HL Deb 26 February 1970 vol 308 cc167-9

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, in view of Monsieur Maurice Schumann's statement in London on January 22 last that the French Government see in the Channel Tunnel, beyond its technical and economic aspects, the means as well as the symbol of a decisive rapprochement between our two nations:

  1. (a) whether they agree with this appreciation of the value of the Channel Tunnel; and
  2. (b) what is the present position regarding this joint project.]


My Lords, the British and French Governments are in entire agreement that the Channel Tunnel project offers the prospect of a link between the two countries which would have both physical and symbolic value. They are seeking an acceptable arrangement for its provision on the basis that the Tunnel should be financed and built in the private sector, but operated by an Anglo-French public operating authority.

The present position is that the two Governments hope that acceptable financing proposals will soon be formally submitted to them by the international private groups which are interested in financing the project and managing its construction. This would clear the way for the final economic, financial, engineering and traffic studies which, together with legislation on the British side and an Anglo-French treaty, must precede construction. Some two years' further work must therefore be expected before a decision is taken whether the Tunnel should be built.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his lengthy and constructive Answer. I wonder whether he would say whether, in effect, a financing group has now been selected or whether discussions are taking place with the various interested parties.


My Lords, no decision has been taken as to which group would be asked to finance and manage the construction. Informal discussions are going on between the two Governments and the interested organisations, but I hope that it may be possible for a Statement to be made in the not too distant future.


My Lords, if there is any serious doubt about the profitability of the Tunnel, and, consequently, any possibility that serious difficulty might arise about securing the necessary finance, would the Government be prepared to examine the alternative scheme of a bridge/tunnel/bridge?


My Lords, I think that that is very hypothetical. Certainly Her Majesty's Government believe that this Tunnel is still a financial proposition, but naturally we shall need to look into some of the other aspects, particularly the engineering factors.


My Lords, may I ask whether the Government are aware of an increasing anxiety that the Channel Tunnel will not eventually be profitable and may require large subsidies?


My Lords, I know that there are many worries and concerns, but the two Governments have agreed on a joint policy: they are pursuing it with vigour, and we have joint machinery for discussion and progress.


My Lords, are there any comparative costs of freight and passenger transport across the Channel, whether by Tunnel, by ordinary conventional ship or by hovercraft? If there are, I wonder whether the noble Lord would give them to us if I put down a Question.


My Lords, if the noble Lord puts down a Question I will try and answer him.


My Lords, would my noble friend be more specific as to when he expects a report so far as the costing is concerned? This is a matter which has been going on for a considerable period of time. Approval in principle by both Governments was accepted a considerable time ago. What has been done, and how much longer does my noble friend expect it to be before he makes a real decision as to whether or not to go ahead?


My Lords, the problem at the moment is that there are three groups considering the financing and construction of this Tunnel. We must depend upon their submitting their own details and facts for us to study. At the moment the matter is with the three groups, and until we have their information and suggestions we cannot do much about it.