§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Studholme.]
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
It is probably very appropriate that we should be discussing the question of a Channel tunnel tonight on the same day as we have had a statement made on British transport. In that statement a lot was shown as about to be done during the coming years to improve the roads and the general transport of Great Britain. That is all very nice for the people of this country, but why also should not the people of Europe be able to participate in this, and do so without having to go through all the difficulties of a cross-Channel trip in a boat, or by taking a car over by air, or even on the ferry service?
Some people suggest that rather than talk about a Channel tunnel, we should talk about an Anglo-Continental tunnel as a link with the Continent. It is appropriate at the present moment, and as far as I know the subject has not been raised in the House since the war. It was very considerably discussed before the war and, indeed, turned down only after a full debate in the House, and then by a majority of only seven in spite of the fact that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald at that time led a determined attack to prevent it going through.
At that time the main reason for its not being considered suitable was security. Oddly enough, we seem almost to have come a full circle, because today I should be inclined to say that it is for security reasons as much as anything else that we should have it. If we are to send more than 100,000 troops to Europe in the coming years, one of the wisest things would be to have a Channel tunnel in order to get them there. I will not go into details in the short time at my disposal on that point, but the security of Western Europe, many people feel, requires that there should be safer and closer links between this country and the Continent than those which are allowed by bad weather at sea and the difficulties of fog, etc., in relation to air transport.
1231 Other people are criticising the Channel tunnel as something old-world and out of date, whereas in actual fact it is becoming old-world and out of date not to have it. It is true that it was thought of in the 1860s, but so indeed was flying. It was thought to be exciting to go to England either by Channel tunnel, or by air. Now it is not only ordinary to go to the Continent by air, but if there were to be war, the V.1s and V.2s and other guided missiles would not require anybody to be with them, and there would be no question of not getting them across.
Because of the out-of-dateness of our not having a tunnel to connect ourselves with Europe, the highways of Europe are being planned on the basis of their having no link with us. When one goes into this matter one sees that all over Europe today new highways are being suggested, new roads are being arranged and the international organisation for dealing with roads is particularly upset that there is no link with this country. I had the opportunity of being present at an inter-Parliamentary conference on tourism in Rome the other day, and I found that the French and the Belgians were depressed at the lack of road contact with this country.
We have the St. Gotthard Tunnel and the Simplon Tunnel, and now there is to be the Mont Blanc Tunnel. If these tunnels can be developed in different parts of Europe, why cannot we have a Channel tunnel? Boring under Mont Blanc would be far more difficult than boring under the Channel. Probably Lord Noel-Buxton, with his knowledge of sea and river depths, could tell us more than anyone about the matter, but I think that even if St. Paul's Cathedral were placed in the deepest parts of the Channel the dome would show out of the sea.
From the point of view of trade and tourism and our great desire to bring more people to this country, there can be no question of the value of such a tunnel, especially having regard to the new developments in tourism—the hikers and the caravan tourers. Indeed, Americans who make the present Channel trip often feel that they would rather cancel their return ticket and go back to America from France. All these people would like to come to this country. We, being so insular, do not realise how many 1232 people on the Continent are discouraged from coming here because of unwillingness to face the risks of the Channel trip.
The history of this tunnel goes back into the last century, but became really vital and up to date about 1928, when Sir William Bull, a popular Member of this House, did everything he could to press the proposal. As a result, an economic advisory council was set up. Finally, a Report was produced, and published in 1930. The recommendations are not uninteresting. One of them was:None of the new forms of cross-Channel communication suggested to us can be regarded as a satisfactory alternative to a Channel Tunnel.Another was:If a Channel Tunnel is constructed, we consider that on economic grounds the work should be carried out by private enterprise and not be accorded any financial assistance by the Government.I will return to that point later.
When that Report was discussed in a debate in the House, we may note with interest that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said that, owing to the small labour force required, the construction of the tunnel would afford little relief for unemployment. If it is argued today that there is a shortage of labour, the answer still is that it would require few men in any case.
Of course, the serious question is the actual cost, and that is what affects the view of the Government. I would point out that in 1930 it was suggested that the cost should be left to private enterprise. I think that today private enterprise would be prepared to find the money for it if the Government would remove their political objections to the tunnel actually being constructed.
We do not need to go into detail tonight as to what were the actual plans, but roughly speaking the proposalsenvisaged the construction of two independent traffic tunnels with a diameter of 17 feet, and a length, including land approaches, of 35 miles. Before commencing these tunnels, it would be necessary, in order to test the feasibility of the scheme, to build a pilot tunnel 10 feet in diameter all the way across the Channel. This exploratory tunnel would subsequently be used for the purposes of ventilation, drainage and maintenance. The tunnels would follow the bank of grey chalk which soundings have shown to exist right across the Channel and would lie at a depth of between 100 feet and 200 feet below the sea bed. The railways would be entirely electrical and special stations would be constructed on the English 1233 and French sides to connect with the Southern Railway and the Chemin du Nord respectively.That was the original plan. The time required, and this remains the same now, was estimated to be five years for the pilot tunnel and three years for the main tunnel. The number of men employed would be about 250 for the pilot tunnel and 1,500 for the main tunnel. There are two variations of the possible cost. Without going into detail, but bringing the figures up to date, the most expensive scheme would cost £75 million and the least expensive would cost £51 million.
