§ 2.41 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGErose to call attention to the widespread uneasiness felt at the inability of the city and university of Oxford and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to agree on a plan which can both preserve the amenities of Oxford, and satisfy the community's need for adequate communications and services, to emphasise the danger of piecemeal action directed to one or other aspect of a many sided problem, and to move to resolve, that "in the opinion of this House the problem as a whole should be 752 referred to a Royal Commission instructed after taking evidence to report within six months' time, and Her Majesty's Government should hold up meanwhile any action that might prejudice the Report of the Commission".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the College of which for some time I was Master, the University College in the High Street of Oxford, there hangs a picture. It is the picture of three begowned Fellows of the generation of a century ago in earnest discussion outside the College, standing not on the pavement of High Street where they would be liable to be swept away by nothing worse than a perambulator or three perambulators, but in the roadway of the High Street, with the magnificent sweep of The High behind them. I wonder what would happen to those Fellows to-day? I only hope that what would knock them down would be a hearse or an ambulance. Of course, I do not suggest that we can go back to the state of those dons of "Uni" discussing philosophy on the pavement of The High. There are other places provided now where Fellows of the College may discuss. But that picture, with other things which have come to my notice, has made me as determined as any Member of your Lordships' House can be to restore the beauty of The High.
I do not believe that that can be done only by destroying other beauty, whether in Christ Church Meadow or elsewhere. I believe that the existing beauty of Oxford could be improved by making fresh beauty elsewhere. I shall come to that in a moment. In that belief, I have put down this Motion. Let me say that I have done so only on my own authority: I do not speak for any of the three colleges in Oxford with which I am connected, though I speak with much support. I need not read the whole Motion: the gist of it is that, in the opinion of this House, the problem of Oxford as a whole
should be referred to a Royal Commission instructed after taking evidence to report within six months' time, and Her Majesty's Government should hold up meanwhile any action that might prejudice the Report of the Commission.
§ Let me make clear two points about that proposal and about what is, and what is not, meant by it. First, and emphatically, it does not mean that I am 753 asking the House to ask for a Commission of fifteen or twenty people, representing different interests and views and engaging in a bitter argument among themselves. My model for a Royal Commission is the Coal Commission of 1925–26, of which I had the delight to be a member, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Samuel. There were four of us altogether not one of us directly or indirectly concerned with the mining industry; an impartial body to hear all interested parties. I will only say of that Commission that we reported within six months, and that practically every recommendation we made was, in the end, adopted, including things as important as allowances for children and the taking over of royalties.
§ We of that Commission reported in six months on (if my Oxford friends will allow me to say this) an even bigger problem than that of Oxford. I have put six months formally as a limit for this proposal. If the members of the Commission are chosen well, they can do the work easily in that time, but only on condition; that is, that the interested parties in Oxford should prepare evidence as fast and as efficiently as did those who came before our Coal Commission. I have said something of the importance of choosing the Commission well, and I will venture only one entreaty to the Government if they are disposed to accept the proposal that is, that, instead of choosing all the "old stagers" of my age, or more, or near it, they should look for younger people. That, I think, answers any charge of delay by a Commission.
§ Let us compare the present procedure. The danger that was being done to Oxford by industrialisation was manifest thirty years ago, and by-passes to get rid of one side of the danger were proposed as early as that. Now, thirty years later, the work on one by-pass has just been begun, and the other has just received formal assent from the Ministry. That is the kind of slow action which is typical, as I shall show in a moment, under the present procedure.
§ There are many reasons that can be advanced for this proposal for a Royal Commission. One, to which I attach great importance, but or which I shall say nothing, because it will be dealt with fully by my noble friend Lord Cherwell, 754 is the need for more accurate information, gathered by an impartial body, about what the Oxford problem is. I will put only my own case for this proposal, saying that it rests upon the complexity of the Oxford problem and the multiplicity of strongly held, differing views in City and University alike. I hope that I may go on to say that the Government, quite clearly, have no time to consider those views adequately, because they have so many other and more important, or equally important, things to do. I want this Commission so that all views may be put to an impartial body of high standing, as an alternative to deputations and private lobbying of Ministers and their officials, and as an alternative to the present procedure of public inquiry.
§ Let me say a word or two about that procedure as it operates in practice to-day. The essence of the public inquiry method, in practice, is that after the City and the Ministry, usually through their officials, hove reached by private consultation something that they are prepared to put forward, they give an opportunity to outside bodies, at a public inquiry presided over by one of the officials of the Ministry, to make objections to that one proposal. That is what the public inquiry procedure means to-day, and has meant for a long time. To it there are, I think, two fatal objections One is that it is a piecemeal method of dealing with the problem, which is one of many sides; and secondly, it is, in practice, desperately slow. Take the question of roads. There are at the moment. or have been recently, four or five seriously proposed schemes of inner roads for Oxford: the Lamb and Flag scheme, which was turned down by an inquiry, considered by itself, without discussion of what the alternative ought to be; the Christ Church Meadow scheme, which has been put forward on behalf of the Government; a South of the river scheme, which was until recently the official policy of the City, and a North of the river scheme. I understand that my noble friend Lord Samuel will have something to say on that.
§ I suggest hat all those serious schemes should be considered together, not in isolation, and not by a person who, of necessity, carries the character of not being impartial. What could be more absurd 755 than this procedure of considering separately all the roads for Oxford? I think the only thing that could be and, indeed, is slightly more absurd, is that roads should be considered without reference to what is, to me, the much bigger problem of the development of a proper shopping and social centre in Cowley, which would reduce the need for new roads, and might even abolish the need for most of them altogether. But that goes to a different inquiry and in that inquiry objections can be raised only to that particular proposal. Roads cannot be discussed at all unless they are mentioned in the proposal.
§ Let me come for a moment, as I have spoken about this Cowley Scheme, to my personal view upon this relation of roads and town development. My personal view is that, fundamentally, the Oxford trouble is not due to lack of roads, and cannot be cured by more roads. It is due to the growth of population without any provision for its needs: houses without accessible shops entertainment places, eating places, parking places and all the rest of it. New roads may be wanted, but they should come not before, but only with, this development.
§ As I have no time to put the case fully, I would invite any noble Lords who have the chance to read a remarkable book written in 1946 by an Oxford architect, Thomas Rayson. He put the point most wonderfully in a sentence. He said that when the difficulty of a town is created by a body of consumers at a distance from their supplies, to make communication between consumers and supplies easier by more roads is only to start on a vicious circle. I press that view. I fear that if we were to construct any one of these roads now under discussion before we had made a proper centre in Cowley, we should find that prophecy amply verified. Certainly I believe it to be profoundly true. I cannot, because it would be wrong to all the other noble Lords who wish to speak and who ought to speak, develop strongly the case that I, and many others, have for giving the Cowley Centre Scheme not merely a verbal priority importance, which comes in all the resolutions that I have seen, but something that would bring it into actual being.
§ I want to put to a Commission our case for an adequate new shopping and 756 social centre: for shopping facilities, something better than are at present possible in Oxford itself, where one cannot park; for social facilities which it is impossible to provide in the centre of Oxford, and for new offices, instead of letting these offices be put up in the City centre, which means bringing more people unnecessarily into the centre of Oxford. I want a new centre so adequate that existing shops will wish to go there; something so beautiful—and it can be made beautiful by a good architect—that as many visitors will come to see it as now come to see the beauties of Oxford—and perhaps even more than will come to see the restored beauties of Oxford. All this can still be done, and certainly at no appreciable final cost: a proper new shopping centre attracting everybody would pay back all the money spent. I ask the Government to give us a Royal Commission to which my friends and I can make fully the case which I can put to your Lordships in only a few sentences. Give us a Commission also which will go and study what is being done in other towns—the wonderful things, for instance, that are being done in Coventry.
