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Column 1010is often only in the morning, or even during the lunch hour, that one discovers that there will be a statement that very afternoon, and then information is needed in a great hurry. We put enormous demands on the Library. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow mentioned that some consideration should be given to the need to sustain the instant contact and instant availability that we value so much. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) referred to the lifts in the House. I share the lift service that he mentioned. I have a low-cost option to offer the Minister. Perhaps the Lord President of the Council would like the term "express" to be checked under the trades descriptions legislation, and conformity required. As that is unlikely, perhaps we could have a coffee-vending machine in the lift, so that we can at least have a cup while we are on our way between the principal floor and our rooms.
Mr. Alan Williams : A serious point that must be contemplated is that we are dependent on recruiting many young people to do secretarial and research work here. As Ministers and industry constantly warn us, there will be a shortage of young people in the 1990s. It will become more necessary for young women to be encouraged to go back to work perhaps earlier than they tend to return at the moment.
Some hon. Members have not been terribly sympathetic to the requirement for creche facilities within the Palace of Westminster. I suspect that, whether we want to or not, in the 1990s we shall compete with high-paying employers for a more limited range of people with much-desired specialities. Circumstances will force us to make greater facilities available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked for an assurance that resources will be available for the completion of the work. It is to be done stage by stage. I can understand that. I can appreciate the difficulty in which Ministers find themselves. They do not want to buy a pig in a poke ; they want to know exactly what they are paying for. However, there is also the reverse side of the coin. It is difficult to stage the provision of resources. When planning stage 1, one cannot be sure that stages 2 or 3 will definitely be financed in the envisaged form. Clearly, any doubt about subsequent stages may alter the priorities that the planners and the Committee would require.
There have been numerous comments about the ever-expanding need for space within the Palace of Westminster. I have bad news for the Minister. In yesterday's newspaper, I saw an item labelled : "MPs pay £300 to look good on TV".
It went on to state that 40 image-conscious MPs were to get advice on hairstyle, clothes and colour co-ordination as part of a training course.
The Committee has not taken that point into account. There now appears to be a need for make-up rooms, changing rooms, and so on. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is of a different persuasion on the need for such training. He said :
"If any MPs pay out for that, they need their heads seeing to." We see how rapidly the need for facilities expands. Not only do we want facilities for make-up but we shall need consulting facilities as well.
Column 1011We are not planning just for ourselves. I have said that before, and I emphasise it. There is a tendency for us to think purely in terms of our personal needs as Members of Parliament. We are planning for the needs of all those who work here, including those who do not work directly for us. We say that we want accommodation for secretaries and researchers, but we should remember that thousands of people who are not directly employed by Members of either House will be affected by our decisions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) spotted the reference to space for broadcasters and asked if the Leader of the House could say how the broadcasting centre links to the work of the Comittee that the Leader of the House chairs and on which my right hon. Friend sits. It is the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House. My right hon. Friend would like to know whether there is overlap and due consultation between the two groups. Now that the Leader of the House is aware of the matter, I am sure that he will correspond with my right hon. Friend. Despite the inevitability that, to some extent, we have become lost in detail and in the narration of our own horrific experiences about trying to accommodate our work needs to the absolutely inadequate resources available here, we must still bear in mind the long-term feature of what we are discussing. Even if the proposal goes ahead there will still be a shortage of space for current demand, let alone projected demand. That which we build in the next decade will be for use in the next century and beyond. We will make the decisions but we must remember that many current hon. Members may not enjoy the facilities when they are completed. We will bequeath what we decide to our successors. Our aim should be to see that they inherit buildings in which they can not only work effectively but of which they can be proud.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I begin by thanking everybody who has participated in the debate and congratulating the Services Committee on its report. About 10 hon. Members have spoken in the debate and all the speeches were excellent. Although this is only an Adjournment debate, it is clear that the House has reached a consensus on the recommendations in paragraph 29. That means that the way will be clear for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to put down the motion that he suggested when he outlined his intentions at the start of the debate.
