§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
I beg to move,That the Amendments to the Channel Tunnel Bill set out in the Lords Message of 7th May, in the last Session of Parliament, be referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.This is simply a procedural debate to check that the Government agent has complied with House of Commons private business Standing Orders.
The Bill was extensively considered in the House in the previous Parliament before being passed to another place. Subsequently, the House carried the Bill over to this Parliament. It has already during this Parliament been reintroduced, passed again formally and on Monday it completed its passage through the Committee of the whole House in another place. This motion simply enables the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills to consider whether the private business Standing Orders of the House have been complied with over certain amendments made by the Select Committee of another place, relating to access roads to the Cheriton terminal. I should explain that the motion does not give the House's approval to those amendments. It allows only certain necessary and important procedural stages to be completed. When another place has completed its work, the House will, on Commons consideration of Lords amendments, have the opportunity to examine all its amendments, including these particularly important ones.
Hon. Members will recall that the Bill, as originally introduced into the House, provided for a road access from the M20 that passed between the villages of Newington and Peene into the north-west corner of the terminal site. Local authorities, amenity societies and many local residents petitioned the House against those proposals. The Select Committee of the House was instructed to consider alternative access. As the House will recall, the Select Committee here did not favour the alternative. Subsequently, however, these access proposals were revised and a new package known as the "Joint Southern Access" was agreed by Eurotunnel, Kent county council and Shepway district council, which met the operational concerns of the Select Committee of the House, and had the environmental benefits of the alternative proposals. These revised arrangements found favour with the Select Committee in another place, which amended the Bill accordingly.
That is why we have this procedural motion on the Order Paper. It remits those access amendments to the Examiners of Private Bills, who will see whether Standing Orders have been complied with.
Finally, I remind hon. Members that these amendments received the support of the vast majority of those petitioners affected, and that the substance of those amendments is not under consideration tonight. We shall come to them with the Commons consideration of the Lords amendments.
§ Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)
The motion is the culmination of the long and detailed consideration that was given to access proposals alternative to those that were originally set out in the Bill. It is right to say that those alternative proposals would not have been considered at 473 all if it had not been for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who, from the beginning, advanced his constituents' interests by putting forward, in consultation with his local council, these alternative access proposals. It is fair to say that he did not entirely persuade the Committee or Eurotunnel at the first time of asking, but because of the way in which the Select Committee was able to consider those proposals the groundwork was done, and it was then possible for the Select Committee in another place to adopt the new, agreed, scheme that the Minister described to us. As my hon. Friend made clear, those amendments are the subject of the Lords Message, and are not the subject of our debate tonight.
The motion is technical and procedural, but none the less important. As with many of the procedures with which those who promote a Bill have had to comply, it is a further safeguard, in that the Government Agent will be required to prove to the Examiner that the Standing Orders have been complied with in all other respects. Obviously there has been a technical breach because of the annual cycle and the dates.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
There seems to be a conspiracy of silence at this early stage of the debate, because my hon. Friend the Minister and the stand-in for the former Chairman of the Select Committee seem to be under the impression that the Standing Orders have not been breached. As the Examiner will discover, the Standing Orders have been violated.
§ Mr. Fallon
It should be obvious to everyone that, in the technical sense of the date, the Standing Orders have been violated, because the Standing Orders of the House envisage an annual procedure, and because of the way in which the Bill was originally presented, out of the autumnal cycle, and because of the way in which the revised access arrangements have been devised to suit the interests on the ground, it is inevitable that the Standing Orders have not been compiled with in terms of the date. The Government Agent will be obliged to prove to the Examiner that the Standing Orders have been complied with in every other respect. That is a very important safeguard, not perhaps for my hon. Friend's constituents in Thanet, but for the constituents of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, who may be affected by the revised joint scheme. I should have thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) would have paid more attention to those necessary safeguards.
