tell the House specifically how many jobs will be lost in the northern regions of England, in Wales and Scotland? Can he also tell the House whether the moneys that British Rail will spend, will be spent in two regions, in the south-east, and in the rest of the country?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman seems to have misunderstood. The vast majority of the investment. both by British Rail, which will be in rolling stock, and by the promoters, which will be in rolling stock for the shuttle service, will provide work for railway workshops and such installations. That work should find its way to many factories in towns and cities in the north of England. It is astonishing that instead of welcoming that the Opposition do not seem even to have understood it.

The hon. Gentleman should withdraw the word "offensive" from his remarks. If providing jobs from the private sector by massive orders of this kind is described as offensive, the hon. Gentleman's claim to be concerned about unemployment in the north is hypocritical

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Why is my right hon. Friend so optimistic about an undersea rail tunnel when the only comparable tunnel in the world, just completed in Japan, has been a total and complete financial disaster? Can he at least assure the House that the prospectus issued to investors will make it abundantly clear that if the money runs out before the tunnel is completed their money will be lost and no Government funds wil be made available to complete the project?

Mr. Ridley

There is a difference between the Channel fixed link and the tunnel in Japan, in that the tunnel under discussion will go from Britain to the continent of Europe, while the tunnel to which my hon. Friend referred goes from Japan to the north island off the coast of Japan, where very few people live. I believe that there are many people living on the continent of Europe. I repeat the assurance that I gave in my previous reply. No public money will be made available to rescue the project if it gets into financial difficulties.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the Secretary of State not understand that a good many people living north of Watford do not see any long-term benefits flowing to them from Maggie's monument? Does he not understand that that results from the fact that the project has been steamrollered through in the interests of a tiny group of people who will make a lot of money? Does he not understand that as the Government have refused a public inquiry, and have failed to give any guarantees about British orders or British jobs, there is no more faith in the project than there is in the Government's position over Westland?

Mr. Ridley

If the hon. Gentleman is correct and a small number of people will make a lot of money from the project, they will make that money out of people coming from the whole of the United Kingdom to use the link, either to send their goods through by rail or to travel themselves. The money will come from his constituents and from constituents in the north of England and Scotland, who voluntarily and willingly decide to spend money on the link because they believe it to be to their advantage to do so. If the hon. Gentleman does not have the good grace to tell his constituents that the project is something that will benefit them, his constituents will find that out for themselves and his advocacy will thereby be devalued.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order, In view of the interest shown, I shall allow an extra five minutes, but only five minutes.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members give a wholehearted welcome to his courageous decision today? Will he confirm that the decision that he has announced offers the greatest possible benefit to those carrying freignt across the Channel and offers the greatest possible benefit to the regions of any of the proposed schemes. Therefore, in his discussions with British Rail about investment, will my right hon. Friend give the maximum time possible to the proposition that the more investment British Rail can place in its regional facilities, the more that will benefit the nation?

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, but I am still waiting to hear whether his cochairman of the all party Channel tunnel group, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), agrees that this is one of the best decisions that could have been taken and that he entirely supports it, as my hon. Friend the co-chairman of the group has so rightly done. However, answer comes there none.

It will be a massive opportunity for railways on the direct London-Paris link, and there will be opportunities to travel from further afield to the link, to cross the Channel by means of the link and to go further into Europe. The project will open up a new opportunity for the railways, and I hope that they will take it. We have demonstrated that our attitude to railway investment, provided that it is commercial, is not to stint it. I think that the railways will confirm that they have not been held back by a lack of funds and that they will be able to make a worthwhile investment.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Is the Secretary of State aware that there are many of us who believe that he has made the right decision, but who are worried and apprehensive that the eventual benefits to accrue will not find their way to Wales, Scotland and the north of England? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the existing track in the south-east of England will not be sufficient to cater for the Channel traffic and the London traffic, and that cross-London links are inadequate? Can he give the House a guarantee that British Rail will be able to do a proper job and provide first-class capacity in the south-east and through London to connect the tunnel to the north of England? Will he assure us that the money will not be made available at the expense of other works that British Rail should be undertaking?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman takes a reasonable and sensible attitude to the project, which represents a major opening of opportunities for railways. There is nothing to stop through trains from travelling to the link from all parts of the country. The necessary connections can be made where they do not currently exist. These developments will be of benefit to the hon. Gentleman's constituents and to others from the north and west of England and from Wales and Scotland. It is not planned to increase the standard of the track that runs from Folkestone to London to enable it to take very high speed trains. Such work would cause major disruption and would inflict immense damage on the environment. We have made it clear that that will not happen.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend for missing the first few minutes of his statement. I congratulate him on taking a historic decision. I regret that the technical ability to construct a road link is not presently available, but my constituents will welcome the fillip to employment that the project will produce in north-west Kent. However, they will continue to be mindful of the environmental problems that may accrue with the link, especially with the link to the north through the Dartford tunnel, which will have an effect on the whole of north-west Kent.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I note carefully what he has said. I hope that we may keep closely in touch with opinion throughout Kent. I am sure that the promoters will want to do so. We shall do all that we can to help meet any problems that are created by the opening of the link.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The Secretary of State has referred to the potential for railway development. Does he realise that that will go down very well in Rotherham, where the works producing products for the railway and the ring road were planned for closure last week? His remarks will go down very well also in the light of the thousands of jobs that have been lost in railway workshops during the Government's lifetime. Does he accept that the principal difference between France and Britain is that the land in France that will be adjacent to the tunnel is the area of France that is most in need of development, while the area of Britain that will be immediately adjacent to the tunnel is the one that is least in need of development? The link could scarcely be sited further away from our areas of immense and growing unemployment.