This is the first debate on the accommodation needs of the House since November 1983. That is not a sign that the House or the Government are complacent, because an enormous amount of work has been put in during the intervening period by those on the Services Committee, the officials who support it and the members of the Property Services Agency. Despite what some hon. Members have said, I can report to the House that there is a good working relationship between the Services Committee under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and the Property Services Agency. I look forward to that continuing. That does not mean that the
Column 1012PSA should be above criticism or that it should fail to respond to criticism. I am aware that some criticism was levelled at it in the debate.
The efforts put in have produced reports but now we can see much progress on the ground with work continuing on phase 1 and on the Cannon row refurbishment. Before I deal with some of the detailed points raised in the debate, I should like to thank hon. Members who paid tribute to the work of the late John Silkin. I assumed my present responsibilities when John Silkin was still Chairman of the Services Committee. I shall always be grateful to him for the time, advice and hospitality that he gave me. That was in his nature. Notwithstanding the fact that I represented the Conservative party, not the Labour party, he went out of his way to bring me up to date and to make me feel comfortable when attending my first meeting of the Services Committee.
I wish to record the unique contribution that was made to the Palace of Westminster and the conservation of this magnificent building by Sir Robert Cooke. Sadly, since our last debate on these matters he has died. His contribution will be remembered for generations. There are many examples around us of things that have changed as a result of his attention to them. The outstanding publication entitled "The Palace of Westminster" is, in a sense, a lasting memorial to him. I understand that it is still available on book stalls. I recommend those who have not yet obtained a copy of it to accept the advice that it is well worth putting on a list of Christmas presents that would be welcomed in the coming season. I join all those who have thanked Mary Frampton for her 40 years' of service to the House. It is right to thank all the servants of the House for the services that they give day in and day out. It will be well known to secretaries as well as to hon. Members, because of her responsibilities for trying to fit a quart into a pint pot, that Mary Frampton had tremendous responsibilities with a high profile. I think that she took on the responsibility of allocating filing cabinets as well as desks. It is interesting to note that as recently as 1960 it was the Leader of the House who seemed to be in charge of filing cabinets. In a debate during that year he made a major announcement that there were to be 25 extra filing cabinets. That is an example of the way in which the expectations of Members have changed. There were changes in expectations between the previous century and this century, of course, but the same applies to recent decades. It will never be easy to keep up with Members' expectations.
A key example arose during the debate when my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) said that 50 sq ft for a secretary was inadequate. Yet it was only a few years ago that very few secretaries had desks. We now have 400 secretaries with desks although only 55 of the desks are in the Palace. In March 1960, there were only 124 secretaries with desks. Moreover, there was no waiting list. It is clear that demand has risen significantly in fewer than 30 years.
The same is true of desks for Members. There was a plebiscite at about the same time--that is 1960--and it was found that only 295 Members wanted desks. There is a desk now for every Member, and we are setting ourselves a new target of every Member having a desk in a room of his own. That shows that progress is being made. It is worth considering the historical context.
Mr. Chope : It has been said already that it is not compulsory for Members to sit at the desks allocated to them. I understand that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) does not choose to sit at the desk which has been allocated to him. There is a desk available to him if he wishes to use it. It may not be as large as he would like, but it is there if he wishes to use it. I am sure that there is a telephone for him, if he wants it. During the debate in 1960, some hon. Members said that it was not necessary and not desirable that each desk should be accompanied by a telephone. There are moves afoot now to install expensive IT equipment around the House to bring communication facilities up to date. Those are examples of the way in which there has been evolution over relatively recent years.
