§ Order for Second Reading read.4.11 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Moore)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ Mr. Moore
It is with some trepidation, and not a little sense of occasion, that I come before the House today to move the Second Reading of the 1986 Channel Tunnel Bill. Hon. Members will know well the long history of Channel tunnel projects going back almost two centuries, and I will not dwell on them.
The process leading to the Bill that is before the House began over 18 months ago with a meeting in November 1984 between my predecessor, now the Secretary of State for the Environment, and his French counterpart, at the end of which they announced their agreement in principle to facilitate the construction of a fixed link by private promoters. An official working party was established to draw up guidelines, and on 2 April 1985 my right hon. Friend announced to the House the publication of the "Invitation to Promoters", calling for proposals to be submitted by the end of October and to be rigorously assessed by the two Governments. During the assessment period, the House debated the merits of the schemes on 9 December and we had the benefit of a report, produced speedily and with great efficiency, by the Transport Select Committee.
The successful project—the twin rail tunnel of CTG-FM, now known as Eurotunnel—was announced at a meeting of Heads of Government on 20 January this year, and my right hon. Friend made an immediate statement to the House, which Members discussed at some length.
On 4 February the Government issued a White Paper giving the reasons for their decision and setting out the next steps. This was the subject of a full-scale debate by the House on 10 February, at the end of which the White Paper was approved on a Division. Whilst that decision was far from unopposed, there was a wide measure of acceptance in all parts of the House that the Government had made the right basic decision. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), the official Opposition transport spokesman, said:the CTG-FM scheme is the best of the schemes that the Government examined. In our view, it suits our transport needs and provides opportunities for British Rail." — [Official Report, 10 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 692.]I welcome such a degree of consensus on such an important issue.
Accordingly, on 12 February the Channel fixed link treaty was signed in Canterbury and on 14 March the concession agreement was concluded. Neither of these instruments—this is important—can take effect until the 1101 two Governments have the necessary powers to implement them. The purpose of the Channel Tunnel Bill is to give the British Government the powers they need. The purpose of today's debate is to establish the principle that there should be a Channel tunnel. Once the Bill had passed into law, the treaty can be ratified and the concession can come into effect.
I thought it important, at the start of this debate, to outline briefly the events of the past year and a half that have led to today's Second Reading. I propose now to look at the implications of the Government's proposals from three points of view.
I shall start by considering the national impact of the project—because its impact is truly national. Secondly, I shall consider the particular issues raised by the project in Kent, and the developmental and environmental implications in particular. Thirdly, I shall describe the parliamentary process and the consultation machinery set up by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, in Kent, which the Government view as an essential complement to the hybrid Bill procedure in this case. I shall then speak about the content of the Bill, specifically.
I begin, therefore, with the national impact of these proposals, which I believe to be extensive, affecting not merely travellers, holidaymakers and business men, but manufacturers and traders throughout the country, our economy as a whole and, indeed, our attitudes as a nation.
Britain is a trading nation. One third of our gross domestic product is traded internationally—a very high proportion for a nation of our size. Last year our exports came to £78 billion, and they are an essential part of our livelihood. As has been said in previous debates, 60 per cent. of our exports go to western Europe—£46 billion worth.
Such a relationship to the world is two-edged. In the past it has brought us great wealth. But it places a premium upon competitiveness, initiative, and, most importantly, on the ability to adapt to change. It is only by adapting to change—in technical development, in new patterns of consumption, in new demands from consumers, in new industries—that a trading nation can prosper. We, much more than other countries which are self-sufficient, cannot avoid the challenge of change, the need to be out in front in new development, new methods, new products and new ways of delivering them to our customers.
Yet what has been the truth in Britain over the past half century? Has it not been that, far from welcoming and thriving on change, we have clung to what we have? While whole industries should have been finding new things to make and new ways to make them, thus expanding into new markets, instead they continued to do the old things in the old ways. They lost ground to those abroad with greater initiative. But the good news is that in recent years we have seen a remarkable change in attitudes and a new recognition of what the modern world requires, which has resulted in dramatic improvements in efficiency and productivity.
These important advances have laid the foundation for long-term improvement of the British economy. The Channel tunnel, coming now, when this crucial foundation has been laid, will provide an opportunity for our industry to expand and grow into one of the richest markets in the world. The Channel tunnel will give British business the opportunity to gain ever larger slices of this enormous 1102 market. That means more jobs for individuals, more profits for business, and more wealth and resources for the country as a whole.
Everyone can see the immediate, short-term boost in jobs and wealth. Some £700 million worth of equipment and materials will be needed by Eurotunnel to build the link, and perhaps another £200 million by British Rail. That means pre-cast tunnel linings, reinforcing and structural steel, cables, signalling equipment, high-speed trains, shuttle trains and locomotives. I need hardly remind hon. Members where the country's capacity for producing these lies.
Including direct employment in the south-east—in Kent—on construction work, we are talking, in all of some 8,000 to 10,000 jobs over a seven-year period. But the benefits will be vastly greater and more long-term than that. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek)—I have read the debates carefully — in the February Channel tunnel debate, said:The business man in Manchester will be able to load his freight on to wagons in Manchester and they can be offloaded at Duisburg, for example, without any difficulties stemming from crossing the Channel."—[Official Report, 10 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 720.]All over Britain, business and industry will suddenly find they can get their goods to the huge Euromarket faster, cheaper and more efficiently through the Channel tunnel. Passengers as well as freight will benefit. Passenger trains will cover the distance from London to Paris or Brussels in three to three and a quarter hours. Coaches, cars and lorries will reach the continent at least an hour faster and more reliably than now. All this will be accomplished by a combination of private, largely international, capital and profitable investment by BR. Any other nation, I am bound to say, would seize this opportunity with open arms.
The economic rewards of the Channel tunnel far outweigh the costs, but there are some, and it is right they should be mentioned in this debate.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Before the Minister turns to the costs, will he say whether the Government have been able to make projections of the additional traffic volume that will be generated by accepting the generality of what he has said? It would he of interest and help if he could be more particular.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the advantages for our exports to the continent will be matched by the advantages that will accrue to exporters of goods to Britain? Perhaps he will deal with the balance and take up the argument that our domestic industry could be adversely affected by the more rapid access that a tunnel would bring.
§ Mr. Moore
I recognise my hon. Friend's point, but it is rather depressing, when we seek to create new opportunities for our industries and manufacturers, that it seems automatically to be assumed that we shall be less effective, less efficient and less capable of taking advantage of the opportunities than our competitors.
The economic rewards of the Channel tunnel outweigh the costs, and I have said that it is right that we should 1103 mention some of the costs in the debate. The Government's White Paper made it clear that, taking into account employment in the ferry industry at Dover and Folkestone, there would be a dip in employment, which would not be insignificant in local terms—about 1,500 jobs below present levels. In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), who has made this point on several occasions in the House, I accept that there will be pressure also on port-related jobs elsewhere in the county. Thereafter, we believe the underlying upward trend in cross-Channel employment will resume, and there will be exciting opportunities for general development if local authorities grasp them.
It is therefore right that I should turn now to the second section of my speech—the local impact of the tunnel on the local economy, and especially on the local environment.
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the national interest, will he say something about the effect of the Channel tunnel on the east coast ports?
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
My right hon. Friend will know that I do not have the fear of public expenditure from which some of my colleagues seem to suffer. If evidence is produced that additional public expenditure could maximise the national benefits of the project, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that he will not automatically reject them because, for short-term interests, British Rail or others may not be able to justify the expenditure on rather narrow immediate financial criteria?
§ Mr. Moore
That is a somewhat elliptical question. My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Transport made clear the degree to which the needs of British Rail, having regard to the profitable investment that it would wish to put into the project, are additional to the already expected external financing limit and other future investment prospects of BR. I do not think that this is an area where we expect to worry about the nature of the way in which British Rail's investment is constrained.
§ Mr. Moore
It is important to take up the critical role of the tunnel on the local economy, and especially on the local environment. Nowhere has the Channel tunnel project aroused stronger passions than in Kent.
I pay especial tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is in his place on the Treasury Front Bench for the debate. My hon. and learned Friend is unable, of course, to speak in our debates on the Channel tunnel, but, as always, when this matter is discussed, he is with us. He has assiduously represented the interests of his constituents. In only two short weeks in my present job he has left me in no doubt that he will be pressing very hard for some of the features 1104 in the scheme that will have a particular impact on his constituents to be justified rigorously and in detail or to be modified.
Out of geographical necessity, the tunnel must begin in Kent. That is where the environmental effects of the link are concentrated, but it is also where there will be special opportunities to benefit from this unique enterprise.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
I trust that during his speech the Minister will find time to address himself to the environmental impact not only on Kent but on Waterloo. After all, this Channel traffic does have to terminus at some point according to the Government. We hope, however, that the traffic will be dispersed.
§ Mr. Moore
I have read with care the hon. Gentleman's speeches in these debates. I hope that he will take the opportunity, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State will suggest, of bringing a delegation, if he wishes, to meet my hon. Friend, in addition to the meetings that he has had with British Rail. I think that would be helpful. I think also that when he considers this great and unique national project, he will recognise the changes that will occur and the job opportunities that will become available. I am advised that there might well be about 400 additional jobs at Waterloo in consequence of this major development. That is one of the factors with which the hon. Gentleman, with his constituency interests, will wish to concern himself.
I have already referred to the direct employment consequences anticipated for the link in Kent and set out in the White Paper, but it would be wrong to see a project with potentially far-reaching effects in these terms alone. While the whole country stands to benefit from an efficient transport link for its people and its products, there will be specific opportunities for economic growth in Kent, but where that happens and how many jobs it could create are matters for the planning authorities.
Some would see such a development as an environmental threat. I do not, because I have faith in the councils to discharge their responsibilities with sensitivity. The need to control secondary development is their challenge. The beauty and the treasures of the county must be preserved. If not, it will become less attractive to those who might otherwise choose to live there and contribute to its well-being. But I cannot believe that sufficient land cannot be made available where it is appropriate for economic development to take place. I am confident that the councils will be sensitive while ensuring that the county reaps the rewards of the opportunities which the tunnel will create for Kent.
Great stress has been laid in debates both inside and outside the House on possible environmental damage that the tunnel might cause. Surprisingly little has been said of the potential for one dramatic environmental improvement. Speaking in the Channel tunnel debate last December, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) said:in the first eight months of this year 520,000 heavy lorries went through Dover. Those of us who live in Kent know only too well that that number is increasing all the time.He went on to say that, given the British Rail estimates of potential freight rail traffic through the tunnel, it wouldbe equivalent to transferring from road to rail some 365,000 lorries a year. That is a tremendous prize, with a substantial environmental gain to be won." — [Official Report, 9 December 1986; Vol. 88. c. 670.]1105 Obviously that was a calculation with a lot of assumptions. But anything even approaching that would be a very substantial environmental gain, and I would think that the many hon. Members who have already approached me in the two weeks since I took my present job on the subject of heavy lorries would also agree. As for the direct local effect of the construction works, the limited environmental impact of the Eurotunnel scheme was a major factor in its selection.
The Government from the outset recognised the need to safeguard the environment by mitigating the adverse consequences of the tunnel proposals. The environmental impact assessment, undertaken by the promoters as part of their submission to the Government, and the appraisal commissioned by the Government as part of their assessment process established the areas of concern on which further work would be required.
Kent county council and the districts are now doing a commendably thorough job in the consultation machinery—of which I shall say more in a moment—that the Government have set up to examine the environmental and economic consequences of the project. The impact upon the area of outstanding natural beauty, the heritage coast, Shakespeare cliff and Holywell Coombe—areas and features of great environmental importance—can and will be contained. The Government recognise the importance of this, and I am happy to say that discussions with the planning authorities are taking place on a provision in the Bill that will allow them to continue to play a full part after the Bill has been enacted during the detailed planning stage and construction of the tunnel. I am pleased to tell the House that, in addition, the Government will make arrangements within the Bill to ensure that the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission and English Heritage, as the Government's statutory advisers on environmental matters, can be consulted as appropriate.
The third matter that I want to consider is the parliamentary process and the essential consultation machinery that we have established. No great developments of this kind can take place without affecting individuals and individual rights.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
Before my right hon. Friend deals with the parliamentary process—we are all extremely grateful to the Minister of State for the work that the joint consultative committee is doing—will he say what role he sees for the parish councils, including those affected? They are not directly represented on the committee, but they have a great deal of local knowledge and influence. In the months ahead, I think my right hon. Friend would wish to harness their views and not keep them out in the cold.
§ Mr. Moore
I am aware that the parish councils have sought a greater role. I have asked my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on that when he winds up the debate.
The issue relates specifically to the rights of individuals. The House is always concerned, as indeed it should be, that those rights should be recognised and respected. Hybrid Bills are the appropriate means to proceed when developments of major national importance impinge upon the rights of individuals. In the case of the Channel tunnel, there has been substantial agreement over the years that the hybrid Bill procedure is the right way for this project.
1106 It is significant that, on 10 February, in their proposed amendment to the Government's motion approving the White Paper on the fixed link, Opposition Members did not renew their call for a public inquiry into this project, recognising that this would have been inappropriate for a matter which Parliament, and Parliament alone, should decide. Equally, on 10 February the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), the Liberal party transport spokesman, put on record his acceptance ofthe arguments against a full-scale public inquiry".—[Official Report, 10 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 703.]In the report of the Transport Select Committee, of which he is a member, we have the conclusion, which he said he endorsed:The Committee does not therefore recommend that a public inquiry be held.Under the hybrid Bill procedure, Select Committees in both Houses consider the project's effects upon the interests of those directly affected, and Standing Committees consider the proposed legislation as a whole in detail in the usual way. I have no doubt that the Select Committee will act effectively to safeguard landowners, environmental interests, and local people generally. But the Government have consistently made it clear that this must be complemented by extensive local and national consultation with all interested groups.
Since November 1985, my predecessor, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the Minister of State, Environment Ministers arid officials have attended countless meetings with local associations in Kent and with national bodies to hear the concerns of local people. In direct response to representations by my right hon. and hon. Friends representing Kent constituencies that seemed most likely to be affected by the scheme, my hon Friend the Minister of State, with the assistance of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment established a joint consultative committee—referred to a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford — with the Kent county and district councils and Eurotunnel to consider in full depth how the adverse impact of the tunnel project can be minimised and how its potential benefits can be maximised. The Government intend the Committee should continue in existence right up to the time, in 1993, when the link is expected to open to traffic, and beyond.
Much of the Committee's work is long-term, but on several pressing points the Committee is expected to issue agreed interim or final reports that will be of considerable interest and, I hope, value to the Select Committee—for example, on the economic impact of the link, and on spoil disposal. On spoil—I know the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) is interested in this issue is interested in this issue—I can say now that if a preferred solution emerges from the consultative committee for an alternative method for disposal of the spoil from the tunnel workings to that proposed in the Bill, the Government will adopt this, and bring forward such amendments to the Bill as are appropriate.
I submit that never before has established hybrid Bill procedure been backed up with such a thorough programme to consider all the consequences of the project in partnership with local authorities and other bodies. At the same time, the Government have gone to quite exceptional lengths to ensure that potential petitioners understand the Select Committee procedure and can make full use of it. My Department has now distributed more 1107 than 20,000 copies of a leaflet entitled "Channel Tunnel—How to make Your Voice Heard," the leaflet that has been praised by such dispassionate bodies as the Council for the Protection of Rural England for its clarity and utility.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
Have the Government estimated the impact on the present ferry industry and the other jobs which exist but which will not exist when the project gets under way?
§ Mr. Moore
I referred to that earlier in my speech, and it was referred to in the White Paper. I have already made specific comments about that.
I now turn to the Bill itself. Part I is introductory, referring to the treaty and concession agreement, and defining the tunnel system.
Part II contains most of the so-called private provisions of the Bill. It confers compulsory acquisition powers on the Secretary of State and it confers on the concessionaires the basic powers they need to construct and maintain the tunnel system. All the usual protections and compensation for those whose land is compulsorily acquired or injuriously affected will apply.
Part III contains the main "public" provisions of the Bill, dealing with jurisdiction and provision for juxtaposed frontier controls whereby customs, immigration, security and any other checks are carried out before passengers enter the tunnel system. There are powers to make orders to ensure that British controls can be exercised on the French side without any loss of effectiveness, and to allow British customs and immigration officials to detain offenders on the French side and, if necessary, bring them to the United Kingdom for trial, and vice versa. Other clauses deal with intergovernmental supervision of the project, with byelaws, and with the consequences of termination of the project either on expiry of the concession period after 55 years or prematurely.
Part IV of the Bill provides powers for the construction of a four-and-a-half-mile stretch of the A20 between Folkestone and Court Wood, bypassing the village of Capel-le-Ferne.
Part V of the Bill contains miscellaneous and financial provisions.
The objectives of the Bill are clear: to provide the necessary legislative framework for a project of lasting importance to the nation. On each and every count, I believe it can bring tangible and permanent benefits to our country.
If we ask, first, on employment, will it bring benefit to Britain?, the answer must be yes — jobs in the immediate future on construction and an effect upon industry as a whole through the more efficient transport of our goods abroad.
Is it good for us as a trading nation? Yes—because a development that allows trade to take place more quickly, more reliably and therefore more cheaply, must be good for trade.
Is it good for British Rail? The answer was best, if rather excitedly, expressed in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley):The 250-mile barrier which makes British Rail's freight prospects currently so dismal would be smashed to smithereens by the prospect of a rail tunnel." — [Official Report, 9 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 698.]1108 Is it good for motorists? Yes. Those who prefer to travel by sea will certainly still be able to do so, but they will also have the option of a faster, more reliable, service by shuttle.
Is it good for business men and holidaymakers? Yes, because they will be able to get to northern Europe by trains in times comparable to air travel.
§ Sir John Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
My right hon. Friend is listing some of the advantages of this project. It may interest him to know that I left Paris this morning at 8.15 am and was in London at 2.30 pm. I travelled by ferry. I would have been in London two hours earlier but for waiting time.
My right hon. Friend has listed the advantages, but has he had time to discuss them with the European Council of Transport Ministers? That Council has tried to improve the barriers across the Baltic and it has already improved the barriers across the Alps. Why should we miss out on the advantages which benefit Europe as a result of the work of the Council? I hope he will be an active member of the Council. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post.
§ Mr. Moore
I thank my hon. Friend for his last remark. I recall my hon. Friend's words in one of the earlier debates on the Channel tunnel when he quoted the views of the Sheffield chamber of commerce. My hon. Friend is conscious of the potential for jobs and industry in his area.
I have not yet had the opportunity of meeting the Transport Ministers, but I shall be meeting them the week after next in Brussels. I am already arranging bilateral meetings, and the first meeting is with my French counterpart on Monday of next week. I acknowledge the points that my hon. Friend effectively made in previous debates.
What about the environment? Of course there will be an environmental impact locally: that is inevitable. But it can and will be contained. By providing direct rail freight links with the continent, many lorries will be removed from Britain's roads.
Above all, what effect will it have on our national attitudes?
§ Mr. Faulds
The Minister has listed the supposed advantages of this enterprise. Will he answer a simple question? Will its safety be guaranteed against both natural and unnatural disasters?
§ Mr. Moore
Safety aspects will be as important as all other aspects of travel. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to study the provisions of the Bill more carefully. I look forward to further debate and discussion with him, if the Bill reaches Standing Committee.
What effect will the tunnel have on our national attitudes? In the past, we were never afraid to venture abroad and never worried that contact with other countries 1109 would put our national identity at risk. But of late we seem to have grown fearful of change and timid in the face of challenge.
The truth is that our national identity is entirely secure. The unique qualities of British institutions, history and culture are recognised the world over. They are not threatened by contact with other European countries. Indeed, we are already part of Europe, connected in a multitude of ways, but physically less effectively connected than we could be. To improve the physical connection is plain good sense. It will offer unprecedented opportunities for business expansion, cultural enrichment and individual travel. It could stimulate a whole new era of endeavour and achievement for our country. It is in that light that the Channel tunnel becomes an opportunity, not a threat, and it is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill in respect of which the Government has failed to establish adequate machinery to ensure the maximum United Kingdom content of employment and materials during the construction phase of the Channel Tunnel; has failed to develop plans fully to equip British Rail or to diversify potential benefits in accordance with regional economic policy; and has not considered the creation of a Channel Office of Fair Trading to ensure that freedom of choice will be maintained for cross-Channel custom for freight and passenger travel.First, I welcome the new Secretary of State for Transport and congratulate him on his promotion. I am sure that we shall have many hours of debate together. He is the fourth Secretary of State for Transport whom I have faced across the Dispatch Box. His predecessor was promoted, the one before that was sacked, and the one before that was promoted and then consigned to the nether regions of Northern Ireland which, I suspect, he is inhabiting unhappily. I do not know whether that comforts the present incumbent of the post, but perhaps he will bear it in mind.
In the reactions in the press to the right hon. Gentleman's appointment there have been suggestions, which I accept as being accurate, that he has a fresh and inquiring mind. There is no doubt that the Department of Transport certainly needs that. The Secretary of State has inherited a transport system in crisis and chaos created by his predecessor the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). This is not the occasion to canvass these wider issues to any extent, so I shall content myself with saying that it does not matter which face is fitted into which picture frame if the policy does not change. If the policies do not change, we shall be severely critical of the right hon. Gentleman and give them serious examination.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have wished to begin his work in his new post on a less controversial and complex subject than this one. Indeed, he hinted at that in his speech. On the other hand, although the principle has been set, a fresh approach to the consequences of the decision is essential and will bear fruit. The record of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor is lamentable. Having set out his high hopes for jobs, industry, and commerce, and spoken of all the 1110 employment during the construction phase, the former Secretary of State left it at that and took no further responsibility.
The Government's policy so far has been based on market forces and European economic competition rules and their attitude has been that they will be satisfied with whatever jobs result in the United Kingdom. We do not share that opinion. We have already been over the course on international competition, and we can draw on lessons from the past. I refer specifically to the construction and operational phases of North sea oil development.
No one disputes that the establishment of an Offshore Supplies Office—I cannot remember, and I should have checked, how far the right hon. Gentleman was involved in that when he was at the Department of Energy, but I think he was more involved in coal — significantly improved the British content of contracts. Obviously, 100 per cent. success has not been achieved and, indeed, is unattainable. However, the work of the OSO has been invaluable to British industry. It is imperative that we learn the lessons of the North sea, and analyse our experiences there so that we get a better share of Channel tunnel orders. Unless the Government act quickly, the opportunities and hopes that the Secretary of State expressed and which share will be lost. In contrast to the North sea oil experience where there is a continuing development, the construction of the tunnel involves a finite period and a finite quantity of work.
To some extent, British industry shares our worries. Today I received a letter sent on behalf of GEC. GEC is concerned to ensure that British manufacturers get a square deal on ordering. It draws particular attention to the class 91 locomotive, which it believes will provide a true flagship for United Kingdom products worldwide, and to the opportunities to export that locomotive to China, India, South America and the USSR. It believes that the proposed routes will eventually extend into the rest of Europe, allowing us further opportunity to export there. GEC points out that the technology is proven and that British Rail has already chosen the class 91. It believes, especially given the severe job losses in British Rail Engineering Ltd. and given that many of the sites for British Rail's manufacturing are in the north-west, that this contract provides an opportunity for exports, manufacturing and jobs, providing the French do not get a free run of the market. The future of the United Kingdom railway industry is far too important for that, and the Secretary of State must take that on board.
I am not persuaded that the Government recognise the urgency or have sufficient initiative to equip British Rail to meet the challenge of increasing its freight and passenger traffic. The opportunities certainly exist. However, I shall not rehearse the anxieties of my hon. Friends in the midlands, the north and Scotland that the tunnel will act as a magnet for new industrial investment to the detriment of regional economic policy. I share some of those concerns.
There is a need to diversify the benefits offered by the tunnel, especially from the south-east coast. It is a strange paradox that those north of Watford say strongly that all the benefits will go to the south-east coast, while those on the south-east coast say that they will get none of the benefits and all of the hassle, and that in any case they do not want the benefits of increased industry.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that hon. Members who represent the areas that will help to make the rail stock are keen to reap the benefits that will come to us? In other words, many of us north of Watford think that the Channel tunnel is an extremely good idea.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes. My point is that there is definitely a paradox and contradiction in the two views. Those furthest from the Channel believe that they will not get the benefit, and those closest to it say that the hassle will be too great or that they do not want the benefits. The hon. Lady is concerned with workshops in Derby, but I do not think that at this stage her concern will help her.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
Has the hon. Gentleman not sketched exactly the scenario that private concerns cannot see their long-term interests properly, and that this is manifestly an area in which the Government must take the general long-term view?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not sure how that intervention fits in with my point. In a way it fits in with my argument that the Government should not simply say, "We are providing a Bill with machinery to facilitate the building of the tunnel and thereafter it has nothing to do with us. As private money is being invested to build the tunnel, that is it for us." The Government must take into account regional economic policy and make every effort to provide focal points for freight and passenger traffic, not just in Kent and London, but elsewhere. That is absolutely essential.
