HL Deb 13 December 1985 vol 469 cc470-525

11.39 a.m.

The Earl of Caithness rose to move, That this House takes note of the proposals to build a Channel fixed link submitted to Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity offered by this debate today. It will not only enable me to explain the stage which the Government have reached in their consideration of the proposals for a cross-channel fixed link; it will also give me the chance to hear the views of your Lordships' House on the principle of the fixed link and on the four submitted schemes.

Earlier this year the two Governments of the United Kingdom and France issued what is known as the Invitation to Promoters. In the Document the Governments made it clear that they were willing in principle to facilitate a fixed link across the Channel if certain conditions could be fulfilled. The main condition, as noble Lords will know, was that there should be no support from public funds or Government financial guarantees. Failure to respect that condition would render any proposal by a prospective promoter completely unacceptable.

The invitation also set out a large number of issues to which the promoting groups were required to give attention when submitting their schemes. They were, for example, required to show what measures they would take to prevent the spread of rabies, or other diseases, to humans, animals and plants. They were also asked to detail the arrangements they would make to safeguard the link against terrorist attack. There were many other requirements, covering matters such as safety, including the safety of navigation, environmental impact, and hydrology. One particular requirement was that the promoters should carry out an environmental impact assessment—known as EIA—of their schemes. The invitation required that the EIA should be on the basis of the draft European Community Directive and should cover land use, environmental pollution, amenity, safety and local employment considerations. To show the detail to which the four promoters went, I have copies here. They weigh 181b 4oz or 8.3 kilos.

An important element of our assessment is the likely effect on the ferries. The Government are concerned that the link should not decimate the existing ferry fleets. My right honourable friend will wish to be satisfied on that particular point. Noble Lords will realise that I will, too, as I have a special interest in that subject. The reasons for this are clear. We recognise the importance of the ferries as a source of employment: but we are also conscious of the important role of the ferries in national defence; and we want to ensure that the creation of any link would increase and not reduce competition for cross-Channel travel.

When the invitation, also known as the 'Guidelines', was issued, the two governments made it clear that any submissions by promoting groups were to be received by 31st October. A total of four valid proposals were received by that date. These were Channel Expressway: the Channel Tunnel Group: Eurobridge: and Euroroute. The details of these schemes will be familiar to many noble Lords but I can give further descriptions if required. For their part the governments undertook that they would use their best endeavours to reach a decision, for or against a link, and between the competing proposals, within three months of that date. That was made clear in the Statements to both Houses on 2nd April this year.

I can report that the timetable set out last spring is still on course, although it is recognised that it is demanding. To facilitate examination of the four rival schemes the governments have formed a joint group of assessors. The British part of the assessment group has organised 20 teams, each considering a separate, but vital part of the project. Let me, if I may, mention the subjects of the assessment teams. There are groups dealing with civil engineering and road safety; programme, capital and operating costs and project management; the adequacy of third party insurance; traffic and revenue, including through rail traffic; tax implications; financing; hydrology; frontier control; maritime requirements; environment; the adequacy of consultation; protection of marine environment; economic and employment implications; legal implications; the technical and safety aspects of railways; inland rail; inland road infrastructure; civil aviation (safety implications); security; and organisation of promoters and relationships with governments.

To assist in this task a number of outside consultants have been commissioned. On the British side we have engaged consulting engineers, a firm of land use consultants, hydrological experts, project management consultants, and a merchant bank. The French have done likewise so that the projects are being double checked and the co-chairmen of the Anglo-French assessment group will present a jointly agreed report to both governments by Christmas.

Following the recent summit talks, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced her intention of meeting the President of France again during January.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves the subject of the assessment panels, perhaps I may ask him this question. He has told us about the consultants who were heard, but can he say who are the members of the panels themselves—not by name but what sort of persons they are?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not fully understand what the noble Lord requires me to give him further details about. The noble Lord has an opportunity to speak later and perhaps if he raises that matter again then and is a little more specific I shall be able to tell him more.

At that time it would be their hope that they could announce the decision on which scheme, if any, should in due course be brought before Parliament for approval. The Government intend, as soon as possible after the decision has been taken, to issue a White Paper setting out the reasons for the decision and giving as much information as possible about the results of the assessment.

Negotiations are also taking place with the French on the necessary treaty. The Government intend that, if the decision in January is positive, it will be signed before the end of February. It will of course be subject to subsequent endorsement by Parliament through the Hybrid Bill procedure before it can be ratified. The Hybrid Bill would be introduced in another place during March next year.

A number of people have commented on the fact that there is to be no public inquiry into the principle of the link, but I hope to explain to the satisfaction of your Lordships why that would not be the right course for this particular project. The principle of whether there should be a fixed link and if so which scheme, must be determined by Parliament, in response to a proposal of the Government. It is a project of national importance, requiring decision by the highest tribunal in the land—Parliament.

To authorise any form of link, legislation would be needed and it is not possible to avoid that Bill being hybrid. Objectors would therefore be faced with the double expense of a public inquiry and petitioning Select Committees in your Lordships' House and another place. Also, this project is quite unique in that it is one that has to be facilitated by two sovereign states, Britain and France. Our two national systems for considering implementing investment projects are very different and the French have a much more abbreviated system than our own. It would simply not be possible to fit a public local inquiry into the timetable for such a bi-national decision but that does not mean we do not want local and national consultation. I shall return to that in a moment.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, as one who supports the project that is in mind, a link between both countries by whatever form is finally decided, may I ask this question? Is it not odd that those who support it are also demanding a public inquiry? I have always been brought up to believe that those who insist on a public inquiry are usually those who oppose the project. The whole purpose of a public inquiry, quite properly, is to have all the arguments put out and of course to delay. I should think that the Channel Tunnel inquiry would not only take months and months but people would be opposed to whatever decision was finally arrived at, so what the heck is it all about?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord has a valid point and perhaps he highlights some of the curiosities of the British character. However, let it not be forgotten that it was the Party opposite which made it clear in 1974 when they revived the Channel Tunnel hybrid Bill that there would not be a public inquiry. Furthermore, only last week the Select Committee in another place recommended that the precedent be followed.

This project is also unusual not only in its scale but also in that it is to be financed wholly in the private sector. The investment institutions would not be willing to give the kind of commitments necessary if they were faced with the long and protracted timetable and the uncertainty of a favourable decision resulting from the public inquiry procedure, which the noble Lord has just mentioned. A public local inquiry, which would last many months if not several years, would kill the project stone-dead before it had a chance to be considered properly.

Although the final decision has to be taken by Parliament, my right honourable friend wants maximum consultation, principally, but not exclusively upon: the precise effects of the link selected on individuals and on their properties and amenities; the effect on the local economy, particularly local employment; the effect on the natural environment of the garden of England; the communications needs of the area (road and rail) as a result of the link; and the effect structures in the channel would have on the safety of shipping and the freedom of navigation. It is impossible to comment on these matters properly before the assessment is completed but these are questions which figure prominently in the work we are now undertaking.

In the Invitation to Promoters, the promoting groups were encouraged to undertake informal but wide-ranging consultation. Some of the promoters have been very active indeed in consulting widely. That responsibility to consult did not come to an end when the schemes were submitted on 31st October. The adequacy of individual promoters' consultation arrangements will be one of the matters to which the Government will pay attention when they are making their decision.

Nevertheless, the Government are undertaking extensive consultations with local authorities in Kent and adjoining areas. Advertisements were placed in national and local newspapers, inviting comments on the four promoters' schemes. Arrangements have been made for public inspection of the proposals throughout Kent and in my department's offices throughout the country. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has already visited the area, and my right honourable friend will follow next week. I can assure the House that the comments we receive from your Lordships, from local authorities, from groups and individuals, will be taken fully into account before any decision is reached on the principle of a fixed link. I shall take a very careful note of the comments made by noble Lords today.

If the governments agree to facilitate a fixed link, there will of course be further consultations and opportunities for comment on a firm proposal. We shall consult local authorities and amenity groups, in particular about the content of the proposed legislation. There will also be consultation throughout the passage of the hybrid Bill, so that any problems of detail could be resolved in the legislation. The precise effect on the environment, the economy, transport links, and upon those personally affected will by then be much easier to assess and take into account.

The hybrid Bill procedure contains every opportunity for those affected to be heard. The procedure is well-known to your Lordships, but if I may recap on it, if noble Lords give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be committed to a Select Committee, to hear and consider petitions. The Bill will already have been advertised and anyone who has an objection to the Bill will have an opportunity to petition against it and, subject to the petition being accepted by the committee, one will appear and present one's case to the Select Committee, which, I remind the House, can take evidence in any part of the country.

Subject to the rulings of the Select Committee, I expect that those eligible will include individuals whose private interests are affected; those representing local trades, businesses and other local interests that may be adversely affected; those representing amenity, ecology, educational and recreational interests, who believe their interests are adversely affected to a material degree; and local authorities in any affected areas. So far as the government are concerned, we will be taking a relaxed attitude on matters of eligibility to petition, to ensure that those with a legitimate interest are heard, that means we will again be following the precedent of 1974.

The Bill will then go on to a Committee of the Whole House, followed by Report and Third Reading in the normal way. The same select Committee procedure with consideration of petitions will apply in the other place. This is a very substantial and thorough procedure and it ensures that the public have the widest opportunity to make representations as petitioners to the two Select Committees. That is of course in addition to the rights that members of the public have to lobby noble Lords and honourable Members of another place. We all know about the volume of paperwork we have already received; but that is quite proper.

I fully understand the concern of local people about the impact that a fixed link would be likely to have on the economy and on the environment of Kent. What such effects are varies of course from scheme to scheme, and the assessment that is currently being carried out will identify as far as possible the implications of the schemes. I can assure noble Lords, that the Government will consider sympathetically, in the light of the scheme chosen, giving priority to necessary improvement in the national and local roads system. There may also be consequences for rail services. Each of the promoters' schemes would have different implications for BR. Whatever BR's investment proposals are, they will have to be commercially justified in the usual way.

Although I have spoken mainly about the consequences of this project for Kent, we should not forget the real national dimension to this project. The existing modes of crossing the English Channel are the most expensive forms of travel in pounds per mile almost anywhere in the world. In saying that, I do not wish to minimise the great strides in efficiency that have taken place on the part of our cross-channel ferry operators. Nor do I suggest that prices are being held at an artificially high level. The operators have been subject to close scrutiny by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for some years and we have no doubts on that score. But one of the attractions of a fixed Channel link is that it would open up the market to greater competition. It would provide a spur to efficiency on the part not only of the ferries but also of the airline operators.

The European Community now accounts for more than 60 per cent. of our foreign trade. Traffic through the Channel ports has tripled in the last 20 years. It is likely to double again in the next 20 years even without a fixed link. There is a real prospect that the fixed link would reduce transport costs, boost the construction industry, provide a shop window for Britain's construction technology, and mark what I hope will be the first of many major transport infrastructure projects constructed in the private sector.

The fact that there are four major groups ready to finance a fixed link with risk capital is a remarkable tribute to the economic recovery we have experienced in the past few years. There are many matters about which we would need to be satisfied before we could contemplate approving such a project. I refer in particular to the environmental and economic impact on the county of Kent. But there are also national matters that the Government will have to consider, and I hope that some of the attention of your Lordships' House today can be directed to those questions as well. Sadly, my noble friend Lord Ferrier who is, as we know, interested in this subject is not in his place today. He means no discourtesy to the House, but was unable to change his plans from being in Scotland due to the short notice that was given of this debate.

My Lords, we have waited more than 200 years for this exciting project. It will surely take place one day. Provided that a scheme meets our stringent requirements and can be financed without Government support, why should it not be now?

Moved, That this House takes note of the proposals to build a Channel fixed link submitted to Her Majesty's Government.—(The Earl of Caithness.)

11.56 a.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I begin my remarks by thanking the Government for agreeing so rapidly through the usual channels to have this debate after I requested it only about one week ago. So far as I am concerned, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have an open mind on the question of a fixed link. Personally speaking, I want to see the best solution that will ensure the maximum relationship with Europe—but that will also secure the best possible national well-being. The proposal before the House has great implications for our transport system. It has great implications for economic development, in particular regional employment. And it has great implications for the environment.

I have no intention of discussing in detail the four schemes that are held to meet the Government's criteria. As the noble Earl said, most of us have been almost over-burdened with literature, and many of us have seen a number of presentations. Many noble Lords have had experience of considering a Channel tunnel over a period of years. No doubt those noble Lords with considerable experience of the subject will be taking part in the debate. I naturally assume that any noble Lord who has an interest in any of the schemes will make that known to the House, so that we shall know the value of his or her remarks.

We have also had the advantage of the recent debate in another place—as recently as last Monday—and of the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, which they speeded up in order to meet the timetable for their own debate in another place. Also, my noble friend Lord Carmichael, who will be replying to the debate from our Front Bench, was way back in 1981 a member of the Select Committee that made a report on that occasion.

I cannot agree with all the recommendations now made by the House of Commons Select Committee, but no doubt that report will assist our deliberations. However, because of the time factor, we have not had the advantage of considering yet Volume II of the Select Committee's report, which will contain all the evidence submitted to that committee. If that evidence is as substantial as the evidence that the assessment teams are to consider, and which the noble Earl showed us, naturally we would want to have it in a condensed form. Nevertheless, we do not have the advantage of having read that evidence.

The first issue is the vital one: is there a need for a fixed link? That decision must not be taken on sentimental or any other similar grounds. It must be taken on from grounds. Obviously there would be advantages. There would be no cancellation of services because of poor weather, and there is also the time factor. On the other hand, how surprising—but perhaps not so surprising—is the number of motorists who, though they could use the short hovercraft route to Calais, prefer to use the longer route; I do. Every Easter I go to the Netherlands and North Germany to see friends. Frankly, I prefer to go via Dover to Ostend because the route from Calais to Ostend bores me stiff having done it once. I refuse to use motorways because they are all the same and when on a motorway one might be driving in any country. The vast number of motorists prefer the longer ferry route despite having the short hovercraft route.

Paragraph 15 of the Select Committee's Report says that, 'the Government initially announced that its decision on a fixed link would not be confined to the question of which proposal should go ahead but would consider whether any proposal should go ahead". The Select Committee made clear that there is not unanimity on this question among those who submitted evidence nor among members of the committee. I quote again from the Commons Select Committee: indeed, some members see no economic or social necessity for such a link". This question of the need for a fixed link is dealt with more fully in paragraphs 128 to 130 of the report and also in the Commons Select Committee inquiry report of 1981.

Paragraph 129 of the present report states: The balance of argument for or against a fixed link is difficult to quantify". Although Ministers have indicated that the question of whether there should be a fixed link has still to be taken, the impression is given that the Government have already decided the principle; otherwise, why did the Secretary of State in the debate in the other place say this: The Government want a fixed link built. Let there be no doubt about that"? That did not seem to be an open mind on an issue still to be decided. How is the vital question of whether there should be a fixed link to be determined, apart from the question of which scheme, if any, should be adopted? That is why my right honourable friends in the other place pressed for an inquiry. That issue has obviously been settled by the result of the debate in the other place. But the Secretary of State in that debate, and again I quote, said: First, the principle whether there should be a fixed link and, if so, which scheme, must be determined by Parliament, in response to a proposal of the Government", and went on: It is a project of national importance, befitting of national decision". The noble Earl used similar words in his comments. But to me he seemed to imply that the decision is of such importance that Parliament will decide. But how will Parliament consider consultation in order to be able to make this decision? That seems to be the important question.

