HL Deb 12 November 1974 vol 354 cc694-702

3.0 p.m.

THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD SHEPHERD) rose to move, That, if a Channel Tunnel Bill shall be brought from the House of Commons in this Session, any notices published and served and any deposits made in respect of a Channel Tunnel Bill in the Session 1973–74 and 1974 shall be held to have been published, served and made for the Bill in this Session. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Motion follows a counterpart Motion which, in an appropriate form, was passed in another place yesterday. Its purpose is effectively to enable the Channel Tunnel Bill to resume its progress in the present Session of Parliament at the point where it was interrupted by the Dissolution of Parliament last September.

The Bill itself is a hybrid Bill first introduced by the last Conservative Administration and given a Second Reading in another place on December 5, 1973. Parliament was dissolved before the Bill could be considered in Select Committee: but before the February Dissolution a Motion was passed for the limited purpose of preserving completed stages of petitioning procedure and so avoiding abortive costs to the Petitioners. The Bill was reintroduced last April by the present Government and had completed Select and Standing Committee in another place when Parliament was again dissolved in September.

My right honourable friend deployed in another place yesterday the arguments which have weighed with the Government in introducing these two Motions. These are, in particular, to avoid the abortive costs whch would otherwise be incurred in reconvening the Select Committee in another place if the Bill were to start all over again; and, secondly, to facilitate ratification of the Franco-British Channel Tunnel Treaty, which is due to take place not later than January 1, 1975. Failing ratification by that date it is open to our partners in the project, the French Government and the British and French Channel Tunnel companies, to hold under Agreement No. 2 between the parties which was signed in November, 1973, that the British Government have abandoned the project. The Government fully recognise that, in the exceptional Parliamentary circumstances this year, there may still be difficulties in meeting this timetable obligation. We can, however, expect our partners to be sympathetic to the extent of allowing us such marginal leeway as may be necessary if we are seen to be doing our best in all the circumstances.

The Motion now before the House plays an esential part in all this. I need not emphasise to your Lordships a point made by my right honourable friend yesterday to the effect that the Motion in no way detracts from the interests of Petitioners against the Bill: for we in this House are not being asked to forgo any stage of our normal procedure. Petitioners who had in mind to pursue their case before Select Committee in this House will therefore find their rights unimpaired. So, equally, will your Lord ships as regards a debate on Second Reading and in Committee of the Whole House.

It is perfectly true that there is no precedent for this particular Motion in the sense that no such Motion has ever been carried in either House: although it may be of interest to recall that a Motion on these lines was foreshadowed in Annex II to the Report from the Joint Committee on the Suspension of Bills of 1929. But, of course, the circumstances of two Dissolutions in a single year, the second during a Recess, are highly exceptional also; and it is only the fact that Parliament was prorogued without being recalled that occasions the Motion now before the House. Had the House been recalled I have no doubt a Motion would have been moved as it was in February this year.

There are, of course, precedents for the principle of a hybrid Bill being carried over; the proceedings leading up to the London Passenger Transport Act 1933, originally introduced by the late Lord Morrison, being especially notable for being carried over twice just as this Motion enables the Channel Tunnel Bill to be. Only the element of, so to speak, revival is unusual; and here I would point out to the House that the Motion does not actually revive anything whatsoever. What it does say is that if a Bill is brought from another place procedures applicable in respect of a previous Bill shall be held to have been complied with in the present Session. There is thus in fact no revival or carrying forward of a previous Bill as such.

In reintroducing the Channel Tunnel Bill last April the Government made it perfectly clear that they were in no way committed to the Channel Tunnel but were simply keeping open the option of proceeding with it at the end of the pre sent exploratory Phase II. That, I emphasise, remains the position: and the decision whether to proceed with our partners into the third, main construction, phase is not due to be taken by Parliament until early summer next year. I hope the House will treat this Motion for what it is—as a procedural Motion and not an opportunity to debate the pros and cons of the Channel Tunnel project. That opportunity will come when the Bill comes before the House, I hope quite shortly. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That, if a Channel Tunnel Bill shall be brought from the House of Commons in this Session, any notices published and served and any deposits made in respect of a Channel Tunnel Bill in the Session 1973–74 and 1974 shall be held to have been published, served and made for the Bill in this Session.—(Lord Shepherd.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his explanation of this procedural Motion which is before the House, and to say that I entirely accept what he has said, that it is a procedural Motion and, as I understand it, it enables the Channel Tunnel Bill to proceed without interruption from where it was left in the last Session of Parliament. We on this side of the House fully support this Motion. It seems, for the reasons that he has stated, a very sensible way of continuing. As I understand it, the Channel Tunnel Bill is a hybrid Bill and, by using this procedure, we prevent unnecessary expenditure by those who have already petitioned and of course by the Government. But at the same time I was glad to have the noble Lord's confirmation that people who still wish to petition will be able to do so.

