HL Deb 21 February 1882 vol 266 cc1218-23
VISCOUNT BURY (in the absence of the Earl of DONOUGHMORE)

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether the evidence taken before the departmental Committee, consisting of Messrs. Farrar, Smith, and Phillimore, in the matter of the proposed Channel Tunnel, is to be laid before Parliament; whether the new Committee to consider the same question, as announced by the Prime Minister, is also to sit with closed doors, and, if so, whether Parliament is to be excluded from the discussion of this important international question? The noble Viscount said, lie was very glad to see the Notice placed on the Paper of their Lordships' House. It had been his intention to interrogate Her Majesty's Government on the subject in a somewhat different manner; but he was glad the noble Earl had taken it up. He was not responsible for the terms of the Question. Their Lordships were pro- bably aware that there were two rival schemes for making tunnels under the Channel. One of them was in the hands of a Railway Company, composed mostly of railway men; and the other had the advantage of being under the immediate presidency of a prominent official of Her Majesty's Government. He did not know whether the matter had been brought by that Member of the Government before the Government generally; and he only expressed the hope that the Committee, which was to inform the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as to the merits of these rival schemes, would be a strong and impartial one—because, primâ facie, one of the two schemes, having the advantage of the assistance of a Member of Her Majesty's Government, would place the other somewhat at a disadvantage. He did not wish at the present moment to express any opinion, either for or against any scheme for constructing a tunnel under the Channel. It was obviously a question of very great importance from an international point of view, and also from a military point of view. Officers whose words on military matters could not be disregarded by that House or the country had publicly and spontaneously come forward and declared that there would be very grave danger in such a scheme; and that if the scheme were completed it would involve, as a necessary consequence, a permanent augmentation of the military force of the country, or, at any rate, the concentration of a larger number than at present of military in the neighbourhood of the exit of the tunnel. He merely mentioned that matter, in passing, to show that this was a matter which, on international grounds, deserved a full and fair inquiry. He trusted, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government would give the House such information as would render it unnecessary to move in their Lordships' House, or "elsewhere," for a public inquiry, instead of submitting the two Bills on the subject in the ordinary way to a Committee upstairs. But, of course, if it should be necessary, he took this opportunity of saying that his noble Friend (the Earl of Donoughmore) or himself, or someone on their part, would raise the matter in that House, in order that it might be fully debated, and not decided in a private instead of, as it ought to be, in a public manner.


urged the Government to look at this matter in time, since it was probable that, owing to the growing feeling against the tunnel, it would not be carried out, so as to prevent the possibility of any claims arising, or, if not, of any soreness of feeling, especially on the other side of the Channel, on account of money spent on what might turn out to be useless experiments.


said, that, as he was connected with one of the Companies in question, it would be highly indecorous and unbecoming in him to say a word on the merits of the rival schemes; but he would observe that the noble Viscount was in error in saying that one of the Companies was only a Railway Company, the fact being that, although the experiments to show the practicability of making the tunnel had been carried out by the South-Eastern Company, the Submarine Company was a separate body, consisting of 600 or 700 independent shareholders. He wished to point out that the Commission appointed in 1875, and to which the noble Earl (Earl Granville) had referred yesterday, was instituted at the suggestion of Her Majesty's Government, after a correspondence in which both Governments had agreed upon the utility and desirability of the tunnel, and in reliance upon the agreement between the two Governments the French Legislature had passed a law, and great expenditure had been incurred on the other side of the water, the reference to the Commission having been to consider the regulations under which the tunnel should be opened. What position should we occupy in the eyes of France and the Continent if, having entered into an agreement before the practicability of the scheme was proved, we harked back after it had been shown to be practicable, and plainly told the French that we thought them dangerous neighbours who were not to be trusted? The only excuse that could be alleged was, that some Generals and Admirals had declared the scheme dangerous, implying that the courage, vigilance, and fidelity of British soldiers, and the skill of their Generals had so deteriorated, that any further facility of communication between the two countries would imperil the safety of England; but if the Government took up that position they must go further, rebuild all the Martello towers, fortify the whole of our coasts, and admit no foreigner without a passport. Many of their Lordships could remember that in the earlier part of the present century much jealousy of Frenchmen had existed in their own class. Why had it happily passed away? Because the development of steam and railways had enabled Englishmen and Frenchmen of the upper and upper middle classes to visit each other and become mutually acquainted. The same thing would happen if facilities of communication were placed within the reach of the operative classes of France and England. He deprecated anything like jealousy of France, and expressed the opinion that the closer were the relations between peoples of the two countries the greater would be the obstacles to war.


said, most of the observations to which their Lordships had just listened were not only out of Order, but disorderly; because the noble Lord (Lord Brabourne) had, on the Notice of a Question for information with regard to the proceedings of a Committee, gone into the merits of the whole question. He thought, apart from the question of Order and regularity, it would, perhaps, have been better if the noble Lord had been silent on this subject altogether. This was not a mere political question. It was a question which eminently affected the independence and position and strength of this country and its integrity. If there was a question that ought to be dealt with on purely national grounds, it was this one. Certainly it was not one in which the interests of individuals ought to be brought into view. There was a powerful Railway Company, which, if not directly, was indirectly extremely interested in this matter, and he thought that the noble Lord (Lord Brabourne) was one of the Directors of that Company. If that was the case, certainly it was not becoming that a Director of a Railway Company should make use of his position in that House, or the other House of Parliament, to push a scheme which, however desirable in the interests of that Company, might be, and, in the opinion of many, would be, threatening to the integrity and independence of the nation.


asked whether it would be convenient to the noble Earl to state how the Committee would be appointed; and whether there would be any Military and Naval officers placed on it?


It is not my intention to follow the noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Brabourne) in arguing either for or against the statements which he has made, because it is obvious to your Lordships that it would not be right for me to do so. Having already stated that the whole matter is under the consideration of the Government, it is clearly not my duty to anticipate any statement on the part of the Government. The noble Viscount stated that he was not responsible for the words of the Question. I was not surprised to hear that. I do not know whether he referred to the unfounded sneer at the end of it, or whether he referred to the description of the Committee as Messrs. Smith and Phillimore. The noble Viscount must know, from his official experience, that persons of the rank in the Army and Navy which Colonel Smith and Admiral Phillimore hold are usually designated by that rank, though I am sure they themselves would not be hurt by this unusual description. It has been already stated in "another place" that the Report, together with the Evidence and other Papers, will be presented to Parliament. With regard to the Committee being now appointed, they will not report on the merits of the rival schemes; but their inquiry will be of a purely professional and scientific character. They will consider by what means the approaches to the tunnel on this side may be protected, and what precautions can be taken to make it impossible for an enemy, in the case of war, or apprehended war, to use the tunnel for aggressive purposes. Their Reports will be submitted to the Government, who will consult the military authorities upon the general question, and then they will advise Parliament what course to take with regard to the two Private Bills now before the House of Commons. It may be that part of the Report of the Scientific Committee—that part relating to precautions—may not be proper to be laid before Parliament, and that it would be advisable to keep it secret. But as to the general Report, I have no doubt it will be of a nature to admit of its being laid before Parliament. The noble Lord is quite correct in his state- ment as to what has already passed. I wish it to be understood that both the Report of the Committee that has already sat and the Report of the Committee now about to sit will be presented to Parliament as soon as the Government comes to any decision on the subject.

House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.