HC Deb 03 February 1987 vol 109 cc963-72
Mr. Peter Rees

I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 92, line 40, after 'operations,' insert 'which for the purposes of this schedule shall include the disposal of any spoil from any such works or operations'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 30, in page 93, line 2, at end insert— '(3A) The construction of the specified works shall when they are respectively commissioned be carried out with all reasonable dispatch in accordance with the plans, specifications and programmes approved by and to the reasonable satisfaction of the Harbour Board.'.

No. 29, in page 93, line 17, at end insert— '6. Nothing in this Schedule shall deprive the Harbour Board of any remedy available to the Harbour Board for damage or loss whatever sustained whether at common law or otherwise.'.

Mr. Rees

I hope not to detain the House for long on these three last amendments to this important Bill. I am covering ground that was well tilled, once again, by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on the last day of the Committee.

The House will be aware that it was thought proper by the draftsmen of the Bill—I commend that decision—to include part IV of schedule 7 for the protection of the Dover harbour board. I hasten to add that Dover harbour board is not the only body that has a special provision in the Bill designed for its protection.

Because of the lateness of the hour, I do not wish to stress the importance of the Dover harbour board, first to the economy of the country and secondly, to my constituency. The Government thought that, during the initial operation of the tunnel—if indeed it achieves the approval of both Houses of Parliament—the Dover harbour board should have special protection.

On closer inspection, the Committee decided that those measures should be strengthened in the harbour boards favour. My hon. Friend the Minister had much to say about that during the Committee sitting on Thursday 22 January and his splendid lapidary words can be found in columns 760–761 of Hansard. I am sure that I do not need to read them out because the Minister will have those words in his mind, as will every hon. Member who has read Hansard.

The Committee decided to hold its hand, on the understanding that further matters should be brought forward. Eurotunnel—in a moment of candour—and the Government agreed that the Bill should be strengthened in the harbour board's favour. It was, however, decided that the matter should be left to Eurotunnel and the harbour board to consider if those matters could be thrashed out, if not agreed.

I commend the Minister's sanguine outlook after 22 days of what, judging by some of the contributions tonight, especially those of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford), must have been rather taxing debate. In one of his moments of optimism, he said that he understood that negotiations between Eurotunnel and the harbour board are still in progress, but a good measure of agreement appears to have been reached so far."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 22 January 1987; c. 761]. My information is not as roseate as his. The matter was raised before the Select Committee and we are therefore entitled to expect something concrete to have been hammered out. I assume that, if the Bill receives the approval of the House tonight, it will move with some rapidity to another place. This may not leave all that long a time for a measure of agreement to be achieved between Eurotunnel and the harbour board.

I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister totally to accept the three amendments. I would not, therefore, be disposed to press them to a conclusion tonight, provided my hon. Friend assures me that, if no proper agreement is embodied which the Select Committee in another place could consider reasonably, the Minister responsible for the Bill in the other place will be prepared to table at an appropriate stage a suitably strengthened series of provisions to protect the interests of the Dover harbour board. I hope that on that basis we shall be able to conclude our consideration of the Bill.

Mr. David Mitchell

Negotiations between Eurotunnel and the harbour board are still in progress. I understand that the parties have moved considerably closer together. There is no reason to believe that the negotiations will not reach a successful conclusion before the Select Committee in another place completes its proceedings. It is entirely normal for protective provisions in private Bills to be settled quite late in the Bill's passage during proceedings in the second House.

I have listened carefully to the points raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) in support of the harbour board's position and, no doubt, Eurotunnel will have noted them also. However, I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will accept that it would be wrong for the House to anticipate the outcome of the negotiations between the parties by approving piecemeal amendments at this stage. I trust that my right hon. and learned Friend will therefore agree to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Rees

I made the position clear. I know that my hon. Friend must be tired. There was a long, taxing and probably irritating Committee stage, but he is giving precisely the same answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). I feel that, in the interests of progress, my hon. Friend might make a slight concession. I have not pressed my hon. Friend on Report. He knows my position on the Bill. I feel that he can do just a fraction more. If no satisfactory agreement is available to be considered by the Select Committee in the other place and my hon. Friend says that he will consult the Minister in charge of the Bill in the other place to ascertain what can be done, I am sure that common ground will be found between us.

