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Column 1286May, the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal agreed that such access and visits should be further increased.
We hope that that will prove possible, and we look to the Indonesian authorities to live up to the other commitments that they have made to the Commission on Human Rights. We welcome their decision to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions. That took place in July and we will consider carefully his report at the commission's next session.
The hon. Lady has drawn attention to the journalists who were expelled from Dili last month in apparent contradiction of the trend of greater openness to which I have referred. Although the circumstances surrounding their departure remain unclear, we none the less regret any move that is inconsistent with the Indonesians' stated commitment to greater openness.
The Indonesian authorities have denied placing any general ban. Our current understanding is that journalists remain free to visit East Timor, subject to the usual permissions.
The hon. Lady referred to eye-witness accounts of the use of Hawk aircraft to bomb villages in East Timor. I listened to her carefully. The points that she makes about the use of Hawks remain allegations and no more. No one has come forward with any evidence to substantiate the claims made recently by Mr. Ramos-Horta. It is certainly for those making the allegations to bring forward the evidence. We have had specific assurances that British-supplied defence equipment, including Hawks, has not been used for repressive purposes.
It is highly relevant that the Hawk aircraft that Indonesia has are two- seater trainer aircraft, the sale of which was approved by the Labour Government. There is no evidence to support allegations that Hawk aircraft or other British defence equipment is being used for oppressive purposes in East Timor. The aircraft are based at a flying training school at east Java over 900 miles from East Timor. Of course, they could be modified--for example, to carry live bombs--if the Indonesians had the will and the technology to do so. The fact is that there is no evidence that the aircraft have been so adapted since delivery.
Mrs. Clwyd: Will the Minister agree to investigate the claims made by Mr. Ramos-Horta? He is a witness, and there are others whose names I shall give the right hon. Gentleman. Another witness is Jose Amorin, who sighted the Hawks at an air force base at Baucau in 1984. They were then seen being used in the Matabian mountains. Another eye-witness last year, Koni Santana, said:
"The British-made Hawks have been used against the population, often bombing on a daily basis."
There are additional witnesses. It would be good if the Minister agreed that some assessment should be made of these accounts by the people whom I have mentioned.
Mr. Goodlad: We would need to see evidence rather than unsubstantiated assertions. Our embassy staff visit East Timor, as do human rights representatives, including Asia Watch, the International Commission of Jurists and foreign journalists. We have no reports from these visitors of Hawk sightings, in the air or on the ground. As the hon. Lady is aware, the Labour party spokesman on defence matters, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr.
Column 1287Clark), explicitly approved of the sale of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia in November 1993. I welcome the Labour party's support for the Government's policy of permitting the sale of British defence equipment overseas where that is compatible with our political, strategic and security interests. We defend ourselves and should not deny others the right to do the same without good cause. I do not know whether the hon. Lady, who has spoken from the Opposition Back Benches but is an Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, has dissociated herself from the Labour party's position.
Contrary to the suggestion made by the hon. Lady, we are not aware of any country that is operating a total trade embargo against Indonesia. Nor would we agree to do so ourselves. Curbing Indonesia's prosperity would not advance the cause of human rights or improve the situation of the people of East Timor.
That is not to say that we are prepared to allow arms to be exported indiscriminately. We assess all applications for export licences case by case and do not license for export any equipment that we believe is likely to be used for repressive purposes against civilians. The Indonesian authorities have assured us that British-supplied defence equipment will not be used against civilians in East Timor or Indonesia, and we have no reason to doubt them. I should also make it clear to the House that there is no arms embargo against Indonesia and no prospect of securing international agreement to impose one. The United Nations Security Council resolutions 384 of 1975 and 389 of 1976 condemned the invasion of East Timor, but they did not call for either an arms embargo or military intervention. We understand that Italy and Sweden apply national embargoes on the sale of defence equipment to Indonesia, and the United States Congress recently imposed a ban on the export of small arms, but the Indonesians have purchased, and continued to purchase, defence equipment from many western suppliers, in Europe and elsewhere.
