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Mr. Menzies Campbell rose--

Mr. Portillo: I shall continue for one more paragraph, because I think that it may well help the hon. and learned Gentleman.

The Eurofighter project is a good example of that approach. British Aerospace, our prime contractor, is the leading aerospace company in Europe. Eurofighter will be an excellent product if we are able, as I suspect that we will, to sort out the remaining managerial problems with the project, none of which is to do with the aircraft itself. We have entered into arrangements that we are determined to honour.

Mr. Campbell: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. In the light of the analysis that he has just provided for the House, will he now confirm that the Government are committed to Eurofighter and that there is no intention to lease F16s on a temporary basis rather than embarking on the mid-life update of the F3?

Mr. Portillo: On the commitment to Eurofighter there is no doubt, and that is why I asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to hear another paragraph, so that he could hear it in my own words.

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As far as the F16 is concerned, I am looking at a number of options for what we should do between now and the time when Eurofighter is delivered. I have made no secret of the fact that leasing F16s is one option to be looked at and an upgrade of the F3 is another.

Mr. Campbell rose--

Mr. Portillo: If the hon. and learned Gentleman makes it brief, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Campbell: In view of the answer that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement gave last week--that the existing Royal Air Force tanker fleet is incapable of mid-air refuelling of the F16--what arrangements does the right hon. Gentleman propose for that?

Mr. Portillo: All things have their costs and that is one of the costs that would have to be taken into account.

Dr. Reid: I raise this point lest the Secretary of State be misinterpreted, because we want to be helpful on this. When he says that he wants to get rid of any barriers to competition as regards our defence industry, can we take it that he is not saying that the British Government are thinking of abandoning article 223, our sovereign right in the last instance to make defence decisions that overrule the competition, although, of course, we do not want that to be misused by some of our European allies?

Mr. Portillo: I do not believe that the abandonment of article 223 will be part of the Government's programme for the IGC. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to read carefully what I said on procurement issues.

I wish to make the point that, in future, where we collaborate with others on a project, competition will be a crucial ingredient. Collaboration can provide useful savings over purely national programmes. Programmes that would otherwise be unaffordable become affordable. But collaboration is not an end in itself. It is worth while where it genuinely offers the most cost-effective solution compared to the alternatives, where it offers the prospect of the best long-term value for money. That must be the basis of future collaborative ventures.

From hon. Members on the Conservative Benches we have heard a breadth of vision and understanding, particularly in speeches from my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, from my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside and others. By contrast, the speech from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was devoid of principle. In it, he espoused a series of positions that were directly opposed to his positions of a few years ago. He appeared to be guided only by populism, only by the fear of standing alone, only by the wish to be in the majority, with no reference to right or wrong. In particular, he showed no understanding of the United Kingdom's special position and responsibilities.

We are a nuclear power. The success of deterrence depends on the knowledge that a country's deterrent works, and that that country would ultimately be willing to use it. The French President was advised to test, and he had no alternative but to do so. We would have done the same if we had been given that advice. The question is, would Labour have been willing to do so? It has wriggled on the issue. We would not be prepared to enter

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into an agreement that did not allow us to ensure the safety and reliability of our weapons.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) stood up and admitted that he was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Other Front Benchers do not mention their own membership, and some do not even remember it.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Boundary Road Junction, Norwich

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Bates.]

10 pm

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate an issue that is of considerable concern to a number of my constituents. I welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who will reply: I have happy memories of canvassing in his constituency during a by-election some years ago.

I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), the Whip, whose presence increases the attendance at the debate by 50 per cent.--if my mathematics is correct.

Too often, issues and concerns involving planning, road improvements and so forth are dismissed in the acronym NIMBY--"not in my back yard"--or in a newer term, which I heard only recently. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Minister has heard it before, but BANANA can be translated as "build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone". All too often, however, real problems occur, and people can be seriously damaged by developments and change in their localities.

In my constituency, the remedial works undertaken by Norfolk county council on the heavily used junction between Boundary road, Cromer road and Mile Cross lane in July 1988 seemed to be only of local interest, but they have wider significance in regard to the approach of local authorities to such situations, and in regard to the current state of the law and practice on compensation. There is no doubt that the traffic volumes at that junction justified the remedial work that was started by Norfolk county council in 1985 and completed on 14 July 1988. I know that the work was justified, because I use the junction regularly when I drive in and out of my constituency at the weekend and the beginning and end of the week. It is a worthwhile and good scheme: that is generally agreed.

Part of the scheme, however, involved new and much more complicated rerouting arrangements for the occupants of properties on Cromer road. Two of my constituents--Mrs. Duffield and Mrs. Langham, of 12 and 14 Cromer road--were advised by a county council officer to go via Mile Cross lane into Eversley road and then into Mayfield avenue out on to Cromer road and then left on Cromer road, just to get into their own front drives.

The inconvenience that my constituents experienced getting into their own properties was compounded by extremely disagreeable problems created by the new traffic lights. Mrs. Langham found that she and her family could not eat their meals in their dining room because of the audience outside, and that her bedroom was clearly visible to passengers on the upper deck of buses outside her home. Her neighbour Mrs. Duffield has described to me the effects of living in a house where car headlights shine directly into the property as vehicles turn out of Reepham road into Cromer road, and of the noise, pollution and vibration from which she suffers. It is much more difficult to get anyone to call on them, or to park nearby.