Mr. Mitchell

I think that I can assist my right hon. and learned Friend to find the common ground that he seeks and give the assurance that he requests.

Mr. Peter Rees

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—["Mr. Garel-Jones.]

1.52 am
Mr. Robert Hughes

I pay tribute to those hon. Members who were on the Select Committee and on the Standing Committee. The duties have been especially onerous on my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who carried a heavy burden in leading for the Opposition with, I am sure hon. Members agree, his normal charm, humour and tact, and on my hon. Friends the Members for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) and for Worsley (Mr. Lewis), who served on the two Committees and who, since last June, have spent almost every waking moment dealing with the Channel tunnel.

I have been, and remain, critical of the Government's approach in using the hybrid Bill procedure—for example, the inclusion of the A20 proposals is purely a sharp practice, because they have nothing to do with the Channel tunnel. We should not slip into putting measures into hybrid Bills simply for the Government's convenience to save them embarrassment.

Therefore, I make it clear that if the treaty is not ratified before a general election intervenes, an incoming Labour Government will hold a public inquiry into the tunnel. Secondly, I make it clear beyond doubt—to this extent I agree with the Government—that should Eurotunnel go bankrupt either during the construction of the tunnel, although bankruptcy is unlikely at that stage, or when it is in operation, an incoming Labour Government will not bail out the investors. The project stands or falls as a private capital venture.

It would be foolish to pretend that the Channel tunnel project does not raise great passions for and against. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who regard this as a matter of great principle. From the outset, my approach has been primarily to examine the transport implications. I frankly concede that the tunnel is not a matter of great principle for me. I strongly believe that potential benefits may become available to British Rail and to those who work for it. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East pointed out, only 2 per cent. of British Rail's freight is international, whereas 27 per cent. of SNCF's freight is international. That is a simple matter of geography. But the tunnel provides an opportunity for British Rail to claim a larger share of international freight traffic in a competitive market. I wish that I could be sure that BR is looking far enough ahead.

It is inexplicable that BR should close down eight primarily east-coast freight liner depots when it should aggressively tout for business. It seems to be wholly inconsistent with the need to increase freight traffic.

Although I welcome the Government's acceptance of the principle of new clause 3 regarding dispersal, I regret that they did not accept the amendment about safety and the separation of people and vehicles. Apart from the safety angle, Eurotunnel has got the market strategy wrong. A system more akin to Motorail would be more attractive. Vehicles could be driven on to separate cars to be taken across the Channel and people could travel in what may be called a club car or in an open-plan vehicle, in which they may journey, if not in luxurious conditions at least in comfort. Eurotunnel tells me that that would not be commercially viable. Commercial viability must not compromise safety. I hope that this point will be addressed more seriously than it hitherto has been.

The Minister's earlier remarks about the safety clause are at odds with the evidence given to the Select Committee by the chief inspecting officer of railways, Major Rose. He said that the safety commission that he represented was concerned only with propositions that were put to it and was not inclined to examine other matters. I hope that that matter will be taken care of.

Apart from the issue of principle, many people believe that only the French will benefit economically from the tunnel. That belief arises from the planning that is going on on the other side of the Channel. I confirm that such planning is going ahead. A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to the city of Lille and had discussions with its Socialist mayor, M. Pierre Mauroy, and selected members of the region of Nord Pas du Calais. They are planning ahead. After that visit, I do not draw a wholly negative and defeatist conclusion from their planning. We have the ingenuity and the capacity to match anything that the French can do.

I am not satisfied that the Government are capable of harnessing the resources to meet the challenge, but an incoming Labour Government can provide the enthusiasm to maximise the benefit to the country. We need to do this if for no other reason than that we cannot lightly disregard the job potential in the construction phase. Nor can we disregard our duty to the deprived regions of the nation that deserve our protection and support. Therefore, despite my reservations about the Government's handling of this affair, and despite the doubts that still exist about the possibility that capital will not be raised, I do not recommend voting against the Third Reading. I trust that their Lordships will make further improvements to the Bill, which in my view is still deficient in many respects.

