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Channel Tunnel Bill

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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9.5 pm

I beg to move,

That further proceedings on the Channel Tunnel Bill shall be suspended until the next Session of Parliament;
That if a Bill is presented to this House in the next Session in the same terms as those in which the Channel Tunnel 13111 stood at the last stage of its proceeding in this House in this Session—
  • (a) the Bill shall be deemed to have been read the first, second and third time; and
  • (b) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or (in the case of the Standing Orders relating to Private Business) dispensed with in this Session or in the Session 1985–86, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in the next Session;
  • That this Order be a Standing Order of the House

    The purpose of the motion is straightforward: it is to preserve the work already done in the House on the Channel Tunnel Bill to enable the Bill to recommence its passage through Parliament promptly in the new Session. Hon. Members will know that it is normal practice to carry over private and hybrid Bills from one session to the next and from one Parliament to the next. The Channel Tunnel Bill has already been carried over by both Houses from the 1985–86 session to the present one, and a further carry-over will, once again, enable work to continue without duplication and without imposing further burdens on the House and on the petitioners.

    The effect of the motion is that, upon reintroduction to the new Session in the form in which it has been passed by this House in the present Session, it will be deemed to have passed all its stages in the new Session and will forthwith move straight to the other place. The House will then, in due course, receive the usual opportunity to consider amendments made in the other place before the Bill receives the Royal Assent. I commend the motion to the House.

    9.7 pm

    The hour is getting on and I shall not detain the House to an unreasonable extent, but, at the same time, at the risk of disturbing the end-of-term euphoria, the motion must have some critical scrutiny before we allow it to pass. It is a somewhat unusual constitutional device. A carry-over motion is known, but still relatively rare, for private Bills, but it is extremely rare for hybrid Bills. I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us what precedents there are for carrying over an important hybrid Bill with such enormous public policy implications as this one has. He will have to dig almost as deep as the Channel tunnel and the last Channel Tunnel Bill to find such precedents.

    It would have been wiser to allow the new Parliament to decide whether to prolong the agony of the Channel tunnel by means of the reviving motion, which is an alternative option, rather than to keep the patient alive by means of the artificial life support machine that we are debating tonight. Now that the Government have decided to table the motion, there is a need to ask certain questions and seek certain assurances, because, at the very least, there are markers to he put down for the next Parliament and lessons to be learnt from the unhappy progress of the Bill so far.

    I call it unhappy progress because anyone who is neither on the payroll of Eurotunnel nor on that of the Government would have to admit that the saga of the tunnel so far has been a mutual disappointment. Even those who support the Channel tunnel in principle must regret the extremely slow progress of the Bill and be critical of the Government and Eurotunnel for losing their way so often in recent months. After all, the project in its present form was introduced to Parliament nearly two years ago and in the intervening months there has been a great deal of fumbling and bungling, and still the Bill is less than two-thirds of the way through its legislative stages.

    Outside Parliament, there is a conspicuous lack of national enthusiasm about, or even interest in, the project, and there is deep hostility in east Kent, manifested by some worrying local election results in the affected areas last week. There has been a continuously poor public relations reception for the management upheavals and mistakes that have bedevilled the Eurotunnel consortium, and there is rising scepticism in the financial and investment community as to how on earth the missing 96 per cent. of the funding for the project will be raised—especially the £750 million of equity, which has been postponed three times so far.

    Against that background, I should have thought that the Government would approach the carry-over motion with some caution and humility. Instead, the wording of the motion seems to suggest an atmosphere of complacency and self-satisfaction that the project and the legislative structure surrounding it are in such perfect shape that we should automatically rubber-stamp it and send it on to the new Parliament without a doubt or a second thought.

    Not for the first time in these proceedings, I take a different view from that of the Government. Before we pass the motion, I wish to highlight three main, continuing areas of unhappiness about the Bill on which I seek reassurances.

