HC Deb 17 July 1986 vol 101 cc1313-31 10.55 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill that it has power to consider alternatives to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding the access to and egress from the terminal area by road, and that with respect to the access and egress from the terminal area by road it has power to make Amendments to the Bill if it thinks fit; and that any Petitions against such Amendments to the Bill presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office not later than 26th September, in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents, he referred to the Committee. I am happy to say that I shall not need to take up too much of the time of hon. Members in explaining the background to the somewhat narrow point that gives rise to tonight's debate. As with so many aspects of the Channel Tunnel proposals as they affect Folkestone, hon. Members will recognise the hand of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in terms of the matters that we are debating. Indeed, some will be familiar with that biblical quotation The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hand is the hand of Esau. In this case I have to admit that the voice is the voice of transport, but the hand is the hand of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, who has pressed so strongly that the means of access to and egress from the Cheriton terminal should be altered in ways which find favour with his constituents.

As the House knows, the Channel Tunnel Bill was given a Second Reading on 5 June. In the early hours of 6 June, being a hybrid Bill it was committed for consideration to a Select Committee of Members of this House. The Select Committee was duly appointed, and on 24 June began to hear petitions from affected groups and individuals seeking amendments to the Bill, or assurances about their rights or interests.

Under the Bill's proposals, vehicular access to and from the M20 would take the form of a three-lane, dual carriageway road, approximately 1.7 km long, to the north-western corner of the terminal site. The villages of Frogholt and Newington would then lie between the terminal approach road and the motorway. The approach road would also pass between Newington and its sister village of Peene, although at this point, for a short length it would be constructed in cut and cover. This road to the terminal would also pass very close to Asholt wood, a wet wood, which is designated as a site of special scientific interest.

The construction of the approach roads would necessitate the acquisition of about 45 acres of agricultural land. A number of bodies and individuals petitioned the Select Committee in favour of certain changes to these arrangements for access to and egress from the terminal. These petitioners included Shepway district council, the authority within whose area the terminal site lies, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, taking a special interest. The Kent county council and three other district councils in east Kent were also petitioners in this matter.

In seeking these changes, the petitioners have several objectives, including a reduction in the amount of open land required for the terminal, a reduction in the noise and disturbance in the villages of Newington, Peene and Frogholt and the provision of a means of encouraging visitors arriving at the terminal to visit Folkestone, Dover and east Kent instead of joining the M20 directly and heading for London and beyond.

I say in parenthesis that those who, like me, have had the good fortune to spend a number of days visiting this part of Kent have been impressed not only by the beauty and attractiveness of the constituency represented by my hon. and learned Friend but also by the number of fascinating things that there are in Folkestone and Dover to hold tourists there.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who speaks for the Labour party tonight, chuckles. I am not sure whether he has spent the time that I have in Dover and appreciates the Crabble Mill, the Napoleonic staircase, the old Roman quay, which is unfortunately still covered by sand but which can be brought alive for tourists to see, as well as the Roman look-out point on the castle. There is a host of great attractions there.

In pursuit of their objectives, petitioners lodged suggested amendments to the terminal layout that would have enabled provision to be made in respect of the road exit at the eastern end of the site, that is, adjacent to Folkestone. These options became known as the eastern egress options.

To assist the Select Committee in its consideration of these and other proposals, a working group was set up to examine possible alternatives to the arrangements in the Bill. The group included representatives of the local authorities concerned, Eurotunnel and the Department of Transport, and it has now reported. Its conclusions are that none of the eastern egress proposals are feasible but that further alternatives suggested by the Shepway district council and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe is worthy of further examination.

The further alternatives would involve short entrance and exit roads on the south western edge of the site and would meet many, but not all, of the objections put forward by the petitioners. I should at this point reassure some hon. Members who may have been somewhat alarmed by a report in The Guardian on Wednesday 16 July. It suggested that a motorway challenge may go to Europe". It said that more than 400 residents in Cheriton, Kent, are threatening to take the Government to the European Court of Human Rights over a last-minute attempt to shift the motorway link for the Channel Tunnel. I have to say that that is the proposal that was examined by the group and found to be defective and abandoned. It is not connected in any way by the proposition that would be considered if the House sees fit to allow the motion tonight.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

During the journeys that my hon. Friend the Minister has made through the county of Kent to which he has just referred, to an enthralled House, was he accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)?

Mr. Mitchell

On a number of occasions—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The House is anxious to make progress with this matter. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's intervention is very relevant or helpful, and I hope that the Minister will disregard it.

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does not my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup represent part of the county of Kent, and did he not live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken)? Is it not most relevant whether Members of this House should accompany Ministers when they make very important journeys of this kind?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the House will have regard to the motion before the House on an instruction to the Select Committee. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will not challenge rulings from the Chair.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) for having drawn attention to the visits that I have made to Kent. I should say that I have been accompanied on several occasions by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who has taken a special interest in the environmental implications of the project.

I should say to the House at this stage that it is by no means clear that the compromise alternative proposed is superior to the option in the Bill. Eurotunnel has expressed reservations about the revised option and strongly favours the original layout. Nor have we yet heard from local people, who may well petition against alteration of the Bill's scheme.