The other place has already agreed that such an examination should take place, and the only remaining consideration is whether this technical examination should be delayed. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South would like it to be postponed indefinitely, but that would not make sense. We already know what the Lords amendments are. They are contained in the Message. They have been agreed and printed, and soon they will be considered by the House. It would serve no purpose to delay their technical examination any longer, and I therefore commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
The House will be pleased to know that I will keep it brief, as we have had 474 many late nights. It is with some sadness that, after less than a month in the House, I am rising to speak against a Government motion. I should say that I support the Government's values strongly.
The first experience that the new boys had of the procedures of the House was the election of Mr. Speaker a few weeks ago, and I was impressed by the historical allusions to the many occupants of the Chair who have risked their names, and sometimes their lives, to protect the liberties and customs of the House. I wish to quote Sir Thomas More, of whom there is a picture in the Central Lobby. When Cardinal Wolsey arrived in the House, he recognised the cardinal in his essential role as the King's Lord Chancellor, but then went on to say that his presence wasneither expedient nor agreeable with the ancient liberties of this House.The distinction that Thomas More made is especially relevant to the procedural motion. The substance of the amendments as they stand—I shall come back to the motion in a moment—seems fair. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), I congratulate my hon. Friend and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) on the work that he has done on this matter. However, the manner in which the amendments are being steam-rollered through and the fact that the procedural motion is being pushed through is an outrage.
Let us be absolutely clear. At this moment we are not talking about the Channel tunnel or the frailties that it will build into our European trading pattern. We are talking about maintaining the procedures, customs and traditions of the House. Those customs do not exist solely to ensure that hon. Members may have free and fair debates, but also to protect the rights of ordinary, English citizens.
§ Mr. Brazier
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover, (Mr. Skinner) for his support. I never expected, so early in my career in the House, to be on the same side of the argument as the hon. Gentleman.
The Government are perfectly aware that the motion is totally unnecessary for the passing of the Channel Tunnel Bill. It is also totally unnecessary legally. We are aware that the Government are extremely anxious to get the motion through so that they can get the rest of the legislation through before the summer so that this wretched, half-cocked financial package that is being put together in the City does not go the same way as the package for Canary wharf.
Tonight we are being asked to refer the so-called amendments from the other place to the Examiners. However, the other place has not even finished considering the amendments. The other place has not got as far as the Report, let alone Third reading. We do not know whether the amendments before us will be the Lords amendments.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) that the Bill has been steam-rollered though at every stage. The last time that we debated a motion similar to the one before us now it went to the Examiners. They found that the individual rights of citizens, whose lifestyle was to be effected, had not been fully maintained.
As the result of the Examiners' findings, the motion was sent to the Select Committee on Standing Orders. The 475 Committee discussed this motion, this breach of Standing Orders, with such heat that it is common knowledge that it required the casting vote of the Chairman to get the anomalies through.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that these amendments should not go to the Examiners upstairs in case there are other such violations?
§ Mr. Brazier
No, I am suggesting that they should go to the Examiners, but in their good time, when the other place has finished considering them.
I should like to give a brief quotation from the proceedings of the other place on the procedure. It illustrates the extent to which this business has been steamrollered through. The Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee considering this matter said:Before I call on the Parties to introduce themselves there is one matter on which the Committee seek an early answer from the Promoters. The Committee are most concerned to learn that despite public assurances to the contrary, the Department of Transport did not intend to publicise the date 18 February, the day by which Petitions had to be lodged, and that the Department was not induced to honour its undertaking until halfway through the petitioning period.The answer that the Committee received from the Government's representative was long-winded and said nothing. Therefore, the Cross-Bench peer who was chairing the Committee—it is sad that it had to be a Cross-Bench peer of the other place that brought this matter up rather than a Member of this House—replied to that answer and said:It is a slight on the Petitioners in our opinion. I accept that the assumptions that you have made are not unreasonable, but … there is a very clear undertaking made in that leaflet and the Department has reneged.Finally, I wish to comment on the spirit of the procedures, which is equally important.