One terminal at Waterloo is not enough. There must be facilities such as marshalling yards and freight traffic centres to increase the possibilities of long-distance traffic. Some people have serious worries about Waterloo, and they are not assuaged by the fact that British Rail cannot tell them what will happen. The people of Waterloo are worried that the underground links and the adjacent road network will be inadequate to cope with the increased Channel tunnel traffic. People are also worried about the degradation of the environment around Waterloo, which includes the National theatre and the Royal Festival hall arts complex on the south bank, as well as residential areas. The people there say that there should be a public inquiry. I shall return to the subject of a public inquiry later, but the Bill sets aside all public inquiry procedures for roadworks, and so on.
§ Mr. Hughes
This must be the last time that I give way, as I wish to leave time for other hon. Members to speak.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has a Scottish constituency and speaks from the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman has a point about Waterloo, which will no doubt be argued by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland). But will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he is not making a special plea that the tunnel should not be built in south-east England or Kent on the ground that that would not be of great advantage to the north of England or Scotland? That would be a Luddite argument, because it would be no good building the tunnel in Middlesbrough or Clydebank. I respect the fact that the hon. Gentleman 1112 appreciates the problems facing the United Kingdom with trade and so on, but surely there is only one place to build a Channel tunnel, and that is in south-east England.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall not repeat the story of my predecessor for Aberdeen, North, who suggested that instead of a Channel tunnel we ought to have a tunnel between Aberdeen and Oslo. But if the hon. Gentleman looks up the debate in Hansard, he will see what I said about that. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.
It is essential that the areas north of Watford are properly planned for, and that the massive investment made in the south-east of England, in the tunnel and the infrastructure, does not disadvantage those areas. When I first became involved in politics, we in the north of Scotland used to argue about the problems faced by Scotland because of the so-called golden triangle of the midlands, London and the south-east. We now know that the Government have destroyed industry in the midlands and in much of London, yet the same worries prevail.
We want the benefits to be spread more evenly and that is why we want to diversify the facilities. We want British Rail to have the opportunity to develop its freight traffic and to have the equipment to do so. I am not arguing that the tunnel should not proceed, but the project should be carried out in the best possible way. There will undoubtedly be advantages, and regional economic policy could benefit. Indeed, the traffic congestion and environmental damage to be found in Kent might benefit if the amount of traffic in the Kent area is reduced.
The weakest part of the Government's policy is that it takes no account of regional economic or industrial policy. Some Conservative Members may be surprised about that, but I am not. The Secretary of State has brought with him from the Treasury the naive belief that planning is unnecessary and that the market can do it all. Of course there is much to be gained from completion of the Channel tunnel, but whether the benefits will outweigh the destruction that such a major project is bound to cause is something that can be judged only by future historians.
§ Mr. Adley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. With hindsight, he no doubt regrets the Labour party's decision to cancel the rail-only tunnel in 1975, which would have brought even greater benefits. Will he make it clear that the Labour party supports the building of the tunnel and that hon. Members on both sides of the House should press on the Government the need to develop the infrastructure in the midlands and the north, as he has described?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman will have to contain himself and be patient. I shall come to that point later, and no doubt he will keenly await my ansswer.
There will be a significant change in freight and passenger transport patterns. Indeed, those patterns may be distorted. However, that is a matter for speculation. But a good and prudent Government would now examine the problems. They should not wait until issues have arisen and then try to remedy the situation. It would not be good enough if the Government did that.
There is widespread concern that once the Channel tunnel becomes operative, the economics of the scheme will compel the concessionaires to maximise their traffic 1113 to such an extent that they will try to create a virtual monopoly by driving competitors out of business through predatory pricing. In meetings with outside bodies, the previous Secretary of State implied that he was, to some extent, worried about that. But the Government's response to those concerns baffles me. Clause 33(1) clearly states:The Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976 shall not apply to any Concession agreement and shall be deemed never to have applied to any such agreement.That sends alarm bells ringing. There are various references later to the Director General of Fair Trading, and so on, but apparently the mechanisms of competition policy are to some extent being dismantled.
§ Mr. Moore
I would not normally seek to intervene, but it is important to put it on the record that of course the Restrictive Trade Practices Act relates to the concession agreement. But my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State made it clear that the concessionaires will be subject to United Kingdom, French and Community competition law. Clearly Community competition law makes provision for the investigation, prevention or remedying of monopoly practices or anti-competition behaviour, including both predatory pricing and abuse of a dominant position. Those aspects are still covered. I thought that the hon. Gentleman might want to be reminded of that.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am aware of that, but I like to see the evidence with my own eyes. When the Minister of State replies to the debate, perhaps he will say why it was necessary to include that provision. It says clearly that the Act does not apply andshall be deemed never to have applied".That provision must be there for a purpose, and I hope that the Minister will explain it.
There are serious worries that the ferry business could be driven out, perhaps never to return. The Government are keen to mouth slogans about competition and freedom of choice. I believe in freedom of choice. By coincidence, today's edition of the Daily Telegraph says that the Government are concerned about the machinery for ensuring fair competition. It says:The announcement of the Whitehall review which could also bring in outsiders, has been held up while the Government agonised over the terms of reference to take account of criticism about consistency in handling 'mega mergers' and tactics adopted by companies to avoid Monopolies and Merger Commission references.Mr Channon is not anxious to change the basis of a merger policy based on competition but wants the committee of civil servants to look closely at points which have produced the complaints. They include:1. The time it takes for the MMC to complete an investigation … Updating restrictive trade practice rules to discourage new forms of price fixing and cartels will form a key part of the examination but City attention will focus on the merger element.That reinforces my point that the existing machinery is far too slow and cannot act quickly enough to prevent damage. That is why we say that there should be a mechanism to monitor the interplay between sea and air traffic and the fixed link.
Of course, a predatory pricing policy need not always work one way. It is perfectly conceivable that a predatory pricing regime could be adopted by the ferry operators acting in concert or by the airlines acting in concert, because some people believe that the majority of the passengers using the Channel link will be attracted away 1114 from the airlines. Those operators could act in concert to the disadvantage of the tunnel business, and that would be just as unacceptable to us.
The Government have not so far shown even the slightest inclination to discuss the issues or to address themselves to the problem of finding solutions. In our amendment we put forward one such solution, the establishment of a Channel office of fair trading which would concern itself specifically with monitoring the operation of the tunnel.
§ Mr. Crouch
Will the hon. Gentleman give way? I should like to say something on that pertinent point.
§ Mr. Hughes
I said three times that I would not give way and each time I broke my word. I am a man of honour and this time I mean it. I am sorry, I will not give way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has made it clear that he is not giving way.
§ Mr. Hughes
Perhaps I could now turn to clause 26(2) [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman will have to contain himself until he makes his own speech. I have already spoken for a long time and I do not wish to prevent any of my hon. Friends or any Government hon. Member from speaking. It is Government hon. Members who are determined to prevent my hon. Friends from speaking and I want to be fairer than they are.
Clause 26(2) limits the involvement of the Government in the running of the tunnel if the company should go bust, either at about the time of completion or after completion, to a period of three months. That is far too short a period and in his speech the Secretary of State certainly said nothing about how that would work. He did not explain that, and I invite him to do so. Is it correct that if the company goes bust he will simply appoint a receiver, or will the Government themselves seek to dispose of the company? Under the Bill, could the Government directly, through the Department of Transport, take over the company or could they delegate British Rail, to take one example, to take over the company and keep it running? Those are questions to which we must have answers.
I now come to a matter that is not in the Bill and was not referred to by the Secretary of State. I am talking about a Government share in CTG. This issue was raised at a meeting on 17 March between the Transport Committee and the construction industry committee of the Trades Union Congress. The Minister of State was present at that meeting together with a number of officials. I have the TUC record of the meeting.—We know that questions are always asked about whose minute is accurate, but there can be no quarrel about the minute of that meeting.
The TUC asked the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), whether a golden share would be acquired to protect defence interests or deal with foreign shareholdings. The reply given by a Department of Transport official was:a golden share was not in the Concession Agreement for technical reasons, and that precise kind of arrangement was not an option in France. As far as the UK operation was concerned it could simply be written into the arrangements and legislation was not needed. It was therefore a matter for bilateral discussion with CTG. The Government was in principle in favour of a golden share and CTG did not object so it was not just a question of the mechanics.1115 The Secretary of State went on to say thatcontrol of the Tunnel needed to be in the UK but the golden share would not be used as any kind of lever over trading operations and so on. All the golden share could do was allow Government to control who made the decisions and see it did not fall into the wrong hands.Will the Secretary of State tell us whether a golden share is being acquired in CTG, or Eurotunnel as it is now described? If it is to be acquired, I hope he will make the details available to us. If a golden share is not to be acquired, he must explain why that is so when the principle of a golden share has been accepted and CTG has no objections to it. If it is simply a matter of bilateral discussions, why has the matter of such acquisition been dropped—if it has been dropped?
The Secretary of State said that it was significant that in our reasoned amendment we withdrew our call for a public inquiry. There is no significance in that. The absence of a call for a public inquiry does not mean for one minute that we do not still believe that a full public inquiry would have been the best way to proceed, and is still the best way to proceed. However, at a later stage we have a committal motion. We have looked at that motion and have put down amendments to it. If some of our amendments are accepted by the Government they will provide a reasonable and proper alternative to a full public inquiry. We are not dropping the demand for a public inquiry because it is reasserting itself in a slightly different form.
Our attitude to the tunnel can be expressed by the phrase, "If it were to be done, 'twere better that it be done well." That is not an exact Shakespearean quotation.
§ Mr. Hughes
I hope it is not unlucky for me. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) did not hear the quotation in full and I shall repeat it for him. The quotation that I used was, "If it were to be done, 'twere better that it be done well." The actual quotation is, "t' were done quickly." I did not use the proper quotation because it is not particularly apposite and referred to the assasination of Julius Caesar. It is certainly not my intention to kill off the Channel Tunnel Bill. I want to encourage the success of the CTG. The amendment makes it perfectly clear why we wish to decline the Second Reading. We decline it simply because the Government have not paid sufficient attention to the overall effects of the plan. I invite any hon. Member who is prepared to look at the issue in an objective way to vote with me tonight.
§ 5.9 pm
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)
I hesitate to intervene in a dialogue in the Labour party between the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and the right hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and say who is to play the part of Lady Macbeth or whether the Channel tunnel is to be brought to Dunsinane. I leave that to them to sort out. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has made some admirably balanced speeches during the two debates on the principle of the tunnel that took place just before and just after Christmas. Now, after certain vicissitudes we come to the Second Reading, and the hon. Gentleman still maintains a posture of admirable balance. He tells us— 1116 and perhaps this is the first time he has said so specifically—that he encourages the success of the Channel Tunnel Group.
It is right that the people of Britain and especially my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) should know where the Labour party stands on this great issue. No doubt the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) will tell us where the alliance now stands on this great issue. If he will allow me to say so, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight has been much more candid, direct and unequivocal and has reproved the Government on a variety of occasions for not being dynamic and thrusting enough on the question of the Channel tunnel.
There are in fact reservations in all parts of the House about this great project. That is understandable. The reservations are not confined to those members of the Labour party who are sponsored by the National Union of Seamen. I well understand the difficulties of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. He must look, on the one side, to the National Union of Seamen and, on the other, to the National Union of Railwaymen and, statesman that he is, he must produce something that tonight will bring all his hon. Friends into the Lobby against the Government—if that is, indeed, his intention. I congratulate him upon his dexterity. However, I am not certain whether he will be able to maintain his position right through to the conclusion of the Bill. Nevertheless, we are grateful to him for his unequivocal statement that he is there to encourage the success of the Channel Tunnel Group.
It is my very pleasant duty to congratulate my right hon. Friend who has assumed the onerous responsibilities of Secretary of State for Transport. Indeed, I wondered whether I should congratulate him or condole with him, since he has immediately assumed, in mid-flow, responsibility for this great but contentious hybrid Bill. Dare I say—expressing purely a personal point of view — that he may find it some slight relief from the Committee stage of the Finance Bill? As he and I know to our cost, Committee Room 10 has its disadvantages.
With commendable bravura, my right hon. Friend ended on a high note by emphasising the national interest in the conclusion of this great project. I do not propose to debate that matter with him. As the Member of Parliament for Dover, I should like to emphasise to him the impact of the Channel tunnel on east Kent. In the second part of his speech he touched, perhaps understandably briefly, on the east Kent dimension. Although I know that, with his customary assiduity, he will have read all the previous debates and that he will have kept an open ear to the tremors on both sides of the House about this great issue, I must emphasise to him the deep and legitimate concern that is felt, particularly in Dover but throughout east Kent, about the Channel tunnel.
I shall not expand on that point, because a number of my hon. Friends are here to represent the particular interests of other parts of east Kent. My constituents' deep concern can perhaps be encapsulated in this form. Over 12,000 people are employed in the port of Dover and on the ferries. I know that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North will agree with me when I say that, naturally and understandably, they are very concerned about their prospects.
I hope that I do not show undue bias when I emphasise that the ferry services have been enormously flexible during the past 15 or 20 years. They have expanded in 1117 order to respond to the opportunities that have developed, and I believe that they have served the economy well. Also, I emphasise that they have not required or asked for Government support.
It is self-evident that if it is to succeed to any degree—if it does not succeed, all sorts of other problems will be posed, including problems posed by this Bill—the Channel tunnel must take some business that otherwise would have passed across the Channel by ferry. How much business will be taken from the ferries is a matter for speculation. There is a degree of common ground between myself and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North: that if the basis of the case for the Channel tunnel is that there should be competing means of crossing the Channel—my right hon. Friend emphasised the fact that our biggest export market lies across the Channel, and a large part of our armed forces are to be found in the British Army of the Rhine—the competition between the Channel tunnel and the ferries must be fair.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State who is to wind up the debate will want to dwell on this point not only tonight but in the months to come and will want to ensure that there is a fair balance in the competition between the ferries and the tunnel. Given fair competition, I am assured by my friends in Dover and in the other Channel ports—an assurance that I completely accept—that the ferries will compete successfully. Their confidence is demonstrated by the orders put in for new ships and by the investment of the Dover harbour hoard which I am sure the whole House, and in particular my right hon. Friend, will commend.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said that there should be a special regime for the Channel tunnel. I am not certain whether I want there to be a special regime for it. I just want there to be a rigorous application of both national and European Community competition regulations. There should be a rigorous application of those regulations at the moment when unfair competition starts to develop. I recall from my experience in the Department of Trade that the complaint about dumping was that the responses were not sufficiently sharp and rapid. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear that point very much in mind. It is fine to enunciate the general principle that, for example, there should be no predatory pricing, but by the time that kind of feature demonstrates itself the position of a competitor may have been destroyed.
I know that my right hon. Friend, who bears responsibilities for the British shipping industry, will be very concerned to ensure that the ferries, which form a very significant part of the British merchant marine, with all that that means in both economic and defence terms, will be very quick to ensure that there is a sensitive and rapid response to any unfair measures that might be taken by the operators of the Channel tunnel. I am not accusing them of anything. These are early days, but I sound a warning note.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that by intervening I am not seeking to weaken his case or to argue with him in any way whatsoever, but does he not agree that the present costs of travelling across the Channel by sea do not represent the cheapest route and method of travelling, that the introduction of travel by means of the Channel tunnel will provide a form of competition which may stimulate the 1118 ferries to reduce their prices, as I believe they should have done long ago, and that this will be very good for all those who believe in free choice and competition?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend serves only to develop the fundamental point that I am making: that there must be free and fair competition. I note my hon. Friend's criticism of the cost of crossing the Channel, but the cost of flying from Heathrow or Gatwick to Charles de Gaulle or Orly is also something to which I would direct the attention of my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Transport. I pay a tribute to his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who has done something about opening up that particular market. It is not for me to stimulate opposition from other quarters in the House, but it may well be that at the end of the day it will be the airlines rather than the ferries that will suffer more from the operation of the Channel tunnel. It is not for me to express any hopes in this direction, but if this were to develop into a debate about competition, I should probably be subject to stern admonition from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Nevertheless, it is a dimension that I should like to examine.
§ Sir John Farr
I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. On the question of the effect upon the employees of the Dover harbour board, a petition from the Dover harbour board was submitted last week to a meeting of the Select Committee. My impression was that the employees of the Dover harbour board who presented the petition to the Committee were very worried indeed about their prospects and felt that if the Channel tunnel were to go ahead as planned, it could mean the loss of many thousands of jobs. Everyone is concerned about that, so is my right hon. and learned Friend able to reassure me on that point?
§ Mr. Rees
No. I wish that I could reassure my hon. Friend, but it is not my responsibility to reassure him. That is one of my worries. Indeed, it is a worry that, against my normal practice—my Division record only has to be looked at—may well compel me into a different Lobby from that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. My point is precisely that over 12,000 people are employed in or about the port of Dover and in or about the ferries, and I feel that I am entitled to emphasise their legitimate concern about their future. I do not intend to speculate about the precise number of jobs that will be lost. It may be that some balancing jobs will be created, but it is a small comfort to somebody who has spent his life at sea to be offered a job on land punching tickets at the portal of the tunnel. That may be an alternative form of economic activity, but it is hardly something for which many of my constituents have been trained.
It may be more appropriate to raise this when we debate the money resolution, but I know that there is great concern outside the House, despite the clear statements made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that public money should not be devoted to the operation of a tunnel. I have considered carefully the money resolution; perhaps it is a more appropriate matter for my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but if not, perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with it when he replies. The money resolution should not authorise the Government to give direct or covert support to the private sector consortium that will be operating the Channel 1119 tunnel. I have in mind especially paragraph (1)(c) of the money resolution, but I may be ruled out of order if I dealt with that in more depth.
One matter which is mentioned directly in the Bill, and which relates to the root of fair competition between the tunnel and the ferries, is road connections. I am happy that the A20-M20 extension, at least beyond and round the village of Capel-le-Ferne, is included in the Bill. I hope that that will allow progress to be made, because there is concern already about the weight of traffic, leaving aside the additional traffic that must be drawn in during the construction period. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Minister of State will give us an unequivocal assurance that this does not mean any lack of enthusiasm or any faltering in carrying through the extension to Dover. We will ask him many questions about the point of entry at the appropriate time. There is concern that the extension is being pushed through only to facilitate the building of the tunnel. If the port of Dover is to compete fairly, it must have the connection.
Similarly, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State can spell out explicitly his plans to ensure that the A2 will be—I hope that I shall be forgiven for using the word—dualled all the way down to the port. I was enormously grateful to my noble Friend Lord Peyton, who occupied my hon. Friend's position, for authorising the building of the eastern bypass round Dover——
§ Mr. Rees
I am bound to say that the traffic has outgrown the existing scope of the eastern bypass. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will bear in mind the essential need. if the position of the port of Dover is to be maintained. to have a proper connection all the way from Lydden down to the port.
§ Mr. Adley
In view of my right hon. and learned Friend's former incarnation, does he agree that in considering the road and rail links and everything that will inevitably be needed for the construction of the Channel tunnel—I recognise his constituency position—in all fairness, the road and rail expenditure should be regarded as a legitimate public expense to be borne by the taxpayer? At present, British Rail is expected to fund many of those costs out of its operating profits. That is ridiculous, because it is making a loss.
§ Mr. Rees
I suppose that my hon. Friend refers to my previous incarnation as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I shall not be drawn into a general debate about overall public expenditure. There will be time enough to debate that. It must be for my right hon. and hon. Friends who are much more up-to-date with the problems than I am, or probably ever was, to determine in their departmental budgets where they wish to place the thrust of their expenditure.
1120 In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), may I say that the Exchequer has been pumping money into British Rail to the tune of just under £1 billion a year. It is not for me to say whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, having considered his budget, believes that a furher allocation should be made. We are talking mostly about trunk roads, but my hon. Friend perceptively put his finger on the sensitive issue: some lateral roads will be of considerable importance to us in east Kent. That will be a matter for Kent county council. I repeat that since Kent county council will be exposed to expenditure that goes beyond the normal responsibilities of a county council, I hope that the present Chief Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will look kindly on any applications made by the county council in this regard.
There is anxiety that British Rail may not be completely committed to maintaining the rail link between Folkestone, Dover, Deal, Sandwich and the Isle of Thanet. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) may wish to discuss this point. It may be said that there is always the alternative route from Victoria to Dover through Canterbury——
§ Mr. Rees
Of course we do. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is right. We need that lateral connection. I believe that British Rail has committed itself at least until the end of the century, but that leaves a feeling of unease—after all, we are only 14 years away from the end of the century—about what might happen thereafter. If the rail connection were discontinued, it would disadvantage Dover as against the operators of the tunnel.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State can bring us up to date on the Department's thinking on the following matters. It must be fair that the customs and immigration procedures on the ferries will be as quick and effective as any that are devised for the tunnel. The safety regulations for the operation of the tunnel must be no less onerous than those that are currently and properly imposed on the merchant marine.
I do not wish to cover the entire area of the environment because I have wearied the House at least two or three times with our anxieties in east Kent. However, I must mention the transfer of spoil from the workings at Shakespeare cliff. Some could be taken directly to Cheriton, but some at the lower end may have to be taken away, and there is anxiety as to where it will be dumped. There was a suggestion that it may be dumped at Dungeness, for reasons connected, I believe, with the Folkestone district water company and others. I have no doubt that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who represents Folkestone and Hythe, will have strong views about that which he may have communicated in his inimitable way to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I must emphasise to my right hon. and hon. Friends that the spoil must not be carried away by lorry. It must be carried away by rail. We are talking of an excess of about 1 million tonnes of spoil. The roads of east Kent would become intolerable——
§ Mr. Rees
That is a fair point from my hon. Friend, who has problems with the Thanet way, which no doubt he will ventilate in due course.
The transport of shale from the three east Kent pits, with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is familiar in view of one of his earlier incarnations, forms the basis of the works at Cheriton and thereabouts. There is deep concern in the villages of east Kent, some in my constituency and some in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), about the transport of that shale by lorry. I press my right hon. and hon. Friends to impose a condition that that shale should be transported by rail. Only in that way will it be bearable in the affected parts of east Kent.
§ Mr. Crouch
The proposed route to transport shale from the pits in east Kent to mix with the chalk taken out from the digging of the tunnel to make the base for the terminal at Cheriton is the connecting road that leads from the A2 to the A20 or M20. It is a narrow road. I use it frequently, and have done for 20 years. It is about 12 miles long. When one is on it, one cannot even overtake a long car. If there are lorries on it, there is no question of overtaking and if there was a succession of lorries carrying shale it would be impossible.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise his experience, which I am sure that all of us who are privileged to represent Kent constituencies have shared.
I come to the competitive position of east Kent. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North rightly emphasised the concerns of other parts of the country that too much economic activity may be drawn down to east Kent. He emphasised the contradiction between the anxieties of hon. Members representing east Kent and those representing other parts of the country. It is not for me to speak for hon. Members representing east Kent collectively, all of whom are here in the Chamber today, but our concern is that there may well be a concentration of activity in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, the consequences of which he will no doubt explore if he is successful in intervening in the debate.
It is possible, as I know from the days when there was more railway activity in Ashford, for people to travel to work every day from Dover and Deal, but I think that that would be an unhealthy development. We want to see a diffusion of economic activity, particularly along the coastal strip where the unemployment figures are uncomfortably high. It is a matter for speculation how much and what kind of business can be attracted there, but it is important to create the maximum opportunities. I know that is not primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but I want a powerful voice to speak for us in Government discussions that he has, for example, with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
What is not a matter of speculation is the resources that the French Government are pouring into the north-west of France. I have touched on this on previous occasions. Since then, however, we have acquired a greater perception of what is involved in the published documents. The case is that north-west France, Nord-Pas de Calais, is a depressed area. I am happy to say that we cannot claim to suffer quite the disadvantages of declining industries that are found in that area. None the less, my right hon. 1122 Friend will recognise that as the communications across the Channel are improved — bigger, faster, more efficient ferries—with perhaps, if the Bill recommends itself to the House, a form of fixed link, east Kent w ill be competing not just with mid-Kent and west Kent, the midlands and even Aberdeen, but with north-west France. It is crucial that a fair balance be struck.