In answering some of the points that were raised earlier, I shall begin by referring to what is happening at Cannon row. The House is aware of the refurbishment that is being carried out there and I assure the House that the target date for completion in summer 1989 is still on schedule. That is later than we had hoped and I explained some of the reasons for that when I gave evidence to the Select Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House used the expression "broadly on schedule for completion"
when speaking about phase 1 of the new building. I cannot add to that, except to say that I visited the site, put on a hard hat and spoke to the contractors about the paramount importance of the contract being completed on time. There have been problems there, but I hope that they will be overcome and that the work will be completed on schedule. We have not relaxed our objective that the building should be completed on time. It is partly because of the extra resources that have gone into that exercise that we have not made such fast progress on the preliminary work for the phase 2 project, following the recommendations of the Services Committee report. It is not correct to say that we have made no progress. A draft brief has been finalised, which will go out to fee bidding by firms of architects. Five firms of architects are on the short list at present and I hope to be able to appoint the architects before next Easter. We shall put our major effort into ensuring that phase 1 is delivered on time, as the House wishes.
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) raised the question of funds. Funds are made available year by year and it would be unreasonable to expect that all the funds could be allocated for phase 2 when we have not yet received a report from the architects and we do not have precise estimates of the costs.
The best evidence of the Government's commitment to spending money on facilities in the Palace of Westminster and the outside buildings is what we have already done. In 1983, annual expenditure was about £10 million, but it has now increased to about £20 million. I am pleased that we have been able to include in the forthcoming programme a start on restoring the Victoria tower, which has stood out as being a part of the Palace that has not been restored. We
Column 1014have the resources to do that, preliminary studies are under way and work will be started as soon as the existing work on the Central Lobby tower is completed.
The Property Services Agency and officials have to respond to changing circumstances in this magnificent and ancient building. Only a relatively short time ago, no one could have anticipated the amount of work that we must carry out on the Central Lobby tower immediately and on the Upper Waiting Hall during the next summer recess, because of the weakness of the floor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack)--who apologises for having to return to his constituency and missing the end of the debate--suggested that it was lack of offices that took many hon. Members away from the Chamber. I am not sure that I agree. Although I do not argue against offices, if there were no offices at all there would probably be more people in the Chamber. But that is about the only point on which I disagree with my hon. Friend. I agree about the need to complete phase 1 on time. The Government do not intend to be penny-pinching, but we wish to obtain good value for money. As for the interiors of phases 1 and 2, my hon. Friend is in the best position to investigate the idea of a patronage scheme for works of art as part of the refurbishment.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked 10 specific questions. The last one does not deserve an answer from me, but I shall do my best to answer the others. In the short term, we shall have no more facilities available for working peers, but we are spending money on improved refreshment facilities. When we can vacate Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace yard, provision will be made there for offices for working peers.
The hon. Gentleman hoped that the Library would not go across the road. I do not know precisely what he meant by that. The House has already decided that the Library will be the major occupant of phase 1, giving up space in this building and in Norman Shaw.
Mr. Dalyell : I was referring to the fact that Dr. John Poole and his science section and a number of others have had to move away from the centre, where they were often required to answer urgent queries. It is sad that that happened.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the nature of the competition. It will not be an architectural competition on the basis of the Royal Institute of British Architects' understanding of such a competition. It will be a fee- bidding procedure, after firms of architects have prequalified on the basis of being suitable and having the experience necessary to design for such a sensitive site.
Mr. Dalyell : It is all very well to say that it will be a fee- bidding process, but how can we be certain that we get the distinguished design that hon. Members on both sides of the House have made it clear that they want?
Mr. Chope : It is for the House to decide, once the architect has been appointed and has responded to the requirements of the Sub-Committee, whether it likes the resulting design. To proceed in any other way on the Palace chambers site would involve much more delay. One difficulty with RIBA design competitions is that the firms
Column 1015which win do not always have enough experience or resources to play a full part in the work. We need an experienced firm of architects.
Mr. Chope : Certainly that is a matter for the House to decide. I am sure that the architect chosen will do his best to ensure that he produces a design that has the support of the House because if it does not have the House's support he will not get the commission to carry on the work.