§ Mr. Fallon
I hope that my hon. Friend is aware of exactly what he is suggesting. It is precisely to ensure that we do not have the kind of breach of the Standing Orders that he alleges may have taken place that we are referring the new amendments to the Examiners. Considerable private interests are affected by the new joint southern access scheme. It is important that those interests have all the opportunities afforded to them under our procedures and that the examination begins as soon as possible. I cannot see how my hon. Friend can serve those interests by postponing that examination.
§ Mr. Brazier
My hon. Friend said that the purpose of the motion was to ensure that the Examiners examined these amendments. He knows that the motion is designed to ensure that these points are examined earlier than would normally be the case, and before the other place has completed its consideration. We think that the procedures and customs of the House, at this late stage on this long Bill, should be carried out properly according to traditional fashion. I wanted to say something about the spirit of the procedures. When this belated document was sent out it said:If you arc affected you can get an opportunity to present your views to a Select Committee considering the Bill".Elsewhere it said:It is up to the Select Committee to decide who is called,but it went on to say:but no doubt they will want everybody who will be genuinely affected by the scheme to have an opportunity to make their voice heard in Parliament".476 Those were the assurances from the Department of Transport. We all know that nothing approximating to that actually happened. In no way do I suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) and his Committee did not work hard, but strength of feeling about the Bill was such that a vastly greater number of petitions were received on this motion than have ever before been received this century—no fewer than 5,000. That did not include the enormous number of people who wrote to the Committee after the deadline, which had not been properly advertised, had expired. I and many other hon. Members received letters saying, "Please speak up for us. Why were we not allowed to appear at these Committees?"
It is totally unnecessary for the Government to put forward the motion tonight. If they do, alas two things will happen. First, they will be driving a few—I hope that it will be more than a few—of their loyal supporters into the No Lobby. Secondly, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the markets that they know that this lame duck will not fly unless it gets off just before the wind changes.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I should point out that I deliberately allowed the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) to stray fairly wide. I know that he has a strong constituency interest in this matter, and also that he was not involved in the proceedings on the Bill in the last Parliament. I remind the House that this is a comparatively narrow procedural motion. We are deciding whether these amendments should go to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.
§ 12.5 am
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
I, too, normally support the Government, because they stand for the rights of private individuals, but I am concerned that, in this matter, the rights of private individuals have been abused and that there has been a considerable rush to get the legislation through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and I were not here during the last Parliament, but it seems that some strange things happened during the passage of the Channel Tunnel Bill. Indeed, the project has been promoted in a strange manner throughout. The second fund raising, Equity II required three telephone calls by the Governor of the Bank of England to each fund manager in order to raise the money.
The amendments that are the subject of the motion have not even been finally approved by the House of Lords, which seems another example of a lack of proper procedure. That worries me, because the Bill, though not yet considered by the Lords, has passed through the Commons, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said, many petitioners and would-be petitoners who wanted to joint the petition process were caught out by the fact that the 18 February deadline was not properly advertised. I had to spend all my time and resources to meet the deadline when I put in my petition. Hundreds of my constituents missed out on getting their petitions in. The Chairman of the House of Lords Committee made the specific point that he was not happy with the way in which the Government had behaved, and my constituents should not have been treated in this way.
477 I understand that the amendments will be referred to the Examiners of Petitions, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said, they all relate to improper procedures. I wonder how the investing public, in September and October, will be asked to invest £700 million in a project that is founded on improper procedures. One wonders why there is such a rush to push the project forward. There are problems throughout it.
In the prospectus of Eurotunnel, dated 20 October 1986, the shuttle system was referred to in two paragraphs, but there was no reference in the appendices to the prospectus as to the engineering feasibility of the shuttle system, and whether or not it would work. That is yet another example of how the whole project is flawed from start to finish.
It has been said by the Government that no public money would be invested in the project, but the amendments are about roadworks, and it is inconceivable that public money should not be involved. That concerns me, because I understand that, recently, neither British Rail nor Eurotunnel would publish details of the agreement reached on 12 May concerning capacity use and the charges that may be payable, which are material information to any prospective investor who may be required to invest in the prospectus that will be issued later in the year.