The hon. Lady referred to the case against Australia. The Timor Gap treaty, signed by Indonesia and Australia in 1989, is a matter for those countries, and the legality of the treaty is currently before the International Court of Justice. The treaty in no way affects our stance on the recognition of Indonesia's annexation of East Timor: we do not recognise Indonesia's annexation of East Timor.
The hon. Lady mentioned aid. There is, I believe, a strong economic and social case for Britain to have a substantial aid programme in Indonesia. Aid from this country finances projects in power generation, forestry, education and other sectors that promote economic development. All the projects are subject to our normal process of appraisal.
Indonesia remains a relatively poor developing country. The annual gross national product per head is approximately $660. The country has a well- deserved reputation for good economic management and the use of aid. Between 1970 and 1990, the number of people living below the poverty line decreased by 43 million, but about 27 million people still live in poverty. As the hon. Lady said, British aid to Indonesia was £34 million in 1993-94; that is 18p per head of the recipient population, compared
Column 1288with £2.18 to Uganda and £4.41 per head to Zambia. As contrasted with £34 million from the United Kingdom, Japan's aid in 1992 was $1.356 billion.
Mrs. Clwyd: Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that none of that aid goes to East Timor, one of the poorest areas in the world, and that in the past few years none of the aid that he has quoted has gone anywhere near that country?
Mr. Goodlad: I will write to the hon. Lady about the precise application of the aid funds, but, if I understand her correctly, not only does she dissociate herself from the Labour party's policy on the sale of defence equipment to Indonesia, but she is saying that that country should receive no aid. Perhaps she is also saying that there should be no aid to any other country whose human rights record is less than perfect. If so, I think that we need to be told that clearly, because it will make a substantial impact on the aid programme throughout the world.
I now turn to the events of the past month. Several demonstrations by East Timorese protesters took place around the time of the APEC summit, including a sit-in protest by 29 East Timorese in the United States embassy compound. The Indonesian authorities gave assurances that no action would be taken against them and that they were free to leave the country. As with previous assurances that we have received from the Indonesian authorities, those have been honoured and the group left for Portugal on 24 November.
A number of demonstrations also took place in East Timor. The first, on 12 November, appears to have been a spontaneous one, caused by the death of a Timorese trader in a street brawl with an immigrant worker. During that and other disturbances in Dili, about 72 people are reported to have been arrested. We understand that the International Committee of the Red Cross had immediate access to the people who were detained, most of whom have now been released. The reports that we have received suggest that the security forces acted with relative restraint in policing those demonstrations. Initial press reports of fatalities have not been confirmed.
The hon. Lady is right in drawing attention to the fact that the human rights situation in East Timor cannot be considered in isolation from the territory's history. The invasion of that territory in 1975, and the killings and famine which followed, were a tragedy for the East Timorese people. We have never recognised Indonesia's annexation of the territory and, with our EU partners, have consistently supported international efforts aimed at securing a long-term solution to the problem.
We believe that the continuing dialogue between Portugal and Indonesia, under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General, offers the best hope of progress. The aim of those talks is clear--to seek a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution. That is no easy task. It requires a considerable effort by all those involved. It takes time to build up the necessary climate of confidence and trust which can allow progress to be made. We will give every encouragement to the process of dialogue, which is continuing.
Recent developments have been promising. In May, after the last round of talks between the Portuguese and Indonesian Foreign Ministers, the Secretary-General
Column 1289stressed the importance of encouraging dialogue among East Timorese. He undertook to help bring about what he described as "an all-inclusive intra-Timorese dialogue."
Since then, a number of meetings have taken place which have brought together those with often opposing points of view. At the end of September, a meeting was held in Wales between East Timorese still living in the territory and those now resident overseas. The Secretary-General sent a representative to those talks. On 4 October, the Portuguese Foreign Minister met a number of East Timorese representatives, including those supporting integration with Indonesia. Two days later, in New York, the Indonesian Foreign Minister met Mr. Ramos-Horta, one of the main opponents of integration who is now exiled in Australia. Both parties recognised the significance of the meeting.
No one expects there to be dramatic shifts of stance overnight. Positions are too far apart. But such contacts at least allow the parties to air their differences directly and go some way to creating a better atmosphere in which questions of substance can be addressed.