    The first area of unhappiness lies in our cumbersome parliamentary procedures on the Bill. These procedures have been tested almost to destruction as a result of the Channel tunnel proceedings and have failed badly. That is because they have caused considerable dissatisfaction to promotors and petitioners alike, to specialist investors and to the general public. Perhaps above all they have been a source of considerable dissatisfaction for the parliamentarians, who were lumbered with the unwelcome task of sitting on the various Committees. Perhaps only the well-paid lawyers are satisfied, but even some of them in their quieter, private moments will have thought that they were taking part in nothing more than a lucrative charade.

    The hybrid Bill procedure and its accompanying Select Committee hearings simply do not stand the test of being a fair way of hearing objectors and petitioners. Nor do they stand the test of being an efficient and thorough way of assessing a giant construction project from all angles within a reasonable time scale. With an eye on the next Parliament we should ask ourselves why the hybrid Bill procedure failed and what alternative procedures should be put in its place. First, the hybrid Bill procedure failed because everyone was surprised by the number and quality of the objectors.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the motion before the House. He should address himself to the motion rather than seek to initiate a debate about our procedures.

    I think that it is relevant, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I shall show in a minute that there is a strong possibility that the Bill will have to go back to square one, with the possibility of a new treaty in view of the financing arrangements. Therefore, it is highly germane to look for a moment or two at why the hybrid Bill procedure did not work and could not work again. One reason why it did not work is that a Committee consisting of laymen Members of Parliament picked on the recommendation of the Whips Office, inevitably turns out to be partisan, with no great expertise, and much whipping. It gave an impression of impatience and. at times, intolerance, and that was one reason why there was a haemorrhage of public confidence.

    To illustrate that point I can do no better than quote from a speech made in Kent by the distinguished director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Mr. Robin Grove-White, who said:
    "Last year ministers promised repeatedly that all objectors would be given a fair hearing — an important promise, given the range of impacts expected from the tunnel.
    At the bill's committee stages objectors were badgered again and again by impatient select committee members, reflecting the strict instructions of Government whips that the committee meet the Government's absurdly short timetable.
    Witnesses like the CPRE found themselves required to give evidence higgledy-piggledy, in no logical sequence or order, making it all but impossible for them to deploy coherent cases in the fashion they felt necessary.
    Lots of objectors found their supposedly sacrosanct rights of appearance under Parliament's standing orders bent and twisted, simply to speed the procedures along."
    If a neutral body like the Council for the Protection of Rural England claims that it has seen its rights of audience in the House bent and twisted, before we pass the motion we should seek an assurance for the future that we will review these procedures, especially if, for example, there is a collapse of funding— I shall speak about that in a moment— and the need for a new treaty in view of a confidential report from the French Government. If we are asked to go back to square one in the new Parliament, we must have different procedures from those that we have in place. I notice that the Government are thinking of using the hybrid Bill procedure for things like nuclear power stations and coal mines. In future it would be much better to have a shortened form of public inquiry with time limits.

    I shall now turn to area of unhappiness No. 2. Before we are confident about passing the motion, we should ask the Government if they have confidence in Eurotunnel. Eurotunnel was the Government's selection as the group to be given what is, in effect, a quasi-monopoly of one form of cross-Channel transport. However, the consor-tium is in a different shape today from the shape that it was in when it originated. The Eurotunnel consortium has turned out to be an unhappy ship. It is already on its third captain, or rather chairman, and a distinguished journalist, Mr. Kenneth Fleet, recently described it as rudderless, leaderless and penniless.

    Many executives and directors have jumped ship or been thrown overboard. The first chairman of the Eurotunnel consortium, Sir Nicholas Henderson. has written a most illuminating book, "Channels and Tunnels", which has given us all an insight into the boardroom rows at Eurotunnel. It refers to construction companies shouting at each other across the table, directors who thought that their only function was to carp, and bankers who fell out with one another.