1.59 am
Mr. Aitken

As the proceedings on the Bill draw towards their close, I feel enormously cheerful. It has become more and more obvious during our debates that the chances of this mistaken project ever being built are diminishing almost daily. It is a strange paradox that what began as a great economic project is not proving to be economically viable. That is why the punters will not put their money into it.

This is a political project. The treaty puts transport and communications way down the list. The object of the project is to strengthen and develop political links with Europe. Nevertheless, the politicians, hard though they have tried, have conspicuously failed to achieve that objective. It may be churlish to say that at Third Reading, but during the last few months the project has steadily lost ground. It has no real support in the country, and in Kent hostility to it is growing.

Furthermore, there seems to be little warmth for the project among hon. Members. One only had to listen to the exchanges between my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) to understand that this project is largely friendless, despite the brave support of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch).

The pivotal factor in killing off the project is its lack of financial backing from the city. The Government are the prisoner of their own ideology. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had a long and honourable record of hostility towards the tunnel, but she changed her mind after discussions with President Mitterrand just over two years ago. The project might have been viable if it had had real political will behind it and Government funds to accompany it. However, I should still have been against the project. It would have done tremendous damage to our maritime industry, to other Channel ports and to employment.

Looking back, we should ask why Parliament has worked so hard and so long to deliver this project. The politicians have tried but basically have faied, whereas Eurotunnel has completely failed. Although this project is not yet a dead duck, it is a dying duck.

2.3 am

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I congratulate the Minister on his diligence and devotion to duty in guiding this legislation through the House and on the trouble he has taken to present the case to the people in Kent. Nobody could have done more than he.

I do not take the gloomy view of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). I want the Bill to succeed. I hope that it will be not long delayed in the other place and that it will be on the statute book before the Prime Minister calls the next general election. I want Britain to succeed and to pay its way in the world, and the tunnel can play a constructive part in that endeavour. Exports to the European Community must travel there as cheaply and as quickly as possible. The tunnel could play a vital role.

Also I want our hard-pressed but nevertheless extremely important railway network to be given a heaven-sent opportunity to expand and extend its services. If common sense is to prevail and if our roads and airports are not to become more jammed than they already are, we must make much more use of our railway system. We should have built the tunnel 20 years ago, but it is not yet too late.

I ask the Minister to consider the introduction of concessions for cyclists, even though no satisfactory answer has been given by him on this point. If I could squeeze a concession out of Sealink to carry bicycles to the Isle of Wight, surely British Rail ought to be able to carry them free from Rugby, Birmingham and elsewhere through the tunnel. The authority of the EEC will not apply to the tunnel. Perhaps the Minister will look again at that point.

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who has stood up for his belief in the tunnel. I was quite interested to see the cross-voting that took place in Committee. In 13 years in the House, I had not experienced that before. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East served for a long time on the Select Committee, as did other hon. Members, and they have lived with this issue for a long time. How on earth can they go through another public inquiry? God help us, is all I can say. I do not want to be around if that is going to happen.

Of course I should like to see those who will be adversely affected, principally in Kent, given proper compensation. On the whole, the evidence to date confirms that that is already happening.

I fully understand the actions of those hon. Members who represent the constituents who will be hurt the most, and incidentally of the prospective candidates for those seats, some of whom have called me many names under the sun. However, I have stuck to my guns. It is a long tradition of this House that in such instances hon. Members should put the fears of their constituents first. I should have done the same for the Isle of Wight.

Nevertheless, my party has long supported the building of the fixed link, although we always saw it as a public sector project. The fact that we saw it as a rail-only tunnel, built by the public sector, does not mean that we should change our attitude now. As I have said before, I should like to see the tunnel built in my lifetime so that I can enjoy travelling to the continent in comfort, from Waterloo to Paris, and I long to do so.

2.7 am

Mr. Rowe

I should like to make just two points. First, despite the malediction from my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), I should like to say that many people in Kent are looking forward to the Channel tunnel as a real opportunity to increase their prosperity and job opportunities. Although some of my constituents are nervous, most will welcome the completion of the Channel tunnel

Secondly, I should like to advise the Minister that nobody in Kent will welcome the Channel tunnel if the various roadworks, junctions and road widenings that have been promised are not completed before the Channel starts to operate. That is a matter of the utmost importance everywhere in Kent, and I feel that it is important that I say so tonight.