The hon. Lady referred to the United Nations and its decolonisation committee. The special committee last considered the question of East Timor in July. After hearing statements from petitioners and the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal, the committee decided to defer the question to its next session in 1995.
We now look towards the next meeting of the two Foreign Ministers, which is due to be held in Geneva on 9 January. Preparations for that meeting are well under way. The Secretary-General recently sent two of his staff to Jakarta and East Timor to help prepare the ground. We cannot know what progress will be made but we have made clear to all the importance that we attach to such talks and we will continue to encourage the Secretary- General in his difficult task.
We will also continue to raise our human rights concerns with the Indonesians in ways that we consider most likely to be effective. We believe that the best way to persuade them to make further improvements is through constructive dialogue within a wider co-operative relationship. Nothing that I have heard tonight has persuaded me that there is a better or more effective way forward. Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.) ,
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 17th November, be approved.
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 17th November, be approved.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.) ,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Azerbaijan) Order 1994 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 24th November.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Malta) Order 1994 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 24th November.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Republic of Ireland) Order 1994 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 24th November.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Spain) Order 1994 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 24th November.--[ Mr. Willetts. ]
Question agreed to .
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(9) (European Standing Committees),
That this House takes note of and welcomes European Community Documents Nos. 8077/94 and 8929/94, relating to drugs and public health; recognises the importance of effective action by the European Union against illicit drug trafficking and drug misuse; and supports the Government's view that the proposals should be refined and improved within the mechanisms set up under the Treaty on European Union.--[ Mr. Willetts. ]
Question agreed to .
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): This promises to be the last Adjournment debate following an all-night sitting on the Consolidated Fund. At 6.53 am, I am sorry that I have to keep my hon. Friend the Minister of State from his beauty sleep. I only hope that at some point in the course of the night he got a rather longer forty winks than I did on the floor of my office.
I want to raise two important aspects of blight in relation to the channel tunnel trains, those that are now running and those that will run in the future.
The first is the issue of blight and the related question of compensation on the existing lines to the channel tunnel through Maidstone East and Tonbridge, in my constituency. The second is the issue of blight that is now being created as a result of the publication of the plans for the new channel tunnel rail link. On the point about the existing lines, for almost four years I have been raising on the Floor of the House the issue of entitlement in law under the Land Compensation Act 1973 for those whose homes on the existing lines are now being depreciated in value with the commencement of the channel tunnel freight and passenger services. I first raised the issue on 12 March 1991 on the Second Reading of the Planning and Compensation Bill. From then on, I have been arguing that injurious affection compensation was claimable under the Land Compensation Act because of the major reconstruction and alteration of the existing lines to enable them to take channel tunnel trains. That same legal view was also taken by counsel in an opinion provided for the local authorities concerned and given by Mr. Gregory Stone. I set out the arguments fully in my last Adjournment debate on the subject on 13 January. What was significant was that at the end of my debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), the then Minister for Public Transport, agreed that compensation was, in principle, claimable. He said:
"We accept my right hon. Friend's understanding and interpretation of the Land Compensation Act 1973 . . . British Rail and the Department acknowledge that under section 9(1)(b) it is open to individuals who believe that they are affected to apply for compensation. That is not the issue, because I certainly accept that as a point of principle. The question is to what extent that applies."--[ Official Report , 13 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 434.] My right hon. Friend also said that he wanted to study carefully both what I had said in the debate and Mr. Gregory Stone's opinion. I sent Mr. Stone's opinion to my right hon. Friend who, of course, studied it closely with his legal advisers. Then, having studied it, he came back to me with the same view of the application of the Land Compensation Act. He did so in a written answer on 15 February, when he said:
"Counsel made the point that it follows from these provisions that changes of use which are limited to intensification of the use of existing lines do not give rise to compensation, whereas reconstructions, extensions and other alterations may do so. The Government see no reason to dissent from this interpretation . . . I fully recognise that compensation may be payable where existing railway lines are reconstructed, extended or otherwise altered after they have first been used and where it can be shown that depreciation has resulted from physical factors, such as noise and vibration, caused by their use."--[ Official Report , 15 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 728-29 .]
