HOUSE OF COMMONS
Standing Committee A
CHANNEL TUNNEL RAIL LINK BILL
Tuesday 19 March 1996
SCHEDULES 2 and 3 agreed to.
Adjourned till Thursday 21 March at half-past Ten o'clock.
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[JOHN MAXTON in the Chair]
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 72, line 31, leave out "7" and insert "28". We are here briefly this afternoon: I hope that no one has travelled a long way. The normally well-oiled wheels of the usual channels have met with a slight impediment and so we are left with this amendment to discuss this afternoon. As with many things we discuss in this and other Committees, it is easy to say that this is a small matter. It is a small matter unless one is affected by it, when it becomes quite a significant matter. We owe those who are affected the courtesy of at least debating the amendment and perhaps voting on it. Paragraph 10 of the schedule sets out the powers of the undertaker, London and Continental, to enter land for a range of purposes. They are by no means trivial purposes. The point of the amendment is to suggest that it is unreasonable for an undertaker to give people seven days' notice of his arrival on their land to do one of the things listed in the schedule. The six categories of activity listed in the schedule are the right to "survey or investigate land" to "make trial holes", to "carry out archaelogical investigations", to "remove any flora or fauna" on the land, to "place on, leave on and remove from any such land apparatus for use in connection with the exercise of any of the powers conferred … above", and—the catch-all—to "enter on any such land for the purpose of exercising any of the powers conferred by" the previous paragraphs. Everyone realises that people's land will be impinged upon during construction work. I should have thought that it would be common ground that that should be done with the minimum of disruption and the maximum of consideration. Consistent with that, people are entitled to a little more than seven days' notice that quite major works will take place on their land. Consider the power in paragraph 10(e) to "place on, leave on and remove from any such land apparatus for use in connection with the exercise of any of the powers conferred — above". Apparatus can mean virtually anything. It can mean very heavy plant and machinery. The idea that someone can be given seven days' notice that such stuff will 136 appear on his land the following week is unacceptable and easily amendable to make the Bill a little more humane. Our amendment suggests that the notice period should be 28 days, which seems a reasonable time for folk to make the adjustments and arrangements necessary to prepare themselves for what could be a major intrusion into their lives and property. One does not have to believe in the sacred rights of property as some Conservative Members might pride themselves in doing, to believe that there are rights that are worth respecting. One of those is that people should be given reasonable notice that some major works are to be carried out on their land. This is a simple proposition. It is difficult to think of the applications, but we are surely obliged to legislate for the worst examples rather than the norm. I suspect that the Minister will say that everyone who will be affected will know in advance that that is in prospect and so it will not come as a surprise. If that power is being given, it anticipates circumstances in which it will be needed and therefore a minimum time limit is set. If we can envisage circumstances in which it will be necessary to exercise that power, we should also envisage circumstances in which the people involved need a safeguard to ensure that it is exercised humanely. There is no political point to be made. The question is simply one of treating people properly, so that anyone who will be caught up in the process will, at least under the relevant paragraph of schedule 2, be entitled to a minimum of 28 days' notice.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I strongly endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said. I have pointed out that much of the very necessary work, which we all want completed, will be carried out in densely populated areas. I have presented to the Committee the experience of some of my constituents at the bottom of whose gardens necessary track work is being carried out by Railtrack on behalf of North London railways. To gain access to the site, there was an obvious need to remove cars; small sheds also had to be removed to facilitate the access of large equipment. If—and I endose the aim—every owner or occupier of such land is to be notified, there must be greater leeway. The most energetic of imaginations is not needed to understand why seven days' notice might not reach the designated person. Obvious reasons would include illness requiring a stay in hospital or, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, being away on holiday. Sometimes family commitments necessitate being away from one's home or land and in such cases, seven days would in no wise be long enough to make what in some instances could be quite major changes to afford access. Safety is an issue that should also be considered, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North said. In some instances, very large pieces of machinery, and the vehicles that transport them, are used. Lights are installed, and air compressors and the whole paraphernalia necessary to accomplish a project such as the channel tunnel rail link are employed. Seven days would be insufficient notice in certain areas where the work was to be done to apprise every person who should be so apprised of the possible dangers to safety. Such matters as we are discussing present the House with an opportunity to understand the specifics of, and