§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Montgomery Hyde (Belfast, North)
I beg to move,That this House, in the interests of the better communications and economy of the United Kingdom as a whole, and realising the peculiar geographical position of Northern Ireland, which is separated from the rest of the United Kingdom by a sea channel and is consequently obliged to import the majority of raw materials for use in its manufacturing industries from Great Britain by ship and also to export most of its manufactured products to Great Britain by the same means, would welcome the appointment by Her Majesty's Government of a committee to investigate and report on the project of constructing a submarine tunnel underneath the North Channel so as to connect Northern Ireland with Great Britain by one continuous route by rail and, if possible, also by road, thereby facilitating and encouraging an increased flow of traffic both in goods and passengers between these two integral parts of the United Kingdom.The idea of an Irish Channel tunnel is not a new one. It has been canvassed in one form or another for nearly a century, and Questions have been put in this House about the practicability of such a project from time to time during that period, but this is the first occasion on which it has been possible to debate the subject in the terms of a substantive Motion.
It is true that in April, 1899, Captain D. V. Pirie, then Liberal Member for 1642 Aberdeen, North secured an opportunity for discussing the question in the time then available for Private Members' Motions, but at the last moment Mr. Balfour, Leader of the House, stepped in and appropriated all the remaining Private Members' time during that Session for discussion of the Finance Bill and other Government Business, which evidently he considered to be of overriding importance. The hon. and gallant Member never had another opportunity of bringing forward his Motion. I am glad that I have had better luck today, and that at long last the House should now have the chance of considering what I believe to be a matter of immense importance to the internal economy and prosperity of the United Kingdom from the long-term point of view.
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation here today. He and I are both readers of the works of the creator of that remarkable Irish character in English fiction, Phineas Finn. It may well be that my hon. Friend and perhaps other hon. Members will consider that this project of an Irish Channel tunnel is just the kind of crazy idea which Phineas Finn would have put forward in this House a hundred years ago, but I submit that the project is not so fantastic as it sounds. Before Anthony Trollope, the author of the adventures of Phineas Finn, died, alpine engineers were regarded as visionaries, yet soon after his death tunnels were constructed for thirty-six miles through hard rock, first the Mt. Cenis tunnel, and there followed the St. Gothard, Arlberg and Simplon tunnels. Now we have a London Underground system of more than a hundred miles of tunnelling, the great under-river projects of the Severn and the Mersey, and coal mining takes place on the north-east coast of England for some distance under the sea.
As to the location of this proposed channel tunnel, it would be somewhere between the south-west coast of Scotland and the north-east coast of Ulster. From the Ulster side the geology is quite straightforward. It is Silurian rock for the most part but near the coast of County Antrim it is overlaid by red sandstone and Keuper marls. The depth of the water varies between 200 feet and 600 feet, except for one part of the channel 1643 which geologists call Beaufort's Dyke, a deep depression between the coast of Wigtownshire and County Down, which goes down to a depth of 900 feet or more. In prehistoric times, when Ireland was joined to Scotland, no doubt it was a lake, or loch or valley. Since 1945 it has been used for dumping obsolete explosives, and it would probably add to the difficulty of the submarine tunnellers were any of these explosives to explode during the course of the tunnelling.
During the past century various proposals have been made for connecting up the two parts of the United Kingdom. As far back as 1860 there was a proposal to construct a causeway. There was also a proposal to construct a bridge raised on large stepping stones, and there was a proposal on the part of an engineer called James Maxton to construct a submarine tubular tunnel, rather like the modern P.L.U.T.O. with which we were familiar in the last war. His idea was that if any water got into part of the tunnel, it would drive the train forward at a very rapid speed—but he did not say what would happen if the water came in at both ends.
The first serious proposal for a submarine tunnel under the sea bed was made in 1868 by an Ulster engineer, Livingston Macassey, who was the father of the well-known member of the Bar, Sir Lynden Macassey. His scheme was for a tunnel between Torr Head in the County of Antrim and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, a distance of only 14½ miles and the shortest distance between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The disadvantage of that tunnel was that it would be a considerable distance from any railhead. Were such a tunnel constructed it would be necessary to build about a hundred miles of railway from the Scottish side, from Campbeltown round Loch Fyne to join up with the main Glasgow line.
However, Macassey's project and the others stimulated public interest which was added to by the emergence of the English Channel tunnel project at that time. It also found advocates in some quite well-known people who were opposed to the English Channel tunnel, for military and strategic reasons, but thought that an Irish one was a good idea.
1644 One of them was Field Marshal Lord Wolseley, and he has something interesting to say about it in 1882. He wrote:It is of great national importance that we should have the easiest possible means of communication between the two islands and before we embark on any dangerous scheme of uniting us with France, in the hope that increased means of communication between the two nations will reduce all hostility and enmity between them, let us try the experiment with Ireland. Let us try the effect of a tunnel on the Irish question, and see whether such a description of union might not be more successful in binding together the people of the two countries than the political union of 1800.It is doubtful whether Lord Wolseley's suggestion would have solved the Irish question, though I think it would have been a very interesting experiment at the time. Certainly, the relatively small capital cost then would have been little compared with the land purchase scheme and other schemes on which large sums were laid out at that period.
As well as the Macassey project there were five others proposed during the twenty years or so which followed the putting forward of the Macassey proposal. The shortest and most practical after Macassey's original proposal was for a tunnel between Donaghadee in County Antrim and Portpatrick in Wigtownshire, a distance of twenty miles. The disadvantage of that route was of course, that it was directly under Beaufort's Dyke and involved going down to a depth of 1,000 feet or more.
The most practicable of the schemes was that put forward by a civil engineer of considerable distinction called James Barton, a native of Dundalk, who was associated with the great engineering concern of Hawkshaw and Hayter, which was responsible for the construction of the Severn Tunnel. Barton's Tunnel was to run between Islandmagee in County Antrim and Portobello in Wigtownshire. Its great advantage was that although it was not absolutely direct—it was more in the shape of a dog's hind leg—it skirted the north end of Beaufort's Dyke. It would have been twenty-five miles in length, and the maximum depth to which the engineers would have had to go would have been 600 feet.
In the 1880s a number of questions were asked in the House about the project. In 1886 Colonel Henry Blundell, the Member for the Ince division of 1645 Lancashire, asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. J. Morley, whether the possibility of such a tunnel had ever been considered by competent engineers, and if not, whether the Government were disposed to have the subject so considered, the distance between Donaghadee and Portpatrick being about equal to that between Dover and Calais. Mr. Morley replied that he was not aware that the subject had ever been seriously and practically entertained, and did not feel that the Government should, under any circumstances, take the initiative.
However, with a change of Administration later in that year, a rather more sympathetic reply was given to another hon. Member, Sir Roper Lethbridge who represented North Kensington. He asked the Postmaster-General, Mr. Raikes, whether postal communication between England and America would not be quickened by the construction of a submarine tunnel between Scotland and Ireland, and whether the attention of His Majesty's Government had been drawn to the advantages of obtaining an alternative to the existing overland route to India. Australia and the Far East, an equally expeditious route through British territory by way of Ireland and British America. The Postmaster General replied that some little time could doubtless be saved by the construction of such a tunnel the Government's attention had been brought to such a route via Ireland and British America as a possible route for mails to the Far East, and the matter was still under consideration.
It remained under consideration for the next fifteen years, during which time it attracted considerable attention on both sides of the Irish Sea and public opinion gradually crystallised in favour of James Barton's so-called "dog's-leg route." Barton first described it in detail at a large public meeting held in Belfast, under the chairmanship of the then Lord Mayor, in October, 1890. As it remains probably the most practicable of all the schemes put forward, the House may be interested in a few particulars about it.
On the Scottish side a railway line was planned to begin at Stranraer Station. Passing north-west, it entered the tunnel five miles from Stranraer and then descended in a gradient of 1 in 75, passing under the shore line at the Ebbstone Beacon just north of Portobello, at nine 1646 miles. It passed round a curve of a mile radius under the sea at the head of Beaufort's Dyke at 16 miles, reaching the Ulster shore line at Island Magee, 34 miles distant, rising 1 in 75 from the deep water. The line passed out of the tunnel at 39½ miles, and then joined the Belfast and Northern Counties Railways on the Antrim coast, at 41 miles, and ran the remaining 10½ miles along that line into the terminus at Belfast. The total length from Stranraer to Belfast was to be 51½ miles, of which 34½ miles were to be tunnel and 25 miles to be tunnel under the sea.
The plan involved the laying of a third line along the few miles from the railway junction on the Antrim coast into Belfast. That was necessary on account of the difference in the gauges, the Irish gauge being 5 ft. 3 in. and the English and Scottish gauges being 4 ft. 8½ in.
It was proposed that the tunnel should contain a double railway line and should run 150 ft. below the sea bed. That meant a total depth of 650 ft. at the greatest depth of water. Barton considered that the boring through the Silurian rock should be as rapid as that done in the Simplon Tunnel, which was nearly twelve yards a day, and he thought it would be more rapid through the sandstone and marl. His plan provided for the initial driving of a pilot tunnel. He estimated that the whole work would take ten to twelve years to complete, and that the cost would be in the region of £10 million. Incidentally, the Simplon Tunnel is over twelve miles in length and took seven years to construct through the hard Alpine rock, and the greatest depth below the surface is 7,000 ft.