Looking further ahead, the hon. Member for Linlithgow asked about decanting. That is a long way ahead. It will obviously be a difficult matter to resolve, but we shall try to do our best. The Government's thinking on patronage of British artists is outside my area. However, the works of art committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) could pay some attention to the scope for patronage of British artists in the purchase of any works of art for the building.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow also asked what extra costs would be incurred if there was a delay in decking over the underground from the first part of phase 2 to a subsequent stage of phase 2. The answer to that question is contained in the evidence to the New Building Sub-Committee on page 4, question 5 in which the PSA superintending architect said that there were
"None that we can identify at this stage. That is not to say that there will not be any."
Mr. Chope : Archaeologists came on to the site before phase 1 started and were paid by the PSA. I do not think that there will be much scope for archaelogical investigation on the phase 2 site because almost all the buildings will remain except for the Palace chambers rebuilding. Also, much of the site has already been excavated as it is crossed by an Underground railway line. Points were also raised about the facilities for broadcasters. Obviously the facilities in Bridge street are unsatisfactory at the moment, but the House must recommend any changes. The Services Committee previously recommended 20,000 sq. ft. It would be sensible for that recommendation to await the results of the Select Committee report into televising Parliament.
The House already has a self-financing gymnasium under the auspices of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). If anyone requests exercise facilities in the new building, the House can resolve that request. Ultimately it would be for the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee to consider that.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow's concern about the Crypt chapel font is well known. We have had discussions with English Heritage and an agreement has been reached to dig up part of Old Palace yard to see how or where the
Column 1016water is seeping in. I hope that we will be able to get to the bottom of that problem. The speculation is that the leak has been caused by war damage.
I agree wholehearted with the hon. Member for Linlithgow that it is important to get the fabric of the building absolutely right at the design stage. With regard to facilities for visitors, I have seen the early-day motion recommending an awning for the Line of Route. I understand that the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee is discussing that matter with the House of Lords so I cannot take that further today. I hope that I have answered most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow.
Mr. Chope : I cannot go into such detail on all the other points raised during the debate having regard to the time. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that architects will be appointed to do a feasibility study into the conversion of Speaker's court so that that accommodation does not lie vacant for more than a minimum period after the completion of phase 1. I understand that the parliamentary bookshop is to be run as an in-house enterprise. Exactly what will be provided is still to be decided and, again, that is a matter for the House to resolve in detail. There are certainly to be shops along the Bridge street end of the Victoria embankment, as at present, and phase 1 includes a shop in the Refreshment Department area. I do not think that any decision has been taken on what it will stock, but there should be scope for stocks to meet day to day needs.
Mr. Chope : That is an interesting suggestion. It is for a Committee of the House to consider whether we wish to move from the principle that has been decided on until now--that the shop will be run as an in-house enterprise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) made in her inimitable way a thoughtful and challenging speech. I agree that anything free at the point of consumption increases demand and that the temptation of free space could lead to a waste of accommodation. It is one thing to put forward that proposition, but rather more difficult to find a solution which would ensure that there was not increased demand. I can see that even under present arrangements there is a difficulty because if a Member employs a secretary within the precincts of the Palace, the telephone facility is free and the Member does not even have to charge it against allowances, whereas if a Member employs a secretary in the constituency and does not trouble the House for accommodation, he or she must charge both the costs of the telephone and the costs of heat, light and rent against allowances. My hon. Friend's point might bear further investigation. My hon. Friend spent some time talking about corruption in the PSA. Today's debate gives me an opportunity to say that the trial concluded yesterday is the last of a series which has resulted in eight PSA officials being convicted of a series of offences of corruption which have brought tremendous disgrace on the PSA. Eight officials have made life difficult for some 22,000 employees, but I hope that neither my hon. Friend nor anyone else would tar the whole organisation with the same brush
Column 1017because of the admittedly heinous activities of that minority. Moreover, all the matters on which they were convicted date back to 1984. Since then there have been major administrative changes in the PSA to ensure that such corruption cannot recur.
