HL Deb 27 March 1973 vol 340 cc977-80

2.52 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:

ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the modem advances in bridge building and engineering, a Green Paper to discuss the question of a Channel Bridge will be presented to Parliament.


No, my Lords. A summary of the reasons why a Channel Bridge is not being pursued is contained in the Green Paper on the Channel Tunnel project published last week.


My Lords, I am partially grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. I have read with care the Green Paper, together with the summary. Does not the noble Lord think that the Green Paper is contradictory in so far as the Foreword says that we can expect a vast amount of traffic, whereas the Annexe on the Channel Bridge says that maybe the traffic would not justify the construction of the bridge? Consequently, the Green Paper is illogical. Nevertheless, have the noble Lord and the Government made a study of the potential benefits to British industry suggested by the offshore oil and gas development concerns, who say that the advancing new techniques by British Steel, with derricks and platforms in stormy seas, are evidence of the fact that steel, like lighthouses, can withstand the stormiest seas?


My Lords, I am not aware of all the facts that the noble Lord put to me, but, having regard to all the factors, I can say that the Government have come to the conclusion that the bored rail-tunnel is the only practical fixed link at this moment, and will be so for a considerable period in the future. The tunnel—if agreed upon—could be in operation by 1980. That does not rule out possibilities of alternative forms of fixed link at a much later date. At the moment we are discussing the tunnel or nothing.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware how pleased most people engaged in transport are at the decision of the Government to go fully into this project? Is the noble Lord aware that this matter has been under discussion for something like 170 years? It is to the credit of the Government—who am I to give credit to the Government?—that they have shown forthrightness in approaching this project.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell. The noble Lord sees the possibilities and potential in long-range rail freight coming from far-off ports and towns in Britain and going on the Continent. When the White Paper is published I am sure we shall have more information to go on.


My Lords, will the Minister state whether an out-and-out geological survey was taken before this project was brought into commission, or even talked about? There is a feeling throughout the country that a geological survey has not been taken. It would be to the advantage of the general public if such knowledge could be imparted.


My Lords, I do not know how to define the phrase: "out-and-out survey". Surveys in considerable depth have certainly been taken. If Phase 2 goes ahead after the publication of the White Paper—and I say "if"—further borings will be taken as well.


My Lords, one of the main reasons why I posed this supplementary question is that the Chislet coalfield in Kent is right on the edge of the South Coast. There may be a similar position there to the situation on the North-East coast, where a geological survey has enabled estimates to be made of the amount of coal that is lying under the North Sea bed at this moment. Men are working under the sea to bring that coal to the surface.


My Lords, the noble Lord may know that since April, 1971, detailed studies have been going on. We expect them to be completed about June of this year, after which, as the House is aware, the Government will be publishing a White Paper. The noble Lord can rest assured that knowledge and thought have gone into the Green Paper. I repeat that the studies have been in depth.


My Lords, may I ask the Government to instigate a full debate on the whole question of the necessity of the Channel Tunnel? As I understand it, to transport a car from here to France is going to be three times more expensive with the Channel Tunnel. Unless we can make the Channel Tunnel a feasible proposition I feel—




My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Answer will give disappointment to a large number of people? Has my noble friend considered the effect of a serious accident in a tunnel of this kind, quite apart from the risks of claustrophobia? Will he give consideration to the fact that a bridge would carry far more cars and other transport in the busy summer season?—and surely one of the ideas is to encourage the tourist trade. Will he re-think this matter carefully before coming to a final decision?


My Lords, my answer to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, is that I think the noble Lords have not fully read or digested the Green Paper. Regarding accidents, it is confidently felt that there is far less risk of accident with a rail tunnel than with a bridge which would be liable to navigational accidents. On the matter of claustrophobia, when you are travelling in a train at a fixed speed, with no fumes, there is far less chance of claustrophobia then when you are driving and dealing with the problem of exhaust fumes. Regarding the amount of vehicles taken through, I think I am right in saying that it is the belief of the people who made a study of this subject that as many vehicles will travel through the tunnel with greater safety and greater speed than they would on a bridge.


My Lords—


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend, but the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, remarked that this matter had been under discussion, or under consideration, for 170 years. We might be in some danger of going on, by question and answer, for 170 years. I suggest to your Lordships that this might be a subject more fitting for a debate. I understand that this matter is being discussed through the usual channels.