HL Deb 21 April 1970 vol 309 cc616-8

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they have considered the E.D.C. Report on Short Sea Shipping, and, if so, whether they consider it necessary to modify their favourable attitude to the Channel Tunnel in the light of it.]


My Lords, the Government have indeed considered the remarks about the Channel Tunnel in the Working Party Report to which the noble Lord refers, and they see no need to modify their present attitude to the project. The Government agree in particular with the suggestion that a final decision should not be reached until the fullest studies have been carried out, and the noble Lord will recall the remarks of my noble friend Lord Shepherd recently in the House, when he outlined the present position and made clear that further studies are envisaged.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for that Answer to my Question, and ask him whether he is aware that his noble friend gave a rather favourable Answer to the Channel Tunnel proposition when I last asked about it? Further, is the noble Lord aware that in Section 5 of the E.D.C. Report there was a strong implication that the economic justification for the enormous capital expenditure involved in the Channel Tunnel had not yet been made out; and that it is for that reason that I am asking that it should be taken into account in the final evaluation?


My Lords, the E.D.C. in question did not, in fact, report. What really happened was that a report was made to the E.D.C. for the Movement of Exports by a Working Party which was, in the main, representative of the short sea shipping interests. So perhaps their enthusiasm for the Channel Tunnel is not so great as that of my noble friend. But this is obviously a major project. All the various factors concerned have not yet been fully avail-able; and there is also, of course, the fact that we must have a Treaty with the French, as well as legislation. There are many factors concerned, and for this reason I think the view of Her Majesty's Government is that we should hasten slowly on the matter.


My Lords, is my noble friend able to say when it is hoped that there will be some agreement arrived at on this matter between Her Majesty's Government and the French Government? Is he aware that this matter has been going on for very many years, and that very full inquiries and discussions have already taken place? Will he see that the present discussions go ahead as speedily as possible, so far as is compatible with efficiency? This is, a very big project, but it certainly ought to go ahead as quickly as possible.


My Lords, the last studies were published in 1963 and, of course, much has happened since then. For instance, the hovercraft has become a practical reality, and the final study period must include, in particular, two essential pieces of work: the collection of fresh data to permit revised traffic and revenue forecasts, and of course the detailed engineering design of the scheme, which has not yet been undertaken. This obviously contains a vast unknown factor, and therefore we really cannot give a fixed date for a firm decision to go ahead.


My Lords, can the Minister say whether there has been any progress regarding the submission of acceptable financing proposals to both Governments, as announced by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on February 26? Would not the noble Lord agree that, apart from the fact that this link would have a symbolic and physical value, it would also have an extensive economic value, as believed by quite a large number of French experts?


My Lords, I understand that the financing of the Tunnel will be international in the widest sense, but I think the noble Lord under-stands the nature of financiers as well as I do. Until they know what it will cost, they are not going to put their hands in their pockets. For this reason, at this moment it is not possible to give exact details of the financing procedures for the Tunnel.


My Lords, my noble friend has referred to the hover-craft. In this connection, may I ask him whether Her Majesty' Government are going to continue to allow implausibility to be piled on improbability and to turn into uncertainty and possibly impossibility what might be a valuable suggestion?


My Lords, that was a splendid sentence but I can-not claim to have understood it completely.


My Lords, would my noble friend per-haps apply to the development of the Concorde the financial caution that he appears to be applying to the development of the Channel Tunnel?


My Lords, that is another question.