To be fair to Norfolk county council--which has been very helpful in answering my inquiries during my preparation for the debate--it offered compensation to

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residents adversely affected by noise, vibration, smell, fumes and smoke under the Land Compensation Act 1973. I understand from Mrs. Duffield that the county council's officers advised that no claim for compensation would be entertained until a year had elapsed--the implication being that that was because compensation would be based on nuisance monitored over that time.

There are some further important points to make about the county council's conduct in this area. It failed to make it clear until October 1994 that it had power under section 246(2)(b) of the Highways Act 1980 to purchase both of these properties within one year of the opening to public traffic of the new road system. That was done only in correspondence to me. It was subsequently defended to me by the county council on 6 April this year on the ground that


Surely it is special pleading of a regrettable kind to transfer this obligation to private individuals or their advisers, especially when the chief executive of the county council had claimed that


    "the Authority has no obligation or legal power to part with compensation other than in accordance with legislation."
That was dated 1 October 1990.

Unfortunately, the negotiations between the county council and the representatives of Mrs. Duffield and Mrs. Langham did not proceed smoothly. Both my constituents suffered a significant diminution in the value of their homes at a time when the property market was already falling. Despite the fact that Mrs. Duffield and Mrs. Langham live in adjoining properties, Mrs. Duffield received an offer of compensation in September 1990 on the basis that she had the most severe case and could be used as a "test case". Meanwhile, Mrs. Langham's advisers were being encouraged to make an appropriate claim based on the legal circumstances, with the county council's offer to her resting on the decision of Mrs. Duffield. The onus was firmly placed on the residents to accept whatever the county council was prepared to offer.

Not surprisingly, the settlement of these claims in November 1990 left both my constituents highly dissatisfied. Mrs. Langham's property is now valued at more than £20,000 less than it was five years ago, and Mrs. Duffield cannot contemplate selling. Both feel that they have been shabbily treated by the local highways authority. Their feelings have been aggravated by subsequent decisions by the county council. Traffic surveys in January 1990 and April 1992 showed that many motorists were avoiding the traffic lights that had been installed at the Boundary road junction by travelling along Eversley road to Mile Cross road. Eversley road had become a rat run.

The county council's highways sub-committee decided to erect bollards to close Eversley road to through traffic. That meant that the route for residents of Cromer road to get into their own properties became even more complicated. Mrs. Langham now has to pass through two sets of traffic lights to turn right into Mayfield avenue and then into Eversley road just to get into her rear drive. Both my constituents have been advised to take an even longer route via Reepham road, Heather avenue and Cromer road past a first school, making difficult turns into heavy traffic flows. I appreciate that the Minister may not be as familiar as I am with the roads in my constituency, but I am sure that he takes the point.

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The alteration to the arrangements that were made in 1988 was made even more unpalatable by the county council's failure to inform residents of Cromer road that the views of the public were being sought about the closure of Eversley road. With the support of the ward members, one of whom lived in Eversley road, the revised scheme was approved despite the balance of opinion among those consulted being against the closure. Once again the county council failed to inform my constituents about the date of the closure of Eversley road although they were the people most severely affected according to the council's own report.

I hope that the Minister will accept that this is a sorry saga from the point of view of the people affected, who approached me about it. I have no doubt that it has been repeated many times throughout the country and that it will happen again. The lessons are clear. It is quite wrong for highway authorities to pick and choose whether they will inform residents who are adversely affected by improvement schemes of their rights. Simply assuming that their agents will be fully aware of the provisions of the Highways Act rather than those of the Land Compensation Act inevitably puts them in a weaker position. If only a minute proportion of the two properties that I have mentioned had been taken for the Boundary road scheme, both my constituents would have had their properties purchased at market valuation. As it is, they have suffered a considerable devaluation and their access problems have been made worse by the county council's decision in May 1992.

I understand that local authorities are reluctant to offer compensation on a discretionary basis. The financial implications are clearly important; so too are the difficulties in formulating criteria to ensure that people whose property suffers adverse effects outside the strict definitions of the Land Compensation Act are consistently dealt with. None the less, we all know constituents whose homes have been affected by public works, whose views may have been ruined by new developments, or whose businesses may have suffered as a result of traffic-diversion schemes, but who, under present legislation, are entitled to little or no compensation.

Local authority officers believe that the Government and Parliament have deliberately sidestepped the issue of compensation in such cases, preferring to leave this difficult matter to the discretion of local government, with the assurance that no action will be taken for financial reasons. I suspect that my hon. Friend may wish to comment on that point. I hope that that belief is unfounded. As my constituents' experience shows, leaving the determination of compensation to a local authority results in the worst possible deal for residents. If Norfolk county council was not prepared to inform them of their rights but instead to rely on a test case involving a resident of Cromer road whose advisers were not fully aware of the legal possibilities, the time for a renewed examination of the problem has clearly come.

At national level, we need to reconsider these matters. Why are the issues apparently dealt with much more expeditiously and smoothly on the continent? Is it because we are an overcrowded nation that we seem to make such difficulty of planning matters, which drag on and leave everyone upset and unhappy? Is it because--and here I show my prejudices--our legal administrative processes are fundamentally flawed and out of date, which my time in Parliament has convinced me that they are? Is that the

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problem? What can be done to help my constituents? I hope that my hon. Friend can give me some reassurance or advice. How can we improve matters? I look forward to his reply.


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