We must take a look at the timetable to which the noble Earl referred. Schemes which meet the necessary criteria had to be submitted by 31st October. There have been complaints from some interested bodies that they would have had to make submissions in something less than six weeks to have had any effect at all on the consideration to be given. Why this haste?—because the assessors are due to report to the Secretary of State by the end of the year.

The noble Earl showed the mass of material to be considered. I wonder whether the Government will have adequate time to consider this mass of material which has been presented to them. One organisation has stated that this is a reckless timetable for evaluating proposals—I am not quoting but paraphrasing—for the largest civil engineering project ever mooted in Europe. The Prime Minister and the President of France are then to finalise a decision, we are told, before the end of January.

The noble Earl has repeated some of the information given by the Secretary of State and I find listed in col. 643 issues for local consultation. Listening to the noble Earl I think he repeated those particular issues. The Secretary of State spoke easily about public consultation and we heard this morning of press advertisements and of writing in. Surely that is not the way to consider whether or not there should be a fixed link—the biggest engineering project that Europe has ever considered. Surely that is not a serious way to deal with the matter.

How are we to have it? I quote from a leader in the Financial Times on 29th November headed: Consultation and the Channel link". I hope that noble Lords will bear with me, but I have cut out much of it: Where expensive, long-term projects are concerned, it is important to strike a balance between local and national interests…It is far from clear who will be allowed to petition against a fixed link—will, for example, the workers on Dover ferries who face the prospect of redundancy get a hearing? In any case, the hearings will be academic: the Prime Minister plans to sign an agreement with France by the end of January. Admittedly this will not be ratified until the fixed link Bill gains Royal Assent". The leader concludes: There are genuine attractions, and not just political ones, in the idea of a fixed Channel link. But the British Government has to satisfy itself both that the financial projections are sound and that the social benefits outweigh the environmental and other social costs. This requires, not a Sizewell-type public enquiry, but a degree of consultation and public debate which at present appears not to be envisaged". Nothing that the noble Earl said this morning dispels the feeling that we are not going to have the type of national debate and scrutiny that this important matter requires.

The Secretary of State said that this is a project of national importance befitting of national decision. That is absolutely correct. But where will the national interest he considered? The report of the United Kingdom and French study group, issued in June 1982, certainly did not go into this question of national issues. The noble Earl explained, as did the Secretary of State in the other place, that the hybrid Bill procedure will be followed. But referring to the right to petition and to appear before the committee the Secretary of State said—and I am certain that the noble Earl will not mind my quoting the Secretary of State and not him because I have the Secretary of State's words in front of me and I know I am not making a mistake: Subject to the rulings of the Select Committee, I would expect that those eligible would include individuals whose private interests are affected". [Official Report, Commons. 9/12/85; cols. 641–7.] He went on to list what might be held to be local interests. I note that the noble Earl referred again to local interests so I must repeat: where will the national interests be considered? Where will the evidence be considered on the national aspect and effect of a fixed link?

Obviously the national interests are British Rail, road haulage organisations, the Association of British Ports, and the ferry interests. But there are also the interests of local authorities and industry outside the area—the Midlands, the North, and South Wales. Their interests should be considered. Where will they have an opportunity of submitting evidence and being questioned? Or is that to be confined to these bodies meeting with officials of the Department of Transport and Ministers at private meetings? That is not the way to consider these vital national interests. The national interest must cover what will be the effect of a fixed link on those areas to which I have already referred.

It is obvious that in the construction period many jobs may be involved in a number of areas in the country—that is, provided EC competition rules do not stop us from having our proper allocation of work throughout the country. But what will be the effect on industry and jobs when a fixed link is operating?

Paragraph 121 of the Select Committee report deals very briefly with the national impact. It states: It has been argued that a fixed link might induce a further drain of economic activity from already distressed parts of … the North. It also comments that industrialists might find it more economically advantageous to set up developments in Northern France rather than in the United Kingdom. I repeat, where will these matters be considered?—because these are the important national interest.

It is generally accepted that road haulage is the best method for the transport of freight for less than 150 miles, but beyond that distance, particularly over 200 miles, there are great advantages in rail transport. If national interests are to be served and industry in those outlying regions in the North, Scotland, the Midlands and Wales is to be helped, then in my view it is imperative that whatever scheme is adopted it must include some form of rail freight transport and ensure the fast movement of rail freight.

British Rail have put forward a very powerful case, and I understand that they have had discussions with all four possible operators and also with the French railways. There is a great fear that though a fixed link will bring further jobs to the South, only something like a fast rail freight link would help the deprived regions of the country. I think that it would be a tragedy just to push that on one side as being unimportant. Without a proper rail link there could be a much increased lorry traffic in the South, and especially in Kent, which would seriously affect the environmental position. There is general agreement that any fixed link will hit Dover Harbour Board and the town in general, and will also hit many of the ferry routes from the southern ports. This is indicated, by the way, in the fact that Sealink itself is proposing the Expressway scheme and that they seem to recognise that the ferry system is in grave danger.

But what will be the effect on the longer ferry routes from Dover to Ostend, which some people might prefer to use? Will they no longer be viable if the shorter ferry routes are taken away? What will be the effect on other ports in the south and east of the country where considerable expenditure has been incurred? If those ports are to be affected, what will happen to the local industries in those areas? I have heard nothing about that issue. These are the kind of issues that we should have wanted to be dealt with by a full-scale inquiry, but that is now out of the question. Therefore, the Government must tell us how those issues are to be tackled. Merely by reading an advertisement and writing in response to it seems to me to be an infantile way of dealing with that issue.

If further ferry routes are lost it means a still further reduction in Britain's merchant fleet. If this should happen, are the Government considering—as some of our EEC partners are—the question of cabotage, where the sea travel around our coast will be confined to our own merchant fleet? Has that point been considered at all? Also, what will be the effect on air travel of a fixed link?

It is important to remember that when a scheme is in operation—assuming that we do have a scheme—it will in effect be a monopoly, a private monopoly. This danger was envisaged by the Commons Select Committee in paragraph 132, Point 4 of its recommendation, where they say: The Government should ensure that a mandate to proceed with the scheme provides … against predatory pricing and abuse of an effective monopoly position". The question was put in the other place: what would happen if the money ran out? The Under-Secretary of State—and this is rather surprising—said in the other place: promoters are required to put up a bond or insurance to cover the cost of removing any structure that has been erected by them". [Official Report, Commons, 9/12/85; col: 710.] So if the money runs out and we are two-thirds of the way through with the tunnel, something "erected by them"—that is what the Under-Secretary of State said in the other place—may be removed. Therefore, I repeat the question: what happens if the money dries up? What will be the position once the link is completed and gets into operation, if the undertaking runs into financial difficulties? Surely, one cannot continue pricing upwards. Will the Government allow the project to go bankrupt?

I have said that I would not consider the four schemes in detail, and I shall not; but whatever else is included in any scheme that may be selected, I repeat that in my view there must be a rail link which must allow fast trains from the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Wales—and that is a view echoed by the Select Committee itself.

We must consider, too, if there is to be a road tunnel, how drivers will react to long-tunnel driving. I note that in the other place there was an attempt to ridicule with laughter any suggestion that drivers could be affected, but I should like noble Lords to look at paragraph 54 of the Commons Transport Committee Report, which refers to psychological problems which may be faced by drivers.

The noble Earl has told us about 20 assessment teams that are working here. There is a similar number in France, and we are undertaking joint consideration. He outlined the matters to be referred to these assessment teams and perhaps he will check what he said because I saw no reference at all to any team which would consider the national economic considerations or the possibility of economic problems in the regions—no mention whatever.

I conclude by saying just this. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has said—and the noble Earl has repeated this statement—that there is to be a White Paper. How far will that White Paper include evidence which has been submitted, and detailed reasons for the conclusions reached by the various assessment teams? Will there be a debate on the White Paper before the Government decide to conclude a treaty on the fixed link?—because in my view it will be a constitutional impropriety if we do not. Will there be a debate on the White Paper, so that we can have a real consideration of the assessment teams, and the Government's reasons for going ahead, before a Bill is presented in the House and the treaty is signed?

12.18 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, my debut in the unlikely role of a pseudo-spokesman on transport is due entirely to the absence of my noble friend Lord Tordoff in the Falkland Islands. It is difficult to be in two places at once, especially if one of them is the Falkland Islands, and my noble friend greatly regrets his absence today.

I should like to start by responding to and supporting the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, by saying that I have a non-interest to declare. To the best of my knowledge and belief I have no financial interest in any of the banks, consortia, companies, etc., which are bidding for this contract. All I want to do this afternoon—and I hope I can do it quickly—is to inform the House in broad outline of where the Alliance stands in relation to these various proposals.

My honourable friend in another place, Mr. Stephen Ross, in opening his speech, deplored the overcautious speech which had preceded his, and asked what had happened to the spirit of Brunel. As he went on to make clear, for quite a long time we have been in favour in principle of a Channel tunnel. But since the Motion before us this morning refers not to a tunnel but to a fixed link, I should perhaps make it clear that when we say that we approve of a Channel tunnel we do mean a tunnel. We do not want any fancy constructions sticking up above sea level, no matter how clever they are, interfering with the already congested sea lanes of the Channel. Just in case the Government do not share that preference, may I at this point put a direct question to the noble Earl of which I have given him notice? Is it true, as I have been told, that there has so far been no consultation at all with Trinity House and with the United Kingdom pilots' association?

There is one other important condition which we would attach to our approval of boring a tunnel under the Channel, and it is—and I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on this—that it must include through rail traffic. If this project is to be of use and profit to the country as a whole and not just to the South-East, we must be able to load our goods on to a train in Glasgow, for example, and unload them in Milan, or perhaps in Birmingham for them to go to the Ruhr.

Speaking personally for a moment, I should be happiest with a rail only tunnel, because, provided that British Rail was given the necessary support (and that is most important), that would help in what I am sure is an absolutely vital task of transferring as much freight as possible from the roads on to the railways. I am sure that the good people of Kent would be only too pleased to see the last of some of those juggernauts which are thundering through, making what was once known as the Garden of England for some people a hell on earth. However, I understand that a rail only tunnel is a non-starter for economic and financial reasons and so I have to accept that fact.

I hope, though that, as they make their difficult decision, the two Governments will disprove the oft heard jibe that governments never look further ahead than the next general election. In making a decision of this nature I suggest that we must look at least 50 and perhaps 100 years ahead. In that timescale I hope that Ministers as they make up their minds will ask themselves whether it is possible that the fume-emitting vehicle of today may be approaching the end of its useful life.

I have to admit to a certain amount of prejudice on this matter. I have never regarded the invention of the internal combusion engine as anything better than a mixed blessing; but I seriously suggest that the car and the lorry are posing an ever growing threat to civilised living in this country, and I look forward, without much confidence, to the invention in the foreseeable future of a better means of locomotion. I hope that the Government in making up their minds will relegate the road user to as low a priority as possible. Put vehicles on shuttle trains, by all means, but one must seriously question on safety grounds the wisdom of a drive-through tunnel of this length.

There is not only the question of accidents, but also the question of ventilation, which I am not competent to discuss technically. But I imagine that it is beyond argument that if today's vehicles are driving in their thousands through a tunnel of 30 miles length, the ventilation problem is infinitely more difficult to solve and the consequences of any failure will be infinitely more horrific and catastrophic. The legislative powers of this House are a touchy subject about which we often talk, but there is one law that we can do nothing about and that is Murphy's law.

I think that it only remains for me to deal with the question of a public inquiry. If we were citizens of Switzerland, I have no doubt that we should have a referendum because that is the way that they do things in Switzerland. But we believe that it is more in accordance with the way that we do things in this country that a decision of this importance—yes or no to a fixed link—should be taken here in Parliament. It is a political decision and in our view not fitted to a public inquiry. But a local inquiry is an entirely different matter. Let the two Governments make their choice. We have to assume that they will make the same choice, and provided that they do we shall then know exactly where in the unlucky county of Kent this thing will erupt at this end. The people immediately affected must surely be given the chance in a strictly limited inquiry to make their representations.

Objections to the whole idea would be inadmissible, since Parliament would already have made the decision, but suggestions for minimising the inevitable damage to the local environment ought, I suggest, to be welcomed. The siting of the marshalling yard, the landscaping of an approach road, even the decent concealment of the duty-free shop—those are subjects worthy of careful study, and I cannot see how the people on the spot (the sufferers) can possibly be denied a chance to make their views known.

To recapitulate, we favour in principle a Channel tunnel. We prefer rail to road, and we insist that the local people who will have to pay the price should be heard and listened to by the Department of the Environment and should be generously compensated by the successful bidder.

12.27 p.m.

Lord Benson

My Lords, there are two great causes for satisfaction this morning. The first is that it appears likely that there will be a decision on a cross-Channel link after a hundred years or more of dithering. To that extent great credit rests with the Government at last for bringing this to a head so that we do not dither any longer.

There will of course be objections. There are objections to every scheme. I am sure that the same objections were launched in this House when we opened the railways in the last century. We know very well in this century that we agonise for 10, 15 or 20 years about a new airport, but ultimately the airport has to be built because we have to progress. But the decision is particularly valuable at this time because the Common Market, as we know, is hoping to abolish or reduce border controls by the year 1992.

The second great cause for satisfaction is that the whole of this project, whichever one is selected, will be financed by the private sector. That enables the Government to take a much more objective view of the proposals. No part of the cost will fall on taxation, so from that point of view the citizen does not have to worry. Such inquiries as I have made show that whichever scheme is adopted there will be ample resources at our disposal in this country to finance the project.

When the two Governments come together to make their final decision there will be a number of political and other factors to be taken into account. I should like to suggest to the House that three major characteristics have to be taken account of. The first is that the citizen should have the greatest freedom of choice. Also industry should be able to arrange the flow of goods to and from this country in a way which gives the greatest possible competition and the greatest freedom of choice. Those things seem to be fundamental. We are not building for 10 years; we are building for 100 years or more. It would be absurd, I suggest, to confine the Channel link to one form of transport only when both road and rail can be built at the same time. Apart from anything else, it gives a built-in insurance against temporary breakdown, which would cause great dislocation. More important perhaps, it provides a built-in insurance against industrial action, which would be disastrous, on either side of the Channel.

The second factor which I suggest could properly be taken into account is that the scheme should be whichever gives the greatest possible employment in this country. What we are suffering most is a recession in industry. Whichever scheme uses our industry to the greatest advantage and uses the greatest number of people in employment, should, above all, be selected because the cost does not fall on the Government. Our steel industry, particularly—it has been in the doldrums for 10 years or more—could well be revivified. This great adventure could be a real possibility for stimulating trade and industry in this country that we have lacked for years past.

A third consideration—it should, I suggest, be a dominating one—is that the four schemes provide different technologies, some worn, some outworn and some new. But the new ones have been well tested overseas. If we are to make a choice, let us choose those technologies that are new so that we can go forward to compete in the future, properly equipped instead of relying on the past. We should be competing in the future with those nations that have taken a big step forward. Those seem to me the three major considerations that might perhaps be borne in mind.

There is only one more matter to which I wish to refer. This link has been played in rather low key so far in this country. Once the decision has been made and the group has been suggested, I hope that some steps will be taken to fire the imagination of the population of this country to make them realise that this is a huge industrial adventure, one in which they can take part and one that is likely to make a significant contribution to the economy of this country.

12.32 p.m.

Lord Soames

My Lords, I should first like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Underhill that I did not need any prompting from him before deciding that I would, of course, declare my interest in this debate. One remark that he made did not fill me with satisfaction. It was to the effect—I think that these were his words—that "we shall then know what value to put upon his words". It gave me a little the impression that the noble Lord felt that if someone was working in any way for any of these schemes, this meant inevitably that he was talking in favour only of that particular scheme. Let me assure him that where I am concerned that is no way the truth.