Mr. Ridley

I think that the hon. Gentleman says that, fully believing it to be true. Many of my hon. Friends, especially those from north-east Kent, have said that they, too, have high levels of unemployment in their constituencies.

Mr. Hardy


Mr. Ridley

These levels are often higher than those in constituencies represented by Labour Members. It is right to consider unemployment levels in a non-partisan way. If the construction of the link brings extra jobs to any part of the kingdom, I think that we must all be pleased.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the nervousness of many of us stems from the Government's well-known reluctance to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on essential infrastructure in the cities? It seems that there is a great willingness now to spend many hundreds of millions of pounds on ruining that which already exists, and thereafter to spend on what will be called restructuring. Will he accept that many of us will take it very much amiss if the moneys that are spent on the link come from the hard-pressed cities, which need the moneys to put right what is wrong already?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend must know that the Government have a responsibility to build roads wherever there is need for them and to improve roads that are overladen. We shall have to improve the roads to the Channel ports, irrespective of whether the link is built, because the amount of traffic using them is increasing quickly. The House will be aware that we have built roads to the east cost and south-coast ports, in Glasgow and in the north-east. Currently, and to a large extent, we are constructing roads on Merseyside and in the north-west. We build roads wherever they are needed. We may have to build roads in slightly different places and rather more quickly because of the opening of the fixed link. However, that does not mean that special favours have been given. I am sure my hon. Friend will acknowledge that it is not possible to draw an analogy between that matter and what may or may not be desirable for the inner cities.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that the White Paper will provide a detailed assessment of the net effect on jobs of the fixed link project? Will it set out the Government's view of the number of jobs that will be won or lost during its construction and during the operation of the tunnel in each of the affected industries, especially the maritime industries, and in the various regions of the United Kingdom that will be concerned? Will he provide assurances to the House and to British Rail that British Rail's external financing limit will not be allowed to put any constraint on BR's investment in the Channel project?

What effect does the right hon. Gentleman expect his decision to have on the supposed and forthcoming closure of the Swindon railway works, and on the compulsory redundancies at the Glasgow railway works? If the project is to bring benefits to the engineering sector of British Rail, there should be reprieves for the works that are threatened with closure.

I move on to environmental considerations and urge the Secretary of State to keep the Cheriton terminal as small as possible, so as to reduce the environmental impact on the south of England.

As for industrial relations, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the chairman of the Channel Tunnel Group that the recruitment of non-union labour is no guarantee of long-term industrial peace, as any sensible manager in industry will be the first to tell him?

Finally, the Secretary of State asked me about my own attitude to the project. I have always supported the idea of a railway fixed link with the Channel. I voted against the previous Labour Government's cancellation of the project in 1975. I should like to know more about the right hon. Gentleman's attitude towards the four schemes that were submitted. It is fairly well known that he denounced all of them as madness. He said what we heard him say this afternoon because he was told to do so by the Prime Minister. Compared with him, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is a model of courage and consistency.

Mr. Ridley

If that was support and a welcome, I have never known a better disguise. I have always voted against Channel tunnels which have had to be financed out of taxpayers' money. We now have a private sector project, and that is a valid difference. I support it, and I have done so since the beginning of the scheme. We shall publish in the White Paper all the information that we can on the job consequences of the link both before and after it opens.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the confidence that he places in the Government. The bulk of the expenditure on investment by British Rail will take place in about 1989, 1990 and 1991, and I have already approved that investment in principle. It will not be cut by the EFL. The hon. Gentleman's confidence that I shall be presiding over that investment as well as the EFL in 1990 is something that gives me great pleasure. I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the kind and generous way in which he treats me.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Swindon and Glasgow workshops are maintenance establishments and would not be relevant to the type of new build that will be necessary for the project. Everything possible will be done with the promoters and local authorities to contain the effects of the terminal at Cheriton to the minimum and to that which is most acceptable to the residents.

The hon. Gentleman ended on the same sour note as his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I never knew that they got on so well together in these matters. He insisted that there should be trade union participation in the shuttle train operation. This is a matter for the promoters to decide, and they will doubtless want to make sure that they can provide the maximum of continuity of service. It would be wrong for me or for the hon. Gentleman to invervene in such a matter.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. About this North sea bubble, when the right hon. Gentleman refers to the benefits to Anglo-French trade—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called the hon. Gentleman to put a question to the Secretary of State. It sounds as though he is putting another one.

Mr. Faulds

The terminology is incorrect. When the Minister refers to the advantages to Anglo-French trade, is he being specific about the benefits to England—

Mr. Speaker

Order. A point of order is addressed to me, and the hon. Gentleman is now addressing his comments to the Secretary of State. If the hon. Gentleman will address his point of order to me, I will see what I can do to help him.

Mr. Faulds

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is time that we in the House clarified our terminology in describing the whole of this island. In describing the benefits of this scheme as being to England—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is drawing me into country into which I should not be tempted to go.

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