Channel Tunnel

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1981.

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Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North 12:00 am, 25th March 1981

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to respond to the Transport Committee's report on the Channel link.

Photo of Mr Ronald Lewis Mr Ronald Lewis , Carlisle

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to respond to the Transport Committee's report on the Channel link.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

I welcome the committee's report, but before responding to it I shall wish to study fully the various proposals that are being put to me by potential promoters. That will clearly take a little time. I hope to be able to reach decisions of principle before the end of this year.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Has the Secretary of State noticed that the Committee broadly endorsed the principle of a single track rail tunnel along the lines of that proposed by the two railway organisations? Does he feel that he ought to publish a White Paper, as the Select Committee recommended, so that the House may draw its conclusions on the thinking that will lead him to that decision in principle?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

We shall consider that proposal. I shall deal with that question in my response to the report. Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the general endorsement not only of the principle of the Channel tunnel, but of the Government's policy towards it.

Photo of Mr Ronald Lewis Mr Ronald Lewis , Carlisle

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that British Rail's proposals are broadly in line with those of the Select Committee, but on a much smaller scale than that accepted in 1975? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his statement in the House on that occasion, that the the BR proposal was viable and was the right scheme to speed up the cross-Channel link? Will he act quickly and approve the scheme?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

We have eight schemes to consider, including the British Rail scheme. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Select Committee's endorsement of the BR approach, but the Select Committee has gone nearer the 7 metre scheme than the 6 metre scheme. There is clearly nothing between us in principle on the Channel tunnel or on its importance for the railway industry.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that those of my constituents who were against the first Channel tunnel scheme are mainly in favour of the British Rail proposal, but all of them want an early decision?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

I shall take that on board. If we can find a commercially viable scheme there is no reason why that scheme should not go ahead, but with private capital.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is still his policy to finance the project by genuine risk capital, and not with Government guarantees? Do future Government guarantees extend to minimum earnings on the tunnel, because the bankers to whom he is talking wanted that on the last Channel tunnel project?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

As I have just said, I confirm that we believe that there is a commercially viable scheme here. There is no reason why that should not be supported by private risk capital. I remind the hon. Gentleman that on the last occasion the Labour Government cancelled the project because of a lack of public finance. We were not prepared to leave it there. We are currently considering the eight schemes, and will shortly consider a ninth. I shall then be in a much better position to answer him more fully.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the private risk capital for such a venture will not be guaranteed by the Government? Can he confirm also that the investment will not involve any diversion of British Rail funds that would otherwise be used for other more important British Rail investment projects?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

Yes. We are talking about private risk capital, as I have made clear from the beginning. The second part of my hon. Friend's question relates to one of the matters that we shall bear in mind when considering these schemes.