§ I must come back to the question of procedure. I shall be told—I have been told, of course—that the City has a Cowley Centre Plan. Briefly, let me give your Lordships a few dates about that. The Cowley Centre Plan is part of the City Development Plan, which was worked out in 1948, 1949 and 1950. Finally, the Cowley part of it came to the point where the officials were prepared to put it to a public inquiry—that was somewhere about 1952 or early 1953. In 1953, the National Council of Women—and I mention them with great respect; they were, let me say, one of the best of all the witnesses that we had upon the Beveridge Report—made a number of objections, objecting to the inadequacy of the plan, to the road right through the centre, and so on. They were heard, after seven months, in December, 1953—seven months for the trifle of an inquiry. Would not six months for a Royal Commission be quicker and more valuable in results?
§ Now, in February, 1957—that is, four years after the report was opened for criticism and inquiry, and perhaps eight or nine years after the plan was first devised, the City is just beginning to 757 discuss the terms on which it can buy land. That is my objection to the procedure. It is piecemeal, and desperately slow. I am not seeking to apportion blame for that slowness, or to blame anybody at all. I say only that, in the present conditions of Oxford, slowness of remedy is the wickedest of crimes, for the evils of Oxford grow as the habit by people living four or five miles away of trying to use the centre of Oxford for shopping there gets hardened into a people's custom. Meanwhile, while any remedy is halted for five years (or whatever number of years it is), the problem itself grows. It continues, indeed, to be fostered by the City authorities and the Ministry authorities in the course of their other duties.
§ While I was preparing this Motion, an order was submitted by the City (I do not think it has been finally approved by the Ministry) for an extension of the City boundaries by about 400 acres, all due East of Cowley, and all for housing only. What does that mean? It means many more people trying to cone and shop in the centre of Oxford, coming further than everybody has to come to-day. I do not blame anybody for that, but I say that no one but the Government can cure it by changing the present procedure.
§ Let me add one word on why, for the present non-impartial proceeding, desperately slew, I propose a Royal Commission on the lines of the Coal Commission of 1925—and nothing less than a Royal Commission will satisfy me, whether or not it satisfies others. I propose it because the Oxford tragedy—and it is no less than a tragedy—is one example of a general evil throughout Britain where expansion of old towns proceeds, and proceeds apace, by fresh suburbs trying to keep the same city centre. The only sensible alternative to the endless growth of suburbs is the making of something like new towns. The evil which I am trying to get remedied in Oxford, applying generally to practically all the big cities of this country, has a horrible name—conurbation. I can only say that, however horrible the name, it is not nearly so horrible as what is happening everywhere. Once started, the evil grows. You get a vested interest, with landlords of shops and office owners in the centre. You get that under this, to my mind, rather foolish demand for building nothing but 758 houses. There are these housing estates with nothing on them but houses. This is a general evil; but let me say that I do not want a Royal Commission for other towns as well. Oxford cannot wait while we try to remedy Manchester, Doncaster and all the other places I have seen recently. But if Oxford, through an impartial, rapid Commission could find and publish the way to solve its own problems, Oxford might again become an example to every other big town in Britain, and an example to the world, as Oxford has often been before.
§ We have to-day a fresh Government with many new men in it. I beg that fresh Government, and the new men in it, to decide that the current procedure for dealing with Oxford's problems, a procedure that has seemed good to previous Governments and to their responsible advisers, is utterly out of date. Oxford, we all know, has another name: it is not only Oxford but the home of lost causes. The greatest single cause of lost causes is lost time. Thirty years ago, the dangers threatening Oxford from unplanned industrialisation were manifest to anyone who would look at the facts. Twenty years ago, returning to Oxford, I began with friends working on the problem of making, in Cowley and elsewhere, shopping and social centres to be proud of. Before the present Cornmarket mêlée of shops and shoppers arose it would have been easy to make a worthy and splendid centre elsewhere. It is not so easy now, but it can still be done.
§ However, there is one condition of doing it; that is, that the centre shall be something to be proud of, something that every shopkeeper will want to be in, something where every person who can shop there will want to shop. It was twenty years ago that I started on that campaign; then the war came. More than ten years ago, the author of the book that I have already cited, Thomas Rayson, set out admirably both the evils threatening Oxford and the way to avoid them. That book, however, has gone wholly disregarded. Two years ago in this House, I urged the appointment of a Royal Commission, and I found support, unsolicited and only on the merits, from no less a person than the former Lord Chancellor. If the Government had accepted our urgings then and appointed a Commission, more than a year ago we should have had their 759 considered scheme and would know now where we ought to go. There is lost time.
§ I am a son of Oxford who, remembering my youth, have come back to Oxford to end my days there. If, with new vigour and variety brought to her by industry, Oxford could combine the physical beauty of an academic precinct for youth and age, she would be (I say this with apologies to any Cambridge friends here) the most wonderful city in the world. This can still be done, but it cannot be done by the City of Oxford alone; it cannot be done by the University alone; it cannot be done by snap decisions of the Government on single aspects of the problem; it cannot be done by any of the methods of the past, or anything even remotely resembling them. I entreat the Government to make the vital contribution which they alone can make: that of securing, through an impartial Commission, a Commission of a standing certain to produce not only impartiality but a magnificent Report, a fair hearing for all varieties of view, including, of course, those with which I personally disagree. Let them do so. Thence would come the considered, authoritative scheme for saving the beauty of Oxford from becoming, as it has nearly become already, one of the most utterly lost of all her causes. I entreat the Government to let no more time be lost, but to tell us to-day that they will set up a Royal Commission such as I ask for. My Lords, I beg to move my Motion.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I cannot claim the same qualifications for venturing to address your Lordships on this subject this afternoon as can be claimed, I think, by every other speaker, without exception, on the list of speakers: I did not have the distinction of ever being a member of one of the great colleges of Oxford. My qualifications, if I have any at all, are a lifelong connection with the City of Oxford and a lifelong study of traffic and transport problems. It was because of these connections that on February 8, 1955—almost two years ago, to the day—I put down a Motion in your Lordships' House in these terms:To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, upon economic and strategic grounds, 760 in order to facilitate the free flow of traffic from the Midlands to the South of England, they will give early priority to the completion of the road plan for the by-passing of the City of Oxford, which has already been agreed upon by the appropriate authorities and the Ministry of Transport, thus fulfilling an urgent national need, and at the same time preserving the historic amenities of a great national heritage.Two more years have passed, and to-day another Motion is on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House. I am assuming in the remarks that I am going to make that the noble Lord who has moved this Motion does not require to have referred, once again, to any authority the decision as to whether the by-passes shall or shall not be completed.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, perhaps I might apologise to the noble Lord and to the House. In my desire to be short, I accidentally left out what I had to say about by-passes. I want to say now that, in my view, there is nothing whatever in my Motion to block or delay the making of the by-passes. I regard them as part of the general traffic procedure, and as concerning Oxford only if it should prove necessary to have fresh legislation to compel certain people to use the by-passes when constructed. I should have said that before, and I should like to say it now, if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will forgive me for interrupting him. I agree with every word that he said last time, and with what I think he is going to say this time, on by-passes.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, that makes for complete unanimity of thought between the noble Lord and myself, because in the rest of his remarks I support him 100 per cent.
