Is my right hon. Friend aware that, because of the protracted nature of these negotiations, the original design is now seven years old and that even when it was produced it was considered by many engineers to be out of date? Does he not realise that modern technology moves very much faster than civil servants, and perhaps it is now time for reappraisal of the whole scheme, including the possibility of a bridge link between Britain and Europe?
In reply to the first part of the question, I would suggest that my hon. Friend must have missed my opening comments when I said that preparatory technical studies are being made now, precisely to bring the studies up to date. A great deal of thought has been given to a bridge link between the Continent and ourselves. Many very real problems are involved, not the least of which is that without international agreement one cannot build bridges across the Channel, and this may take rather a long time.
Does the Minister realise that the lack of decision in this matter is having serious consequences on Folkestone, where planning permission for development around the entrance to the tunnel cannot be obtained? Will he look again to see if he can make a preliminary announcement of when, if ever, the Channel Tunnel is likely to be commenced?
One recognises the difficulties caused by delay in an exercise of this sort, but we are involved with the French Government and they in recent months have had other problems upon their mind. This has tended to cause a little delay. The studies that are taking place are in very great detail and, in view of the amount of the expenditure involved, it is important that studies should be undertaken.
Certainly; before the Bill is placed in front of the House. Very detailed studies are going on, ranging from geology to aerodynamics. A great deal of work is being put in between the two Governments and the organisation. As soon as we have the information we will put it before the House.
Following his statement on 24th July, can the Minister say when an agreement with a financing group will be completed? In view of the potential of other means of transport such as container ships, can the Minister yet estimate when a decision can be taken on whether to build the tunnel or not?
I have explained on many occasions in the House that it is at present conceivable that the tunnel could be built by about 1976. Before that happened, I would have to lay a Bill before the House and that would, presumably, be within the next few months. It is, however, a very complex organisation. We are not building a car park. It is an expensive, elaborate organisation involving two Governments.
With reference to his reply to an earlier Question, is my right hon. Friend aware that agreement has now been reached about shipping lanes in the Channel which will make the possibility of a joint bridge-tunnel much easier? Will he, therefore, undertake that a feasibility study will be carried out before any decision is made to build a bored tunnel?
Discussions have taken place between persons very much concerned with the idea of a bridge link with the Continent and officials in the Ministry of Transport. At the moment, it certainly does not look as if this is a feasible proposition given the circumstances which we face at the present time.
Proposals from the three groups were presented in confidence. It would prejudice further negotiations to reveal those aspects of any proposal which in the opinion of the two Governments needed improvement.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as a result of his previous statement in the last few weeks on the plans of the three groups, a lot of people have got the impression that the Government are not satisfied with the answers? Would it not be true to say that the Government want to get extra information?
Yes. It is certainly true that the two Governments considered the various proposals which were put to them, and they have asked for further information. There are a number of issues at stake here—the total amount of risk capital, the amount of risk capital submitted by the promoting groups, the formula for remuneration of risk capital, the nature and extent of the risk to be borne by risk capital. It is for this reason that one cannot give information about individual companies' proposals.
It is certainly true at the moment in terms of the investigation of the tunnel that, compared with the situation without a tunnel, a tunnel would produce very real benefits indeed, as of the present.
Is it not clear that the estimated cost of this project has soared far above the figures which were given originally, and would not the right hon. Gentleman be well advised to think very carefully about this costly and obsolescent project while he is free to do so?
I can only say that if the right hon. Gentleman looks at the lists of the consortia who are prepared to put their money at risk in this project, that will at least cause him to wonder whether it is as uneconomic as he believes.
Would the Minister understand the dilemma of the House, that the figures published by the Government are all so out of date, the figures both of cost and return, and that it is only the Minister, seemingly, who has in his possession figures which would demonstrate this to be a valid project? Will he publish them?
On the one hand they say that the earlier studies are now out of date—which is accepted—and yet they seem to be dissatisfied with the answer I gave that we are conducting studies to bring them up to date, as soon as we have these figures. If all goes well, there is no reason why we should not select a group early in the new year and have detailed engineering design work and traffic revenue studies carried out in 1969–70, and on that basis construction work could well begin in 1971, to be completed by 1976. It is no good complaining about lack of figures and at the same time complaining about the length of time necessary for a study to produce new figures.