Although the revised option would reduce the amount of land taken for the terminal, it would involve the acquisition of certain land not currently included in the Bill. For that reason, it is necessary to serve notice on land owners and tenants and to publish advertisements in the normal way so that those affected can petition against amendments to the Bill.

If the House approves the motion, it would be our intention to advertise the proposals from the beginning of August. The closing date for petitions laid down in the motion would give potential petitioners about eight weeks to present their petitions to the House. In the light of those petitions, the evidence which the Select Committee has already heard and the report of the working group, the Select Committee will be able to determine whether the amendments should be made.

The motion is relatively simple. The procedure was first used in connection with the Park Lane Improvement Bill in 1958, so we are not breaking new ground with House procedure. The motion would enable the Committee to respond positively to the petitions which it has already heard and at the same time ensure that all the facts are available and that local people have a chance to express their opinions. I commend the motion to the House.

11.5 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Like the Minister of State, I can be brief. The Opposition welcome the opportunity given to the people concerned to petition along the lines outlined by the motion, and give the motion their wholehearted support.

I issue an immediate disclaimer. I did not accompany the Minister on his travels—or perhaps travails would be a better description. For a Member representing Basingstoke, his geographical knowledge was extremely commendable.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

It is closer.

Mr. Snape

It is certainly closer than West Bromwich.

Mr. David Mitchell

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who has only just started his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) might be a little disconcerted, because I represent Hampshire, North-West.

Mr. Snape

Well, I knew that it was a long way from West Bromwich. I do not wish to comment on speeches from any other quarter, especially before they are made.

I hope, bearing in mind your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the House is not to be lectured by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about the motion. Those of us who have the privilege of serving on the Select Committee which is examining these proposals — I shall not say anything about the Select Committee's work or I shall be ruled out of order — missed contributions from the Liberal party. They would have been welcome, given, as I understand it, that the minority parties were offered a place on the Committee but could not find the time, or perhaps did not have the inclination to serve on it. Before I arouse your understandable ire, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to say on behalf of the official Opposition, who are diligently represented on the Select Committee, how much we support and applaud the motion. I commend it to those of my hon. Friends who are concerned and interested enough to be present to support it.

11.8 pm

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

I start by declaring an interest in that I am a director of the Folkestone and District Water Company which may well be affected by these proposals. I welcome the motion, the instruction to the Select Committee which it contains and the proposals for alternative arrangements for access to and egress from the tunnel terminal which lie at the heart of the motion.

I should like to make it plain that I discused the matter in some detail with my hon. and learned Friend, and near neighbour, the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who, as a Minister, is not able to speak in this debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has already paid a considerable tribute to the true author of the motion. My hon. and learned Friend has always identified the access proposals contained in the Bill as one of the most damaging aspects, and he has made it clear that eliminating the environmental damage associated with that feature of the published scheme is one of his highest priorities. He has worked very closely with the Shepway district council in striving to identify an acceptable alternative. I know that he takes the view that the proposal that has emerged from the joint working group is an acceptable alternative.

That view is shared by the all-party fixed link executive which Shepway district council has set up to consider these matters. But since this alternative has already been the subject of widespread misrepresentation — my hon. Friend the Minister referred to this—my hon. And learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe has asked me to clarify certain aspects of these alternative proposals. The alternative would achieve the elimination of several specific consequences of the original proposals. It would save about 50 acres of countryside. It would avoid altogether Beachborough park and Asholt wood. It would eliminate the severance of Newington and Frogholt from Peene and the downs, which was a particularly objectionable feature of the original proposals.

But, contrary to some reports, the alternative would not involve the demolition of any property in Pine way or any other part of Cheriton or the Cherry garden area of Folkestone. It would not involve a third lane on the motorway east of the Cheriton roundabout. It would not involve the loss of any playing area attached to Harcourt primary school. It would not involve any work to the east of the Cheriton interchange. It would not bring traffic closer to the area of Cheriton and Cherry garden avenue.

Indeed, those places will continue to benefit from the reduction of traffic on the motorway in the vicinity of those areas, which is expected to be a result of the Channel tunnel proposal. The overall effect of the alternative proposal is clearly beneficial and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and I commend it to the House. It is a further example of the way in which my hon. and learned Friend has been able to work for his constituents, and of the response from the Minister and the group that he has been chairing, because flexibility has been shown, and people have listened to those holding views.

The motion is a vindication of the Select Committee procedure. It proves that the Channel Tunnel Bill is not writ in stone. It can be and should be altered if a reasoned case is made, and I have every confidence that it will be. The motion also provides for adequate and reasonable time fo those who may be affected by the new proposals to petition and to make their views known to the Select Committee. I commend it to the House.

11.12 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I, too, on behalf of my party, welcome the motion. In response to a point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I should say that I have no knowledge of offers made to minority parties collectively or specifically.

Mr. Snape

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has a habit of listening to the radio 4 programme "Any Questions", but two weeks ago one of his distinguished colleagues said on the programme that an offer was made and rejected. An alliance candidate from that part of the world was acting as an agent on behalf of many petitioners, and said, I believe, that he would be putting the alliance point of view to the Committee.

