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Channel Tunnel

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Transport, in view of the possibility of the United Kingdom entering the Common Market, what is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the Channel Tunnel.


asked the Minister of Transport to what extent regular cross- Channel boat and air services were delayed or cancelled as a result of bad weather conditions during the month of November; and, in view of this experience, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the construction of a Channel tunnel.


asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement about the progress which he made in his discussions with the French Minister of Transport last week on the subject of providing a Channel tunnel; and whether he is satisfied that machinery can now be set in action to ensure a rapid decision which will enable private enterprise to provide the necessary facilities at the earliest possible date.

I had a useful discussion about a Channel link on 17th November with the French Minister of Public Works and Transport, and reached agreement with him about the next steps to be taken on the proposals now before our two Governments for the construction of a tunnel or a bridge. Many aspects of these projects require further joint study, and this is to be undertaken by officials of both countries.

I have some detailed information about recent delays to cross-Channel services, which I will circulate, with permission, in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will be pleased to hear of his discussions with the French Minister of Transport? Would he confirm now that this technical study will go ahead seriously and quickly, because private enterprise is ready to finance and to build the Channel tunnel without any recourse to public funds? Would he also bear in mind that, since the East Goodwin lightship went adrift, maritime interests really think a bridge is not possible?

That may be so. I can assure my hon. Friend that the joint study—and joint study is necessary in this case—between the two Governments will go ahead as fast as possible. I must say that I myself suggested to the French Government in December last, 11 months ago, that we should have these joint talks, and it is not my fault that they have only just taken place.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that for nearly three years a study group has been working on this, largely started by pressure from a Parliamentary Committee of over 100 members? That study group has already spent over £½ million on the possibilities of either a Channel tunnel or a Channel bridge and, having worked it out, has decided that a bridge is not possible. In the circumstances, would my right hon. Friend try to use what information has already been obtained by the Committee, and save a lot of time and trouble?

The information given by the Committee will certainly be used by the joint study group—information given on the tunnel—but a lot of questions will be asked on separate aspects—the legal aspect, the economic aspect, the financial aspect, and so on. But it would be wrong if we omitted from our considerations and calculations evidence presented to us only in October on a Channel bridge. There, again, many detailed considerations will have to be gone into.

As the Minister said in reply to an earlier Question that the limitation on the expansion of our transport services is due to shortage of physical resources and not of capital, will he give an undertaking that when it becomes possible to begin construction of a Channel link, it will be done as a public enterprise under public control?

I think that I had better await the outcome of the studies before I start giving assurances—that is the first thing to do—but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of resources, both the French resources and our own resources and priorities, must be taken into account.

Is the Minister aware that if he proceeds with this project, he will have even less resources than before to carry out the proposals contained in Questions 1–14 and 16–69?

My hon. Friend is quite right, but the House of Commons has always been noted for asking for individual things which, in total, amount to more that the nation's resources.

Following is the information:

I am informed by the British Transport Commission that gales caused serious interference with cross-Channel shipping services on 4th, 5th, 13th and 14th November, including the cancellation of a number of services on the 13th and 14th.
On 4th and 5th November, the Dover-Dunkirk ferry services were seriously delayed, the longest delay being 7 hours. Other cross-Channel services were maintained with fair regularity.
On 13th November, all the Dover-Dunkirk ferry services were cancelled, and on 14th November they were all cancelled, with the exception of the night-passenger sleeping-car ferries. On 13th and 14th November, other cross-Channel shipping services were seriously delayed, and on 13th November the Calais to Dover Golden Arrow service was cancelled, and other services were diverted.
I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation that a few cross-Channel air services were delayed by high winds in the early part of November but that, thanks largely to the absence of fog, air services were not much affected during the month by bad weather.