One difficulty which Barton and all engineers had to consider, and would have to consider today, is that of water getting into the tunnel. This is what Barton said about the water difficulty:The amount of water to be dealt with is the one uncertainty, though we have grounds for believing it is not likely to be a very serious difficulty. The Severn and Mersey Tunnels encountered no serious water leakage under the sea, the great leak from the Severn being from fresh water and a quarter of a mile from the sea. Judging from these tunnels…there seems good grounds for believing that the sea bed under the Irish Channel has sealed all interstices, so that excavation can be expected to be fairly dry. Silurian rocks are found in beds nearly verticle, which have been under heavy horizontal pressure, and will 1647 probably give little water either in the undersea or approach tunnels; the Keuper marls under the Irish side are remarkably suited to an underwater tunnel, being perfectly watertight where examined down to 900 ft. The new red sandstone which lies between the Marl and Silurian allows water to percolate, but is not likely to give a large quantity, 150 ft. of cover between tunnel and sea bed will, it is expected, make all safe.Professor Edward Hull endorsed this. He was Director of the Geological Survey of Ireland at that time, and an expert geologist. He is reported as having said:In entering the surface at the commencement of the channel, where it would join the Northern Counties Railway, they would pass into the red marl formation.…They might have, in tunnelling from Islandmagee, a long distance of this new red marl substituted by the new red sandstone where the strata were let down by the fissures. The distance through these marls would be, he had concluded, about five or six miles from the coast. The tunnelling through them would be extremely easy, and would mean a large reduction upon the estimate for the ordinary rock boring. After leaving the new red sandstone formation, somewhere about one-third of the distance across, they would, in all probability, have throughout the entire remaining distance the rocks of the lower Silurian system; and the geology of the coast of Wigtownshire indicated that these Silurian strata would continue to the point where the proposed tunnel would emerge. In conclusion, he might say that he felt perfectly satisfied there were no geological difficulties likely to be encountered in the construction of the tunnel which engineering skill would not be fully able to meet.During the next ten years, 1890–1901, Barton developed his project, and at the International Engineering Conference held in Glasgow in 1901 he read a paper which was his last word on the subject, at the same time producing scale drawings and plans, which are still in existence. During those ten years public interest on both sides of the Irish Sea reached its height. There were numerous meetings and deputations and addresses were given by prominent individuals. In 1898 a deputation of Members of this House and Scottish and Irish businessmen waited on the President of the Board of Trade. They asked him for £15,000 to make trial borings and soundings. The Minister was "sympathetic," but he said he was unable to hold out any hope of financial help.
In the following year, on 12th June, 1899, a large meeting of Peers and Members, both Unionist and Nationalist, of this House, took place in the Grand Com- 1648 mittee Room here, under the chairmanship of the then Marquis of Londonderry. A resolution was passed that a deputation should see Mr. Balfour. A week or two later the deputation met Mr. Balfour, and its members asked the Government to guarantee 3 per cent. interest on the share capital, which they estimated at £12 million, of the company which it was proposed to form. The Government were not asked to put down any money at the time, as the company undertook to raise what was necessary for the preliminary work. Again, Mr. Balfour was sympathetic and he promised to consult his colleagues, but not unnaturally, perhaps, he refused to commit the Government.
That marked the end of the matter for the time being. At the beginning of the period, in 1890, Macassey published a pamphlet in which he set out the merits of the different routes, including his own. The title page of that pamphlet shows a Midland Railway engine emerging from the tunnel at the Irish end and drawing a train of Pullman coaches. The date on the keystone of the arch is 1910, but all that remained of the scheme by 1910 was a notice board on the coast near Islandmagee in County Antrim bearing the words, "Site of proposed channel tunnel," and even that disappeared a year or two later. Certainly it did not survive the oubreak of the First World War.
Relatively little has been heard of this project in the first half of this century. In 1929, Mr. W. E. D. Allen, who was then Member for West Belfast, put down a Question, and in a remarkable maiden speech suggested that the construction of such a tunnel might be used to relieve unemployment in Northern Ireland. In 1943, Sir Douglas Savory, whom many hon. Members will remember with feelings of affection, put a supplementary question to a Question which was asked about the English Channel tunnel. He suggested that priority might be given to the Irish project, but he received no reply to his supplementary question.
However, since 1954, there has been a considerable revival of interest in the project in Northern Ireland. This owes a good deal to the initiative of a Belfast businessman, Major A. V. Cramsie, who twice brought the matter before the Ulster Unionist Council. A number of local authorities, notably the councils of 1649 Armagh, Bangor, Coleraine and Portadown, have passed resolutions in its favour. The question has also been raised in both Houses of the Northern Ireland Parliament, in the House of Commons by Dr. R. J. Nixon. On that occasion, the Minister of Commerce, Lord Glentoran, who had not been briefed in any detail, made a very short reply, but in the Senate, when the matter was raised by Senator Sir Wilson Hungerford, a rather longer reply was given on behalf of the Government by the leader of the Senate, Colonel Gordon.
Briefly, his objections to the scheme were three-fold: first, the impossibility of obtaining accurate geological and technical data to enable engineers to bring the project to what he called the blueprint stage; secondly, the cost and magnitude of the ancillary works; and, thirdly, the impossibility of ventilating such a tunnel.
I have taken the opportunity of consulting a leading firm of British civil engineers, Messrs. Mott, Hay & Anderson, who are acknowledged experts on tunnels. They were the consulting engineers in the construction of the recent Mersey Road tunnel, and they are also the consulting engineers to the sponsors of the English Channel tunnel project. I would say that the opinion given by that firm is contrary to that of the leader of the Senate in Northern Ireland, and that it largely confirms the opinion given by earlier experts such as Professor Hull and Mr. Barton.
I should like to make one very short quotation from the report which Messrs. Mott, Hay & Anderson furnished. They do not attempt to disguise the fact that there are difficulties, and I think that they place more stress upon the difficulty of ground water than did Mr. Barton. They point out, too, that on account of the depth, conditions are rather less favourable than would be those in the case of the Channel tunnel between France and England. The report continues:Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that a tunnel under the North Channel is impracticable. A very great deal of investigation would, however, be required in order to establish the feasibility of such a project and to estimate the possible cost, which needless to say would be very large. It may very well be that in any scheme which might be formulated a pilot tunnel would figure as a feature of crucial importance as indeed is the case with the Channel Tunnel scheme. Only a very 1650 general opinion can be given without a thorough examination of the numerous factors concerned, and it may be summed up by stating that the current technical resources would almost certainly permit such a tunnel to be constructed, but whether or not the probable cost would be economically practical could only be ascertained by detailed investigation.On the actual question of the cost. Messrs. Mott, Hay and Anderson point out that any close approximation is not possible without detailed investigation. But their estimate, for what it is worth, is that the cost of constructing a pilot tunnel of 12 feet diameter might be of the order of £15 million and that of constructing twin railway tunnels of 18 feet 6 inches diameter each might approach £75 million, making a total of £90 million.
That firm have also commented upon the objection put forward by the Leader of the Senate in Northern Ireland. Briefly, in regard to Colonel Gordon's first objection—the possibility of a lack of geological and technical data—the firm say:We believe that the feasibility of the main tunnel or tunnels could ultimately only be established by driving a pilot tunnel. This in itself would be a costly undertaking and it is quite possible that it would reveal conditions which could not be overcome at any rate within the range of practical economics…The difficulty mentioned by Colonel Gordon which would arise in the event of fissured ground being encountered is of course a very serious one, but we do not think it would cause a disaster if the work was tackled in the right way, although conditions might be found so severe as to cause the abandonment of the tunnel. Much could be done to overcome this difficulty by modern methods of ground treatment.As regards Colonel Gordon's second objection—the cost and magnitude of the ancillary works—the firm say:This applies equally to the Channel Tunnel, which has long been regarded in quite responsible quarters as an entirely feasible project; but in spite of the enthusiasm with which the Channel Tunnel scheme has been advocated over many years, its proponents have never succeeded in getting it put into effect.Then, as regards Colonel Gordon's third objection, the point about ventilation, the firm say:The ventilation of the tunnel, provided it was to be used only for a railway, with electric traction, would not be unduly difficult. The ventilation of a road tunnel of this length, would, it must be admitted, be a very great problem indeed, although it may be noted that the proponents of one of the Channel Tunnel schemes in which a section of the tunnel would be used by road vehicles are confident that such a tunnel could be ventilated satisfactorily.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
That, I think, would involve a wind of about 50 miles an hour, would it not?
§ Mr. Hyde
It would certainly involve a system of fans, but I do not know about a wind of that velocity.
The question of ventilation, into which I do not wish to enter in any detail, will, I hope, be touched on by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) who is seconding the Motion.
I submit that, on the evidence which I have put forward, the scheme is echnically feasible. Of course, with the development in engineering, it might be possible, instead of actually digging under the sea bed, to lay a tube tunnel on the sea bed as has been done, for instance, on the bed of the River Meuse near Rotterdam and on various parts of the coast of North America.
However, the greatest drawback is the economic factor. The cost has always been advanced in the past as the insuperable barrier, and no doubt it will be again today. On 22nd March, 1897, Mr. H. O. Arnold-Foster, the Member for West Belfast, asked Mr. Balfour a Question, to which Mr. Balfour replied:I am quite prepared to consult with the President of the Board of Trade, but I fear the financial aspects of any such engineering undertaking are not of a very promising character.Mr. Allen, on 9th July, 1929, put a similar Question to Mr. Thomas, the Lord Privy Seal. Mr. Thomas replied:I shall be prepared to consider any scheme which can be shown to be technically and economically practicable, but on the information available I doubt whether this project, of which I have now heard for the first time, falls at the present into this class."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1929; Vol. 229, c. 661.]Last November, in reply to a Question by myself addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, who was then Minister of Transport, my right hon. Friend said:My answer was based not on the consideration whether this proposal would be feasible or not, but on the consideration that it would be an extremely expensive operation, and I doubt if it would be right, even if the funds were available, necessarily to spend them in that way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 407.]In this Welfare State of ours the Government does spend very large sums of money each year, for example £30 million annually on colonial development, £50 million on atomic research, £90 million 1652 on improvements in coal mining, in addition to which there is the tremendous plan for modernising and re-equipping British Railways, involving the expenditure of £1,200 million spread over the next fourteen years.