Two years ago, I ventured to try to persuade Her Majesty's Government that a start on solving the probem of the traffic in Oxford could be made, and any future problem could be seen clearly, only when there had been eliminated that great incubus of industrial traffic from the Midlands to the South, and from London to the West. Whatever controversial subjects there have been—the "Lamb and Flag", and others—there is one thing that has always compelled complete unanimity: that is, that priority No. 1 must be the completion of the by-passes. That was so in 1927, when the Oxford-shire County Council, Berkshire County 761 Council, the City Council of Oxford and the Ministry of Health decided that the traffic problem of Oxford then required a complete ring of by-pass roads.
If any of your Lordships would care to take the trouble to look at the plan that was drawn then, he will see that it deviates hardly a dozen yards from that proposed to-day. From 1934 to 1939, not because of traffic considerations, but to find work for the unemployed, the Northern by-pass and the Southern bypass were started and completed. But East and West the sides were left wide open. I hazard the guess that if it had not been for the war, those uncompleted by-passes would have been finished, and we should not have been debating this subject this afternoon. But from 1948 onwards, there has been delay upon delay, procrastination and circumlocution. It was only about two weeks ago that the order was signed, after eight years of consideration, for the Western by-pass to go forward; and the Minister is now considering whether he shall or shall not complete the full circle by the Eastern bypass and the Sandford Link, which is going to cost the, fabulous sum of £ 1 million—double the estimated cost of ten years ago. It will cost double because the Minister is to have a dual instead of a single carriageway. To-day, you can measure circumlocution by the week in thousands of pounds, and if the Minister takes another six months the scheme will cost another quarter of a million pounds.
My Lords, I have the two resolutions that have been passed with overwhelming majorities by the University. I should like to read a few lines from each of them:The Congregation calls upon Hebdomadal Council to express the unreserved opposition of the University to any decision to construct inner relief roads between Norham Gardens on the north and the Isis…on the south before the effect has been observed of the completion of the outer by-pass.On the second occasion, on November 20, there was an instruction to the Hebdomadal Councilto sustain the unreserved opposition of the University as expressed in the resolution of November 29, 1955, to any decision to construct inner relief roads…before the effects of the by-passes have been observed…The Oxford Preservation Trust, the Oxfordshire County Council, the Berkshire County Council, the Society for the Preservation of Rural England, the Chamber of Trade, have all been insist- 762 tent that there must be that priority. I have here a copy of theOxford Mailwhich details in chronological order, under the title "Scandal of the By-pass", the delays and the circumlocutions of ten years.
My Lords, only one body is now suspect of any weakening, and that, when I addressed your Lordships before, was completely with the others. I believe, frankly, that the City Council are still in favour of the external by-pass, but if they have sinned and fallen from grace it is only because they committed the unpardonable error of trying to appease the Minister and bending over backwards to do so; they have not yet been able to straighten themselves out; but I believe their heart, if not their posture, is in the right place. So on all traffic grounds I beg Her Majesty's Government, before is too late, to hasten completion of those ring roads so that we can get the through traffic out of Oxford.
I expect one or two noble Lords may bring up statistics of traffic censuses. I discount any traffic census that puts an abnormal load, 120 ft. long and weighing 100 tons, as one unit alongside one of the smallest mechanical contrivances that there is on the road. The congestion is there for the eye to see, and I have raised this subject of this through industrial traffic in your Lordships' House with monotonous regularity. That, then, is the case. I agree with the noble Lord; I am not so much interested in the internal roads. I am certain that nobody will ever be able to see that problem in its proper perspective while the other remains. There is that great amount of traffic, the thousands and thousands of heavy lorries, the thousands of coaches travelling from the Midlands and the North right through that funnel which I have called in your Lordships' House the "Clapham Junction of the South Midlands". That is the fate that has befallen the City of Oxford through being situated on the only main trunk road we have through the centre of England. I believe I have made the case for the external by-passes and their very rapid completion.
May I spend a moment or two in looking at what is put forward as a solution—what is known as the "Meadow Road"? It has not a virtue, on any grounds whatsoever. It will contribute nothing to the solution of die national problem or to the local problem. All 763 that it is going to do is to take the congestion out of one end of the High Street and pour it unreservedly into another place. It will not even clear The High, because it creates a funnel at one end and an open neck at the other, so that one can drive in by going round Magdalen Bridge and down the other end into a cul-de-sac; and what happens at the end by Magdalen Bridge is beyond my imagination. It is the craziest, silliest piece of road architecture and traffic organisation that I have ever come across—and, believe me, that is saying a lot. It will not do. What I believe is in everybody's mind, if it can be done, is to isolate the University City from the rest; but if one wants to do that one cannot build any kind of road between the Isis and Norham Gardens. That is plain for anybody to see; and this proposed road is going to run slap-bang through the middle of the greatest, prettiest part of a great and pretty city.
I agree with the proposal to set up a Royal Commission on this score. I can say this not only of this particular controversy but of many other where there are disputed opinions: the time has arrived when we must have an inquiry so that a Minister of the Crown is not the judge in his own cause. I believe that that is a prerequisite in a matter like this. There is one other problem which I have not yet heard raised. I want to know who is going to pay. A road of the nature proposed through Christ Church Meadow, with all its engineering difficulties and so on, is going to cost a lot of money. Is it to be a charge on the National Exchequer? Is the Minister of Transport going to classify it as a Class I road and pay 75 per cent. of the cost? Is their share going to work out at £ 1½ million, when they are now baulking at completing the Eastern by-pass and the Sandford link because it might cost some £ 500,000 more than was estimated? Has the good citizen of Oxford been told, or has he calculated, that this little escapade of the Meadow Road may cost him a 7d. or 8d. rate for the next sixty years? That is a pretty high price to have to pay for certain people to have the privilege of walking up and down The High in their bedroom slippers. I think these things should be known.
764 May I say, in conclusion, that here we have one of the finest streets in any city in England, a street whose width is the envy of every city in England; and we have traffic congestion. There is nothing wrong with the traffic in the centre of the City of Oxford that cannot be overcome by building by-passes to "cream off" traffic that must now come through it—Air Force traffic, "Queen Marys" ships' propellers and ships' boilers, lying up in St. Giles, waiting for the police to pilot them through; and when there was a one-way street, all the traffic had to stop and reverse direction because they could not go round the one-way. Cream off all that traffic and have a few sensible rules and regulations so that the bottleneck at Carfax is not made worse and so that The High is not brought down from a six-carriageway to a two-carriageway by allowing commercial vehicles to park there from early morning till late at night. Then Oxford will resume what any city desires—well-regulated traffic. You can not cure this problem by cutting scars across a city which ceased to be local a hundred years or more ago, which is an international city, and which should not be the plaything of amateur planners.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, this is a wide subject as presented by my noble friend Lord Beveridge, and there is a very long list of speakers. So in order to save your Lordships' time, I do not propose to enter into any of those wider conceptions which have been brought forward by both the two previous speakers; nor shall I argue the merits or demerits of the proposal for a Royal Commission. I may say, in a word, that I support my noble friend Lord Beveridge in all that he has said.
