I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) and his Committee. I do not know whether they are volunteers or pressed men—I do not think that there are any women on the Committee—but, in any event, they are devoting a vast amount of their time, and showing the utmost diligence, in dealing with a highly complicated matter.
I want to make three points. The first relates to the old and continuing issue of blight, and the adequacy or otherwise of the discretionary powers of acquisition that are now applied by Union Railways. I welcome the fact that Union Railways is having a further stab at this, and has come up with a new voluntary acquisition package; but I am extremely doubtful about whether that package will be generous enough to meet the needs of people who, without any doubt, have experienced catastrophic blight. They cannot sell their main asset other than at sacrificial prices.
It simply is not reasonable to put home owners in such a position. The limited number of my constituents who are in that position are making fresh applications under the new arrangements announced by Union Railways, and I earnestly hope that those applications will be successful. If they are not, I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to change the rules and make them that much more generous, so that no one is asked to take a large knock on personal capital for a scheme pursued in the public interest. That financial burden should be borne by the public; it is not for individuals to accept a major financial sacrifice and not to obtain fair value for their homes.
My second point relates to two of the detailed provisions of the second motion, (q) and (r). They appear to widen the Committee's instruction to enable it to consider open-ended changes for what will be approved planning permissions—and, indeed, extensions to compulsory purchase. We want to be assured that those wide new provisions will not be used to the detriment of the rights of individual land owners, and rights pertaining to easements. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure us of the limited and responsible use of what are wide extensions of both deemed planning permission and compulsory purchase powers.
My third point concerns freight. I hope that my hon. Friend can assure us that nothing in the second motion will be used to constrain the freight use of the rail link; indeed, I hope that he will be able to tell us that freight use will be enhanced to the maximum extent. At present, freight users will be able to use the rail link to a considerable extent. They are also able to use existing lines to the channel tunnel. Given that two freight options are available, I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will treat with the utmost scepticism the planned third option that is apparently being constructed by a company called the Central Railway Group.
In a letter that my right hon. Friend sent to me in the last week or sp, he tells me that Central Railway Group is planning to apply to him for the construction of a third rail freight line from the midlands, going along existing lines and through Tonbridge in my constituency, to the channel tunnel. On the proposals that I have seen so far, that work would have a serious impact on the centre of Tonbridge and on other regions up and down the proposed route of the Central Railway Group's new freight link.
Given that hon. Members are planning to create a new railway line that will carry freight, and that existing lines already carry freight, it is superfluous to create a third freight route, with all the potential blighting effects under the Central Railway Group's proposals. I hope therefore that my right hon. Friend will be mindful of those points if, in the next few weeks, an order is put to him under the Transport and Works Act 1992 procedure.