Column 1292A few weeks after that written answer was given, the ownership of the lines passed to Railtrack at the beginning of April this year. That was an unhappy event for my constituents, as it turned out, and perhaps in more ways than one. At that point I resumed my compensation quest with the chairman of Railtrack, Mr. Robert Horton. I saw Mr. Horton personally. I corresponded with him. On 19 September this year there arrived what I can only describe as Mr. Horton's final, in effect "go -and-get-lost" letter. It read as follows: "We could probably debate indefinitely the interpretation of the words that appear in Hansard. Railtrack's position is clear: even if the Minister was accepting on behalf of the Government that the Land Compensation Act 1973 does entitle those living near existing railway lines used by Channel Tunnel traffic to claim compensation (subject to proving diminution in value), Railtrack does not agree with that interpretation of the Act. I am afraid, therefore, that Railtrack will continue to resist these claims".
That is a deeply unsatisfactory position.
Railtrack has effectively said to me and to my constituents and, indeed, to many others up and down the line that they can forget what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said in the House. Railtrack does not intend to pay compensation to anyone under any circumstances. That issue will clearly have to be resolved in the courts. My only comment at this point is that if the courts find that in some circumstances compensation is payable- -I believe that they will so find--Railtrack will bear an extremely heavy responsibility. It will bear the responsibility of having denied people their legal rights and having done so when an entitlement to compensation in principle was stated to exist by a Minister in the House of Commons not once but twice.
I shall now deal with the new line--the channel tunnel rail link--and the performance on the issue of blight of another wholly owned subsidiary of British Rail, Union Railways Ltd. The voluntary purchase scheme for blighted homes was set out first by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), the then Secretary of State for Transport, in his statement on the channel tunnel rail link on 24 January 1994. It was then elaborated in the Union Railways paper of 23 February this year entitled, "Guide to property purchase procedures for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link." I initiated an Adjournment debate on the voluntary purchase scheme on 31 March this year. I voiced considerable worries about the adequacy of the scheme. I am sorry to say that I still regard the voluntary purchase scheme as seriously inadequate in two key matters. It is inadequate in defining which properties are blighted and in producing a reasonable system whereby those who suffer acute hardship because they are unable to sell their blighted homes can do so. It is demonstrable now that those who have homes which are clearly blighted in the eyes of prospective purchasers--that is the key factor--are unable to secure the purchase of their homes under the voluntary purchase scheme. A number of my constituents received letters from Union Railways stating that the subsoil to their properties may be affected as a result of the future construction of the tunnel under Blue Bell Hill. Anyone who receives such a letter, even if it is coupled with a statement saying that any damage will be put right, is effectively receiving the kiss of death on any likelihood of selling his home to a third party. Potential buyers would not take the risk.
Column 1293Many of the homeowners who have been trying to sell their properties since the proposal to tunnel beneath them was announced have a bundle of letters from surveyors, estate agents and others, making it clear that their homes are unsaleable as a result of the channel tunnel rail link proposals.
British Rail maintains that the properties are not blighted. A profoundly unsatisfactory feature of the voluntary purchase scheme is that the sole and exclusive arbiter of whether a home is blighted is Union Railways. That is not reasonable. I want to propose a way forward that would be reasonable for both sides.
The way is happily precedented--and I know that Government Departments always like precedents. Even more happily, it is precedented in the Department of Transport. I commend the procedure already adopted by the Department in relation to the voluntary acquisition of homes blighted by road schemes. One excellent piece of legislation from this Government is section 62 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, which gives a voluntary acquisition power to highway authorities to purchase blighted homes that are beyond the geographical limits of statutory blight. I have substantial experience of the operation of section 62 in my constituency in connection with the widening of the M20 and the channel tunnel. The Department has operated section 62 reasonably fairly and sensibly in the widening of the M20. In many cases, it said that a property should be independently valued by the district valuer and then marketed at that valuation for a given period--usually around three months--and that if at the end of that period the property was not sold, the Department would be willing to purchase it. That procedure was set out in the letter of 27 August 1992 from my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London in the case of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Martin. He wrote:
"We need to be satisfied before agreeing to purchase the property that the asking price is reasonable. The District Valuer suggests without inspection of the property, that this is more likely to be in the region of £85,000 in current conditions. The Department have recently written to Mr. and Mrs. Martin pointing this out and asking them to arrange for the property to be marketed at a more realistic price level. If after 10 weeks they receive no reasonable offers, then we will agree to purchase their property."