I propose to limit myself to a single point, what is now the crucial and urgent question of the proposal of the late Minister of Housing and Local Government for the construction of a motor high road through Christ Church Meadow and the closing of The High to motor traffic. And if I speak on these subjects, it is for the reason that during the war, when I was a part-time resident in Oxford, the Oxford Preservation Trust, on the initiative of Mr. Lionel Curtis, established a special committee to consider future development and planning of the City, and they did me the great honour (I 765 suppose the reason was that I had held office as President of the Local Government Board) of asking me to be chairman of that committee.
That committee included the chairman of the City Council town planning committee, the chairman of the Oxfordshire town planning committee, an architect, who was also an ex-president of the Town Planning Institute, and a representative of the university, who was head of one of the Halls, and had taken the keenest interest in the subject for many years. That was the committee. We sat for a year and a half; we held fifty meetings; we heard evidence from a very large number of witnesses, representing every interest in the City and in the region, and we arrived at a series of unanimous conclusions which were published as long ago as 1942. Fifteen years have passed. Those conclusions were almost all on the lines that have since been adopted by the City Council, and piece by piece, most of the policy is being put into operation. We emphasised the importance—as Lord Beveridge has emphasised to-day—of the development of Cowley on proper lines. It is not generally known chat more than half the population of Oxford now live east of Magdalen Bridge, and this relation of industrialised Cowley with the University City is of supreme importance.
I go into none of those matters, but come directly to my subject. I would say at once that I think those are wholly wrong who say that, while it is true that the congestion of the High Street is the most urgent of all problems, and one which ought not to be subject to any further delay, there is only one possible remedy and that is a road across Christ Church Meadow and the closing of The High to all motor traffic, as proposed by the Minister. There is another course. The proposal to close The High seems to me to be crude and unnecessary. It is calculated to cause the maximum of inconvenience to the inhabitants of Oxford, and raises the probability of heavy financial loss to the tradespeople many of whom have for years, and sometimes for generations, had their businesses established in The High. It is unnecessary because, as I say, I think that a different course can be adopted free from these objections.
It has been suggested that an attempt should be made to discriminate, in the traffic passing along The High, between local and long-distance traffic, and to 766 divert long-distance traffic along whatever route may be found to be practicable. That idea, however, has received very little support, for it is almost impossible to make an effective differentiation. The practical difficulties would be very great, and it is doubtful whether, even if that were done, it would adequately deal with the problem of The High and the actual traffic passing along it.
The different course which is possible is one which I have not yet seen suggested in any quarter. It appears to me to be perfectly practicable, and it would meet the necessities of the case. It is to distinguish not between long-distance and local traffic but between light and heavy, to require all buses, coaches and lorries to go by another route (I shall have to say something in a moment as to what that route should be) while allowing cars and light traffic generally, and, of course, bicycles, to pass along The High. It might be thought desirable by the local authorities to license a limited shuttle service of light, one-deck buses if that should be considered essential—also, no doubt, to permit access by lorry to the shops and other buildings in The High at perhaps some earlier hours of the morning. For the rest, all the heavy traffic should be diverted.
That such a scheme would be perfectly simple and easy to accomplish we have evidence close at hand here in London—every Londoner knows of it. If any of your Lordships, for example, has come here this afternoon from some other part of London by way of the Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner, he may, if he has travelled by car or taxi, have driven inside the Park, along what used to be called the Hyde Park Carriage Road. If, on the other hand, he has come in a bus he will have found his way along the thoroughfare of Park Lane. There is no difficulty about it. It works quite automatically. Everyone is so accustomed to it that we never notice that there is, in fact, that discrimination. No driver of a lorry or bus would dream for a moment of driving through the Park. Most people in carriages tied that they can get more quickly to their destination by doing so.
My suggestion is that the same principle should be established in the High Street at Oxford; that all buses, lorries and coaches should be diverted at some point east of Magdalen Bridge, and, 767 coming from the other direction, should be diverted at or near Carfax. That would almost completely solve the difficulties experienced by the residents in the High Street and by the colleges, which are now being shaken to pieces by the vibration of this enormous heavy traffic, while there is a long congestion of these big vehicles choking the roadway and causing intolerable traffic blocks. On the other hand, the suggestion of the Minister that the route should be closed altogether would make the famous High Street of Oxford nothing better than an architectural exhibit. It would be a dead street. This street has been suffering from a high blood pressure, and the Minister would get rid of the malady effectively and completely, by killing the patient by stopping his circulation altogether.
§ LORD SALTER
Would the noble Viscount allow me to intervene for a moment just to say that, while I entirely agree with his general argument, as far as it has gone, I think he does some injustice to the scheme—to which on other grounds I am opposed—by saying that it would close the High Street altogether. The bridge would be closed to traffic, but approach from the other end would be possible under the Minister's proposals.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I do not wish to go further into that matter, because it becomes a technical and local question as to how this should be done. That is clearly a matter of detail that should be left to the City authority.
I think that to leave the matter there and say that all this traffic could be diverted to the long distance by-passes would not do. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth that it is an urgent matter to complete those bypasses. Of course, it should be done. But if it were done, I am not sure that that alone would be enough to permit The High to be rescued from its present troubles. I think that there must be a relief road, but it certainly should not be across Christ Church Meadow.
The proposal has frequently been made, as mentioned by the previous speaker, and the City Council at one time had prepared the alignment, for a road leaving the Iffley Road a little east of Magdalen Bridge, crossing the Thames 768 by a new bridge, proceeding along the South bank—not the North bank—of the river, along whatever alignment is found most suitable, crossing back again by a new bridge towards the railway and bus station precincts and ending there. That seems to me to be the right proposal. I can see no reason whatever why the Minister should have vetoed it. It is said that this would be much longer than the road across the Meadow. It is true that it would be longer, but in days of motor traffic, distance is not the prime consideration; the prime consideration is time, which is the more costly. For lorries and buses to have to go a mile or so farther in order to get from one point to the other would matter to them very little if they had a clear run and no traffic blocks. That is the proposal, therefore, which, I venture to submit, should be revived and carried through, and without delay.
I do not know whether the cost would be more than the cost of the road across the Meadow, because the latter would involve such enormous charges for compensation and other costs, while the other would be much less. Even if it were so much more costly in initial capital expenditure, that might be recouped by some valuable frontages for building in parts of the road not liable to flooding. The capital cost would be provided by loan with a subsidy from the Government, and the interest and sinking fund would not be a serious charge on Oxford in view of the enormous increase in its rate-able valuation.
There is one further point when we look at this matter from the economic side—that is, the importance of the tourist industry. Last year the number of foreigners visiting this country topped the one million mark. In the course of time, with the growing prosperity of America, North and South, of the British Commonwealth and of other countries, that one million may be multiplied several times. These tourists will all come to London and large numbers will go to Oxford and to Stratford, enormously increasing the traffic in these towns. When these tens of thousands of tourists in their coaches find themselves hurried along a greatautobahn,with four lines of traffic, as proposed by the Government, in an unending stream each way of buses, lorries and coaches, as well as cars. I do not 769 think they will be very favourably impressed. Their feelings will not be those of pleasure that they have been brought to their destination a quarter of an hour earlier than if they had come by a road south of the river, when they remember that where this road had been made there had once been a beautiful park, a place of tranquillity and peace, a resort of quiet, friendly companionship, a park that had stood inviolate for seven centuries and more throughout all vicissitudes until the year 1957, when the Government of that day had sent their bulldozers through to make a great gash across the park in order to let industrialism and commercialism and mechanism flow through with all its turmoil, and that that had been done in spite of vehement protests by the colleges, by the University and by all the organisations, local and national, which are striving to preserve our national heritage.
