HL Deb 27 June 1973 vol 343 cc1971-4

2.57 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 whether they will state explicitly the reasons why they have fixed a timetable for decisions about the Channel Tunnel which does not give adequate time for the study of the still unpublished papers on this issue.


My Lords. the timetable is that foreshadowed in Agreement No. 1 which was signed last October by the British and French Governments with the Companies, copies of which were made available to the House last November. The main results of the studies have now been published.


My Lords, may I ask whether my noble friend realises that although in the Green Paper it was promised that further studies would be made available early in the summer, by June 5 (when a conference was held by the Royal Society of Arts on this subject) none of the promised studies of economic costs and benefits, the existing Tunnel modes, road and rail connections, the implications for the balance of payments and for the interaction with Map-line airport had been published? Further, is my noble friend aware that one of those which have been subsequently published, The Channel Tunnel: A United Kingdom Transport Cost/Benefit Study, which was published on some day between June 16 and 25, was stated to be not available in the Stationery Office yesterday?


My Lords, my understanding of the position is that the one study to which the noble Lord has referred which has not been published—that from the British Railways Board—will be published very shortly. I am sorry that my noble friend was unable to obtain a copy of the transport cost/benefit study, because my information is that this had been published and was available to members. However, I will lock into this matter further.


My Lords, does my noble friend really consider that this provides ample time for discussion on this matter when the Government have said they intend to take a decision before July 31?


My Lords, I recognise that there is concern about this matter. Perhaps I should say that the position regarding the decision is as stated by my right honourable friend in another place. I will quote what he said: It is possible under the agreement to put off signing until November 15. If the Government's decision were affirmative, we would announce it and introduce a Bill before the summer Recess."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons 15/6/73.]


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that those of us who have taken an interest in some depth in this problem now fear that there are probably only 20 working days left in this Session and that no full analysis of these costs is available to us? In view of the fact that the Minister for the Transport Industries said that it could be in November, why should we hurry in this way and rush out all this documentation without a proper study having been made by Parliament?


My Lords, as I think was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, there have been three major publications, and the Green Paper on this subject, all of which were published at dates between May 15 and June 18. There will of course be a White Paper, and this will be published before the Recess.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many other people who have been taking a keen interest in this project over a number of years, welcome the decision of the Government to go ahead? Can the Parliamentary Under-Secretary confirm, having regard to the long term notice that has been given of developments and projects concerned, that all papers, maps, drawings and suchlike are now going to be available for exhibition to Peers and Members of the House of Commons in the Grand Committee Room next week? Is not this ample time to encourage the Government to make their final decision to go ahead and get on with the job?


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and confirm what he has said.


My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it is not enough to say that noble Lords, or Members of another place, have time between now and the end of July to read the vitally important documents published at intervals between the middle of May and the middle of June? We should also have the opportunity of considering the views expressed by the important interests affected, or possibly affected, by the Channel Tunnel which they will take some time to produce. We want to have the opportunity of considering not just the matter of documents published by the Government, but a response to be made to those documents by external interests. That is quite impossible in the time scale laid down if we are to reach a decision by July 31.


My Lords, I have already recognised that this is a matter which has caused concern. But this House had the opportunity to debate the Green Paper early in May.