HC Deb 26 July 1976 vol 916 cc211-24

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

12.2 a.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

As the Minister knows, there has been a great deal of fuss about the M3 near Winchester. I believe that the most important thing now is to cool it—in other words, to abate some of the emotion and excitement that has been generated, to look at the problem in perspective, and to bring some common sense to bear.

The Minister's plans for a new road across the Itchen Valley and then close beside the existing bypass have been confirmed and approved by successive Ministers in successive Governments. I make that point to emphasise that this is not a party political matter.

In 1971 a public inquiry was held concerning the proposed route, and any objections were voiced. An M3 Motorway Action Group was formed. The various objections were made fully known to the Minister at the time, both at the inquiry and since, by correspondence and in a previous Adjournment debate. I also took a delegation to see him. However, in 1973 the Minister confirmed the proposed corridor and line. Even in the most advanced democracy a final decision has eventually to be taken. Argument cannot go on for ever!

I must emphasise the obvious fact that, of course, it is the Minister who has the statutory duty to take the decision and not the local Member of Parliament, and I do not envy the Minister his task. However, in a matter of such importance to his constituents a Member of Parliament must make up his own mind and hold an opinion.

My view throughout has been, first, that a new road is most urgently required both for local and national reasons and, secondly, that unfortunately no radically different alternative route is available which is less objectionable.

Although I know only too well that substantial numbers are still bitterly opposed to the motorway, a consensus among my constituents generally seems to be that an improved road is urgently needed, and the quicker the better. The elected county council, which is the highway authority concerned, has expressed its support for the Minister's proposals.

The objectors, however, are numerous. They include the action group, whose chairman is a Mr. David Pare and whose active president is Lord Aldington. The action group has support from the Winchester Preservation Trust, the Conservation Society and many other organisations and associations. It also has support from Winchester College and, latterly, from the Dean of the Cathedral and the Bishop, as well as some parish councils and many individual citizens, whether or not their houses or properties are directly affected. I have today sent the Minister a summary of over 20 headings under which the various protests have reached me, and I hope that it has been received by him.

I do not question the sincerity of the vast majority of the objectors. Most of them are reasonable and sensible people who, despite the variety of arguments they have put forward, all have this in common—that they feel very strongly about any threat to the peace, tranquillity and beauty of their city and its surroundings. Many of them also feel very strongly about the wider aspects of conservation. On these points I entirely share their view, and if I really thought that the M3 would ruin the city, as it is so often put, I should be campaigning against it. But I have honestly and conscientiously come to the opposite conclusion. For me to oppose the new road would be dishonest and would not accord with my genuine opinion as to where the true interests of the majority of my constituents lie.

I am glad to say that, despite this marked difference of opinion, my personal relations with the chairman of the action group and his lieutenants have remained cordial, and this I very much appreciate.

Unfortunately, however, some people feel that the M3 must be stopped at all costs and by any means. At the first sitting of the current inquiry, which I attended, the tactics adopted by many of the objectors, although not all, were to disrupt the proceedings completely and to prevent the inquiry making any headway.

A number of my constituents, many well known to me and including some masters from Winchester College, were prominent among those using and orchestrating these disruptive tactics, both in this and subsequent meetings. In this they were encouraged by a certain Mr. John Tyme, who, I understand, is a lecturer at Sheffield Polytechnic. As far as I know, he has nothing to do with Winchester, except that he may have received a fee for his services. Mr. Tyme's evidence was designed to prove that the inquiry had no validity and was not properly convened.

Now that the inspector is prepared to hear objections about the line of the proposed M3 and about the need for it, Mr. Tyme's claims that the inquiry is "illegal" and "should be adjourned indefinitely" seem to be much less enthusiastically supported by his clients!

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Fareham)

Will my hon. and gallant Friend say whether the Headmaster of Winchester was involved in the disorder?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

So I understand from the Press, but it is only fair to say that I did not see this event myself. That is why I have not referred to it.

While I entirely sympathise with those who wish to put forward valid objections, I utterly deplore these disruptive tactics. Democracy is at risk when pro- perly authorised meetings are disrupted by organised groups in pursuit of their own particular aims. I emphase this, because it is more important than anything affecting the motorway.

Needless to say, some people claimed that it was necessary to make so much fuss because there was no other way to put their point of view. That is untrue, because throughout the long M3 saga I have always been available and willing to hear objections and have faithfully relayed them to the Minister even if I did not personally agree with them. I think the Minister's bulky files will bear that out.