The visitors from overseas and from the Dominions coming to study British institutions, the British way of life and our cultural values, would not be pleased, would not be favourably impressed, and they would not be grateful for that quarter of an hour. They are more likely to to have feelings of astonishment, of resentment—even, perhaps, of disgust—that the British people of this generation should not merely have connived at the degradation of Oxford, but should have deliberately carried it to the farthest point that misguided imagination could conceive.
I have the honour to be the Vice-President of the Oxford Preservation Trust, and I would draw your Lordships' attention to these two sentences from a statement on this matter which they made a few weeks ago:The, trustees of the Oxford Preservation Trust regret that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in withdrawing the unfortunate proposal for the construction of the Lamb and Flag' road, has prescribed a no less objectionable alternative route immediately to the south of the High Street.And they say again:The route indicated by the Minister for his new read is so destructive of amenities and existing property in the heart of the City and so costly in construction and compensation that it should be given the last and not the first place in any programme for traffic relief in Oxford and its suburbs.I suggest for your Lordships' consideration that this matter should be 770 dealt with in three stages, apart altogether from the broader question of the development of Cowley, the stoppage of the further industrialisation of Oxford and other larger proposals, such as that of a green belt. First, that the road immediately south of the Thames should be authorised at once, begun immediately and pressed through with all speed; secondly, that so soon as that has been accomplished, all heavy traffic should be excluded from the High Street; and thirdly, and only then, when the results of these measures have been seen, should consideration be given to the question of whether another inner relief road through the north of Oxford is still needed and, if so, where it should be.
I have only one other matter on which I would detain your Lordships. It is one of great importance and one which is seldom mentioned and has not found any place in the speeches of either of my predecessors this afternoon. The conclusion lets on my mind after the fifty sittings of that committee fifteen years ago was that one of the main purposes of the future planning of Oxford ought to be the redemption of the River Thames. This, one of the historic rivers of the world, and in many parts one of the most beautiful, when it passes through Oxford itself is not merely desecrated but is literally destroyed. I would quote a short paragraph from the report of my committee which said:Oxford is particularly fortunate in its waterways. The Thames and the Cherwell add much to the amenities of the town and the University. But the Thames suffers a strange eclipse in its passage through the City. Divided into five streams between Godstow and Folly Bridge, it disappears, and no one can say definitely where the Thames is.We made recommendations for the remedy of that, and the City Council's plans for Oxford proposed that the quarter of St. Ebbes should be redeveloped and replanned, and that fresh broad waterways for boats, and parkways for pedestrians, should be allowed to make their appearance in that quarter so that the river should not longer pass through slums but a spacious, well-planned and architecturally dignified quarter of the city. At the same time, the main waterfront needs to be preserved and redeemed as one of the principal features of the University area. If that were done, and it were made more seemly and more beautiful than it is, it 771 certainly ought not to be divided from the University by a great slash of industrialism pushed in between.
This is the second battle that we have had in this House within a few years for preservation of amenities, and in each case Oxford has been the victim. The other one was again in relation to the river front. It was on the question of the removal of the gasworks, which have been for generations an outrage upon the River Thames. Here the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, whose business it should have been to preserve amenities—that is what it was created for—was gravely in default. It was in the days of the Labour Government. I will not recall the names of the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Minister of Fuel and Power who gave their formal assent to the monstrous proposal of the gas company to spend, if I remember rightly, about £ 200,000 or £ 250,000 on modernising the gasworks, on the specious plea that it was necessary at that time in order to enable the gasworks to be moved to another site later on. That danger was defeated, because at that time it was still possible by procedure of the House of Lords to intervene.
It was then necessary—it is not so now—for the Ministers' decisions to be submitted to Parliament and for statutory instruments to be made. The matter therefore came before your Lordships' House, who appointed a Select Committee, and the Select Committee, without the slightest hesitation, uncompromisingly and unanimously threw out the Order. It died. What has been the result? It has not been, as prophesied, that the citizens of Oxford have suffered intolerable hardships in their denial of proper gas supplies, but that the new national Gas Authority, without the least difficulty, has found a far better site near Cowley Railway Station, where work is being conducted at this moment on the erection of a fine modern gas plant for the service not only of Oxford but of the whole district. It was your Lordships' House that came to the rescue and would not submit to the wrong-headed ukase of the Ministers who were concerned. That procedure does not now exist.
772 That was a test case. It was a head-on meeting between what is the great conflict of our modern civilisation—between industrialism and the humanities. Twice the Ministry of Town and Country Planning has lamentably failed in its duty, and twice Oxford has been made the victim. The first time the failure, as I say, was redeemed. And by whom? By your Lordships' House. So to-day, in this second test, I appeal to your Lordships to make your opinion clearly heard, backed, as I am certain it is, by the general public opinion of the nation, so that the influence of your Lordships' House may still redeem the situation.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CHERWELL
My Lords, to forestall any ill-informed and sometimes ill-natured criticism such as I have heard outside this House, I should perhaps inform your Lordships that the new Oxford road plan laid down by the former Minister of Housing includes a road—or perhaps I should say an embankment, because Christ Church Meadow is always flooded in winter—passing in front of my windows. I hope that in any event I should not have allowed such a matter to deflect my judgment. But, as things are, I can certainly claim that I personally will be unaffected, whatever the decision arrived at or imposed; for in our present economic circumstances it will probably take a good many years for anything much to happen; and I think my medical adviser would agree that I am unlikely to survive long enough to be disturbed by any surface traffic in Oxford, or, indeed, anywhere else.
Of course, everybody has his own personal views as to the best remedy for such difficulties as exist and the sort of plans he thinks would be most suitable. But things of this sort really cannot be hammered out on the Floor of the House. I am sure your Lordships will agree, therefore, that I should refrain from discussing my own views. If we all did that there would be no end to the debate. But, as your Lordships have seen, there are many diverse views, and there are many problems, not merely of traffic, and the whole thing cannot be dealt with piecemeal. Though your Lordships' House may not be the right forum to discuss this subject, it seems to me indisputable that before a decision is taken 773 there ought to be an opportunity for the various views to be stated before a knowledgeable but impartial tribunal. It is for that reason that I support warmly the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, for a Royal Commission.
In the circumstances, I should have hesitated to intervene at any length, or indeed at all. But your Lordships may have noticed that on November 23 Christ Church issued a writ against the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, and that last week this action was withdrawn. Lest anyone should think that there was any weakness in our case, it seems only right that the House should be informed how all this carne about. In March, 1953, the City sent forward plans to the Ministry to which both the University and the Preservation Trust agreed. The main points were that the ring of the outer by-passes should be completed, and that civic and shopping facilities in Cowley should be improved. It was held on all sides that these measures would go a long way to solve the main problem of traffic through the city centre; at any rate, that until these things had been tried it would be foolish to destroy existing amenities within the City.