If the United Kingdom as a whole can consider spending those large sums of money, then it seems to me that at least there is no good reason for jumping to the conclusion that an Irish Channel tunnel would be far too expensive an operation to merit serious consideration, particularly if arrangements were made for spreading the capital cost over a number of years.
I will very briefly mention the advantages of such a tunnel. On the political side, Northern Ireland would be part of the United Kingdom in fact as well as in name. On the strategic and military side, movement of troops and stores and the evacuation of civilians would be facilitated in time of war. We have heard from the Minister of Defence that in the event of an emergency, evacuation of civilians will take place on a very much larger scale than in the last war.
There is then the matter of the tourist trade. Such a tunnel would attract many tourists who are at present put off by the discomforts and inconveniences—even dangers—of the present channel crossing. It would obviate the necessity to obtain sailing tickets as long as six months in advance before a tourist can make his journey to Ireland.
The use of such a tunnel might also obviate the high freight charges which are levied on motor vehicles between Ireland and Britain as compared with the charges on the cross-Channel route from England to the Continent. It would also have the effect of shortening the Atlantic crossing; future American tourists might find it convenient to sail from New York to Londonderry or Belfast, continuing their journey to London by train.
The most important of all the advantages, in my view, is the industrial and commercial one. We in Northern Ireland have to import practically all our raw materials for our industries by ship, and we must export the manufactured products by the same means, with the consequent delays. Here again the question of freight charges arises; if those charges continue to increase in future as 1653 in the recent past it may soon be impossible for our manufacturers to compete in the British market.
I believe it would be wrong of the Government to reject this proposition out of hand without the most careful investigation. We are not asking the Government to introduce legislation or to spend money even on preliminary borings or soundings. All we ask is that a committee should examine the project and report on whether it is feasible and economic. The committee should be an expert body, not a committee of politicians or permanent officials or outside laymen, but one of geologists, engineers and financial experts who can weigh up the pros and cons in the light of all available evidence. This committee could perhaps be linked in some way with the Economic Advisory Council for Northern Ireland which, under the imaginative chairmanship of Lord Chandos, is at present successfully tackling our unemployment problem in Ulster.
It has often been said that the dreams of yesterday are the realities of today. This engineer's dream of yesterday is still a dream. I would invite my right hon. and hon. Friends, by setting up this modest committee, to take a step which may well be the beginning of a great and important process, a process which may convert the dream into a reality, and in so doing make the United Kingdom more united than the peoples of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have ever been in the long course of their island history.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I beg to second the Motion.
I second this Motion not only out of regard for the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde), who seems to have an apt flair for supporting what appears to be lost causes which ultimately come to success, but on general grounds also, the most general ground of all being that I support almost anything which tends to bring peoples together.
If it be true that familiarity breeds contempt, it is none the less true, in this "one world" in which we now live, that if we have puerile isolationism it must lead to conflict. I confess that I should like to see tunnels not only between Ireland and Scotland, but also—at this stage perhaps a more practicable one, though not ultimately, I expect—a tunnel to France and 1654 a tunnel under the Straits of Gibraltar. The hon. Gentleman could then go from Belfast right down to Capetown. This would have an immeasurably beneficial effect upon the feelings with which the peoples on the route regard each other.
Very few people who are not enthusiasts for the sea will doubt, and, indeed, very many of those who are will be forced to admit, that sea passengers can become most frightful barriers between peoples. One has only to see the wan faces of those who leave Channel steamers coming from the Continent of Europe and plying to and fro between Ireland and Great Britain to know how true that is. One must draw a veil over many of the barbaric but unfortunately all too frequent scenes which one sees on these vessels—children rolling about in their own vomit and their mothers too ill to help them. One sees that kind of thing, and worse, very frequently on the boats between Ireland and Great Britain.
Is it necessary that these hardships should be inflicted upon the travelling public? Fortunately, as I think, travel is increasing, not least between Great Britain and Ireland. I am not an expert. I have not been enlightened by any governmental pronouncement either in this country or in Ireland on the subject, but my answer to that question is that probably it is not necessary. But how can we tell until we are given some really conclusive reason either of geology or finance which makes the building of a tunnel undesirable or impossible.
All we have had from official sources is that which was vouchsafed in the debate in the Northern Ireland Senate, to which the hon. Member for Belfast, North has just referred. There we had allusion to a report by Northern Ireland Government technicians—whoever they may be. Their names were not given; their qualifications were not given, nor were the circumstances in which they made their report. I wonder whether the report was just made in a hurry by some pressed civil servant who knew that there was to be a debate in the Senate in the near future, and whose Minister asked him to produce a report quickly. That is quite likely.
Were these technicians exposed to any cross-examination by outside technicians? We do not know. All we know is that the spokesman of the Government of 1655 Northern Ireland, in the Senate debate, made a reply which would sadden the heart of the most moderate and fair member of any Opposition and which, I submit, would gladden the heart of the most cold and steely Governmental stone-wailer. I wonder whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can tell us why it is that when Members of any party become Ministers they become so cautious, and so deprived of all energy and enterprise, that they must always stone-wall in this way when something enterprising is being discussed or proposed.
The Northern Ireland Government spokesman thought that the tunnel was impossible, upon the three grounds which the hon. Member for Belfast, North has just mentioned, namely, geology, finance and ventilation. Upon the ground of ventilation, I would just like to make the comment—since this matter was touched upon in some detail—that the ventilation difficulty, great though it was, has surely been overcome by the Basdevant scheme for the tunnel under the English Channel to France. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) feared that a terrific wind would be necessary in the tunnel. Under the Basdevant scheme a pilot tunnel is to have a big wind sucking out air from the main tunnel. Even if it were a conclusive disadvantage—which I doubt—to have a wind of 50 miles an hour in a tunnel, it is not necessary under this scheme. A road tunnel might be very difficult, but I doubt whether the ventilation problem would be much of a disadvantage in the case of a rail tunnel. Anyhow, it is not necessary to have this great wind velocity.
As for the question of geology, the Northern Ireland Government spokesman could get away with expressing the view that geological reasons rendered this tunnel impossible only by virtually ignoring the views expressed by the World Congress of Civil Engineers in Glasgow in 1901. It was said that a tunnel to France was impossible. It has even been said that the bridge over the Humber—about which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will hear very much more in future than he has heard in the past—is impossible, because of the unstable nature of the Humber River bed, and the height at which it would be necessary to 1656 construct the bridge in order to allow ships to reach Goole, and so forth. But such a bridge has now been planned and shown to be completely practicable. It will be the longest suspension bridge in the world, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pay favourable consideration to the project when it is put before him in the near future.
The Mersey Tunnel was once said to be impracticable, for the reasons mentioned in the debate in the Northern Ireland Senate with regard to the Irish tunnel, namely, that there would be faults in the rock which would allow water to seep through. Faults are nothing unusual in tunnelling, even under the sea. They are much more difficult, however, under the land, where there is no pressure such as that of the sea upon the sea bed to force silt and other substances into the faults and render them unlikely to allow water to seep through.
The depth of the tunnel between Scotland and Ireland is such that the pressure upon the sea bed would be very considerable, and the probability is expressed again and again in the report of the Congress in 1901 that these faults would not be a final bar. Since then, the technique of dealing with faults has improved immensely. I was speaking only this morning to an engineer who is constructing a tunnel through the Balgie fault in Glenlyon, in Perthshire. He was explaining to me some of the techniques which now exist to overcome difficulties arising from faults. Immense progress has been made in this direction since 1901.
Moreover, the civil engineer, Mr. Barton, to whom the hon. Member has referred, was not merely "a certain Mr. Barton" as he was alleged to be in the Northern Ireland debate he was one of the top twenty civil engineers of his time. He was a member of the Council of the Institute, and I am informed that that means that he was a very distinguished person in his own profession. He submitted his plans to his colleagues and, one after another, they rose and stated—as may be seen from the report of the proceedings of this conference in the Engineer—that they supported his project. So far as my recollection goes, nobody said that he did not support it. Indeed, the Chairman, Sir D. Fox, said that other people might be frightened about this project but certainly the 1657 engineers would not be frightened about it.
All we now ask is that an inquiry should be set up; not an inquiry behind closed doors, undertaken by doubtless most estimable and knowledgeable civil servants, but one conducted in the open, where the experts can be confronted with other experts and, in consequence, where a balanced and, we hope, a more truthful view may be arrived at. I hope that the Government will not follow the example of the Northern Ireland spokesman who, with a lily-livered sheltering behind the anonymity of a civil servant, failed entirely to meet Mr. Barton's views and to put over views of equal or better authority, so that we could judge whether or not this project really was practicable.
In this day and generation, as distinct from 1901, there are many other uses to which a tunnel such as this proposed tunnel could be put. At the present time discussions are going on between the United Kingdom and France in connection with the exchange of electricity at peak hours, in view of the fact that the peak hours in the two countries are different. A tunnel would surely be of the greatest use in this connection. It is true that communications have been improved out of all recognition since 1900, but has that stopped us from putting a cable across the Atlantic at a very recent date? If that cable, or a cable across to Ireland, could be placed in a tunnel such as is proposed, it would need less maintenance because it would not be exposed to the conditions on the sea bed.