My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) spoke about the lifts. I do not know whether the particular faults were reported.
Mr. Chope I shall ensure that action is taken. We have an ongoing programme of replacing the lifts. It is extensive but it is programmed over a period of years. It should be coupled with a maintenance programme which ensures that if a lift is out of order it remains out of order only for a short period.
Mr. Holt : The lift to which I referred earlier was out of action for the whole of the summer recess. If the experience of those of us who were in the Norman Shaw building when they installed the new lift there is anything to go by, I shall have no faith in the lifts. After that lift was installed and put into operation, it was out of service for a longer period than it was in service during its first nine months. I see an official at the back of the Chamber nodding.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred in passing to the use of county hall as the new parliamentary building. It is the first time that I have heard him make that suggestion. I thought that he wanted to keep county hall for London government purposes. It would be wholly inappropriate for the House to extend its empire to the county hall area. I look forward to private sector use of that fine building and the surrounding area.
Column 1018to reply to the debate, so could he tell the House when an annnouncement is to be made about the future use of county hall?
Mr. Ray Powell : The purpose of this debate is for the House to declare a preference for one of the schemes that have been put before us. Having listened to the debate, is the Minister able to say what preference the House has declared?
Mr. Chope : The views of the House very much reflect the views of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services), of which the hon. Gentleman is Chairman. The House would like the redevelopment of Palace chambers to proceed rapidly. It would also like consideration to be given at a later stage to decking over the Underground station. It is a blend of PSA proposals and the Casson Conder proposals, with the gloss that has been placed upon them by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services). The best way to put it is that the House seems to have agreed unanimously with the recommendations of the hon. Gentleman's Committee.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) asked two questions about the proposed subway. He asked whether there might be a subway shuttle, as in the United States. I had not expected that suggestion to be included in the architect's brief, but if the Committee chooses to include it that will be a matter for it. The subway will be open only to passholders and it will serve the buildings on the other side of Bridge street. I very much appreciate that Members and staff work in less than satisfactory conditions. The House is at one on that. Better offices are needed, and they must be given high priority. Cannon row will provide some relief. Phase 1 will provide even more. After today's debate, we are about to embark on the next serious and exciting phase, and I am grateful for the support that the House has given to it. Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Column 1019Channel Tunnel (Rail Link)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]
Miss Anne Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the issue of compensation for people who will be affected by the proposed high-speed rail link between the Channel tunnel and London, running through Kent. I sincerely hope that, in the event, my constituents will not be affected.
British Rail has proposed four routes for the high-speed railway. The fourth has been dropped as being too costly and taking too long to construct. One of the three remaining routes will affect my constituents very badly. The other two give rise to points that I am raising on behalf of the people of Kent generally, rather than of my constituents alone.
Routes one or two should be chosen. I have to agree with the Chairman of Eurotunnel, Alistair Morton, who says that he can see no good reason why we are even still considering route three. Whichever route is chosen will cause problems for the people of Kent and there are objections to be advanced against all three. Therefore we must consider whether there are any positive reasons for accepting any of the routes and whether they provide any benefit for the people of Kent.
The prospects with routes one and two are quite good. First, there is the possibility of an economic boost for the Medway, which traditionally has been the poorer part of Kent. Secondly, there is the possibility of an improved rail commuter service, of a parkway at Maidstone, and, not least, of a link with the north through King's Cross. That must surely play a fairly major part in British Rail's long-term plans.
More important, all Kent is up in arms over the environmental threat from the high-speed railway. Routes one or two could probably be put through tunnels, and certainly through cuttings, for much of their length. Route three runs across the Weald with its wet clay soil, and the line would have to be raised. As such, it would be unsightly and noisy and the environmental damage would be very much greater than from routes one and two. Thus there is no advantage in it, especially as it would be slower than route one, and on this high-speed link the faster the service the higher the revenue for British Rail, and more costly than route two. I see no reason why we are still considering it and why my constituents cannot be immediately relieved of their fear, their worry and the planning blight that is caused by this wholly pointless route. Alistair Morton can see no point in it, nor can British Rail, and nor can the people of Kent.