It would not be necessary for the English alone to find the money. The cost would be shared between Great Britain and the Continent, and possibly the U.S.A., and, as I said, we feel that it could be found privately. The way in which the money could be got back would be by tolls and the general charges that would be made for the use of the tunnel.
There was a debate on this subject in 1930, and it is interesting to note that those who voted for a channel tunnel even in those days included the present Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir Winston Churchill), Mr. Hore-Belisha, who soon afterwards became Secretary of State for War, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), and, oddly enough, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). Those are only a few of the many who nearly defeated the Government, who had a majority of only seven.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has reminded me of that occasion. That was a Bill to authorise the construction of the tunnel. I am wondering whether the remedy for the hon. Member's grievance does not lie in legislation. If so, it is out of order to discuss it on the Motion for the Adjournment.
§ Mr. Teeling
In any case, we are now only asking my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to do everything he can to clear the present situation, and to make it apparent that we can carry out our desire to raise private money, if necessary, to develop this project.
The International Road Federation has keenly supported this scheme, and I believe that no fewer than five other Parliaments—France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Holland—are keen on it. Indeed, my opposite number, the Chairman of the Committee in France, no less a personage than M. Laniel, who was Prime Minister only recently, and the present Minister for Public Works, M. Chaban-Delmas, who is also Mayor of Bordeaux and a very live wire in the French Government, both support it.
In a debate in the National Assembly on 11th December, M. Chaban-Delmas, in his capacity as Minister of Transport and Public Works, in reply to a question on whether any talks had taken place with Great Britain, said:My dear colleagues. We there come to an extremely important question, which, contrary to what one might think, does not remind one of the sea serpent about which one talks each year, and which one rarely catches. Actually, we have reached a point where, without having come to a final decision, the negotiations between Great Britain and France have taken a turn which permits one to hope for a development.Later, he said:I return to my first argument, which is essential. If the Assembly wants to help the Government to hurry, with any chance of success, the negotiations now going on between the British and French Governments, I ask you to study this question.On 19th January, only a few days ago, the same Minister said:For my part I attach to the usefulness of the proposed works a far greater significance than technical interest, important though this is. I think that when we reach the day when Great Britain is linked with France by such a life-line it will be far easier for us to merge into that Europe of which we dream. In fact, a certain conception of isolation—always so strong with our British friends—would not fail to be modified; whereas we would feel them nearer to us; and we know how much the psychological aspect is a determining one in an enterprise such as the European enterprise.Many people in this country do not realise how much it is felt in Europe that the link would be a gesture of friendship towards Europe. The money could 1235 be found in this country and in Europe, and also, indeed, in the United States. I believe that the United States is keen to see Europe very closely united, and would be far from displeased to take part in the project.
There are many other aspects to be considered. There is, for instance, the question of cables, about which the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) may be prepared to say a few words presently. It is costing an appalling amount of money to lay down pipes because the Channel Tunnel cannot be constructed yet.
The French Channel Committee has now been given permission to look for oil in the same area. Then again, the Rome Conference agreed that Italy and France should get together so that the Mont Blanc Tunnel could be constructed. This would permit of tourist traffic from Italy to come through to France and from the North to Italy. Why should they be cut off from England.
Furthermore, the British Tourist and Holidays Board is keen to attract more visitors to this country, but there is always the question of crossing the Channel. Many hundreds of thousands of people do not want to cross it, either by boat or aeroplane, and, for this reason, find it better to go to other seaside resorts rather than come to us.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have looked up the occasion to which the hon. Member referred, and find that he is perfectly correct. The discussion in 1930 took place on a Motion, but there were earlier Bills, before my time, with this object in view, and I am not sure whether the object could be achieved without a Bill of some sort.
§ 10.42 p.m
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
May I say how grateful I and other hon. Members are to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) for raising this important subject tonight? Hitherto, objections have been raised on strategic grounds. The Edwardian generals raised, and their successors, the "Teddy boys" of the War Office today, have raised, all sorts of objections to that project, and now, latterly, we have been told that there are no resources available.
1236 All I wish to ask the Minister tonight is whether he can make it plain to us, and in particular to France, that at least the strategic objections are out of the way, and also the financial objections. If he can do that, then perhaps we shall have taken the first great step towards this project of peace.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
This Adjournment debate does not catch me quite unprepared. In October last, I went to Paris to attend a meeting of the European Ministers of Transport as deputy for my right hon. Friend, who was unable to go. M. Armand, the head of the French Railways, spoke to me at some length about the desirability of building a Channel Tunnel, and M. Chaban-Delmas, the French Minister of Transport, also told me that he was deeply interested in M. Armand's proposal.