The provisions, and the considerations of procedure, seem to be in advance of the Lords amendments. It is possible that the Lords may decide to change the amendments even further in the next week or so so the motion is surely unnecessary. It is being rushed through, and I urge the Government to withdraw it tonight, or I, too, shall be forced into the No Lobby.
§ 12.9 am
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
I wish to speak for only three minutes. As has rightly been said, the proposal is a narrow one. I ask hon. Members seriously to consider whether it is right for us to accelerate the technical examination of the amendments rather than delaying it. Since the Bill left the House, two of the basic assurances given in clause 2 and clause 40 have been changed, not by amendment of the Bill but by executive action. Clause 2 states specifically that no Minister of the Crown would guarantee or give public funds towards the project. Clause 40 states that British Rail would not be committed to provide funds, or that the Government could not do that for it.
Since the Bill left the House, because the project seemed to have no prospect whatever of obtaining the private funding on which it was based, by executive action the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a member of the board of the European Investment Bank, has agreed to give to the project a cheap loan of £1 billion. That is a huge sum and there can be no question but that it is public money because if the European Investment Bank folds the Government will be responsible and the Chancellor is a director. That fundamental change has been made since the Bill left the House.
Secondly, although clause 40 provided that there would be no guarantees and no funding from British Rail and the position was set out specifically in a letter to British Rail, the Government have sent a further letter releasing British Rail from that obligation and the Minister has announced 478 to the House that British Rail has committed itself to regular monthly payments irrespective of the use of the tunnel. In other words, instead of the risk being carried by the private investor, it will be carried by British Rail and if traffic does not use the tunnel all rail users will suffer. British Rail may be right or wrong, but its passengers will be carrying a fair slice of the risk if guaranteed minimum payments are made to Eurotunnel irrespective of tunnel use.
The Government are asking us to speed things up and to accelerate consideration of the amendments by the Examiners. The Government wish the amendments to be dealt with faster than would normally be the case when the amendments have not even been fully considered by the House of Lords. If the Government had presented amendments, if they had said that they were terribly sorry but they had now discovered that the project could not be financed by private investment because private investors were not interested—the last flotation was a flop and the City regards the project as a potential dead duck—if they had come forward with amendments to provide for a cheap loan from public funds through the European Investment Bank, that would be fair enough. If they had come back and said that, despite their assurances that there would be no British Rail funding they had changed their minds, that would also be fair enough. The House could then have considered those amendments and perhaps decided that the project was such a good thing that public money should be invested in it and British Rail should carry the can even though if things went wrong every rail passenger in every constituency would have to find the money to make good the loss. The Minister may say that there will be no loss because British Rail's judgment is sound, but if that judgment is wrong every member of the travelling public will have to carry the can.
I therefore appeal to the House, before agreeing to this exceptional measure to accelerate the procedure beyond the normal pace, to stop and think whether that is the right thing to do when the Government have changed the basis of the Bill by altering clauses 2 and 40, not by means of amendments to be considered by the House or by a Committee but by executive action in getting the European Investment Bank to provide cheap loans from public funds and telling British Rail to forget all previous instructions and make guaranteed minimum payments to Eurotunnel irrespective of tunnel use. I suggest that, far from accelerating the procedure, we shold stop for a week or two and ask the Governmen to justify the fundamental changes that they have made.
Let there be no mistake about it. This will not now be a privately financed venture. It will be partly financed by public funds from the EIB and partly guaranteed by British Rail. We must ask ourselves whether it is fair or reasonable to go ahead on the basis of public funding because that is a wholly different question from that which was put to us on Second Reading. We must stop and consider whether it is right to speed things up when the whole basis of the project has been changed.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
The last three speeches have been a real trip down memory lane, with latter-day Cassandras pouring cold water on the scheme. They had nothing to do with what we are dealing with, as was admirably observed by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon).