In April, 1955, two years later, the Minister wrote saying that he would approve the plan provided proposals were added for a. so-called internal relief road. We are now told, I believe, that this was not intended to be a proviso, but merely a suggestion. If so, the Minister's mode of expression was singularly unfortunate. Anyway, as is well known, the City took it as a definite proviso, and naturally all sorts of plans were advanced to meet the demand. In the end, the City put forward a plan for a road cutting right through Christ Church Meadow and another through the University Parks. Perhaps it is as well for me to interject that not everybody in the industria part of Oxford on the other side of the river is very fond of the University.
This plan was so manifestly deleterious that the Minister came down to Oxford and discussed the question with all sorts of persons and groups. On a subsequent occasion, he visited Oxford for two days, as a result of which a totally new proposal emerged, generally credited to him personally, for a road joining Cowley and 774 South Oxford, to which nobody objected, and another road from the foot of Headington Hill emerging into St. Giles through the now well-known public house, the "Lamb and Flag." This ingenious proposal of the Minister was severely criticised at the public inquiry. At this inquiry representatives of Christ Church were told, quite reasonably, that they could not make any representation about a road through the Meadow since this was not before the court. This being so, they asked whether they could be assured that the Ministry would not put forward any proposal for such a road before Christ Church had had an opportunity of deploying their arguments against it. The Ministry official in charge replied, in so many words, that he would give that assurance.
Three months later, Mr. Sandys sent his oft-quoted letter of September 21, refusing to approve the plan which everybody in Oxford believed he had inspired, and which for that reason had been accepted, Though rather reluctantly, by the City Council. But he went rather further than this. He laid down a cut-and-dried plan, complete with map, for a road through Magdalen College School, Christ Church Meadow and the War Memorial Garden into St. Aldates, leaving the extremely difficult and delicate question of where the traffic was to go from there to the City. This letter was couched in such definite terms that the town clerk was asked to make sure whether it was a direction from the Minister. After some telephoning to Whitehall, he informed the City Council that it was tantamount to direction. Even so, the Council were very divided about the matter. But, as one of them put it, rather than have their noses rubbed in the dirt again, they decided to make the best of a bad job and examine the implications of the plan. For this purpose they engaged a certain Dr. Sharp, who had all along been very active in promoting this project both in London and elsewhere, but whose original plan had been flatly turned down by the City. I gather that the proposal is running into such difficulties, especially as regards where the traffic is to go from St. Aldates, that it will probably invite violent opposition from among the citizens.
It was in these circumstances that Christ Church issued a writ questioning, 775 in the first place, whether a direction in this matter by the Minister was notultra vires.Further, they asked for a declaration that the Minister, having so plainly shown his bias, had incapacitated himself from considering with an open mind and in an impartial and judicial spirit arguments put forward at the public inquiry. Finally, they claimed that the Minister's action in laying down a plan demanding a road through Christ Church Meadow was impermissible, to put it mildly, in view of the assurance they had been given by the Ministry that this would not be done before an opportunity had been given to Christ Church for objections to it to be deployed and considered. In the Minister's defence, it has been stated that the letter of September 21 was not a direction. Well, if this be so, it is extremely unfortunate, to say the least of it, that the Minister should have been so grievously misunderstood despite all the telephone inquiries—of which, of course, we have no written record—and that the town clerk should have informed the City that it was tantamount to a direction. What is plain—and it must have been well known in Whitehall—is that the City and, indeed, most people in Oxford, proceeded without any correction for four months on the assumption that it was a direction, which we are only now told is a completely false understanding of the real position.
As to our second point, that the Minister, having committed himself so definitely to this one point of view, had deprived himself of the possibility of acting impartially in a judicial capacity when the public inquiry concerning the Ministry plan adopted by the City was heard, it was considered that it would be somewhat discourteous to press this after the recent Cabinet changes. Now that a new Minister is in office, we have no doubt that he will do his utmost to approach the matter with an open mind. But it will be immensely difficult, if not impossible, for him, with the whole of his Department, with all their files and memoranda advising and pressing—and perhaps even lobbying—in favour of the plan which had been specifically laid down in their previous letter. I really think it is asking too much of human nature to expect a Minister, and a new Minister at that, to consider with an open mind reversing the verdict given in 776 advance of the evidence by his predecessor, a Cabinet colleague, presumably with the support of his whole Department. Nevertheless, we did not wish to press this point. And, of course, it would vanish into thin air if, as this Motion asks, the Government agreed to let a Royal Commission examine the whole matter and advise.
The same applies to our third point, our claim that the Minister could not lawfully put his plan forward in view of his representative's assurance that we would be given a fair opportunity to state our objections before the Minister stated a view in favour of a Meadow Road. Now that a new Minister is in charge, this would not be a very desirable matter to go through the Courts, and once again I hope it will be rendered irrelevant by the appointment of a Royal Commission. I trust this explains why we did not press our case in the Courts.
Before I close, I must mention another important, though perhaps subsidiary, matter—namely, the need, before making final decisions, for more exact, unbiased information about the actual position to-day. I will give two examples. We are told that the traffic congestion is intolerable. But this assertion is not supported by any factual evidence. I admit that it will be difficult to get any exact quantitative appraisal, for the traffic in Oxford, more, perhaps, that in most cities, varies enormously from day to day and from week to week. For a few days in the year during the University's Festivals or at Whitsun or the August Bank Holiday week, there is, of course, a lot of traffic. But so there is everywhere. And, of course, during the rush hours, when the shops and factories are opening and closing, there is undesirable congestion. But that is so in every city of comparable size. Indeed, I am convinced that it is far worse in a score of other towns than it is in Oxford.
I am confirmed in this view by the Ministry of Transport, for, when I endeavoured to persuade the officials some four years ago to complete the outer bypasses, they would not hold out any hopes of doing so, on the grounds, so they insisted, that there were dozens of other towns in which the traffic was very much worse. If it comes to general impressions, I think I can claim almost unrivalled experience, for I have driven across Carfax 777 on my way between the College and the Laboratory at least 25,000 times in the past thirty-odd years. Of course, there are occasions when the amount of traffic is obnoxious, but it is often far greater in places like Wycombe or Slough or, as the noble Earl, Lord Munster, will notice on his way to Ascot, Staines (to name only a few neighbouring towns), and, of course, almost always incomparably less than it is in London.
Against my experience is set an out-of-date census of road vehicles taken on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in July, 1949: half for one set of roads and on the succeeding week-end for the other. As I have said, and as was admitted by the Ministry inspector, such a census eight years old, taken for only a few days in the year, can be extremely misleading. But the Minister seems to place extraordinary faith in it. Indeed, in his letter he states that only 12½ per cent. of the traffic crossing Carfax is through traffic —12½ per cent., mind you, not 12 per cent. or 13 per cent. or anything so rough and ready as 10 per cent. or 15 per cent., but 12½ per cent. Really, it is extraordinary that anyone should seriously quote figures purporting to be accurate to a half per cent. when we know quite well that the quantity of traffic going in various directions through the City differs by hundreds—indeed, by thousands—per cent. from one week or one month to another.