That is a reasonable and fair procedure, which has worked well in the context of the widening of the M20. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to tell Union Railways to adopt the same procedure in dealing with homes where there is a dispute between the owners of the homes and Union Railways about whether they are blighted in the context of the channel tunnel rail link.
The second deficiency of the voluntary purchase scheme is that it is conspicuously failing to achieve purchase in cases of hardship when a house is blighted. To illustrate that point, I need not go further than the case of a house above the proposed tunnel under Blue Bell Hill owned by a married couple in my constituency to whom, for both medical and personal reasons, I shall refer as Mr. and Mrs. Y. Mr. and Mrs. Y suffered last year the appalling experience of their son committing suicide by hanging himself in their home. His body was discovered by his mother and this experience has had a devastating effect on her mentally. Some indication of this can be gauged from
Column 1294the open letter I have received from her consultant psychiatrist. I shall quote two extracts. The first reads as follows:
"The reason for her illness is the tragic death of her son, who hung himself in the house. Mrs. Y found her son's body hanging and she tried to untie the corpse in desperation to save him, but he was already dead . . . She cannot sleep and cries all the time. She cannot get over the death of her son, as long as the memory is there. Everything in the house reminds her of one image and one image only; her beloved son's corpse dangling from the ceiling."
The consultant psychiatrist concludes as follows:
"I support any effort to help this unfortunate family find an alternative accommodation, but it seems that they are unable to sell their house because of the geography and plans to build the channel tunnel. It is essential that she is given all the help necessary, in order to leave that house as soon as possible, to enable her to heal her wound and come to terms with the loss of her son."
The consultant psychiatrist makes the plea that all help necessary is given to Mr. and Mrs. Y to help them move from their home. I am sorry to report to the House that that plea to Union Railways has, so far, fallen on totally stony ground. Mr. and Mrs. Y have been desperately trying to sell their home. They have been unable to do so because of the blight created by the tunnelling proposed under their home. Union Railways claims that they are not blighted and, therefore, refuses to buy them out on hardship grounds. I consider that for a public authority in these circumstances to refuse to buy a blighted house on hardship grounds is quite intolerable and unacceptable. The voluntary purchase scheme is not working properly. It is not enabling blighted homes to be bought when those homes are demonstrably blighted in the view of surveyors and estate agents. It is not providing a means whereby blighted properties can be purchased in cases of conspicuous and clear personal hardship. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to deal with extreme seriousness with the issues I have raised and to use the utmost force at his disposal to ensure that Union Railways adopts a more reasonable and more humane voluntary purchase acquisition scheme at a very early date. 7.13 am
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) for returning to this important subject yet again. He last brought it to our attention on 31 March. He has campaigned consistently and vigorously on behalf of constituents who may be affected by existing channel tunnel rail services or by the future channel tunnel rail link, and I have no doubt that his energetic efforts on their behalf are very much appreciated.
My right hon. Friend referred to nuisance arising from existing lines, to an exchange in the House with my predecessor and to subsequent correspondence. He also referred to entitlements in law under the Land Compensation Act 1973. He acknowledged that these are matters to be settled by legal process if they cannot be settled by agreement between Railtrack and the parties involved.
My hon. Friend mentioned comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) when he had my current responsibilities. I wish neither to add to, nor to subtract from, anything that he said then, but clearly Railtrack has taken its own legal advice--advice that differs from the opinion of Mr. Stone, which was given to my right hon. Friend the Member for
Column 1295Kettering by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. I am sure that Railtrack will take careful note of what my right hon. Friend has said this morning about the consequences of the course on which it appears to be set.
My right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of the channel tunnel rail link project, and the great benefits that the Government expect to flow from it. Unfortunately, those substantial benefits are not unqualified good news for everyone, especially those who live on the route of the new link-- and, indeed, those who live alongside existing lines that are currently being used for channel tunnel traffic.