479 As for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend. East (Mr. Taylor), we had all this about the European Investment Bank in the last debate but a couple. Indeed, I challenged him then, and spoke of the Dartford tunnel and other projects in which the European Investment Bank was investing. He now apparently blames British Rail for backing its commercial judgment after tough negotiations. I was under the impression that he was a Tory and believed in BR using its commercial judgment and acting commercially. That is apparently wrong, however.
I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) spoke as he did. I understand the difficulties there. I do not understand, however, the constituency problem for my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). There is no environmental disadvantage for Canterbury.
§ Mr. Brazier
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for my hon. Friend to comment on my constituency matters?
§ Mr. Speed
It is quite clear that the object of my hon. Friends' speeches is to delay matters, as they said. We in Kent also have constituency interests. We are interested in 1,000 or 1,500 heavy lorries leaving Kent roads. We are interested in commercial and other developments and employment in areas such as Thanet and the south coast. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury is as well.
The delays for which my hon. Friends are asking mean delays into the recess to kill the autumn funding. They are miffed. Under the leadership of Alastair Morton, we have a management team that will make a great success of the project. The quicker the House gets on, the better it will be for all concerned. We have a magnificent record of delaying every imaginative scheme under the sun and, if all else fails, we set up a royal commission. I am surprised that that has not been mentioned tonight. For God's sake, let us get on with it and stop snivelling and whining. The French have already passed a similar measure and we should do the same.
§ 12. 17 am
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I hesitate to intervene in this public display of grief in the Tory party. I do not often find myself speaking for all of the Opposition, but I think that I can even take the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who represents the alliance, or whatever it is called these days, with me when I say that seldom have I seen a more public display of petulance than that which we have had from Conservative Members this evening.
Some of us are easily shocked by this sort of thing. One would have thought that Conservative Members would be dancing in the aisles—if that were possible in this place—at the project, but the motion, which I regard as innocuous, has put them verbally at each other's throats.
It seems that whatever the Select Committee which considered the project did would have been condemned. Originally, it had no brief to examine other access to and egress from the terminal. The Government instructed the Select Committee to consider the choices, which it did. It reached a view with which the hon. and learned Member 480 for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and others disagreed. I do not complain about that. Because of that, changes were agreed to by all parties in the project and, because of those agreements, the motion appears before the House.
It is not for me to defend the Government's business managers or those who drafted the motion, but it seems that, although many controversial matters, which the House must debate, arise from the issue, tonight is not the right time to debate them. There will, I hope, be time to debate those matters, some of which have been mentioned tonight. Given the innocuous nature of the motion before us, however, much of the hot air that has been expended tonight, and much of the surprising disagreement that we have seen among Conservative Members, has been wasteful, to say the least. I hope that, when we come to the time to debate the issues, Conservative Members who have spoken tonight will give us the benefit not only of their knowledge of the procedures of the House, but of their understandable constituency concerns. I also hope that the Minister will bear in mind that those concerns are legitimate, and will find adequate answers to satisfy his colleagues.
I repeat that I do not think that tonight is necessarily the night to discuss these matters. The Opposition feel that the motion is somewhat innocuous and purely procedural, and that is how we shall look at it tonight.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
It is always wise to be suspicious when both Front Benches sing in unison that the motion is entirely innocuous. I am glad, therefore, that the Jolly Roger of rebellion has been hoisted so early in this Parliament on the Conservative Benches. It may cause the Patronage Secretary a qualm or two, but my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) are to be warmly congratulated on their stand. They will find that the life of a Government Back Bencher is not always easy: someone else said that one must steer a path between sycophancy and rebellion, but an hon. Member will never go wrong if he sticks up for the interests of his constituents.
This seemingly innocuous motion cloaks a real fleshand-blood, gut issue of considerable importance. To realise how important it is—and I happen for once to be on the side of the amendments behind the motion—it is necessary to go back to last year, when almost exactly the same motion was on the Order Paper on 18 April. It seemed a minor matter—that the Examiners were to be asked to consider parts of the Channel Tunnel Bill. Hon. Members may have thought, when they saw tonight's motion on the Order Paper, that they were going to hear the great issues of whether the geography of the continent of Europe should be changed, whether we should ruin our maritime industry and whether we should allow Japanese and Arabian financiers to have an artery into Europe at our expense. But none of those issues has anything to do with the motion.
