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Channel Tunnel

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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23.

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to receive the report on the latest Channel tunnel project.

26.

asked the Minister of Transport what progress he has made with consultations on the feasibility of a Channel tunnel.

I am examining the preliminary studies by the Railways Board of a single-track tunnel and carrying out initial consultations. I shall also receive independent advice on the economic aspects from Sir Alex Cairn cross, but it is too early to say when these will be completed.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many who were utterly opposed to the previous rolling motorway proposal will look at this rather more modest rail link, which does not require any new rail links, with rather more sympathy? Does he agree that if the project overcomes any of the environmental objections and is seen to be viable it should be funded from private sources without any real or phoney Government capital, as was proposed last time, with Treasury guarantees?

The first thing that I shall do is to wait for the evaluation that is taking place by Sir Alex Cairncross. I believe that we shall then be in a much better position to know the viability of the scheme.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are several schemes for a Channel tunnel? Will he consider the various options instead of going for one particular scheme?

We are in no way committed to a particular scheme at the present time. It is simply that this scheme has been put forward with the support of British Rail and many hon. Members. We are putting it under examination because of its importance, but we are certainly not committed to it.

Do the proposals which the Minister is considering include the possibility, at least, of part finance from EEC sources? Would that not be one way of getting back the £1,000 million?

That is obviously one of the factors that we shall investigate very carefully.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this proposal will cost less than 10 jumbo jets for us and 10 jumbo jets for the French? Therefore, in view of the third London airport proposal, this must be a good investment. Furthermore, is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and all the people of Kent have taken a completely new view of this proposal and would welcome it?

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, but obviously I must wait for the financial evaluation. There is a lot of time yet for us to discuss these issues.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the additional traffic that is likely to be generated by a Channel tunnel will not be carried on the existing railways? Is he prepared to give further investment to the British Railways Board to improve the existing railway links between London and that part of the country?

I think that we should wait until the evaluation has taken place, although clearly all these questions must be examined. I emphasise that we are at a very preliminary stage.