In the event, it was the calm and reasonable arguments of Mr. John Spoke, QC, and Mr. David Keen, QC, when eventually they could be heard, which achieved the broadening of the scope of the inquiry, rather than the shouting of those who, following Mr. Tyme's line, wanted to prevent the inquiry being held at all.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

Is my hon. Friend aware that although Mr. Tyme has maintained that Parliament should make the decisions, as secretary of the Conservative Transport Committee and vice-chairman of the Conservative Group of Wessex MPs, I have never had a request from anyone even to discuss the issue?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

That is an interesting point.

The events of which I have spoken are now in the past. Let us now consider the future and try to see where we go from here. One hopeful development may lead us out of the quicksands into which we have wandered. Until last year the action group's opposition was total and it had no construcive alternative to put forward. The action group—to which I pay tribute for its persistence and its good intent—has now put forward the constructive suggestion that instead of a completely new road extensive improvements should be made to the existing A33. If that were technically possible it would be a compromise well worth considering, because the Minister's decision to create a new road in this corridor would be implemented, while the action group would feel that it had achieved at least a partial victory by avoiding the worst aspects of running the motorway through the water meadows. Certainly the removal of the two sets of lights should produce some amelioration of the traffic jams, and speed restrictions might be acceptable.

I do not know whether experience with other schemes shows that road improvements as a palliative are cost-effective or whether it is cheaper, in the long run, to construct a completely new road in such circumstances, but it is certain that the longer the work is delayed, the more costly it becomes.

I believe that a drawing of the action group's improvement scheme was sent to the Department some time ago; but I have a personal copy of it for the Minister, which I shall give to him behind the Speaker's Chair after the debate.

I shall ask the Minister to answer six specific questions. First, will he take a full page in the Hampshire Chronicle to show a really large-scale map of the proposed route, which even now is still not fully understood by everybody in Winchester, and also arrange for a model to be placed on exhibition locally, because that is much the easiest thing to understand?

Secondly, will the Minister accept an invitation to visit the area and see the layout, if he has not yet had an opportunity of doing so?

Thirdly, will the Minister personally consider the action group's alternative scheme and send his comments to it and to me when he has done so?

Fourthly, does the Minister realise that the unaccustomed behaviour of so many normally level-headed citizens of Winchester indicates, to say the least, some doubt and concern about the adequacy of consultative processes? Will he inform the House about the progress of Government talks with the Council or Tribunals, which, I understand, are intended to overhaul and improve the procedures for this type of inquiry?

Fifthly, has the Minister considered a proposal that the original design studies for new major roads should be put out to tender, so that private enterprise consultants could submit alternative schemes for consideration? That is an interesting suggestion arising from the action group and it might enable informal consulta- tion to take place locally at an earlier stage than is possible at present.

Sixthly—I hope that this is not comic relief—can the Minister confirm or deny the report in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph that among the schemes likely to be axed under the Government's new expenditure cuts is the "controversial M3 scheme"?

My constituents will be grateful for anything the Minister can do to point the way ahead in this very difficult problem.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I do not want to enter into the merits of this controversy—that is for the inquiry rather than for us, but I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) that the need now is to cool the controversy. I also agree with him that it is a wholly non-party issue.

I should like to add a tribute to the inspector, who had a difficult job and is clearly anxious that there should be a fair-minded and thorough examination of the issues.

As I thought I heard the words "violence" and "disorder", it should be said that there was no violence at the inquiry. There were some loud expressions of protest, which sometimes rendered the proceedings inaudible, but that is not unknown in this House. We should not be too sanctimonious about that. The reason is that at these inquiries there has been a feeling that the real issues—whether there should be a road at all, and, if so, where it should go—have been ruled out of order. That has given a feeling of inadequacy and unfairness.

The Government have now altered their view. It is now not out of order at inquiries to argue the basic issues and advocate alternatives, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested. Now that the inspector has ruled that this should be done it seems to me that progress can be made. Indeed, the reason why the inspector postponed the inquiry until September was not alleged violence but precisely that he wanted further evidence that he considered necessary. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that that is so. I hope that from now on the controversy will be conducted seriously on those lines.

If my hon. Friend the Minister accepts the invitation to visit the spot and see for himself, I shall be delighted to go with him.

12.17 a.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) has said. We owe him a debt of gratitude. He could easily have taken what appeared to be the popular line. Instead, he is taking the line he believes to be in the interests of the majority of his constituents.

I understand that without any of the hullabaloo in Winchester hon. Members concerned with the M42 in the Midlands recently put to the Department of the Environment alternative plans, which the Department considered, and the original plans were changed. If that had been done at any time by the Winchester protesters we might well have managed to avoid all the hoo-hah.

I deplore the argument that is put forward frequently, that the tactics used in Winchester could be justified by the breeding and social standing of the people concerned. That is wrong, and I hope that the Minister will say so.