There are two ex-ambassadors to France involved in this. One is my good friend Sir Nicholas Henderson, who is nothing less than chairman of the Channel Tunnel Group. The other is myself in a much more lowly and humble position as a liaison officer. I indulge in liaison, stangely enough, between Britain and France on behalf of Euroroute at their request many months ago. So there we are. Anyhow, this is not the time to talk about different plans which have been proposed. I intend to talk about the principles of a fixed link. I do not expect to go outside that any more than the noble Lord, Lord Benson, has just done in what I thought a most excellent speech.

This project, as many of your Lordships have already stated, has been on the stocks, as it were, for one hundred years or more. Indeed, Sir Winston Churchill's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, bought some shares in the 1880's in the Channel Tunnel Company. But, again, looking at the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I would like to assure him that those shares are no longer of any value. We have now arrived at the time when a combination of circumstances demands that this great project be implemented. I should like to refer to four of those circumstances.

One, to which my noble friend Lord Caithness referred, is the amount of cross-Channel traffic that is building up. As he said, both passengers and freight traffic have increased enormously in the last 15 to 20 years. The cross-Channel traffic in 1984 amounted to 22 million passengers and 1.25 million trucks and lorries. The forecast is that this will double in the next 10 or 15 years. The mind boggles at what that would involve if surface traffic was the main method for moving all those passengers and all that freight from here to the Continent. When one considers that 60 per cent. of our trade is already done with Europe, the mind boggles, as I say, at the possible effect if that is all going to be carried across the sea lanes. Already in the Dover Straits there are on average 250 movements a day through the shipping lanes with a further 150 movements crossing these lanes, going from coast to coast. That is without any increase in traffic.

The second factor which leads me to say that now is the time for this project is that it is now technically feasible to provide crossings both by rail and by road. Indeed, once the TGV, the very fast French train, is extended to Calais, the French and British railways envisage anything up to 10 trains an hour crossing each way at peak periods. Surely this warrants and justifies a rail link totally dedicated to SNCF and to British Rail. Indeed once that is going, it would be at least as fast, I would submit, to get from London to Paris by rail as it is by air. Those involved are thinking in terms of three and a quarter hours from the middle of London to the middle of Paris and three hours from the middle of London to the middle of Brussels.

I know that some promoters are now satisfied that private finance would be available for their scheme because of the conviction on the part of financial institutions that it would be a paying proposition. They have decided in common parlance that it would make a noise like a dividend. My fourth reason is that the studies, this time, by all concerned, have been very thorough, not to say very expensive. They have covered a broad field and they have been going on for a long time. But if, after all that, a fixed link is not proceeded with, then I honestly do not believe, having had something to do with this one, that anyone will try it again. There is a tide in the affairs of men, and it will be either now or never. My noble friend Lord Caithness said "Why not now?". My answer is that if it is not now, it never will be.

What are the objections that have been raised to this great and imaginative scheme? I have read the Press cuttings on the subject for months now. I listened to much of the debate in the other place; and I have had the advantage of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. Generally speaking, the objections seem to fall into three broad categories. The first is a generic category, "We are an island, aren't we, and we don't want any umbilical cord with the Continent. It is too different. We don't want to see any fixed link". There are some who say that for varying reasons; and in this category fall those who have objected, and will always object so far as I can see, to our presence in the European Community, and who are against anything which could reinforce this and make it more successful. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Benson, has remarked, by 1992 we are aiming at having a proper Common Market which will involve the flow of yet more trade both ways.

Other objections come under the heading of vested interests and special pleading: there will be too much traffic here; there will be too little traffic there; people may lose their jobs. With regard to too much traffic here, too little there, there are those who say that they do not want these great lorries going through Kent. Road transport will continue to be used if there is no fixed link, and those lorries will still go through Kent whether they are going to Dover to go on to a ferry—as they do now—or whether they are going across a fixed link, whatever it may be. There will be a changing pattern of transport, of course. There will always be those who will oppose any idea of change, and I understand the fear in the breasts of some people, particularly perhaps on the ferries, who fear that there will be less transport going on the ferries. My own view is that there will be so much traffic going to the Continent that all four methods of transport will be well used; road, rail, air and sea. I myself believe that these fears are much exaggerated.

I then come to what I can only say astonishes me—this demand for a public inquiry. I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, today say that that will not happen because there was a vote in another place. However, I also heard the plea from the Labour Party in another place to have a public inquiry. How long will that take? I do not know. We had a public inquiry over Stansted; we had a public inquiry over Okehampton bypass; and they lasted—what? Twenty years on average? It is blatantly obvious that there is not now time for that procedure in this situation. Anyone who studies this matter—as I am sure that those on the Opposition Benches in both Houses have done—must know that a public inquiry would kill the project stone dead, because all those who are prepared to put up money for the link will not have anything further to do with it while there is a public inquiry going on because they think that that will last for ever. I have not yet heard one valid argument as to why it is necessary to have a public inquiry as opposed to all the processes of a hybrid Bill.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that I was not pressing for a public inquiry in view of the decision in another place. I was asking that the Government assure us as to how these other matters will be considered; and suggesting that what they were proposing was inadequate.

Lord Soames

My Lords, of course the noble Lord said that because a decision was taken in another place. But that is the stance of the Labour Party—they wanted a public inquiry. I ask myself, why did they want a public inquiry knowing, as they must do, that a public inquiry would kill it? Does this mean that they did not want a fixed link? If they do not want a fixed link, say so. Do not go through the charade of asking for a public inquiry in order to kill it.

Because I have not been persuaded by any of the arguments I have yet heard in favour of a public inquiry, I am afraid that I am led to the conclusion that this is dog-in-the-manger stuff; it is playing party politics; it is because the Labour Party have made up their mind that this will be popular in the country, will create a lot of jobs, and they do not want it started during the lifetime of this Government. That is the view I have arrived at. All these objections come into the category of special pleading, which is not usually a basis for good decisions.

The 1950s and the 1960s were great years of growth. I was in government myself for a lot of that time, and difficult as they seemed at the time we look hack at them very largely as golden years when the standard of living of all the Western World increased to a very great extent. Do not let us ever forget that a main motor in that was that we decided to go for constant further liberalisation of trade, for the breaking down of trade barriers of all kinds. It is a fact that one of the problems today, which I think we shall all see develop more and more, is the difficulty of getting another GATT round going. Surely it must be true that anything which speeds up the flow of trade and people between our partners and ourselves must be in the national interest.

This is the only place at which I shall refer to the scheme itself. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Benson, in saying that had this link been built in the 1880s, had Lord Randolph's shares proved to be a good buy, it could not have been at that time other than a rail link, because that was as far as the technology had progressed. But we are in the 1980s, not in the 1880s. Surely, if a road and a rail link can be built, that will offer greater choice to the people and to those who trade with the Continent. If we are going to the expense of building this important link with the Continent eventually, at last, I cannot conceive that at the end of it we and those on the Continent would not say, "We can get to each other if we want by air, sea, rail and road", because that is what is possible today.

12.49 p.m.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in thanking the Government for making it possible to have this debate today. I gather that we have to have it this week because the assessment panel is closing its books, as it were, on Tuesday of next week. I only hope that the superstitutious will not draw any ill omens from the fact that today happens to be Friday, the 13th.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Soames, I should declare an interest, albeit a rather small one. I have been asked to act on a short-term basis as an advisor to the Sealink project—Channel Expressway—in the matter of presenting their case in France, since they came rather late on the scene. In that connection I have attended a number of meetings on their behalf. I would not claim to have the same knowledge and contacts in France as the noble Lord, Lord Soames, or indeed the distinguished ambassador to whom he referred, Sir Nicholas Henderson, who is chairman of the Channel Tunnel Group. However, the main point of the debate is the question of whether or not we should have a fixed link at all.

For a very long time I happen to have been persuaded that such a link was vitally necessary and became the more necessary when we became members of the European Community. Although the actual scheme had been prepared by the outgoing Government and, indeed, the first draft of the Bill had been presented to Parliament by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, I was charged in 1974–75 with taking through the Commons the hybrid Bill with the very able assistance—because he did nearly all the work in the Committee—of my noble friend Lord Carmichael. If anyone thinks that it is an easy option to choose a hybrid Bill, I can assure your Lordships that that is very much not the case.

Parliamentary draftsmen and all the learned parliamentarians advise us, "If you can possibly find a way not to have a hybrid Bill, you should do so". Therefore, I do not think that the Government, in choosing this course, have in any sense taken an easy option. However, I hope that it will be very much easier because one of the problems and one of the difficulties which led to the final cancellation of the scheme was the plan then to have a completely new rail route from Dover to London which meant going through Kent and Surrey, which are not the easiest areas for which to get permission to build any kind of new road or new railway.

One of the main difficulties is that from our point of view the fixed link must start in Kent and there will be in every case some environmental problems. However, it will go to a part of France where there is a very great desire for industrial expansion and so on. It is unfortunately a fact of geography which we cannot change that it has to be that way round. However, I am certain that there would be a different point of view, for example, if it were feasible to have a link from County Durham or Newcastle or somewhere such as that where there would be a welcoming of the additional business that I am convinced any fixed link will bring.

The other point which I wish to make is quite simply that it was just not possible at that time to have a road tunnel. I very much enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Benson, who said that, as we are going to build something for the next century, we should not rely on the technology of the last. It was for that reason that I was persuaded and agreed to help in a small way with the presentation of the Sealink Channel Expressway project which meets what seems to me to be the basic requirements of such a fixed link.

First, I confess immediately that I believe in a tunnel for what I am afraid to say, are in a sense selfish reasons, although there is a broader view. On many occasions I have been stuck on one side or the other of the Channel which has been quite impossible to cross by air or sea. I have been waiting to attend important meetings or to get back home after being in Brussels or somewhere such as that, but I have been unable to do so because of the weather conditions. The only way in which to be free of such conditions is to have a tunnel.

Secondly, there will tend to be far more British motorists and British transport rather than the other way round, and independent polls have shown an enormous preference by British motorists to want to be able to drive themselves through the tunnel and not to have to go through reservations, delays, formalities and so on. For example, it would be rather like living on the Continent where you can decide one morning to go on a journey and you just take yourself to the appropriate autoroute. You pay a toll, of course, in France, and you would also do so to cross the Channel. It is significant therefore, that the lower the initial costs involved, the lower the tariff or toll is likely to be for both rail and road users.

Equally, I believe that there must be provision for rail, and such provision was made by the Channel Expressway in their original proposals when they put the two features in the same two tunnels—one in each direction. Objection was taken to that. As the noble Lord, Lord Soames, said the expectation of the railway companies is that there will be a vast increase in the volume of rail traffic, both passenger and freight. As a result of such discussions, I think it is almost certain that the Sealink project—the Channel Expressway—will now have four tunnels. Two of them will be completely dedicated to rail transport and the two original tunnels will be confined to road traffic. So there will be separation between rail and road.

The other great difficulty which was raised against this scheme—which for good reason did not come out until rather later in the day, but of course in good time for the terms and conditions of the governmental requests—was that it was not known in France and did not have any French partners. That situation is being changed. Already I am glad to say that the principal bank in the area, the Pas de Calais, which is mostly concerned with the tunnel is the Credit du Nord, and that is an active participant in the project. I understand that a number of important companies are likely to join the Credit du Nord on the French side in supporting the project.

As noble Lords have said, we are more concerned today with the basis of the argument for a fixed link rather than the particular individual schemes. However, two particular points have been queried about any kind of road tunnel. The first is whether the ventilation would be adequate. The second point—and this is quite a serious matter—concerns the question of whether there might be some psychological difficulties for drivers going through a tunnel of some 30 miles in length.

As to the first point, I believe that the ventilation question has been overcome—and I have taken the best engineering advice that I could obtain—by utilising advanced technology developed and successfully operating in Japan. As your Lordships will realise, there are two separate aspects of ventilation which have to be dealt with in such a tunnel. The first is to reduce the levels of carbon and solid particles in the vehicle exhaust gases, and the second is to ensure that noxious gases, such as carbon monoxide, are also maintained within safe levels. Channel Expressway has overcome the carbon and soot problem by filtering the exhaust air in the tunnels. At regular intervals air will be drawn through bypass tunnels and across electrostatic precipitators which will remove the solid particles and filter the air to acceptable levels. Using these precipitators for this purpose is the new application of well-tried technology, and has already proven successful in road tunnels in Japan.

The amount of fresh air to be introduced therefore can now be reduced to that required to maintain dilution of noxious gasses within safe levels. In this way Channel Expressway will require only two channel ventilation shafts located off the British and French coasts outside the main shipping lanes. These shafts will pump fresh air into the tunnel and exhaust stale air. Each shaft will be surrounded by a breakwater to provide full protection from ship collision. I hope to some extent that may explain to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who raised the point, what is proposed and would have to be proposed by anyone wishing to build a road tunnel.

On the question of driver safety, the promoters of the scheme were extremely concerned that this could be a serious problem. While personally I believe that most drivers would not find it difficult, it is worth remembering today that even now there are still a number of people who, while in every other respect seeming to be quite normal, just refuse to go in an aeroplane. There are quite a number of people who have not flown and will not fly. I am sure that there will be a number of people who, even though they have seen and heard from others that it is perfectly all right, will not wish to drive through tunnels, just as I know that some people will not go through the shorter tunnels in Switzerland.

The promoters consulted two highly-qualified psychologists who have both been involved in advising our Government and international authorities on driver behaviour and safety. They think that the stress on drivers will be reduced by the fact that they maintain control of their own vehicles and follow simple procedures through the length of the tunnel, and they will not have the complicated business of getting in the shuttle system, or moving their own vehicles in and out of some other features. Therefore, that should be a favourable factor.

It is also proposed that certain features should be incorporated in the design of the tunnel to provide an exciting visual environment which will be helpful and supportive to the driver. This could take the form of particular road and wall markings which would assist drivers in perception, distance and speed as well as creating lane and line discipline. Lighting and radio will be used to assist in the process of keeping drivers alert, and a system of display panels will provide drivers with an information feedback.

It is thought that this should avoid the obvious danger of perhaps temporary lack of concentration in the 30-minute journey through the tunnel. Indeed, one of the psychologists has suggested that it is a pity that it is not possible to use some of these devices on our own motorways, though of course there are no walls on which to put them.

The Channel Expressway meets what to me seem in the year 1985 to be the dual requirements of an adequate road and an adequate rail link at a reasonable cost. With the association increasingly of French concerns it is a genuinely Anglo-French project, which is essential. I had the great unhappiness of having to convey to my French colleague in 1975 the then Government's decision not to proceed with the project. He was disappointed and displeased, if I may put his reaction in parliamentary terms.

There was no question at all that the French wanted, and I believe still want, this fixed link. Since from time to time relations between our two countries are not as good as many of us would wish, I am sure that this would be to our mutual benefit. I hope that one of the schemes comes along. For the reasons I have given I think it should be a tunnel, and I think it should involve road as well as rail. Thank you, my Lords.

1.5 p.m.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will accept from me that I did not need his reminder, any more than did my noble friend Lord Soames, to declare an interest. I am the chairman of a bank which is a member of one of the consortia, the Channel Tunnel Group, and I obviously have an interest. As to the value he attributes to my remarks, I think he can certainly discount them today, but it would be wrong to believe that because a noble Lord has an interest his remarks should in any way, or necessarily, be devalued. It is sometimes of considerable value to the House that your Lordships speak on subjects in which they have a special interest and a special knowledge. I do not claim that for my contribution today, but I make that as a general comment.