What the motion is about—what it cloaks—is a simple issue of fair play. The fair-play issue is this: have Standing Orders been broken? Standing Orders of the House are not written for some meaningless and point less purpose. We are sent here not just to pass laws but to preserve liberties, and the Standing Orders are here to 481 preserve one or two crucial liberties for individual petitioners and individual constituents who want to exercise their rights.
One of those rights—and the issue was the same a year ago—is to be able to read in the local newspaper certain notices published on due dates in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House. A minimum period of notice was given. If ever there was an exercise in deception and cheating, it is the exercise that took place last year and, I am sorry to say, has taken place again a year later. The Government and their Civil Service advisers seem to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Last year, they cheated on the dates. They said that they were going to put a lot of notices in newspapers by certain dates to give people an opportunity to petition, and they broke those promises: they broke the orders.
§ Mr. Fallon
I am rather at a loss to understand why, if that is my hon. Friend's line of argument, he should be seeking to oppose the motion—if that is what he wishes to do. Surely it is not possible to test whether the Standing Orders have been complied with unless we pass the motion and send the amendments to the examiner, so that the Government Agent has to make out his case.
§ Mr. Aitken
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) has already admitted that the Standing Orders have been breached. I think that he said something about the autumnal cycle, which is an interesting explanation, since we are nowhere near the autumn. However, he does have a point and. as I said earlier, I am in favour of the motion and the amendments behind it. However, the fact there has been a violation of Standing Orders does not mean that everybody should just nod this through. Some people's rights have been gravely affected. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) seemed to be giving my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury a ticking off for not looking after the interests of his constituents properly. A year ago, the House published a notice saying that announcements had been published in a paper called the "Canterbury Times". That paper did not exist, the notices did not exist and nothing happened on the days on which it was said the announcements had been published. If ever there was an example of——
§ Mr. Brazier
I should like to take this opportunity to say that the reason why I did not take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) here and now is precisely because the right opportunity to do that, as he knows, is in a fortnight, and not now.
§ Mr. Aitken
My hon. Friends the Members for Dover and for Canterbury have shown that they have strong and articulate voices in their constituents' causes and they can be proud of that.
There are some rights of importance. The amendments that lie behind the motion are about a change in the route of a road. Although I happen to welcome that change of route, the fact remains that if any major road construction takes place it involves people's rights. Compulsory purchase orders will be served, two listed buildings will be destroyed and several people's environments will be changed dramatically. All the people involved should have 482 had a proper announcement in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House to ensure that their rights and liberties were protected.
I would not be so hostile about this little motion if we were not repeating ourselves. The rules were broken last year and they were broken again just before the Select Committee in the other place, and the proceedings had to open with a grovelling apology from Government counsel, saying how they regretted that all the petitioning rules had been bent. Now, here were are again, violating the Standing Orders of the House.
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister an important question. The motion seeks simply to refer the 7 May message from the other place to the Examiners. The Examiners, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has already said, are pretty certain to have to refer the broken promises to the Select Committee on Standing Orders. I want an assurance from my hon. Friend that the Select Committee on Standing Orders will be convened and will sit and hear evidence.