Mr. Hughes

I have no knowledge of any offers made. But the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that one of our candidates is participating professionally in the Select Committee's proceedings. However, I do not propose to go into that as we are debating the motion, and the alternatives that it opens up. I have read the minutes of evidence given to the Select Committee, and I understand that the eastern exit proposal which the Minister rightly referred to, upset many people. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) was correct in all that he said—that is more a matter of opinion than of fact. But there was great concern about the eastern exit and the lack of consultation about it. Representations have been made to the Select Committee expressing the opposition of local residents. The motion permits consideration of an alternative route—made as a result of the efforts of the working group, to which the Minister referred — containing a better set of proposals, particularly better in terms of their environmental impact.

Mr. Bob Hayward (Kingswood)

The hon. Gentleman described some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) as matters of opinion rather than matters of fact. Will he identify those areas which he believes to be opinion rather than fact?

Mr. Hughes

I was dealing, for example, with the effects on housing and the school at Cheriton. A great deal of evidence about the original proposal was presented by local people suggesting not that the housing or school would have to disappear but simply that there would be an environmentally harmful effect because of the nearness of the road alignment. Thus, the assertion that there would be no effect on the people in the area must be a matter of opinion. I was not disagreeing with the hon. Member for Ashford about his contention under the original proposal, but there would be no need to pull down or replace schools or houses.

Mr. Speed

I chose my words with care. I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) in that the hon. Gentleman cannot challenge anything that I said on fact. There will, undeniably, be environmental effects on the area. We believe, as does the hon. Gentleman, that they will be ameliorated by the latest proposals. My remarks about schools and playing areas were matters of fact. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to challenge them, he should do so in detail.

Mr. Hughes

I am not challenging the hon. Gentleman's assertion that there would be no direct effect on housing or schools. The assertions about the original proposals were always about their environmental impact on the sites that the hon. Gentleman described. So whereas there may be no disagreement between us about the direct effect on the housing or schools, there may be some disagreement between us on the environmental impact on the communities concerned.

The major advantage of the motion is that it provides us with an opportunity to adopt a different exit scheme, one to which members of my party and others have contributed. The new scheme is the working group's preferred proposal, for it was clear that the original northwest and the eastern exit plan would have damaged the environment.

The problem is that, despite the motion and any amended instruction to the Select Committee, the original proposal could still be approved. I hope that we shall not find that, despite an apparent degree of flexibility in this matter, there will be an ultimate unwillingness to take into account the environmental concerns that have been expressed about the alternative exit proposals.

Now that alternatives may be considered, I hope that we shall end up with the least environmentally damaging proposal. The recent working party proposal—it is still at an early stage of public knowledge— could have that result. But the Minister will agree that it too has not been fully tested and that it is not clear whether, at the end of the day, it will prove to be the best option. On the evidence and knowledge that I have at present, however, it would appear to be preferable.

The Government's return to the House this evening to amend the instructions to the Committee manifests above all the haste with which the entire operation was conducted from the beginning. The Bill, and the inquiry into it by the Select Committee, was based on a rapidly changing set of proposals that had not been fleshed out. I hope that the Minister will accept that had there been more time, the amendment to the instructions would have been anticipated. There had been little time for the alternative exits to be canvassed and examined. One of the consequences of the speed with which the Government have proceeded — the pace has been their choice and they have heard dissent expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends, Labour Members and Conservative Back Benchers—is the need to alter the ground rules for the Select Committee at this stage. Had there been more time, the need to alter them could have been anticipated before the Government proceeded and the further instruction would not have been necessary.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

If the hon. Gentleman is complaining about the lack of time for consideration of these matters, why did his party vote against the setting up of a public inquiry? I presume that the hon. Gentleman did so as a representative of his party.

Mr. Hughes

My party did not vote against the setting up of a public inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) argued — there have been several debates on these matters and his speech is recorded in the Official Report—that there should be a short public inquiry. If I recollect correctly, he suggested specifically that the inquiry could be completed in about 20 days. That was his original view.

Mr. David Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is complaining about the pace with which the Government are proceeding with this measure and yet at the same time he is advocating that there should be a public inquiry into a major project that will be completed within 20 days.

Mr. Hughes

The Minister is mischievously misrepresenting what I said. He might like me to have said that but he knows that I did not. He knows that my party would not have proceeded from the beginning in the way that the Government did. We would have had—this is our policy for all major proposals and projects, such as Sizewell as well as the Channel Tunnel — a public inquiry at the very beginning to determine the matter of principle.

The Government decided that the project should not be the subject of a public inquiry and that it would be governed by the timetable that had been agreed with the French. Having made that decision, the only argument left for the House to enter into—we did so in a debate that continued all through the night and I was present to ensure that the Liberal amendment, which was reached at five o'clock in the morning, was moved and discussed—was the need for maximum public participation in the work of the Select Committee. The Minister served throughout that long night and he will remember that it was my argument that the petitioners should have an opportunity to put their case as fully as possible. Tonight's proposals widen that opportunity, but they are none the less evidence of the haste with which the Government moved generally. It has been necessary for the Government to return to the House, because they failed to anticipate everything at the beginning.