Enormous questions are raised about compensation for people along the chosen route. I have made available in advance the points that I shall raise both with the Minister and British Rail in the hope that I shall obtain some fairly clear and definite answers, at least where possible. The issues are complex. We have built no new railways since the turn of the century and our compensation laws are therefore inadequate and in a mess. The laws that apply to
Column 1020motorways do not apply in the same way to railways, which leaves far too little protection for Kent constituents who are affected by the new project.
So worried are my constituents that they have formed a campaign to save the heart of Kent--the Weald, Bourne valley and the villages that will be destroyed should route three be chosen. The village of Collier Street will become competely unrecognisable. Headcorn and Staplehurst will be sandwiched between two railway lines and a naturally beautiful part of Kent will be destroyed. Those are just some of the disadvantages.
It has been suggested that the building of a high-speed rail link will mean also a more intensive use of existing track, perhaps to carry more freight or perhaps to cope with the extra custom that British Rail expects. Residents near a railway line that carries no traffic between 11.30 pm and 6 am may sleep undisturbed throughout the night. But if the line is used more intensively, with trains running through the night, no statutory compensation is provided for the people who suffer from the consequent noise. Compensation, would, however, have been payable when the line was built. Thousands of people in Kent will be affected if there is, as is generally projected, an intensification of use. I should like to hear some solid proposals for helping those people.
I do not join in the general bashing of British Rail that has been prevalent recently. British Rail had a hopeless task. It had to produce four hideous propositions, take them into the heart of Kent and sell them to people who were to be affected by them. Inevitably, it has been castigated for mistakes which it undoubtedly made. The people trying to sell the proposals were not official public relations men but British Rail officials. They did a good job, and are continuing to do so, under difficult circumstances.
I am extremely grateful to British Rail for agreeing to make ex gratia payments to some of my constituents. Those payments must be ex gratia because, by law, British Rail is not obliged to provide compensation to persons affected by the route until the Bill needed to authorise the scheme receives Royal Assent. In the ordinary course of events, given that the project will probably proceed through Parliament under the auspices of a private Bill, and as we have yet to have decisions from Kent county council and British Rail, and they will have to wait for the matter to come before Parliament, it could be two years before that Royal Assent is granted.
However, British Rail has recognised the practical difficulties, one of which has already affected dozens of my constituents. People who had started to sell their houses before the routes were announced believed that the sales would go through. They therefore entered into commitments to buy elsewhere, sometimes in a completely different part of the country, to accommodate job moves and so on. When the routes were published the purchasers of their properties backed out. The vendors were stuck without compensation until Royal Assent. However, British Rail very properly agreed to make ex gratia payments to them to ease their financial burden. That is all very well for the people who had already started the sale process, but the position between now and Royal Assent of those hundreds of people who have not started the sale process but who will want, for perfectly genuine reasons, to sell their houses, is not clear.
British Rail has promised a package of assistance before the route is chosen. Again I offer my thanks.
Column 1021However, it is wholly unacceptable that there is no proper legal provision or guidance about how people should be treated in those circumstances. For example, I understand that in some EEC countries when railway disturbance is caused, not only is the property bought, as it would be here, through compulsory purchase, but a disturbance premium is paid in addition. Will our constituents get a disturbance premium, or will they merely get the compulsory purchase value? How will the value be determined? The market value of houses in Kent is extremely high. Once the chosen route is announced, the market value of the houses on it will decline. Will compensation be payable at the current market value, or at the prevailing market value when my constituents finally sell?