    To judge from Sir Nicholas Henderson's revelations, he simply could not wait to step down from the chairmanship. He was succeeded by Lord Pennock, who seemed to have the Midas touch in reverse when it came to raising money or influencing the public. Then we had an attempted coup on the chairmanship from Sir Nigel Broackes, followed by Sir Nigel's noisy exit, accompanied by one or two others, such as the deputy chief executive, Michael Julian. Then, after pressure from the Bank of England, we had Lord Pennock's departure. He was criticised for being a part-timer, but he was replaced by Mr. Alastair Morton, presumably another part-timer, as he has retained his chairmanship of a well-known City bank, Guinness Peat and, indeed, his role as an industrial adviser to the Social Democratic party. The change to Mr. Morton from Lord Pennock was rather like replacing Uncle Podger with Flashman, because Mr. Morton was quick to get headlines such as,
    "Tunnel tough guy puts the squeeze on railways".
    That brings me to my third area of concern— the latest news on the financing arrangements for the tunnel which seem to have two dimensions of public interest which need to be looked at before we pass the motion. I have referred many times to the unsatisfactory financial structure of the Channel tunnel, and I have prophesied that, instead of having a Franco-British Channel tunnel, we shall end up having a Franco-Arabian-Japanese Channel tunnel.

    Can my hon. Friend the Minister give an assurance that the national quotas for investment will remain sacrosanct? Originally, it was promised that the investment in the Channel tunnel would he 40 per cent. British money. 40 per cent. French money and 20 per cent. from overseas. That is a subject to which we shall have to return a great deal in the new Parliament, but I am encouraged by the fact that two able business men, now parliamentary candidates, one for Dover and one for Canterbury —respectively, Mr. David Shaw and Mr. Julian Brazier—have been voluble in their criticisms of the financial non-viability of the Channel tunnel, not least in letters to the Financial Times and, indeed, in a pamphlet that one of them is in the process of writing. I am glad that in future I shall be reinforced, rather than be the lone voice criticising these extremely dodgy financial arrangements and financial structure, by two such able parliamentary representatives on the Conservative Benches.

    Having asked about the national quotas, I should like to refer to the second and more important dimension of the financing, which might loosely be called the story of Flashman and the railways. You will recall from your reading of "Tom Brown's Schooldays", Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Flashman was a prefect and something of a bully, one of whose tricks was to hold small boys upside down in front of a fire, roasting them until their pocket money fell out of their trousers. A similar technique seems to have been employed by Mr. Alastair Morton to extract extra revenue from British Rail.

    The story went something like this. Mr. Morton arrived at Eurotunnel and found, like everyone else who could read a balance sheet and prospectus, that the sums did not add up. He had to get some extra revenue from somewhere, so he decided that the best place to get extra money was the railways, although they had already agreed prices with Eurotunnel. Then the world watched with fascination as Mr. Morton made a series of pre-emptive announcements through the press to the effect that the tunnel would be cancelled by the end of last month unless British Rail was prepared to amend its original agreement and come up with more cash. Then we had a series of threats through the press, which were deeply resented, according to journalists' soundings of British Rail, and in the debate that took place on the front page of the newspapers, British Rail issued its statements on the financing. It said——

    Order. These historical recollections and reminiscences are interesting, but they do not seem to have much to do with the motion before the House.

    They are extremely relevant, because there was an announcement only this morning of the brand new financing arrangements. My case, which I stress will not take me long to put forward, is simply to argue that the House should not pass the motion until it has full details of the financing arrangements, which have been given to the press but not to Parliament, and which deserves some scrutiny.

    British Rail answered this curious debate in the newspapers. On 26 April an article in The Sunday Times stated:
    "BR, led by Sir Robert Reid, its chairman, is determined not to give in to Eurotunnel demands for higher tariffs and large guaranteed payments as a principal user … BR has been incensed by his"—
    Mr. Morton's—
    "efforts to amend the terms of a provisional agreement signed last September. Morton wants BR to pay up to 80 per cent. of its projected tariff on a monthly basis in advance. BR interprets this as an attempt to gain public funding for the project by the back door and says it will not accept this."
    Who intervened, and what changed British Rail's mind? The Observer last Sunday gave the story under the headline——

    Order. I remind the hon. Member that the Bill has been through all its stages in the House and is now before another place. Doubtless, if these matters are relevant, they will be considered in the other place at the appropriate time, but they do not seem to have much to do with the matter before the House.