Mr. Hayward

Does the hon. Gentleman recall the occasion when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), the official spokesman—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that what the hon. Gentleman is about to say will be relevant to the motion, otherwise he should not make his remarks. We are getting away from the motion and I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will get closer to the terms of the motion. Mr. Simon Hughes.

Mr. Hughes

I am trying to complete my remarks, but there have been several diverting interventions.

I hope that, as a result of this extension of the powers of the Select Committee, there will be consideration not just of the land needed for access to and egress from the tunnel entrance but also a revision of the total land requirements. There is some dissent about the amount of land required for the whole proposal. There is also a belief that Eurotunnel may not require all the land currently available to it. I hope that the flexibility that will be given —which, in principle, is a good thing—will also allow the Committee and in due course the House to ensure that we are not handing over more land to the project than is needed. We are worried that the Bill provides for too much land to be affected by the proposal. Obviously, the harmful envirommental impact must be reduced as far as possible.

After studying the wording of the instruction, one remaining question must be asked. As I understand it, the second clause states in relation to the Committee with respect to the access to and the egress from the terminal area by road it has power to make Amendments to the Bill if it thinks fit; I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that that gives the Committee considerably wider powers than those required to incorporate any of the material amendments now being considered before the Committee, for example the Working Group proposal, and that the Committee now has a completely wide and open brief with regard to the amendments. As well as giving the Committee flexibility to examine the alternative proposals for exit and entrance, which are the products of the joint working group, the instruction gives the Committee an open book in considering all other possible entrances and exits and all other amendments. The instruction allows a wide opportunity for amendment to the Bill.

On a matter of precedence and of information, I should be grateful if the Minister could explain whether the consequence of the instruction—if it is passed—is that any and every amendment made by the Committee within the terms of the instruction will be acceptable if the Committee so wish it. That would permit a much wider scope for the Bill than the number and specific content of the clauses in the Bill presently before the House.

I repeat that the motion is welcome. It appears to have all party support and I hope that it will assist the Committee in its deliberations. Above all, I hope that it will produce an opportunity for the least environmental damage in Kent, which is a beautiful county, as the Minister well knows. I hope that the instruction will allow the Committee to consider more effectively the best and newest proposal to come before it, as to the place for best access and egress to the tunnel contained in the proposals in the Bill.

11.28 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I will be brief because I know that some of my hon. Friends have journeys to make home to Kent tonight along roads which are far from good.

Before I proceed, I think it is appropriate for a Tory Member to comment briefly on the contribution made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). On the Conservative Benches it seems that the alliance parties are trying to have their cake and eat it. They voted to a man but one—the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock)— who represents a channel port in favour of the project while the "candidate" —as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey referred to him, is trying to make considerable political capital in Folkestone at the expense of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees), by purporting to be against the proposals. It appears that the alliance cannot have it both ways at once. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) has said, that might explain the alliance's absence from the Select Committee. This is a serious matter for Kent and the Conservative party and the Labour party are taking the matter very seriously. I hope that we shall hear no more from the hon. Gentleman. The House will have registered the fact that the candidacy has been declared, and we assume that the Liberal representative will from now on record his election expenses properly.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to correct myself. Although I may have said "candidate", clearly I meant the prospective candidate. The hon. Gentleman asked me to say this on a previous occasion, and I gladly repeat it now: the Liberal party and the SDP have always believed—the hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent that — that there should be a Channel tunnel. That has always been our position. It is the method of arriving at decisions that has always been the matter of contention.

Mr. Gale

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because there was some equivocation from the alliance on that matter.

In a spirit of complete conciliation, may I welcome the motion, especially its breadth and scope. We hope that the words, that it be an instruction to the Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill that it has power to consider alternatives to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding the access to and egress from the terminal area by road", will include not only the immediate access but the access from the Thanet towns. We look forward to welcoming with an open mind my hon. Friend the Minister of State to Thanet, and I know that he received a good welcome in Folkestone and Dover. We also look forward to welcoming the Select Committee to the Thanet towns. We have no doubt that its members will go away suitably enlightened and that there will be further amendments to the Bill.

11.32 pm
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I join those hon. Members who congratulated my hon. Friend the Minister of State on his lyrical exposition of his travels round Kent. May I say how much we genuinely appreciate the work that he has done. We know the efforts that he has made to understand local worries, and we look forward to the publication of "Mitchell's Rural Rides" with great interest. The motion is an attempt to introduce flexibility into the procedures and to deal with alternatives. I welcome the motion, but I hope that my hon. Friend can elaborate on one or two points.

May I take up some points that were made earlier in the debate—since they were made, they were presumably in order — by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Some of us view with considerable — one uses one's language carefully —abhorrence — [Interruption.] I cannot use the word "humbug" because it is unparliamentary, is it not, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Perhaps I could call it the ambivalent attitude of the Liberal party—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No; "humbug" is all right.