I have heard a disturbing rumour that another little cheating plan is on the way, which is not to have a Select Committee on Standing Orders meeting and to try to bounce the matter through with the Government's majority on a late night order such as this, so that it is not considered at all. That would not be fair. One has only to look what happened last year. Mr. Deputy Speaker, you are as good a witness as any of the fact that the Select Committee on Standing Orders, of which you and the other Deputy Speakers are Members, took the issue whether Standing Orders had been violated very seriously. You deliberated for about six weeks. You heard evidence from many witnesses, including myself, and at the end of the day there was a dead heat on the Committee. The Chairman of Ways and Means declined to exercise his casting vote, as a result of which the issue had to come back to be debated on the Floor of the House. Severe criticisms were made of the Government's idea of fair play and at the last minute a compromise was cobbled up to give more petitioning as the result of an announcement by a Minister. That was good work by the Standing Orders Committee. I want to hear a firm promise that if the motion is passed and if the Examiners, as they must, say that the Standing Orders have been broken, the issue will be referred to the Standing Orders Committee. I would like, indeed I insist, on a clear answer on that point.
A year ago about eight weeks of the House's time was taken up with what was seen initially as a small procedural issue, a mere innocuous matter. The same language was used as that we have heard tonight. It was not innocuous to the constituents of my hon. Friends and myself in east Kent who have to face the magnitude of what the Channel Tunnel will do to their environment. It is not some minor little mistake that we have now seen two consecutive breaches of Standing Orders. There was an apology to the House of Lords before the proceedings could begin because the Government broke the petitioning rules.
My hon. Friend the Minister loves a good quotation, and in conclusion I give him this one from Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest". Lady Bracknell said:To lose one parent…may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.483 This is worse than carelessness. We are violating the Standing Orders for the second time. We should not put up with it. We should make our views clear and we should vote against this wretched little motion.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) drew attention to the benefits of the revised agreed access road and paid a well deserved tribute to the Minister for Local Government, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Tonight we are dealing with a necessary step on the road to enabling my hon. and learned Friend's constituents to have the benefit of a change in the approach roads to the terminal which they want, which the joint consultation committee which has met in Kent wants, which the county council wants, which the Shepway council wants and which many of the petitioners want. It is to enable the wishes of the local people to be complied with that we are dealing with the matter at all. The other place came to the conclusion that it would be right and proper to proceed in that way. It is to enable that to happen that we are dealing with the motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said that the motion had been brought forward with undue haste. I disagree with him. The motion refers the amendments to the Examiners, who must consider whether standing orders——
§ Mr. Mitchell
Perhaps I can just complete this passage. The Examiners must consider whether standing orders were complied with. The notices and newspaper advertisements were issued in late July and early August 1986. The deadline for petitions to the House was 26 September 1986 and nearly 10 months have passed since then. I can see no reason why this stage should not be completed now. The longer we delay, the less clear will be the memories of those involved and the less relevant the Examiners' hearing.
§ Mr. Brazier
I think my hon. Friend misheard me. I did not suggest that the motion had been brought forward with undue haste. I said that the bringing forward of the motion was inducing undue haste. After all, there is only a week to wait for the Lords amendments to be ready.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend makes a point, but the amendments were unanimously agreed by the Lords Select Committee. They were not opposed in the Lords Committee of the whole House. One cannot suggest that it is at all likely that in the subsequent stages those amendments will not be maintained. Therefore, it is right and proper, if they are to be maintained, that they should be referred to the Examiners for as early consideration as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) complained of the apparent failure to comply on timing. The amendments could not comply on timing because they were made during the passage of the Bill. There would have had to be a degree of clairvoyance in ascertaining what those amendments were before the Bill started its passage to satisfy my hon. Friend. But we all know that my hon. Friend will not be satisfied whatever happens.
484 My hon. Friend the Member for Dover complained about the closing date for petitions. It was extended and my hon. Friend was much involved in that. He went on to make an important point.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I will just deal with that point. My hon. Friend argued that, as public money was being spent on roads leading to the terminal, that was a form of Government subsidy to Eurotunnel. I hope that I have understood correctly my hon. Friend's contention.
