Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill

Part of Orders of the Day — Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 1st November 1995.

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Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge , Barking 6:42 pm, 1st November 1995

I join everyone in thanking those members of the Select Committee who did something that is rather unusual—at least for Conservative Members—and very welcome, which is that they listened. Those who attended the Select Committee sitting that I attended with my constituents were astounded to see Members of Parliament applauded by members of the public for their courtesy in listening. We very much welcome that.

The original proposals were ill conceived and wrong; we have to say that today. They were led by engineers who had no proper concern for ordinary people. The original proposals were dominated by the view that short-term penny-pinching rather than the long-term interests of all the people along the route must be the essence of what was being considered.

The original proposals brought enormous hardship to hundreds if not thousands of my constituents. There was one gentleman whose life was dominated by the issue and who suffered from terrible emphysema because of his proximity to the existing rail track. He died worried about his future.

One family cared at home for a son who was severely handicapped. They wished to emigrate to Canada so that their other children could care for their son in the long term. They were unable to do so and have remained unable to do so because they cannot sell their property; it remains blighted.

Another constituent was unemployed for a long time. He managed to secure a job elsewhere, but he could not take it because he could not sell his house and move to Chelmsford. Those are the real stories—not transitional problems—of the impact of ill-thought-out proposals on my constituents and on thousands of people along the line.

I have three points for the Minister. First, we need some indication of the timetable for bringing in the new safeguarding directions to alleviate the blight. The blight has been there for many years and is still there. Secondly, I stress that the discretionary purchase scheme lies in the hands of the Minister and his Department. He cannot keep shifting the blame to other people, whether Union Railways or the Select Committee. If it turns out that people remain unable to sell their properties—if it turns out that people lose their freedom of movement, which is critical to them—the Government must take responsibility and must return to a more generous discretionary purchase scheme, along the lines of the French scheme.

Thirdly, there will be increased freight. What we must ensure and what is of particular concern to my constituents is that the freight does not shift to the roads. They would then have the impact of the rail link and increased road traffic.

My constituents are not well off. They will now have to make new representations to the Committee. Not only is there the £20 fee, but the fees incurred if legal advice is sought and the loss of earnings for the time that they have to take off work to make representations to the Committee. Those new costs should be met by the public purse because, if the Government's original proposals had been less incompetent, we would not have had the additional delay and further consideration by the Committee.

If the present Secretary of State had been in his position earlier, if the present Minister for Railways and Roads had had an influence earlier and if I had been able to make representations earlier, we should not have ended up with a compromise for Barking. I welcome the compromise, but it is not ideal. It does not tear the heart out of Barking as the original proposals would have done, but it leaves hundreds of people, both house owners and council tenants, with an uncertain future. They are unclear about whether they can move and whether the channel tunnel rail link will have a long-term impact on their lives.

I hope that the Select Committee and the House can come up with sensible proposals to deal with blight and with the discretionary purchase scheme, to alleviate some of the suffering that has been caused in my constituency.