Mr. Moate

I am pleased about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because no word is more appropriate to describe the attitude of the alliance on this issue. The parties play one tune locally and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey plays a completely different tune here. Yet when he speaks in such debates he tries to pretend that it is the same tune. He and his Liberal colleagues voted against a public inquiry. On Second Reading, the Labour party tabled an amendment which declined to give the Bill a Second Reading on the ground that there had been no public inquiry, and the hon. Gentleman—assuming that he was here—voted against it. Yet now he complains that the options have not been sufficiently considered.

Mr. Snape

Unusually for the hon. Gentleman, he is not being quite fair to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has been entirely consistent. As that hon. Gentleman said tonight, the alliance is wholeheartedly in favour of this project, except where there are votes to be garnered locally by opposing it.

Mr. Moate

I am glad to receive that correction. We must all try to be fair to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. He is passionately in favour of a Channel tunnel so long as it has no ingress and no exit, does no environmental damage and loses no vote in any street in the Folkestone area. The hon. Gentleman is laughing, but it is not funny because it is—I am glad to have free use of the word—utter humbug. Many people garner votes at every opportunity locally, yet the hon. Gentleman does not disown the campaigns mounted by local alliance candidates.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that a national party can take one view but that there may well be dissenting voices within it which are perfectly entitled to argue their corner. The alliance parties have always been in favour of a rail-only Channel tunnel, but people in Kent are entitled to take a different view and to try to minimise its impact.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order we are moving away from the motion before the House and should return to it.

Mr. Moate

Would it not be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would make absolutely clear that he disagrees with local alliance candidates and that the party disowns their views on the Channel tunnel?

Mr. Hughes

I have just said that the prospective local candidate and local parties are entitled to argue their case. I do not disown them. They are concerned, as we are here, to ensure that there is the least environmentally harmful impact on Kent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps we can return to the instruction to the Committee.

Mr. Moate

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful to you for expressing clearly the view that "humbug" is an acceptable phrase, especially in this context.

I cherish greatly the private Bill and hybrid Bill procedures. They are a great defence of the liberties of the individual. I am a little concerned about the terms of this proposition. Most hon. Members have at times served on private Bill Committees of this sort which frequently consider options. As I understand it, the Committee has the power to go beyond the options initially presented to it. As I understand it, the motion is before the House because an alternative has been proposed which affects the property and rights of individuals who would not have had a chance to petition or object under the original proposals, if that is so, we are grateful for the opportunity for those people to receive details of the proposals and to petition against them before 26 September.

However, the motion goes beyond that. It states that the Committee has power to consider alternatives to the provision which is now made in the Bill. The motion does not limit the alternative to the one which we are discussing, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) wants considered and which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) described so clearly. It is alternatives generally. What happens if this Committee, now empowered to consider alternatives generally, decides to consider other alternatives which may well be put forward by petitioners? That often happens on such Bills. The Committee is empowered by this motion to consider any alternatives.

The time limit for petitions is 26 September. What happens if the Committee puts forward alternative proposals which may involve compulsory purchase, extra noise on alternative routes and yet the dead-line for petitions is 26 September? On those grounds alone we should have some doubts about the validity of this motion. I do not want to stop the Committee from having this power — I think it is right that it should have such power—but we ought to be jealous of the scope of Committees of this kind.

I am a little puzzled because 26 September falls during the parliamentary recess and I wonder whether Parliament is empowered to receive petitions during the recess. I realise that the Committee is empowered to sit whenever it chooses—it can sit during August or September—but surely the petition is to Parliament and not to the Committee. It is up to Parliament to decide whether a petition should go before the Committee. If one of the proposers of the Bill should object to the vires of a petitioner, the Court of Referees has to decide the matter. These are matters for Parliament and not for the Committee, but Parliament will be in recess.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should be careful on the vires point and the Court of Referees. As this is a hybrid Bill, the vires of a petitioner is decided by the Committee and not by the Court of Referees.

Mr. Moate

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your correction on that point. I did not understand the procedure. However, I am puzzled that a Committee has such powers under the procedures of a hybrid Bill. Nevertheless, is not a petition a petition to Parliament and not to the Committee? If Parliament is not sitting in September, how can it receive petitions? In principle, these options should be considered, but I have a feeling that we are broadening the options too much.

I appreciate that the access/egress to the tunnel will be of immense importance to the local inhabitants, but in the context of the whole project I understand they are of relatively minor importance. My main concern is on environmental matters, an aspect which has not been widely echoed.

Essentially this is a rail-only tunnel, but it can also be described as a rolling motorway and it will generate an immense amount of traffic. All the traffic of the south-east and further afield will go down a funnel as it approaches the Channel tunnel. The heavy lorries will do the most environmental damage to the rural areas, the rural roads and the rural rides mentioned my hon. Friend the Minister. If we accept this proposition which allows an opportunity for consideration of a variation of the access/ egress of traffic into the tunnel, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that it does not alter the fundamental proposition that the main route should be the M20 and not the M2.

If traffic is diverted to the north-east Kent coast. it may attract some people looking for jobs, but I am worried about the way in which it would divert heavy lorry traffic en masse up to the north and on to the M2. That would increase the pressure on the rural roads in my constituency which are already heavily burdened with unsuitable traffic. I would welcome the Minister's assurances on that point.