I do not suffer from any paranoia about the competitive skills of our French neighbours, who are agreeable and efficient in many fields. But I think that we can hold our own, provided that the scales are not tilted too far in their favour. I therefore think that, since undeniably the Channel tunnel will dislocate and vary the economic patterns that we have experienced in the past 20 to 25 years, east Kent will deserve some kind of special status. As I said, I hope that my right hon. Friend will prove a powerful advocate in talking to other of our right hon. Friends on the subject. I hope too that he will ensure that Development of Tourism Act 1962 is administered with due sympathy, for example, to the hoteliers and boarding-house keepers who form such an important element of our economic community in east Kent. It is crucially important that the benefits, if there are to be benefits, of the project should be felt in the area that will immediately take the brunt and where the cost will be paid.
I come now to express a few concerns about the Select Committee, although I have no doubt that we shall be debating the scope of that a little later. It may well he that local authorities are well equipped to put in appropriately drafted petitions—indeed, I know that many already have those organised. My right hon. Friend will recognise that there are many smaller bodies and individuals with equally legitimate concerns that might not be quite as practised. I hope that he will take a sympathetic view of their position to enable them to make their concerns felt and evaluated by the Select Committee. I know that, to a degree, the terms of reference will be a matter for the Select Committee, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will repeat the assurance that was given earlier, that no restrictive views will be taken in that regard and that, as far as it lies in his power, he will give them ample opportunity to put in their petitions.
That said—and I hate to say this, because I know that my right hon. Friend is coining fresh to the problem, and I am sure that he will look at it with a sympathetic eye; indeed, his first contribution confirmed that he has already grasped our concerns—I have to say to him and to my hon. Friend the Minister of State that, even after the earlier debates, there are too many unresolved problems and questions that crucially affect the well-being of my constituents in Dover and east Kent, and not entirely encouraging answers can be found to those problems and questions in the Bill so far as I can see. I will, therefore, to register their concern and mine, be compelled to vote against the Bill at the conclusion of the debate.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)
I should like to add my personal congratulations to the Secretary of State. It occurred to me when listening to him that if he could make so reasonable and agreeable a speech in such a bad cause, he will make a very powerful opponent when in God's good time he has a cause which is worth defending.
§ Mr. Silkin
Give him time.
The Secretary of State finished his speech by disclosing to us a powerful and good concern for the rights of individuals. I think that he has taken immense personal trouble to ensure that, as he sees it, their needs are looked after and they get an opportunity to be heard.
The debate is not entirely about the rights of individuals. Of course the House must respect those rights. That is what we are here for. We are all constituency Members. However, the debate is also about a great principle—whether we should build a Channel tunnel. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who made that point very early in the morning when some of us may have begun to nod off. He put it correctly. It is not just about details; it is about principle.
Let us get rid of one myth straight away. As the House well knows, I have always been against British membership of the Common Market; but long before that I was against a Channel tunnel, and that is one of my consistent beliefs. The two are not necessarily connected. One can be in favour of the Channel tunnel and against the Common Market, and the other way round.
The question to which we have to devote our minds is not even so much whether it is desirable to have a Channel tunnel. It is the question, asked in the debate in February, which the Select Committee on Transport examined in its first report, the answer to which it then dodged. The Committee put it succinctly in paragraph 128 of its first report:The one question which has persistently hung over the Committee's inquiry is 'Is there a need for a fixed link?Nothing that the Secretary of State or any protagonist of the fixed link has ever said has shown us that there is a need. Of course, the Secretary of State and the Government have given what they believe to be reasonable justifications. As the right hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) has said, there are balances across the whole House. What we have heard are only justifications or excuses. Nowhere do they point to a need for a Channel tunnel.
§ Mr. Silkin
It is all rather hypothetical, but I believe that I would not have been in favour of it in 1825, nor would I have been in favour of it in 1882 when the House rightly chucked it out and told the London, Chatham and South Coast railway that it could go in the other direction.
The need for a Channel tunnel has never been expressed, but there have been justifications or excuses for it. The first is that it will speed up traffic. That has been said by the Secretary of State today and it has also been said by several hon. Members. But will it? I recommend hon. Members to read page 13 of the Channel Tunnel Group's digest, which says that the time required for the tunnel transit, if everything goes right—an assumption that has not been universally observable in the timetables of British Rail—will be 30 minutes. I have crossed the Channel by hovercraft in less than 30 minutes. The average time by hovercraft is 41 minutes.
§ Mr. Silkin
If the hon. Gentleman wants to know about the weather, I shall come to that in a moment. Expenditure of £6 billion seems to be a lot to save 11 minutes of a holidaymaker's time.
Let us consider the time. Hon. Members should travel by hovercraft. The average loading time of a hovercraft for a car and its passengers is 10 minutes and the unloading time is five minutes. According to the CTG's own digest, the unloading time for the tunnel will be 15 minutes. It does not dare tell us what the loading time will be because that includes export clearance, passport control and all the rest. The CTG rightly does not give a figure for that.
Let us consider long-distance lorry drivers. The hovercraft is a great invention but it is not strong enough to take lorries. They have to go by ferry. The real calculation is not one hour 15 minutes spent crossing by ferry as against 30 minutes by tunnel. One must take into account the journey over the roads of Europe and the roads of Britain. That runs to several hours or many days. What saving are we talking about there?
The Secretary of State has been conned by his Department into believing that time is absolutely vital. But of course it is not. The time for the ferry crossing is very little when taken as a rest period for drivers that is probably not only deserved but necessary in the interests of safety. They probably need at least an hour and a quarter to rest between long road journeys. When one considers a lorry driver's total journey time, it does not count.
The Secretary of State by his speech struck me as being able to take these points well into account. Therefore, I beg him to examine the matter himself and not to rely on what he has been told, because it is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Speed
Do I follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument correctly? His argument about ferries and hovercraft relies on vehicles driving through Kent, through my constituency and the constituencies of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Is he ruling out in his argument journeys from city centre to city centre by rail?
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not know what city centres we are talking about. The brochure talks about London and Paris. I do not think that people would make that journey by tunnel. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I do not think that more people would do it that way than would make the journey by air. However, I am not ruling it out.
§ Mr. Silkin
My hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion. I always let him have it. I beg the House to give him every courtesy and to let him say what he believes. It does not have to be what I believe. I have some experience.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about proving the need. As I understand it, close to his constituency a second Dartford tunnel is being considered because of the growth in traffic. Would he suggest that we should go back to crossing the Thames by ferry?
§ Mr. Silkin
No, I would not. A second Dartford tunnel has probably become essential. That is irrespective of a Channel tunnel. I shall deal with the Channel tunnel in this debate. I shall deal with the Dartford tunnel, if the hon. Gentleman wants me to, in any debate in which that is appropriate. No doubt the hon. Gentleman and I will be on the same side on that matter.
1125 A few moments ago the hon. Member for Canterbury referred to the weather. Part of the argument for a tunnel is that there will be transport facilities 365 days a year. I have to admit that the ferries operate on only 364 days a year, because they do not cross the Channel on Christmas day. Let us assume that those who wrote the brochure forgot about that and we are talking about like and like. Having checked, I can say that there was not a single day last year, except Christmas day, when there were not ferries crossing the Channel, even though the weather may have been bad.
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall come to the delays on British Rail in a moment. Let us talk about delays on this for a moment.
§ Mr. Crouch
Of course I will. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am happy to be on my feet to intervene. I did not want to interrupt his speech, but he was making such an obvious mistake that I wanted to put him right. The Channel ferries—not the hovercraft—are held up frequently when they have to wait outside Dover and Folkestone. I go to Dover on a Sunday just to enjoy looking at ships waiting to get into Dover harbour when it is too rough for them to get in straight away. I am very fond of the sea. I would prefer to cross the Channel by sea any day, but I do not like hanging about, and that is what one has to do on ferries.
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. Gentleman has made a valid point, but it is not the point with which I was dealing. I was talking about the cancellation of crossings. I shall come to delays.
Apart from Christmas day the number of days in any year on which the hovercraft has been cancelled is four. If we are talking about cancellations, there is nothing in it.
§ Mr. Silkin
I was wrong to give way. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I propose to deal with all the points that he has been making.
The next matter that the Secretary of State and those who are in favour of the tunnel raise is employment. They do it rather diffidently, because everybody knows that there will be unemployment in parts of Kent. They talk about a balance of various additional jobs that will come against the loss of jobs in the immediate areas. Nobody really knows the figures, but quite frankly, the estimate for job creation is not worth substantive discussion. It is hypothetical. Indeed, we could take any figure we wanted. The only figures that stand up are the Channel Tunnel 1126 Group's estimates of increases in jobs—under 4,000 in 1993 and under 6,000 by the year 2003. The ferries and ports submission shows a loss of 12,000 jobs in the United Kingdom generally, with another 4,000 in east Kent. That gives a net loss of 10,000 jobs. That is the only substantial evidence.
The Secretary of State, in a powerful part of his speech, made a point about the economy. It is obvious that he passionately believes it, and I pay tribute to him for that. In effect, he was saying that the project would produce many benefits, and all with little or no public expenditure. That is not so. Even the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and other Conservative Members have encouraged the right hon. Gentleman to accept that there will need to be some public expenditure. At the least, improvements to the motorways will cost 100 million and to the railways £400 million, which is £500 million of public expenditure. In addition, the Government will have to bail out a bankrupt Channel Tunnel Group—that will certainly be the case—and the figures will then be astronomical.
Why do we not learn from experience? The Seikan tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido was held to be a great, exciting engineering adventure when it was first constructed, yet 20 years later the final costs are a great deal more than the original budget. Japan feels regret only that the tunnel was ever contemplated.
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is another tunnel in Japan, between Kynshu and Honshu? It is a road tunnel, and it pays.
§ Mr. Silkin
Yes, but I was dealing with something commensurate with the proposed Channel tunnel project. The hon. Gentleman and I are probably the only two Japanese-speaking Members of Parliament, so at least we can agree about that. The Honshu to Hokkaido tunnel is commensurate, almost to the inch, with the proposed Chunnel tunnel.
The Government are prepared to spend £500 million on the Channel tunnel. Would it not be better to spend that money — and I would spend much more — on modernising and cheapening the whole of our rail system? That would make some of the environmental improvements about which the Secretary of State rightly spoke. He mentioned the large number of lorries that congregate along the roads of Kent. Such a scheme would do a great deal to improve the employment position and bring down the cost of transport.
There is one aspect of the proposed project to which no one on the Government Front Bench dares give weight—security. A narrow tunnel, 30 miles in length, with cars, motorists and families all travelling together, will be an obvious security target. If we assume that the Channel Tunnel Group's timing is anywhere near accurate, there could be as many as six trains in the tunnel at any one time. The group refers to trains running every 10 minutes, and the journey lasting 30 minutes. Whether by a terrorist bomb or by a mechanical defect, if one of those trains breaks down there will be a danger to life not only through bombing or fire, but from panic. The House may recall that a couple of months ago a London underground train broke down and was stuck for two hours in a tunnel. There was no great danger and the train was quite near a platform, but there was panic.
I spoke earlier about delays in the rail system. We all know that there can be breakdowns. A breakdown in the 1127 tunnel is not something that I would wish to experience. Let us consider the average holiday family on their way to France: a saloon car with husband and wife in the front and the average 2.2 children in the back——
§ Mr. Silkin
No, none in the boot. It is an average family.
They are taking auntie Maggie with them, and it is well known that auntie Maggie tends to become a little frustrated when she does not get her own way. If that car was stuck in the middle of the tunnel, the panic would be colossal. I do not think that the House really understands that. If there is also the danger of fire, the position would be very difficult.
Of course, fire or other hazards can occur on a ferry—there was a sad incident with a hovercraft a few months ago—but nothing could be as bad as such a hazard in the tunnel. That is a fundamental objection to the scheme. Even if the Secretary of State does not agree with me on that, he must not ignore it because it is a terrifying possibility. It is 30 miles of danger.
If the tunnel is meant to achieve anything, it is to cut down the number of ships and seafarers crossing the Channel. It is no use pretending, as the right hon. and learned Member for Dover did—although I accept that he did so in all sincerity—that the ferries will remain and that there will be competition between them and the tunnel. I do not believe that, and neither do they. The effect of building the tunnel will be to destroy the ferries because the costs of crossing the Channel will he brought down to a level with which the ferries cannot compete. We must remember that a great deal of money is required to modernise the ferries, but where will they obtain it? We are talking about the death knell for the ferries. I am enormously worried about that, not least because of the effect on the future of our country and its defence.
During the past few years there has been a monumental decline in ships, shipbuilding and, even worse, the maritime capabilities of Britain's defence. Before the debate I looked at the Defence White Paper, and paragraph 443 is significant. It states:Because the United Kingdom's merchant fleet is of great importance for defence needs, the scale of its recent decline has caused some concern. There are, however, still sufficient ships of most of the particular type that we need to enable us to meet our foreseen defence requirements for cross-Channel reinforcement and direct support of Royal Navy operations.We can see the rusting ships in every port in Britain; That is the truth about the ships. What about the men who man them? Without them, there will not be a Navy. Anyone who has served in the Navy — as the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and many other other hon. Members know well—knows that we rely upon the Merchant Navy in times of war and trouble, not just for manning support ships but for the Navy itself.
I want the House to be aware of the figures. The latest figures that are available for the number of registered United Kingdom seafarers show that there were 31,434 officers in 1979. That figure has fallen to 13,371. In 1979 there were 28,942 ratings and that figure has now declined to 17,680. There were 6,318 cadets and that figure as fallen to 1,016. That figure represents the future generation of seafarers.
1128 The strongest of my objections, which lies at the root of the issue, is what will happen to our maritime experience and skill. We are an island country. Our past was safeguarded and maintained and we have prospered because our country is girded by the sea and our seafarers were able to protect it. From the figures that I have quoted, and from the Government's attitude, it would appear that the defence of our country does not matter.
I fear that we may be heading for a catastrophe. I do not want to see that happen. I began by saying that a question of principle was involved. I firmly believe that. I hope that the House will reject the Bill.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on his excellent speech. He referred to opportunities. I was reminded of the instructions of a ski instructor who said that in skiing there is no security, only opportunity. We have heard two points of view in the debate, and I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) on his interesting speech against the Channel tunnel. I give qualified support to the tunnel but I am concerned about the security aspects of the project and the effect it will have not only on the ferries, but on the oceangoing shipping as well.
Viewed from the east coast, the main effect of the Channel tunnel will on the sea trade in the range from Ramsgate to Newhaven and from Dunkirk to Dieppe. I have considerable sympathy with the fears of my hon. Friends who represent Kent constituencies and those who represent constituencies on the south coast over the employment effects which the project is bound to have in their constituencies. If the project was being carried out in my constituency, I could understand their opposition and the views of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) and those of other Kent Members.
I am naturally also concerned for the future of the privatised Sealink company, a subsidiary of Sea Containers. I applaud that company's action and confidence in pressing ahead with the investment at Bathside bay in Harwich. I was anxious to have the support of the House for my Harwich Parkstone Quay Bill this week to build new quays to expand the sea container traffic to 100,000 sea containers a year. I thank my hon. Friends and Opposition Members for their support for that venture by Sea Containers.
To justify that venture we will need the support of two or three major deep-sea operators. Clearly the acid test will be whether they think such facilites are still justified. I am glad to say that at present the noises are encouraging. That may encourage the right hon. Member for Deptford, who was concerned about the falling numbers of our seafaring people. All hon. Members must be concerned about that.
Is it true that the French Ministry of Transport has announced recently that it intends to build a multi-million franc investment in deep-sea container facilities at Le Havre and improvements in the rail link between Le Havre and Calais? For some time I have been concerned about the subsidies being paid to many continental ports. The building of the tunnel naturally increases the problem for our own ports. Was that point raised in the negotiations?
In October I was told that the then Secretary of State for Transport had taken up the matter with Commissioner Sutherlans, urging him to investigate a number of specific 1129 cases. I am pressing for complete transparency of financial relations between the Community ports and public authorities. What is the present position on that?
Clearly, before the Channel tunnel is built, we must clarify these matters as soon as possible because the range of state and municipal aid to ports in the Community and in France is a potential distortion of competition to United Kingdom interests and will have special effects on sea container traffic and on shipping.
Will the draft concession agreement in its present form be acceptable to equity investors and bank lenders? It is claimed that the agreement contains a host of clauses which are completely uncommercial. Is it correct that the Government are giving complete freedom to change the fiscal legislation without compensation, with no mortgages being permitted to lenders?
Is it true that France is unwilling to stop its road permit system now in force, which limits the number of freight vehicles which can transit the country? Does the draft concession agreement provide that 50 per cent. of profits of the fixed link will be taxable in France? At present approximately 80 per cent. of the profits for short sea Channel traffic are taxable in the United Kingdom. Would a 50:50 arrangement like this lead to the transfer of hundreds of millions of pounds of British tax revenue to the French?
I have considerable doubts about what is happening. Can the Minister tell me what help has been given from the European Community to the Haven ports? Could road facilities be improved at Harwich and Parkston at the same time as progress is being made on the roads to the tunnel? Have we in the United Kingdom had similar grants to our ports as the French have had from the Community?
All these matters are connected with the downturn in the fortunes of our merchant fleet, so eloquently alluded to by the right hon. Member for Deptford. The merchant fleet is vital strategically to our defence, not only across the Channel. We must remember that one of the first requirements of our defence is the reinforcement to Norway. Recently the Danish ferries, not the British, helped to reinforce in the last NATO exercise.
I will support Second Reading but with considerable reservations. I want to hear the answers to the questions that I have asked because I still have doubts on the matter. I hope that the Government will have more frank discussions with the country's port and shipping operators and those on the east coast to include the taxation position of flags of convenience. We are a shipping nation. No matter how enthusiastic we may be about rail users when discussing the Bill, we must remember the figures that we have heard about our merchant shipping fleet and our defence requirements.
All these are considerable reservations and anyone considering the future must bear them in mind. It would be a bitter blow if we were to lose our ferries and our sea container traffic. That is why I am concerned about the subsidies being given to Le Havre and the road links with Calais. I can foresee a time when the ferries may disappear. However, even more serious, what will happen to the sea container traffic? The French are making a dead set for that at the moment, and we must think very seriously about the implications for our merchant shipping fleet.
I welcome the fact that the House has given support for the east coast ports, particularly for the sea container traffic, but I do not think that, just because that support has 1130 been given, there will not be considerable problems for the sea container trade. They are now privatised and will have to face any losses on their own. It will be tragic if, because of the Channel tunnel, we lose not only the ferries but the sea container trade to France, with all the consequences that that may have for our merchant shipping.
Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to initiate discussions at a high level to consider those questions carefully. Like the right hon. Member for Deptford, I feel strongly about the future implications to our shipping and our seafaring people, and that is why I give this Bill qualified support at this stage.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) made some pertinent points about subsidies on the Continent, but I think that he will agree that they do not apply just to the construction of the Channel tunnel. Many hon. Members have suspicions about subsidies in many other areas which have enabled our competitors on the Continent to obtain contracts. They have often been surprising, given the tightness of the bids submitted by British firms. I hope that those points will be followed up. I have fed the Minister with some information which appeared in a French newspaper about Le Havre.
I have served in the Navy and I share the hon. Gentleman's views on the rundown of our maritime forces, but I think that he will agree that it is not the Channel tunnel that is causing that. It has been going on for a considerable time. A different attitude to taxation of our shipping companies will be needed if we are to retain a merchant shipping fleet at all.
I add my congratulations to those already offered tc the Secretary of State. I commiserate with him for having to sit here and listen to yet another speech. However, I remain an unrepentant supporter of the Channel tunnel and I hope to live long enough to travel through it. My alliance colleagues will be voting for the Second Reading of the Bill tonight just as we have supported it throughout as can be seen from the record. I am well aware that the hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) has been quoting some of my words. If he is honest he will accept that I have been rather helpful to him. I hope that he will accept that I have stood my ground——
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman should tell that to the Conservative candidate in the Isle of Wight. It is tit for tat. Fair's fair. They are representing their constituents just as the hon. Gentleman is representing his. The right hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) certainly represented his.
Support for the Channel tunnel does not mean that people's rights can be bulldozed. As I have made clear before, ample time must be provided for all those adversely affected who wish to be heard either by the Select Committee of the House of Commons or, later, by the Lords to submit their petitions. Hence our amendments which will be discussed later tonight.
The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) quoted from the Select Committee's report on Tuesday. As a member of that Select Committee I signed the report. We said:The Committee recommends that this precedent"—1131 that of 1974—be followed, 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 repeat that now because it is important.
Compensation where rightly due must be generous, and every effort should be made to limit the damage to the environment. Clause 8 has much to say on that. The Secretary of State referred to it and I was glad to hear what he had to say.
A decision not to hold the usual full-scale public inquiry is perfectly understandable in view of recent experiences, but that must mean that the Select Committee's duty is to give objectors every opportunity to be heard. I repeat that I hope that it will agree to take evidence in Kent rather than stay in the confines of the Palace of Westminster all the time. If we can have some influence on that it will be helpful.
§ Mr. Ross
I accept that that is up to the Chairman of the Committee, but I am glad that the Secretary of State agrees with that view.
Let me also take the opportunity to clarify my attitude to the short 20-day inquiry which I put forward for consideration before Christmas to the Select Committee on Transport and which I also mentioned in the House before Christmas. That had merit before the decision on the type of fixed link was made. But, as the recent Dounreay inquiry has revealed, cutting hearings short leaves dissatisfied too many whose views are not heard. I have already made that point and I repeat it now.
I am in favour of this project because it is an exciting challenge and, with inflation under control, the time is right. We must at least give the Government credit for that. I regret that was not the case in 1974. Secondly, it helps to move Britain into the 21st century. I fully support the Secretary of State on that. Nearly 60 per cent. of our exports are now said to be going to Europe. Anything that can speed up their delivery and, I hope, cut costs, must surely be right. It also gives our railway system a great opportunity to take some of the traffic off our already overcrowded roads. If this Government are not prepared to tackle congestion the next will surely be obliged to do so. One has only to look at the photograph of the M25 in The Times the other day and the correspondence that it evoked. Somebody wrote that there are 25,000 Austin motor cars unsold in Longbridge — thank God! That is understandable.
I should have preferred a rail-only tunnel. I think that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) was wrong: there was not to be a rail-only tunnel in 1974. It surely did include a shuttle. Like the late Anthony Crosland, I must be realistic. Pressure on the public purse for any future Administration would probably mean that the project would have to be put on to the back burner when priorities came to be made, and that would be a mistake, one sees that. If one reads the appropriate volume of Hansard in 1974 Anthony Crosland said that he had to accept the shuttle, although previously he had been in favour of a rail-only tunnel. I put the actual question to him. It becomes even more of a necessity when private 1132 money is being used because the public purse just could not run to it without the extra revenue. If my party were to consider our priorities when we came to power, we would almost certainly have to take the same view. However, that does not mean the demise of all our ferry routes to the Continent.
I have been got at in the Isle of Wight because many seafarers live there who operate ships out of Portsmouth. At the moment the ferry traffic to France from Portsmouth is increasing. A new line is coming in within the next week or two. I believe that competition will be good. Sometimes I wish that we could build a tunnel to the Isle of Wight. My constituents would say that that is the most expensive crossing in the world. I do not think that that is true but it costs between £30 and £40 to take a medium sized car and a couple of children across, and there is no real competition.
I take the point that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) made in an intervention earlier. Competition is desirable. But ferries will run from places such as Portsmouth, Plymouth and up the east coast because people will not want to drive all the way round to Dover.
§ Mr. Silkin
I notice that the hon. Gentleman said that they will run from Portsmouth. I do not agree, but he is automatically killing Dover by his speech.
§ Mr. Ross
I am not killing Dover. Obviously competition will be the greatest for Dover and Folkestone. I hope that Dover will survive, but it will have to be competitive. I do not think that it will necessarily lose out totally, but, yes, let us be open about it, Dover will have a real problem.
The chance of being able to board a train at Waterloo and be in the centre of Paris in three hours 15 minutes or in Brussels in two hours 55 minutes is one that most of us would jump at. I was surprised at the views of the right hon. Gentleman on that. It would be wonderful to avoid the uncomfortable ride out on the Underground to Heathrow, the delays before takeoff, the cramped seat with the tray of food that one has difficulty eating and the likelihood of someone knocking your glass over, more delays at customs and immigration and then another 30 or 40 minutes to get into the centre of Paris or Brussels. All that hardly puts anyone in a good mood for the task ahead, and many thousands do such trips every week, if not every day.
In its latest handout, British Rail predicts over 20 million passenger journeys per annum by the year 2003 and 11.6 million tonnes of freight per annum on the railway. It anticipates running 20 freight trains daily in each direction and that should mean 1,500 fewer 38-tonne lorries on our roads. I am sure that it will not be quoted by a Labour spokesman in this debate, although it may be by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), but in a document signed by three or four of the leaders of the rail unions issued to their members only a day or two ago, of which I happen to have a copy, they said:Those against the Channel Tunnel have said it will be bad for the Regions, for jobs and have maintained that the money could have been better used for social infrastructure.The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) took that line.
