Orders of the Day — Channel Tunnel Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1973.

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Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe 12:00 am, 5th December 1973

I take your correction at once, Mr. Speaker. You will notice that they have all disappeared now. Obviously they had not realised that you would not allow a photograph to be taken of them.

We have debated this matter on two occasions recently and I had imagined the purpose of today's debate to be to discuss this Bill which is really the nuts and bolts of the project. However, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) has reopened a question which very much affects my own constituency. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's care for and attention to my constituency, but I can assure him that I have been in close touch with one of his Liberal friends living there and that I have been able to give him the information for which he asked.

At one time the Liberals suggested having a terminal at Dungeness, so saving Cheriton. I have had an exchange of correspondence with Mr. Henderson, the person concerned, and I have been able to prove to him that that is not a practical proposition. I have had detailed geological survey plans produced. If Mr. Henderson is still not satisfied I can supply further information to the effect that if he really wants to ruin my constituency he should propose going ahead with the idea of building a terminal at Dungeness since it would completely spoil Romney Marsh.

There is considerable appeal in the argument that we should have a rail-only tunnel. To those who have studied the matter, as I have for more than nine years, it is an attractive idea. It is suggested that all that we have to do is build a rail tunnel and our traffic problems in Kent are over. I only wish they were. A survey in depth which I have done indicates that a rail-only tunnel is the worst of both worlds. Road traffic will continue to increase, and it will go by ferry.

One of the most powerful arguments for building a tunnel from Folkestone and Dover is the effect that there will be on the two towns if we do not find some way of bypassing them. If we are to get the expected increase in traffic, doubling by 1980 and quadrupling by 1990, the effect on the two towns will be worse and worse, as anyone who lives there will know. We already have juggernauts crashing down the hills. There has been another incident since we last discussed the matter. This is one reason for not worrying solely about the amenities of Cheriton itself. The worst disruption to amenity would be to have the towns divided. We would have to pull down a number of houses in the town and build new houses elsewhere. The obvious place to build them would be on the Cheriton terminal site. It seems to make little sense from an amenity point of view to drive a motorway through the town, to pull down houses to make way for it, and build new houses on the Cheriton terminal site. We do not overcome the amenity aspect by hiding behind the fact that we save the Cheriton terminal.

Since the last debate on the Channel Tunnel we have had a fuel crisis. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to oil going up to £2 a gallon. He asked whether any hon. Member was prepared to say that this would not happen. No one spoke. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman calculated the cost of fares if oil goes up to £2 a gallon. One of the greatest costs of air transport is hydrocarbon fuel. If oil were to go up to £2 a gallon the need for a fast link to the Continent would be much greater. Surely that would reinforce the argument in favour of the tunnel.

The hon. Gentleman said that if oil and diesel fuels went up to such a price the cost of shipping would be tremendous, and that it would therefore be more attractive to transport goods by rail by electric power, which we have ways of producing other than by oil. Therefore, again, the tunnel is an attractive project if we are to pay higher prices for fuel. I suggest that the arguments developed by the hon. Gentleman today are in favour of, not against, the tunnel.