Moreover, the figures quoted from this census do not distinguish between vehicles, large and small, though, of course, some of the big goods vehicles, which will not pass through Oxford once the outer by-passes are completed, take up two or three times as much room, or even five or six times as much room, as the small runabouts that most Oxford people use, and, of course, far more than the bicycles, which are about half the total. Incidentally, the census figures, if we take them seriously, prove the opposite of what they are alleged to show. For instance, 56 per cent. of the vehicles coming from Magdalen Bridge are said to turn north at Carfax. If, as the census believers say, only a very small proportion —12½ per cent.—is through traffic, presumably most of them are on their way to North Oxford, for they cannot all pile up in the Cornmarket. If that is so, surely the way to reduce congestion at 778 Carfax is to make a road as proposed by Professor Abercrombie, from Heading-ton across to North Oxford. And exactly the same argument holds for the traffic turning south, which could be relieved by a road such as was proposed by the City going from the Cowley district to the Abingdon Road. But I must withstand the temptation to go into a discussion of detailed plans, which would lead us nowhere to-day.
Let me give your Lordships just one more instance of the unreal world in which these matters are being argued. This is the story of the tunnels. I do not say for one moment that tunnels would be a good solution or, indeed, that any radical device such as this is needed. But I do know that Mr. Roy Harrod, whom many of your Lordships know to be an economist of the highest standing and repute, has made careful inquiries as a result of which he concludes that tunnels such as are envisaged would cost between £ 1 million and £ 2 million, with £ 5,000 a year for lighting, ventilation and general maintenance. As against this, the late Minister said they would cost £ 7 million to £ 10 million, with £ 100,000 to £ 150,000 a year for maintenance. Is this not a perfectly absurd state of affairs? Here we have a straightforward, simple engineering proposition. If tile estimates differed by 10 per cent., or even 20 per cent., it might be tolerable; but for one estimate to be about five times as great as the other as regards capital expenditure, and twenty times as regards maintenance, shows such an ignorance of the relevant facts—and facts which are vital to any decision—as to cast doubt on the whole basis of the Minister's argument.
Frankly, I have grave misgivings about the advice tendered to the Minister. As I have said, some high officials were kind enough to come and see me four or five years ago when I wanted them to accelerate work on the outer by-passes. They were already then extremely keen on a road such as the Minister finally laid down in his letter—a road passing in front of Merton and Christ Church and emerging opposite Pembroke and Campion Hall. They asked me why we did not welcome such a proposal. Amongst other things, I said it would be unpleasant for the Colleges. To this the Minister's adviser said, perfectly seriously, "Well, can't you move the 779 Colleges?" Really, in such circumstances, can anyone wonder at the incongruous results which have emerged?
What I cannot understand, and scarcely anybody in Oxford can understand, is why, before attacking amenities which many people in the City and the University cherish, we cannot be allowed to finish the outer by-passes, of which two opposite quadrants have been built but not linked up, and thereafter build the internal roads from Marston to North Oxford and from Cowley to South Oxford, as proposed by Professor Abercrombie, to which everyone agrees. Everybody—City, University, Preservation Trust—had agreed that this was the proper course. If only the Minister had approved the City Plan sent forward in 1953, without adding a proviso which we are now told was not a proviso, a great deal of it would by now have been done, and we should know where we stand. Instead of this, the Minister, inspired, it is believed in Oxford, by a few busy bodies with bees it their bonnets, suddenly butted in and made his approval conditional on some inner road being inserted in the proposal.
That is the cause of all the trouble. And when it proved impossible to find any generally acceptable route for this inner road, the Minister calmly issued what purported to be a direction with Cabinet authority, but which we are now told was not and was never meant to be a direction, saying that Magdalen Bridge was to be closed, a new bridge built a hundred yards away from it, with a spur back to the High Street, through which the traffic could proceed as at present. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, the Minister cheerfully hoped to direct through the playing fields of Magdalen College School, through the Christ Church Meadow and thence through the War Memorial Garden into St. Aldates, the main traffic, proceeding thence no-one knows where or how through a built-up area into St. Giles. Everybody, I am sure, must agree that the proper thing is to complete the outer roads which may make it quite plain that there is no need to ruin the centre of the City.
Finally, I would repeat my plea to those already made for a Royal Commission, because this will, at any rate, 780 give people in Oxford the assurance that an impartial body has considered the various claims and arguments. Surely, it is in the interests of everybody to avoid feuds between college and college as well as between City and University. As things are now, nobody can maintain that all the various points of view have been heard and that everybody has had a fair chance to argue the case. Everything has been settledin camerain the recesses of Whitehall. You cannot argue general topics of this sort around a specific proposal. It is as though you were to try to turn a Bill inside out in Committee after it had been passed on Second Reading.
Why not proceed with the outer bypasses on which everybody is agreed, and appoint a Royal Commission to consider the whole questionab initio,without bias for or against any particular plan? This would give everybody a chance to state his or her case, and I am quite certain that nobody, however dissatisfied with the outcome, would resist the conclusions of such a reputable and impartial body. What is wrong with a Royal Commission? Why should the Government be afraid of it? If the former Minister was right, then the Commission will come down on his side and he will triumph. If he was not right, surely nobody wants a wrong decision implemented in order to save his face.
Whatever the facts, there is no doubt that the whole of the Oxford problem has been bedevilled by what we are now told were misunderstandings. In the first place, it is now claimed that in the original letter of April 1, 1955, there was no intention to impose as a condition for sanctioning of the City plans the production of further plans, including so-called inner relief roads. Well, there was a distinct threat of obtaining this by menaces; it was this "misunderstanding" which put the fat in the fire. If it had been made clear that it was merely an expression of opinion and not a condition, we should have gone ahead long ago and all these arguments and difficulties could have been left to sort themselves out.
Now we are told that the very fierce letter of September 21, 1956, was never intended as a direction, but again merely as an expression of ministerial opinion. Yet the town clerk, after telephoning to Whitehall, assured the City Council that 781 it was a direction, and they have pro-ceded quite a long way on the basis of this false information. What is worse is that, having gone so far, although under a misapprehension, the City Council, which is getting tired of all the Whitehall chopping and changing, may be reluctant to start again. It is to be hoped, now that the Ministry have expressly disclaimed any pretence to direct the City plan, that the City Council may reconsider the whole question. But the position has been so prejudiced, or as our American friends would say so "snarled up", that it is difficult to see how it can be restored, short of a fresh start. If only for this reason, we should begin with a clean slate.
Even more important is that a chance should be given to all reputable interested parties to state their case to an impartial body, such as a Royal Commission, which can obtain accurate data as to the true position. If the present proposals are pushed through without such an opportunity being provided, it will cause ill feeling and bad blood between City and University and college and college which will persist for generations. Moreover, based, as this plan now appears to be, on a series of complete misunderstandings as to the meaning and intentions of the ministerial communciations, it will, if it is forced through, leave a deep and abiding stain on the reputation of the Minister and his Department. This is surely not the moment to launch off into extravagant plans which half the inhabitants do not think necessary and a large proportion abhor as being imposed from outside by people ignorant of the facts on theipse dixitof one Minister. I trust that the Government will accept the Resolution of Lord Beveridge, so that peace can return to our City and University.
§ 4.25 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that he agreed 100 per cent. with the speech of his predecessor. I strongly suspect that most of the speakers this afternoon will agree 100 per cent with everything said by all the other speakers, and I venture to say that the case for a Royal Commission has already been abundantly proved—indeed, I am not sure that an admirable Report of a Royal Commission could not be compiled simply from the 782 four speeches already delivered. I do not pretend to speak with the expert knowledge and close acquaintence with the problem of those who have spoken before me, but perhaps it is permissible for one person with only a general knowledge and a filial interest in Oxford to say a word of two by way of support.
