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Channel Tunnel

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1975

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now prepare a White Paper setting out all the relevant correspondence and details of discussions which took place from 26th November 1974 to 20th January 1975 between his Department, the French Government, British Rail and the Channel Tunnel companies, resulting in his decision to withdraw the support of Her Majesty's Government for the Channel Tunnel project.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has already explained how it came about that the British Government saw no alternative to accepting the companies' formal claim of abandonment.

Is not the Minister aware that there are—to put it no higher—different interpretations of events and that there is a belief that, given essential good will on all sides, a different solution might well have been found? Is he aware that moves are being made in the European Parliament and elsewhere to try to engender European financial interest in this project? Will he give an assurance that he will keep an open mind on these discussions pending an approach which is likely to be made to his right hon. Friend before the end of this month?

As to the last point, I have said several times that we shall be very willing to consider any such proposals for a European involvement in the costs of the tunnel but so far we have had no such proposals. As to the other point, I do not think anyone has denied that whereas the two Governments were anxious to reach a standstill arrangement, which would have got us over the difficulty of 31st December and safeguarded the rights of all involved while discussions took place, we did not get any communication from the companies until after 31st December, and that was a formal notice of abandonment. That was the difficulty in which we were placed. It was a difficulty clearly foreseen by the previous Government, because they made extensive provision for it in the agreement.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that although a decision not to go ahead with the project has been taken, men are, apparently, still carrying on digging, from both ends? Is it not about time someone told them to stop? [An HON. MEMBER: "NVT."] Although I can commend to my right hon. Friend some very worthy projects for consideration, either as workers' co-operatives or as candidates for the National Enterprise Board, will he please ensure that this is not one of them.

I think I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. So far, although we have had many helpful proposals about how we might proceed, no one has suggested a workers' co-operative. The reason why some work is still continuing is that, as my right hon. Friend has informed the House, we are desirous of retaining much information as to the work which has been done, and one or two tests are still being completed. I assure my hon. Friend, however, that this is not adding substantially to the costs already incurred.