Because of my interest I think it would be inappropriate to comment on the technical or financial schemes put forward by the different consortia. I am content to leave the judgment of those technical and financial aspects to the assessors, to whom my noble friend referred in his opening speech, who I am sure will be looking at it with care and caution.

There is one comment which was provoked in my mind by the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Benson, and my noble friend Lord Soames, on the desirability of going for the newest technology. Of course I understand, and sympathise with, the argument that in this developing world we want to be at the forefront of technology. One must also bear in mind that in a vast project of this kind we have to measure proven success and proven testing against the risks which must inevitably go with new technology. Many of your Lordships will recall the difficulties, delays, and expense in the Concorde project.

Lord Soames

A very good aircraft.

Lord Boardman

I just plant that in my noble friend's mind as one of the points that I am sure he would wish to consider.

Perhaps I may confine my remarks because much has already been said with which I am in complete agreement. My noble friend Lord Soames and other noble Lords referred to the length of time. We have been talking about this for something over 100 years. I was not one of the initial shareholders, like Lord Randolph, but there have been a number of other issues which have come out at subsequent times, and still we are talking about it.

We talked about it with enthusiasm in earlier years before we were a member of Europe and before 60 per cent. of our trade went there. If it seemed sound that we should go ahead in those days—and indeed it did, but it was put off for a variety of economic circumstances—even more so must it be right today.

I do not see the fixed link as being in any way an exclusive method of travelling. As has been said, I see a continuing and no doubt increasing volume of traffic going through on the ferries and the airways in addition to the fixed link. In view of the wide all-party agreement which I believe there is across the House that we should go ahead with this now, I hope it can be accepted—perhaps I should exclude the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, from this remark—that there is a need for a fixed link and that we should get on with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Benson, rightly referred to finance. This is a remarkable project of vast expenditure which is being financed entirely by the private sector. It is of course for the Government to assess the financial viability of the various schemes that have been put forward for funding and the like, because what has been made clear from the outset, and must be maintained, is that there must be no residual liability on public funds under any of these schemes. I am sure that the Government, in their assessment, will review the financial viability of the alternatives put forward.

On the question of a public inquiry, I should like to endorse what my noble friend Lord Soames said. I believe that Stansted took 22 years; Okehampton, 17 years. At Archway they have started half-a-dozen inquiries and never got off the ground. If we really wanted to kill this scheme the best way would be to have a public inquiry. It would be impossible to face the delays that would go with it. The financing would not remain in place for more than a fraction of the time that would be involved. The timing is critical in the whole of the financial structure. A delay of six months over and beyond the targeted date adds 8 or 10 per cent. to the financial commitment, so one can recognise the importance.

Lord Soames

My Lords, perhaps in the important position that the noble Lord holds outside this House as chairman of one of the big clearing banks he might tell the House what he thinks would be his attitude and the attitude of his bank in respect of financing of this scheme, had the Labour Party's request for a public inquiry been acceded to?

Lord Boardman

My Lords, if that should happen it would be quite impossible for the financial proposals that have been put forward to remain in place. It would kill the schemes as they are now put forward. The delays would make it absolutely impossible to project any meaningful figures—dealing with these large sums.

The Hybrid Bill procedure—and my noble friend referred briefly in opening to that—seems to me to be appropriate in such circumstances. It is full of safeguards, it protects the private interests and one hopes that it can be done with reasonable speed; bearing in mind that the French are able to deal with their problems in six months. Regrettably ours will take somewhat longer, but I hope they will not be that much longer. Delay will cost money and put off the completion of the scheme for however much additional time it takes.

I did not intend to say anything on the rail or road alternatives until the issue was raised first by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and subsequently by my noble friend Lord Soames and by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley. Perhaps I may comment on that, bearing in mind that the scheme with which I am associated does not have a road link. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, can discount my remarks in that context accordingly.

First, I believe that all who are in favour of a fixed link are fully supportive of rail. To be able to get into a train at Waterloo and to get out at Paris, instead of that awful business of having to go to Heathrow and then from Charles de Gaulle, would be advantageous. To get in a train in London, Glasgow or anywhere else for Paris can be a good way to travel in comfort and would give a wonderful opportunity for the further opening up of Europe. In regard to rail alone, I know that concern has been expressed about the possibility of vulnerability to industrial action. That applies at airports, sea ports and to a whole variety of means of travel. But it may not be inappropriate in a case such as this to have something which I think we should like in many operations: the legal provision that there will be no strikes; to agree on this vital fixed link to declare strikes and industrial action illegal. I leave that thought with my noble friend.

But as for road, as a motorist, and not as a participant in this project, the prospect of driving though the tunnel, which is much narrower than the M.1 for either 14 or 30 miles, fills me with some concern. I hope that if that is the project which is accepted we shall make sure that all motorists who go through the tunnel will have recently taken advanced driving tests, their cars will have had their MoT and the drivers and the passengers will all have a certificate to say that they do not suffer from claustrophobia. But perhaps that is prejudice on my part about the fear of driving through tunnels of that length. I am sure all these factors will be taken into account when the projects are assessed by the Government.

Lord Soames

My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me again? I wonder whether in this scheme, which is purely a rail one, he envisages that it would be possible to continue to run a shuttle though that tunnel, taking on passengers and lorries at the point of entry to the tunnel and, at the same time, run though that tunnel sufficient ordinary fast trains, at the same time as the shuttles, to meet what is expected to the requirements of British Rail and SNCF in the future?

Lord Boardman

My Lords, I understand that that is in the scheme. I cannot give details of timing, but it is all in the plan that has been put forward. Forgetting, overlooking or discounting my comments in relation to road, nevertheless I believe it is important we should go ahead with a fixed link now, whatever form it takes, whether it be road, rail, bridge or tunnel. We need that fixed link. Delay in coming to a decision will mean that we may never get it. Indeed I go along with my noble friend Lord Soames today. It is now or not in this century. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it should be now.

1.16 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, before I briefly make my own points I shall pick up just one issue: public inquiries. I realise that this point has been made in several other speeches before, but it is of some importance. For 180 years, and 20 years very actively, we have been discussing a Channel tunnel, so the question has been well ventilated. Public inquiries, on both sides of the House know full well, have become completely out of hand. Until something is done to prevent minority and other interested groups holding up decisions for years, we should avoid their use in the national interest.

Once again one finds the Opposition opposing on these grounds, when in fact they would never do so in government. This sort of adversarial politics is in my view wholly unacceptable today. It makes a nonsense of the government of this country—Conservatives please also note.

I am strongly in favour of a rail Channel link, in spite of some environmental damage, but not a road link. This rules out using bridges, the Channel Expressway as now conceived. In any case there are several other reasons why I would oppose a bridge solution. We have several speakers and I shall therefore concentrate on my reasons for being against providing a road link. In the first place we have no experience of drivers' reactions, or failure to react, in driving through some 30 miles of tunnel. For most drivers of private cars it would be an experience repeated only once or twice a year. There would therefore be no opportunity of getting used to it as occurs with the M roads.

I simply do not believe that 60 mph will be a safe speed limit, unless some very sophisticated means of keeping vehicles at adequate spacing is devised. Even then the inevitable pile-ups, which will undoubtedly occur, will mean a reduction in the maximum speed to, at the very best in my view, 40 mph. This implies three quarters of an hour of tunnel driving. There will also be breakdowns in places, contraflow traffic for maintenance and other reasons. Journey times cannot therefore reasonably be assumed to be less than one hour in the tunnel. Having said that, there are two other considerations which I think are very important. They are, first, a major pile-up and conflagration such as we get on the M-ways. It is argued that the smoke from a fire caused by three vehicles can be isolated by the ventilating system. That may be so, but there could be a fireball going down the tunnel and a very high concentration of carbon monoxide. Certainly, these points need further consideration.

Much more frighteningly is the terrorist attack. Let us say that 100 lb. of explosive is hidden around a vehicle, and if precautions (which cannot ever be entirely adequate) are taken, then it will impose much greater delays than the Customs ever do on the ferries. What would be the effects of such an explosion? It would be interesting to know. I gather that, with a bored tunnel, it would not be sufficient to break the tunnel cladding and flood it. But if you think of the effects of blast in an open area with windows broken at several hundred yards, then the effect in a tunnel would certainly be fairly catastrophic—over, I would estimate—at least half a mile either side of the explosion due to the shock waves and the over-pressure. Something like 100 vehicles would be crucially involved.

I am not so concerned with the immediate effects of a major pile-up or terrorist explosion; but all experience shows that the public at large become unreasonably emotional when it comes to taking even very remote risks. The consequence would be that very few people—and for the same reason goods vehicles—would use the road tunnel. It could very easily become a white elephant, with very large overheads. The ventilation system and lighting would consume several megawatts of electricity. I do not know the exact figure but one megawatt represents something approaching £1,000 a day and I suggest that the overheads on this would be at least £10,000 a day. There are other reasons against the road solution. We have only to see the traffic and the hold-ups on the new M.25 if a roadway becomes as popular as its protagonists suggest, although I doubt whether that will happen.

Moreover, I do not think that we should try to put out the ferry business, the hovercraft and the existing forms of crossing the Channel. You may well ask whether the same considerations apply to a rail link. The terrorist threat is there, but in effect would be far less. Even if motorists did not then use the rail track, it would still remain a viable means of transporting freight and I expect that lorry drivers, no doubt with suitable inducement, would continue to take any future risks which might be involved.

1.24 p.m.

Lord Layton

My Lords, I must very definitely declare an interest, having been a member of the Eurobridge study group for several years. My interest in the Channel link goes back much further than that, as I was involved in earlier discussions in the 'sixties. I must admit that it does not go back further than that, and I was interested in the figure of 180 years mentioned by a previous speaker as being the length of time this thing had been under discussion. I think that that was in fact Napoleonic, and the proposal was for coaches and four to go through a tunnel—a little impractical, I think, even with the technology of today.

Having declared my interest, I should like to congratulate the Government in particular for having pinned us down at last to a sensible timetable—a timetable which is short enough for a project which can be financed privately to be brought into effect and to be effective. We have heard a great deal about it and there is no doubt at all, with the wealth of paper which has been produced, that there is a great deal of discussion taking place on the details and in the wide range of areas of interest for all concerned. One particular mention was made of consultation. I think that anyone who, like myself, has been involved in the project for some time will realise the immense depth of consultation that has taken place already. We have had several discussions with people who are concerned with the fisheries; we have had deep discussions with the international maritime organisations; and we have had discussions with Trinity House over the last seven years on the impact of putting the project that I am concerned with in the Channel. I might add that, as a result, we have designed the project to produce the minimum interference with the movement of maritime traffic.

We think, frankly, that a bridge such as we propose is certainly going to reduce the short, cross-Channel ferry traffic; but we have also felt that it was essential by some means or other, in order to avoid getting into this monopoly situation in crossing the Channel, that there should be some arrangement or link whereby we made sure that the ferry system continued. I believe that the Government themselves are very anxious that for defence purposes there should be a retention of the kind of ships that run this ferry system. It is equally important, although we are building a road bridge, that there should be a rail link, and several speakers have made much of the need for through, high-speed trains. I believe that this is not only true for the high-speed passenger trains but that it would be very useful if a chap could put a sealed container on a truck in a train in Glasgow, for example, and have it delivered somewhere in Germany, or even Eastern Europe.

I am in favour of having a tunnel for rail, but specifically a rail tunnel. Until recently we had discussed with British Rail and with SNCF the project for their original single-rail tunnel. I think they would now prefer to go for a twin tunnel, and on that we are under discussion with them. But we got into that particular act only because it was appreciated that our proposed bridge would be so highly profitable. This leaves room for a gradual reduction in the real cost of moving across the Channel.

I say this because our proposal is to build a bridge with 12 lanes on it, six lanes on each of two decks, with supporting service lanes and a complete enclosure of an elliptical type round it. This meets very many of the objections that have been raised this morning; for example, the security question. Explosives with a light covering will not affect anything like the amount of traffic which has just been mentioned. In fact, we have investigated the effect of a container with 10 tonnes of high explosive being taken on to the bridge and being exploded. We found that it would damage one level but that you would still be able to move traffic on the other level; so that we could divert traffic and avoid any congestion.

The other most important point is this. In the roadway, with modern technology—and this is where I come back to what Lord Benson has said; we should look at the latest technology—we plan to have devices every so many metres in every roadway so that vehicles, when they come on, will be known as to weight and will be followed through by the computer right to the other end of the bridge. Then, if there is any build-up or congestion at any point, an appropriate video camera will flow along a rail to that point, check out exactly what it is and make sure that services are brought in to help to clear it, whether it is a puncture, a collision or anything of that kind. Therefore, we believe that we have a very sophisticated proposal, with the latest of modern technology to carry out the project and to carry out the movement of traffic by means of this bridge.

It is essential, in my belief, to have this particular bridge of this size. None of the other projects is capable of carrying in the ordinary way a peak load of the traffic that we see today. The capacity of this 12-lane bridge is three to four times as much as that of the other projects. Euroroute has two lanes in each direction, and anyone who has driven on a highly-congested four-lane highway can appreciate how easily that can be blocked—much more easily than the M.1, with its six lanes. That problem is a very serious one, especially when you happen to be in a tunnel. The same applies to Expressway. The problem of congestion is a serious one.

There is a further point—and I appreciate that even if we are building a rail tunnel we have to face this—and that is the problem of sabotage or damage in a single rail tunnel, which is a very serious and difficult one to deal with. We believe, in fact, that from a security point of view the bridge is much the safer way to go. Not only that, but it is much more difficult to sabotage through a sabotage-type attack or an effort to restrict movement.

I must admit I am myself anxious that we should have some means of keeping a proportion of the cross-Channel shipping going because, as has been mentioned, there are always people who prefer to go by boat rather than in any other way. But if we were to put in this 12-lane bridge, using the latest and most modern materials in a way which is highly sophisticated and which has been used to some extent in the North Sea, in the oil industry and also in connection with the development of television masts and so on, we believe this would provide adequate capacity until at least the year 2010.

It was rather interesting that when we were being checked up on by the joint working party of the French and British ministries they raised the question of how we would feel if during the early years of the lease and the authority for the concession there was a proposal to build a second link. My comment on that is this. If you take any one of the other three projects you will probably need a second link within 10 years after the project has been completed—or even earlier—because of the development of traffic, which they will be unable to handle. In our case you can postpone that for 20 years. Therefore, the low cost of the unit crossing available on the 12-lane link is an immense encouragement to the free and easy movement of traffic over a very considerable period, and of much greater advantage than any of the other projects.

Many other matters have been raised this morning and I would not like to take up your Lordships' time too much over them, but it is quite clear that if we build this bridge using the super-fibre which we are proposing to use to make the suspension bridge one with spans of something over three miles each, we shall not be putting more than six towers in the Channel, and only one of those will come in any important flow of shipping. As I have said, we discussed this earlier with the IMO, and we believe we will get the authority to go ahead with it. Many of the Merchant Navy groups, such as some of the oil industries, with whom we have had discussions on the question of navigation in the Channel—and also the General Council for British Shipping—agree that in fact our proposal would improve navigation in the Channel because it would mark certain areas which are shallow and it would mark the borders of the main flow channels in both directions for the main shipping movement. By reducing (though not eliminating) the ferries, we would certainly reduce the chances of collision; and by our engineering we have so studied this question as to ensure that no ship will hit a pier and damage itself or the pier to any extent. So we have protective devices for that particular purpose.