The document went on to say:Whether we like it or not, the finance for the project is being raised in the international markets. It is venture capital, much of it from abroad, and is simply not available for re-direction by any1133Government to projects which it might consider socially more useful. Set against the real job benefits of the project this argument is irrelevant and misleading.Many more jobs stand to be gained than will be lost by the Channel Tunnel project. There has been no serious challenge to the research findings that the long-term effect of the Channel Tunnel on Kent Coast employment will be broadly neutral. Some jobs will undoubtedly be affected by the new investment. They always are. But it is part of the challenge to the Labour Movement in our campaign for jobs not only to defend existing jobs but to create new ones. There is massive potential for jobs in construction and in associated supply industries, as is shown in the attached appendix. As the party which stands above all for infrastructure investment. Labour must be committed to the job creating potential of this project.Many of the job opportunities are in the Regions, in our hard pressed traditional heavy industries — iron, steel and heavy engineering. Already, companies in the North East and Strathclyde are tendering for the tunnelling equipment. Increasingly, companies and workforces up and down the country will be reflecting in their plans and expectations the contracts that will be flowing through from the Tunnel work. Predominantly, these jobs will be in Labour seats or high on Labour's target list. There can be no doubt that in the next few years the Regions will be major beneficiaries of the construction phase of the Tunnel. Once the Tunnel is in operation, the new speed of connections to continental destinations will place firms in the Regions on a more equal competitive footing with firms nearer to the South Coast.That is signed by Jimmy Knapp, Ray Buckton, Albert Williams and Bert Lyons. I could not have put it better myself.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) has gone but I visited British Rail Engineering Ltd. in Derby this morning. In the carriage works there were coaches for Gabon and for the Congo, former French African countries. We have beaten the French at building rail carriages. They may have to put the bogies on, but the carriages are being built in Britain and being exported to former French African countries. I do not doubt that we can win if we can compete on equal terms with the French.
In clause 1(7)(d) of the Bill it would appear that Ashford is to he the base for customs and other controls on the English side of the channel. I would hope that for rail passengers arrangements can be devised so that customs men can operate on the train during the journey as it makes so much more sense and would avoid the necessity to detain or delay people. It should be the same on the ferries——
§ Mr. Ross
I accept the point that was made earlier. I realise that there are differences because it is a sea crossing, but one can go from Brussels to Paris these days without having to worry about customs. Surely the time must be coming when we can drop some of the restrictions placed upon us when we travel within the Community.
Clause 43 amends the Coast Protection Act 1949 and the removal of materials during the excavation. I think that it has already been said by the Secretary of State, but I assume that agreement will definitely be reached with Kent county council as to the extent and disposal of the material before works begin.
I hope that the Bill will make good progress but that every care will be taken to ensure that the views and representations of those adversely affected are fully taken into account and, wherever possible, without ruining the project, adjustments recommended.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
I oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. I should like to quote briefly from a document prepared by the Kent county council, "The Channel Tunnel and the Future for Kent". The key question in the document posed by Kent county council is:Can Parliament ensure that national objectives are secured without Kent, the front line county, paying an unacceptable economic and environmental price?Referring to the economic consequences of a chunnel for Kent, the document says:Once the construction phase is completed it is expected that jobs generated by the operation of the Tunnel will not replace job losses at Kent's ferry ports. East Kent is already struggling with serious economic problems and the ferry business represents one of the thriving industries in this depressed area of the County.County and district authorities have warned the Government that, even allowing for Fixed-Link work, East Kent can expect a net loss of jobs over the next 10–15 years unless positive measures are taken to stimulate growth. How the ferries respond to the challenge will be critical … East Kent needs the earliest possible demonstration of real commitment to its economic future. Left solely to market forces, the benefits could be more likely to focus on West Kent with its easy access to London, the M25 and the airports or"—this is the crucial point—go to Northern France.In conclusion, the document says:Across the Channel vast sums (of the order of £900 are being provided to ensure that the French gain a full share of benefits the tunnel will bring. It would be deplorable if we in Britain failed to make an imaginative investment in the future, and lost out as a result.That is the Kent county council's view in its own discussion document.
In the debate on 10 February of this year I drew the attention of the Minister of State to a publication called "Lien Fixe Transmanche" which was published by the regional council for Nord-Pas de Calais on the occasion of the Prime Minister's visit to Lille, on 20 January 1986. That document outlines in great detail exactly what the French Government are doing for Nord-Pas de Calais and how their money will be spent to ensure that jobs created by a tunnel go not to England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, or Kent, but to Nord-Pas de Calais.
The Kent county council-sponsored economic development board also published an assessment of the incentives in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France. In a news release Kent county council said:We want a Government commitment to give development incentives in order to compete on equal terms with the French. The Region Nord-Pas de Calais enjoys substantial national and European assistance and Kent will be at a disadvantage unless we can offer similar incentives.Canterbury city council, writing to the Government, said:The Council is convinced that such a link will have seriously adverse effects upon the Canterbury District in particular and upon the whole of North East Kent in general, and that although the short-term effect, during construction, may produce benefits through increased employment, the long term does not bode well for the area mentioned … The injection of massive financial support for the infrastructure for the North East Kent area is absolutely essential to minimise the effect of the link, as is huge capital investment particularly for the coastal areas of Whitstable, Herne Bay and the Thanet towns.As I have said, in the debate on 10 February, I drew the attention of the Minister of State to that situation. In reply, he said:He mentioned, as did other hon. Members, a document produced by the French Government about their intended investment in the Pas de Calais. He asked whether we could have a similar document in the United Kingdom. We have that in the 1135 White Paper, the statements that have been made in the House, the questions that have been answered and the speeches that have been made in the debates. Drawing all those matters together in one document might be helpful to hon. Members. I will consider that point carefully." —[Official Report, 10 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 726.]So far, no equivalent document has been produced. I suggest that the reason for that is that no policy exists in this country as exists with French Government support for the region of Nord-Pas de Calais.
In the debate on Tuesday 3 June the Minister of State, in reply to criticisms by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and myself about the undue haste with which the Government were pursuing their objectives, said:What about the landowners in the area who would like the uncertainty to be cleared up? What about the unemployed who would like the order to go to engineering industries—indeed, to Thanet? Some of the large number of unemployed people in that area would like these jobs to go to that area."—[Official Report, 3 June 1986; Vol. 98, c. 868.]That was widely quoted on national radio and television. I do not think that either my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South or I would quarrel with the need for jobs in an area with 27 per cent. male unemployment—the highest unemployment of any area not in receipt of aid from assisted area status or regional aid.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South will in due course undoubtedly make the case for the port of Ramsgate. I and my constituents believe that the economic regeneration of north-east Kent is dependent almost entirely upon the success of the port of Ramsgate, and the development of that port depends in its turn very largely on the road system in north-east Kent. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) said, if Ramsgate is to compete on equal terms with the Channel tunnel—I know of no reason why it should be asked to do otherwise—then, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said, the ports of Dover, Folkestone, and Ramsgate and those on the rest of the south coast must have the advantage of the same customs system as that in the fixed link. At the moment, as far as I can see, there are no proposals to offer those advantages to the cross-Channel ferries.
If the ports are to compete on equal terms, they must be subject to the same safety regulations as will apply to a fixed link and to rail traffic. As far as we can see, it is considered in order to load traffic on to trains, to secure that traffic by no means other than a handbrake and to allow people to travel in cars while on trains. In short, it is in order to break all the regulations that are currently applied to the same kind of vehicles travelling on ferries.
When one drives on to one of the Sally Line ferries at Ramsgate, the vehicles at the front and rear of the line are secured by hawsers. One is then required to leave the transport, there is no opportunity for customs clearance during the journey and one rejoins the transport at the end of the journey. I would be delighted if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could correct me if I am wrong in my understanding of the situation.
To compete on equal terms, the port at Ramsgate must have the same kind of road access that is proposed for the Channel tunnel. In east Kent, we have been fighting for the improvement of the Thanet way for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Couch), when he represented a part of my constituency before it 1136 was rejigged in 1983, took up that point on his election to the House. Proposals for the improvement of the Thanet way were accepted by Kent county council in the late 1960s. The proposals were forimproving Thanet Way to dual carriageway standard with grade separated junctions … and land for the scheme has been reserved since that time.On my election to the House I approached my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who at that time had responsibility at the Department of Transport for roads, and I raised again the subject of the dualling of the Thanet way. In the Lloyd's Ports Bulletin International for November 1985, the managing director of the Sally Line is quoted as saying:We have fought long and hard to get permission to build an access road that will take traffic away from the middle of Ramsgate.Work could start next year and we could see it completed by 1988. But what now worries me is that if the decision is given to go ahead with the tunnel the construction work will take precedence over schemes like ours.The tunnel will then serve no other purpose than to take away funds allocated to other road projects.It is clear that Mr. Kingshott's fears were well founded.
In January, the then leader of Thanet district council wrote to the leader of the county council, Mr. Tony Hart, saying:We are naturally apprehensive about the problems which will face Thanet in the event of the Fixed Link being constructed, … The unanimous view of the Thanet representatives was that some additional expenditure on infrastructure would help to make Thanet more attractive to new industry and also for tourism. We therefore asked for his assistance in upgrading the A299—the notorious Thanet Way. Mr. Ridley, of course, pointed out that this road is not his responsibility, as it is a County road. He indicated, however, that he would be sympathetic with our needs and would be willing for the road to be trunked if the County Council so indicated. Having regard to the problems of the County Highways budget (and all other budgets) this seemed a helpful suggestion.The Kent economic development board, on 20 January 1986, issued a news release saying:it is in the Board's view essential that the exceptional incentives being offered by the French Government for investment in the Nord-Pas de Calais region be recognised by the British Government and matched by some similar forms of support and incentive for investment in North East Kent. This area, which already suffers high unemployment levels (reaching 27 per cent. male unemployment in the Thanet area of Kent at present) could otherwise suffer a serious investment blight which cannot adequately be offset by the locational advantages from which Mid and North West Kent should ultimately gain.It is clear that Thanet and the north-east area of Kent is suffering from investment blight.
The efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South and myself are made so much more difficult because at present, with no link road into Thanet and no suitable link road planned from Thanet to the Channel tunnel, investors regard the Channel tunnel and its approach road as the north-east Kent bypass. That will continue to be the case unless and until the road infrastructure is improved.
In his evidence to the Select Committee on Transport, the planning officer for Kent county council, Mr. Deakin, said:Although there will be job generation on the London fringe, nevertheless it remains the fact that Dover, Thanet and Folkestone will be behind the door as one comes out of the tunnel. We are anxious to see that a genuine assessment is made of what has to be done in that part of the world to achieve compensating economic growth.The county surveyor, in a more recent publication of minutes to the Kent county council highways and public transport sub-committee, said—I apologise to the House 1137 for quoting this in some detail but it is highly relevant—that virtually no progress has been made, in spite of my representations and those of the Thanet district council, the Canterbury city council and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South to all the Ministers involved and to the county council. The county surveyor says:At the meeting of this Sub-Committee on the 11 February 1986, Members considered my report on the Department of Transport's request that the County Council give its formal view on the possibility of the A299 Thanet Way becoming a trunk road. Members resolved (Minute paragraph 356):That the County Surveyor's report be noted;that the Department of Transport be informed that the Council wishes to see major improvements to the A299/A253 route to Ramsgate at the earliest opportunity, comprising a dual carriageway along the A299 and realignment of the A253 to avoid the existing problem areas;that the Department be invited to give a firm undertaking to complete these works within a reasonable timescale of say, 7 years"—in other words, before the Channel tunnel project can be completed—and on that basis, the Council would welcome an initiative to trunk this route;that the Department also be asked to discuss these arguments with the Council to establish the priority of improvements to Thanet Way and access to Ramsgate and that the issue of trunking the Thanet Way be reconsidered when such discussions have been concluded; andthat Thanet District Council, Swale Borough Council and Canterbury City Council be informed of the County Council's views in this matter and sent copies of the County Surveyor's report together with all of the appropriate Kent M.Ps.The county surveyor wrote to the director of transport at the Department of Transport's south-east regional office informing him of the resolution in these terms:the Minister had met Members of Parliament representing the Thanet constituencies and informed them that trunking the Thanet Way and A253 would not attract a high priority for improvement, particularly dualling.He went on:The Director has written to me stating 'The Secretary of State decided that Thanet Way should remain a local road as improvement schemes were unlikely to attract high priority in the trunk road programme'. He stated that he would look sympathetically at schemes proposed for Transport Supplementary Grant in the Transport Policies and Programme.The surveyor concluded:I made it quite clear that, with current levels of TSG and capital allocation, dualling of the Thanet Way was included in the County's draft Transport Plan for a start in post year 2000. It could only achieve early implementation if the County Council were to receive additional funds from the D.Tp, over and above the level that would otherwise be realised.There is no indication as yet that funding for that road, over and above the existing grant available to the county council, to improve the Thanet way is likely to be forthcoming. Mr. Michael Odling, the chairman of the development, planning and transportation committee, in a letter to one of my constituents dated 3 June, said:The Mitchell Committee on the Channel tunnel has at the instigation of Kent county council commissioned a joint impact study. This is intended to identify the economic problem but also the economic opportunities which can be generated particularly in East Kent. Consideration of the enhancement of the Thanet way is part of that very study. The question of whether or not the Thanet way should be trunked is still undecided. We have been quite willing for the Department of Transport to trunk the road, but only on the clear understanding that much upgrading would take place as a matter of urgency.Last year. Kent county council authorised the building of a single-lane footbridge to join Whitstable with a new hypermarket development on the other side of the Thanet way. It is quite clear from that action alone that there are no plans either with Kent county council or with the 1138 Department of Transport to give the port of Ramsgate a lifeline that it needs and an opportunity to compete.. on equal terms, with the Channel tunnel. The most recent communication that I have received from my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Transport, whose presence in the Chamber I welcome, shows that he is prepared to look further at the issue of the Thanet way.
I should like to be able to take a more positive approach to the Channel tunnel. I can see, in the right circumstances, some economic advantages for my constituents in the construction of a fixed link, but only when undertakings have been given that the Department of Transport will wholeheartedly support and, if necessary, fund the dualling of the road, which the port of Ramsgate needs to survive, and which the Isle of Thanet needs to develop economically. If that undertaking is given, the project—I say this quite unequivocally—will have my wholehearted support. Unless that undertaking is given, the Channel tunnel project will continue to have, as regrettably it has had to have up to now, not only the opposition of my constituents but the wholehearted opposition of myself.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the paths of the issues which affect his constituency and the neighbouring area. I speak as someone who regrets that we are in the Common Market. I wish that we had never joined it. However, it does not necessarily follow that one has to be an out-and-out opponent of the Channel tunnel project. I judge the proposal, as I have judged others, in three ways: first, its effect on jobs; secondly, its effect on public transport and British Rail; and, thirdly, its effect on the environment. Those are some of the criteria by which I judge the Bill, although there are others which I shall develop later.
What effect will the proposal have on jobs? The Labour party has long supported investment in the infrastructure as a way of providing more jobs and tackling the appallingly high level of unemployment. I take comfort and strength from the views expressed by a number of trade union leaders connected with the rail and construction industries who have talked about the benefit of jobs from the development. I appreciate that it has not been as fully worked out as I would wish. To that extent, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin). I should have liked to see a tougher analysis of the effect on employment. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that overall, in terms of both the construction and the ruining of the Channel tunnel, there will be a beneficial effect on employment, especially in the construction industry.
What effect will the proposal have on public transport? I have long believed that as a country we have been entirely wrong to turn our backs on the development of British Rail. We made a major mistake in shifting passenger and freight movement from the railways on to the roads. That policy was damaging. We are not yet able to assess the full price that we must pay for the cuts in rail services that have taken place over the past 20 or 30 years. I fear that British Rail's future is bleak unless, as a country, we make a determined effort to do something about getting more goods carried by British Rail.
I see the development as a shot in the arm and a possible salvation for British Rail freight services. If we decide not 1139 to have a Channel tunnel, I fear that we will be faced with further Beeching-type cuts in British Rail, and freight will move almost entirely to the roads. British Rail will be left with a few inter-city services and a few commuter services, especially in the London area. I do not want to see that happen. I believe that in the next century we shall regret the rail closures that have already taken place. I certainly do not want to see any more. I should like to see more freight moved off the roads and on to the railways.
What effect will the proposal have on the environment? I appreciate that in certain parts of Kent there will be environmental disadvantages in areas where work is carried out and where the tunnel comes out. I think, and hope, that that geographical impact will be limited. If the result of developing the Channel tunnel is that there will be a movement from the roads on to the railways, surely there will be major environmental advantages throughout the country, which I would welcome.
Who will use the tunnel? I think that some hon. Members were somewhat negative or pessimistic in referring to the type of traffic that the tunnel will attract. I shall deal with the issues under three headings, not necessarily in order of importance. The issues which have been raised concern air passengers, motor cars and freight.
Dealing with air passengers, I believe, in contrast to my right hon. Friend, that the attractions of a shorter journey from city centre to city centre mean that many people will no longer fly on the London-Paris and London-Brussels routes. The benefits will go further afield in terms of an incentive to use the railways, if there are quick and efficient services from city centre to city centre. In winter at any rate, the hazards of having to wait at Heathrow airport for fog to clear, ice to thaw and so on. with similar hazards at the other end, mean that it is more attractive to undertake a sensible journey during which one can sit the whole time and not have the dislocation of going to Heathrow airport on the tube, getting out and waiting, getting on to a plane, getting out and having the same process at the other end. Even if the journey, city centre to city centre, was a little longer, many people would prefer to use that path.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's remarks with great interest. Is he aware that his argument applies well within France. where the introduction of extremely high speed trains has had a dramatic effect in switching traffic from the air to the train?
§ Mr. Silkin
Is it not a fact that the Channel Tunnel Group talks about a maximum speed of 93 mph between London and the coast as against 169 mph for the TGV to Lyons?
§ Mr. Dubs
I should like to see British Rail develop higher speed trains, but 93 mph from London to the Channel is not bad to be going on with, and will certainly be an improvement on many of the present services. I take note of the fact that on the other side of the Channel the 1140 French have developed a highly efficient rail system, one of the advantages of which is that to which the hon. Member for Clywd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) has referred. I hope that the effect of the tunnel on the number of short-haul flights from London to the other side of the Channel will have a beneficial environmental effect. Much of the burden on airports in southern England is derived from the many short-haul flights that take place. A reduction in the number of planes will have a greater environmental effect, in my view, than a reduction in the number of passengers. I see certain advantages. Those who fly from other parts of Britain and change planes at Heathrow will continue to fly to the Continent, but there will be advantages if the number of short-haul flights direct from the south is reduced.
I take the point that the Channel tunnel may not produce all that much of an advantage for heavy goods vehicles that come from the Continent into Britain. The drivers of these vehicles must have rest periods and there are some advantages for them in crossing the channel by ferry. The effect of the tunnel, however, will reduce crossing times and may well induce goods to be shifted from the roads to the railways. If that happens, we shall not have to worry about drivers having to stop for a rest, for example. There will be no need to onload or offload. I envisage enormous economic benefits to Britain if freight trains can run straight from the north of England down to the Ruhr and through to Italy, which would be a good thing to work for.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
In supporting the case for it being possible for a train to go from any part of Britain to any part of the Continent, does my hon. Friend agree that the concentration of traffic at one terminus in London—at Waterloo—could be disadvantageous to precisely the dispersal that he is talking about?
§ Mr. Dubs
It seems that there will be great advantages if trains, both freight and passenger, can travel from parts of the Continent to the midlands or the north of England as well as to London. If that does not happen, we shall be losing some of the main advantages which the Channel tunnel may offer transport services.
One of the benefits of the tunnel will be the possibility of trains travelling from the north of England directly to various parts of the Continent, which will lead to enormous savings in time and, I hope, in costs, to the point where our roads will be a little clearer of the heavy goods vehicles which now clutter them.
The use of the tunnel by those who are going on holiday, for example, is one of the least attractive considerations. That is one of the least interesting factors from our point of view. Many of those who go on holiday by car may wish to continue using the ferries. The tunnel offers more benefits in the movement of freight than of passengers. Those who are taking their cars abroad way well choose to use traditional methods of crossing the Channel.
What will be the effect on the ferries? My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford has talked about our traditions as a seafaring nation and the need for us to retain the skills that lie in the ferry services. I agree with that. I would be concerned and disappointed if the consequence of the Bill's enactment was to wipe out the ferry services around our coasts. I believe emphatically that that need not be the outcome and will not be. Demand for movements across the Channel is increasing and can be projected to 1141 continue to increase. To an extent, the ferries and the tunnel will be competing for a larger market in the future than that for which they would be competing if the tunnel were to open today.
There are many other ferry routes apart from the short-haul ones from Dover and Folkestone, and I am sure that they will continue to operate. The advantages of using the ports of Plymouth and Portsmouth, for example, if one's destination does not lie directly from Dover and Folkestone, will remain, and to that extent I believe that the ferry services will continue.
It is argued that the Channel tunnel will cost a tremendous amount of money and that we as a nation could use it to better effect elsewhere. If the money were ours to use elsewhere and if we had a Labour Government, no doubt we could use it for things more important than the tunnel.
§ Mr. Dubs
That would be an interesting debate. However, that is not a choice that is open to us, since we are talking about private money, not public money. I have complained for a long time that too much British capital goes abroad and does not benefit the British people. If the tunnel is a way of ensuring that at least part of that capital is used to help our people, that is an advantage.
The most important single criticism of the development, at least from some of my colleagues, is that it will favour the south-east and not the other regions. That is an important argument and one that needs to be thought about. I do not believe that that will be the outcome. If anything, the development will help the regions at the expense of the south-east, other than during the immediate construction period when labour in the south-east will be employed.
If trains from the regions do not stop too much in the south-east and go straight through to other parts of the country, the difference in journey time between north-east England and Italy, for example, and the south-east and Italy, will be reduced. The extra time that it takes to shift goods and people, but especially goods, from the south-east to elsewhere, as well as the extra cost, is one of the reasons why so much investment is concentrated in the south-east. If the net difference in time and cost is reduced—I believe that it will be lessened quite significantly—not only will the tunnel not boost the south-east, it will give some help to the regions.
One or two problems have not been resolved completely, including customs controls. We do not want the Channel tunnel to exacerbate the drugs problems—the importation of heroin, for example, through Heathrow and elsewhere, despite the strenuous efforts of Customs and Excise to prevent it happening—by making it easier for them to be brought into the country. This is a matter of concern and one that needs to be thought about. There are ways of preventing the easier importation of drugs, but we must be aware that it will be difficult for our hard-pressed customs officers to ensure that the flow of drugs does not increase. I have visited Heathrow and watched the customs people in action. They work extremely hard to prevent heroin and other hard drugs entering the country, and I am sure that they will be able to use their skills when dealing with a different mode of travel.
If the Channel tunnel development is to make sense there must be further investment in British Rail services 1142 throughout the country. It does not make much sense to have highly efficient train services between London and the Channel and through the tunnel, when nothing is done to help the movement of transport throughout the United Kingdom. Since 1979 the Government have been reluctant to do much for British Rail. I hope the Government, aware of the opportunities, will improve British Rail services throughout the country. We would then have services to compare with those in France and we would not have to yearn for a system as efficient as theirs.
In a debate such as this, we concern ourselves with matters of principle, but there are one or two matters of local concern in my constituency that I wish to mention. Hon. Members will be aware from the schedules to the Bill that there will be developments in the Wandsworth area. Those developments are causing concern in my constituency.
I believe that the development at Stewarts Lane could take place at a lower rather than a higher level. and therefore, it would have less impact on the people living in the nearby blocks of flats. There is to be another development in the Sheepcote lane area of my constituency, and I am concerned about the extra noise and disturbance that will be caused to the people living there. I hope British Rail will do its best to minimise the noise and that some compensation will be offered to people whose way of life could be seriously disturbed if there is a heavy increase in rail freight traffic through that part of my constituency.
The proposed plan to service all these trains near Clapham junction in south London has fallen by the wayside. I am persuaded, reluctantly, by British Rail that this must be. It now insists that the servicing will be carried out at the North Pole depot somewhere near Acton. I regret that decision.
A matter of wider interest to my constituency concerns the New Covent Garden market. Some years ago there was a proposal that it should have a railhead. That proposal was not followed through. I regret that, but I shall regret it even more if it is not provided now when other rail developments are taking place very close to the market.