11.44 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

I, too, welcome the motion, although my welcome is accompanied by one or two doubts, anxieties and questions to which I shall refer in a moment, but not at any great length, so as not to detain the House.

I do not want to begin as though I want to damn the motion with faint praise, as praise is indeed due, especially and in large measure to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). He is a pillar of the Government and works from within it. There is no doubt that, once again, he has done stifling work in defending the interests of his constituents by getting the instruction tabled.

There is no doubt that the Committee should be considering alternative plans to the original and what I regard as somewhat cockeyed scheme drawn up by Eurotunnel in its first view of what was needed for access to the terminal. I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has pointed the House quickly and forcefully, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has responded sensitively and swiftly. So far, so good.

However fine the Government's intentions, if we examine the motion closely to find out what it really means, or if we stand back and take the broad view and see it in the widest possible context of the Channel tunnel project as a whole, certain doubts start to arise and multiply. The motion begins: That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill that it has power to consider alternatives to the Bill and to make amendments. Some of us thought that such powers existed all along. Some 4,700 petitioners thought the same, because their petitions often began, "Please amend the Bill" and "Will the Committee please consider alternative proposals?". Why on earth does the Committee need some special instruction when it comes to access and egress roads around the terminal? Are there some sensational difficulties about them that are cast in stone so that the House of Commons has to be detained late at night just to pass a Government instruction to get the Committee to consider alternatives? That can hardly be so.

If we examine what has so far been said about access and egress roads around the terminal, we find that the Committee has considered the matter for some time. It would have been a most extraordinary Committee if it had not decided, at least in its mind, to recommend alternatives. As for what the current plans would do, I can do no better than quote Shepway district council, which said: In practical terms, Newington Village Hall would have to be demolished in order to allow the works to proceed. It is clear from evidence given to the Committee that rugby and cricket clubs would be destroyed, and that the whole focus of village life would be destroyed if the original plans succeeded. That was typical of Eurotunnel's rushed and cockeyed plan—demolish a village hall here, knock out a cricket club there, ruin a site of special scientific interest somewhere else, a few woodlands should go, all for the greater glory of Eurotunnel, and all to be done as cheaply as possible for the shareholders. That is an unacceptable attitude, and I do not understand why the Committee needs a special instruction from the Government to insist that Eurotunnel does not have the right to demolish a much-loved village hall and must put its wretched access road somewhere else.

What is the role of the Select Committee, and what should its style be? There were some prophetic words—modesty compels me to admit that they came from me —in the debate in the small hours of the morning on 5 June. I said: It is essential for the people of Kent to feel that they can have considerable public confidence in whatever structure is created to hear their grievances and to propose amendments to the Bill. If it was thought that a substantial number of placemen had been appointed to the Committee, that would be a great mistake. As my hon. Friend said, in a way it will be a judicial committee. I think it was Bacon who once criticised 15th century judges, saying that they were lions but lions under the throne. It would be a great pity to see a Committee of lions but lions under the Whips' Office. This must be an independent-minded Committee."—[Official Report, 5 June 1986; Vol. 98, c. 1238.] Even if I had my tongue in my cheek somewhat when I was making all those jungle-type references to lions, at least I thought that we would get a Committee independent minded enough to be able to stop a village hall from being demolished in order to build a road, without a special instruction from the Secretary of State.

I think that the Committee's reputation is in danger of getting a little tarnished, not just because it is not always obviously demonstrating independence—after all, that is a quality capable of many definitions—but because it is not necessarily listening fairly to all the evidence on these issues that might lead to amendments being tabled contrary to Eurotunnel's interest.

There was an episode today that is directly relevant to what we are discussing. It concerned Kent rugby club, and a witness came before the Committee complaining that he wished to give evidence in chief, as lawyers call it, that playing fields would be destroyed by the present scheme, but he was stopped from doing so and was instructed that the evidence could not be given and that he would have to submit to cross-examination. The Chairman wielded a very strong crack of the whip. From descriptions that I have received of this somewhat ill-tempered episode—we will, of course, read the report of the proceedings tomorrow with great interest—I have no doubt that the Chairman's handling of that witness was absolutely wrong.

We are inviting the petitioners to come forward and petition against the scheme. If not just me, or the witness, or his agent, but the lawyers who were present today are saying that it is monstrously unfair that someone should not be able to come forward and give his evidence in chief without being halted by a ruling from the Chair, I say that we do not want to see the Committee engulfed in a firestorm of criticism, but a few more steps down that road and it would be.

Mr. Snape

I hope that I shall not transgress the rules of order by what I am about to say. I think that the hon. Gentleman is making a grossly unfair attack on the Chairman of the Committee. He was not present when what the hon. Gentleman has described took place. A few minutes ago he was seeking information about an incident that had been relayed to him involving a member of the Committee who had never been present during the day's proceedings. I urge the hon. Gentleman, therefore, on this issue to get his facts right for once.

Mr. Aitken

I do not think that there is any danger of the facts being wrong, because tomorrow it will all be in the report of the proceedings. I am saying that any witness must be able to come before the Committee, give his evidence and get a fair hearing.