I know that there is a view that tunnels of this kind are outmoded now because air travel takes all the passengers that these tunnels might take. Apart from the consideration that air sickness is by no means unheard of, I submit that that is a completely false point. It is possible to travel to Glasgow and Manchester by air, but that does not mean that trains are put out of business. What has happened is that there has been a tremendous increase in all kinds of travel, and we all hope that it will continue. With the increase in production which is planned not only in our country but on the Continent there is surely room for all kinds of traffic—air, land and sea. In my submission none of the existing forms need fear that it will be put out of business 1658 from any traffic which would travel through a tunnel such as this if it were constructed.
I have not touched upon the exact amount of money involved, although I think that £100 million would be a small amount to spend upon a project so beneficent as this. If we can spend £200 million upon irrigation projects in our overseas territories, surely we can develop our own country too? I am in favour of development wherever it can be carried out, at home or abroad. I can imagine some people saying, "If we must spend this sum of money, I can think better ways of spending it than upon this tunnel."
No Member of the Unionist Party ought to entertain such feelings. They encourage the people of Northern Ireland to belong to the United Kingdom and they use them whenever it is necessary and possible. Ought they not to ask themselves what they are doing in return for the people of Northern Ireland? Ought they not to reciprocate the friendship shown by the people of Northern Ireland and in a very practical way, and might not this be a very useful and practical way to help the people of Northern Ireland?
The problem of unemployment is certainly with Northern Ireland almost always. Unemployment is endemic there. Whatever employment could be brought to Northern Ireland—I would not like to lay too much stress on this—by the actual construction of the tunnel, it might very well be that the whole economic condition of Northern Ireland would be so much benefited from the construction of a channel tunnel as to make a very material contribution to the solution of the question of unemployment in Northern Ireland. It might help.
Ought we not, therefore, to have a full inquiry—that is all that is being asked for at the present time—to see whether we could help in this way? I beg the Government to refrain at least from doing what the spokesman of the Government of Northern Ireland did, merely belittle the project and do nothing else. I beg the Government to come out into the open. Let us have a breath of fresh air not only in Whitehall but in its Northern Ireland equivalent, in Belfast. Sir D. Fox, the Chairman at the World 1659 Congress of Civil Engineers in Glasgow in 1901, summed up the matter like this:Whatever views there might be of the project, whether pessimistic or optimistic, the enormous advantages of such a scheme, whether viewed from the social, political or economic aspect, cannot be overlooked.That was in 1901. Surely all three of those conditions are as important today as they were then. Are we to be bold, or are we to stagnate? I hope that the Government will at least decide not to stagnate without a full, fair and open inquiry.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
While I support the Motion, one of my principal objects is to cut the cost of transport between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Transport charges are heavy, owing to the distance and handling, and they are a great handicap to manufacturers. They could possibly be reduced if a tunnel were constructed.
I am informed by people who run industries in Northern Ireland that the high cost of transport is considerably offset by the easy accessibility of the assistance that the Ulster Government give, and, above all, by the skill and industry of our native workers. One thing that engenders frustration in the minds of the managements of old and new firms alike is the delay and consequent expense involved by the lack of information from British Railways and other cross-Channel carriers as to routes, whereabouts and times of arrival of cargo. This matter could and should be improved, whether there is a tunnel or not.
In support of what I have said about this, I should like to quote a letter sent to me by a new firm which started a new industry in Northern Ireland three years ago. The firm is a very important one, Plessey Ltd., whose works are situated in the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). The letter is headed:Consignments sent by our Suppliers via British Railways Goods or Passenger and British Road Services (Ex-Swindon—London—Birmingham—Sheffield, etc.)I think the headquarters of the firm are at Swindon. The letter says:No specific time for arrival of such consignments can be allowed (delivery time ex- 1660 Swindon for instance can vary anything from 10 to 30 days). Urgent consignments despatched by our suppliers per Passenger Train are also impossible to schedule for delivery here, the delivery time again taken ex-Swindon varying from 4 to 15 days.It is therefore often necessary for us in order to schedule our production programme to trace a consignment and establish when delivery can be expected here.To do this it is first necessary to phone the supplier and get full details of date of his despatch, whether sent Goods Rail-Passenger Rail or British Road Services and which depot first handled the goods.On establishing this a further telephone call to the Depot concerned should produce the information that the goods have been forwarded via rail or road, as the case may be, to Liverpool, Heysham or Stranraer for onward shipment.This however is not the case. We can only establish that the goods have been forwarded from the starting depot.It is then necessary for us to telephone Liverpool—Heysham and Stranraer Docks.If the goads have been received at any of these docks, we can get the information that either the goods have been shipped or when they will be shipped.Should the goods still be between the starting depot and these docks, it would appear that no trace of the goods can be made and no delivery date given.Our own efforts in the past to trace the route or whereabouts of the goods, between the despatch point and the cross channel ports per telephone to various intermediate points and depots, have proved both exceedingly costly and often abortive.The manager of one firm told me that telephone costs were almost as high as freight charges. The letter goes on:We are then faced with the alternative of ' waiting for something to turn up', or repeating the telephone performance to the cross channel ports daily.There have been occasions when we have been unable to get such information from these docks and have had to recourse to sending our van on a tour of the Belfast and Stranraer Docks in a search for consignments, not knowing which route we can expect them to turn up on.Goods sent in the reverse direction are subject to the same hazards.For this reason, we have, as much as possible collected our goods from the docks by our own transport and delivered our finished products to the docks for the past eighteen months.Also, all materials on our aircraft contracts from our own parent company's Swindon works, which represents a considerable freight, have been forwarded to us by air for the past nine months.On our present extensive contract for Bristol Britannia electrical equipment, all our finished 1661 products are flown from Belfast to London, there collected by Bristol Aircraft Limited's own transport and taken by road to Bristol, to avoid excessive delays and uncertainty of delivery as already outlined.The waste of time of our personnel, plus the telephone charges and recourse to air freight when we wish to be sure of a consignment, are a far greater worry to us than the already high transport costs we have to bear both ways.There is of course a great deal which could be written about the transport arrangements of the U.T.A. and the handling of goods at the Docks on this side, but I understand this is not your immediate concern.I know another large firm which started a new industry in Northern Ireland. They say that if they had not had a very efficient container and ferry service at their own door, as it were, it would not pay them to send exports by British Railways as, apart from freights, the time factor is very important.
In spite of these trouble, both ventures have been successful, as so many others in Northern Ireland have been. It is well worth while for a British industrialist to go to Northern Ireland and start a new business but these are intolerable delays, difficulties and expenses with which to saddle industries, and are hardly an encouragement to the new Development Council.
I should like to say a few words about the tourist industry, which is so very important to Northern Ireland. The famous Lord Rosebery described Ulster men as improved Scots. What great opportunities Scots and English would have to improve themselves if this tunnel were constructed between Donaghadee and Port Patrick or between Lame and Stranraer. Every year one and a half million people travel by air and sea between the English and Scottish and Ulster ports. That number increases every year, and new air and sea services are being introduced to cater for the traffic. But is it good planning, good economics or wise long-term assessment of the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to think that ships and aeroplanes shuttling backwards and forwards would be as satisfactory as an underwater link?
We are talking about and planning and spendng for interstellar travel. Surely it is just as important to plan proper transport between our two islands. A couple of years ago we had an example of how aeroplanes and ships could not do what was necessary. It was suggested that the 1662 annual conference of the Conservative and Unionist Party should be held in Belfast.
§ Mr. McKibbin
I am very glad that the hon. Member is here to introduce some humour, and I am only sorry that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not also here.
It was suggested that this conference should be held in Belfast because, apart from London and Blackpool, Belfast is the only city with, a hall which holds 10,000 people. That is where they have the boxing. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board consulted British Railways, B.E.A., and all kinds of people, but the proposal failed because no one could undertake the transport of 8,000 or even 6,000 people from Great Britain to Belfast on the Wednesday and bring them back on the Saturday. Aeroplanes and ships simply could not do the job. I understand that British Railways are constructing three new motor ships for this trade. I understand that had it been known at the time they were ordered that Belfast Harbour was to be very considerably extended much larger ships could have been built.
I have no idea what would be the cost of the proposed tunnel. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr. Hyde) estimated it at about £100 million, but despite that large cost there is one factor which would justify giving consideration to the project. It is possible that in some future war nuclear weapons could cause the near destruction of the inhabitants of these islands. What a shelter this tunnel far below the sea would provide for Ulster and Scotsmen and women. As we are separated by only a few mles from Scotland, there has always been down the centuries migration and connection between our two races. As I say, Lord Rosebery described Ulster men as improved Scots—and I suppose that he meant Ulster women as well. In spite of the sterling qualities of the English and the Welsh, the survival of this superior strain of Celt and Scot would surely be ideal for building "the brave new world," and I am sure that all good Englishmen—and even the men of Wales—will agree that this alone would be ample reason for building this tunnel regardless of cost.
Finally, if the construction of the tunnel was impracticable for financial 1663 and physical reasons, would it not be possible to have a pipeline between Larne and Stranraer on the same lines as "Pluto" which was constructed between England and France in the last war? Petrol could be pumped from refineries at Stranraer into Lame which would save a tremendous amount in shipping as well as cost. The distance would be negligible as compared with that of the pipelines from the oil wells in the desert to the ports, and there would be no question of ventilation which seems to be one of the great difficulties in regard to other tunnels. Perhaps another pipeline could be constructed alongside to bring milk direct from the Ulster cows to English and Scottish breakfast tables. Others could be constructed for the conveyance of more elevating beverages. In fact, there would be no end to the possibilities of these "Pluto's", and it gives me great pleasure to support this Motion.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I have read this Motion with great interest, because I also am interested in tunnels—or rather in one particular tunnel to which I shall soon make reference. Before referring to what has been said by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde), I want to say a word in reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) who seconded the Motion.
