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 Mr Peter Rees Mr Peter Rees , Dover 12:00 am, 5th December 1973

Since this is the fourth debate on the Channel Tunnel in a period of about six months, it is inevitable that not many new points are likely to be made. I take up however the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). The basis of my perhaps reluctant support of the tunnel is that it will concentrate traffic on to two main arteries, the M20 and the M2.

I am not privileged to speak on behalf of the Dover Harbour Board, but I have asked for and been given an assurance from the Minister for Transport Industries that he will look kindly on projects put to him by the board and will not demand that they should be amortised before 1980. I am sure that the Dover Harbour Board will robustly respond to the challenge presented to it by the Channel Tunnel. Having talked to the ferry operators, I know that they will not allow their trade to wither away in anticipation of any competition which the tunnel may afford to them.

Two new factors have been introduced into the debate since the matter was last before the House. The first is the situation presented to the country by the fuel crisis. This has served to emphasise the fact that we need, and shall continue to need, a first-class rail service. The second factor is that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries has now promised the railways sufficient money to modernise themselves and to take advantage of the opportunities which are offered to them. I can only say that I shall watch with interest the progress of the railways. I hope, as do no doubt those who work in that great industry, that the railways will rise to the challenge and will make an important contribution over the next 25 or 30 years.

I turn now to the speech of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). I do not challenge his right to criticise the project. After all, Lord Randolph Churchill said that it was the duty of an Opposition to oppose. I merely put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. Despite the two opportunities that he was generous enough to offer me during his speech, he did not appear to grasp the point of my interventions. It was that there are people in East Kent who want to know what the position would be if the right hon. Gentleman were fortunate enough once again to occupy the distinguished office that he did until June 1970. I hope that he will not take it amiss that I think it unlikely that he will do so in any space of time, But, after all, the electorate is interested in such matters, and there are people in my constituency who do not feel any great sympathy towards the tunnel and would be interested to know what the right hon. Gentleman would offer the House were he given an opportunity to take charge of this project.

We know that in broad outline the right hon. Gentleman viewed the tunnel with some sympathy until 1970. It is a pity that he did not develop his thoughts on the kind of tunnel that he would support, but I acknowledge his generosity in allowing me to intervene twice during his speech. I regret only that he has still left us in some doubt. This is not the first time that this kind of situation has arisen in the present Parliament. Too often we have had great issues to debate, when the representatives of the Labour Party have said, "In principle we are in favour but not this particular project". We had it over the Common Market. Now we have it over the Channel Tunnel. It leaves the electorate a little confused and unhappy. The electorate likes to know what the Opposition have to offer on these great issues.