12.18 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) for raising this important matter. I commend him both for raising the issue and for the way in which he has approached it. I am also grateful for the contributions of other hon. Members, particularly the tribute of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) to the inspector. The argument that inspectors are the servants of the Department and are not independent must now have gone.

The hon. and gallant Member knows that the inquiry at Winchester has been adjourned until 14th September. Its opening days were disfigured by scenes of disruption of the proceedings and harassment of the inspector, and it was readily apparent that much of the dis- ruption was planned beforehand. This raises very serious constitutional issues, which are rightly the concern of Parliament. At this stage I must express my appreciation of the hon. and gallant Member's interventions at the inquiry in support of law and order.

There have been so many wild and inaccurate statements about the purpose of the inquiry at Winchester that it is essential to spell out the facts clearly. I shall be coming to the points raised by the hon. Members shortly, but perhaps we can first get the whole matter into perspective.

The intention of providing a first-class route between London and Southampton has been the stated policy of successive Secretaries of State. The precise alignment of the various sections of the route has been the subject of a number of public inquiries, one of which was held in Winchester in 1971 to help the Secretary of State to come to a decision on the line between Popham and Compton.

Several alternatives were considered by the inspector at the 1971 inquiry, including the possibility of improving the existing bypass, but he recommended, and the Secretary of State subsequently agreed, that the best solution was to build a new road to the east of the city. The line of this road was established by statutory Order in 1973.

Three years later, in June of this year, the present inquiry was opened. This was to give objectors an opportunity of expressing their views on the Secretary of State's proposals for the side roads and road junctions on the route already fixed, and on the compulsory purchase order for the land required for the scheme as a whole.

Complaints are sometimes made about "the Secretary of State being judge and jury in his own case". Such complaints are misconceived. Trunk road inquiries, and the decisions which the Secretary of State has to make after considering inspectors' reports, are administrative, not judicial. The Secretary of State is responsible, under the Highways Acts, for keeping the national system of trunk roads under review and for extending or improving it as he considers necessary. He is accountable to Parliament for the way in which he carries out this responsibility.

But before deciding on the line for any particular trunk road, the law requires the Secretary of State to publish a draft order so that people who want to object to it can have their say, usually at a public inquiry. Where there is an inquiry, the inspector considers the Secretary of State's proposals in the context of the objections and reports his findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State. But the inspector is not an arbitrator or a judge. He does not make the decision. He presents his findings to the Secretary of State upon whom the ultimate decision-making responsibility rests.

It is against that background that we have to look at what happened at Winchester. I fully appreciate that there are strong feelings about the motorway proposals and their effect on the locality, but I think it is beyond question that, by any reasonable standard, the public interest is not being served by the behaviour of some objectors who, allegedly in the name of freedom and natural justice, obstructed the inspector and denied to others their right to be heard.

I think it is only right to say also that there is a particular difficulty in a highly charged atmosphere about the role of television camera crews. Naturally, we want the Press to be represented at these inquiries, but the presence of television crews needs very careful consideration. I shall say no more about that than that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is asking the Council on Tribunals whether it can help him with its advice on this matter.

At the inquiry a great deal of nonsense was talked about the so-called illegality of the proceedings. I am advised that these inquiries have the full sanction of the law and that, if there were any serious suggestions of illegality, there is provision under the Second Schedule to the Highways Act 1959 for questioning the validity of any trunk road Order or the procedure under which it is made. No action is taken by the Department to finalise schemes until after the expiration of the six-week challenge period under that Act.

It is a myth that, as was argued at Winchester, an inquiry is not opened until participants have made submissions to the inspector on points of procedure. The inquiry is open when the inspector declares it to be open—even if his words are drowned by the shouts of demonstrators. Thereafter, under the rules of procedure, it is for the inspector to decide at his discretion what evidence he hears and the order in which he hears it. The present procedures presuppose that the members of the public taking part in the inquiry will have a proper respect for the law and the authority of the inspector. In trying to maintain this position at the few inquiries where disruption on a large scale has occurred, inspectors have naturally had to rely heavily on the police, and I should like to take this opportunity to thank them for their valuable cooperation in very provocative circumstances.

Perhaps I could turn now to the next stages of the inquiry. The inspector has now decided, as he has discretion to do, that when the inquiry reopens on September 14th he will hear arguments about the need for having a new motorway at all in preference to an improvement of the existing A33 trunk road, as defined by the M3 Motorway Action Group and others. He has asked for an analysis to be made of the costs and benefits of the action group's scheme, for comparison with the calculations which have already been made for the motorway route.