Agricultural land gives rise to many other problems. Whatever route is chosen, some farmers' land will obviously be required. Will they simply be compensated for the price of the land, or will the compensation also reflect the loss of income from that land? If they move the activities on that land elsewhere on the farm, it will take many years before the new location becomes income bearing. Will they be compensated for that? How will compensation be assessed when the land is purchased? Will it be based on agricultural land prices, which are not wonderful, or on development land prices, which, in the south-east, are? May we be told now, or do my constituents have to worry for a further two years about the basis of compensation? Then there are those who fall outside the compulsory purchase bracket, but who will still be mightily affected by the railway. Again, that will apply no matter which route is chosen. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), who is here, is one of those hon. Members who are extremely worried about the plight of their constituents. There is a law on injurious affection, which I am informed has nothing to do with unfortunate love affairs, but is about being affected by noise, unsightliness or other such factors. That law was never designed to cover the impact of a railway.
Believe it or not, there is no statutory maximum noise limit on railways. There is a noise level above which compensation must be paid and noise bafflement measures must be taken, but a railway may emit any amount of noise. If this project leads to increased railway activity, there will be a fantastic increase also in noise. The people affected do not know what compensation they would get. There is no defined corridor within which it will be paid. Will it be paid to people who live within 200 yards of the railway, or within 400 yards? Will it depend on whether there are cuttings or embankments? Will it be measured with a noise meter? Nobody appears to know. Will people get money if they find that their living conditions become intolerable? Will they simply be given double glazing and told to get on with it? Will any account be taken of the complete destruction of a beautiful part of the country and of such views as our constituents may have enjoyed in the past? How exactly will the injurious affection law be applied?
It is easy to concentrate solely on residential properties, and most of the pronouncements from British Rail have been in respect of such properties and, very occasionally, of agricultural holdings. However, another class of person will be badly affected by the railway--the business man, particularly, the small business man.
Column 1022I am beginning to receive quite a few letters from such people--one is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling--who are losing orders because of the railway. Home improvement firms are particularly affected. They have had orders to build conservatories, for example, but suddenly their customers, believing that they might lose their properties, have cancelled those orders. The problem applies to people selling all sorts of goods and services in the affected areas. Will such people be compensated for loss of income? How long will they have to wait? Will they have gone into liquidation by the time any compensation is proposed? What will be done for businesses?
It is difficult to produce a full package of measures to deal with a completely new set of circumstances, but surely it was realised that the day would inevitably come when a new railway track would have be be built. It must have been realised that we could not go on for ever without any expansion of the rail network. It must have been clear that any major railway construction project would have presented complex and manifold problems. However, insufficient thought was given before the proposals were announced to ensuring that the necessary laws were on the statute book or that British Rail, as a nationalised industry, was given firm guidance.
There are many points that I have not raised, partly because time will not allow and partly because they are so numerous that I would not know where to begin. However, I can assure my hon. Friend the Minister that I have received thousands of letters, the vast bulk of which is against route three. Many of those letters contain heart-rending pleas from my constituents who are suffering personally as a result of the railway line.
To those people the choice of route, the method of calculating the compensation, and the permitted noise levels are personal, not academic, matters. Whichever route is chosen, constituents somewhere will be affected. However, wherever they are, the compensation laws that will cover them are in a mess. Ad hoc and emergency provision and ex gratia payments are not enough. We need a complete and utter overhaul of our compensation laws.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) : I should like to start by congratulating most warmly my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) on securing this Adjournment debate, which is on a matter of the greatest interest and concern to thousands of people in Kent, from one end of the county to another. I thank her for allowing me to intervene briefly in her debate.
As we all know, planning blight can occur instantly and to individuals with the utmost severe effect. That has been precisely the position in Kent since the day that British Rail published its proposals in July of this year. British Rail took a conscious decision to publish not merely one corridor, but a total of three corridors through various parts of the county, magnifying the blighting effect. In doing so, it has destroyed the value of thousands of people's properties as of now and, in many other cases, it has substantially reduced that value.
Those people--and there will be such people at any moment--who are having to move simply because their jobs have changed, because there has been a change in their personal circumstances or because there are