The Government are keen to ensure that satisfactory arrangements exist for properties that are blighted as a result of the link. Compulsory purchase powers are, of course, being sought for property and land required for the construction of the new link by the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, which received its First Reading on 23 November. Meanwhile, the approach of Union Railways has been based as far as possible on the existing statutory blight provisions, and on other purchase arrangements such as those used for road planning. They have been adapted to accommodate the differences between roads and railways.
My right hon. Friend has argued forcefully that the similarities between roads and railways are rather greater than is currently acknowledged by Union Railways. As the first Minister for Railways and Roads, I have a keen interest in achieving as much symmetry as possible in the correspondence between provisions applying to railways and those applying to roads. In all the work that is being done in my Department, I am seeking to ensure that we have a set of schemes that apply equally validly to both roads and railways, as there is a clear "read across" between the two. I shall certainly reflect carefully on my right hon. Friend's constructive suggestions--although I think he will appreciate that I cannot necessarily give him any further undertakings off the cuff at 7.17 am.
The present arrangements are based on the safeguarding directions issued to local authorities, which were initially published in February and recently reissued--although there are no substantial changes. Safeguarding is important in that it brings the statutory blight procedures into play, so that owner-occupiers of domestic properties within the safeguarded zone have a right to serve blight notices and to require Union Railways to purchase the blighted properties.
In advance of use of any of those compulsory powers, Union Railways has instituted a voluntary purchase scheme that simplifies the purchase arrangements, but really applies them as they would be applied if blight notices had been issued and accepted. The basis on which this is done is set out in pamphlets produced by Union Railways.
For residential owner-occupied properties outside the safeguarded areas, and which are not required for the construction of the railway, there is a separate discretionary or hardship purchase scheme. When assessing whether to purchase properties under this scheme, Union Railways has to be satisfied that there are legitimate hardship grounds and that enjoyment of the home will be seriously affected by the operation of the railway. It is in meeting those two requirements that most of the problems arise.
Column 1296I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend said about the case of Mr. and Mrs. Y. It is clearly a great personal tragedy and, on humanitarian grounds, one would wish to offer as much assistance as possible. I undertake to re-examine the case to ascertain whether there is anything that we could justifiably do to provide assistance but, as my right hon. Friend knows, it has been considered many times. The prime difficulty is that the tunnel under Blue Bell Hill is about 300 ft under the surface and, on technical grounds, it is not accepted that that would have a significant effect on the house. However, I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's point that the technical argument about whether there will or will not be a serious effect does not matter; if someone needs to sell a home, what matters is whether prospective purchasers believe that there is a serious problem. There can often be a great gulf between the two perceptions. It is difficult to assist in this particular case because to do so would clearly have ramifications for other parts of the route where there is housing above deep tunnel. However, I undertake to have the case reconsidered carefully to see whether there is any way in which we can be of assistance.
Sir John Stanley: Does my hon. Friend agree that in cases of serious hardship it is intolerable on moral and ethical grounds that people should be locked into a home until 2002 which, unless they can be bought out voluntarily, will be their position before they can claim any compensation entitlement?
Mr. Watts: I would seek to achieve arrangements that can accommodate severe hardship and compassionate circumstances without creating a precedent which would require us to purchase hundreds of houses at substantial cost to the public purse and with some other undesirable consequences.
Widespread purchase of property in a given area can cause substantial disruption to a community. We had some experience of that with earlier routes for the channel tunnel rail link. British Rail operated a system whereby properties in a very broad band were purchased and, having bought many properties not needed for the link, it is having to dispose of them. Meanwhile, communities have been disrupted.
The intention is to design into the rail link measures to deal with the problems of noise and vibration at source. I am sure that everyone will agree that that is the preferable way to handle the matter.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his continuing interest in the subject. I know that it has been borne in on my predecessors and it has certainly been borne in on me this morning. I shall--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Before I call the final "Order", I think that it is appropriate to record that at 7.23 am it seems likely that the House ends the procedure on the Consolidated Fund, including all-night sittings, which has existed for some 30 years. Order.
The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Seven o'clock.
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