§ 4.4 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Transport Industries. The Statement is as follows:
"The House will recall that on June 15 I said that if the Government were to decide in favour of the Channel Tunnel I would announce the fact and publish a short Money Bill before the Recess.
"Financial negotiations between my French colleague and myself and the private interests are still continuing but they have not yet been concluded. This is necessary before the Government can take their decision on the project as a whole and I am therefore not yet able to announce one to-day.
"The Government's decision, when it is taken, will be announced in the form of a White Paper. If it is affirmative, draft clauses of a Money Bill which we would propose to introduce into the House immediately we resume in October would be included in the White Paper. There is, of course, no question of signing any Agreement or Anglo/French Treaty before this Bill is passed.
"I am sure that the House will agree that it would be wrong for the Government to decide on a matter of this importance before all aspects of the proposals, including the financing terms, have been satisfactorily resolved. Equally, once a decision is reached, it would be wrong to delay an announcement. We would wish to provide the fullest possible opportunity for it to be considered, by the public as well as by honourable Members, before we resume in October."
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating to your Lordships she Statement that has been made in the other place. The Statement is clearly very much a holding operation and there is not much to be said about it at this stage. But as the White Paper will be published during the Recess, I think the House would like to know 1679 whether the White Paper will answer some of the questions put by the Opposition in both Houses, for clearly Parliamentary debate on the White Paper will not be possible if the Bill is to be introduced immediately upon the resumption of the House in October. The particular questions to which we should like answers are these. In the event of the Government's deciding to go ahead, when will a decision be taken on the matter of the London railway terminal? Will the White Paper tell us what is likely to be the effect on the various regions in this country; and particularly, will the Tunnel add to the congestion in the already congested South-East of this country?
A further question which is germane, and which has some relevance to the debate we are having to-day, is: what will be the effect of the vast expenditure projected on our ever-present balance of payments problem? Then since Mr. Peyton told the other place on June 15 that November 15 is the latest date for putting off the signing of a Treaty, will this delay in announcing the decision result in any financial penalty? I ask this because when this matter was last discussed we were told that if the decision was put off after July of this year the delay in announcing a decision would be costly. I should like to know whether this will be the case.
My Lords, the Government are considering a momentous step. I very much regret that the decision will be announced during the long Parliamentary Recess. Clearly we have to accept the Government's decision on this matter, but I think we must register a protest that the Bill will have to be rushed through between the resumption in October and the end of the Session. I do not think this is paying proper regard to Parliamentary control in a matter of this sort.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, may I, on behalf of my colleagues, ask the noble Baroness two questions? One relates to the financial negotiations still continuing between the Minister's French colleague and himself and the private interests. Are we to assume—I think that we are—that a satisfactory conclusion of these negotiations is a precondition to actually signing an Agreement, 1680 or coming to an agreement with the French Government and issuing a White Paper as a result? Or is it, perhaps, largely in the nature of a formality which has to be gone through in order to allow further time for reflection; and, if the latter, is it not a case that the longer the delay, the more expensive the whole operation will be? The second question is: when and if the Government take their decision—which it seems they are likely to take—and come to an agreement with the French Government, and the Money Bill comes before the House of Commons for approval as a result of the White Paper, may we take it that the Government's intention is to leave the decision to a free vote in Parliament?
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for their remarks on this Statement. First, on the question of timing, I should like to say to Lord Champion that we are very sorry that the White Paper cannot be published before the House rises, as was our hope; but the fact is that negotations have not yet been completed. I am sure he will understand that I cannot comment further on that matter. We hope that the White Paper will be published as soon as possible to give time for the public and for Members of both Houses to consider the very important matters it will contain. Among the matters to be considered will be all those that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, raised about the regions and of congestion in South-East England, and in Kent in particular.
The noble Lord asked a specific question about finance. May I say that in the intervening period of time—that is, the time between the Government's taking a decision in principle to go ahead and the passing of a Money Bill, which would be the next stage after that—discussions are to take place with the private companies as part of the total financing arrangements. It is hoped that the Government's total contingency liability for the continuation of the present phase following the signing of the documents will remain at about £4 million to £5 million, about which Parliament was informed on October 20 last year and for which provision was made in the winter Supplementary Estimates.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I was coming to the point raised by Lord Gladwyn. May I make it clear that the financial arrangements to which he referred are not with the French Government. The French Government and our own are at one. This is a matter of negotiations with the companies. I do not think he would expect me to comment further on that matter at this stage. On the timing, if the Government make a decision in principle to go ahead they will say so in the White Paper and, as the Statement made clear, the White Paper will include draft clauses of a Money Bill. On the question of debating the matter further, there will be an opportunity for this House to debate the Money Bill on its Second Reading. If further considerations are concluded there will be a further major Bill dealing with ail the other matters which the House will be able to debate again.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I do not think that that is a matter on which I can make a pronouncement at this stage.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, some of us are very grateful that the Government have had second thoughts about this matter and are not rushing it through by July 31. We were promised by the noble Baroness that Parliament and the public would have an adequate opportunity to think about the matter, to discuss it and to get the facts. We were promised that about the Common Market, but we did not get it. Shall we have the engineering know-how? Is the noble Baroness aware that we were promised that trains would run through this tunnel at 100 miles an hour and would average one every 2.5 minutes? Is the 1682 noble Baroness aware that that would shift 3,500 cubic yards of air at a hurricane force of Beaufort 12 and that it would mean that at ten miles from the end of the tunnel people and trees would be either blown down or sucked in? Finally, is the noble Baroness aware that the Cabinet Paper entitled, The Future of London as an International Financial Centre and the report by the Inter-Bank Research Organisation says that the geographical location of a financial centre of London is important and that consequently, after other things, the move for a Channel Tunnel has been mentioned by us? Why was not the bridge mentioned, instead of this project for socialising the losses and "privatising" the profits?
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, in answer to the first point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I hope that, as I indicated, there will be adequate time for discussion and opportunity for the public to make their views known after publication of the White Paper, and for your Lordships to do so in the debate on the Second Reading of the Money Bill, if there should be one. On the question of the technical matters, I hope that a number of the answers will appear in the White Paper. This is a highly technical matter on which we have taken and listened to a great deal of advice which will be set out for further consideration.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question? All along the impression has been current that this is a private affair between a company formed in this country and a company formed in France, and that all the Government are expected to do is to provide a nominal sum for the purpose of designs, blueprints and research; but nothing to do with development. If anything goes wrong, what is likely to be the financial liability of the British Government? Finally, are we satisfied that we can trust the French in a matter of this kind? We were not able to trust them in the First World War or in the Second World War, nor on many matters connected with the Common Market. Can we trust them on this question of finance?
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I think the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is that all the matters on finance will be set out in the White 1683 Paper. As I indicated in the original Answer, it is on the question of financial arrangements that negotiations are going on at the moment; that is, financial negotiations between the French and British Governments and the private companies involved. On the second point about trusting the French, I should have thought that the answer is, Yes.