A rail link to the market would be important because approximately 1 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables go through it every year. Between 2,000 and 3,000 tonnes of the produce comes from the United Kingdom; about 200,000 tonnes comes from outside Europe, and about 500,000 tonnes comes from Europe. I have discussed this railhead with the New Covent Garden authorities and British Rail and we agree that it is an interesting and attactive proposition. British Rail should become entrepreneurial and make a bid to carry a fair proportion of the traffic, now coming by road into the market, often in expensive refrigerated vehicles.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that British Rail must put any proposal for such a development to an investment committee on which representatives of the Department of Transport sit. British Rail cannot make such a proposal until it knows that it can meet the necessary economic returns. That is why, when we press for improvements, we are continually told by Ministers that there are no British Rail proposals before the Government. If one considers the other side, we are told by British Rail that there is no point in making proposals because they would not meet the Department's investment criteria. That is the problem.
§ Mr. Dubs
I accept my hon. Friend's point, but surely the volume of fruit and vegetables going into the market is large enough for this proposal to be a worthwhile and interesting one for British Rail.
There would be great environmental advantages because it would halve the number of road vehicles, vehicles would distribute from the market only, and they would not need to go into the market. There are enormous attractions in getting fresh produce from Spain, which will be an increasingly large supplier to this country, and elsewhere. I am afraid that if the railhead is not developed at the market, some people will look elsewhere for trains that can deliver the produce. That may have a damaging effect on the market and threaten employment there.
I have spoken at some length on national and local considerations and I give the proposal my qualified support. To gain my unqualified support the Government would have to do far more to ensure that the benefits of the tunnel construction stay in this country and also promise further investment for British Rail, and not simply between London and the south-east. I hope the Government will respond to the needs and not make their gesture to British Rail in this project but forget about it in the future. The railways are needed all over the country not just in the south-east.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)
I begin, as other right hon. and hon. Members have done, by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his new appointment.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak because the Channel tunnel has aroused a great deal of interest in my constituency and, in some quarters, not a little anxiety. Although I represent a Sussex constituency, the eastern border of it is on the Kent and Sussex county boundary. My constituency is considerably closer to the proposed development areas around Folkestone than many parts of Kent. It is not surprising that many of my constituents, along with the East Sussex county council and the Rother district council, have expressed their views to me. Some are strongly held and have been expressed in a trenchant fashion.
The second and equally important reason for speaking is that I have had the opportunity of discussing the Channel tunnel project with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Earlier this year, I spoke in his constituency and saw, at first hand, the entirely understandable apprehension that is felt by some local residents at what they see as a major upheaval right on their doorsteps.
After my visit to Folkestone I was able to tell my hon. and learned Friend that the overwhelming opinion of the people I met was that he was doing an excellent job representing their interests concerning the Channel tunnel project. Therefore, I was not surprised to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that my hon. and learned Friend had assiduously represented the interests of his constituents. My hon. and learned Friend is present today, as he has been throughout every debate on this subject.
The House is aware that my hon. and learned Friend cannot speak in this debate, although there are other ways in which he can make his feelings known to his Government colleagues. While the House may understand the convention by which my hon. and learned Friend is 1144 bound on such occasions, it may be that some of his constituents do not readily appreciate that he cannot speak today. Therefore, if you will permit me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in my speech I shall mention some of the key points about developments in the vicinity of Folkestone which I have discussed with my hon. and learned Friend.
It is by no means my hon. and learned. Friend's view alone that I wish to express this afternoon. I have already mentioned that a number of my constituents have expressed concern. One young constituent has recently moved to Bexhill, having been brought up in Cheriton. She feels keenly that the proposals before the House will destroy the landscape of her childhood memories. Sadly, that is a fact. I have been able to tell her only that her feelings have been experienced by people whose houses have been obliterated by motorways and in the last century by the railways. Progress is inevitable.
I support the Channel tunnel. My reaction, which is perhaps typical of many British people, is that although I support the project, I do not intend to use the tunnel. That method of travel does not appeal to me. No matter how efficiently it is run or how quick the journey, it would be a highly claustrophobic experience. I am also worried that it will inevitably be a terrorist target. Nevertheless, there are sound reasons why the project should go ahead.
The project will unquestionably be a special example of private enterprise. Even at a time when about £60,000 million a year is spent on capital investment in the United Kingdom, to have a private enterprise scheme of this scale and nature is enormously important. This afternoon we have heard that during the construction stage about 8,000 jobs will be created on site on this side of the Channel and, equally important, that a further 5,000 jobs will be created for those who manufacture components and fabrications. That gives an idea of the scale and importance of the project, which I hope will shortly be launched.
When the project is completed, the economic advantages to the British economy will be considerable. The Secretary of State has told us that goods will move faster, more cheaply and more efficiently to the European market, and that about £46 billion of exports—about 60 per cent. of our total exports — go to the European Community. Before entering the House I spent years in manufacturing in the midlands, and I cannot impress sufficiently on the House how important a competitive advantage it will be to many manufacturers in the midlands, the north and throughout the country to put their products on a train and have them unloaded in Paris, Milan, or wherever.
It is also worth bearing in mind — this is often overlooked—that exports are vital to our economic performance. People often think of Japan as being in the forefront of export techniques, yet only about 14 per cent. of Japanese gross domestic product is accounted for by exports, whereas ours is nearer 30 per cent. That is why the project is so vital and why the rail link will provide such a competitive advantage. Some hon. Members have also told us what the tunnel will do for British Rail.
There are road links in my constituency and along the south coast that will matter a great deal. They are not simply in Kent. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already assured us that roads in Kent will be developed, but many of my right hon. and hon. Friends with south coast constituencies are keen that the entire south coast network should be considered in connection 1145 with this project. Anybody who has at any time tried to drive along the south coast from Dover to Devon will quickly have concluded that it is considerably easier to drive to Edinburgh and back for the afternoon than to fight one's way along the south coast. That is the case with the A259 and A27 and beyond towards Devon. As the Channel tunnel project reaches fruition, it is imperative that we have adequate roads to take tourists and some freight traffic to the south-west.
An important part of the project which has been earmarked in the national road plan, the Hastings and Bexhill bypass, is in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Hastings and Rye. At present it is time-scaled for the early 1990s, and I, together with many hon. Friends, will press the Minister to ensure that that time scale is firmed up. Indeed, at present there is a public inquiry going on in my constituency about another part of that link, the Pevensey bypass, and the same applies there.
The reaction of my constituents to the proposals is predominantly one of concern about the impact on the environment, the need for proper control of the project and for consultation. A Joint Consultative Committee has been set up, and I hope that district and county councils outside Kent which feel that they will be affected will be able to lodge their petitions before 17 June in the Private Bill Office. The machinery for consultation exists, and I have assured my constituents of that.
Some of my elderly constituents—and I have many—have psychological fears. They genuinely feel that something of our island status will be lost. It is easy to dismiss that lightly as a ludicrous notion, but people conjure with that idea. I would say to anybody who has that idea that if it is now 17 years since man was first able to fly to the moon, surely we have sufficient technology to build a tunnel under 23 miles of the Channel.
Despite all those feelings, the implications of the tunnel and its direct consequences are unquestionably more profound for Folkestone and the area around it than for anywhere else. That became clear from my discussions with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe. Some features of the Bill are of particular concern to my hon. and learned Friend and to me, and we shall continue to seek a detailed and thorough justification for them. If they cannot be justified, we shall press for them to be modified or even eliminated. I shall confine myself to one or two features which are troubling us.
Many of my hon. and learned Friend's constituents are particularly worried about the siting of the railway sidings associated with the scheme at Dollands Moor near the attractive village of Saltwood, and believe that those sidings should be removed, if it is at all practicable. There appear to be two possible alternative sites for the sidings. One is within the terminal site itself and the other is at Ashford, where a less sensitive site could be made available. Many remain convinced that the sidings can and should be removed. I hope that the Government will look carefully at the possibility of resiting the sidings.
Some of my hon. and learned Friend's constituents are unconvinced of the need to provide both access to and egress from the terminal via the western end of the site. It involves the construction of a road across Beachborough park and between the villages of Newington and Peene, dividing one from the other. If egress were to be provided from the eastern end of the site, this road could be 1146 eliminated from the scheme. I understand that that change would also have the advantage that traffic would leave the terminal facing Folkestone. That would enhance the prospect of the town benefiting from the construction of the tunnel. Some months ago, when I spoke in Folkestone, local people put that point to me. They feel it is a major project producing a major upheaval, and that there might be a danger of its benefits bypassing the town of Folkestone.
There is widespread concern about the movement of spoil and construction materials. Wherever possible those materials should be transported by rail. I know that this is already the subject of careful consideration by the Joint Consultative Committee which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister, and I hope that he will continue to give it careful attention.
On construction, I have discussed with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe the possibility of the appointment of an independent Channel tunnel commissioner who would act as a type of ombudsman. People could then clearly identify the person to whom they could bring their complaints and concerns, and who could take action to remedy their grievances. Both my hon. and learned Friend and I think that that is worth considering.
The main justification for the tunnel is the national advantages that it will bring, some of which I alluded to earlier. However, it is essential that some of the benefits to be derived from that national advantage are devoted to ensuring that the scheme is implemented in such a way as to do most good and least harm in the area facing the biggest impact—the environs of Folkestone. At the end of the debate I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give a clear recognition of the Government's responsibilities in that regard.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
The decision to expand Waterloo station to include an international terminal for passengers using the Channel fixed link was taken not recently but five years ago. Neither then nor since have the Government or British Rail agreed to hold a public inquiry into the many aspects and consequences of a decision of that magnitude. Public consultations held by Lambeth council have consistently led to a rejection of the terminal proposal, and have just as consistently been ignored by British Rail and the Government. Larnbeth borough council has summarised BR's consultation document, saying that the document sent tolocal authorities explains the works to be included in the Hybrid Bill but it is very thin on detail and deals very superficially with the way Waterloo was chosen in preference to other locations. Lambeth officers have met BR's channel tunnel team to try to get more information but BR were able to add very little about the actual works and virtually nothing about the spin-off effects of the terminal on the Waterloo area.For example, I understand that we still do not even have elevation design drawings for the terminal facilities at Waterloo. If I am wrong. they must have been made available only recently and petitioners will clearly he unable to make a detailed response to them.
Indeed, the contention that the hybrid Bill procedure is inadequate or even superior to a full public inquiry has already been falsified by the confused and inadequate information that is available on Second Reading. Interested groups and individuals who wish to submit petitions, even with the full co-operation of officials of the 1147 House, are confused about what form their submissions must take and where to deliver them. With only three weeks as the period envisaged for the submission of petitions, the instructions that have been issued remain unclear and contradictory. That affects not so much those who can gain access to legal advice and services, as those local residents who probably do not know how they should petition the House.
In March of this year I tabled 35 questions to the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment and about nine of them were answered satisfactorily. However, as a result of so-called common interest meetings held by British Rail during the past week, we have at long last learnt that the decision regarding Waterloo station was based on "guesses" and that only within the past two months have studies been undertaken of the traffic impact on Waterloo. They are still not available in any proper form.
Considerable speculation has gone on. For example, initial indications are that there could be, as Lambeth council stresses, massive confusion for pedestrians at Waterloo station, with commuters being mixed up with tourists carrying heavy loads. There could be congestion on the Underground; an extra 5,000 cars, with an additional 2,150, on average, in August, and an extra I million taxis a year, with 4,300 daily on average in August; an extra 35,000 coaches. The congestion on roads, particularly York road, Waterloo circus and Lambeth circus roundabout, which is implied by the additional traffic is considerable. Given the exceptional interest that hon. Members on both sides of the House have shown, I shall elaborate further in a moment.
My support for the case for dispersal cannot have been hidden from any Conservative Members whose eyesight is in decent condition. But the argument that there should be only one terminal for Channel tunnel passengers originating in, or bound for London—an estimated 70 per cent. of the total number of 7 million to 15 million Channel fixed link passengers — has never been satisfactorily justified. By contrast, the case for dispersal is so strong that it has partially, although implicitly, been conceded in BR's plans to process passengers bound for the south-east at Ashford and to divert some midlands and north-bound passengers to Olympia.
The justification given for having a single London terminal is that the duplication of facilities would be too costly. This is so clearly undercut by the dispersal case that an intention on the part of BR or the Government to develop Waterloo and the terminal complex as a saleable commodity—a privatised fixed asset related to the fixed link system—inevitably suggests itself. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that point.
In any event, why pick Waterloo? The selection of Waterloo from among the possible London sites for a terminal has received no satisfactory justification. British Rail has admitted that no quantified research was done on other possibilities such as Victoria, King's Cross or Olympia. Only since the decision was taken has a study of Victoria been pursued. However, the results of it are not yet available. Yet Victoria has the advantage of direct links with the international airports of Heathrow and Gatwick, as well as having hotel and other tourist accommodation in place. Moreover, it is situated north of 1148 the Thames which is where, according to BR's repeated assertions, most London passengers will originate or be bound for.
A case could also be made for Blackfriars. In that context, I shall cite a letter that was addressed earlier this year to the Department of Transport. It came from a Mr. K. Meyer, who is honorary secretary to the National Council on Inland Transport. I did not solicit the letter, but when he discovered that I was making a case for dispersing the traffic in London, to bypass London, he sent me a copy of the letter. It is dated 30 April 1986, and states:I refer to the question of the location of the London station. Both this Council and the RDS are convinced that Waterloo is the wrong choice, both as regards linkage to the London road and the public transport network and proximity to the City as such. This is also the view of Transport 2000 Londonand other bodies.We consider that Blackfriars would be a much better location. It is north of the river near to the City, it would be less costly in route alteration expenditure and furthermore it would offer the opportunity of through working using"—I trust that the Minister will address himself to this—the Snowhill routefor traffic north,and the Blackfriars bridge".Mr. Meyer then goes into various technical matters concerning the tunnel curve limitations at King's Cross and he stresses that there are other route possibilities "which could be adapted". The House and the public should address themselves to those issues.
Given that independent endorsement of the case for at least another major station in London, why should it not be possible for passengers boarding in Brussels or Paris to arrive at Victoria, Waterloo or Blackfriars? I accept that there are certain limitations about the lengths of platform involved, but at least then there would be no need to pile the traffic into one terminal with the disadvantageous effects that that would have on the local environment and, in particular, on the overloading of the Underground and of the road network.
I welcome the Secretary of State's invitation that I should go to see him and take with me some local residents and constituents. We shall seek to put that sort of point to him. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are sensitive to the possible impact on local communities. Consequently, I shall not detain the House for long on that point, but it is of great importance to the people who live there.
No consideration has been given by British Rail or by the Government to the destructive impact of their plans on the community in Waterloo. That community has been struggling to survive decades of depopulation and the razing of homes to make way for offices. After 14 years of campaigning, the residents have at last achieved a stable and growing permanent population through the provision of new, fair rented housing with gardens, exemplified in the new Coin street scheme which is within 200 yards of Waterloo station, The residents have also achieved the protection and promotion of basic retail shopping and have resisted pressures to close primary schools. There is a viable community in the Waterloo area and it is threatened by the kind of developments proposed. In addition, the worries expressed by local residents who see their neighbourhood threatened have consistently fallen on deaf ears.
The guide to compensation relating to the tunnel scheme issued by British Rail says that payments for noise and nuisance may be made to businesses that lose custom, 1149 or to owners whose property loses value, but not to ordinary residents whose lives have been made more unpleasant and difficult. One does not need a Nobel prize in cost-benefit analysis to see that this is a sharp discrimination against local people and favours the business community. We should at least reverse that and get a commitment from British Rail and from the Government that for any works going ahead at any station in London local residents will be compensated for damage.
I regret that, because of a prior commitment, I was unable to be present for the whole of the earlier part of the debate. I suggest that if Government Members have not already made the argument for individual compensation to be paid to those who are most directly affected by road works or railroads or other works associated with this project, they should do so. Hon. Members on both sides of the House ought to press for that.
§ Mrs. Currie
I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Member has said about Waterloo, because for the past few months I have been working above Waterloo station. Despite the trains, I was trying hard to listen to what colleagues in the Department of Education and Science were saying. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the most important service that can be offered to a community and to the people in Waterloo is the opportunity of employment? If British Rail were proposing to spend money in my constituency on local stations to provide the sort of increased service that is likely to come through Waterloo, I would be thrilled to bits.
§ Mr. Holland
I suspect that that is why the electors of Vauxhall elected me rather than a member of the party to which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) belongs. It is not at all clear that there will be anything like the kind of job creation which would thrill her to bits in the refurbishment of the station. I shall come to that point shortly.
Speculation and blight will be a major issue if we have a single terminus. It will he less of an issue if passenger traffic between Victoria, Waterloo and Blackfriars can be dispersed. Pressures for building major hotels in the immediate vicinity or for a change in retail use are obvious. The argument about those pressures will be submitted in detailed form by Lambeth council during the progress of the Bill, and I trust that serious attention will be paid to those arguments. It is evident to people who live around some of the other main stations in London that there will be a transformation in the Waterloo area from owner-occupation and long-term tenancies to short-stay hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and from resident shopping to fast-food and souvenir outlets.
The history of central London communities, including the one in Waterloo, has consistently shown that, where changes in land use from housing or industry to office and hotel development have been permitted, speculation in property values has occurred and along with that has come long-term environmental degradation. Waterloo has the misfortune to have a higher degree of office development than most other central London areas and has experienced the ensuing speculation and blight. Speculation brings about the razing of houses, the driving away of residents, and the boarding up of sites held by property companies awaiting an even more profitable price bonanza.
§ Mr. Holland
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South says, "Nonsense." I do not know how much time she spends in Waterloo station, hut if she cares to come up river a bit to Vauxhall bridge she will see razed sites on both sides of the bridge because of office speculation over a long period. A former Secretary of State for the Environment addressed himself to the problem of blighted streets.
§ Mr. Holland
Yes. One of the many former Secretaries of State in this Government addressed himself to the problem that blighted streets in areas like those that I have mentioned contribute to the fear and insecurity of the remaining residents. That would be more of a problem bearing in mind the sort of increase in crime that would be likely to follow the sort of railway terminal expansion planned for Waterloo.
I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) who spoke of his anxiety about increased drug traffic on the Channel tunnel link. I am sure that all hon. Members share that anxiety. If there is a single terminal and a single inspection of luggage at customs, what are the implications for immigration procedures? Has the Minister addressed himself to the kind of detention facilities that are likely to be operated? Will they be in the Waterloo area or on the Kent coast? How will the immigration service cope with this? The Opposition would much prefer to see the detention facilities of the Home Office smaller in scale and less frequently filled than they are. But that is a serious matter and so far the Government have said nothing whatever about it.
Lambeth is one of the most hard pressed of the inner city boroughs and can expect no additional resources from the Government. The Bill seriously jeopardises Lambeth's lawful planning powers and thus weakens the basic principle of planning by local authorities. British Rail contends that Lambeth, within its own planning powers, could control the adverse effects that I have described. That is not so, because the Bill will permit British Rail to build "a frontier facility" in Waterloo station and the requirement to obtain detailed planning permission from the local authority has been voided by the Bill.
The Bill disables the usual protections of the planning system precisely in order to prevent the borough from exercising them. I am worried about this because in one of the few replies to the written questions that I put down in March I was given an assurance that Lambeth's planning powers would not be voided. This is yet another example of the way in which the Government. in their undue haste to deliver results, have prejudged the situation and have been misleading hon. Members.
Horrendous traffic congestion in the area is threatening. That is evident from the recent presentation of British Rail's proposed solution to the local traffic problem. It has recognised that there will be major traffic congestion along York road to the west of the station and in the two major traffic circles of Waterloo bridge and Westminster bridge. British Rail's traffic consultant estimates an influx of between 7 million and 15 million additional passengers at Waterloo station. The difference between 7 million and 15 million is rather sizeable and the traffic implications are rather sizeable. There is no indication that the traffic 1151 system will be able to cope with numbers of that kind. The consultant to British Rail made the argument that traffic congestion would sort itself out or, as he put it:achieve an equilibrium as drivers found other routesThis beggar-my-neighbour attitude means that, as congestion becomes unbearable, drivers will press on to the already overcrowded roads of Southwark, Wandsworth and Westminster in order to avoid the traffic snarls around the station. The same traffic consultant's solution to the York road traffic jams is to re-route the traffic from and to the station in such a way as to dump the bulk of it into Westminster Bridge road and thus into Westminster circle and bridge. The York road traffic congestion problem was simply rotated by 90 degrees. It will be for Wandsworth and Westminster to find their own solutions.
I suggest to hon. Members, in particular to those hon. Members who sometimes have to come to Divisions in the House across Westminster Bridge, that on more than one occasion they have found several tourist buses parked on the bridge. It is an attractive place to park if one wants a good view, but they park on the bridge because they can find nowhere else. I urge hon. Members to take seriously the implications of this vastly expanded bus and tourist traffic as well as the taxi traffic.
The House will not take a view tonight on this issue. The Standing Committee and Select Committee procedure that we have adopted cannot take a proper view on it, either. It is in the interests of hon. Members in their use of this House that there should be a public inquiry into the dispersal issue and similar issues — the parking of coaches, over 500,000 trips by private motor cars, and 35,000 additional coaches.
A proper numbers game on rational traffic routeing can scarcely be expected, granted the variation in the estimate of the number of passengers and vehicles that British Rail anticipates will be added to the Waterloo area and station. The temptation to use the highest guess at the additional number of passengers is understandable. Why? Because the income to the Channel tunnel consortium of banks is based upon a straightforward multiplication of fares by users. Hence, the more of the latter, the more profits for the scheme.
On the other hand, when discussing how the additional travellers will be accommodated, the management of British Rail shies away from the higher figure. It says that it is not its own estimate but that of its French partners and that it may be a little high. In fact, British Rail has done no research to convince anyone who might be sceptical that even the lowest guess as to the additional number of passengers can satisfactorily be accommodated.
When pressed to explain their estimate, both British Rail and the Channel Tunnel Group say that the major portion of this new traffic will be won from airlines serving London and Paris. To the extent that it seems plausible, it will surely interfere with another of the Government's current projects — the selling off of British Airways. Potential investors in a privatised British Airways will certainly find it less attractive to buy an asset from a Government who are planning to diminish British Airways' income in a few years.
Moreover, the location of the Channel tunnel terminal at Waterloo will make it more difficult for connecting passengers to reach the airports, just as the planned cancellation of fast boat trains after 1993 will make access 1152 to the ferry service less attractive. It is a further example of the left hand working against the right in the Department of Transport. At best, it knows not what it is doing. At worst, it is misleading the public and the House.
On employment, to which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South referred, we should be aware that the claim that major new employment will result from the construction and operation of the fixed link is unlikely to be substantiated. Tens of thousands of jobs are predicted as the dividend for the ordinary people of Britain, while the investors in the scheme are to realise between 18 and 20 per cent. per annum from their investment. Perhaps their 20 per cent. will materialise, but there are few grounds for believing the promise about jobs.
The promise of 550 jobs to be created at Waterloo by British Rail is to be welcomed, as is any job creation in a depressed inner city area, but we must ask ourselves whether that number of new jobs can be considered a good return on £60 million worth of investment. Moreover, many of the other jobs that are being talked of in offices, hotels and shops would simply relocate existing jobs in central London to follow the new concentration of potential customers. Of those 550 new jobs, 200 are train crews, 20 are maintenance staff and 150 are trained catering staff. I welcome the creation of those jobs, but only 80 will be terminal staff jobs, and I shall be surprised if eight of them go to Vauxhall constituents. In other words, I am not over-delighted by the number of new jobs to be created, as the hon. Lady assumes that I should be.
At the outset, the British and French partners of the Channel Tunnel Group spoke as if they would share out the employment benefits in possibly equal shares, but as time has passed it seems that the potential British share has diminished. First, we learnt that at least one third of the contract value of the scheme must be available to open bids from other EEC countries. Then we learnt that one of the main items of heavy expenditure—the tunnel digging machines—cannot be built in Britain but will have to be obtained from elsewhere, probably from Germany or the United States. Still later we learnt that the contribution of Japanese banks to the aggregate capital for the venture, over £4 billion, is 43 per cent., or £1.8 billion.
In addition to the problems that this will cause for foreign exchange, it is as well to remember that Japan is at present constructing a far more complicated tunnel from northern Honshu to Hokkaido and that it has some of the world's most complicated engineering and electronics industries, both of which are essential to the tunnel scheme. Are we to suppose that, with this dominant share of the project's capital and with the technology for bearing a significant part of the construction, a major share of the employment will not go to the Japanese?
If new jobs result, they are more likely to come from public rather than private investment. One of the most cynical aspects of the Bill is the pretence that it will involve no public expenditure. The public is being asked to pay £60 million for changes at Waterloo, despite the fact that the Government keep claiming that private rather than public money is involved. I urge the Government to think again about dispersal. I, or my right hon. Friends, will seek to press this matter as the Bill proceeds.
