§ 2.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, I beg leave to ask His Majesty's Government the following Question, of which I have given private notice: Do His Majesty's Government propose to proceed further with the Oxford Gas Order?
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR)
My Lords, owing to the age of the existing works at Oxford and a greatly increased demand for gas, it became urgently necessary after the war, if the Oxford Gas Company was to fulfil its statutory obligations as a public utility undertaking, for it to seek powers to extend its works by building a new retort house and a new gas holder. In view of the objection of the City Corporation and the University 70 to the erection of a new retort house and gas holder on the existing site, the Minister, in accordance with the provisions of the Gas Regulation Act, 1920, arranged for a public inquiry to be held into the objections to the Draft Order. As a result of the evidence given at that inquiry the Minister was not satisfied that it would be feasible to erect a new gas works, as had been suggested, at Cowley, at ally rate without a long delay which might endanger the supply of gas for consumers in Oxford. He did, however, consider that the evidence showed that it would be possible to erect the proposed new gas holder at Cowley.
The Minister was also concerned to secure the maximum immediate amelioration of conditions in the neighbourhood of the existing works, and the removal within ten years of that part of the existing gas works which is situated north of the Thames, so that the Parish of St. Ebbe's in which it is situated could be made available to the Corporation for replanning as they desired; and also that an agreement should be reached which might lead to the removal of the remaining gas works in the City within a period of twenty-five or thirty years. The Special Order and the undertakings given in respect of it before the Select Committee were designed as a compromise to achieve these objectives while safeguarding the gas supply of Oxford. This compromise has now been rejected by the Select Committee at the instance of the City Corporation and University.
The Order as proposed to be amended would leave the problem of the future gas supply of Oxford unresolved. It would contain no provision for safeguarding future gas supplies for the people of Oxford. The question of the future removal of that part of the existing works north of the river and the replanning of the Parish of St. Ebbe's would be left uncertain. So, too, would the proposal for the eventual removal of the whole of the gas works from the city. The promoters of the Order—the Oxford Gas Company—will cease to exist on May 1 and their responsibilities will be taken over by the Southern Gas Board under the provisions of the Gas Act, 1948. The present Special Order procedure under which this Order is being considered will also lapse on May 1, with the repeal under the Gas Act, 1948, of the 71 Gas Regulation Act, 1920. In these circumstances nothing more can be done at this stage to deal with the unresolved problem of the future gas supply of Oxford and the House will not be troubled further with the Order. The problem will have to be considered afresh by the Southern Gas Board when it assumes responsibility.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for the fullness of his reply and expressing my gratitude to him, I would like to ask him whether, in addition to proclaiming the responsibility of the Southern Gas Board, which, I understand, operates as from May 1, he would not consider taking counsel with his colleagues in order that the matter may be treated on a somewhat larger basis than would be suggested by the responsibility of the Southern Gas Board—that it might be treated by the Government as a national question of some considerable importance, having regard to the position that Oxford holds not only in this country but in the world outside. Will not the noble Lord, therefore, consider the possible desirability, if and when the necessity can be shown, of special legislation that will have the double result of ensuring gas for the citizens of Oxford and ensuring that one of the principal beauties and treasures of this land is left unimpaired?
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR
My Lords, as I am sure the House will appreciate, I would prefer not to add anything to the statement which I have just made, but I think the suggestion made by the noble Earl is so valuable that I will gladly bring it before the Ministry.