I listened to my hon. and learned Friend, as I always do, with great care and attention, and to me it seemed that the most emphatic argument he advanced was the difficulty of sea travel. He painted a very sad picture of women and children rolling about ill on board ships. That is all very sad, but I think £100 million is a pretty expensive cure for sea sickness. Then he made a great plea for a breath of fresh air in the Northern Ireland Parliament. He surprises me by his simplicity and absurd optimism. It is more difficult to get a breath of fresh air into the Northern Ireland Parliament than it would be to build a tunnel from here to New York.
To return to the hon. Member for Belfast, North, I am very glad that he is such an enthusiast for rail travel and that he prefers rail to road travel. Seriously, I wish that more people were of the same opinion. If more goods 1664 were sent by rail very many benefits would result. First, there would be increased revenues to the railways, and after the appalling figures which the Minister of Transport was obliged to give us the other day, we can all appreciate how heavily in need of more revenue the railways are at present. By diverting goods and passengers to rail, we would also relieve congestion on the roads and help to reduce the appalling mortality rate there is on them. I therefore welcome his enthusiasm for railways.
What absolutely astonishes me is that his enthusiasm has never been reflected in his own Province. A couple of weeks ago the Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland made the surprising decision to scrap nearly every railway line in the Six Counties. If his decision is implemented there will very shortly be only one rail link between the Six Counties and the rest of Ireland—the line between Belfast and Dublin.
§ Mr. McKibbin
There is also a line between Belfast and Bangor, which is important—and one between Belfast and Derry.
§ Mr. Delargy
I said between the Six Counties and the rest of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman, who comes from Northern Ireland, does not know his own geography, because part of the Province of Ulster lies outside the Six Counties.
§ Mr. Delargy
The hon. Gentleman should not call it Ulster. I have had to correct these hon. Gentlemen so many times about this that it is getting monotonous. I must remind the House that the historic Province of Ulster contains nine counties, of which three are governed from Dublin and the other six from Belfast. Therefore, I am correct in calling this particular part of the territory the Six Counties of Northern Ireland and not the historic Province of Ulster.
To resume what I was saying, the hon. Member for Belfast, North—we disagree on many things, but we both agree about this—thinks that there should be more and more contact between the people in both parts of Ireland, and I am sure that he will agree that it is quite deplorable that there will soon be only one link by 1665 rail between the two parts of the country. Therefore, of course, he weakens his own argument when he asks for an enormous sum of money to encourage people to send goods by rail transport and passengers to travel by rail hundreds of feet under the sea between Scotland and Ireland, and makes no suggestion for the spending of any money at all to maintain the present railway system in his own Province.
However, the only tunnel in which I am interested is the tunnel beneath the Thames between Purfleet and Dartford. There is no uncertainty about this tunnel, and we do not need to have an inquiry about it, because we know all about it already. All the surveys have been made and all the costs have been calculated, and its desirability and necessity are admitted by everyone, even by the Government. This tunnel must have priority over all other schemes and, indeed, I am certain also over all other major road developments.
The work was started long before the war, but it had to be suspended. The cost of the pilot scheme is very heavy, but now, at last, due very largely to the initiative and endeavours of the Thurrock Committee, work is to be resumed. The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation was able to tell us the day before yesterday that tenders for the job are now being considered, but, unfortunately, he was unable to tell us the date on which the work was to begin. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in this matter, and I am aware of and appreciate his own support for the Purfleet-Dartford tunnel scheme, but I would urge him to let us know the date as soon as he possibly can.
§ Mr. Speaker
I appreciate the hon. Member's interest in this particular tunnel at Purfleet, but it is not the tunnel with which the Motion is concerned.
§ Mr. Delargy
I was just returning to that particular tunnel, Mr. Speaker. This Motion concerning the Irish tunnel asks merely for a committee of inquiry, and I am pointing out that, in the case of this other tunnel, there is no need for any inquiry whatever, because the Government are already in possession of all the information. Indeed, the Government were kind enough to give us some information about it only the day before 1666 yesterday. I am merely asking the Government to give us more information as soon as they possibly can, because the matter is of interest to thousands of people, not merely on both sides of the Thames, but all over the Southern counties of England.
Therefore, while the Irish tunnel—and I am sorry to say this to the optimistic Member for Belfast, North—is not really likely to be begun in this century, we are very hopeful that the Purfleet-Dartford tunnel will be completed in about three or four years' time.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), because once upon a time I myself fought a constituency in that part of the world, and then we were always worried about the Victoria Dock Road. I know that there always seem to be developments going on in those parts, and we all remember the great interest that is taken in this tunnel.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman need be so pessimistic about the future of the tunnel which this Motion proposes. After all, while listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde), I felt that I was almost listening to a discussion of the Anglo-Continental tunnel. The history of it seems to be almost as pessimistic in parts, as well as to go back about the same length of time; but I would say that we managed to get the project for an Anglo-Continental tunnel near enough into the position in which it was agreed to by this House during the time of the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. When we pressed the Government on a Motion to do something about it, it was defeated by only seven votes. That was in the 1920s, so it is always a possibility that if one achieves one thing, one might eventually obtain the other.
The hon. Member pointed out very rightly the lack of contact at the moment, especially from the railway point of view, between the North and South of Ireland, and listening to what has been said up to now, I thought that we are stressing too much the fact that this is a link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, when it should surely be of equal importance to Southern Ireland as well. 1667 I should have thought that the South of Ireland would welcome it very much indeed. I can think of a great many industries in the South of Ireland which would probably be greatly helped by the possibilities of undersea travel to the North.
To take only one example, that of the horse-breeding industry, the problem of of moving horses by sea can always be a perilous thing, which might well lead to a very great loss of finance. As we all know, both North and South of Ireland are very closely connected in this respect, and they are known by the whole world to be probably the best countries for the breeding and export of horses, so that this project would be a very great help to them.
I also think that we can only be practical on the subject if we take two tunnels together—the Anglo-Continental tunnel and the Northern Ireland tunnel—because it will be only after we get the one to the Continent that it will become [really practicable to have the one to Northern Ireland as well. When that comes about, we shall get a vast increase in tourist traffic, not only to the North, but also the South of Ireland. People will be able to drive their cars over there, and will probably not require the railway facilities. There is nothing more beautiful in travelling in Ireland than going by car, especially if one goes over by Enniskillen and across to the West Coast of Ireland, both North and South, where we find far more cars than used to be the case. There are, however, the most appalling queues for the boats for transporting cars, and, as has been pointed out, one sometimes has to wait six months for an ordinary passage ticket to go by boat. I have been in Dublin, Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead and have seen people turned back because, owing to the limited capacity of the boats, they were unable to get their cars over. Actually, at Easter, a great many people try to go over there to visit their friends and relations, for there are many Irish people over here, and such a tunnel would be a very great boon to them.
I do not know whether my two hon. Friends would be pleased about a suggestion of mine, which is that such a tunnel would bring North and South 1668 together very much more, which cannot be done better than by means of people travelling backwards and forwards between North and South. Many people will realise that they have much more in common than they may at the moment appreciate, and it may well be that one day North and South would come together again, although I do not say that they would come together as a United Kingdom.
All these are definite possibilities for the future, though I am afraid that the question of finance will make it utterly impossible if we depend on the Government. Even when we were supporting the scheme for the tunnel to the Continent, nobody ever recommended that it should be financed by the Government. It was very definitely to be financed by private enterprise, and I would therefore ask whether there is a possibility of private enterprise finance being obtained for this Northern Ireland venture. Is there any possibility of that private enterprise finance being found for the Northern Ireland venture? I think that once we have got over the hurdle of the Continental tunnel it might well be that the finances could be found, and I think that as Irish people in America are very interested in this sort of project, quite a lot of money would be provided, linked with various other forms of American help for Europe as a whole.
I have been saying all along that this project must be linked with a similar project serving the Continental countries. It will be recalled that we had a debate on this subject as far back as February of last year, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in his reply then was extremely pessimistic about the possibilities, but anybody who has read his final remarks will remember that he left an opening—
§ Mr. Speaker
We have already had two tunnels mentioned in this debate, whereas the Motion is concerned with only one. It now appears that the hon. Member is trying to lead us down a third tunnel which is equally alien to the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. Teeling
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I do not see how we are going to have a tunnel to Northern Ireland unless we can have a tunnel to the Continent first. If you will allow me two 1669 minutes. I will try to show how that is so.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that would start a very long discussion on all transport priorities. We really must attend to this tunnel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The hon. Member can mention the other tunnel, but we cannot argue the merits or demerits of it on this Motion.
§ Mr. Teeling
The only thing that I would mention about it is that I do not think we can afford to risk a Northern Ireland Channel tunnel until a similar one to the Continent has been tried out. I believe that the finances can be provided for such a scheme as well as for the Northern Ireland project because there are so many interests in Europe which want to associate with Northern and Southern Ireland as well as England and Scotland, and those interests, including the road organisations in Sweden, Holland, France and Belgium, are most anxious that people should travel to the United Kingdom and Ireland.