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
Listening to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), hiding behind that very attractive yellow dinner plate, I was rather 1153 worried about whether he would eventually get to Scotch Corner in discussing the implications of the Channel tunnel link. Many and varied problems are likely to emanate from the development of the Channel tunnel. However, we ought not to lose sight of the very broad advantages that will be made available to this country and to all sections of the community in all regions from the building of the tunnel. Of course there will be restructuring problems in the Kent area. Competition will cause concern to the ferry industry and that concern should not be underestimated. However, substantial additional jobs will be created throughout the length and breadth of the country as the tunnel link is developed.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Transport. Last November we were privileged to travel to Dover where we looked at the existing tunnel works, such as they are. It was a typical November day, with mist and an uneven sea. They were the kind of conditions that would lead one to feel rather uncomfortable on a voyage across the Channel. We descended by vehicle down the existing shaft and travelled about three quarters of a mile to the face where we saw the remains of the original mole, which had lain dormant for the last 10 years. The cutting blades were still jammed into the rock face where they had been left all those years ago. But the tunnel was in perfect condition. It was warm and it was dry. The temperature never alters.
Standing at the furthermost point east of this country, I wondered why we had stopped the work then. I had a feeling of excitement and anticipation when I thought that once again a replacement mole will be churning out the soil as the tunnel proceeds towards France. All members of the Select Committee were aware of the great opportunities and the challenge that the building of the tunnel link will provide for the community in general.
Of course, we shall need to look at the infrastructure, in particular at the roads in Kent and at the road system leading to that part of the country. There are problems now with the M25 and the Dartford crossing. We must ensure that the M25 is adequately strengthened in size and capacity, particularly at the Dartford crossing. Additional Dartford crossing links must be in place before the opening of any Channel link. The additional traffic that is envisaged will probably find, if a new crossing is not made available, that there is a considerable bottleneck when it tries to negotiate that particular part of the M25 under the river Thames.
What impressed the Select Committee most — it certainly impressed me—was the enormous opportunity that is to be afforded to the railways industry. The levels which the industry can achieve in developing its commercial structure are almost without bounds. At a time when it has difficulties in maintaining jobs, principally in the construction side of the industry, the opportunities for building railway rolling stock for European use are substantial.
Although the track gauge is the same throughout Europe, the overall width of rolling stock is not. It is impossible for European rolling stock to ramble over the British Rail system because it would collide with platforms, tunnels and bridges, but it is possible for our rolling stock to ramble all over Europe.
If we are to realise the potential of our railway system and have the trans-shipments of rolling stock and trucks throughout Europe, we can use only existing British rail stock, or, to he more precise, we must build a substantial 1154 quantity of trucks and coach rolling stock. That alone would provide many jobs, not only in the British railway workshop industry, but in commercial private industry. The west midlands stands to gain substantially, as a historical builder of rolling stock for more than a century, principally at Metro Cammell in Birmingham, which is anxiously awaiting the decision to go forward with the Channel link so that it can start to quote for the ensuing rail traffic and the building of rolling stock which will be on offer.
The opportunities for the railways to capture commercial road haulage traffic have already been mentioned. There will be a reduction of about 1,000 trucks per day on the roads. That will indirectly play a part in reducing the load on the M25 and Dartford crossings. The traffic from those trucks will go on to rail transport, which will mean a substantial increase in income for British Rail. It has been predicted that the present 2 million tonnes of cross-Channel freight that goes by railway will increase to 50 million tonnes and more by the early 1990s.
The business of rail freight will become so viable that there would be no reason why the ultimate in privatisation could not take place—a railfreight plc. It would be an ideal candidate for further privatisation and investment by the private sector in what will be a substantially viable commercial undertaking. I look forward to that happening.
The amount of exports that we can ship out, which at present causes difficulties, can be shown by coal shipment from our super pits in the north, in the Vale of Belvoir and elsewhere, which the National Coal Board is anxious to develop. The opportunities to ship coal into Europe from our high-speed, high-technology pits must he fairly substantial. There would be a great advantage in merry-go-round trains which would load up in our new super-coalfields, go non-stop into Europe to deliver their coal and then return.
In terms of car shipments into and out of the country, the opportunity to reduce the number of vehicles in transit, to reduce the average transport time from three to four days, to get cars from the factories in the midlands to Europe in two days will lead to a reduction in manufacturers' overheads and costs. But here I give a word of warning. It is all very well to improve the connection between Britain and mainland Europe and to speed the flow of finished and imported goods, but it is not much good if we do not speed customs documentation. It has been suggested that although it takes three or four days for a car to be taken from its factory in Birmingham to its port of destination in Europe, it takes another two days for the customs documentation to catch it up. We should pay close attention to streamlining customs documentation in line with the opportunities afforded by the speedier transit of goods through the tunnel.
The opportunities for passenger traffic are also substantial. It will not be much good if one boards a train in Birmingham and is excessively delayed at the entrance to the tunnel while one goes through the customs procedure. I hope, not necessarily that the trains could be locked upon leaving Birmingham so that no-one could get out or in, but that a system of on-board train customs could be encouraged.
The opportunities for commercial passenger traffic for the railways from the midlands and the north are good and would compare well with those offered by the airlines and the roads, but we should consider building new rail links. There is no reason why a private investor should not 1155 consider the possibilities of a high speed rail link from the Dover area to the midlands, bypassing much of London, and developing it as a single-line, high-speed track. Those are all possibilities which come to mind as the tunnel and its links are developed.
§ Mr. Speed
May I beg my hon. Friend not to pursue this argument if he wants me and many of my hon. Friends from Kent to support him in the Lobby tonight? The high-speed rail link, which was a feature of the 1974 scheme, means death in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and many other counties right up to Warwickshire and Birmingham—the area that he represents. It is not necessary with modem railway technology, and I hope that the matter is dead and buried one and for all.
§ Mr. King
I accept my hon. Friend's point. Of course it is possible for advanced railway rolling stock to run at very high speed on existing track, but there is no reason why we could not straighten some of the existing track and redevelop some of it into high-speed links. It might require the building of 20 miles of new railway, as has been done round the Selby coalfield. That is one way to develop the links. I was not suggesting an entirely new railway system, although that may bear examination at a subsequent date. That might take place at some time in the future when the temperature of public opinion is more satisfactory than it is now.
§ Mr. Snape
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would let the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) know that the high-speed rail link to which he refers—whether a new one or an upgrading of the existing line—would be much less intrusive in Ashford than would some of the road developments that are apparently supported by hon. Members from that area.
§ Mr. Adley
If my hon. Friend would care to look at the railway map of Britain and recall the history of the south-eastern railway, he would know that less than a century ago, it built a line from Tonbridge to Redhill to Guildford to Reading which still exists and which was identified in the second part of the Beeching report as a major trunk route in connection with the Channel tunnel. We do not need to build new railway lines: we need to invest in the lines that we have.
§ Mr. King
My hon. Friend is an acknowledged expert on railways, and I shall not even attempt to argue with him. I return to my original point: that development, straightening and realignment is probably what is needed. The Birmingham to Euston line is not the straightest that one could envisage. In several areas, the curves are substantial. That matter could be considered subsequently. It is not a subject that one would consider as a matter of priority.
Hon. Members who represent the north, the midlands and Scotland have made the criticism that the development of the Eurotunnel will act like a plughole in a bath—once it is there, all the business will flow out through it, leaving nothing in the north. That is not the case. The 1156 further improvements in communications and the high-speed trans-shipment of bulk quantities of materials by the railways through the Channel link can only improve the viability and future of industries in the north.
One substantial industry that will be improved is tourism. The fact that the European tourist has to make the physical change on to a ferry to come to this country acts as a certain deterrent to making that change and visiting us. The opportunity to be able to put his car on the train, to be whisked through a tunnel at 100 mph, to get off the other end within 30 minutes and to have access to our road system can only encourage tourists not just to come to the south and London but to travel much further north. It is notable that the number of European tourists as opposed to American tourists that we seem to attract to this country in comparison with the number of British tourists who go to Europe is tending to stagnate. We need to encourage better communications and opportunities to get such people to visit our country, and I think that the Channel link will provide that.
I favour the Channel link immensely. I think it is a great challenge. It is a rare opportunity indeed for a generation such as ours to have the privilege of representing our constituents, to be able to make a decision like this that will substantially improve the well-being of society and the well-being of the country and to open up a new future and prosperity for many areas, which is what will happen as a result of the decision that we are about to make. My one regret is the Channel tunnel entrance does not reside within the city of Birmingham.
§ 8.1 pm
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
If the Channel tunnel entrance were to be located in the city of Birmingham, it might engender greater sympathy in the north of England, Scotland, Wales and other parts of the country that will be severely affected for the worse by the building of the Channel tunnel.
I listened closely to those Conservative Members who spoke in the interests of their constituents in the Kent area who are fearful of development. I have sympathy with their views, which they are well able to put, but I should like to express a view that has largely gone unheard so far in the debate from a different part of the country.
It is almost a sign of the way in which the country is now going that a subject that has such massive regional implications has been dominated so far not only in the Chamber but in its wider discussion by the views of the interests of one region—the south-east. There is, I am afraid, a tendency for many in the south-east to forget that unity, if one is to talk seriously of a nation that is united, depends upon the interests of all parts of the nation being taken into consideration in such a major issue as this. Almost inevitably the Channel tunnel, if it is to be of any benefit, will prove to be detrimental to areas like mine, for reasons that it is difficult to establish.
To illustrate to the House how much the north of England is still dependent on manufacturing industry, I would point out how location decisions have been made in the present recession. In my constituency a company called Sterling Greengate Cables has decided to close its plant in Trafford park, Manchester, and to resite some of the production into its existing plant at Aldermaston in the south of England. The reasons for the decision, I am sure, are commercially logical, but it is obviously a tragedy for the Manchester area.
1157 If Conservative Members who support this Channel tunnel enterprise can convince themselves that the location decision in the case of such a company is more likely to be made in favour of the north of England, they are kidding themselves. It is obvious that there is already a very strong trend in favour of location in what is already the most prosperous region of the nation, because the dominant markets and financial back-up are in the south-east. All that will be enhanced by the decision to build the Channel tunnel. A manufacturer who is considering serving the market not only of the United Kingdom but of the north of western Europe is far more likely to pick a location in the south-east than in the north of England.
§ Mr. Lloyd
For the simple reason, as has already been observed, that the dominant market of Great Britain is the south-east, and the south-east is most easily served from within that region. The decision to try to serve that region from the north of England may make sense so long as the plant is serving only one nation, but once one is dealing on an international scale, it makes more sense to serve the north of France from the south-east rather than from the north of England.
§ Mr. Lester
Anything that lowers the cost of transportation is likely to keep people in Manchester and the north where the skills and plant already exist. The fact that one is lowering transport costs and improving the efficiency of access to the markets is more likely to make businesses stay where they are than to move.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman speaks as if this is a one-way equation, but it is not. We are talking of lowering transportation costs in more than one direction with a number of consequences that I will try to expound. The traffic is two-way. To the already greatly weakened manufacturing sector in this country—it has experienced great competitive strain in recent years—there will be added further competitive pressure because, by reducing travelling times from the north of England to Europe, if that be the case, inevitably we shorten the travelling time from Europe into Britain. Hon. Gentlemen should not forget that we have a very high propensity to import. Imports will be increased because the Channel tunnel will make it relatively easier for European exporters to move their goods into the United Kingdom.
Throughout the north and Scotland the idea of a Channel tunnel is greeted with extreme concern and reluctance. The Government are seen as being committed to the interests of just one part of the country and exercising that commitment at the expense of other parts of the country.
I turn next to public spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) made the point that one of the deliberate myths about the Channel tunnel is that it is all private capital. That is absolute nonsense. We have heard Conservative Members demanding money for the M25 and for the rail network. That money will come not from the private sector but from public funds. Those of us who have tried to get some assistance for investment by British Rail into the north-west have seen how difficult it is to get any public spending in that part of the country.
§ Mr. Lloyd
Indeed, it is of great importance that we should have the Windsor link coming through, as it will. 1158 It is also important to have a rail link to Manchester airport. However, we cannot persuade the Government or British Rail to put that money in with alacrity. They will put money in the Channel tunnel and into one region which in many ways has more than the national average of investment in infrastructure, but there will be no increase in investment for British Rail or to allow for the development of rail links to other parts of the country. Even were my fears unfounded and the enterprise proved to be to the advantage of the north, we will not be granted the infrastructure investment and rail links to allow us to take advantage of the Channel tunnel. That money will be spent in one part of the country.
The employment benefits will be marginal. The point has been made that investment in the initial project will create jobs throughout the country. Ministers have been pressed on that before, but they have not come up with convincing answers. What guarantee is there that the steel or the machinery will be produced in Britain? None whatsoever. There are sound reasons for believing the opposite. The capital investment will simply create jobs overseas. That will work against the interests of areas outside the south-east, and it will not be in the interests of any part of Britain.
For those reasons, the project is deeply flawed. It is not just a balance of probabilities. There is almost a fundamental imbalance in the arguments that have been put forward. No attempt has been made by the Government to explain the benefits for my region or for any other region. The Government know as well as I do that they cannot put forward a convincing case to show that the investment in this large infrastructure will be in the interests of any region, apart from one small area of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), because I share his view that the project is deeply flawed and that the case that was persuasively but somewhat superficially presented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport when he opened the debate has by no means been made out in the convincing depth that is essential if the House is to approve the project on Second Reading. Indeed, my right hon. Friend seemed almost to have acquired with his seals of office, on which I congratulate him, a pair of rose-coloured spectacles. Although he was fluent, he did not give any evidence to support his thesis on the excitement, the jobs and the benefits for industry that would come our way.
In the interests of brevity, because many of my right hon. and hon Friends wish to speak, I shall not dwell on any of the local issues that concern my constituency. I am sure the House knows by now that I am deeply concerned about them. Nevertheless, recognise that the tunnel is above all a national and not just a regional project. It will make a permanent change to the geography of Europe. It will create massive trade and development advantages for our competitors, the French. It will shift a great slice of Britain's economic activity towards the south-east of England, and perhaps out of England altogether when one considers the El Dorado style grants to the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France that were referred to earlier. Above all, it will hand out a near-monopoly to one group 1159 of private interests on privileged terms and conditions unheard of in this country since the days of benefit of clergy.
Even those of my hon. Friends who support the Channel tunnel concept should have serious doubts about whether the Government have struck the right balance between the public interest and the private interest. My hon. Friends should have sleepless nights about whether we have not already conceded game, set and match to the French. As parliamentarians, we should all be deeply worried by the fact that we are allowing this great adventure to take place at such breakneck speed that only minimal and woefully inadequate parliamentary scrutiny can take place.
If the Select and Standing Committees of this House and of another place are allowed and encouraged to do what the Government have so far signally failed to do, and give all aspects of the mega-project full and careful investigation and amendment, with the public interest at long last given proper priority above, or at least alongside, the private interests of Eurotunnel, we shall end up with a different Bill from the one that we are debating today.
One point that worries me greatly is not seeing the right balance between the private interests, including those of my constituency, and the national and public interest. One of the first steps in getting the balance right means putting the lid on the cornucopia of special privileges to which Eurotunnel seems to think it has become entitled at public expense.
Let me list three of Eurotunnel's special privileges that should be removed, or at least reduced. There is the privilege of having public money spent on a large scale to benefit a private consortium. At the outset of this enterprise we were given the impression that it would be entirely a privately financed project — a piece of mumbo-jumbo that is still being repeated by hon. Members in this debate. Now at least we know differently. We know that a sum of £400 million is to be spent by British Rail and that at least £75 million is to be spent on road infrastructure. We have heard request after request from every corner of the House for more public money to be spent.
This is only the beginning of the story. If the Select Committees do their job properly and respond to the pleas of petitioners for more roads, special grants, compensation funds, extra environmental measures and so on, this will be a much more expensive bill both for the taxpayer and for the promoters. My prediction is that the taxpayers and ratepayers will in the end be footing a bill of at least £1 billion of public expenditure, all to boost the commercial interests of this essentially private development.
The whole basis of the Government's policy towards this private development is set out in their recent White Paper on the fixed link, which was published in February. It is a remarkably slender and deficient document, partly because of its curious inaccuracies and omissions. For example, it was able to reach its sanguine forecast that the Channel ports would suffer a net loss of 3,000 jobs in 1993 only by the device of omitting all mention of Britian's second biggest Channel port, Ramsgate, from the calculations.
There was something much worse about the White Paper. It gave Eurotunnel the privilege of publishing all the consortium's self-servingly optimistic figures on traffic flows, revenues, employment and so on, while the 1160 Government deliberately suppressed their own calculations on those vital matters. The Government's justification for this bizarre act of suppression is contained in paragraph 7 of the White Paper, which says:The Government … does not intend to publish its own assessments of traffic volumes, tolls and the revenue which might be earned by each project.It goes on to explain why:Given the wholly private nature of the financing, it is for the Channel Tunnel Group-France-Manche to produce a prospectus in the usual way, with the necessary detailed analysis for potential investors.What an extraordinary abdication of responsibility stands revealed by that paragraph. The Government have made their own forecasts on all those vital issues, but they are different forecasts. I happen to know that they are much more pessimistic than the CTG's forecast, but the Government will not publish them in case they upset potential investors. What a con trick, not just on the investors and their Japanese banks, but on the British public as well. Imagine the outcry if any Government published a White Paper on, say, lung disease and printed only the statistics supplied by cigarette manufacturers. Yet that is just the kind of privilege that was extended in the White Paper to Eurotunnel. That is wrong. This is not just a hybrid Bill, but a hybrid project. Taxpayers' money will go in on a large scale to help private investors.
The Select Committees and the Standing Committees must put a full stop to the secrecy and suppression. The Government must be forced to publish the results of their own computer model calculations and their forecasts on traffic flows. Only in that way can we hope to reach the vital truth on certain questions for the taxpayer as to whether he will get value for money and whether the project is truly viable. Therefore, it is vital that we pass the amendment to the committal motion, which will ensure that Committees have the right to send for persons and papers.
I am also concerned that Eurotunnel will be given special legal privileges under the Bill. Some relate to matters such as simplified and speeded-up customs and immigration procedures which would be the envy of every Channel port. The most controversial privilege appears to be that Eurotunnel has won for itself a legal entitlement to disturbingly lower safety standards than those that are enforced on all comparable forms of transport. If I may explain, on all ferries, hovercraft and surface motorail trains in this country the Department of Transport has regulations which include two strictly enforced requirements relating to cars. The first is that passengers must travel in compartments separate from the cars and their petrol tanks. The second is that cars must be lashed down. For obvious reasons those are critically important safety requirements.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
Can my hon. Friend recall having his car lashed down when he has been on a cross-Channel ferry? I have never had mine lashed down.
§ Mr. Aitken
It is usual for them to be either tied down individually or for the first and last vehicles of every row to be tied down so that they are all immobilised—[Laughter.] I would not laugh if I were my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). Eurotunnel has different safety standards from those enforced on the ferries and elsewhere.
In addition, paragraph 52/4 of the Department's guidelines to promoters makes it clear that the omission 1161 was deliberate. Eurotunnel's own brochures illustrate passengers, drivers, children and vending machines in the same compartment as their cars with their full petrol tanks, which shows that the designers are intending to make full use of those relaxed and privileged safety standards. Even if it costs the promoters an additional £100 million to redesign those trains, they must put the safety standards for the chunnel on the same high level as the ferries and hovercraft are legally obliged to uphold. Let us not give Eurotunnel any privileges that may lower safety standards.
We should not be under any illusions that Eurotunnel has anything other than an award of a monopoly from the state. It might not be a total monopoly, but it is one whose nearest legal equivalent in this country is the award of a television franchise. I know something about the business of obtaining monopoly licences from the state in the broadcasting industry. When we obtain a monopoly licence in television—and it can be a licence to lose as well as to make money—it is under the most rigorous conditions. Among other things, the Government authority has the power to scrutinise, in meticulous detail, all aspects of the licence holder's finances and financial arrangements—such things as pricing policy, contracts with advertising customers, cost structures, verification of revenue and true levels of profitability. All those matters are, quite properly, the subject of continuing supervision by the Government authority. That is part of the price that television companies pay to obtain a state monopoly.
Where in this Bill is there any comparable degree of supervision of Eurotunnel on behalf of the public interest? My understanding is that there will be no watchdog mechanisms to prevent monopoly power from being abused, other than the limp wrist of European competition law. That omission makes the Channel tunnel not a competitive free market project, but a monopolistic freebooter's paradise.
Already a whiff of scandal is emanating from some of the deals that Eurotunnel has been able to make by the force of its monopoly power — incidentally, deals in which public money is indirectly heavily involved, to the possible disadvantage of the taxpayer. I shall give the House a specific example. During the bidding process for the concession, the other leading bidders such as Channel Expressway and Euroroute were negotiating with SNCF and British Rail to provide a rail service. Channel Expressway struck a deal with the railways that would have resulted in SNCF and British Rail being charged a minimum of £56 million and a maximum of £112 million per annum for use of the tunnel. Euroroute had a deal at similar prices.
However, once Eurotunnel was able to announce itself as the winning monopoly concessionaire, from its superior bargaining position it was able to extract much more money from the poor old railways. My information is that British Rail and SNCF will pay £140 million in the first year of the tunnel's operation at 1985 prices, rising to £200 million. That is quite a difference from the £56 million to £112 million that the railways would have paid Channel Expressway.
Those tariff arrangements may constitute an effective subsidy by the state railways of Britain and France to the private business men operating Eurotunnel. Therefore, on behalf of the taxpayer I want to know a great deal more about the contract details. Already some eminent figures in the railway world are very concerned about the matter, which privately they have described as a rip-off. However, 1162 let us not prejudge the issue—let everything be out in the open, in Parliament and in front of the Committee so that we can judge for ourselves.
On the face of it, it appears mighty strange that the charges to the railways for using the tunnel should have shot up by £100 million per annum now that there is one monopolistic concessionaire rather than three bidders. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Transport is far too wily a Cabinet Minister to fall back on the old slogan that these are matters of commercial confidentiality. They are no such thing.
The taxpayer is already forking out £400 million for British Rail's rolling stock, and apparently now has to fork out between £140 million and £200 million a year for British Rail's annual subscription for the use of the tunnel. If the railways have to pay Eurotunnel £100 million a year more than they would have had to pay Euororoute or Channel Expressway, that amounts to an additional £5 billion of public money going out of the Exchequer during the lifetime of the concession. That is surely a matter of the highest public interest for the Treasury, Parliament and everyone else. We must investigate that aspect of the monopoly to ensure that the Eurotunnel consortium is not obtaining some privileged subsidy from the state railways.
Although I am concerned about the privileges of Eurotunnel, my biggest worry relates to the future pattern of our trade with France. Here, I suggest, lies the real threat to our national interest. I fear that we may have already conceded game, set and match to the French. Let us consider for a moment the British cross-Channel transport industry. It is a success story. Measured by revenue, 72 per cent. is in the hands of British ferry or hovercraft companies, with only 12 per cent. being controlled by the French and the remainder by the Belgians and others. The logic behind those figures is that Britain needs more access to Europe than Europe needs to Britain—70 per cent. of the cross-Channel cars, coaches and passengers are British and the majority of freight is transported by British lorries. Unfortunately, most of the advantages of that profitable, labour-intensive supremacy in the cross-Channel transport industry will be lost on the day that the Channel tunnel opens.
The concession agreement provides that 50 per cent. of the tunnel's revenue and profit go to France. Therefore, whatever slice of the cross-Channel traffic the tunnel takes—and according to its merchant bankers the break-even point is 66.3 per cent. of cars—France's market share will leap overnight, at a stroke, from 12 to 50 per cent. of the market—an uplift of 38 per cent., whereas Britain's will go down from 72 to 50 per cent. a drop of 22 per cent. What a great victory for Britain's national interest.
French ascendency will not stop after seizing a larger share of the cross-Channel market. I have read a copy of Plan Transmanche, the state protocol signed between the French Government and the Channel regional area Nord Pas de Calais. It is a document that every hon. Member who cares about this issue should read. His first reaction will be one of admiration, but the delayed reaction will be one of fear of its consequences to Britain. Plan Transmanche is one of the greatest examples of pork-barrel political funding since the days of the Marshall plan.
The French Government have decided to make what they call an exceptional investment effort into the Nord-Pas de Calais region. Its features include a 3 billion francs investment in roads and motorways to the ports and tunnel, 1163 a 5 billion francs investment in linking the coastline with the national electrified high speed network, new training schools and institutes, a new high technology education centre, an aquaculture centre, a European marine observatory, large grants for the hotel industry, big action contracts for the coastal resorts, a housing programme, an urban development programme, a campaign for promoting tourism, a major environmental protection programme and a whole range of grants and incentives to attract business to France.