Let me remind the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and, indeed, all hon. Members, that the passage that was much quoted in the debates running up to the installation and establishment of the Committee was from the Select Committee on Transport's recommendations on how the hybrid procedure should work. Paragraph 27 of the report said: The Committee recommends that … the fullest possible latitude again be allowed to petitioners, and that all those whose petitions conform to the basic requirement of relevancy be allowed to be heard. I am simply sending down a warning signal that, if petitioners are denied the right to give their basic evidence, this controversy will rage again and again. All that observers of the Committee from the Back Benchers want is for no one to be able to say that people are not being heard fairly. Most of the time, I must say, that complaint has not been raised, but it has been raised on several occasions. It is the Committee's own fault, because the Committee is giving the impression that what it cares most about is getting ahead and getting things done.

Indeed, the Chairman of the Committee, on 25 June, when he gave a ruling, rather bravely, forbidding lawyers to make opening speeches, said: We are required also by the very nature of our constitution as a Committee of Parliament to take into account the parliamentary timetable. The House knows perfectly well that there is no such thing as a parliamentary timetable. The Government may have a timetable in their mind, but it is the Committee's duty, I submit, to hear the evidence, and by all means get on with it as fast as is reasonably possible, but to be fair.

Mr. Moate

Does my hon. Friend agree, as confirmation of the point that he is making, that there is a fundamental difference between a Government timetable and what he referred to, quoting the Chairman, as a parliamentary timetable? The enormous privilege available to Bills going through the hybrid or private Bill procedure is that they are not subject to a timetable, because of the carry-over provision that allows them to go over the year and beyond, indefinitely if the House so wishes. This privilege is not available to Government Bills.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are going very wide of the motion. I hope that hon. Members will stick to it.

Mr. Aitken

Out of respect for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and because we have said enough about the timetable, which is not affected by parliamentary time, I shall move on. The Government may have pressures, but the Committee does not. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is right.

The terms of the motion are extremely vague, although it is well intentioned. The main fear of the east Kent towns of Dover, Folkestone, Ramsgate and Margate is that not only will their hotels and shops lose business as a result of the Channel tunnel, but that they will not have much hope of regaining any new business from the tunnel if the exit roads sweep all traffic straight back to London without an opportunity for travellers to get into the depressed towns of east Kent. Therefore, the motion which tells the Committee to investigate alternatives, will give motorists a chance to turn right into east Kent, to meander through the towns and to spend their tourist dollars. That is a justified item in the public interest, although it might he an expensive item for Eurotunnel.

Mr. David Mitchell

As I understand the proposal, it is that the motorist should turn left to enjoy the benefits of visiting Folkestone, Dover and my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Aitken

I have never been able to tell my left from my right, which is no doubt why I have never become a Minister in the Department of Transport.

A vital topic is; who will pay for the costs that may flow from this instruction—the costs of the new terminal and of any new access or egress roads?

Another important point is policing costs. It has been said that new access and egress roads will need extra policing. Here I ask a question, to which there has so far been a deafening silence, to try to clarify the contradiction between what is in the Bill about policing costs and what is in the concession agreement.

The Kent police say that, to police the Channel tunnel and the roads immediately surrounding it, they will need a completely new sub-division of approximately 200 police officers and all the buildings that go with such a proposal. In the Bill it is clear that all policing costs should be paid for by Eurotunnel. In the concession agreement there is a sign that the concessionaires will not have to pay any extra costs over and above those that ferry operators have to pay for policing costs for ferries. In other words, the concession agreement can be interpreted one way, so that the Eurotunnel consortium might have to pay for only 20 or 30 police officers, while the police say that getting on for seven or eight times that number of police officers are required. The Bill says that all the policing costs should be paid by the Eurotunnel consortium. This is a contradiction that has not been clarified. It is of great interest to the people of Kent, because a police officer costs about £25,000 a year by the time his salary and operating costs have been paid.

All this talk about money and who will pay means that we might be entering the world of make-believe. The Eurotunnel consortium has failed miserably to raise the first £200 million of equity for the £6 billion project. Its excuses for not doing so are extraordinary, ranging from the fact that it is the summer holiday to, as my hon. Friend the Minister suggested, new issues for international banks. The real reason, which has sneaked out, is problems with the construction contracts, which are relevant to access and egress roads, particularly with regard to the bill for them. Next week the Committee will hear explosive evidence about the finances o the Channel tunnel. It will demonstrate yet again how much credibility has been lost and how unlikely the projeect is to go ahead, for sheer reasons of money alone.

The text for this short debate should be the opening lines of one of Shakespeare's great soliloquys from "As You Like it": All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances". This debate is not just about exits and entrances, slipped of course into the Euro jargon of ingresses and egresses. To debate the motion we have had to enter three make-believe plays in advance. We have had to make believe that the Committee needs an instruction to do this work. We have had to make believe that the Committee is doing an absolutely fair job in hearing every witness impartially. Above all, we have had to make believe that we are debating something that is real, which it is not until the money is there. As long as the money is missing, it is a fantasy and a nonsense. July is a mad month for Parliament. We are debating a non-necessary instruction about what I think will be a complete non-event.