    The matter before the House is whether the House should approve the carry-over motion. I argue that it should not approve the carry-over motion until we have received assurances about taxpayers' money which, as I shall reveal, may be being spent through a back door subsidy. I submit that that is highly relevant to whether we should allow the whole parliamentary process to be carried over to the next Parliament.

    I was saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you will follow me closely for a moment, that, under the headline
    "Channel Tariff Solution in Sight",
    The Observerlast Sunday printed the story that British Rail was going to come up with more cash, and it has now done so. The Observer— this is a relevant quotation — said:
    "Despite the Government's public position of non-intervention in the affairs of Eurotunnel the Department of Transport is thought to have brought pressure to bear on BR to increase the level of advance payments the company was prepared to make."
    If true, that is a dramatic and serious revelation. I have little doubt that the story in The Observerwas correct. I should like to know from my hon. Friend the Minister whether Treasury as well as Transport Ministers were involved in this extraordinary effort to force more cash out of British Rail. I must ask my hon. Friend for a clear statement on what is going on.

    If it is true that the Government, in the shape of Treasury and Transport Ministers, have been getting more money out of British Rail for Eurotunnel, contrary to BR's original commercial plan, the Government have broken their assurances to Parliament and are in danger of breaching the terms of the Anglo-French treaty, which specifically prohibits back-door subsidies with taxpayers' money. I am sure that you will be the first to agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that assurances are required.

    We shall return again and again to this subject in the next Parliament. I think that the financial structure of Eurotunnel has been given a temporary reprieve. It is being kept alive on an artificial life support machine, now fed by the one kind of medicine that it was promised would never be used — a back-door subsidy of taxpayers' money via British Rail. Actually, in pure financial terms, I do not think that the subsidy is all that significant, as the Financial Timessaid this morning. But whether British Rail is giving a back-door subsidy or not, other storm clouds are gathering over Eurotunnel on the financial front.

    I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about the Rohan report, which was written by a French senator, Senator Rohan, and which has raised doubts on the French side about the financing of the Channel tunnel.

    On 26 April, under the headline,
    "French raise new doubts on finance for Channel Tunnel", a story in the Sunday Telegraph said:
    "Renewed doubts about the financial viability of the £5 billion Channel Tunnel project are raised in a confidential report commissioned for the French Government.
    The report, ordered by Mr. Chirac, the French Prime Minister … reaches damaging conclusions about the ability of private enterprise to fund the tunnel without the backing of public money.
    It advises that all construction work on the French side be delayed until a 'truly reliable financing arrangement has been obtained.' "
    The story goes on to say that the French Government are coming to the conclusion that they will have to intervene and commit themselves to the project. I should like to know what is going on. Have the British Government seen the French report? What is the position of the French Government in the light of the report, since Mr. Chirac was here for talks recently? Where are we going in relation to French confidence and involvement in the financing of the Channel tunnel?

    I have thrown one or two brickbats at the Government, but before I conclude I offer one bouquet. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has been guiding the Bill through the House and outside it, has been most courteous and considerate and a highly effective communicator in his efforts to deal with many of the micro problems of Kent,such as roads, the environment and so on. The Mitchell committee, which carries his name, has done a good job with the Kent county council and other local authorities and interests. I take this opportunity to pay a genuine tribute to him. I am sure that he would be the first to wish to share some of that credit with our hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who, behind closed doors, has fought and won many a good fight for his constituents. The re-routing of the access road was the finest of his many achievements. Many people in Kent, including his constituents, are grateful to him.

    Those successes are welcome, but they are solutions to the micro problems, while the macro problems of the Channel tunnel and Eurotunnel simply will not go away. The biggest and most insoluble problem of all is that, as a result of well-meaning misjudgments and muddled compromises, we have the wrong scheme at the wrong price, headed by the wrong consortium of businessmen who cannot raise the money. The local community and financial investment community have no confidence in it and the public could not care less about it and do not believe that it will happen. Only the Government plough serenely on, full of blind optimism. The political and parliamentary legs have been made to run far ahead of the financial head of sense and logic. The day of reckoning will come, but in the next Parliament. I look forward to being there at the kill.