I think it is worth while realising that if we go ahead with a project as large as this we shall certainly be able to see an extended, steady reduction in the real cost of moving goods across. As I have always been in favour of developing our trade with the Community, I am quite clear that it is essential for us to have an adequate opening to encourage the enlargement of that trade, both by reducing its costs and by providing a much wider, broader and bigger spectrum of movement. I strongly believe that the idea of being able to get into a train in London and be in Paris quickly is excellent. That is why I think we should certainly support this, on the basis that we have a highly profitable operation on the bridge. We are certainly not so sure that it would be profitable on the rail; but it is worth while to ensure that there is no monopoly and that there are alternative means of movement—air, train, sea and an open drive along a road, which I believe is the most elegant solution to the whole problem.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he answer just one question? Bearing in mind the experience we already have with the Bristol Channel Bridge, and bearing in mind that his proposal takes into account very high technology, what life does he think there will be for the bridge and what maintenance costs does he anticipate—as compared, of course, with the alternative, which is likely to last 100 years; that is, a bored tunnel?

Lord Layton

My Lords, referring to the materials we are putting into this bridge, first and foremost the Severn Bridge, which I think is the one referred to, is hung on steel wire. Part of the problem they have on that bridge at the moment is that the fine wires in some of the hangers are rusting through. I happen to be a steel man, and I am very conscious of the problem of corrosion in the case of steel bridges. Furthermore, on the Severn Bridge the structure itself, I believe, is subject today to over 150 cracks at welding points. The proposal for our bridge overcomes that very radically. There are several reason, and the first is that the cable is non-corrosive. It does not require painting, and therefore the maintenance cost is extremely low. That applies to the hangers and to the suspension cable. The structure of the bridge itself is enclosed and is accessible at all times, so there is no real problem over maintenance that cannot be solved.

The road material we are applying, which is one-third of the weight of normal standard tarmacadam, has a life which we think will be something like 15 to 20 years before it will need replacement. Taking into consideration the scale and the number of traffic lanes, we see no problem of road maintenance obstructing at any time the flow of traffic. That is my answer to the noble Viscount.

1.40 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, declaration of interest is the order of the day, so I should like to begin by declaring the very remotest of interests. When times are good, I lend the National Westminster Bank money. When times are bad, it lends me money. Thus only is my financial interest in today's topic. But I have what seems to me a very much greater interest, and that is in being able to get to nearer continental Europe quickly, comfortably and economically. Hence it follows that I welcome the British and French Governments' commitment to a fixed link, not least because the timescales outlined by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, suggest that such a link, if it goes ahead, will go ahead quickly. As has been said, we have had two centuries of discussion. Now perhaps we are doing something that will be a reality, not only in my lifetime, but in the lifetime of most of your Lordships.

I have read the very considerable amount of material that has been sent to me and I should like to say that, regardless of whence it came, as an arts man myself, I find it extremely illuminating and useful. From my point of view I could hardly have taken so much interest in today's debate had I not had the very great deal of well-explained material that I have had.

But this material is such that those proposals which involve bridges are those which have least persuaded me; in fact, they have scarcely persuaded me at all. The technology involved seems to me not really, to have been proved on the scale of which we are speaking. It involves, in many cases, extrapolation of known data and taking the decision which is one of the most difficult decisions which any manager can ever face—when do you stop using the old technology and go on to use the new? I do not think the case has been made that we are yet ready to go for some of the new technology that has been put forward by the bridge supporters.

I, and I am sure other noble Lords, have had industrial experience where a theory stands up when you work it out with pencil and paper; it stands up in laboratory scale tests and to computer analysis, which one can now so simply do; it stands up even to pilot scale plant work in the field. But when you get to the real capital investment then, for one reason or another, it fails. My experience in this field is not so much in the context that we are talking about today; it is drawn from the treatment of metal bearing ores. But I have had experiences where theory, sadly, does not live up to expectations.

Secondly, although we have been told that both the bridge proposals involve infrastructure outside of the busy waters of the Straits of Dover, I feel that any infrastructure anywhere in the Straits of Dover is a negative factor. I realise that it would be constructed to be safe to itself. I was a little surprised, though, to hear the noble Lord who spoke previously say that it would also be totally safe to ships. Alas!, ships are not constructed to be totally safe to each other and I cannot believe that, in terms of the ships which may hit the infrastructure we find in the Channel, we will have—

Lord Layton

My Lords, will the noble Lord excuse me? Perhaps I did not enlarge enough on that point. There will be only one major pillar in a shipping lane. The others will be on the boundaries of it. But they will all be protected by buoys and cables which we have designed with special recognition that the largest ship moving up the Channel is likely to be a 250,000-tonne tanker, fully laden and running at 17 knots. This gear will stop that tanker, whether it is head-on or side-on, before it touches the bridge and therefore will both protect the tanker from its own misalignment and the bridge from being damaged.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his beliefs. I wish that I could share them. The traffic that is currently using the Channel does not always consist of vessels built to what used to be called Board of Trade standards, nor even vessels commanded by officers certified by what were known as Board of Trade standards, or officered by men certified by bodies setting other similar standards. There are flag of convenience vessels using the Channel and I have personally seen the alarm which can arise on the bridge of a Sealink ferry—and doubtless elsewhere—when a ship sailing under a flag of convenience not only ignores the established lane pattern in the Channel, but also ignores all directions that are given to it by Channel traffic control.

Furthermore, even when one applies the highest standards one can get accidents. Some of your Lordships will no doubt remember the tragedy last year when a hovercraft hit the walls of Dover harbour. Others will no doubt remember the incident where a Dutch registered ferry of very modern and, clearly, very sound construction practically bisected a French vessel containing nuclear waste, which was, I believe, destined for Eastern Europe. No, my Lords, taking into account all these circumstances—I have given only two examples, but I am sure there are very many more—I am not convinced that any infrastructure in the Channel is totally safe.

I inevitably favour a tunnel, unless somebody comes up with a bridge involving no infrastructure at all in water. Anyone who has heard me speak before will appreciate that, at the end of the day, I will come down in favour of a tunnel dedicated to a rail link and thus, really, to the Channel Tunnel Group's proposal. Not only on the evidence that I have does it appear to be the cheapest proposal, but it uses technology that has been proven. Therefore, my doubts about unproved technology fall away.

It has other merits, though, if it takes the form of a dedicated rail link. By means of the British Rail network it brings the benefits of whatever fixed link one has directly to all those parts of the country which are accessible to the British Rail network. It could be argued that the road network does the same, but the British Rail network is, at the moment, under-utilised and has capacity to absorb additional traffic. I am sure all those of your Lordships who are motorists will agree that this really cannot be said about the British road network, which is coming under increasing pressure in terms of both trunk roads and minor roads.

I believe that the rail element has a big part to play. Not only that, but rail has an in-built ability to move block loads and in certain distance spans beyond 150 miles and under 400 miles, but varying to a greater or lesser extent depending on the loads considered, it has considerable economic advantages, too. So a dedicated rail link gives one the ability, as several noble Lords have said, to move block loads from Manchester to Brussels, be they block loads of passengers or block loads of frieght.

Not only that, but, because we have inland ports already and one can thus have customs clearance inland, the demands for space in Kent can be very much reduced. Block trains travelling from London or beyond can transit the area of the two tunnel gateways very quickly indeed. We already have inland clearance points, but we also have a Government policy which seeks to divert traffic from road to rail by means of the Section 8 grant. I believe that when the Section 8 grant legislation was framed nobody envisaged a Channel fixed link, but I believe that Section 8 is becoming another powerful point in favour of a tunnel, particularly a rail dedicated one.

In conclusion, I should like to turn to one matter which causes me some concern, though I hasten to add that it has nothing to do with the technology of any proposal. It concerns itself particularly with the passenger traffic through a rail dedicated tunnel, if that is what we have. However one crosses a frontier, there are requirements of immigration and customs controls to be met, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned that there is a group of assessors looking at frontier controls. I have discovered that one can travel by train—in fact, I have done so myself—from Belfast to Dublin without getting out of the train, and one can cross from East Germany to West Germany without getting out of the train. I hope that if we get a fixed link involving train traffic, the Home Office and the Customs and Excise will be persuaded to permit on-train controls in transit. If they did not do that, particularly for passenger traffic, so much of the time advantage which a Channel tunnel would give us would fall away.

Noble Lords may recall the recent Question of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about the inability of Gatwick Airport to cope with surge loads in terms of immigration. I understand that the Minister of State for Employment with special responsibility for tourism is discussing with the Home Office similar problems at Heathrow. My point is that the procedures for rail passengers should be as simple as possible. It would be a shame if, having achieved the triumphs, certainly the benefits, of a fixed link, the welcome we give our foreign visitors and indeed our own returning citizens—that first impression which is all important to our tourist industry—should be denied by bureaucratic inflexibility.

1.51 p.m.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for spelling out, as did my right honourable friend Mr. Nicholas Ridley in another place, the position of the Government in regard to the establishment of this fixed link. I agreed very much with all that my noble friend Lord Soames said in his most persuasive speech on the principle and the need for the link. I also agreed very much with my noble friend Lord Boardman on the main issue.

I am very glad that Her Majesty's Government and the French Government are pressing ahead for an early decision in this matter after well over 100 years, or as my noble friend Lord Layton said, perhaps 150 years, of pondering it. I thought that the remarks of my noble friend Lord Layton, in perhaps the most interesting speech so far in this debate, were highly convincing because he is so very well informed in the matter. I shall not say or repeat what I said in initiating the debate on my Unstarred Question on 16th January this year but I repeat that, being half French, I have a family interest in the matter.

If I have a family interest, I would nonetheless emphasise that I have absolutely no financial interest at all in any of the four schemes which have been accepted by our two governments as runners in the race. I shall indeed support enthusiastically whichever project is chosen by governments for reasons well expressed by my right honourable friends and noble friends on the Front Benches here and in another place, especially in respect of the fact that the European Community (as other noble Lords have said, in particular my noble friend Lord Soames in his highly convincing speech) is now our most important trading partner.

However, I cannot conceal what I think many of your Lordships know already: that for many years I have—if it is technically possible—favoured a bridge as well as a high speed rail tunnel. I do in fact think that we need both. It was for this reason that I told your Lordships in January that I was most interested in the Eurobridge submission which my noble friend Lord Layton has just described. This project involves the use of the superfibre material, Parafil, which would provide the very long spans between the piers in order to satisfy maritime requirements. What my noble friend Lord Layton said on the use of other new technologies was very sound. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Benson, spoke on the same lines.

As I say, I have little to add to what I said in January. I would refer your Lordships to that speech if your Lordships are interested in my fuller views. The only practical point which I might now make is that I agree very much with more recent variations to the bridge scheme. That is to say, that the enclosed motorway should be on two rather than four levels—six lanes with hard shoulders and walkways going one way, and six lanes with hard shoulders and walkways going the other, as well as six double rather than single piers or towers which would be some 4.5 kilometres apart. I hope, too, that there could be laybys on these piers with viewing windows which could be looked through when the weather is fine. There would indeed be nothing like the claustrophobic problems on such a bridge which could be experienced in a road tunnel.

I should like to say one further word about employment. In January I said that I thought the project might employ some 60,000 to 70,000 people. As I understand it the scheme would in fact require some 47,000 man years of employment directly related to construction, and that it would employ 4,400 people on a permanent basis. The link will certainly attract industry to the area, and with 160 acres set aside for this purpose 25,000 regular jobs are foreseen at each end of the link. Then there are the various service industries which this kind of growth would attract and require. One can go on ad infinitum but the point I want to make is that during construction the Eurobridge will create three or four times as many jobs as it displaces. Although this is a complicated calculation, there is I believe evidence to substantiate the probability that through industrial spin-off some 450,000 to 900,000 jobs may be created.

In regard to security, I do not believe that the defence, terrorism or sabotage risks should be exaggerated. After all, ships can be sunk and airports can be bombed as easily as bridges or tunnels can be blocked or blown up. I might add here, as I think other noble Lords have implied, that the existence of a bridge and/or a tunnel will not in my view automatically result in a great loss of ferry and air traffic. I am sure that people will still travel from Harwich, Newhaven, Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth and maybe elsewhere—even still, perhaps, Dover and Folkestone. Moreover, many others will continue certainly to prefer to go by air.

It is well known that an improvement in a road leads to increased traffic using that road; and we must remember—and I should like to repeat what I said in January—that already 80 per cent. of the traffic in this country and on the Continent now goes by road. We must surely cater for it with a truly adequate multilane drive-through facility as well as high speed rail transport. That, my Lords, is why I favour a bridge as well as a rail tunnel.

Otherwise, I wish the Government the best of good fortune in this great adventure and in their choice of a scheme which will bring our two countries, for both of which I have a great affection, closer together and perhaps make it less likely that distressing remarks such as my noble friend Lord Bethell felt obliged to make in his feature article in The Times on Wednesday will be repeated. I thank my noble friend for this debate.

2 p.m.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I have no interest to declare. I have only a few elementary questions to ask, most of which have already been asked in one form or another. Nevertheless, they are the kind of questions that are in the minds of many people and I make little excuse for asking them again.

I am a cautious supporter of the fixed link, although I am a little suspicious of propositions recommended to Parliament on the ground that they are highly imaginative. Since I have been in Parliament, two such propositions in particular come to mind. One was the groundnuts scheme, which was constantly recommended to us as offering the most imaginative future for Africa. The other was the Humber Bridge. Nevertheless, the fixed link is an important proposition and it differs from the other schemes I have mentioned in that it has the backing of private money. I regard that as being of first importance, as showing that there are experienced people who really are willing to risk their own money on this, I presume, risky proposition.

The first question that sprang to my mind concerned the scale of the required bridge or tunnel. I was greatly interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Layton, because from reading various proposals it seems that some people feel that a four-lane tunnel or tunnels would be adequate for road traffic, if there is to be road traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, says he thinks that nothing less than 12 lanes will be sufficient. That is a fairly big difference. I as an amateur venture to think that the noble Lord is right; but if the link is a success then some of the proposals for road traffic are inadequate and we might face the need to build another tunnel fairly soon.

If the noble Lord is right, very large questions arise, which I have no doubt will be considered by the assessors. If 12 full lanes of traffic are to run across the Channel there will need to be very large marshalling areas. Already at toll bridges one is held up for some time on even a four-lane route. Also, is it thought that every car will have to be examined for security reasons? I do not quite grasp the likely picture at each end of the bridge or tunnel where the 12 lanes emerge. I assume that the Government have that aspect very much in mind, even though they may not be able to answer that point this afternoon.

One answer to that problem is not to have road traffic. To my mind, however, one must have it for two reasons. First, I do not think that we can put ourselves entirely in the hands of the railway unions; secondly, there are many people for whom their greatest pleasure in life is to drive around in their cars. I personally can think of no greater hell than driving through a tunnel for 30 miles. I sympathise very much with those who have said that it must be a very alarming experience. But perhaps we are out of date. For many people, driving for 30 miles through a tunnel is just the same as driving any other 30 miles. So I believe that we must make an allowance for road transport.

Certainly we must have a rail link. Above all, we must ensure that there is an alternative surface method of crossing the Channel. I have come to the conclusion that that is of the greatest importance. The safeguard against whoever runs the fixed link driving out competition by, first of all, depressing their rates, and then later raising them, is the Office of Fair Trading. There is considerable doubt as to whether the Office of Fair Trading is able to prevent that kind of action in the economy today. Furthermore, is there any agreement with the French about the importance of keeping Channel ferries? Is there any agreement with the French as to who how we are to handle, for instance, an attempt to put the ferries out of business? Is it considered by the Government desirable that Channel ferries should also be implicated in the fixed link? I see that that is so. I am amazed to see that British Telecom are also implicated. I do not know whether the Government feel that that aspect is of any importance, but I certainly do, and I believe that it merits some investigation. I trust that there will be very careful examination to ensure that competition is maintained.