2.8 am

Mr. Raynsford

This important project has been handled in a way that, quite honestly, suggests a tragic failure by the promoters and the Government to afford it the procedures and seriousness that such a project should receive. I do not wish to dwell on the failures of Eurotunnel, because we have heard enough about them tonight and on previous occasions. I am afraid that the company's blundering and ineptitude may be its downfall.

However, I wish to say a few words about the Government's failure to ensure that the people affected are properly consulted; a failure which will undoubtedly cost the Government dear in the county of Kent and elsewhere in the general election. Many people feel that they have not been given a fair opportunity to express their undoubted hostility to the scheme, and their concern about the impact of the scheme on their homes and environment. The Government have also failed to allow a proper public inquiry.

I should also like to comment on the rush that has been characteristic of the Bill's passage through Select Committee, Standing Committee and tonight on Third Reading, without a proper opportunity for hon. Members to debate issues such as safety, which is crucial. Also, misleading statements of Ministers have implied that the safety authority is free to consider alternative options when we heard the evidence, on oath, of Major Rose in the Select Committee: I do not see at the moment that it is the function of the safety authority, which I represent to do other than examine the proposition that has been put to us. I should have appreciated it if the Minister had given some clarification as to how that could be reconciled with his assurances that the safety authority can look at other alternatives.

Frankly, many of us are left with the suspicion that the Ministers and the Conservative Members who support them have been more concerned with promoting the financial interests of Eurotunnel that with looking after the national interests, the safety of the people who will travel through the tunnel and the environment of the areas affected by it.

It is a sad and sorry story and I only hope that the other House will give the Bill closer, more detailed and more serious scrutiny than this House has done.

2.10 am
Mr. Gale

The Bill will leave the House with a number of questions from north-east Kent unanswered. These questions include compensation for farmers, the construction camp and the impact study. We await eagerly the report that will follow the study.

I hope and believe that those who represent north-east Kent have represented their constituents' views correctly. I hope and believe also that we have reflected those views in the House. I am sure that my constituents would wish me to express their thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the manner in which he has addressed their problems and for the action that he has taken on their behalf.

In the expectation that the impact study will deliver the rest of what is needed to meet the needs of north-east Kent, I shall support my hon. Friend the Minister and the Bill's Third Reading.

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

I oppose the Third Reading of this pernicious Bill. I believe that it will spell the economic destruction and ruination of the north-east of England. Ministers have told us in Newcastle of the glorious opportunities that the Channel tunnel will provide for the north-east. We have been told about direct access into the heart of Europe for the commodities that we produce, but after seven years of the ravages of the present damned Government there is precious little industry left in the north-east to produce goods to send to the centre of Europe.

The British Railways Board has recently announced that the freightliner depot just outside Newcastle is to be closed, so even if our industry were intact we would not have much hope of getting products quickly to the centre of Europe by rail. I am told that freightliner depots down the east coast of Scotland and England are to be closed by the board and that the nearest depot to Newcastle will be Leeds. If we are to enjoy the benefits of the great adventure that is described as the Channel tunnel project, we shall have to transport goods 120 miles by road to Leeds to the nearest freighliner depot.

There is no doubt that the soft underbelly of London and the south-east of England will benefit at the expense of the already denuded industrial north. The two-nation society and the north-south divide that we know now will be nothing compared with the conditions that will prevail in the post-Channel tunnel era.

What will happen if the required £750 million is not raised? Let us say that there is a shortfall of £100 million. Everyone knows that the Prime Minister is paranoic about and obsessed with having her name carved in a tablet of stone along with that of Mr. Mitterrand as a founder of the project. Is anyone bold enough to suggest that, if private enterprise should fall £100 million short of raising £750 million, the Prime Minister will not commit the taxpayer to find the money? That would be adding insult to injury in the north of England, because in effect she would be demanding that the taxpayers of that region should contribute to the digging of their own graves.

I hope that those in another place, who have given the Government a bloody nose on many occasions, will continue repeatedly to draw blood from the Government as they consider this pernicious Bill.