I fully understand that Members of your Lordships' House will have a full opportunity to debate this matter when the Bill comes to this House, as I believe it is expected to do before too long. We understand that the delay has been caused by the intervention of two General Elections in the last eight months. This is no fault of anyone, and I think it is only sensible and right that no one should be caused unnecessary expenditure, or unnecessary loss of time, by having to start the proceedings all over again on this matter. The Motion has our support, and we welcome it as a sensible way of proceeding.


My Lords, I think that the liberties and traditions of Parliament are never more at risk than when the two Front Benches agree. I am not going to move the rejection of the Motion, but I do not think that it should pass without observation. The noble Baroness said, "We on this side of the House"; but she cannot claim to speak for all of us, I am glad to say, because we are all independent. I am not reflecting on the merits or demerits of the Bill or on the procedures, but I do not like a new Parliament being saddled with the legislation of the old. As Lord Stansgate once said, we in this House are cut flowers; we are not re elected; but a new Parliament is a new Parliament, and it is a Parliament of both Houses. I see and I understand the point about the Petitioners, but that could be taken care of by other means. I do not like a carry over, and I particularly suspect the motives and procedures when the two Front Benches agree on any proposition.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his explanation of exactly what this Motion means. May I also say to bim that his explanation that the Government have by no means made up their mind as to whether they are pursuing this Bill, and this Channel Tunnel project, to its finality will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of people in the South-East area of England. I am also given to understand that full discussion in this House will now take place, because there are a great many in the South-East of England who do not think that proper discussion has yet occurred. Therefore, I am delighted to hear that, anyhow, we in this House shall have proper discussion of this very doubtful project.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord De L'Isle has drawn attention to the somewhat exceptional procedure which the Lord Privy Seal is recommending in this case. I am quite sure that he is right in saying that it is important for Back-Benchers to be on the alert for the preservation of their rights, and those of the people of the country, when the two Front Benches find themselves so completely in agreement. However, on this occasion I feel that this is a very proper and wise Motion. It is one of the great merits of Parliament, and perhaps more of this House than another place, to be able to introduce a certain flexibility into procedure in order to deal with unforeseen, unexpected or unprecedented circumstances.

We have to bear in mind that, as the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal emphasised, the Channel Tunnel Bill is a hybrid Bill and it involves an infringement—or perhaps I should say the acquisition—of the rights of individuals, and in that way it partakes of the nature of a Private Bill. Indeed, I understand this Motion to be ensuring that the rights of private individuals will be fully preserved and that they will not be put to the extra expense of petitioning again in a new Parliament when, in fact, the matter was raised in the previous Parliament. Therefore, I do not feel that this in any way infringes the rights of private individuals. Indeed I think that it will enable private individuals and petitioners against the Private Bill portions of this hybrid Bill to maintain and establish their rights with less expenditure than would otherwise have been the case. That particularly applies to another place where matters have been argued in the previous Parliament.