§ Mr. Aitken
What hope is there of that? That programme will grab so much of the investment action that Kent—and our country generally—will look like a poor little churchmouse by comparison. It is an area of great concern, that should be considered by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Faulds
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that it is incumbent upon the Government to publish an English version of the document to which he referred, so that all hon. Members—some of us speak fluent French—and some less fluent French-and the less enlightened of our colleagues are aware of this enormous challenge? France is in it, as France is always in it, to get the biggest cut of the cake. It is only fair that the Government should make hon. Members aware of that by publishing an English version of that document.
§ Mr. Aitken
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is incumbent upon the Government at least to place in the Library this important state protocol of France.
The most serious implications of the plan are for Britain's ports. What emerges from that and other pieces of evidence is that the French have again planned for their ports, and this will undoubtedly have a devastating effect on our ports. Under the Plan Transmanche alone, the French will spend 52 million francs modernising Dunkirk, 73 million francs modernising Boulogne, they will add two deep-water berths at Calais, and in other French ports as far away as Marseilles, Toulon and Le Havre even bigger port modernisation programmes are under way. All that is a deliberate strategy.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend said a few moments ago that on the day the tunnel opened Britain's market share would fall from 72 to 50 per cent. Is he assuming that on the day the tunnel opens there will be a 100 per cent. traffic transfer, that all the ferries will close down on that day and that all traffic will go through the tunnel? If that is likely to be the case, why is Townsend Thoresen buying new ships?
§ Mr. Aitken
In his eagerness to intervene, my hon. Friend was not listening to what I said. I said that Britain's share of the Channel tunnel traffic would immediately drop to 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I entirely accept the point made by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) about the French gain plan. It will be a gain plan for the French ports and the French railway system. However, instead of 1164 simply cavilling against the French, why does he not ask the Government to institute their own gain plan? That would make more sense.
§ Mr. Aitken
That is a perfectly sensible option, and the British Government should be asked to spend money on that scale. Even if they were to do that, why should we give away what we already have? My main anxiety about the French plan is that it is designed to seize a very large slice of Britain's ports' business as soon as the tunnel is opened.
At present all cargo coming into this country must enter via a British port. That is self-evident. However, from 1993 onwards a cargo ship from the far east or South America will have an alternative option for a cargo destined for Britain. It might be more convenient, cheaper and quicker even, with some inducements, to offload that cargo at Marseilles and have it shipped through to Britain via the high speed rail network and the tunnel.
The British Ports Association is deeply worried about that. It has forecast that 40 per cent. of its import trade could be lost if the French gain plan succeeds, as it undoubtedly will unless dramatic measures—for which the Opposition Front Bench are asking—are implemented in this country. If they are not implemented, the British Ports Association is correct to suggest that all its 175,000 jobs may be at risk. Not one port in this country will be unaffected and many will be devastated. I hope that we are still enough of a seafaring nation—and I hope that the Government recognise this—to realise that the threat to our ports and our maritime industry will be an explosive political and election issue in the months ahead.
When I started out on what was originally a somewhat lonely road of outright opposition to the Channel tunnel, I did so largely for constituency reasons. I have said nothing about my constituency tonight. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) I passionately believe that a deep and wounding wrong will be inflicted on east Kent if the tunnel is built unless dramatic new safeguards are written into the Bill.
In the long war of parliamentary attrition that lies ahead of the Bill, Kent will fight its corner, and will fight it well. We will somehow or other take care of ourselves, even if the hybrid Bill procedure has to become the longest marathon in parliamentary history. Something is at stake here that is ten times more important than the interests of Kent, and 5,000 times more important than the interests of the Eurotunnel consortium.
The gravamen of my charge against the Government is that in great haste and in poor judgment, they are hooked on a Bill which is not in the national interest and which will destroy a great deal of our maritime success. The Bill is more friendless than one might think from some of the speeches in this debate. The Bill will grow in unpopularity as understanding of its implications grows in the country. I will oppose the Bill tonight, and I will continue to oppose it.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) has made a powerful case, but I believe that there is an element of whistling in the dark about it. The debate, with the exception of two lengthy, moaning speeches from the Opposition, more truly reflects the feelings of the country about the project.
1165 I wish to speak unusually briefly tonight. However, I cannot begin without paying a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. He made one of the ablest ministerial speeches that I have heard in the Chamber for a long time, and it bodes well for his success in his new post.
I speak as an unabashed supporter of the Channel tunnel, and not simply for constituency reasons, although I believe that even my constituency, far away though it is from the tunnel, will benefit because I believe that the project will be of enormous benefit to British Rail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) explained in his eloquent speech. I am in favour of the tunnel because it will read to an expansion of trade and that must, by definition, be of benefit to this country because this, of all industrial countries, is more dependent on external trade than any other. To moan, as several of my hon. Friends have moaned, that an expansion of trade would necessarily be to our disadvantage is pure defeatism.
I do not want primarily to speak as a supporter of the tunnel. I wish to make a brief contribution as the chairman of the Franco-British Parliamentary Relations Committee and to say a few words about the importance of the project to relations between Britain and France.
It is only natural that hon. Members, properly representing their constituency interests, should worry about whether northern France should receive more benefit from the tunnel than Kent or some other area. We should not forget how badly northern France has suffered from its over-dependence on traditional heavy industries—steel, textiles and now worked-out coal mines. However, to concentrate on these issues is to distract attention from the economic, social and cultural benefits which will accrue to both countries from easier, faster and, above all, more certain means of access between our countries. The tunnel not only facilitates these contacts; it symbolises them. It symbolises a closer relationship between this country and our nearest neighbour.
If we were to allow this project to fail for a second time—the Labour Government ruthlessly cut it out in 1975 — we would undoubtedly do great lasting harm to Anglo-French relations. In fact, we would do something more serious, something which far outweighs the dismal consequences foreseen by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South: we would call into question our reliability as a partner in any international enterprise. If, on the other hand, we complete the enterprise and take it through its complicated parliamentary procedures, it will undoubtedly contribute to a strengthening of our relations with France.
I know that we often quarrel with our nearest neighbour and our closest relation on the Continent. Families do quarrel. None the less, history proves that when relations between France and Britain are bad things go badly for Europe. When relations between France and Britain are good, things go well for Europe. This project is important to Britain, to France and to the rest of Europe and I support it with enthusiasm.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), who speaks with such experience and knowledge of the French and of our alliance with the French in our hearts and minds and in our trade and defence. It is wrong for some hon. Members like my 1166 honourable and dear Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken)—he now has that description from me and it will be with him for ever—to describe the fear that they have about the French.
What is wrong with my dear and hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South? Was he born in the Napoleonic era? Is he still hiding behind the Martello towers? Something about my dear hon. Friend makes me believe that he is afraid of the French. He seems to be frightened that they will come marching here. I understand that the French were asked whether they were afraid that the tunnel would provide the Red Army with access to Britain. When asked what they would do about it, the French had a practical answer. They said that they would charge them double.
There has not been a great deal of interest in the debate tonight in this greatest engineering project in Europe for a century. I suppose that that is because it is now taken for granted. I am sorry about that. The House has been thinly attended. As I look across for those great Europeans, the Social Democrats, I see none. I look for the Liberals, but I see none. However, we have had a speech from the Liberal party's transport spokesman tonight. I welcome that because the Liberals are wholeheartedly in favour of Europe, of our being in the Community, and of a fixed link, and so is the SDP. Let us put that on the record, because in some parts of the country, not least in Kent, in Folkestone, Hythe and Shepway, they sometimes talk about being against the fixed link. There are no parties more keen or united in the House than those two parties to have the fixed link, and that must be fully understood.
What is the motivation of those who feel so strongly against the fixed link and the Bill tonight? I respect hon. Members who have strong views. I respect my dear and hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, and [respect my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who is not in his place at the moment, for their views. I know why they hold them. I am their neighbour in Canterbury and I know why there is a fear of the fixed link in the Channel ports of Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate. Those ports will suffer a loss of employment over the years when the tunnel is built and working and providing transport under rather than over the sea. There will be a loss of jobs. Of course, there will also be job gains, but those who work on boats and who serve the ferries fear that they will lose jobs, and it is admitted that they will. I understand that.
I also understand those who are against Europe. My dear and hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, in his anti-Napoleonic way, spoke of being against our connection with Europe and France. He spoke about the great development that the French will provide in the Pas de Calais in the Nord region. I have known of that for years. I talked to the mayor of Calais 13 years ago in 1972 or 1973 about that very question. The French are not encumbered by public inquiries or by having to ask constituents what should or could be done. They just go ahead and do it, whether it is a nuclear power station or a collection of nuclear power stations or a vast Sellafield at Cap de la Hague. They do not ask anyone; they just pay through the nose and do these things. They say, "Take it or leave it."
In a way, the French still have a Napoleonic way of doing things. We would say that it is not entirely democratic. I prefer our way. On Tuesday night we debated the need for full democratic rights to be given to 1167 those who will oppose the Bill, and I fully support that. I shall be seeking later tonight to support the demand that more opportunities should be given for such protests from those who are genuinely against this. But to those who oppose Britain being linked to Europe I can only say that it is old-fashioned. It is born out of a fear. I respect the views of the right hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who are against our connection, political and economic, with Europe. They have always said so. They have argued their case succinctly and well over the years, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South. So we must say that that is why they do not like it and write that into the record.
But that is not the Government's policy, nor the policy of the British people who, by referendum, accepted that we should be in Europe. All I would say about the Bill is that we are in Europe and we are growing more and more in Europe. Sixty-four per cent. of our exports are going to Europe, so we must give ourselves a greater opportunity to pursue that course and enlarge it. That is essential. To call the link the lifeblood of the British people and the economy would not be an understatement. That is why I support it. As I said the other night, I have supported the principle of the fixed link through thick and thin, and it has been very thick in my constituency.
In east Kent there is a strong fear, not of our being connected to Europe politically or economically, but of having a fixed link which will cause an environmental disturbance and all that the environs of the tunnel will mean — the marshalling yards, the extension of the roads, the engineering activity, the building and the removal of the spoil. I live nearer that part than my constituents—a good 12 miles nearer. I am not worried, but I can understand them being worried, particularly those in the Folkestone-Cheriton area, because they will have it on their doorstep.
I would say only that the future for Britain can be bright for this connection. I look to the future, beyond my lifetime. I am looking to the next century and thinking of my children and grandchildren and their future. I get a warm welcome from schoolchildren in my constituency for the idea of the tunnel. It is a pleasure to talk to sixth formers today. They say that they support me on this, but their parents do not. I can understand that. Who wants several million cubic feet of spoil going through the small narrow roads of Kent?
The Bill is designed not only to build a tunnel but to build it correctly in 21st century manner. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate he will tell us something of his consultations through his committee in Kent and the progress he is making on all aspects, but on one aspect in particular about which my constituents have a genuine worry, and that is the environmental impact.
I agree that areas of high unemployment in Thanet, the Thanet towns and Herne Bay and in Whitstable in my constituency, where unemployment is 22 per cent.—in Thanet it is 27 per cent.—there is a fear that with the tunnel built and the wonderful motorway connection to London and the north and the west and the M25 that traffic coming out of the tunnel will come off the train and shoot 1168 at 70 or 80 mph out of Kent, bypassing them and leaving them derelict without the opportunity of the employment that will be generated around the tunnel.
The Government must do something, working with the county council, to provide road connections for the Thanet towns, Herne Bay and Whitstable. They must be such that people living there have a proper connection with the tunnel and Ashford. That will enable them to have the employment that such a crossing as this will produce. When London bridge was built, London became a city. Wherever a river is crossed is the juncture where trade begins and communication is possible. This will produce in Kent in 20 or 50 years' time a great opportunity for modern industrial and commercial developments. Of that I am sure. How much unemployment do we see around Gatwick today? It is virtually nil. Industry has grown around Horsham and Crawley because of the communications that Gatwick has provided, and so it will be around Folkestone in the future, but not at once.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in wo wmind my thoughts about the understandable concern of the people in Kent about the environmental impact and the concern in other parts of the country where people feel that there should be job opportunities for them and that they should be able to get near the job opportunities.
I am not one who has a fear of the French. I am a competitor of the French. I am prepared to have this link across to the Pas de Calais, but I do not expect the French to come here and take command of our market. Nor do I expect us to go through the tunnel and take command of the French market. There will be a bit of each, a bit of competition. It will be fierce, but it will also be fair because the communication will be two-way. Such two-way communication offers us a great future.
Our duty in the House is to ensure that we provide a great future for the country, which will help Scotland, the north-west, the north-east and Wales as well. The direct rail communication will do that. The opportunity of increased trade will regenerate industry in the north, which is so necessary. There are great opportunities. However, we, as representatives of the people, have a duty to see that not only are their views heard and represented, but that something is done to ensure that in this age we build a great engineering project in a 21st century manner and not in the sprawling, disregarding way of the 19th century.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
I am happy to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). I use that term because he and I work closely in a whole range of areas. His judgment is infallible when he deals with practical measures on foreign affairs and most domestic issues. But when he becomes theoretic and visionary I am afraid that his judgment slips and his decisions are often pretty misguided. Although there were happy passages tonight about expectations of what we would be doing for our children and grandchildren, I felt that his arguments were not quite based on Dover cliff and the solidity that that area suggests.
I want to take a very different point of view from my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, and there are a number of reasons for doing so. Because of the damaging implications of Government policies and because of neglect over many years by different Governments, we have a massively decaying infrastructure. We all know that is true, because it hits every one of our constituencies. 1169 And yet we are prepared to see massive amounts of private money going into a totally unnecessary enterprise, such as the tunnel project. Why cannot the Government, particularly a Government who work so closely with British and international business men, give some guidance to those gentlemen who are eager to spend their money not on the improvement of the infrastructure of Britain, but on the monopoly exercise, which the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) was talking about, to their own advantage? Why can the Government, supposedly committed to recreating Britain, not tempt those gentlemen, by various means, into putting their money where it is needed—the decaying sewers, roads, housing, and hospitals in Britain? It is a total misjudgment of how resources should be used.
I mentioned the fact that it is not necessary. We have been talking about this silly idea for years. One of the Labour Government's best judgments in their last period of office was cancelling the damn silly thing. They made a sensible judgment and withdrew what they had launched—the building of a two-line tunnel.
We do not need to travel across the Channel any faster. Aeroplanes by the thousand do the trip every day. We have moved into the Concorde era. If one gets into one of those planes, one arrives 20 minutes before one left. It is ridiculous to think that we will need to travel faster to France to improve our relations and trade.
§ Mr. Faulds
Very Luddite, because the benefits will be not to Britain but to France. That argument was extremely well put by the hon. Member for Thanet, South. Everybody has to declare in this matter, "I am not against the French." When we are members of Europe, do we need to make the point that we are not against the French? I happen to be rather more pro-British than pro-French, but nobody could be more committed to our links with France than I am. I am a member of the executive of the Franco-British Council which was set up on the initiative of two fairly distinguished gentlemen, an ex-Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and President Pompidou, to improve relations with France. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) is a fellow member of the Council. On this issue we can both be utterly pro-French but disagree profoundly about where the advantages of the exercise will lie. They will accrue not to this tired country under this disastrous Government, but to a French Government who know what time of day it is and are prepared to put Government money into seeing an improvement in every aspect of French life.
One matter which I do not think has been much discussed much tonight——
§ Mr. Faulds
I have not been here because there are other parliamentary duties. I have been at an extremely interesting meeting tonight mourning——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. We can do without an explanation of the other meeting. The hon. Gentleman should stick to the matter before the house.
§ Mr. Faulds
It was a meeting to do with parliamentary matters. Simply, it was — I see your beady eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall withdraw any comment on my activities of an hour or so ago.
My third consideration—an aspect that I do not think has been discussed tonight — is whether, in the calculations of these business men, the risk of danger has been taken into account. International terrorism will not go away even if the British, French, German and American Governments, who could play the biggest role in this, do something to remove the main reason for international terrorism—the denial of Palestinian rights. Even if and when that is put right, international terrorism will not subside. It has become part of the international political world.
Weapons will get smaller, but be no less effective. There will come a time, unfortunately probably in our lifetime, when there will be manual atom bombs which can be carried about and detonated. The damage that some misguided idiot could cause with those developments in the confines of the Channel tunnel are unthinkable. It would be a disaster. The thousands of people who would be affected by such an organised accident would be catastrophic and unbearable to contemplate. It would be ridiculous to dismiss that danger as something unrealistic. It is not unrealistic. Anybody who can think otherwise in the present political climate and in the light of the appalling developments in international terrorism is not facing reality when we discuss the construction of the tunnel.
The fouth and most important argument why we should not contemplate this exercise is the damage that it will do to the regions. None of us beyond Watford needs to argue any more about the appalling effect of the industrial policies of this Government on every one of the regions. We shall simply magnify that damage. There will be a concentration of industrial, commercial and every other activity from which Britain makes her living in the south-east of England, even more than it is already concentrated. We shall deprive the regions of developments that could take place if the moneys were more sensibly spent on other aspects of the infrastructure. It is a dishonest argument to pretend that the regions will benefit from this development. It is not true.
The traffic problems will be terrible. Those of us who drive round this corner of these lovely islands know that the traffic problem is becoming worse and worse. One can see how much traffic has increased on the M25, the north circular road and other roads in the south. If it is further increased in the way suggested by this exercise, the roads will become blocked. It is a ridiculous abdication of responsibility on the Government's part that no study has apparently been made of this implication, or, if it has been made, it has not been made public. If the Department has made an examination of what is likely to happen to the traffic flow and traffic congestion once the tunnel is in operation, can hon. Members be made aware of it? Can we be told what the actualities of the damage will be? The regional implications and the traffic implications are the worst aspects of this silly enterprise.
I had not meant to be here tonight because earlier in the day I felt a little flu-ey and I thought, "This is a Thursday and I want to return to the bosom of my family in Warwickshire."
§ Mr. Faulds
Smethwick is my constituency, where I serve like a parish priest, and Stratford is my home where I go back to the arms of my family.
I had contemplated a happy evening with my feet up, supper brought on a tray, and the usual devotions to which, happily, I am heir. I rang my wife to say that I should be catching what is now, under the appalling new arrangements of the midland region of the railways, the 7.27 or the 7.01. The service has been wrecked over the past few years and the latest timetable, which is six weeks overdue, will be even worse than before in providing the services that the passengers need. However, I diverge and I must not offend Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must keep to the point.
When I rang my wife at tea time to say that I would be catching the 7 whatever it is, she said, "Oh no, you won't. If it is the Channel tunnel vote, you stay and vote." I said, "No, darling, I want to come home." She said, "Wait a minute." She had some friends round for tea — by misjudgment, we live in a very Tory area of Stratford-on-Avon—but not one lady there said, "Yes, let him vote for the tunnel." My wife's advice was, "Everybody here says that it is an unnecessary, silly idea. Stay and vote against it." That is why I have had to impose myself on the House for the past few minutes. I shall be voting against this nonsense.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I am alarmed to find myself, probably for the first time, in agreement with many points made by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). I am so alarmed that I am almost thinking that perhaps I am on the wrong point. I was glad that he made a couple of points in response to my hon. Friend—do I say my hon. and dear Friend and neighbour—the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). My hon. Friend does a disservice to the debate by introducing into it such ideological considerations as he does and by suggesting that the tunnel is a symbol of a link with Europe, and that those who are opposed to it are, as he went on to say, afraid of the French or against links with Europe.
Let us be clear that we have immensely close links with Europe. Many of us are passionately attached to our association, the closest possible association, with France. Whatever one's view about the European Common Market, which is something fundamentally different from the continent of Europe—these trading arrangements are not identical with the geographical expression of Europe—we are in favour of the freest possible trade with Europe and the removal of obstacles to trade with Europe. I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury would leave alone his obsessional attachment to the tunnel as though it were a symbol or as part of the European Communities Act. It is not. What he sees as a romantic adventure can be seen in contrast with the valid, real and powerful points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken).
§ Mr. Moate
I saw the article in The Times, but it was as wrong then as it is wrong now. It is offensive to use the term Luddism to contrast his idea of a tunnel, which is 1172 hardly modern technology, with the shipping services provided by the ferry companies. Luddism was against progress. Is my hon. Friend saying that the modern ferries, which are a tremendous success story in this country, are so outdated, old-fashioned and inadequate that we must use the term Luddism? That is offensive to the companies which operate the ferries because they have achieved quite remarkable results in recent years. Perhaps my hon. Friend has not seen or been on a ferry in recent years. He talks as if he has not.
We are not talking about a symbolic attachment to the continent of Europe. We are talking about alternative transport modes. We are talking about the contrast between a highly proficient ferry service, which provides a great variety of services around the south and east coasts of England, and a Channel tunnel which in itself can alter quite dramatically the nature of our county. I am not ashamed to sound parochial in that respect. In presenting the case for Kent, I believe that I am also speaking from the national point of view.
Over the past century at least, there has been immense maritime investment in the ports of the south and east coasts of England. The country can be proud of that.
§ Mr. Crouch
My hon. Friend suggested that I have not travelled on a ferry for a long time. I have certainly been on sea ferries and the hovercraft which is called an aircraft. I think that both are old-fashioned and inefficient ways to travel. Very often they do not keep to time schedules because of rough weather. It is as simple as that. A more up-to-date method of travelling would be by way of a tunnel or bridge. I ask my hon. Friend, who happens to be my Member of Parliament, to bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Moate
When all our constituents, including those of my hon. Friend, say that the trains run on time, we may have a fairer analogy.
I turn to two points raised earlier by my hon. Friends. My dear hon. Friend and constituent the Member for Canterbury said that we are afraid of the French. There is no suggestion that we are afraid of the French. But we must recognise the prospect of unfair competition from northern France. That is the fundamental point.
As soon as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South listed the many benefits that the French are seeking to give to their industry in north France, hon. Members on both sides of the House said, "We must do the same." I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench and Members on the Opposition Front Bench whether anyone seriously suggests that either a Conservative Government or a Labour Government would pour into the south of England all the industrial and regional grants and infrastructure investment that go into many of the development areas of this country. We know that that is not realistic. It is fair to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, how do we propose to deal with the problem?
The north of France is recognised as an area requiring major regional investment; the south-east of England is not. There is the prospect of unfair competition, but no one has spelt out how we intend to deal with it. I know what I would like as a very minimum for my constituency. I would like more investment in roads such as the M2—the widening of it—and the dualling of the A249 to the port of Sheerness. I would like enterprise zone status for the Isle of Sheppey which suffers high unemployment and 1173 could be adversely affected because of its immensely successful and efficient ferry service. I invite my hon. Friends to say that we could have all that, but realistically I do not believe that any British Government could match the French at their game.
An immensely valid consideration which brings the debate into perspective is the speed and handling of customs formalities. One of the major complaints of business men and private travellers is the delays that occur at our ports. With the prospect of the Channel tunnel, the Government are suddenly offering facilities for the chunnel that will simplify customs formalities and reduce delays. Simplification of customs formalities at our airports and on the ferries would produce a greater saving of time, especially for hauliers, than any saving that would result from traffic passing through the tunnel. We could introduce simplified formalities now and the result would be much greater savings in time and a considerable increase in efficiency in freight handling. The present delays constitute a considerable problem, especially at Sheerness, and the same can he said for other ports.
It will be evident that I am entirely opposed to the Bill, but it would be churlish not to recognise that it is a far better proposition than the one which we faced in the early 1970s. We must recognise that the project does not involve public money, and that is a distinct improvement on the previous scheme. We should recognise that the rail-only link is probably the best of all the options in terms of the environmental impact on Kent. It will probably inflict the least damage on the ferry ports. It would be churlish of those of us who oppose the Bill not to recognise the engineering excitement of a challenge of this sort. We should accept that the tunnel will be a great engineering enterprise.
Having said that, I still say that we in Kent are entitled to put to the rest of the country the problems that will face us. Kent will face the harsh reality, whereas many others will regard the tunnel as a symbol, an abstract idea and a theoretical link with Europe. It will be a harsh reality for the people of Kent, the only community that will have to face the impact of the project on their homes, their farmland and the roads in their county.
People have been talking naively and over-optimistically about the amount of freight that will be carried through the tunnel, especially by long-distance trains. The prospect for long-distance freight haulage are much more limited than that for which some have allowed. The proposed Channel link, like the one that was put forward in the 1970s, is essentially a rolling motorway. That is its main claim to financial viability. Most industrialists, except for those who happen to engage in major bulk deliveries or who are located in the right places, will continue to use their lorries. The lorries will still be driven down to a south coast terminal to cross the Channel by means of the rolling motorway.
Not all lorry operators will use the M20. They will not all confine themselves to the road that the Government believe is the right one for the tunnel. They will flow along every major road and all the tributary roads throughout the area. The greatest environmental damage to be inflicted upon Kent will be caused by the many and heavier lorries that will travel to the tunnel. I suspect that the rail lobby will be greatly disappointed by the increase in long-distance traffic volumnes.