People have been working on this idea harder during the last six months than ever before, and if we can achieve a tunnel to the Continent there is a possibility that what we are discussing today will have a practical future. If that were to happen, we should have the whole of Ireland linked, through Great Britain, to the Continent. In addition, as has been suggested, there might be a Gibraltar tunnel to Africa, though I would not dream of going into that matter, Mr. Speaker. However, there is a great possibility, as a result of this proposal, of solving all our difficulties and creating a much more united Europe.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Llewellyn (Cardiff, North)
I do not want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) too far along any of these forbidden tunnels, but it seemed to me that in stressing the relationship of this project with the Continental tunnel, he was going perilously near to undermining the whole case which has been so elaborately built in favour of a casino at Brighton.
Be that as it may, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde) and the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) for the way in which 1670 they have moved and seconded the Motion. We know they are both reformers, of the old law, but this is the first time I have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North in the guise of a latter day Moses seeking dry land between his country and ours.
Listening as objectively as any Welshman can to disputes between neighbours, I think one can at least conclude from the case as it has been presented that this is not merely a subtle attempt to facilitate the invasion of Liverpool by Irish horses and punters who do not travel well by air or sea. I would suggest, again without wishing to get involved in an unlawful tunnel, that this tunnel should in fact be between Ireland, whether it be Ulster or Eire, and Wales rather than between Ireland and Scotland. This ties up with a point which has already been made when it was suggested that Ulstermen are supposed to be improved Scotsmen. It occurred to me that they might be even more improved and the stock become still better if they were to find Welsh wives on the way from Holyhead to Ulster or Eire.
It is perfectly true that if one were to make this tunnel between Eire and Anglesey it would add considerably to its length and cost, but I would remind the House—because if this is ever to become more than a mere pipe dream the sociological factors involved will have to be borne in mind—of the very distressing level of unemployment in Anglesey and of the great need to expand the tourist trade both in North Wales and in Northern Ireland. As both my hon. Friends have pointed out, there is a great tourist implication in this proposal. What I suggest is not so hopelessly impracticable as some might think at first sight, because James Barton who has been referred to several times in this debate had three schemes one of which was designed to join by a tunnel Dublin to Holyhead.
There is a third factor—whether the tunnel comes to Holyhead or whether, as in the Motion, it goes to Scotland—and that is that from a Welsh point of view it is of great importance that as many people as possible in Wales should visit Northern Ireland. I say this without any disrespect whatever to the Parliament at Stormont, whose merits are undoubted, but there are those in Wales 1671 who wish to establish on the lines of the Parliament at Stormont a similar institution in either Cathays Park or Machynlleth. I should like as many people as possible to be provided with the easiest possible access, whether they have to go to Scotland to get to Northern Ireland first or not, so that they may learn at first hand that this model Parliament would meet neither their political nor their pathological needs.
The question has been raised whether, if £100 million or so were available, this would be the best means of spending it. Here again, I do not think I can go very far into this subject without raising the whole question of transport priorities which, as you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, would widen the scope of the debate too far, but I should like to remind my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that in giving qualified support to this Motion he should bear in mind that in so doing I in no way detract from the case which was previously presented in this House concerning the merits of a Severn Bridge. The question has been raised of how the cost would be met. If people want these tunnels and bridges, then to a large measure they will have to pay for them themselves. It would have been helpful, and it might yet be helpful, if my hon. Friends could find out the extent to which private enterprise would welcome the opportunity to operate a system of tolls.
It is very easy to be flippant about what some might regard as a pipe dream, but there is a serious aspect in the relation of this tunnel to the whole problem of civil defence. It has been suggested in all seriousness that in the event of another war it would be necessary to evacuate 12 million people. If that is so, then the more and better means there are of evacuation the more desirable it will be.
Here we have a proposed tunnel which, whatever its other merits may be, would afford a direct link between two areas which one would imagine would be scheduled as reception areas. I feel sure that the warm-hearted people of the South also might be more than willing to accept large numbers of people from this country in the event of their needing to be removed from great danger. It seems on that account alone that an inquiry should be established. It is easy 1672 to talk in a vacuum about a mass evacuation of large numbers of people, but, as far as one knows, there seems to have been insufficient attention given to the actual precise planning of this enormous operation.
I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary can give some view of the attitude of the Government on this suggested tunnel and the whole problem of evacuation in the event of war. If in fact a tunnel, wherever it may be between Ireland and Wales or Scotland, were established, it might be instrumental in the survival of the British race. Then, even at the cost of £100 million or so it is a matter which should certainly be considered, and it would be relevant to the inquiry which my hon. Friends have asked for and which I support.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn) succeeded in mentioning in his speech a number of tunnels which are quite irrelevant to the debate. I congratulate hon. Members on their ingenuity, and I know that they will forgive me if I do not pursue them down those underground ways.
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde), not only on raising this subject, but on the manner in which he has conducted the debate. He has certainly engaged in a considerable amount of research into the past about the ideas which have been put forward and about the practicability of the proposed tunnel. I also congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who seconded the Motion.
I suggest that the hon. Member for Belfast, North is courageous. It may well be that by proposing to forge this new link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland he is inviting the revenge of the anti-Partitionists. There is a long history in connection with this tunnel which shows that the Irish do not change, although, certainly this debate has been much calmer and more peaceful than some past debates on Irish affairs in this House.
1673 When I looked up the history of this matter, I noticed that in July, 1899, when Mr. Balfour received a deputation to which reference has been made, the journal Engineer is reported to have stated:As the success of the funnel would entail as much injury on Dublin as it would confer benefit on Belfast it will probably be bitterly opposed by a large section of the Nationalist or Southern party.Fifty-five years later, when the debate took place in the Senate at Stormont, Mr. McGill spoke of the sinister consequences of the speeches in support of the Motion, and after suggesting that the word "tunnel" had a connotation peculiarly acceptable to several Irish Nationalists, and indeed to lovers of liberty everywhere, he added:It has a connotation which must, in the Government's view, condemn it as being Imperially damned and lost to the heresy of Anti-Partitionism.Later in most poetic language he said that he felt regretfully impelled to oppose the Motion…on the sane and sensible submission that my object in this House must be to do what I can to break the existing connection with Britain instead of assisting to form a new one.This question of the connection by tunnel of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has its political aspects as well.
I wonder whether it is not a little late in the day to raise the question of the possibility of linking these two sections of the United Kingdom in this way. We live in the age of roads and air rather than in the age of railways. Although there is a certain amount of traffic which will always remain with the railways, and with which the railways are better fitted to cope, the fact remains that an increasing amount of passenger and freight traffic is carried by the more modern forms of transport.
On the road-ferry services between Preston and Belfast there are ships which carry the British Road Services loaded lorries and containers. When the lorries leave the ships they travel along the roads of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, I fully appreciate that, but no hon. Member so far has referred to the possibility of a road tunnel. It seems to me that the practicability of a road as well as a rail tunnel is questionable, in view of the difficulties of constructing a rail tunnel in the first place. Obviously it would at least double the cost.
Already Silver City Airways run a car ferry service throughout the year, and Belfast Airport has, I understand, become the fourth busiest airport in the United Kingdom. I mention that in passing to show that one must not overlook modern developments in transport and in the links between the two parts of the United Kingdom.
Also, one is inclined to wonder, in view of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock, whether the railways will be there by the time the tunnel is built, if ever it is built. It would take at least ten years to build, and as so many branch lines, and now some of the trunk lines, in Northern Ireland are being closed or considered for closure, one must regard their future with some scepticism. I understand that of the four common services with Eire, three are threatened with closure, although there is a joint agreement between the North and South that they cannot be closed in either section without the agreement of the other.
I know that my friends, the trade unionists in Northern Ireland, are very concerned about the threat of closing down these railways and are not satisfied that every possibility of keeping them open has been explored. They have suggested in the appropriate quarters that a greater degree of modernisation, particularly the introduction of diesel traction and more integration within the Ulster Transport Authority could possibly save some of these lines from closure. I have been informed that about a thousand railwaymen are likely to lose employment as a result of the closing down of lines in the near future, and if those which are under discussion for closure go out of operation it is thought that about 3,000 more railwaymen will be without work.
I think that the main question which must confront those who are concerned with the possibility of constructing this tunnel is whether it would be effective in 1675 contributing to the relief of unemployment in Northern Ireland. If it could be shown that it would make a major contribution in that respect, one could consider this suggestion a little more seriously and look upon it as a more practicable proposition than one is inclined to do at present. One has to ask whether the tremendous cost and the great resources which would be concerned an the building of the tunnel could not be better deployed.
We had a debate in the House in May last year on the position in Northern Ireland with particular reference to unemployment. I recall that the Home Secretary then reviewed a number of schemes which were being pursued with a view to improving the situation there, but of course he did not refer to the possibility of the construction of this tunnel. In spite of the schemes which are being carried through and the fact that the Economic Development Council has been set up, the problem of unemployment has proved intractable and I regret to say that each quarter in the last twelve months has shown no improvement compared with the previous twelve months.
Unemployment at the present time fluctuates in Northern Ireland between 30,000 and 40,000, which is 6 to 8 per cent., and the latest figures which I have for January this year show 37,800 to be out of work. If there was an equivalent percentage of unemployed in Great Britain it would represent about 1½ million.
Public works are one of the short-term ways in which unemployment can be relieved, but I very much doubt whether this tunnel would bring any immediate relief. First, we must have the inquiry, which is the subject of the Motion, which would take a considerable time in view of the imponderables concerning the geology of the area and other reasons. Then the plans would have to be drawn, and it would be a long time before the finances could be arranged and the work proceeded with.
§ Mr. Llewellyn
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that because this proposal would not afford immediate relief, it would not provide eventual relief?