There is also the question of public liability. We are assured that there is none and that everything is to be paid for by private money. I believe that we should view that assurance with a certain amount of suspicion. First of all, it seems to me inconceivable that if the scheme were to fail, that the Government could wash their hands of it. It is inconceivable to me, even if there is a guarantee that private interests will look after matters, that the Government would say, "That is just too bad. Here is a bridge standing in the middle of the Channel but it has nothing to do with us". Or, "Here is a tunnel with its entrances locked, but that has nothing to do with us". That seems to me to be a very naïve presumption.

I believe that there is an ultimate responsibility on the Government, but there is also a much more immediate responsibility. Presumably we shall be told how much the necessary changes to the road and rail network will cost. I accept that those changes must be made. We talk about passenger trains running from Manchester, London, and Glasgow, and so forth, to Paris. Can those trains run without large and expensive alterations to the track and platforms? I have always been told that they cannot. Perhaps I am wrong. I believe that we should be given some indication of the capital expenditure from public funds that will be needed if the tunnel is to fulfil the functions that have been talked about today, and which I hope very much it will fulfil.

I should also like some assurance that, when the assessors come to access the impact of the tunnels, they will look at the impact on the whole country. No doubt they will. Indeed, the noble Earl was good enough to say that the impact on Scotland and the North of England would certainly be examined. However, the assessors should also consider various alternatives. It may be that a very large improvement to the port facilities in Scotland—for example, from Leith to the Continent—might offset some of the draw to the South-East—if there is such a draw—because of the Channel tunnel. We should also remember that, desirable though it is—and I wholly agree that it is highly desirable—as much freight as possible should go by rail, a great deal of freight will continue to go by road whether or not we like it. The road facilities from Scotland and the North of England to the Continent are going to be very important.

I should like to say a few words about the financial position of the Government. I understand—no doubt I shall be told if I am wrong—that, once the fixed link has been built, the Government will get nothing by way of royalties, wayleave, or anything else. They will get the normal taxation on profits but nothing else. I should like to be told if I am wrong about that. There are, however, the Crown Commissioners and except in Orkney and Shetland, which are governed by udal law, they always claim very large amounts on any structures built between the high and low water marks. They are usually very particular about obtaining their ownership of the foreshore. Surely someone should look into this. It may well be that if the fixed link is a great success the Crown Commissioners would be entitled to levy a continuing charge on the installations which are installed.

As to the hybrid Bill, I am greatly in favour of it. I hope that one of the results of these debates on the Channel tunnel will be that someone will look again at the whole planning laws. Planning inquiries, as has been said, are quite absurd. If one wants to kill anything the way to do it is to send it to a planning inquiry. I believe that the hybrid Bill procedure can be very effective.

We were assured earlier that the committee will be mobile. I should like to be further assured, if possible, that it will not only be mobile down to Dover and the South of England but, if necessary, will go to Manchester, the North of England and Scotland. I am sure that it can. The question is: will it? I very much hope it will. I also hope that the committee will be accessible to ordinary people and not just to organisations, lawyers and so on. Anyone who has a valid point to make must be able to appear in person before the committee to make it, as people are able to do under the Private Bill procedure for Scotland, and it must be made as easy as possible for them to do so.

Clearly the Government are determined to go though with this project. Do not let us delude ourselves that the Government are in any doubt. The Government intend to have this fixed link, come hell or high water. I know they will deny that, but never mind. Therefore we must make the best of it and ensure that it is the best link possible.

Only one Bill will be required. Within the Bill it is intended to deal with all the consequential matters which will arise in this country. Therefore, may I ask that the Government go a little further in what will be needed vis à vis France? This afternoon we have been speaking a great deal about what we would like in this country but what are the arrangements for France, not only about the immediate building of a fixed link but about its continued maintenance and the possible future developments such as have been spoken of this afternoon? I should be most grateful to have some answers to these elementary questions at some point.

2.11 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, in common with other noble Lords I must declare an interest. For the past eight or nine years I have been with the Eurobridge Group. In that time I have learned much about it, which is only to be expected.

In regard to finance, if we win the race and get the job I hope that I will benefit financially, but certainly I have not benefited financially to date. Moreover, I have a house in Kent. I have been having quite a hot time there because there is, of course, great conster-nation in Kent and we have had many meetings. I have been trying to soften up one or two of our MPs in Kent, and one or two are now with us. I refer also to the MEPs.

Your Lordships will remember—as I believe has already been mentioned—from having read about that era that when the railways first came in one would have thought that the whole country was going up in flames. There were fears that the corn would be burnt and that there would be starvation and heaven knows what. The general public have no idea of the amazing advances in technology in the last few years. After all, eight or nine years ago man was walking on the moon. No one has actually said that it is not possible to build a bridge across the Channel. It is incredibly easy today to do so. The Channel is only really a ditch to cross today.

If one were to put St. Paul's into the deepest part quite a lot of St. Paul's would still be visible. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, will know that off the Orkneys and Shetlands the oil rigs are in thousands of feet of water. And you can get waves 50 or 60 feet high there, whereas in the Channel—which I know well, because I can navigate a bit though I have forgotten most of that now—one seldom finds a sea over 10 or 12 feet high. So to build a bridge across the Channel is child's play.

But as four-fifths of all traffic today is on the road, I should have thought that a bridge would be the obvious solution. I also said in the debate during which my noble friend Lord Bessborough spoke that we were not averse to a tunnel. I am rather frightened, however, of a road tunnel—not a rail tunnel—because you get great heat in a tunnel, and if you have a hold-up and people keep their cars running there is a real danger of fire. If anything goes wrong with the ventilation that situation, too, could be very dangerous.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who was very worried about the maritime implications and the danger to shipping. Of course, if there is a tunnel there must be plenty of ventilation—for passengers in cars, that is obvious—and if a ventilation shaft were to be damaged by a ship, I do not know what would happen. Your Lordships' House has heard that owing to the new materials that are being used, bridge spans may be over three miles in length. During the last war the North Atlantic convoys used to assemble at Loch Linnhe outside Oban and come up the Sound of Mull which is about 20 miles long but only two to three miles wide. There were thousands of ships going up and down during the war—there was two-way traffic—and there were far stronger tides than occur in the Channel, but there never was an accident.

The only accident which occurred happened after the war, when on New Year's Eve an American liberty ship which was coming down the Sound ran straight into a small lighthouse in the centre of it and put out the light. Another American ship which was following her ran straight into her too—I suppose the crew were celebrating and must have been blind drunk—but it was the only time there was an accident there in the whole period of the war. So I really think that people who point to the dangers of ships in the Channel running into the towers are exaggerating a great deal. Since the towers are over three miles apart, every tower will be like a lighthouse; it will possess every modern radar and electronic device to warn ships and to speak to them. In fact, I would say that the Channel will be a far safer place.

I hate the word "colleague", so I shall say that my other noble Peers who have been speaking for Eurobridge have already given your Lordships a great deal of the technical details, so there is no object in my going over that ground again. However, I should like just to say that we have now decided to use nets on buoys off the base of the towers. If a ship's steering gear jams and she is on automatic and the crew are drunk, should the ship veer off she would be caught by these nets and neither the ship nor the tower would suffer damage. It was proposed to have sand islands to protect the towers, but we were then advised by experts in maritime matters that this measure would be bad, because it would upset the tides in the Channel and there would be tide races where they never existed before. That is what rather worried me about the two huge islands of the Eurobridge route.

I attended the Conservative conference for two days this autumn and I happened to meet the former captain of the Texaco fleet of tankers. We were both looking at the Channel tunnel model and the Euroroute model. He was of the opinion that two extremely big islands would have an adverse effect on the currents in the Channel and might be a danger to shipping. I thought that I would just inform your Lordships of that.

Lord Soames

My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me to intervene for a second, this matter has been put to the International Maritime Association which knows all these things. Were what my noble friend fears true, I think I can assure him that this would not have been proceeded with.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I thought that I would just bring that up. I wish no harm to Euroroute at all. I think that the whole fixed link will end up in a vast consortium which probably everyone will be in; all the schemes will play some part.

I have spoken long enough. I thank the Government for all their help, and I heartily agree with noble Lords who have said that it would be absolutely mad to have a public inquiry. It would kill the whole project. As my noble friend Lord Soames said, if the fixed link does not come now it will probably never come.

2.21 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I begin by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that nothing but a deep personal interest would have made me come to a debate in your Lordships' House on a Friday. That deep personal interest goes back for over 60 years, when as a schoolboy my holidays on the Continent were precluded by seasickness between Dover and Calais and ended by seasickness between Ostend and Dover. I was comforted with the thought that I might live to see a more sensible method of getting between Britain and the Continent. All sorts of improvements have been made. Ships are more stable; travel by aircraft is now commonplace. But fundamentally the difference that is made to this country in its relations with the Continent by the lack of direct communication for either passengers or freight can be much underestimated and perhaps in looking at European developments over the past few years has been much underestimated.

In other words, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that what we are discussing is a major question of national policy. Where I find it difficult to follow him is in his belief that we have an inadequate mechanism for discussing this in the procedures which the Government have outlined to us. As he reminded us, we have, after all, had this week a long debate in the other place; we have our debate here today. There has been nothing to prevent any noble Lord, in the interests, let us say, of the construction industry or of industries of parts of England other than Kent, making his voice heard in these debates, and there will be further debates.

I find it very curious that there is not a greater representation today on the Opposition Benches. They have frequently adjured us to spend more money on infrastructure, and nothing could be more "infra" than a tunnel.

Lord Soames

My Lords, it is private money; that is the trouble.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, we are going to the hybrid Bill procedure, and we shall hear whether there will also be a debate on the White Paper. The hybrid Bill procedure gives the opportunity for lengthy parliamentary discussion and, through the Select Committee, for hearing objectors. If we look at the precedents for who is eligible to object, it seems to me that they go well beyond those who are merely locally affected. Indeed, it would be open to any people who believe that their employment or other interests are affected to make representations at that time. However, I should like to ask my noble friend who is to reply to convey to the Secretary of State one suggestion in respect of procedure. There is a good argument for saying that, in the hybrid Bill procedure, we should have a Joint Select Committee of the two Houses rather than repeating the Select Committee procedure in each House. The arguments adduced by petitioners would be exactly the same. It would be a repetition of material that was already public. And it is costly to the petitioners, who can be represented by counsel, and so forth, if they have to go through the same procedure twice. I have consulted the authorities and also Erskine May and there are precedents, on a hybrid Bill, for a Joint Select Committee. It would, I believe, help the petitioners and also possibly abbreviate slightly the total procedure.

On the substance of this issue, I am convinced that the country has suffered and does suffer from this natural difficulty—the fact that we are separated from the Continent by a stretch of extremely rough water. It could be argued—I imagine that future economic historians may argue—that some of the success of what is called the golden triangle of north-west Europe would have been spread more easily to this country if there had not been that difficulty. For that reason, it seems to me that any project that involves rapid transit by rail, which is the most rapid, of goods from our industrial areas to the Continent, should be in the forefront of our minds.

I began by talking about human experience. There are good human reasons for the project. The noble Lord, Lord Mulley, referred to the interruption of communications. But even when communications are not interrupted, do not our diplomats, our civil servants, our MEPs and our businessmen, when they want to go to a meeting in Brussels or in Paris, start with the disadvantage of getting from here to Heathrow which is a much longer and much more uncomfortable and unpleasant journey than their counterparts from other European capitals? Do they not start their negotiations with a built-in disadvantage that must mount over time the more often that they have to make the journey?

There are problems about the choice of route. Not being an engineer, I have no intention of entering into them except to say that as someone who lives by and looks at the English Channel, anything that involves putting obstructions in that waterway, whether in the form of the piers of a bridge or ventilation shafts, seems to me to be venturing against the forces of nature in a very big way. What one must try to do is to see that the administrative arrangements—the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, referred to this—are the most convenient from the point of view of the travelling public, particularly the public travelling by rail. Inspection of documents en route is obviously one solution.

In relation to traffic, there will of course be Customs and other formalities. One must hope that, in the interests of Kent, it might be possible to arrange for most of this business to be transacted on the other side of the Channel where there is less of a garden to despoil. Noble Lords will remember that Queen Mary died with the word "Calais" engraved on her heart. It may have been Tudor foresight to feel how nice it would be if we owned both ends of the link. Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but with our French friends we ought to be able to devise something which would enable us to bring about this major change in our relations with the Continent with a minimum of interruption and bureaucracy.

2.30 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, a month ago the Department of Transport was announcing that the Government would take their decision, not only without a public inquiry, but without even consulting Parliament. Then the Junior Minister went to Kent and a debate in the House of Commons was announced. Last weekend the Government decided also to yield to pressure for a debate in this House, although they left us to find out about it through the press.

Theoretically the hybrid Bill procedures will allow for detailed examination of complaints and fears. But what seems clear to some of us is that the Government themselves have had far too short a time to examine not only the application documents of the four groups, but also the four groups themselves. The Government are relying in the first place on the applicants to present their own assessments of engineering, environmental, employment and social implications. With regard to engineering, it may be that they should present the first assessment. But who are they, for heaven's sake, to present the first assessment of the environmental, social and economic implications of the proposal? To allow things to go that way throws, in my submission, an almost impossibly heavy burden on the assessment teams which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned in his opening speech.

May I repeat now the question which I put to him then? I obviously did not put it clearly enough. In his speech the noble Earl referred to 20 assessment teams or assessment panels who would advise the Government on each of the applications. What is the membership of those panels? I am not asking for a list of the names of their members, but what kind of persons are on them? Are they all civil servants; partly civil servants; none of them civil servants; and from whence are drawn those who are not civil servants; and what is the rank and department of the civil servants concerned?

I think that the whole House would agree that the award of the concession must not be a licence to print money. It must also not be an order for a monopoly position from which one group of people—with financial return their sole aim—could not only fix prices, but could also hold British industry and the British public to ransom. The fixed link has to be complementary to the ferries, the hovercraft, the freighters and the aircraft; and the terms on which the two governments award the contract must make this requirement clear. The award should not be made to any group which cannot make a profit without wiping out the ferries. If this means a rail-only tunnel, so be it.

In all our discussions so far we have heard nothing of the French Government's deliberations, or of the French Parliament's, or anyone else's in France. I understand that proposer groups have been actively discouraged from publishing here or elsewhere any comparisons between effects and impacts here and in France. Is it so dangerously beneficial to the French compared with the benefits it would bring to us?

What are the criteria for judging applications, which must by now have been agreed by the joint Anglo-French working group? Are the French members as much concerned as the British members to prevent any monopoly and any opportunity for price fixing and wiping out the competition? Do they see the fixed link as complementary to existing systems, as we do and should? Do they see the avoidance of monopoly and price fixing as the one sine qua non condition on the economic side? In making their judgment will our Government be careful to allow for the fact that French capital investment is under a much greater degree of public control than ours in the first place?

Our Government must notice not only the unwise words of Sir Nigel Broackes, who was reported as saying that he hopes that the Channel crossing would remain one of the most expensive in the world, but also the fact that Messrs. Channel Expressway—or rather Mr. Sherwood himself—first bought Sealink, then put in a bid for the fixed link, and now admits that the short-route Channel ferries would be closed down and redeployed to the Mediterranean and elsewhere. I shall quote Mr. Sherwood's words, written on Sealink paper, if you please. He said: Sealink British Ferries would love to see the ferries remain but we can't stop progress". As my noble friend Lord McNair has already said, we on these Benches support the idea of a fixed link. However, it is essential that a fixed link should be no more than one choice among several that the exporter or importer taking his goods to or from Europe and the traveller with his car, or his coach or his train, can make. A fixed link will be no contribution to Anglo-French, let alone Anglo-Continental convenience, prosperity or well-being, if its effect is to reduce the choice of means and of destinations that are now available. The Government will need to examine very carefully the proportion of short route traffic which the four schemes would each need to cream off before they could be profitable. The more they need to cream off, the closer they would come to establishing a monopoly on the short route and the less freedom of choice for the rest of us. There should be no financial overlap between the ferries and the fixed link. The remaining ferry firms should not be permitted to join the successful group, because in that way lies price-fixing and monopoly.