    9.26 pm

    I would not like the carry-over motion to be agreed. I do not deny that carryover motions have been accepted in the past, but we are against the content of the motion, not the procedure. It would be wrong to argue that we are against carry-over motions in principle, when this matter has had much opposition throughout this Parliament.

    We heard from the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) about the problems of the financiers of the company and their failure to attract sufficient money for the project. I was reminded by the presence of the lone Liberal, who is now absent, that this project is very much like the economic policies of the SDP and the Liberals. If the financiers of this project were checked over by Coopers and Lybrand, we might find them as faulty as the policies trotted out today by those parties for the election campaign.

    One thing which worries me and ought to worry all Tory Members is that the Government have been saying for the past few years, not just before the elections, that they believe in an entrepreneurial society based upon market forces; the philosophy of Friedman, that the Government do not intervene. One of the cries of Ministers and the Prime Minister in the course of the campaign to get the tunnel has been that no public money will be used. It now seems apparent, from what we have heard and read, that British Rail will be asked to provide funds to keep the project alive, to provide it with an oxygen cylinder.

    Everybody who has studied the facts and figures knows that the Channel tunnel is starved of cash and cannot raise money. Unlike the hon. Member for Thanet South, I doubt whether any of the consortia that made the propositions that were put forward at the time of that intense lobbying through Members of Parliament, some of whom had not declared their interest on the Register at the time, could have come up with a project that would have attracted the necessary money. I suspect that when Chirac came over here to meet the Prime Minister, they had a few cosy words suggesting that they would find ways and means of providing the extra money.

    This matter cannot be discussed purely on the basis of whether the Bill should be carried over into the next Parliament. It should be debated on the basis of whether this project should go forward at all. I remember the Labour party campaigning against the project because it wanted an inquiry. To some extent, that was a genuine proposition, but there was no inquiry. There will not be an inquiry if the Bill is carried over, but there should be. The project merited an inquiry.

    You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like me, coming from the north of England, have been concerned. I am not putting you on the spot, but most Members of Parliament from the north of England would argue that the Channel tunnel has nothing for them. We all know that——

    Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the House has dealt with the Bill at all its stages and has approved it. It is now in another place. We cannot have a re-run of the Second Reading debate that the hon. Gentleman thinks might have taken place.

    But the issue is whether this Parliament should approve this carry-over motion. This is not a guillotine motion. There is a difference. A debate on a guillotine motion is about whether we should provide a limited amount of time to discuss a Bill. This is about one Parliament, at its fag-end, handing over powers to another Parliament which will be comprised of a different number of Members on different sides of the House. We have a duty to use all possible means to try to prevent this carryover motion being approved.

    During the election campaign, my constituents will want to know what I did about the carry-over motion. They will want to know whether I opposed it. If I am to be guided by your intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would have to say that as a matter of fact, I did want to discuss the fact that British Rail was to be starved of finances for its midland line and the line used by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and others. I would have to say that I was sorry, but I could not, because in this quaint old Parliament, in this quaint old club, we were not allowed to discuss the merits of the matter. My constituents will say, "You what, Dennis? You had to discuss the procedure?". I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    This is an important issue. It is apparent to those in the financial community that here is a so-called entrepreneurial project that is not getting off the ground. It is coming with the begging bowl to a Tory Government to be bailed out, and British Rail, with its starved finances, is to do that bailing out.

    The number of ships built in the past eight years has fallen by 54 per cent., yet this Parliament will allow a carry-over motion to go through in order to wreck the shipping industry even further. Yet I am supposed to say, "Well, it is only a matter of procedure." If there is money in British Rail, it should go towards extra wages for those who work for British Rail. If there is any money over, it should be used to improve the lines up and down Britain.