12.1 am

Mr. David Mitchell

As I said earlier, the need for this debate has arisen because a number of petitioners have suggested that alternative access arrangements for the proposed Cheriton terminal would be preferable. This is a practical demonstration that both the Select Committee and the Government take local views seriously. Equally, serious account will need to be taken of the interests of any people who are liable to be detrimentally affected by the alternative access arrangements. The Government propose that they should have eight weeks to present petitions.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) sought to make an interesting assertion on behalf of the Liberal party that he knew not of the opportunity for his minority party to serve on the Select Committee. I find that extraordinary, because hon. Members will recollect that we spent considerable time during the night of 5 June, well into the morning of 6 June, discussing the composition of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber. I know that he dozed off at one point. We teased him about it, but I do not wish to be unfair to him because it was late. During the time that I took it that the hon. Gentleman was alert and interested in the debate we were discussing whether there should be eight or nine members on the Committee. The main point that was made was that having a ninth member would ensure that minority parties would be represented. Therefore, there was the astonishment that hon. Members have referred to when the Liberal party did not seek to take up the opportunity offered on that occasion. However, the hon. Gentleman accepted that there is a case for consideration of a change of route, so there is no difference between the Liberals and the Government on the motion before the House.

The hon. Gentleman asked how extensive are the variations to access and egress that can be considered by the Select Committee. The answer is, as wide as the variation in the advertisements that the Department of Transport will place. I shall come back to that in a moment because it is relevant to the points raised by other hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked whether the Select Committee had power to go beyond the powers contained in the Bill. The Standing Orders require the deposit of further plans and the issue of notices to landowners affected by this limited scope of alteration. The Committee may then consider the petitions against the specific amendments advertised. I make it quite clear to my hon. Friend that that does not affect north Kent. He mentioned the balance of traffic between the M2 and the M20. This is only concerned with access from the M20 to the terminal and immediately within the adjacent area of the terminal.

My hon. Friend inquired about the closing date of 26 September. He drew attention to the fact that that was in the parliamentary recess. He asked whether petitions will be valid if they are made when Parliament is not sitting. The answer is, yes; they will be perfectly valid. The motion ensures that that is so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) asked why a special instruction was thought necessary. He thought that the Committee already had the necessary power. I understand his point. The whole purpose of the Select Committee is to consider alterations and alternatives. The Select Committee can reduce the powers contained in the Bill in respect of land acquisition, but it cannot increase them. We are changing a proposition in the Bill that takes the road round the side of the villages at the foothills of the escarpment and moves it nearer to the M20. While that would result in the reduction of one piece of land, it would result in the addition of a smaller piece of land at another site.

The Select Committee could recommend that there be a reduction. It does not have the power to add the additional piece of land. We seek to enable the Department to advertise the identification of the precise piece of additional land so that those who would be affected if that land-take took place have the opportunity to petition the Committee in a counter-petition to those who seek that it should be incorporated. The Committee can then consider the pros and cons. The Committee must consider the pros and cons of the two alternatives. Many things can be said in favour of the alternative that we shall be advertising in due course, but there are arguments the other way. Eurotunnel may wish to draw the Committee's attention to certain arguments the other way.

My hon. Friend also asked who will pay the cost of revised access. That will form part of Eurotunnel's costs in exactly the same way as the initial access. He asked me about the police and the costs. The concession provides for Eurotunnel to contribute as for airports.

My hon. Friend asserted that Eurotunnel was having difficulty in raising the necessary funds. I believe that my hon. Friend enjoys a certain mischievousness in such matters. He has allowed his imagination full reign on this occasion. Eurotunnel has had no difficulties in raising the necessary finance. All that has happened is that it formed the judgment, on the basis of professional advice, that it would be more appropriate to raise the money after the holiday season. We must bear in mind that this is a joint funding with the French. The French holiday season falls somewhat earlier than ours. It is for that reasonable reason that Eurotunnel's professional advisers have suggested an alternative date for the funding.

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend seems to have assumed, rather rashly, the role of financial spokesman for Eurotunnel. I am interested to draw him out on that point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry that I allowed the matter to go so far. It is clearly outside the motion before the House. Mr. Mitchell.

Mr. Mitchell

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I strayed outside the bounds of order. I was merely seeking to redress the balance in an area where there might have been misunderstanding. I should not wish my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South to be in the position, which I am sure he would not relish, where people took seriously the mischievous remarks that he has enjoyed making during these debates.

The purpose of the motion is to follow through the Government's frequently expressed intention that the Select Committee should be no mere cipher in the democratic process. It should be able, in the light of representations made to it, to take real decisions and to make real improvements to the principle of the Bill, decided on Second Reading. We do not know whether the alternative access arrangements which have been studied will, on balance, be perceived locally as an improvement. That will be for the Select Committee to judge. This debate is about giving the Select Committee the powers to take that decision, if it so chooses.

The motion should offend no one and could result in a better project. For that reason, I hope that the House will give it full support.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill that it has power to consider alternatives to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding the access to and egress from the terminal area by road, and that with respect to the access to and egress from the terminal area by road it has power to make Amendments to the Bill if it thinks fit; and that any Petitions against such Amendments to the Bill presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office not later than 26th September, in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents, be referred to the Committee.

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