On the matter of free choice I have one more point for the Government. This point looks 50 years ahead. When the Prime Minister meets the President of France it is clearly of the greatest importance that she should not commit the Government to this being the only fixed link for all time. The Pas de Calais is by no means the only desirable destination for either freight or travellers. Supposing tunnelling under the Channel turns out to be much easier than we think it will be, other tunnels to other destinations may perhaps come to be proposed. Nothing agreed in the next few months should preclude that.

Much has been said about the psychological effects of driving all the way through the tunnel. The type of unremitting concentration that a long tunnel requires could have a variety of effects not only on driving inside the tunnel, but also later when drivers come out and feel that they can relax their concentration. What about the effect of one hour of the echoing noise? What about the effect on small children who may get claustrophobia and start screaming in the driver's ear? The public opinion polls whose respondents prefer a scheme which allowed them to drive, over one that did not, do not seem to have asked them if they had any particular experience of driving in long tunnels. Probably those who have often had to do the seven miles of Mont Blanc may agree with me that many people would try the 30 miles once and not again.

I was surprised to hear last week from the noble Earl in a Written Answer that he had no information on the reasons why the recently completed tunnel between two of the Japanese islands is not being used and is indeed being considered for such things as oil storage. It is surely obvious that the Government must inform themselves about that tunnel. Naturally, the Japanese Government are less than anxious to have it looked at, given that it presumably does not redound to the credit of their technology. All the more so should the Government find out what kind of difficulties were encountered—were they entirely geological? It is easy to understand that the job was indeed formidable. Alternatively, did it turn out that the overall flexibility of the ferry services was economically more rewarding than the fixed link? Or what? That experience must be at least as relevant to the Government's decision as the American estuarial constructions which are so much easier to find out about.

I turn to defence. A spokesman for one of the groups has gone so far in private briefing as to say that Mr. Heseltine seems fairly relaxed about the whole thing. This relates particularly to the question of the national security impact of a reduction in the number of ferry boats. Having been on the Lionheart Exercise last year, it was in those terms that I put a Question last week which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, answered in the usual terms: these matters are not disclosed. I asked how many ferry boats they considered the minimum necessary for national security.

Lionheart showed very clearly that there are not now too many ferries. It is obvious that a bridge cannot possibly be depended on, nor can a tunnel, to convey the forces and equipment from this country to continental Europe in a crisis. Even in terms of plain overall shipping figures, which have so greatly alarmed the House already, the Government cannot, I believe, propose further reducing the Merchant Fleet by an act of policy.

The Ministry of Defence should certainly not be taking a relaxed view of a fixed Channel link, and I hope that it is not. Many of us hope that this House will shortly be able to set up a new Select Committee to go into the maritime interests of the country in greater breadth than is customary at the moment.

Lord Soames

My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to intervene for one second? I know that he is a seeker after accuracy. The noble Lord made much play with the length of a tunnel and the number of miles one would have to drive in it. The noble Lord of course knows that there are four schemes before the assessors. One has no road at all; the other has a bridge; a third has a short tunnel of the order of 11 miles; and there is only one out of the four that has the long tunnel. Perhaps that also will be taken into consideration.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was indeed aware of the difference between the four schemes, and the noble Lord will have understood that my preference would be for the rail-only tunnel. That is only a personal preference, based on personal experience and hunch. I in no way commit my party or any other.

Any idea that in Britain only Kent would be affected must be forgotten, and of course it has been forgotten. It is clear from this debate that everybody is looking wider than that not only in terms of the economic benefit but also in terms of the effect on ferries. My noble friend Lord Grimond has mentioned the Leith ferry and that is realistic. One has to look as far afield as Leith and Plymouth.

I begin to feel that the Government have bitten off a great deal not for their powers of decision, which are indeed formidable—they have shown their determination—but for the mechanism they have chosen to use to reach the decision within 100 days. Is it possible that within that time they will have valid results of any research into the psychological effects of long tunnel driving, about which I was just speaking? Is it possible that they will really know within that time, and be able to inform Parliament, of the exact meaning of Mr. Ridley's use of words when he said last Monday, 9th December, at col. 639.

The guidelines made it clear"— that is, the guidelines given to the intending contractors— that, while essential political guarantees would be provided by the Government, it was essential for promoters to demonstrate that their projects could proceed without support from public funds for Government guarantees against commercial or technical risks". What does "without support from public funds" mean? Does it mean, for instance, that the promoters will reimburse the Government for unemployment benefit associated with the competition presented by the project to existing means of transport? If not, what?

It is already clear that Mr. Ridley has contradicted himself, as the noble Earl contradicted himself today in echoing the same words, "without support from public funds". Mr Ridley said that railway investment is indeed to come from public funds, if any is needed, and also that the necessary improvements in the national and local road system would, as expected, come from public funds. What kind of use of language is that?

Let us turn to some of the other questions which have to be answered by the proposed machinery so very quickly. What changes in transport conditions not envisaged by the promoters would affect the viability of the scheme? The price of fuel? Top speed governors for coaches? What limits on private and commercial road traffic might be imposed because of ecological considerations 50 years ahead, or 20 years ahead? The death of the forests, to which our car exhausts contribute? Maybe the whole of Europe will have to be not using cars and lorries in 50 years' time. My noble friend Lord McNair was looking ahead to this. The Government surely cannot actively promote the increased use of a polluting means of transport, or any other polluting technology, without careful thought when they could be actively promoting non-polluting ones.

For all these reasons, it seems to me that the Government should lean towards the prospect of a fixed link which uses a rail-only tunnel. This is not because I think it ideal, but it seems to have less glaring disadvantages than any of the others.

To conclude, I shall say a word or two about public inquiries. The Prime Minister has said that if there is a public inquiry, the investment money will melt away. The noble Lord, Lord Boardman, with authority, has confirmed that in this House today. People do not understand—I hope that we may be told—what sort of money is it which melts away in a year, or even in six months, which is the sort of delay we are talking about. What is so special about 1984 when it comes to the investment of large capital sums? What is wrong with 1985? What was wrong with 1982? I cannot conceal a feeling that we are accepting too much at face value the assertions of those who have the money ready now and may find it an inconvenience—though probably not more than that—to be asked to have it ready again in a year's time. In any case, recent public inquiries have only lasted so long because no attempt has been made to limit them. If I am not mistaken, the Government could set up a public inquiry on a timetable, with so many days for each subject, and the whole limited to three months, or one month, if you like. That would concentrate minds wonderfully. I should remind the Government that there is also such a thing as a Public Inquiry Commission, which has been on the statute book now for nearly 20 years and has never been used. What will be tested this time is not the ability of a public inquiry to be expeditiously conducted, but the ability of the hybrid Bill procedure to get at the national interest.

Will submissions to the Select Committee which go to the national interest be permitted? I am asking for concrete answers from the Government. Will submissions about the disposition of that amount of venture capital in this project (as opposed to other possible ventures over the years) be permitted? Will technological forecasting submissions be permitted, about the future of transport in general? Will national environmental submissions, general economic calculations, and assessments of European Community interests, be permitted before the Select Committee or Committees of our Parliament? If not, will the Government please submit Motions to both Houses, changing the rules so that they can be? In passing, I should like to endorse, though I admit without reflection, the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, of a Joint Select Committee which would clearly be more efficient.

This project has been with us for 180 years, as many noble Lords have said. We are now asked to conclude it within a couple of months. I started by saying that we are in favour of the fixed link and we are in favour of doing it quickly, but we are not in favour of doing it blinkered and at breakneck speed. This Government are very good at getting on with things, but they are less good at thinking carefully in advance about the pitfalls. That is why they keep landing up in the courts. I have just heard that they have landed up in the courts again, even since we had the Statement about Mr. Ridley this morning.

I am reminded in this whole matter of a good German word, Torschlusspanik. This is the feeling of panic which overcomes people of a certain age when they see some gate closing, and it commonly leads to rash actions. It is a human instinct, and even governments of a certain age may fall prey to it.

2.48 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, perhaps I should also declare an interest at the beginning. My interest is that I was one of the early joint chairmen of the Channel Tunnel Group in the 1970s. On every occasion on which I have had the opportunity I have consistently spoken in favour of a fixed link. I must be quite honest and say that I have always been in favour of a tunnel. In fact, in those days it was always a tunnel that was discussed. There was mooted for a period an elegant and imaginative design for a splendid twin tubular bridge which I considered and discussed with the people concerned, but its development did not go as far as the proposals we have been given recently about the bridge.

I do not believe that this is really the time—and most noble Lords have taken the same point of view—to go into too many details about the technical problems. Most people have avoided the nitty-gritty. Personally I would only say, as I said last January in the House, that at this stage of the civil engineering development, I cannot really believe that we have solved all the difficulties of the choice that either a bridge or a bridge/tunnel/bridge would raise. At the present state of the art I believe the only solution must be a tunnel, if it is decided to go ahead at all. Obviously, I have looked at all the other ideas in the four submissions; I have been to a number of demonstrations and I have great admiration for the technical skills and ingenuity of those who have put them forward.

My personal view is that at the end of the day if we wish ultimately to decide that a fixed link should be built, the one which is most likely to be viable would be a tunnel solution. I have some reservations about Expressway. One of the main ones is that the ventilation system—and this is perhaps going into the nitty-gritty, which is what I said I would not go into—seems to me to be a wee bit on the edge of technology. It has been used, though only to a much more limited extent, I understand, in certain tunnels in Japan, and I rather doubt its viability.

The second reservation is perhaps more substantial, and it has been mentioned by many noble Lords here. It concerns the question of driving through a 30-mile tunnel. I am always amused when I see the rather over-enthusiastic artists' impression of such things as these tunnels. You always see the lone motor-car, the Fiesta, the Metro or the Novo driving through a beautiful, clean, well painted, bright tunnel. You never see Aunt Agatha driving along with half a dozen big diesel lorries behind her, with a train running beside her or with a coach bearing down upon her from the back. I think that this is something which has not been quite fairly dealt with. Artists always do this. We had an example in Glasgow many years ago of a rather important street. The artist's impression showed a new building and, in order to impress the planners, he put trees round it. The trees were seven storeys high when you measured them and then, at a closer look, we discovered that the sun was coming from the north. Then we began to realise that it was perhaps a slightly false impression. That is, of course, only over enthusiasm.

My noble friend Lord Mulley also told us that Channel Expressway had included two separate rail tunnels as well as two tunnels for road traffic instead of the built-in rail traffic on the road tunnels. I have found many of the designs we have seen in the last few months rather disconcerting in the way in which, as someone put it, the goal posts are being changed all the time. Just when you are beginning to understand what is happening, something else is suggested to take care of the problems raised. There is also the question of how the money is going to be spread out and how suddenly new money is going to be found.

Having made these reservations, I must confess that I am not terribly concerned. I think there have been, and will be, enough safeguards discussed in the working parties and the assessment groups which are looking at the project to take care of the dangers of security, of defence, of rabies and of other health problems. I think that these have been genuinely looked at over the years and I believe that we will have no more risks from tunnels or bridges from these points of view than we have at present from the other ways by which goods are imported from continental Europe. It seems to me that the promoters have made proper provisions in their submissions to handle all these risks, and so long as the safeguards are properly carried out and policed, I do not think we have any reason to worry about them.

I am sure that a link can be made—and I am speaking specifically about tunnels only, as I tried to make clear earlier—but can it be financed privately until it is totally complete? The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made a number of important points on this. Can it pay its way once it is completed? What are the worries over bankruptcy in respect of the companies who are to be involved in this? The Government insist on private money. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said he did not understand why money was good this year and not next year. One point I could never quite understand was that if we are talking in terms of money, which is only a means of buying the resources—and I am sure this is terribly elementary—why are the resources going to be different because it is private money, as against the resources that would be used for the actual construction of the tunnel or the bridge if it were public money?

Lord Boardman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I understand the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised that point while I was unfortunately out of the Chamber. It is one thing to put together a packet today and do all the calculations in respect of the terms upon which that money will be spent, starting in 18 months' time and following through to the end of the next half-dozen years. It is another thing to put forward a packet which would be required for some quite indeterminate period. I am not suggesting 22 years, such as with the by-pass and so on, but with a planning inquiry which might take a long time it would be quite impossible to put forward a financial packet which would stand up.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, obviously I must accept the much greater knowledge of the noble Lord but if, as we are told, the City is awash with money, it is difficult to believe that there would not be some of it still lapping around in two years' time, if that were the case. The point I was making was slightly different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I was talking about resources; and if Britain decides to play her part in this tunnel the resources will still come from Britain—at least we hope so. There is of course no guarantee of that and many of them may come from abroad, but the resources will still be British resources, whether the money is private or public. Perhaps I could get a tutorial from the noble Lord at some time to clear up this point privately and not bore the House with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, dealt seriously with the question of what happens if the project goes beyond a certain point and there is bankruptcy. This was discussed in another place very fully and no one really believes that the Government would pull out. As one speaker said in the other place, the French Government would not pull out. They would certainly insist on going ahead. If anything happened after the tunnel had been completed and there was an inability to compete with ferries (if there were any ferries left) or with some other method of crossing—perhaps by means of cheaper air fares and short take off and landing aircraft and so on—at least in regard to the passengers, who are the cream of the traffic, it might throw problems on to the operators of the tunnel which they had not allowed for.

The other question of course is the fuel costs. The Under-Secretary of State in another place was asked about what would happen if the tunnel was not completed. He suggested that an insurance bond would be taken out so that any structures that had been erected by the operators or the constructors would need to be taken away and the insurance bond would pay for that. Hansard records that there was laughter at that point. I do not doubt that and I can see the reason. It is, however, definitely not a joke. There are a number of very large scars around the Scottish coasts where people thought they could get into the oil business. They got planning permission and built platforms in the building areas and yet never finished up with a single platform. There are scars that we do not know what to do with, but those responsible have moved on and the local people are left with the problem.

Parliament will need to be given time for examination of the treaty when it comes and at this point we should have an answer from the Government. Will the White Paper contain most of the points—certainly the salient ones—that will be included in the treaty, so that Parliament will have a chance to discuss it at that point, if not later? Also, will the White Paper give sufficient detail of this treaty before it is signed, so that Parliament can discuss it?

I should like to speak very briefly about the ferries. I have spoken, as have other noble Lords, to many of the people who are putting forward schemes for the Channel link, and all of them say privately that they doubt very much whether there will be any ferry service left after their scheme has come into operation. In other words, they are going for the lot and very few of them believe that there will be any ferry service of any importance left.

If the ferries disappear, which was not envisaged when the more modest earlier schemes were put forward, what will become of an island country such as this? How much more vulnerable shall we be? Will the Government accompany their acceptance of any fixed link with some protection for our coastal shipping and the whole question of sabotage, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Underhill? In the last few years, ferries have undoubtedly become more efficient and have grown bigger. The Select Committee of both parties was not unanimous and it was worried about the viability of any link with the new service.