    In the past few weeks, the Government, in their helter-skelter dash towards the electorate, have been characterised by a number of U-turns. We have all heard them trotted out in the past few weeks. The nurses have been given the full award recommended by the review body—although even that is not enough. There was the U-turn about the nuclear dumps and other bits and bobs where the Government have suddenly found money out of the contingency fund in order to improve their chances in a few marginal seats.

    The Government should stand by their faith and by the ideas for which they are supposed to argue throughout the rest of the Parliament. If people decide to use their money to build a tunnel they should be made to do so. If that entrepreneurial exercise is financially risky, those people should not say that they are not prepared to put their own money into it because it might fail and they might lose their money.

    The hon. Member for Thanet, South knows all about failure in the business community. He had to get out. He was not able to go to the Government and say that breakfast television, which he was running, had not been able to get off the ground, and could they channel him some money from the BBC. That would have been ludicrous, although it might have been different if it had been a marginal seat.

    The whole thing stinks. There is a smell about this project that anybody who has read about its finances would know. Ninety-six per cent. of the money has not been found. What other project in Britain would get past first base if it could only find 4 per cent. of the money needed? The developers have come with their begging bowl to the Government. I am not prepared to give the carry-over motion a smooth passage and I hope that others will join me in opposing it.

    9.35 pm

    We have heard two interesting speeches on the carry-over motion. I want to make two or three points clear. First, I would have preferred this motion not to be made, as it is quite unnecessary. If the Government were lucky enough to win the forthcoming election, they could quite easily have this or a similar motion after the election, as it would have precisely the same effect.

    It makes no difference. If they lose, a different Government would look at it. I do not know why it is necessary to have the motion. In Kent, in the financial markets and in the House, the fact that there has not been a proper inquiry to test the viability and strategic importance of the scheme has caused difficulties. Had there been an inquiry, and had it recommended in favour of a tunnel, we might well have found that the project would have done better financially than it has.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) at one stage referred to the Labour party's policy as being, I think he said, "partly genuine". I do not know what he meant, but I assure him that it was not a partially genuine policy to have a public inquiry. When the next Labour Government come to power after the election, there will be an inquiry into the Channel tunnel scheme. The fact that the Bill will still be available in the new Session will make no difference to that commitment.

    During the various stages of the Bill, we were told that it was an historic project, how many jobs would be involved and of the great enthusiasm of the Government for the scheme. There was a great fanfare of trumpets, both in France and here, at the signing ceremony. However, the Government have chosen to go to the country now rather than wait until October. The Bill could have finished all its stages in the Lords and the treaty been ratified, which would have been an occasion of great historic importance. During the election, therefore, I hope that we will not hear how the Government are committed to the Channel tunnel and how they have undying faith in it. If the Government were serious, instead of a continuation motion the Prime Minister would have been persuaded otherwise when she held her Chequers meeting on Sunday, and she would have put the election off until October.

    I do not mind if the continuation motion is carried, because we all know that, should the Government be returned, they will have their way if they have a majority. If, as I suspect and believe, we are the Government, we will have our way and our policy. Therefore, the continuation motion is of no importance. It is purely technical and I do not know why the Government have bothered with it.

    9.39 pm

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) raised a number of serious points. The first question he asked was why we are laying this motion and not choosing revival after an election. Looking hack at precedent, in 1974 this Bill went through two Parliaments. On one occasion it was carried forward and on the other occasion it was revived. It was revived because Parliament was in recess at the time, and, therefore, the opportunity of carrying it forward was not available. In effect, we have followed precedent where it was available.

