asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to announce a decision as to which of the private consortia submitting proposals for the financing and construction of the Channel Tunnel is to be selected for finalising this aspect of the project; and whether, in view of the tendency of construction costs to rise, he will take action to accelerate his decision.
The French Minister of Transport and I have been considering the proposals of the three private groups and I expect that we shall very soon make a joint statement of progress and intentions. I regret that it has not in the event proved possible to time that statement for announcement to the House today but it will, I hope, lead to an agreement with a selected financing group by the end of the year. On this basis, and if the resulting studies confirm the case for the tunnel, it should be possible to complete construction by 1976.
There is a good deal of work to be done. Inevitably, our French colleagues have been somewhat preoccupied of late with other matters, though this has not been a major factor. It is also a United Kindgom problem in that we are seeking to reconcile public and private participation in this venture and at the same time work together with the French. It is a complex job, but, as I have said many times, before a decision is taken to go ahead with the tunnel there will be a major debate in the House.
Although we understand that the Minister had hoped to be able to give a definite answer today, and whilst fully appreciating that the French situation is a tricky one, can we be certain that before the Recess is over the Minister will make a public statement? Will he tell us how he will make it so that we can discuss it in some form?
I came to the conclusion a long time ago that it was unwise for one to be certain about anything in this place above all others. I would certainly hope to be able to make a statement on this next stage in the course of the Recess, presumably by just making a public announcement. In all fairness, this is not purely a question of difficulties which the French have experienced. It is a very complicated exercise with very large stakes involved.
It is not a question of priorities. It is important to have a transport system which enables people to move rapidly around Britain and which transports people and goods in and out of Britain.