If there is no tunnel, the amount of traffic using the: roads of Kent is expected to double by the end of the century. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Dover suggesting that, as the Department of Transport builds roads to Dover harbour to enable traffic to reach it, that is a subsidy to the ferry operators? Of course it is not, and no more is a subsidy being given to the terminal operators when roads are built to take traffic to that destination instead of enlarging the roads to Dover that lead to the ferries. I understand the debating point that my hon. Friend has made, but it cannot be said that he has raised a valid argument.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) repeated the claim that he has made previously that public money is being invested in the Eurotunnel project because the European Investment Bank is to make available a loan of £1,000 million to Eurotunnel. My hon. Friend is mistaken. There is no Government guarantee and the identity of the bank's board members has nothing to do with the matter. The loan is not guaranteed or backed by any form of guarantee. It is a commercial loan to the European Investment Bank under commercial lending arrangements from banks and financial institutions. My hon. Friend shakes his head, but that is the fact.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
Does my hon. Friend accept the simple proposition that the European Investment Bank gets its money only from subscriptions from member states such as Britain and from loans that they make that are guaranteed by the Governments collectively?
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend is wrong. The capital of the European Investment Bank may be subscribed by Governments, but they are not lending capital. They are lending money that they are borrowing commercially from financial institutions and banks. There is no Government money involved and yet again my hon. Friend is chasing a red herring. He will not be able to land it when he seeks to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East claimed that British Rail is prevented by the Bill from giving guarantees. He added, however, that it will do so, in breach of the terms of the Bill, under the financial arrangements that it is making to pay for the use of the tunnel. My hon. Friend is wrong. A purely commercial arrangement is being entered into to set out the terms under which payment will take place. That will be on a monthly basis with a proportion of the anticipated usage topped up by the actual usage. That is a normal commercial transaction and there is no element of guarantee in it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), in robust and rumbustious style, set out the case for getting on with the project. I think that the entire House would support him save for a small minority.
485 My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South sought assurances that the Standing Orders Committee would consider the matter. It would be wrong to consider what we shall do after the Examiners have considered the matter. When they have completed their consideration, we shall be in a position to know the best way to proceed.
I find myself on this occasion in agreement with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). This is not the time to discuss the substance of the Bill. We are dealing with a procedural matter, and I believe that we should proceed with it as fast as possible.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 139, Noes 16.486
|Division No. 14]||[12.40 am|
|Alexander, Richard||Couchman, James|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Cran, James|
|Allason, Rupert||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Amess, David||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Amos, Alan||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Day, Stephen|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Devlin, Tim|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Ashby, David||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Atkins, Robert||Dover, Den|
|Baldry, Tony||Dunn, Bob|
|Batiste, Spencer||Durant, Tony|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Evennett, David|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fallon, Michael|
|Boswell, Tim||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bowis, John||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bright, Graham||Forman, Nigel|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Forth, Eric|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Freeman, Roger|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||French, Douglas|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Burns, Simon||Gill, Christopher|
|Burt, Alistair||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Butcher, John||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Gow, Ian|
|Carrington, Matthew||Greenway, John (Rydale)|
|Cash, William||Gregory, Conal|
|Chope, Christopher||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushclifte)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Conway, Derek||Ground, Patrick|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Cope, John||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Harris, David||Moss, Malcolm|
|Hay ward, Robert||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Neubert, Michael|
|Hind, Kenneth||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)|
|Irvine, Michael||Page, Richard|
|Jack, Michael||Paice, James|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Portillo, Michael|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Powell, William (Corby)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Raffan, Keith|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Rathbone, Tim|
|Knapman, Roger||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Riddick, Graham|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Ryder, Richard|
|Lightbown, David||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Lilley, Peter||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Lord, Michael||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|MacGregor, John||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Maclean, David||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Speed, Keith|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Mans, Keith||Wallace, James|
|Marlow, Tony||Warren, Kenneth|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Widdecombe, Miss Ann|
|Maude, Hon Francis|
|Miller, Hal||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Mr. Alan Howarth.|
|Monro, Sir Hector|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Nellist, Dave|
|Bradley, Keith||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Cousins, Jim||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dixon, Don||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Wall, Pat|
|Farr, Sir John||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Holland, Stuart||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Janman, Timothy||Mr. William Brazier and Mr. David Shaw.|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.