My Department has agreed to cooperate in providing further information for this purpose. Indeed, in recognition of the fact that a revised traffic justification for a new motorway would in any case be needed for the present inquiry in the light of new traffic forecasts the Department had provided updated traffic figures for the benefit of objectors some weeks before the inquiry opened.

Before concluding I should like to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester. First, there is the question whether the Department would publish a full-page map in the local Hampshire Chronicle. I want to consider the point about a map and model. Normally, the Department does not publish maps in the local papers, but copies are available in the offices of the road construction unit at Dorking and the Hampshire County Council at Winchester. These are available to the Press if it wishes to make use of them and reproduce them.

On the question whether I and my predecessors have visited the area, I have seen the Water Meadows, St. Catherine's Hill, the bypass itself and the route of the road. My predecessor did so at the time of the 1973 inquiries and so did the Minister for Transport Industries of the day. I shall put the suggestion to the Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport.

As to whether I shall personally consider the views of objectors, objectors' views are known within the Department, and no doubt the inspector will take account of them in submitting his report to the Secretary of State.

Before taking any decision the Secretary of State will look carefully at the views of objectors in the light of the inspector's report. This is exactly the procedure that took place at the 1971 inquiry and at all other inquiries.

I appreciate that there is genuine doubt and concern about the adequacy of the consultative process. There is a problem here, although there are now formal rules of procedure governing trunk road inquiries. We have been assembling a considerable amount of further information and comment on the present consultative processes, and discussions with the Council on Tribunals will be beginning fairly soon.

The suggestion that design studies should be put out to tender is a difficult one. Tendering is an extremely expensive business for the firms that do the tendering, and I should like to consider that point further.

As to the report in the Sunday Telegraph about Government cuts and the question whether the controversial M3 will be cut, I cannot say anything about that now. Since Thursday the Department has been considering very urgently the question of the roads programme, and my right hon. Friend will be making an announcement fairly soon. But I must again express a personal point of view and say that if we are to have an export-led revival the roads to the ports are extremely important roads.

I should like briefly to make some comments on an article that appeared in a weekly magazine on Friday last. The Headmaster of Winchester, writing in support of the disrupters in this week's New Statesman, quoted approvingly the words of Mr. John Tyme at Winchester: Which is to prevail in this room today—the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, or centralised bureaucratic power responsible to no one? It seems to me, from the actions at Winchester, that Mr. Tyme and his regular followers, and his temporary followers at Winchester, believe neither in the rule of law nor in parliamentary democracy.

The elected representative of Winchester in this House has tonight expressed his opinion of the attempt to prevent a properly convened inquiry from starting and disrupting it when it had started. I know of no Hampshire Member of this House or of any Wessex Member who has supported the objectors or the disruption. Hampshire County Council, an elected body, has not objected to the proposals, nor has it supported the disruption. Winchester City Council itself has not supported the disrupters, though it has some reasonable objections to the side roads order.

The centralised bureaucratic power of which Mr. Tyme talks is responsible. It is responsible to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State is answerable to this House, as I am answerable tonight.

The Head of Winchester complained of being ejected for standing up when he had been told to sit down and for speaking when he had been told to be silent by an inspector lawfully appointed to preside over the inquiry. Perhaps some lessons on Parliament would not be amiss at Winchester. We in this House can be ejected for exactly the same kind of behaviour. If we have many more debates at this time of night, I shall be tempted to try it. I do not know what happens at Winchester College when someone keeps on shouting when he is told to be quiet, or stands up when he has been told to sit down, but, as a former headmaster of a boys' secondary school, I take a special interest in these matters.

I welcome what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said. I cannot enter into the merits of the Department's scheme or of the objectors' scheme at this stage, but I hope that the explanations that I have given will assist hon. Members and all others who are interested in the Winchester inquiry.

It would be regrettable and of great damage to people's democratic rights if any further disruption at the inquiry were to prevent people who are directly affected by the proposals putting forward their views in a calm and reasonable atmosphere.

12.31 a.m.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Fareham)

My duties take me past Winchester fairly regularly. On the last three occasions that I have sought to go past Winchester, I have been forced to turn round on the present bypass and go through the town. If the objectors go on with their disruptive work, all traffic will be forced through the town again.

On the last occasion of which I speak, I had to go through College Street and Kingsgate Street, which is presumably just what the Headmaster of Winchester is trying to prevent.

There will be nothing to stop traffic going through Winchester if there is continued obstruction to traffic on the present bypass by these intellectuals who are against the new road and the whole principle of an improvement.

I admire the courage of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), which is as great in peace as it was in war, in standing up to this disruption—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-eight minutes to One o'clock.