2.14 am
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I wish to express the views of Yorkshire and Humberside while telling the House about my fears for industry in the north if the Channel tunnel project goes ahead. I have read nothing and heard nothing that leads me to believe that the construction of the tunnel will assist the region, part of which I represent. There is 21 per cent. or 22 per cent. unemployment in my constituency and I must consider seriously the well-being of the area. Over the past few years there have been no signs that conditions will improve.

At this late stage, the Minister could give an assurance that the customs sheds will be built in the north of England, in the Sheffield area. That small item in this project could help the rejuvenation of that area. When the Minister replies, he might influence the way in which I will vote tonight.

As an engineering concept and as a vision of the future, I believe that the Channel tunnel project is great. The project will lift the country and it is something for the country to look forward to. However, I must look to my constituents and ask, what is in it for them? Unless the Minister can give some assurances that the customs sheds will be considered for the Sheffield area, I will have to vote against the Third Reading tonight.

2.15 am
Mr. David Mitchell

There is a saying, "Third time lucky." Work on the Channel tunnel has been started twice before—indeed, this year marks the centenary of the introduction of the first Channel Tunnel Bill into this House. Those who have alleged that the project is being rushed might like to reflect on that. After the "longest pregnancy in the world"—as Lord Palmerston described it—we are about to witness the birth of the greatest civil engineering project ever undertaken in Europe.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was somewhat ambivalent in his support for the Bill. However, already the benefits to Britain which will come from the construction of this project are beginning to be felt. Eurotunnel has placed advance orders for £30 million, a third of that in Scotland. In all, it is anticipated that British companies have the prospect of winning £1 billion-worth of orders, bringing wealth and employment to our factories.

As with all great projects, it is not the starting but the completing that will bring the lasting benefits—benefits for British industry no longer disadvantaged by the cost, delay and unreliability of a sea frontier when competing for that lucrative European market, which already takes 60 per cent. of our exports, and still has enormous potential.

It is our good fortune tonight, as Members of this House, to play a significant part in turning a vision into a reality. While little men and little Englanders will stay out of our Lobby, I invite the House to give a Third Reading to this Bill and thus send the Channel tunnel on its way with a fair wind.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:

The House divided: Ayes 94, Noes 22.

Division No. 79] [2.17 am
Amess, David Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Ancram, Michael Coombs, Simon
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Cope, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Couchman, James
Bevan, David Gilroy Crouch, David
Blackburn, John Currie, Mrs Edwina
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dover, Den
Bottomley, Peter Durant, Tony
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bright, Graham Fenner, Dame Peggy
Brooke, Hon Peter Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, Alistair Forth, Eric
Cash, William Freeman, Roger
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Gale, Roger
Galley, Roy Malins, Humfrey
Garel-Jones, Tristan Malone, Gerald
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Maude, Hon Francis
Ground, Patrick Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hanley, Jeremy Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hargreaves, Kenneth Moore, Rt Hon John
Harris, David Neubert, Michael
Hawksley, Warren Nicholls, Patrick
Heathcoat-Amory, David Norris, Steven
Hind, Kenneth Osborn, Sir John
Hirst, Michael Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Howard, Michael Pollock, Alexander
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Powley, John
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Raffan, Keith
Jessel, Toby Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rhodes James, Robert
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Key, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Lang, Ian Rowe, Andrew
Lawler, Geoffrey Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lester, Jim Wallace, James
Lightbown, David Wheeler, John
Lilley, Peter Whitfield, John
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Wolfson, Mark
Lord, Michael Yeo, Tim
Lyell, Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
McCurley, Mrs Anna
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Tellers for the Ayes:
Maclean, David John Mr. Michael Portillo and
McLoughlin, Patrick Mr. Richard Ryder.
Aitken, Jonathan Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Clay, Robert Moate, Roger
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Nellist, David
Corbett, Robin O'Brien, William
Dixon, Donald Pike, Peter
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Raynsford, Nick
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Howarth, George (Knowsley, N) Skinner, Dennis
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Spearing, Nigel
McKay, Allen (Penistone)
McNamara, Kevin Tellers for the Noes:
McWilliam, John Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse and
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Mr. Robert C. Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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