§ Mr. Davies
I hope that unemployment in Northern Ireland will not con- 1676 tinue to be a permanent feature of the economy there. If there were—and this was argued in previous debates, but one must not wander too far from the subject under discussion—economic planning, as was suggested from this side of the House, in Northern Ireland, and if certain other proposals put forward by us, including a development corporation were adopted, the problem of unemployment could be more successfully tackled. I am suggesting that the time which would elapse before the construction of the tunnel was actually commenced would be so great that no relief would be brought to the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland for some time to come.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
I do not know what idea my hon. Friend has in mind as to the time which this tunnel would take to construct—eight or nine years is contemplated by one authority—but does he not think that in eight or nine years it would be a good thing to be able to contribute to solving the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Davies
Certainly, but will this tunnel be as essential in eight or nine years, as hon. Members supporting this Motion consider it to be now? Will there not be alternative forms of transport which will supersede the railways to some extent for a large proportion of the traffic, and will it be really worth while expending the large amount of money involved in order that in eight or nine years—ten years, as I say—this tunnel should bring some temporary improvement to the employment conditions in Northern Ireland? I imagine that those people who are dissatisfied with conditions there now and who are suffering economically do not want to wait eight, nine or ten years before some relief is brought to them.
I am sorry if I appear to be pouring water on this scheme, but I think that we are not dealing with a practical proposition at this time. It is, after all, a question of priorities, and all of us could think of very desirable projects which we could undertake before we considered building this tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Davies
I would not cross swords with my right hon. Friend by suggesting that the canals are also being superseded by other forms of transport. I know that he does not share that view, but that appears to be the practical result of modern transport development.
If a committee were appointed at the present time and it were asked to consider the practicability of this tunnel, I wonder what the outcome would be. We have too many committees being appointed by respective Governments. They sit and deliberate, they produce their reports, months, sometimes years elapse before a debate takes place in the House on their findings, and the Government take a long time before they make up their minds what they will do concerning the recommendations. By that time, the recommendations are out of date. We have, in connection with the Ministry of Transport had that happening in the case of a large number of committees which I could name.
So, while I am sure the House shares my view that it has been worth while airing this topic as a subject for an exchange of views, it cannot be looked at as an immediate, practical proposition. It must be ruled out in favour of far more important projects which, alas, the Government are not able to undertake because of the stringent economic conditions for which we on this side of the House believe they are responsible.
I therefore conclude that because of the time it would take to plan and construct, this tunnel might well become an anachronism before it was completed. The proposal is a Victorian attempt to prolong the coal and railway age, which is being very rapidly caught up by the nuclear energy and supersonic jet age. The tunnel would be too much and too late—it would cost too much and it is too late to construct it. The cost would certainly be too great. It is not possible to find finance for its provision when finance for the modernisation of the road system in this country and Northern Ireland, for instance, and for other equally important projects, is held back.
I do not think it would contribute much, if anything, for a very long time to the acute problems which confront Northern Ireland. I suggest that those who are advocating this tunnel for linking Scotland and the Six Counties have as much chance 1678 of flying to Mars in a space-ship as of travelling to Belfast by underground.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
I agree with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that this has been an interesting debate. I am sure we always welcome opportunities of turning our minds to new and adventurous ideas and I certainly would not criticise the proposals which have been made merely because they are imaginative. So many things are in operation today which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde) mentioned, were ridiculed at the time they were first adumbrated, that we would be well to be chary of saying of anything that it is impossible.
Until my hon. Friend put his Motion on the Order Paper, I confess that little study had been given to this matter in this country since about 1900, the time when one of the learned papers to which he referred was publicly discussed. It was, therefore, natural that when we began to consider the Motion which my hon. Friend has moved, we sought to compare it with the English Channel Tunnel, which we discussed on a previous occasion and on which very much more detailed studies have been made.
I was interested to find my hon. Friend the Member for the Brighton Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) advocating this tunnel today after having been the most eloquent of advocates of the Channel Tunnel last year. I feel that they are rather like rabbits, anxious to burrow whenever there is a chance. I am most anxious that neither of them shall catch myxamotosis, which apparently is one of the besetting complaints of those who have these habits.
On 2nd February, 1955, I gave rather fully the reasons why the Government are not prepared to give any encouragement to the project of a tunnel under the English Channel. I indicated then that in our view sea and air travel have advantages over railways from the point of view of long-distance transport, that the great advantages which railways do possess for certain reasons would be likely to be outweighed in these particular 1679 cases by the great cost of building the tunnels, and that, finally, these tunnels could only be used for electric trains and not for motor-cars because of the technical difficulty of dealing with exhaust fumes.
I was struck by the fact that my hon. Friend in moving his Motion did not once refer to the invention of the aeroplane. It may well be that the fact that there has not been any great discussion during the last 50 years of the project for this particular tunnel is because, quite obviously, much of the transport which previously would have used such a tunnel will now go by air.
If we feel obliged to reject the arguments in favour of a tunnel to Europe, it obviously is going to be difficult for my hon. Friend to establish a stronger case for a tunnel to Ireland. In the first place, a tunnel to France would link this great industrial country with the whole Continent of Europe, and indeed, of Asia also, whereas the tunnel we are discussing today would link us with the island of Ireland, the whole population of which is only 4⅓ million. It would be necessary to show that a tunnel under the Irish Sea would be much cheaper and simpler to build than one under the English Channel if my hon. Friend was to establish that it should have priority over the English Channel tunnel.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Brighton, Pavilion may have embarrassed his friends today when he said it would be necessary for a tunnel under the English Channel to be built first and for it to justify itself before it would be wise to embark upon this more hazardous enterprise under the Irish Sea. It would be a very much more hazardous enterprise from the engineering and geological point of view. The English Channel is only 136 feet deep. The Beauforts Dyke, to which my hon. Friend referred, is about 900 feet deep, and even the shallower route which might be taken is 500 feet deep. Although there is no difference in kind, there is a very great difference in degree in the difficulties of making a tunnel between one where the water is 136 feet deep and one where it goes down to a depth of more than 900 feet.
Two routes have been advocated—I pause with nervousness when I have to 1680 pronounce an Irish name—a tunnel from Donaghadee to Port Patrick, which is the shorter route and would involve a tunnel 1,000 feet below the surface, and one from North Belfast to Corsewall Point, for which it would be necessary to go only 500 feet below the sea level, though the distance would be 51 miles instead of 41 miles. The distance under the sea would be actually only approximately the same as that under the English Channel. In the two Northern Ireland schemes—according to the one which was chosen—it would be 22 or 25 miles and under the English Channel it would be 24 miles. The extra mileage, however, is due to the landward approaches. Manifestly, if we were to burrow very much deeper under the ocean it would be necessary for the approaches to go further back in each direction.
Although we had not previously made any close investigation into this problem, we were fortunate to find that the Northern Ireland Government had done so. The Leader of the Senate said:The question of this tunnel has been most carefully considered and all the information available has been gone into closely by the Government technicians.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
One man appears to have made this investigation behind closed doors without any chance of his being cross-examined and, I submit, in a very great hurry. If that is not so, I shall be interested to hear it contradicted.
§ Mr. Molson
I am to discuss the matter generally. Obviously I am not going to discuss technical advice given to the Government of Northern Ireland. It is not for me to answer for the Government of Northern Ireland, although I think it proper that I should quote what has been said about the problem in the Legislature there.
In the last few days I have been at pains to make inquiries into the problem of making tunnels under water. When my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North quotes cases of tunnelling through the Alps, he is seeking to establish the possibility of tunnelling without taking into account the great technical difficulties which arise from tunnelling into 1681 earth where all the additional problems and dangers of water may ensue. In the case of the London Underground, we have been fortunate that where it is carried out in London clay no special safeguards are necessary to avoid the danger of running into water. On the other hand, the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel will be driven through water-bearing strata and special precautions will therefore have to be taken. In any case, where a tunnel is being driven into gravel or ballast, and where there is uncertainty about what is to be encountered, it is customary for the men to work in a pressure of about 20 lb. per square inch in order to make certain that there is no sudden inrush of water, with all the disastrous consequences which might ensue.
In the case of the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel, it is intended, in order to ensure safety, that the air pressure shall be about 45 lbs. per square inch above the normal. That is very near the maximum at which men could be expected to work. In the case of a tunnel under the Irish Sea, and in order to have the same degree of security, it would be necessary for the pressure to be nearly ten times as great, and nearly ten times that at which a man could work.
My hon. Friend might ask, "Is there not another way of dealing with the problem, and would it not be possible to bore down in advance of the headings to make certain of what kind of material was to be tunnelled into?" It has been possible, for example, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Persian Gulf to drill for oil through the waters. But those depths are much-less than the depth we are considering, and so far current engineering has not arrived at any technique by which boring can take place through depths of water anything comparable to the depth of the Irish sea. There is no doubt at all that a project of this kind would encounter great technical difficulties and would be almost certainly very dangerous for those engaged upon it.
I will quote Colonel Gordon on this point:Experts say…that there is no known technique to counter a difficulty of this kind or any infallible defence against the calamity which would befall if such a condition were met.1682 For what it is worth, inquiries which I have been able to make regarding tunnelling in London, and the information available, tend to confirm the advice upon which the Government of Northern Ireland have acted.
I might dismiss the whole matter at this point by saying that we agree with the Government of Northern Ireland that the proposal is impossible. But I should not like to do that, because so often things have been said to be impossible that in fact have been done. I imagine that everyone here would have said that the Mulberries were impossible before they were successfully constructed. The ingenuity and courage of man being what it is, I think it quite possible that this tunnel could be driven; and I now proceed to ask what would be the cost and what advantage would be gained were this project carried out?