My Lords, so far as the public aspects of the Bill are concerned, it might be for everybody's convenience if I said that I am glad to know that we are to have the Second Reading of the Bill in the comparatively near future. It is my intention to put down a reasoned Amendment for the rejection of the Bill on broad grounds of transport and public policy. I hope that we shall have a long and full debate upon it during which various matters can be raised and arguments can be advanced which so far as I can see have not been very fully developed in another place. It is quite natural that in another place honourable members should be concerned chiefly with their own constituents. This is a revising House which is constitutionally entitled to consider broad matters of policy and I hope that we shall have a full debate upon those broader matters during the Second Reading.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships very long. In general I welcome the proposals because I think that it is always undesirable to duplicate work if you can avoid it. There is one point of which we should be aware. It seems to me that any discussion of the Channel Tunnel will be incomplete unless at the same time we discuss the question of the rail links. Unless the line of the railway is settled before we come to debate the Tunnel I shall want to know why we cannot have the full picture before us. To have it in two parts would be disastrous.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord. He is raising a most important point. As I understand it, one of the greatest complications in this matter is that the acquisition of land by British Rail for the building of a new link will have to be authorised by a separate Bill, a Private Bill, which has not yet been introduced into Parliament and of which those who are opposed to it do not yet know the particulars. It is one of the remarkable complications of this policy that the position of the rail link will not be known until after this matter has been dealt with under the hybrid Bill.


My Lords, I am grateful for the intervention because it emphasises the point I had in mind that we ought to have the whole story before we are asked to agree. I accept that the Channel Tunnel is desirable, but I think that a Channel Tunnel Bill on its own will be in grave danger of being defeated unless we know what the link up between London and the Channel Tunnel will be. I mention this so that my noble friends will be aware of the complications which might arise unless that issue is clarified.


My Lords, in view of the observations and comments made by noble Lords following the statement made by the noble Baroness on behalf of her Party, that where the two sides are able to agree on a major issue, such as that which as my noble friend introduced on this occasion, if the Government had so willed they could have dropped this matter altogether and there would have been no cause for questions to be asked on the issue to-day.


My Lords, the only point that the noble Baroness and I have agreed to this afternoon is that the procedural Motion which I have moved should be accepted. Clearly the noble Viscount from the Back-Benches (I am never quite certain whether the Privy Council Bench on which he sits is a Back-Bench) was right to warn the House as to the procedure put before the House for its acceptance. He was most adequately replied to and I do not need to add to the words of his noble friend Lord Molson. In regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis, I accept that there is deep concern in Kent. This is not so much on the question of the Tunnel as on the rail link. I hope that when we have had this debate I will be able to meet some of the fears of the noble Lord.

My Lords, in regard to the rail link and the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Molson is quite right. British Rail will have to produce its own Private Bill before there can be any question of proceeding with the rail link. This will clearly take some time. I could not anticipate when British Rail will be able to approach my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment as to what their final decision may be. I want to say to my noble friend Lord Pargiter that the Bill that we will be considering is not irrevocable so far as this House is concerned. It is an enabling provision intended to enable certain things to be done. It permits work to be conducted at the site of the Tunnel. Nothing irrevocable can be done until Parliament by a resolution at some time in the summer of next year decides on the basis of all the facts and figures which will then be available whether it is right to proceed with this project. The position of the Government is what it was in April. We are not committed; we wish to keep our options open and therefore we feel that we ought to ratify the Treaty with the French which we are required to do by January 1. We need perhaps a little more time because of the two General Elections which have caused delay in the passage of the Bill. These are all matters that we can discuss most fully in a short while when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal a question which I believe is relevant to the matters being discussed now? The noble Lord mentioned that Her Majesty's Government expect from the French Government marginal leeway regarding the ratification of the Franco-British Treaty. But in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, gave notice of his propo sal to move a Motion for the rejection of the Bill, will the noble Lord indicate the extent of the penalties involving Her Majesty's Government?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said that he would move a reasoned Amendment. I do not know whether that Amendment will be reasonable or whether it will be one of rejection. We shall have to wait until the reasoned Amendment is on the Order Paper. Until then I would consider that the question was hypothetical. Certainly, I do not anticipate your Lordships' House wishing to reject a Bill which is, as I have said before, an enabling measure in order that we may proceed to ratify the Treaty with the French, knowing that a final decision later next year will have to be taken by Parliament.


My Lords, in answer to the point made by the Lord Privy Seal, may I say —



My Lords, may I then ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he has noticed a Motion for No Day Named which I have placed on the Order Paper, indicating clearly in advance the line of argument that I should propose to adopt on that occasion?


My Lords, I noticed that that was a Motion, but I was not in any way taking it as a reasoned Amendment.

On Question, Motion agreed to and ordered accordingly; and a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.