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Channel Tunnel

Volume 979: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1980

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asked the Minister of Transport if he has now received the Cairncross report on the Channel tunnel; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Minister of Transport if he has now received the Cairncross report on the Channel tunnel; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Alec Cairncross has given me his initial impression of the BRB scheme. Further work is in hand and I will make a statement as soon as possible.

Has the Minister gathered from this initial statement that a single-track tunnel of the type recommended would be a sound investment, particularly as finance is available, both from the EEC and the money markets? Will he make a statement next Transport Question Time as we do not want waiting for Cairncross to become the parliament equivalent of waiting for Godot?

I take to heart the point that the hon. Member makes and I shall consider whether a statement will be made at the next Transport Question Time. The whole point is that we have asked Sir Alec Cairncross to have a continuing look at whether the project, as at present conceived, is financially viable. That is what Sir Alec will do and that is the matter on which I await his advice.

Is the Minister aware that a decision in favour of the Channel tunnel would give a great morale boost to a quarter of a million railway men and women? Will he accept that a Channel tunnel will be a considerable asset to the nation's export investment and to tourism?

Obviously there are great advantages, but I am sure the hon. Member will agree that, if we are to have a Channel tunnel, it is important to get the right Channel tunnel. We are at a very early stage in our deliberations. The Government are certainly not committed to a Channel tunnel, and I ask the hon. Member to await my further statement.

Will the Minister make certain that the Cairncross report is available to the House before Transport Question Time so that we can ask intelligent questions about it?

The purpose of what Sir Alec Cairncross is doing is to give personal advice to me as the Minister. His inquiry would not be considered to be a Royal Commission or anything of that kind. I shall wish to make a statement giving the maximum amount of advice to the House, on which the House can reach its own conclusions.

May I raise a question that was raised at the last Transport Question Time about the steel-using aspects of the Channel tunnel? Has the Minister looked at this matter?

This is one of the things that we shall continue to look at. I hope that the hon. Member will await my further statement.

Is the Minister aware of the EEC documents on Community transport infrastructure projects, which was published in November? Is he aware that future rail projects do not include a Channel tunnel? Has he drawn this omission to the attention of the Council of Ministers and does he think that such a project is dependent on Community finances? Does "further work" mean another rail and road project?

The short answer is that the infrastructure instrument is under discussion and has a long way to go. Clearly, European finance would be one of the points that we would have very much in mind. I hope that at some stage the Opposition Front Bench will make their position on the Channel tunnel unequivocably clear.