Colonel Gordon was not willing to give any indication of cost. He said:I have purposely given no indication of cost in any shape or form. The reason for that is simply that no one can cost what is a decided impossibility.I think that we should be justified in trying to look at this matter again on the basis of the cost of a tunnel under the English Channel. Last year, as a rough estimate, I gave the cost of such a tunnel as £85 million for a distance of thirty-six miles. If the route chosen for an Irish tunnel were from Port Patrick, the distance would be forty-one miles and the depth would be 1,000 feet. I have made a calculation and on that estimate the mileage cost alone would be £100 million. In view of the immense depth to which it would be necessary to go. I think it fair to say that there should be a 50 per cent. increase over the mileage cost, which gives me a minimum figure for the shorter and deeper route of £150 million. Were the Corsewall Point route chosen, the mileage cost would rise to £106 million. Because of the lesser depth to which the tunnel would go, I do not increase it by the same amount but put the minimum figure at £141 million. There is not a great deal of difference in it.
Those estimates are based solely on the longer and deeper channel and do not take into account any of the unfavourable factors of which geologists warn us, such as the likelihood that the rock would 1683 be much harder than materials through which an English Channel tunnel would be driven. I regard these as minima, but I have noticed that my hon. Friend has a different estimate which is substantially lower. I should not for a moment wish to be dogmatic and say that our estimate is correct and his is wrong. But I must complete my calculations on the best estimate I can make.
I have had a calculation made as to what the rate of interest with amortisation would be if the £150 million were borrowed from the Public Works Loan Board. If the loan had to be paid back in 60 years the annual cost would be £8¼ million if in 80 years, £8 million; and if in 100 years, £7.9 million. That would have to be added to the cost to the user of the tunnel rail services, and when hon. Members from Northern Ireland complain about high railway charges at present, I must ask them to realise that if the tunnel were to be used, the railway freights would remain the same, but whatever the volume of traffic it would have to find approximately £8 million a year in addition. I cannot believe that these freights and rates would be cheaper than travel by sea or air.
The next point is of great importance, but I think I can put it quite briefly, especially in view of the speech which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn). The route which has been chosen is the shortest route, approximately, between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom—that is, between Northern Ireland and South-West Scotland, which is a most delectable and delightful part of the country but not highly industrialised. Obviously the main traffic routes between United Kingdom and Ireland would be from the great industrial centres of Lancashire or the Midlands, or the residential area of London, or perhaps from the great industrial area on Clydeside, and the fact that in order to go by the shortest route the tunnel has to arrive approximately at Port Patrick means that if someone wished to travel the whole distance by rail, or to send his goods the whole distance by rail, he would have a very long and costly rail journey from the great populated areas of production and consumption in the United Kingdom before reaching the point at which the 1684 tunnel left the United Kingdom in order to pass under the Irish Sea.
I must now refer to the existing services before I say something about the cost of either passenger travel or goods travel through the tunnel. I have carefully noted what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McKibbin), and I will draw the attention of the British Transport Commission to the complaints he has made about the delays in the services between Northern Ireland and this country. Nevertheless, at present there are extensive shipping services. There are ten private shipping companies which run ships between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The British Transport Commission also has a service between Heysham and Belfast, and three new and larger steamers are on order at present and are likely to be in service before the end of the summer. Special improvements are under consideration between Stranraer and Larne. There is an existing road ferry between Preston and Belfast and orders have been placed for two more ships which will carry, I understand, both cargo and road vehicles.
The British Transport Commission is deeply concerned about the complaints which have been made and Lord Rusholme, who is a member of the Commission and chairman of the London-Midland Area Board, said recently:The British Transport Commission fully appreciate the importance of Ulster's transport needs and are confident that their proposals will foster the expansion of cross-channel trade.I know that that statement is sincerely intended. I will bring to Lord Rusholme's attention the points which my hon. Friend made this afternoon. My hon. Friend will also be aware that recently a prominent Ulsterman, Sir Basil McFarland, was appointed to the London Midland Area Board, which has the responsibility for the principal route from Heysham to Belfast. I want to emphasise that, in order to show that the British Transport Commission is anxious to meet the complaints which have been made.
Equally important are the airline services between Scotland and Ireland and between Northern England and Ireland. There are fourteen of these, quite apart 1685 from those from the Southern part of this country.
May I say a few words about what might be the cost of transportation through the tunnel? These are only estimates, but I thought it only right to try to make them. So much of this is entirely hypothetical that I do not place undue reliance upon it, but if I mention some of the existing charges, it might make my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland feel that it would be difficult for a tunnel costing £150 million to provide transport which was cheaper. Tramp rates for coal from Cumberland to Belfast for quantities exceeding 2,000 tons are now 9s. 3d. per ton, plus 5 per cent. The standard rate for coal by rail for 41 miles, which is that distance, is 20s. per ton, and that does not take into account the cost of the tunnel, for which users would have to pay.
It is difficult to make any useful comparison of passenger fares because obviously passengers would hardly be willing to travel an immense distance in order to reach Port Patrick in South-West Scotland before starting their journey through the tunnel to Ireland. Supposing there were a resident in Stranraer who was going to Larne, the cost by train might be only 9s. 8d., whereas by ship at present it is 27s. 5d. But of course it is most unlikely that a large proportion of the passengers using this tunnel would live at one end of it and want to go only to the other end of it: and the moment we begin to deal with people living in other parts of this island and wishing to go to Belfast, we find that the figures are very different.
The cost of going by ship from Hey-sham to Belfast is now 51s. 6d. On present railway charges, going through the tunnel and the whole of that way, the charge would be 50s. 9d. Clearly, no-one would wish to travel from Heysham to Port Patrick before beginning to use the tunnel. In any case, since B.E.A. provide air transport from Liverpool to Belfast in a fraction of the time for 74s., it is most unlikely that in the days of air travel passengers would wish to use the tunnel. Perhaps what I have said expresses what is in the mind of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who was about to intervene.
§ Mr. Molson
In that case, I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would be one of those who would avail themselves of B.E.A.'s generous offer of transportation by air for 74s.
I have tried to follow out as best I can the problems raised by my hon. Friends, and have thought it only right to put plainly to the House our scepticism of these proposals. At the same time, I do not wish to take up a plainly negative attitude. My hon. Friends have produced some new material today with which I was not familiar and which, quite obviously, I could not judge as I sat on the bench and listened to them. In any case, I lack the technical qualifications necessary for anything of that sort.
I do not feel that we can undertake at this stage to appoint a committee to go into the matter. Quite frankly, I do not think that my hon. Friend has made out a strong enough prima facie case to justify the appointment of a special committee, but I will certainly promise that there shall be consultation on this matter between my Department and the Home Office. The Home Office is the kindly sponsor of Northern Ireland's interests in these matters. I know that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary is deeply concerned about the amount of unemployment in Northern Ireland to which the hon. Member for Enfield, East referred, and if on closer examination it appeared that there was any likelihood of bringing any substantial alleviation to Northern Ireland in this matter, then we should be prepared to look at it more sympathetically.
I have already made inquiries from Lord Chandos as to whether he feels that the cost of transportation is adding greatly to the difficulties of industry in Northern Ireland. What I understand from his office is almost exactly what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McKibbin). It is that the difficulties involved in trasporting goods across the Irish Channel can be greatly exaggerated. Many firms are established in Northern Ireland and are progressing satisfactorily despite the Irish Channel.
1687 I will go further into this matter in the light of what has been said by my hon. Friends. After it has been discussed between the Government Departments concerned—I will also bring the matter further to the attention of Lord Chandos—and if my hon. Friend would be willing to withdraw his Motion, I will write to him in due course and give him our final conclusions.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
It is always a delight to listen to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport because he chooses his words so carefully and devotes a very great deal of attention to making the details of his speech interesting to the House. I was therefore very astonished to find that on at least three occasions he alluded to a connection between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. One cannot have a connection-between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland because Northern Ireland is an essential part of the United Kingdom. I yet hope that the United Kingdom may be restored to what it was before 1920. I regret very much that some action has been taken by other people which has made that more difficult than it might very well be. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be careful in future, because if he goes to Northern Ireland and talks there about linking it with the United Kingdom he will find that its people believe that the major and best part of the United Kingdom is to be found on that side of the waterway about which we have been speaking today.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Hyde
I am sure everyone will agree that we have had a most useful and instructive debate on this subject today. We have heard the points of view of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and even the point of view of the Irish Republic. As the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said, it is satisfactory that this subject should 1688 have had an airing. I do not think that what has been generated this morning could be described entirely as hot air or even air of a warm variety.
From what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has said, it is quite obvious that there is a conflict of technical and expert opinion on the possibility of constructing an Irish Channel tunnel. The modern expert evidence which I adduced this morning was based on a report, as I made clear, of the leading firm of civil engineers in this country. Its estimate of the geological difficulties and of the financial side differs from that which my hon. Friend has mentioned. To some extent, my hon. Friend seemed to rely on what the Dean of the Senate said in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I must say that the expert evidence there seemed to be of a very sketchy character. I am glad, however—
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
On a point of order. I do not want to be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, but we must stick to the rules of the House. I think he fully appreciates that a second speech is not in order unless it is made by leave of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
An hon. Member cannot speak twice except by leave of the House. I thought that what the hon. Member was saying was preliminary to his withdrawing his Motion. What he is saying is in reply to a Motion of his own.
§ Mr. Hyde
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I certainly do not want to detain the House any longer.
I think that this has been a useful debate, and I have been impressed particularly by the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. In view of his undertaking that this matter will be looked at again by his Department and by the Home Office, and also that the attention of the Chandos Council will be drawn to it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.