1174 The tunnel has been presented as something that will offer faster, easier, more reliable and cheaper communications. That is not true. None of those claims is valid. How much cheaper will it be? The answer is a few per cent. Is that really worth the sacrifices that Kent will have to make in lost jobs at the ports and damage to maritime interests? Are slightly cheaper prices worth such sacrifices? I should have thought not. The saving in time will be an hour at the very most. Is it worth the price to save one hour when so many other considerations make journeys so much slower? The tunnel will not offer significantly faster travel to the continent and it will not be significantly cheaper. Reliability remains to be seen.
If more damage is done to the ferry industry than is forecast, we may end up with a monopoly situation. Therefore, one industrial dispute on that tunnel could suddenly mean that many potential travellers would find themselves without an alternative means of transport. We could become increasingly dependent upon an increasingly unreliable and neo-monopolistic form of transport. On those grounds, the project does not seem appealing.
If the forecasts are over-optimistic — and I believe them to be so—the only way in which the tunnel will pay its way is by a price war. If a price war takes place, the ferries will be pushed out of business. All the fears that we have been putting forward would be realised and we would be worse off.
For all those reasons, I believe that the people of Kent are right to spell out the harsh realities and to say that they do not want the Bill. They do not believe that the case for the project has been proved. I do not believe that the quality of life of the British people will be enhanced. If one asks people—in or out of Kent—whether they wish to travel by tunnel, they will say no. Basically, people would rather stay on the surface and travel by sea than go in a tunnel.
Those who are in favour of the project either support it for ideological reasons or are members of the rail lobby, which is immensely enthusiastic about it. If we ask ordinary people whether they feel that their quality of life will be enhanced, I think that they will say no.
It is a privately funded project and to that extent it is fine. It is a better project than it might have been because it is a rail tunnel. We in Parliament are being asked whether we think it is a good thing for Britain and whether it will enhance the quality of life. We are entitled to say yes or no. I assuredly say no. It is not good for this country, it will not make it a better place, and we should reject the Bill.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and other hon. Members who have spoken, I am bound to say that if this country's economic survival depends upon the optimism that they have shown, we are going down the plughole in a big way.
The Channel tunnel is the biggest construction project that has been attempted in Europe, perhaps the biggest this century. It offers all sorts of things for the country, economically and environmentally. We have heard hon. Members on both sides of the House take the worst case in each area and argue that the whole thing is desperately bad and wrong. They believe that we should throw up our 1175 hands in horror and leave the whole thing to the French, who will make a great go of Calais, and that we cannot compete in Kent. I absolutely reject that pessimism.
One argument that has been advanced against the project is that it will exceed its estimated cost and not be completed in time. The British civil engineering industry has an unrivalled reputation throughout the world. Terminal 4 was completed within cost and within time, and the various motorway schemes and the fantastic new airport that has been completed in the Falklands bear witness to my contention. We can do the job, and no doubt we will do it, because, after all, it is a medium-technology scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) argued that, because the new road and rail improvements will be associated with the tunnel, public money will be used to help a private scheme. That is a fallacious argument. When the M20, the M2 and the Lydden diversion to the A2 were being built, I did not hear my hon. Friend or anyone else argue that that was helping the ferry operators. Yet the justification for those routes was the ferry traffic going to Folkestone and Dover. Whether or not the fixed link is developed, these improvements are needed, because what has not yet come out in this debate is that within the next 14 to 15 years there will be at least a doubling of heavy goods vehicles coming to the Channel ports and a substantial increase in passenger traffic.
Much has been made of traffic forecasts. The one thing that we can say with certainty about Department of Transport forecasts is that they are always wrong and always on the low side. Hon. Members need only look at the forecasts for the M25, the M6, the M1 or any motorway they like to see that. The Department always gets it wrong on the low side. My right hon. Friend is right not to publish the forecasts because the Department will get them wrong on the low side. I challenge hon. Members to tell me when a traffic forecast of the Department of Transport has been optimistic. They cannot do so, and they know that to be true.
Much has been made of the Merchant Navy. I put my reputation on the line on naval and maritime matters five years ago. If I thought that ferries would be destroyed by the scheme, there is no way that I could vote for it tonight, but I do not believe that that will happen. It is in consumers' and customers' interests that there should be a proper mix of traffic. Ferries, hovercraft and jets will operate, as well as the tunnel and aircraft. I agree that on the passenger side short-haul airlines will lose out, but that has environmental advantages for those who live near airports, not least those near Crawley and Heathrow.
Some hon. Members have damned British Rail with faint praise, but during the 18 years that I have been a Member of Parliament I have received a plethora of letters from divers environmental groups arguing that we should transfer more and more traffic from road to rail, and that more and more passengers should leave their cars and travel by train. I agree with them, and this is our one big chance to do just that.
Last December I spoke about the possibility of 365,000 lorries a year coming off the roads—the equivalent of going on to rail—which is 1,000 a day. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and others have pointed out, I was pessimistic. I believe that at least 1,500 1176 lorries a day and perhaps more could come off the roads. This will depend a great deal on British Rail's drive, marketing, and ability to seize its opportunities. The House should back British Rail, not sneer at it and knock it, as we so often do. British Rail has a chance to link into the biggest, most up-to-date rail system in the world, the European rail system, and if we believe in the environment and in getting traffic off the roads and on to the railways, we should give British Rail every possible encouragement.
I wish to raise a local matter that has considerable implications. Many of my constituents are bothered that the tunnel may be used as an excuse to build more and more houses, especially in Ashford, which will benefit from the creation of new jobs. We have the international station, the freight transport terminal and other facilities, so many jobs will be created in the Ashford area. My constituents and others in Kent fear that the Weald, the Downs and elsewhere will be covered in houses to provide homes for people employed in those jobs. I understand the fear of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) and of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), that there could well be employment difficulties in the short and medium-term, because there will undoubtedly be a downturn in ferry traffic and dock opportunities, thus increasing unemployment.
We should consider south-east Kent as a whole for employment and housing. It makes no sense to build more and more houses on good agricultural land in the Ashford area to cater for the incumbents of the new jobs when nearby constituencies face increased unemployment among people who are reasonably and decently housed. Communications are improving and there will be good road systems. Ashford to Dover will be a 20 to 25-minute drive, and Ashford to Folkestone will take 15 minutes. I agree that communications to Thanet should also be improved. The Committee should consider the area as a whole, so that we can match houses with jobs. We should not take a narrow parochial view and say, "I want all the jobs and houses in Ashford." That would not be a sensible use of resources or a sensible way to proceed.
On 5 December 1973, when moving the Second Reading of that Channel Tunnel Bill, the Minister said:Generations have talked about the tunnel, dreamed about the tunnel, argued about the tunnel. There comes a time when the talking has to stop and the aspirations have to be turned into achievements. This Bill is a significant step in doing just that."—[Official Report. 5 December 1973; Vol. 865, c. 1310.]That was said 12½ years ago by me, as the Minister on the Bill. Now, 12½ years later, perhaps it is time that we started to do something about it.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
In some ways, the views expressed in this debate have been as entrenched as those expressed in all the other debates, going back as far as the 1973 debate, which has just been referred to by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). Even if I was the greatest orator in the House—and I certainly am not — I would have great difficulty in persuading any hon. Member that his view on this issue was wrong. Consequently, I shall not even attempt to do so.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and welcome him to his new post. I am afraid that the 1177 precedents are not good for those who move from the Treasury to the Department of Transport, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to overcome that hurdle, and that there will at least be some rational dialogue between the two parties on this important topic. Time will tell whether I am being over-optimistic. Although I have the honour to speak on behalf of my party, I should make my position clear. In 1974, I supported the Labour Government's intention to build a Channel tunnel. Indeed, I voted against my own party when, in my view, it foolishly decided to cancel the project in 1975. But I got my just deserts, because I was made a Whip inside a week. That at least taught me a lesson about voting against my own party. But I hold the same views now as I held then. For various reasons, which I shall come to, I believe that of the schemes submitted to this Government, the rail-only scheme was the right one to choose.
However, if we accepted the views so graphically and even luridly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and did nothing, what would happen to cross-channel traffic? If we did nothing, would we please those Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in Kent who, quite properly, have reservations about the scheme? If the project was abandoned, the number of motor cars and heavy goods vehicles going to and from the continent would increase year by year, and life would become even less tolerable for those constituents whom Kent Members have quite properly sought to defend. Traffic to and from the continent would increase, just as it has done during the past decade or so. Doing nothing is not a recipe for a better environment for Kent of for better transport links between this country and Europe. The hon. Member for Ashford was the most recent hon. Member to point out that a rail Channel tunnel will persuade those who use other modes of transport to use trains.
Recently I was in Paris, talking to the Anglo-French chamber of commerce about the project. Those people who travel backwards and forwards the whole time were virtually unanimous that anything was better than the present system. The organisation that is somewhat fancifully entitled Flexilink has behaved deplorably in the past few months with its campaign of non-stop denigration and its pretence that the present system is the best way of moving passengers and freight across the Channel. That is just not so. Whatever our views of the project, all hon. Members will concede that it is a nightmare to try to sail from Dover on. say, a bank holiday. Under the system that some hon. Members wish to preserve, traffic at bank holidays is frequently backed up as far as the constituency of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). Should we seek to defend that by saying that we are against this project? It is nonsense to defend such a system.
Hon. Members who attack this scheme do so for various reasons. Some hon. Members from Kent say that the scheme will be disastrous for employment and would have a severe effect on the economy of west Kent. The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) graphically outlined what he saw as the economic disasters that would result from this project. He will not like me saying this, but he made one of the finest arguments for socialism in west Kent that I have ever heard. [AN HON. MEMBER: "East Kent."]
§ Mr. Snape
East or west, socialism is best, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) reminds me.
The hon. Member for Thanet, North made a plea for Government intervention in that part of the world. He spoke about the differences between the French approach to these matters and his own Government's approach and made a plea for infrastructure expenditure. I do not know how his speech affected his right hon. Friend the Minister, who has just escaped from the Treasury, but it certainly warmed my heart. It has taken seven years for economic reality to dawn on the hon. Member for Thanet, North. It may have been delayed, but it is none the less welcome. The Opposition have called for Government intervention of that sort for a long time, but, regrettably, the Secretary of State for Transport has resolutely opposed it for seven years. I hope that even the right hon. Gentleman's Treasury-hardened heart will melt in the face of this plea from his own hon. Friend, even if nothing that l say convinces him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and a number of hon. Members talked about the benefits that would accrue to the south of England as a result of this scheme. Geographically, it is impossible to put a channel tunnel anywhere else. That disposes of that argument straight away. The group that now calls itself Eurotunnel supplied me with a preliminary list of United Kingdom suppliers of materials and services for the construction and operation of the project. No doubt the same list has been supplied to other hon. Members. In the east and west midlands there are no fewer than 117 companies on that list, and one of them is based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am moderately aware after 20 years of what industrial activity goes on, or, more to the pont, used to go on, in my constituency before the advent of these dreadful days of Tory government. I do not share my hon. Friend's apparent gullibility about all the promotional bumf that is put out by these self-concerned and self-interested companies.
§ Mr. Snape
I concede straight away that my hon. Friend has been here a lot longer than I have. [Interruption.] I cannot say that about him because he has a constituency next door to mine. My hon. Friend thinks that I am being gullible in accepting this preliminary list of United Kingdom suppliers, but he must surely concede that not many of the suppliers for this sort of construction work, if it gets the go-ahead, are based in the south of England. Only a few of them are based there.
§ Mr. Aitken
I am anxious that the hon. Gentleman should not be taken for a ride by the propaganda. He keeps calling these firms "suppliers." All hon. Members hope that British firms will turn into suppliers for this project, if it takes place, but the fact is that no one is a supplier until the tender has gone out to European competition, in which case the list of so-called suppliers may, alas, be a good deal thinner.
§ Mr. Snape
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that point. Had it been up to the Labour party, there would have been no doubt about who would get these contracts, because we should not have been daft enough to go into the Common Market on the terms that the Conservative Government — the one that the present Conservative Government never talk about these days—went into it. The fact that we are members of the EEC means that we are bound by EEC rules.
Having looked at the list of names that are part of the consortium which forms Eurotunnel, I should have thought that a substantial number of the contracts could be built in-house. Many of the names on the preliminary suppliers list are subsidiaries of companies that form part of the Eurotunnel consortium. Therefore, do not blame me for the rules of the Common Market. I never wanted this country to join it in the first place. If we are stuck with that organisation, as we seem to be, contingencies are built into the project which ensure that the bulk of the work goes to United Kingdom companies, most of which, I repeat, are not based in the south of England.
As for the other aspect of the scheme——
§ Mr. Snape
No, I do not intend to give way to my hon. Friend.
As for the railways side of the argument, the hon. Member for Ashford rightly said that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House frequently receive letters from organisations and from their constituents demanding, in my view rightly, that more use should be made of our under-utilised railways system.
British Rail says that, under this project, 20 through freight trains will be running each day in each direction through the tunnel. I should have thought that those who are concerned, if only for environmental reasons, with halting the seemingly never-ending onrush of heavy goods vehicles would be prepared to concede that 20 freight trains each way per day is better, environmentally, than the present position. However, all hon. Members know — at least, we ought to, because we debate these matters often enough — that at the moment there is nowhere near the kind of capacity in British Rail's freight wagon fleet to provide 20 freight trains a day. Therefore it follows that there must be a substantial wagon building project in the United Kingdom to cater for the additional freight.
I hope that it will not be suggested by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) or by any other hon. Member that those freight vehicles are to be imported from abroad. I hope that the latest cuts so blithely entered into 1180 by the present Government concerning British Rail's freight and passenger carrying manufacturing capacity will not prevent British business and British workers from making railway wagons and locomotives for shuttle train use by both British Rail and the Eurotunnel consortium. We are not talking about an insignificant project. British Rail has said that it plans to spend £400 million on rail facilities necessary for the services. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East that up the road from both our constituencies Metro Cammell is rather anxious to get its teeth into this sort of business.
§ Mr. Faulds
I have at last prevailed upon my hon. Friend to give way; I was getting exhausted with waiting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it then."] I will, but in my own good time.
My hon. Friend made the point that there would be sudden bursts of activity throughout the country caused by the construction of the tunnel. Would it not be better if those bursts of activity in a number of constituencies were to do with the re-creation of the infrastructure of Britain rather than this unnecessary project of tunnelling under the Channel? If these bursts of activity are going to be caused by sensational exercises like this, is my hon. Friend arguing that under this Government and perhaps under the next one — our own — we should have a series of Channel tunnels to create these bursts of activity?
§ Mr. Snape
I knew that it was a mistake to give way twice to my hon. Friend. I am delighted to try to answer him, although obviously I will not convince him, because he is unconvinceable on this project.
Neither I nor my hon. Friend has any control over the capital that is to be invested in the Eurotunnel scheme. It is not state capital. The straight objection to the 1975 Labour Government scheme was that capital thus employed would be better employed in infrastructure projects — although why on earth we do not regard modernising the railway system as an infrastructure project, I do not know—than in the Channel tunnel and associated works. That argument will not wash on this occasion because it is private money and we have no control over the direction of that private capital. If the money is not spent on this project, it will not be spent on those infrastructure projects that both my hon. Friend and I would like to see carried out in the United Kingdom. For those reasons, we believe that, of the three schemes, the Government have opted for the right one.
We shall in the passage of the Bill be seeking reassurance on other matters, particularly on the question of customs procedures and the understandable view held by hon. Members on both sides of the House that there should be equity in these procedures. However, all these matters can be debated and, one hopes, settled in the passage of the legislation.
I remain as convinced now as I was in 1975. I do not wholeheartedly embrace the slogan that if it is good enough for the railways it is good enough for Britain, but at long last we are doing something about the infrastructure of the railways. It is long overdue. Governments of both parties have been talking about it long enough. At least, under this project, there is some hope that at last something will be done.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly. The debate that took place 1181 between the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and his hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) illustrated, I think, that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East was right and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) was wrong when my hon. Friend claimed that there was a growing band of opponents to the Bill. The fact is that the Labour party this time has been much more reasonable in its approach to the Bill, and the debate has shown those of us who have been here for a long time that we might as well have had the vote first and the debate afterwards, if anyone seriously thought that anyone would change their views.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) said, it really has been rather depressing to hear the whingeing, dismal Jimmies who can see nothing but problems, damage and chaos arising from the proposal. To give one example, although I do not want to dwell on his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South suggested that if the Channel tunnel was built transcontinental ships would dock at continental ports in order to gain access to the British market via the Channel tunnel. If we put that argument on its head, he would say that transatlantic ships would soon be docking again in huge numbers at Liverpool to gain access to European markets via the Channel tunnel. Most of us settle our views first and make our arguments to fit them.
If there is one thing that is not true—my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford mentioned this—it surely is that the Government are trying indecently to rush this through. The project has been under discussion in and out of the House for well over 100 years. Among the things that I have discovered in research in slightly unusual places is that the borings for the Channel tunnel in the last century led to the discovery of coal below the chalk of east Kent. Who knows what might be discovered underneath the middle of the Channel when we get that far, as I am sure we shall.
I support the principle of the Bill and I support very much the Government's decision to build a rail tunnel. It will do the least damage to the environment. The railway aspects of the tunnel give far and away the best prospects for the regions. I beg hon. Members from the midlands and the north to consider carefully what the Bill, with its rail input, could do for their regions.
I want to ask the Minister about one point that I raised with the Secretary of State when I intervened in his speech. Will the Government please give serious consideration to making the maximum use of the investment by both the private and the public sectors in our railway system? I shall give only one example, the Tonbridge-Redhill-Reading route. I think that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) would agree that we should be able to find ways of giving London a wide berth in order to maximise the opportunities for the regions.
I have now extracted from British Rail the expenditure that would be involved. The Tonbridge-Redhill electrification would cost £12.5 million, which is presently not included in the proposals. The Redhill-Reading electrification, which would include electrification provision for gaps and reinforcement where already provided, would cost £20.5 million extra. The main bottleneck on that line, caused by the need to reverse at Redhill, could be eliminated by the construction of a fly-over at a cost of £5 million. British Rail, in not wanting to do this, is unlikely to have underestimated for me the cost of this work.
1182 In the second Beeching report the line to which I have referred was retained—that is why it still exists—clearly and specifically for the possible future construction of a Channel tunnel. I shall not weary the House by quoting from the report. However, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to study the map included in that report, dated February 1965 on the development of the major railway trunk routes. At the moment we have the unhappy situation of the Government, due to the restraints that they are putting on British Rail, actually out-Beeching Beeching because they are not encouraging investment in the railway infrastructure for that vital part of the railway system.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that we have been talking about this project for long enough. It is a great and exciting project. I look forward with enthusiasm to voting for the Bill.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this part of the debate. We need to return to first principles. Future employment prospects depend entirely on the development of the internal market within the Common Market, of which we have been a member since 1972. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) talked about infrastructure. 'We need a European infrastructure if we want to develop the Common Market into the largest market in the world.
To talk about internal infrastructure without having a vision of the way the Common Market is developing and the important part that the tunnel will play in an efficient transport system means that we are living in the period before 1972.
The employment prospects for this country are vital. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and I went down the original tunnel workings. I remember the profound sense of disappointment when that project was cancelled. It set back for 10 years the development of an efficient transportation system, open 24 hours a day despite the weather, to take increased freight into that greatest market in the world—11 other countries.
Hon. Members have spoken of what the French will gain from the market. We are all in the market—we are working for it and to develop it, and the Channel tunnel is an important part of it. Unless we have that clear in our minds, all the moaning Minnies and dismal Johnnies will never see employment in this country that will really take us forward.
In no way do I criticise the present systems. We will have a choice between ferries and business efficiency, with rail and other contacts through the tunnel, which will be a great advantage. It will set the different pattern of trade that we all want. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) mentioned figures that gave some idea of the impact that the project might have. When the M1 was built, did anyone suggest that even the most advantageous figures from the Department of Transport would be wrong by factors of 12 for freight traffic and four for overall traffic? When Hitler built the autobahns in Germany, with great effect for regional development, did anyone suggest that he was talking about need? When Mussolini built the autostradas in Italy in the 1930s, which had a profound effect on development in that country, did anyone suggest that he was talking about need?
When the Abercrombie committee considered transportation around London in the 1930s, we rejected its 1183 recommendations as we rejected so many recommendations, and only now have we built the M25 and carried out its recommendations of all those years ago.
I understand the concern of colleagues in Kent and accept that they must put forward environmental considerations in the interests of their constituents. However, I am a Nottingham Member and I know about the impact of mining, opencast mining and power stations, all of which have caused severe environmental difficulties. Yet we accepted that they should be developed as a natural consequence of our geographical position and the fact that we are part of the national scene and they are national resources. It is now the turn of east Kent to fulfil that function within the development of the Common Market.
Although we all want proper consideration to be given to legitimate fears, in a wholly different legal position from that which we faced in the early part of the century, we would look badly upon unfair and unacceptable practices that would delay the project from 1993.
Important industrial decisions will be made as soon as the Bill is clearly under way. There are companies in this country that want to expand. Inward Investment wants to develop and double the size of its factories because it recognises that access from existing factories will be so much better. We need to give a clear signal that we support the Bill and the tunnel. We need the concrete and constructive impact that it will have on the investment decisions of our industrial base, because that is the only way that we will get through in the future.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
The House has had a full and thoughtful debate, not for the first time, on whether to build a Channel tunnel. Indeed, this is the fifth time that I have had the privilege of replying to a debate on various aspects of it. But tonight is different, for tonight the House is to take in a historic decision, by its vote, on the principle of whether the Channel tunnel is to go ahead. I am sure that every hon. Member will wish to participate in that decision, which involves the biggest civil engineering project every undertaken in this country through the centuries.
Naturally there is concern in Kent, especially in the parts most affected. I accept that in a major national project of this nature there is bound to be local environmental disadvantage, but in Kent there will also be opportunities for new developments and new businesses, and the prospects are good for them — indeed, rather better than for English football.
In an attempt to provide help in Kent by identifying the problems and finding solutions, we have brought together in a consultative committee elected representatives of the Kent county council, the district councils that will be affected, British Rail, the Department of the Environment, the promoters and the Department of Transport.
I am chairman of the committee, it meets approximately monthly and it is already hard at work trying to minimise the disadvantages and maximise the potential advantages of the tunnel. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
Will my hon. Friend reconsider the position that he has taken in the committee, which means that the public are not allowed in to listen to its deliberations?
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend will know that the chairman does not decide the procedure in this kind of committee. However, we have ensured that the minutes of the meetings are made available to all local authorities, and at the next meeting we will consider making the minutes available to the press. That should meet my hon. Friend's request. We do not intend that there should be any secrecy about what is happening, but we like to discuss our problems objectively without having to think all the time that every word must be weighed for how it will be interpreted or misinterpreted.
The Kent joint consultative committee is breaking new ground in many respects by bringing representatives of all those who are affected together in a working committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) asked whether it would be possible for the Kent association of parish councils to be represented on the committee. I was originally informed that that association did not represent all the parishes in Kent, but representatives of that association have been to see me recently, and as a result of the convincing case that was put for representation I shall propose at the next committee meeting that an invitation be extended to the association to be represented. I hope that that will meet the point raised by my hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) — if I may have his attention—addressed the House with his usual courtesy and level tones. However, he left me with the impression that he wants to see the tunnel go ahead, but is uncertain whether he can lead his supporters into the Lobby. On such a major national issue, the Labour party surely cannot funk the decision and abstain.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of important points and asked several shrewd questions which deserve an answer, and I am pleased to help the hon. Gentleman by providing them. He wants to know who will get the contracts. He wants to know whether United Kingdom firms will secure the bulk of the work and create jobs here. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the whole project is a joint venture by two consortia. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the members of the consortia can award themselves contracts.
§ Mr. Speaker
I had already called for order. Will the hon. Members who are beyond the Bar of the House kindly refrain from talking.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The position on the contracts is that the consortia can award consortia members contracts without risk of challenge in the European Court of Justice. In the case of third party contracts, 30 per cent. must go to competitive tender. However, I am confident that British industry can compete successfully. We are increasingly competing successfully in international markets and our ability to do so on our own doorstep is considerable.
I was asked about the failure to develop plans for fully equipping British Rail. I do not understand what the hon. 1185 Member for Aberdeen, North means. I have already given approval, in principle, to all the investment requested by British Rail in connection with the Channel tunnel. There will be a full commercial return, and therefore there is no question of Government subsidy.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North also talked about the focal points in the British Rail network. I agree with him. At present there are six main inland clearance depots, at London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. It is fair to say that these provide the opportunity for the assembly of a large amount of cargo which can go right through the tunnel for distribution on the continent. A lot of traffic will be taken off the roads. My hon. Friends from Kent are worried about the impact of the tunnel on the roads in Kent. British Rail calculates that——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.