Inside Parliament: Euro-sceptic derides 'white elephant' line

No amount of tinkering with the line of the Channel tunnel rail link will satisfy Sir Teddy Taylor, MP for Southend East and unsleeping champion of Tory Euro-sceptics.

Remaining true to his principles as the 'final' route was announced to the Commons yesterday, Sir Teddy deplored not only the spending of public money on the project but the very idea of a link with Europe.

'The Channel tunnel is basically an outdated white elephant which is going to cost the taxpayers of Britain a fortune,' Sir Teddy said. He recalled how, in 1986, his views were dismissed as 'rubbish' when he and others suggested considerable public funds would be needed - doubting the then Thatcherite policy of wholly privately financed high- speed link.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, conceded the need for a 'substantial' contribution from the public purse a year ago. Yesterday he announced the Government's conclusions on a 68-mile route running north-west across Kent from the Channel, under the Thames at Greenhithe, through east London and terminating at St Pancras.

Local difficulties remain. 'There is no easy choice at Pepper Hill,' he intoned. Whether to tunnel under this corner by Northfleet in Kent, or go around it, has still to be decided.

The county's MPs made little fuss. Sir Keith Speed expressed the disappointment of his Ashford constituents that a tunnel west of the town had been ruled out on the grounds of the pounds 65m cost and several were concerned about continuing property blight and compensation.

Mark Wolfson, MP for Sevenoaks and a 'lonely' Tory advocate of public support when the high-speed link was first mooted, urged that the Bill to safeguard the route and its construction should be 'pushed forward with a great deal more urgency than we have had for the last eight years'.

But though Mr MacGregor promised the project would go ahead 'on the fastest possible timetable', his emphasis on the need for further consultations and 'inevitable' petitions on the Bill suggested otherwise.

Frank Dobson, Labour's transport spokesman, said that if the Government had accepted from the start that there was no chance of private investment without a government contribution, the link might have been built by now.

'For the next decade, goods and passengers from all over Britain will face a 70-mile bottleneck from London to the tunnel. This will be an inconvenience for London but a disaster for people in the rest of the country who want to trade with Europe and travel to Europe,' he said.

'When the first train leaves Paris it will travel at 185mph to the tunnel, through it at 85mph and then trundle at around 50mph to Waterloo. On arriving at Waterloo, the international travellers will have to lug their baggage across London to King's Cross, St Pancras, Euston or Paddington.

'This is a national disgrace when the French link is already in place,' Mr Dobson added.

Never far below the surface with Mr MacGregor is a tendency to revert to his old job as Chief Secretary to the Treasury when he enjoyed nothing better than totting up the Opposition's spending plans. Labour's answer for the railways was the same as on everything else, he repeated yesterday - 'more and more taxpayers' money. And that's what makes such a nonsense of the claims they are making on tax at the present time.'

Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, kept the pressure on as MPs debated the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill, which it is estimated will save almost pounds 1.5bn a year in benefit payments by 1997.

Mr Dewar said it was not just the size of the coming tax hike - pounds 24bn over three years - but the way the burden was distributed that worried people. Through the Bill, a 'pay now, pay later, pay more and more government' was targeting those struggling with the effects of long-term ill-health and disability. 'Very many people don't like what they are seeing,' he told the House. 'There is undoubtedly hypocrisy and cynicism at large and it isn't difficult to see why.'

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, said the Bill was not an attack on the sick and disabled. 'It is designed to protect their benefits against those who abuse it.'

The Bill - given a Second Reading by 313 votes to 272 - replaces sickness and invalidity benefits with a new benefit called incapacity benefit. There will be a stricter medical test and new recipients will be liable to tax from April 1995 if other income exceeds their allowances.

Mr Lilley said that spending on IVB had more than doubled in the last 10 years from pounds 2.7bn to pounds 6.1bn last year. Yet the nation's health had been improving. 'Those who are working for a modest wage resent seeing neighbours - apparently as fit as themselves - living on IVB.'

Too many people saw it as a readily available supplement to their occupational pensions when they took early retirement, he said. 'There are well-publicised cases of people on invalidity benefit earning money by cleaning windows at the same office where they were actually claiming benefit, enjoying cycling holidays and winning javelin contests.'

But Alan Howarth, Tory MP for Stratford on Avon and a former minister, warned that some of those who came off invalidity benefit would end up on the dole. There were good and bad reasons to tax, he said. 'The good reasons include helping the poor and the sick to live in less poverty and more dignity and more hope. Are these the people who should bear the cost of our economic difficulties of recent years?'

(Illustration omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Systems and Network Support Analyst

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Systems Support Analyst

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests