HC Deb 13 January 1994 vol 235 cc425-36

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

9.25 pm
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing)

This is the fifth occasion on which I have detained the House on the question of entitlements to compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1973 for those with properties alongside the existing designated railway routes to the channel tunnel. I hope that this will be the fifth and last occasion on which I shall do so, which I am sure will be a relief to the House and will be a not inconsiderable relief to myself.

The designated rail routes are for passengers and freight through Kent on the Maidstone East line and the Tonbridge line running up to Waterloo, where the new international terminal has been constructed. In addition, there is a designated freight route going from Tonbridge through Surrey to Redhill and round the south and west of London.

I am raising this issue again tonight for two reasons. First, because it has a real immediacy. We are now some four months away from the opening of the channel tunnel. There is no doubt that when it is opened in May, those with homes alongside the designated freight and passenger routes will suffer considerable deterioration in their living and, in particular, their sleeping environment. Many of those lines are lightly used during the night, if at all. With the gradual build up of channel tunnel traffic, particularly freight traffic during the night, it is possible that individuals will find the channel tunnel international freight trains going past their bedroom windows approximately once every 15 minutes during the night hours. Therefore, we are talking about the real prospect of a considerable deterioration in those people's environments.

The position that they face is unhappily one that will continue for the foreseeable future, because the new high speed line is still years away from construction. Even after that, in accordance with Government plans and statements, the overwhelming proportion of freight will continue to travel on the existing designated channel tunnel rail route to which I have referred. It would be very surprising therefore if there was not some impact on the property values of those homes alongside those designated routes, which is why compensation is now a matter of such immediacy.

I raise this issue for a second and even more crucial reason, because having examined most closely the legal background, I am in no doubt that the legal basis on which Ministers previously made statements about the application of the Land Compensation Act to this issue was incorrect. My first reference point for that opinion is the previous full debate that we had on this matter on 19 June 1991, when I moved what was new clause 16 to the Planning Compensation [Lords] Bill. I endeavoured, along with some of my hon. Friends, and I am glad to say with the support of those on the Opposition Front Bench and members of the Liberal party, to secure new powers to enable compensation to be paid in the circumstances I have outlined.

My right hon. Friend, in responding to that debate, said: Part 1 of the Land Compensation Act 1973, which deals with compensation for depreciation in value due to various physical factors, quite expressly excludes, in section 9(7) situations in which there is an intensification of an existing use. Therefore, it cannot apply if the amount of traffic on a road or a railway line increases. As hon. Members will know, it has been a long-standing policy of successive Governments to make a clear distinction in this respect between the construction or alteration of public works and the intensification of use of existing works. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing made the fair point that the substantial and increased use of the existing railway line constitutes a new service and that that, combined with the work on the channel tunnel, constitutes a qualification tinder existing legislation. I understand the argument, which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst on behalf of his local borough. However, that is not the legal advice given to the Department of Transport."—[Official Report, 19 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 345–6.] My right hon. Friend left the House with a clear view that the Department's legal advice was that there could be no application of injurious affection compensation under the Land Compensation Act to the properties alongside the designated routes to the channel tunnel.

I have harboured some considerable doubts about the validity of that interpretation, and in recent months the local authorities concerned, at my instigation, have sought counsel's opinion on that issue. Counsel has been instructed, and a leading planning and compensation barrister, Mr. Gregory Stone, at Gray's Inn, has furnished an opinion on that point, which I have with me this evening, and from which he has given me his permission to quote.

Mr. Stone is in no doubt that it is going to be possible to claim injurious affection compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1973 in the context of the substantial reconstruction and alteration of the existing designated rail routes to the channel tunnel. I shall first put the basis of his legal argument in my own words—no doubt somewhat inadequately—but will then give the House the benefit of the exact quotation from his opinion.

The statement of my right hon. Friend in the debate in June 1991 was in relation to section 9(7) of the Act, which reads as follows: For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that references in this section to a change of use do not include references to the intensification of an existing use. That reference must be seen against the three heads of claim under which injurious affection can be claimed, which are detailed in section 9(1). Those heads of claim are listed in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). We can leave aside paragraph (a), because that relates to claims in relation to highways, about which we are not concerned here. Claims under paragraphs (b) and (c) can both apply to railways.

Head of claim (c) reads: there has been a change of use in respect of any public works other than a highway or aerodrome. The House will appreciate that the use of the phrase "a change of use" in head of claim (c) effectively makes it impossible, because of the qualification in section 9(7), to make a claim under that head.

However, the critical point is the wording of head of claim (b), which reads: any public works other than a highway have been reconstructed, extended or otherwise altered after they have been first used". The critical point is that the phrase "a change of use" does not appear in head of claim (b) and therefore claims under (b) are not qualified by subsection (7) to which the Minister referred in his June 1991 speech.

Now I shall give the House the benefit of Mr. Gregoty Stone's opinion on the crucial point. He summarises succinctly and in proper legal form what I have just said in two key paragraphs of his opinion. He says: Section 9(7) of the 1973 Act has led to the mistaken view that the intensification of use of existing lines preclude claims for compensation being made. That construction of the law has been stated in debates in Parliament. However, Section 9(7) of the 1973 Act states only that references in the Section to a change of use are not constituted by intensification of an existing use. That leaves open claims being made under Section 9(1)(b) namely that 'Public works other than a highway have been reconstructed, extended or otherwise altered after they have been first used.' That head of claim has nothing to do with changes of use. On the basis of that opinion, it would appear to be clear that, under head of claim (b), it would be possible to make claims for injurious affection compensation in relation to the depreciation of property caused by the public works in connection with the designated rail routes to the channel tunnel.

It will not be difficult, in court if necessary, in test cases if necessary, to demonstrate that the types of public works that have been carried out on the designated routes fall firmly within the terms of head of claim (b)—in other words, reconstruction, extension or otherwise altered.

Those of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who know in detail what has gone on on the designated routes—the electrification, the alteration of the track, the removal of sharp gradient bends, the resignalling, the altering of bridges, the construction of loop lines—the alterations that have gone on the length and breadth of the track, quite apart from the construction of a new international terminal at Waterloo and the extension of the line at Cheriton under the channel on to the continental railway system, will know that any barrister will have the utmost ease in demonstrating that the scale of the works that have been carried out is fully within the ambit of head of claim (b).

Sir Keith Speed (Ashford)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the difficult travelling conditions that our constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) have experienced during the past two years on the Kent coast lines, which have led to extreme unreliability, have been part and parcel of the massive reconstruction of points, upgrading of traffic and all the rest? The level of performance that has been achieved on the Kent coast lines is proof that an essentially brand new line has been built.

Sir John Stanley

My hon. Friend's point is entirely correct. The huge dislocation from which our constituents have suffered, including being bussed between stations, reflects the magnitude of the reconstruction and alteration work on the designated routes.

A very different legal construction has quite properly been put on the key question of the application of the Land Compensation Act to those who have the misfortune to live alongside the designated routes. I am glad to say that British Rail now seems to have conceded in principle that compensation may be payable. Having given every impression, rather like the Department of Transport until quite recently, that no compensation would be payable, BR now appears to have taken fresh legal advice and to be back-tracking on the issue.

I have been in correspondence with the chairman of British Rail, urging him to advise members of the public on their legal rights—rights given to them by this House. Just before Christmas, I received from Sir Bob Reid a copy of a new leaflet that BR has produced in which it endeavours to set out its response to the issue of compensation for those alongside the existing routes.

Sir Bob was kind enough to write to me and thank me for suggesting that BR produce such a leaflet. When I read the leaflet, however, I was not the least bit enthusiastic about its contents. It appears to me that BR does not start from the standpoint of advising people on their legal rights; it seems much more concerned with dissuading them from seeking compensation and with throwing a wet blanket over everyone who might be considering seeking compensation from British Rail.

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, on behalf of my constituents and many other people in Kent, I entirely agree with all his points? His argument takes us forward considerably, and I am especially glad to hear him focus on this unsatisfactory leaflet from British Rail.

Sir John Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I should like to develop the point a little more, to show just how unsatisfactory the leaflet is.

British Rail highlights only the negatives. For example, in paragraph 5 BR says, in respect of what might constitute a basis for compensation: Parliament has not defined what constitutes an altered development in the case of a railway, but in British Rail's view such works as the relaying of track would not be a new or altered development leading to a successful claim for compensation, just as resurfacing a road does not qualify. The House might reasonably expect that, having stated what, in its view, does not qualify for compensation, BR might then go on to say what would qualify. On that point the leaflet is wholly silent—there is no reference to the hundreds of millions of pounds of expenditure on reconstructing the line and on upgrading it to make it suitable for channel tunnel trains. There is not a mention of all the alteration, reconstruction and extension that provide the basis for the head of compensation.

In paragraph 6 of the leaflet, BR refers to the need for the householder to demonstrate that his house has been affected by the physical effects of the new public works in a way that depreciates the value of the property. One might have expected British Rail to try to help householders by setting out the physical effects that Parliament had in mind when using that expression. Not a bit of it. The BR leaflet is wholly silent on the point, even though, in the Land Compensation Act, the physical factors are set out well in section 1(2): noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, artificial lighting—they are all there in the legislation. Again, the leaflet remains silent. Perhaps the fact that we received a leaflet at all constitutes a success, but it is a very unsatisfactory leaflet, designed to put people off and give them the least possible encouragement to take advantage of their legal rights.

I urge my right hon. Friend to do two things. First, I know that he is the last person who would want a statement about the legal position, which, in my view, is unsustainable to remain on the record. I hope that, when he has had time to reflect on what I have said, to read Hansard and to consult his legal advisers, he will return to the House and make a clear statement about the legal position relating to properties along the designated routes, against the background of the Land Compensation Act. I am sure that he will want to do that, rather than allowing what he said on 19 June 1991 to stand as the Government's sole observation on the legal aspects of the matter.

Secondly, I ask my right hon. Friend to instruct British Rail to return its first cockshy at a leaflet to the drawing board, and to produce a document that sets out compensation rights fairly and properly. The current leaflet is a pitiful piece of paper. We are talking about the legal rights provided by existing legislation passed by Parliament; it is incumbent on what is still a nationalised industry, answerable to a Government Department, to advise people fully and frankly about their rights. I urge my right hon. Friend to speak firmly to British Rail, and make it issue proper advice.

If those two things are done, we will have gone a long way towards providing an equitable base on which to deal with this important issue, which directly affects a number of properties. Those properties will certainly be affected seriously once the channel tunnel trains start to run. If we take such action, we shall have properly discharged our responsibilities to our constituents.

9.49 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)


Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I understand that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) has given the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) permission to speak.

Mr. Mackinlay

I asked the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) for permission to speak, having been given an unexpected opportunity to raise the similar anxieties of my constituents about the blight that the proposed route will cause, and the need for compensation. I agree with everything that he has said: he clearly speaks for all hon. Members whose constituents live on the route. I am grateful to him for relaying to us the detailed opinion given to him by Mr. Gregory Stone, which we shall all want to study thoroughly.

I shall not delay the House too long, because I spoke about the matter in an Adjournment debate on 2 April 1993. However, I hope that the Minister will clarify a couple of points relating to compensation, and to the procedure whereby the House of Commons will give its mandate for the route. The procedure raises the issue of delay, which of course has an effect on blight, which in turn affects compensation.

When I raised the issue in the House on 2 April 1993, the Minister for Transport in London clearly said that the issue would be dealt with as a hybrid Bill. There seems to be some confusion about that, so I should be grateful if the Minister for Public Transport would confirm that it will indeed be dealt with in a hybrid Bill.

If that is so, is it not a fact that the House will not be able to give the Bill a Second Reading until 1995? That is my understanding, as the Wharncliffe rules would apparently apply. By the time we had gone through all the preliminary procedures, the House would not be able to deal with the issue until then, which would compound the blight and anxiety of those who live along the line of route. We need to be told exactly what the ground rules and the procedure will be.

In preparation for my comments this evening, I referred to the Adjournment debate secured on 29 October by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold). On that occasion, the Minister for Public Transport said: On the question of surface sections of the route, property seriously affected during construction and operation of the rail link, not just that actually required permanently or temporarily, may also be included within the zone safeguarded once the final route has been announced."—[Official Report, 29 October 1993; Vol. 230, c. 1160.] In a few weeks, or perhaps days, the Minister will announce the line of route. If it is to be safeguarded, he must say whether constituents who live near it will be able to receive some form of immediate compensation. I believe that blight already exists, but once the route is announced it will certainly increase immediately and become fixed. It would be grossly unfair to wait until Second Reading or Royal Assent to make compensation available.

One other issue needs clarification. In The Daily Telegraph of 4 January, I noticed a surprising but nevertheless comprehensive report on a proposal by Central Railways to produce an alternative link route from the midlands, skirting the west of London, passing through central London and leading to the channel tunnel, via, I believe, Croydon, using track parallel to existing routes and tracks ripped up as a result of the Beeching cuts. The report seemed to say that the idea was being given credence by the Department of Transport. I have no objection to that, but one must ask, where is it going to end?

The report suggested that there was private funding, which might mean that compensation would be available sooner to anyone affected by this line of route and that the alternative route might have less impact in terms of property blight. I am surprised that there has been no further utterance from the Department of Transport about that report, and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to rectify that.

I must acknowledge that the Minister of State has kindly agreed to meet me, representatives of my local authority and the residents involved next week. I therefore do not want to go over old or bitter ground now, because that would not be fair to the House or to the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing, who has given us the opportunity to debate this issue tonight. Can we be told, however, whether there will be a hybrid Bill? Is it the case that the House will not be able to begin to deal with this issue until 1995? If that is so, Royal Assent could clearly be as far away as 1997 or 1998.

Once the Minister has announced the protected line of route, will compensation be immediately available to people whose property falls within it? Is Central Railways' proposal under serious consideration, and if so, how shall we decide between these two routes, bearing in mind the procedures for dealing with the matter in the House?

9.54 pm
Sir Keith Speed (Ashford)

I shall be brief.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) on initiating the debate. He has done a great service to people in Kent, Essex and London who will be affected by the route.

My right hon. Friend the Minister knows more about this matter than probably any Member apart from those with constituency interests. I pay tribute to him for his courtesy, patience and detailed knowledge in acquainting himself with the facts. He has been sympathetic to our representations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing was right about British Rail's leaflet. We live in the age of the citizens charter, which has been one of the Government's better initiatives in recent months. Under the passengers charter, we are now aware of the reliability and punctuality of services and the fact that, if they fall below a certain level, compensation is payable as of right.

What is Missing is a charter for those who are affected by the proposed channel tunnel developments. That lacuna must be filled quickly. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said, a proper and detailed pamphlet should be made available to those who will be affected for the next 10 years along existing lines, with trains going via Maidstone or Tonbridge from the channel tunnel into Waterloo, and after that by the construction of the new high-speed rail link.

British Rail and the Government could be much more positive. British Rail and, as privatisation proceeds, Railtrack should make positive proposals to ensure that account is taken of the interests of people who are not legally qualified and who are not chartered surveyors, but who know that it is difficult to sell their homes and that they will suffer from the increase in noise on the new railway.

What has happened on lines from London down to Folkestone via Maidstone and Tonbridge is rather like what happens when a trunk road is upgraded to a motorway. In that light, I hope that the Minister will be positive and will ask the British Railways Board, while we still have one, to be as positive as the excellent citizens charter.

9.57 pm
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

May I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) to our right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) on his positive approach? As I said in an intervention, his specific focus on the legal aspect of the matter has taken us a long way forward. We look for action from British Rail and from my right hon. Friend the Minister on the issue.

Three rail lines run through my constituency that are directly affected by these changes. A number of my constituents are extremely worried because they are unable to sell their homes. The problem will continue over the next few years and, once the lines are used more intensively, long into the future for those who wish to move because of retirement or a change of job.

We all appreciate the frightening situation, and the sleepless nights that people suffer, when their major asset is damaged as deeply as those properties are. It seems to me that, in all equity, quite apart from the compelling legal arguments, it is essential that the House, and the Government that I support, should appreciate the problem, alleviate the difficulties for the individual families affected, and give them the option of finding a way through.

The intensification of use will be of benefit to the whole country, enabling us to be properly linked with the European Community. That is a benefit for Britain, but the result of it is a major disbenefit —

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Mr. Wolfson

The individuals concerned suffer a major disbenefit affecting the personal capital asset of their home as a result of a benefit that will accrue to the whole country. It is surely not unreasonable that compensation should be available to those individuals.

I am afraid that the record of compensation in Britain for people whose property has been compulsorily purchased or adversely affected by development is not good. We are mean in providing money for people. That has been true for many years; I have raised the issue many times in the House, and did so in Committee when we were airing the issues on the original channel tunnel legislation. All the evidence suggests that, if we were more generous, public works would be finished faster, and less delay would be caused by objections.

In individual instances, people ask for reasonable protection against the adverse effects of increased use of the lines, such as noise and vibration. Where such protection cannot do the job and the house remains blighted, with its capital value heavily damaged so that it cannot be sold, or can be sold only at a knockdown price, I should feel a great deal more comfortable if people could claim compensation, and British Rail gave them the necessary information to do so. More importantly, the people affected would feel more comfortable, too. Although we return to this issue often, and make such slow progress in resolving it, I hope that tonight we shall see a real move forward.

I emphasise again why we are so concerned and why there is a particular problem with the Kent lines. At least two of the lines in my constituency now have very little traffic, and until recently have had minimal traffic at night, whereas the freight trains will be heavy and noisy, and will roll at night.

That situation is exactly comparable to the problems that people who live near airports suffer—and we have introduced strict controls on night flying. The noise of a railway line is similar to that experienced as an aeroplane takes off or lands, with quiet periods in between. That is more disturbing than the continuous rumble of motorway traffic, yet we are doing nothing for people who face that problem. I have been into people's homes, and they have explained the situation. They do not make that up; it is real, and it is our duty to do something about it.

10.3 pm

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) for introducing this subject yet again. He has done a service in allowing us to focus our minds again on the important issue before us, and some progress has been made.

I have no problem at all in accepting the requests that my right hon. Friend has made of the Government: to consider carefully the legal advice which he has received, commissioned by the local authorities, for the Government to reflect with their own legal advisers and, in consultation with British Rail, accepting what my right hon. Friend has laid before the House. That will be done: it will be done promptly and thoroughly.

I also accept the second part of the request, that I should return to the House as promptly as possible with a clarification of the issues. I have absolutely no hesitation whatever in accepting what my right hon. Friend has said. If he studies the record, my right hon. Friend will be aware that, where there is clear and powerful argument—for example, about the channel tunnel route and the control of fares in the privatised railway, a debate in which my right hon. Friend participated—he will accept that the Government are not unresponsive. Where clear arguments are marshalled and where there is a case to be answered, the Government are not reticent in answering properly and fairly.

Before dealing with the substance of the debate, I shall respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed), and then deal specifically with the Land Compensation Act 1973.

We shall shortly be making an announcement about the channel tunnel rail link route that it is proposed to safeguard. Of course, that will be only the route chosen for the preparation of the Bill and the seeking of planning permission. That announcement will come at the end of a long, thorough period of consultation—unprecedented for the construction of a new railway line, and, dare I say it, for a new road.

I can confirm that, once the route is safeguarded—the act of safeguarding will follow shortly after the announcement of the route, as there are some legal steps to be taken to safeguard it—a purchase scheme will apply to those houses that will be directly affected by the route. That scheme will affect those houses which will have to be acquired—if not compulsorily, then purchased voluntarily —and those houses which will be substantially affected by construction. There will be a scheme, and Union Railways is funding it so that it is commenced promptly. That is only equitable and fair.

The hon. Member for Thurrock asked me whether it will be a hybrid Bill. It will be. Once an announcement is made of the route, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will ensure that preparations begin promptly to prepare the Bill. We have said that we hope that the Bill will be ready at the commencement of the next Session. However, the timing of its introduction depends not on myself or the Secretary of State for Transport, but on collective consideration by the Government. We have always said that we want the private sector to comment on the Bill. We have made it plain that that does not entail reopening a safeguarded route.

With regard to the Central Railways group, the newspaper to which the hon. Member for Thurrock referred quoted me incorrectly. The Department of Transport does not endorse or promote or support any individual proposition. If the hon. Gentleman has the chance to read the information document which is being circulated in the City to raise money by that group, he will realise that we have issued an even-handed comment on the proposal and indicated the procedures that it must go through before construction can start.

The points raised about the channel tunnel rail link by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing are well founded. I am attracted to the idea of an appropriate stage to ensure that, in plain English, we can convey to those who will be affected by the new route what their rights will be and how they will be affected. For example, there are rights under the voluntary purchase scheme, to which I have just referred, there are blight provisions in the law, compulsory purchase rights., the insulation of properties and availability of compensation, because the provisions of the Land Compensation Act 1973 apply to the construction of a new railway line. The suggestion is valuable, and I shall certainly reflect on it.

The main issue concerns the use of the existing railway lines. I am well aware of the problems of those whose properties abut the line. It is not just physical abutment: in the open countryside of Kent and Surrey, although not necessarily in London, the impact of the noise will be felt over a considerable distance. No one denies that. I have gone to listen at night to the effects of the existing passenger trains. No one doubts their effect, let alone that of the freight trains that are to run.

It is important for Ministers and, indeed, officials at the Department of Transport continually to put themselves in the place of a householder whose property will be affected. This is a direct personal matter. Sometimes it can become the most important issue in a person's life and in the affairs of a household.

In answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), the Government must proceed with close adherence to the principles of equity, even-handedness, prudence and clarity. I hope that we shall be able to sustain that endeavour in what we seek to achieve over the coming years in relation to the existing lines and the new routes.

Perhaps I could remind the House of what is proposed for this year. By the end of the year, it is envisaged that there will be up to 11 trains in both directions using existing railway lines on their way from Wembley, through which the freight trains will have to pass, to the channel tunnel. That is a maximum of 22 trains per day. They will use either the Maidstone East line or the Tonbridge line.

At night—I am defining night as between 11 pm and 7 am—it is estimated that there will be about five trains in total using the Tonbridge line and four the Maidstone East line. I am attempting not to minimise the problem but to put the matter on the record. On present estimates, it will not be until the year 2005 that the capacity of the tunnel for 35 freight trains a day will be utilised. Of course, the estimate may well change.

We accept my right hon. Friend's understanding and interpretation of the Land Compensation Act 1973. He has drawn attention to the fact that the key provision is section 9(1)(b). His comments and counsel's opinion, which he has read into the record, will be studied carefully. Now that the debate has focused properly and narrowly on this particular issue, it will receive Ministers' close attention.

In past debates, my right hon. Friend has raised the issue of giving the Secretary of State a per Missive power. As I recall it, that was the subject of the debate in June 1991. A separate issue concerned introducing an administrative, non-statutory scheme. Now the debate is focused on the existing law and the protection afforded under it to individuals.

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. There is a question of the information provided to individuals; the leaflet now provided by British Rail was cited. I do not wish to comment on the legal interpretation of the law tonight, and my right hon. Friend was kind enough to invite me to reflect on that, which I shall do.

In the leaflet cited, claims under section 9(1)(b)—I assume that that is the correct reference—prior to 1 April 1994 should be made to the British Rail Property Board and after that to Railtrack. That is what the document says. It must be acknowledged that the courts ultimately will interpret the legislation. But there is more to that than merely the Lands Tribunal interpreting a specific provision. British Rail has sought to make a clearer statement of the position, and I shall take on board the criticisms and comments made.

I shall conclude by concentrating on the mitigation measures that have been undertaken. I understand that my right hon. Friend has always concentrated on the property acquisition and compensation for injurious affection issues, rather than the mitigation measures. Nevertheless, they are important.

British Rail has introduced continuously welded rail, which is certainly more environmentally friendly. It has ordered class 92 electric locomotives to haul the freight on existing rail lines. The locomotives are subject to some delay, because the manufacturers have run into problems. I am not blaming the manufacturers. It is a fact that class 92 locomotives will not be running when the channel tunnel opens for freight. Quieter freight wagons will also be used.

The noise barriers which I have looked at will make some difference. Fifty barriers are proposed-30 in Kent, five in Surrey and 15 in Bromley. Those barriers are being erected under arrangements whereby British Rail and the local authority concerned both plan and then finance the construction of them. As for the local authorities concerned, the Department of Transport has provided supplementary credit approval for the local authority share of that programme.

The barriers, which are 2m high, are effective. I have listened to the difference in noise, and the barriers reduce the noise by up to half. It is common practice in France and West Germany, and in other countries, to have noise barriers not only for passenger train noise mitigation but for freight mitigation. That is the situation as far as the barriers are concerned. I hope that other boroughs which are affected will take up the offer made by British Rail to co-operate jointly in the installation of such barriers.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I know that my constituents in that part of Bromley to which my right hon. Friend referred will be extremely pleased to hear what he has said. I must declare an interest, in that the line runs only a few yards from my house. Could my right hon. Friend tell us a little more about the character of the barriers? If they have a noise-dampening effect, that is ideal, but presumably there is a danger that they may have some intrusive environmental effect. Are we talking about concrete barriers, or about trees? Could my right hon. Friend tell us a little more?

Mr. Freeman

The barriers are wooden, and have been appropriately treated. If my hon. Friend or, indeed, any other hon. Members would like to see the Union Railways demonstration barrier at Staplehurst or the barriers erected by rail freight distribution in co-operation with local authorities at other locations—for example, Paddock Wood—we can certainly arrange that.

The barriers are environmentally acceptable, but any barrier is an intrusion. Anyone who has seen the concrete barriers in some continental countries might find them intrusive. Of course, there are ways in which the noise can be mitigated other than by barrier. I have already referred to a number of ways concerning the design of the locomotives, the wagons and the track. Kent county council has a non-statutory programme for insulating isolated properties which are not protected by noise barriers. I welcome that.

In September this year, we hope that it will be possible for rail freight distribution to demonstrate to all Members of Parliament who have constituents whose properties are affected that trains can be run along the route in Kent and Surrey, and in London boroughs, with the new class 92 locomotives and the full weight of the freight wagons. I will ensure that invitations are sent to all those with constituencies that are affected. We will continue to monitor the noise effects of the introduction of the new freight services when they begin to run.

There have been predictions of the noise impact, but it is important to measure the reality against the predictions, and the programme will continue. I re-read both debates, which were fraught and difficult, the first in June 1991 and the second, which I think was in July of the same year. I said at that time that the matter would not go away, and that it would require the attention not only of the Government but of the rail operators until a sensible conclusion was reached.

I believe that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing has said tonight will be helpful. It will carry the debate on a stage, and it will focus the minds of those in my Department. Above all, it will focus my mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past Ten o'clock.