HL Deb 19 November 1990 vol 523 cc571-2

2.55 p.m.

The Viscount of Oxfuird asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures are planned to ensure that British industry benefits from the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it is for industry itself to grasp the opportunities which will be offered by the opening of the Channel Tunnel. The Government's role is to facilitate industry's tasks and that is what we are doing. The national motorway and trunk road programme is being expanded to provide for the general increase in traffic which is now forecast. The programme, especially in Kent, takes full account of anticipated growth in cross-Channel traffic, much of which will use the tunnel. And British Rail proposes to invest well over £1 billion in tunnel-related improvements to freight and passenger services.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his informative reply. Can he confirm that these increased benefits will not be confined solely to the south-eastern region of this country?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Yes, my Lords, the tunnel will bring cost savings in carrying goods across the Channel due to greater transport competition. It will offer for the first time the possibility of reliable delivery times of United Kingdom exports to the Continent. The consequent increased levels of trade with our European partners will contribute to economic growth and employment in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the South West there is great worry about the fact that the Channel Tunnel will not have any proper links into that part of the country? The freight terminal at Bristol will be the nearest one to Devon and Cornwall. There is great worry that the South West will be left out of the development arising from the Channel Tunnel.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, British Rail proposes to have up to 12 regional freight terminals. They are not all yet identified so I cannot confirm whether Bristol will be the noble Lord's nearest one. It is estimated that up to 70 per cent. of freight transport will emanate from beyond London. That should be encouraging.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, although most of us hope that our exports to the remainder of the European Community will be greatly facilitated and speeded up with the opening of the Channel Tunnel, nevertheless there is a two-way traffic and that it will also speed up imports from the Continent to the United Kingdom? We are at the moment running a deficit with the rest of Europe to the tune of £8 billion per annum.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Maybe, my Lords; but exports are increasing faster than imports and therefore they will be assisted by the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Of course it will be a two-way trade; so it is at the moment with the use of ships.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, can my noble friend say which points in the northern part of this country will be directly reached by trains through the Channel Tunnel?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that the trains will go so far as Scotland as soon as the Channel Tunnel opens. I have already said that there will be regional freight depots; but the location of those has not yet been finally decided.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, the noble Lord used the word "hope". That is not very good for manufacturing industry north of Watford. It wants something a little more concrete than that. Manufacturing industry is now looking forward to exporting goods through the tunnel. Will the Government tell British Rail to decide quickly on its rail links from the capital to the South East, to the South West, to the North and to the Midlands and Liverpool?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Baroness should not have too long to wait. I understand that British Rail plans to announce the siting of the freight terminals certainly by the early part of next year.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the problems is that we do not have in this country an integrated transport system, and that under this Government there is no sign of one emerging? Is he further aware that notwithstanding the quasi-assurances he has given to the House today, there is deep anxiety not simply in the South West and in the Midlands but throughout the northern part of this country that there are not sufficient—nor are there likely to be sufficient—freight routes to the Channel Tunnel? That may have serious effects on British industry, particularly as 1992 approaches.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not think that that is the case. As I said, there will be substantial freight traffic passing through the tunnel. Freight trains will travel at speeds of up to 75 mph which is the same speed as trains running in France and Germany. The noble Lord said that we do not have an integrated transport system. However, no one has ever explained to me exactly what that means; indeed, it means different things to different people. We have a balanced transport system with substantial investment going into both road and rail.