    The hon. Gentleman referred also to a public inquiry. I simply remind him that a large number of petitioners have incurred a great deal of expenditure and have spent much time and trouble. There would still have been all those Select Committee stages to go through, even if there had been a public inquiry, and that would have meant all those people facing double expense and double time. I do not think that they would have thanked the hon. Gentleman for that.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet South (Mr. Aitken) claimed that the Select Committee had been harried by the Whips. That is a disgraceful suggestion. I do not know of any member of the Select Committee of either House who would have allowed himself to be treated in that way. The House of Commons Select Committee met for 36 sitting days, had to deal with 4,845 petitions, made a 220-paragraph special report and made 70 amendments. The Lords Select Committee sat for 30 days and made 109 amendments, and its special report is awaited eagerly. In the final stages, one of the voluntary parliamentary agents, Mr. Beckett, said:
    "My Lords, we have been very impressed by your impartiality, your understanding and concern for our problems, especially on the matter of roads. I want to thank you on behalf of my petitioners for the kindness you have shown them in the last two months. Thank you, my Lords."
    That does not sound like the sort of harrying that my hon. Friend is trying to portray, or misportray, to the House.

    I have not finished with my hon. Friend yet.

    Far more effective has been the persistent hand of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). who has quietly and effectively, behind the scenes, put the interests of his constituents in a way that has made a number of effective changes to what would otherwise have been the way in which matters have been dealt with.

    I did not refer to the House of Lords Select Committee in any way. I am well aware that there were no Whips operating in the Lords. So, although I totally share my hon. Friend's tribute to the Lords, his response has nothing to do with my speech.

    The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said that one of the things that worried him and ought to worry Conservative Members—we are most grateful for the solicitous approach of the hon. Gentleman about matters which worry Conservative Members—was that British Rail was going to be asked to supply certain funds to provide an oxygen supply to Eurotunnel. The usage agreement is a commercial deal. British Rail has acquired the right to 50 per cent. of the pathways through the tunnel and in return it will undertake to pay 65 per cent. of the tolls on Eurotunnel's traffic forecast. That is a straightforward commercial transaction.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South expressed a worry that Eurotunnel will not raise the large amount of money that it needs. Perhaps I should tell him that today Eurotunnel acquired £1,000 million-worth of loans from the European Investment bank. Before my hon. Friend starts another scare story, I should say that that money is in no way public money, funded by the public sector or by any Government. It is funded by the European Investment hank, backed by banks in the private sector, with no public commitment at all.

    It is interesting that the Minister said that the money is coming from European Investment bank and that it will be financed totally by banks. Will he take on board the fact that, when ventures of this sort are entered into by banks, there is a caveat that allows banks, where money has been lost and ventures have not been successful, to offset certain amounts of tax against liabilities of that sort? That would have the result that if, for example, this failed, the banks that have taken part in the exercise, just as with rescheduling debts, would be able to offset part of the losses against tax. That will mean that the taxpayer will be helping to finance that failed venture.

    I know a red herring when I see one, and the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not follow him down that pipeline.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South raised a series of questions on what he described as the Anglo-Iranian-Japanese financing. None of my hon. Friend's questions were relevant to the procedural motion before the House tonight. He asked for an assurance that there was no back-door subsidy for Eurotunnel from British Rail, and I give him that assurance.

    Finally, I was fascinated by the complaint voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South at the beginning of his speech about the slowness of the progress of this legislation. If I have allowed myself to be led into any delay at any time during the passage of this legislation, it is only because my hon. Friend played the role that ancient mariners always feared—of the wrecker on the shore who put the harbour lights in the wrong place to mislead the crew. We have not been misled on this occasion, and I commend the motion to the House.

    Question put:—

    The House proceeded to a Division:—

    Mr. Michael Portillo and Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, and Mr. Dennis Skinner was appointed Teller for the Noes, but no Member being willing to act as a Second Teller for the Noes, MR. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.

    Question accordingly agreed to.


    That further proceedings on the Channel Tunnel Bill shall be suspended until the next Session of Parliament;
    That if a Bill is presented to this House in the next Session in the same terms as those in which the Channel Tunnel Bill stood at the last stage of its proceeding in this House in this Session—
  • (a) the Bill shall be deemed to have been read the first, second and third time; and
  • (b) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or (in the case of the Standing Orders relating to Private Business) dispensed with in this Session or in the Session 1985–86, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in the next Session;
  • That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.

    Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.