But other new considerations have arisen in Britain since we discussed the Channel tunnel in the days when my noble friend Lord Mulley was Secretary of State for Transport. One of the most important is that we have become a totally different nation even in the last five years. One of the causes of worry about this whole question is the fact that we are very much more two nations than we ever were. There has been a drift over the last 30 years and this has accelerated in the last five years. In the 1960s and 1970s, I had thought of trainloads leaving Scotland, the North of England and South Wales on their way to the Continent, to Dusseldorf, Milan and even Eastern Europe, with—to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said in a slightly different way and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, also spoke about this—customs clearance before they left or on the trains on the way through.

Of course this goes for the whole question of cross-Channel traffic. I had thought of customs-cleared trains. We had inland customs depots—I am not sure whether they now exist—at places like Coatbridge, outside Glasgow, where the containers could be sealed and taken right through with goods for the Continent. Unfortunately, there are not now the factories, the workshops and the engineering shops left in the North to provide those goods. Therefore, the tunnel will, in the belief of many people, merely push more and more down to the South-East and make the situation even worse.

Lastly, I should like to say a word on the whole question of public inquiries. We all know that they have frequently been used to thwart plans rather than to improve them. People will always take whatever last step is left to them if they feel sufficiently strongly about something and if they feel that they can get their own way by using public inquiries. This cuts across party boundaries, but there is nothing against the suggestion that was made by some noble Lords, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about a timetable for a public inquiry. I am sure Parliament is flexible enough to be able to evolve some method of doing that. We are not asking for an inordinate delay. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and I firmly believe that the best way of crossing the English Channel is by a fixed link. To be perfectly honest, both of us believe that, at the present state of the art, the tunnel is the right way. We also believe that it must be a rail tunnel because, if there is going to be any hope for other parts of the country, we need rail access right down to the south coast and right through to the Continent.

We have always been believers in a cross-Channel link but there are honest questions to be asked. Many of them have been asked today. They cannot be dealt with only by a hybrid Bill. The Secretary of State for Transport emphasised that the only people who will be able to appear in the proceedings of a hybrid Bill will be those with a local interest or those who have a direct interest or are directly affected. We are speaking in terms of the whole country being affected in some way. Therefore the proceedings should be much wider than a mere local inquiry. There was the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, for the Scottish method, the Opposed Private Business Committee, which incidentally is taken in a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, where at least people can come with slightly wider interests or remits.

We do not know whether some of the questions we have to ask will be applicable to a hybrid Bill procedure or whether they have to be brought out in some other way. What is the future of the ferries? Will the Government be willing to subsidise ferries in order to keep them going if it looks as though it will be too difficult for them to make a living only by carrying hazardous goods and one or two people who are unable to travel in any other way? There is no possible profitable future for ferries if that is their sole role. What will happen to coastal shipping? What are the immediate, the long-term and the short-term prospects for employment not only in Kent but in other parts of the country? The Kent people are concerned—and I know that local authorities in Kent are concerned—about where the money for the new roads is coming from. Will it be new money or will it be money taken from other parts of the country in order to feed roads into the Channel tunnel?

The North-South divide is becoming quite serious. People in the North say—perhaps as naively as I was saying earlier: if something like £3 billion to £5 billion is to be spent must it be spent in the South-East corner? Must that area absorb yet more money? That may be a naive question but these people are not going to be nipping backwards and forwards to Paris every year; these are people in the North of England and Scotland who probably seldom manage to get across to the Continent. Therefore they do wonder why it is essential for this money to be spent there and they believe it will make matters worse.

We believe that these doubts are genuine and that is why I should like as many answers as possible between now and the publication of the White Paper. People are anxious for these answers not only in this part of the world but outside it. I hope we get the answers in time so that when the final decision is made and when the Bill is before Parliament we shall have general and genuine national support—though of course there will always be people who object, and they are perfectly entitled to object to any link of that kind—for a cross-Channel link and that it will appear and people will be convinced that it is not another kick into an already over prosperous South-East of England relative to the rest of the country. I think it would be dangerous if the imbalance were to get any greater. That is one of the questions that the Government have to consider.

3.10 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have listened with very great interest to our debate today. It is clear that there is a great deal of interest and expertise in your Lordships' House on the subject of the fixed link. The debate has fully and admirably served the two purposes I outlined earlier. While on the subject of expertise, we were very lucky to have speaking in our debate today my noble friends Lord Soames and Lord Boardman, and the noble Lords, Lord Mulley and Lord Layton, who are all associated in a major way with one or other of the schemes. Their expertise has added greatly to our debate.

I have taken careful note of the arguments and opinions that have been expressed. I now have a good understanding of the views of this House. The House is almost unamimous: I mark it as 15½ for and 1½ against. Many of the points raised go to the heart of the assessment that British and French officials are currently conducting. I am therefore unable to respond fully and in detail at this stage. However, I am relieved that no noble Lord has mentioned a subject that to my certain knowledge is not already being considered by one of the assessment teams. Indeed, I am comforted by the knowledge that much of what has been said by the Government in the debates both in another place and so far today in your Lordships' House has been confirmed by noble Lords from all parts of the Chamber.

Secondly, I hope that what I said earlier and what I am about to say will confirm the position that the Government have reached in their consideration of the five options. I stress "five options" in particular for the benefit of the Doubting Thomas—the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. There are not four options, because I must emphasise once again that no decision has been taken for or against a link. All options, including the so-called flexilink option, remain open.

I will deal now with some of the detailed points that noble Lords have raised. I must start by saying how disappointed I was by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I had hoped that he would clarify that which his right honourable and honourable friends in another place refuse to clarify—that is, where Labour stands on this issue. That is a simple question, but it is one to which we have not received an answer.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I thought that I had made our position thoroughly clear, as far as the Opposition Bench in this House is concerned. We accept the decision of another place on the question of the inquiry. As my noble friend said, we are in favour of a link, provided that all national interests are considered. That is why we want the noble Earl to explain this afternoon exactly where interests of a national nature can put their points of view.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying the position and for re-affirming now the 1974 stance taken by his party: that there would be no public inquiry.

I will deal immediately with a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, concerning the national impact. He mentioned businesses in the Midlands and went on to say that the reduction in the transport costs of more than 200 miles by road is greatly to the benefit of industries. The industries that the noble Lord mentions are precisely those that could benefit from any fixed link because of the long and potential rail connection. I assure noble Lords in all parts of the House that the national interest is being very carefully considered in the assessments. Indeed, Assessment Team No. 13 is dealing with the economic and employment implications of any scheme.

The noble Lord raised a question about a debate on the White Paper before the Bill is introduced. That is a matter for the usual channels, and seeing the Opposition Chief Whip in his place I shall not trespass on that territory today.

I can assure the noble Lord also that defence implications are being taken fully into account in the assessment process, and will include the effect on the ferries, as I said in my opening speech. That is a subject to which I shall return in a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, asked what would happen if the money runs out. If the concessionaire is bankrupted or otherwise unable to complete the works the lending institutions will have to consider their position. The governments have made it clear that they will not intervene to complete the work. The bankers would be able to substitute another concessionaire or complete and operate the link themselves. Of course, the link would be of no value unless operated as a fixed link. This is the only way they could recover the money advanced. Only if the backers were unwilling to complete the project would the bonding arrangements, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in particular, come into operation. The noble Lord seemed to ridicule the proposal for a bonding agreement. Doubtless, he would ridicule us even more if we had not included it in our proposals.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, asked if there had been discussion with Trinity House and the United Kingdom pilots. I can confirm that this is included in the maritime assessment and is confirmed by my noble friend Lord Layton who said he had been discussing his proposal with Trinity House for seven years.

The noble Lord, Lord Benson, was supported by many noble Lords, particularly my noble friends Lord Soames, Lord Boardman and Lord Bessborough. He said he would like freedom of choice for individuals and for businesses, and he suggested that there should be both road and rail tunnels. Not only will there be a possibility of road and/or rail tunnels, but there are still the ferries and air transport to carry goods and people from one side of the Channel to the other. I very much agree with him when he says that this is a huge industrial venture with terrific prospects and that the lack of enthusiasm round the country is a little disappointing. There seemed to be far more enthusiasm round the country about the prospect of a fixed link some 12 months ago when the debate was held in this House in January than there is at present.

My noble friend Lord Soames said that the time is now. I could not agree with him more. The four points have come together at the correct time so we should strike while the iron is hot provided the criteria are met.

My noble friend, Lord Mulley, said that his group had undertaken an assessment on driver psychology. Of course, we are considering that assessment. It shows the detail in which the schemes have been prepared. My noble friend Lord Boardman said very clearly only a moment ago to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that if there is to be a public inquiry this matter would become, in his words, "stone dead". and that any delay would mean that the private investors would doubtless find other investments in which to put their money. It would be extremely difficult to generate private finance for a scheme in the future.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, asked about major pile-ups and the possibility of terrorist attacks. These have been covered by the assessment teams. At the moment, for security reasons, it would be wrong for me to comment further on the possibility of terrorist attacks, but certainly the road assessors have gone into great detail on the question of any pile-up.

My noble friend Lord Layton said that the Government are on a sensible timetable, and I agree with him. As regards consultations, he said that his group had been consulting with the International Maritime Organisation for many years. Again, that goes to prove the depth to which the studies have been undertaken. My noble friend also told the House that his group had experimented with the possible effects of explosives on their proposed scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, mentioned on-train clearance by Customs, as did my noble friend Lord Beloff. There are very great attractions to on-train clearance. For example, it would reduce the need for a large Customs hall at the London terminal and would avoid the need to check in. As the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans said, on-train clearance is normal in Europe. But there are manpower consequences which the Government wish to consider and there are operational reasons why on-train clearance is not just the simple matter that we would sometimes wish it to be. There is the limited time available between an international station at Ashford and the portal in France. I note the noble Lord's point and it is being considered but I cannot give him a definite answer today. Let me say that we are anxious to arrange controls in a way that facilitates the rapid flow of traffic through the link without jeopardising the effectiveness of those controls.

My noble friend Lord Bessborough mentioned ferries in particular, as did the noble Lord, Lord Underhill and the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. I said that I would come back to his query on the matter. On the shortest routes, that is, the Dover to Calais route, for example, because of its greater speed in a time-conscious market a link would probably take a large share of the traffic, but I agree with my noble friend that from the Belgian Straits routes, which are longer and less time-sensitive, a link would attract much less traffic and from the south and south-east coast routes it would probably win only a small share. These are the findings of the United Kingdom-French study group in 1982 and are likely to be confirmed by the current assessment.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, who was a cautious supporter and rated my half marks earlier on, if I can give him that, was concerned about the large marshalling areas that were to be erected and the security implications. I can assure the noble Lord that the proposals are being fully assessed. Decisions on the level of security there and elsewhere can only be taken at a later stage and after a particular promoter has been selected; but the noble Lord's points in particular about marshalling traffic are very well taken and are clearly a factor in the assessment.

The noble Lord also mentioned that there would not be a Government guarantee on the expenditure on any fixed link but that there would be other Government moneys going into road and rail. I can tell the noble Lord that British Rail have put forward for capital expenditure associated with the link a sum of between £250 million and £350 million. This is being examined closely and must pass the usual commercial tests. The impact on the road network is being examined and will form part of the overall assessment.

I think it is worth stressing at this point that any private development, such as a housing estate—or even Lord Kennet's house—involve public sector costs, such as for sewerage, and the costs are recovered in the usual way in rates and taxes. The link is no different.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, also mentioned the question of future maintenance. I can tell him that this is part of the proposals which the prospective concessionaires are putting forward and it is being closely monitored by the assessors.

My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard spoke of the tide races in the Channel and the change in plans as a result of consultations. In fact my noble friend Lord Soames confirmed that Euroroute had discussed this matter with the IMO and again it only highlights the amount of consultation that has taken place so far.

My noble friend Lord Beloff asked a particular question about procedure and whether there should be a Joint Select Committee, as this would save time and expense. I shall take that matter up with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, of course. However, I must point out to the noble Lord that there are some differences in procedure between our Houses and it would not necessarily stop people petitioning again in this House if there were a Joint Select Committee unless there were an agreement to the effect that they could not do so, and that Motion is debatable.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that the Government had stated at an earlier time that Parliament would not be allowed to discuss this matter. Perhaps he believes too much of what he reads in the papers and acts without checking his facts—on that matter, anyway. That was never stated by the Government.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I accept what the noble Earl says. I shall revert to my source in a normally respectable newspaper to check its language. Perhaps he can then chastise the editor.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it would be possible to do nothing else than chastise editors for incorrect information in papers. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to set up a new department.

As to timing, I have to remind the noble Lord that the commercial world is able to move much faster than governments can, and is well used to making assessments and advising within the current timetable. From the not so distant past, when I was in the commercial world, I remember clearly that we undertook fairly major assessments in a short time. That is the way that we had always worked, and we were structured to take account of such things.

The noble Lord mentioned membership of the assessment group. I am grateful to him for the opportunity to clarify that point. It comprises senior officials of both Governments. The joint chairmen are Monsieur Rudeau and Mr. Lyall of the Department of Transport. On the United Kingdom side members are drawn from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Transport. That is the main assessment group, but work on particular assessment subjects is also being conducted by other Government departments. As I have mentioned, private consultants are involved as well.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is the Scottish Office represented in any of the groups?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, at the moment I cannot remember, but I do not believe that it is as such.

Lord Grimond

Perhaps it ought to be, my Lords.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the purpose of the debate is to bring forward points to my right honourable friend, and that is one which will be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked how we view the competition issues. The guidelines make it clear that the link operator will have pricing freedom, subject of course to French, British and European Community law on monopoly and abuse of a dominant position. We cannot disapply the Treaty of Rome even if we should want to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, seems to have become more of a doubter than he was on 16th January of this year. He said then (at col. 1040): If we have to wait much longer … it may not be possible to get a start". Then (at col. 1041) he said: the cross-Channel link would be a boon to people on this side of the Channel and on the other side … and that the most likely way to get something done would be to go for a tunnel". Whether it is a tunnel or any link at all is still a matter for debate, but what he said then holds good. It will be a boon to people all over the country and particularly to our industries in the Midlands, the North and Scotland. His comment about two nations is wrong in any case, I believe, but it is even more wrong if the link will be a boon to the country and will bring the North, Scotland and Wales much closer to what he considers to be a cut-off South. I do not believe the noble Lord, but I do believe that any link, if there is a link, will bring tremendous opportunities and prosperity to the people of this country, wherever they are.

The noble Lord praised the work of the assessment teams and believed that they were checking every aspect that could be thought of. I am grateful to him for saying that, and I shall pass on the remark to the appropriate people.

The noble Lord asked about the treaty. It will be signed and published at about the time of the White Paper, or shortly thereafter. As I said in my opening remarks, it cannot, however, be ratified until the hybrid Bill has been approved. In theory, I understand, we could ratify it after a Second Reading, but that will not be the situation as I understand it at the moment.

The noble Lord also mentioned cabotage, which is a matter of great concern to me. It is a slightly different point. We are trying to open up the European countries' cabotage. If he would like a debate on the matter, I am sure that the usual channels would be delighted to arrange it and I shall be very happy to reply.

I have taken note of the wide range of opinions expressed today. We shall reflect carefully on what noble Lords have said—

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that part of his speech, can he give the House any assurance that the Government are interested in finding out the reason for the apparent failure of what is at present the largest transport tunnel in the world, the Japanese one?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, while we might be interested in finding out, whether we can get the information from the Japanese is another question. We will reflect carefully on what noble Lords have said. I shall ensure that all the arguments that I have heard are fully reflected in the assessment. Provided that the criteria laid down are met, the spectacular civil engineering project of a fixed link across the Channel financed by private capital, backed by political will and approved by Parliament, must be given its chance.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes before four o'clock.