Speaking on the spur of the moment, I said that I had always thought that the invention of the aeroplane had much reduced any advantages that there might have been in the Channel tunnel, but that that was not at all a considered opinion, and I undertook to have the matter looked into by the Ministry of Transport as soon as I returned. This has now been done, and I am able to indicate our views on the transport aspects of this idea.
No detailed planning of the tunnel has been done since 1930. In 1947, it was estimated that the cost of twin railway tunnels, in accordance with the 1930 proposals, would amount to £65 million, and I understand that it would now amount to about £85 million. My hon. Friend in his speech, when he spoke of totals, thought that there might be a road through the tunnel. Monsieur Armand has indicated that that is not contemplated; owing to the problem of fumes, the only way in which cars could be carried through the tunnel would be upon the railway, and the project as we have considered it rules out the possibility of a road.
There would, in addition, be the cost of the entrances, the stations, and the specially adapted rolling stock, and the scheme would, our investigators suggest, 1237 bring in no revenue likely to cover capital investment of that order. If the tunnel was, in fact, used to any great extent, it would only be by the abstraction of traffic from other routes, and we do not believe that the tunnel would be successful in that way.
I have some figures which show the comparative costs of air transport at the present time with railway travel costs, and, generally, the cost of air travel is very little more than the cost of rail transport. From those interested in the tunnel, we understand that they do not contemplate that the rail charges would be less than those now charged on British Railways and would, I understand, probably be slightly more.
Two million people left this country for France last year, a quarter by air, and that proportion appears to be increasing each year. Three-quarters of the total travelled by ship, but we do not see that there would be any likelihood of a Channel tunnel reducing the increasing preference which is being shown for air transport. It used to be argued that because of its convenience to wealthy passengers, the tunnel would be able to justify itself; that there would be the advantage that somebody could get into a sleeping compartment in London and, instead of his being obliged to get up in order to embark at a South Coast port and to disembark in France, remain in the compartment until he reached his destination. But since the time when that suggestion was put forward two train ferries have been introduced, and so it is possible for people to avoid that inconvenience by means of facilities which already exist.
In addition to that, it has been frequently suggested that a Channel tunnel would be of value to motorists by enabling them to take their cars by train through the tunnel. Again, this advantage which was put forward in earlier days no longer applies, because there is now a very large traffic across the Channel each summer of cars transported by ship. More recently, the Silver City Company has begun ferrying cars by air from the South Coast to France, and that company has just announced its intention of starting a further service from Birmingham to Le Touquet.
My hon. Friend did not refer at any length to the transport of goods, but our 1238 study of the rates that would be charged leads us to suppose that it would not result in any considerable transfer of the export and import of goods from the sea to the tunnel. For those reasons, our view is that there would not be any great transport value in the tunnel in time of peace.
M. Armand mentioned to me the likelihood of an electric cable to enable Eleetricité de France and the British Electricity Authority to exchange current, because the peak periods in France are not the same as they are in this country. I understand from the British Electricity Authority that, on the whole, it would, as at present advised, prefer to use submarine cable.
It was represented to me in France, and my hon. Friend has repeated it tonight, that great importance would attach to a project of this kind as a mark of our solidarity with France and our other European Allies, and as evidence of our sincere intention to participate in the defence of Western Europe against attack. That solidarity has surely been made abundantly clear by the Government's promise to maintain four divisions and a tactical air force on the Continent of Europe.
It is true that the sustenance of these forces is, in great measure, the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. I have therefore inquired whether our task would be facilitated by the existence of a tunnel. I am advised, however, that in view of the development of modern weapons of great destructive power, we should not be willing to place much reliance on a tunnel, even if it existed. We consider that it would be much too vulnerable in modern warfare.
I am sorry, therefore, that the investigations made by the Ministry of Transport in the last four months lead us to the conclusion that, from a transport point of view, it is unlikely that a tunnel under the Channel would be of any great value to passengers, whether travelling light or with cars, and whether seeking chiefly comfort or cheapness; nor do we think it would be useful for the export or import of most classes of goods. This opinion appears to be confirmed by the British Transport Commission, which has indicated that it would not be willing to use any of its resources for the construction of a tunnel under the Channel. If it were 1239 decided for political reasons, that any such tunnel should be constructed, it would expect the Government to provide the necessary funds.
§ Mr. Teeling
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the point I made regarding private enterprise. Is there anything to prevent private enterprise from finding the funds and developing this project?
§ Mr. Molson
As the railways of this country are nationalised, and the Government does not intend to denationalise them, it is obvious that the only body in this country capable of carrying out a project of that kind would be the British Transport Commission.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
Supposing anyone else came forward and said he was willing, and produced plans; what would the Government say?
§ Mr. Molson
We would not necessarily close our minds to it on mere transport considerations; but, in view of the fact that we are shortly going to ask the House to authorise the raising of substantial sums of money for the modernisation of the railways, I do not think that any priority could be given to the raising of funds for the construction of a channel tunnel.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Eleven o'clock.