The first is this. All of us here recognise that, to quite a peculiar degree, the real worth and integrity of this nation will be judged in future ages by what we do or do not do to rescue Oxford. It is perfectly true, as Lord Beveridge said, that there is a general problem which affects Oxford and every big city, but there is a quite peculiar problem that affects Oxford; and by our handling of it we shall be judged. I carefully said "to rescue Oxford." This is not a question of preserving something that is already safe; it is a question of saving Oxford from a degradation that has already gone a very long way. Oxford is, above all, a university city, dedicated to learning and to that slow and delicate process by which wisdom is acquired. That is her especial distinction and glory, or, as one must say in these days, her particular functional purpose. No other consideration whatsoever can be weighed against that. Nothing must be allowed to cheapen or to eclipse that unique place of Oxford—I say "unique," admitting that Cambridge has equally a unique place, though not quite the same as that of Oxford. Particularly we must not allow any urge to save time or to save distance, or to accommodate temporary convenience to interfere with the preservation of this great city.
As this long debate has gone on, I myself have felt, even as many other people must have felt, that there was an initial hope that we were going to see Oxford delivered from peril. Then, through the various stages of bafflement and bewilderment, I gave up trying to understand what Convocation and Congregation and the Hebdomadal Council were doing in Oxford, with their preambles and their resolutions. But, through it all, in some of us, there has arisen an increasing despair and a real terror that what sometimes happens elsewhere would happen to Oxford, and that finally, because nobody else could agree, a solution would be imposed by the Government and would have to be accepted.
783 My Lords, I want to speak a word of appreciation of the immense industry that the former Minister put into this matter. I have great sympathy with him. Here was an intolerable problem. He gave immense time, trouble, labour and devotion to trying to find the right solution for it—and I would add that argument is probably more irritating in Oxford than anywhere else in the world. So he battled his way through this perplexing problem, and at last he said, "I have found a solution." I can imagine, for it happens in the lives of all of us, the intense relief he felt: the feeling that at last one's mind is clear; that one knows that one is right and that everybody else is wrong. I have a real sympathy with the Minister when he reached that stage, and issued something which he hoped would be a direction, but which he was sorry to find was not taken as such. Now, as we look at it, there must be, as all noble Lords have said, some new and impartial review of a tangled and confused system which would never have been so tangled if the Minister had not come into it.
There must be some review of it by an impartial body such as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, suggests—a few people who can just read the speeches made to-day, and some other things, but not listen to anybody coming to see them. And I believe that they will be able to produce a proper result. As we all know, the trouble is that the Minister has himself become one of the parties to a very difficult dispute. It is true that the Minister has the final power—and none of us resents that; but in a matter of this kind, of such cultural, spiritual and national significance, affecting both the craft and the art of human living, he must recognise that the Minister is not a better-qualified judge than anybody else. Once he appreciates that, then the fact that he has the power must make him intensely concerned to see that he has the best possible authoritative advice, not from parties to the dispute but from those who stand outside it, before he makes his own decision. The Minister, and all of us, require such helpful advice as a small, impartial body can give.
I should have thought there would be no resistance from any quarter to this request. It is quite clear that the direction given has solved no problem at all: 784 it is dead already. It is clear from this debate this afternoon that there are many better solutions of the problem than that. I have listened with great interest to some of them. If I may mention one small point, I have never heard anybody else say what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and which made my heart rejoice: that buses, apart possibly, from single-decker buses, should be barred from The High. As I have watched buses going up and down The High, it has not been their number that has distressed me but their wrong proportion. They are too big; by their very height they diminish the value and dignity of the colleges through which they pass. However the volume of traffic may be reduced in The High, that one small point, having no double-decker buses, should be borne in mind.
There have been other suggestions, full of hope and full of solution, and I should have thought that the new Minister himself would value, above everything, that he should be delivered from a quite impossible situation. What can he do? There is no law of nature that every Minister shall necessarily agree with the views of his predecessor, especially in a matter of this complexity and special character. If the new Minister differs from the views of his predecessor, he is placed in a terribly embarrassing situation. If he agrees with them, he can hardly say so without being suspected of merely giving way to departmental continuity of policy. This is a matter that must not be solved by the mere desire to continue departmental policy of administration.
I will say this final word: all of us in this House agree that the last word on this controversy has not been spoken; and on a controversy of this magnitude I see no solution—and I do not believe that anybody else can—other than the setting up of a small Royal Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, said one thing which I greatly value: that a public inquiry under the Minister is not the same thing. It is suspect from the start; and we must have an inquiry which is, quite clearly, independent of the Ministry and independent of all previous decisions and Governmental direction, but which can, on its own responsibility, say, "This is the advice we give to the nation and to Her Majesty's Government."
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, it is perhaps appropriate that I should intervene at this stage to give the House some indication of the view which Her Majesty's Government hold on this very important question. I think it would be true to say that the Resolution which has been moved to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, is one which undoubtedly will cause a great deal of interest far outside the confines of this House. The Resolution deals with the ancient City of Oxford, which, as we know, is famous for its beauty, its setting and its learning; and, moreover, is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every year.
A number of noble Lords possessing a profound knowledge of the University have expressed, or will express, their views on this very complicated question, and I think I should be correct in saying that though, in moving this Motion, my noble friend discussed many aspects of the problem as a whole, in fact the main reason which prompted him to raise this question and to initiate this debate was to call attention to recent proposals to build an inner relief road in Oxford. For some years everyone has agreed that something must be done to deal with the congestion of traffic in Oxford itself, but every single scheme that has been proposed has been fiercely criticised, and no one has yet produced an acceptable solution. I am told that it has not been possible to reconcile these conflicting opinions and that there has as yet been no sign of any readiness to compromise. I think it would be generally useful to the House if I should recall some of the steps which have been taken in recent years to seek a solution of the problem.
In 1953, the City Council submitted to my right honourable friend the former Minister of Housing and Local Government a comprehensive development plan for Oxford, but that plan contained no proposals whatsoever for any inner relief roads. So, before approving the plan, two years later, in 1955, my right honourable friend received assurances from the City Council that proposals for such a road were, in fact, being considered. Noble Lords who have taken al interest in this subject may well recall that in the same year the City Council published some tentative proposals for relief roads running through Christ 786 Church Meadow and the University Parks. Those proposals were never submitted to the former Minister of Housing and Local Government but, nevertheless, they aroused very considerable controversy, particularly from the University authorities. Later in the year, as has been said by the most reverend Primate, my right honourable friend, in an effort to reach a solution, visited Oxford to discuss the scheme with Council representatives and other interested parties and bodies.
In November, 1955, formal proposals for inner relief roads were submitted by the County Council as an amendment to their development plan which had been approved. This scheme envisaged the building of two roads of which mention has been made to-day—one south of Christ Church Meadow and the other that which has peen described as the "Lamb and Flag" road. Those proposals were the subject of a public inquiry in February, 1956, and they, in their turn, aroused a great deal of opposition. In September last, my right honourable friend, after giving very careful consideration to this matter, rejected these proposals, on the ground that they provided neither a solution to the traffic problem in Oxford nor, indeed, an acceptable compromise. At the same time, he requested the City Council to submit plans for a new relief road running across the northern side of Christ Church Meadow. My right honourable friend the new Minister of Housing is now waiting for the City Council to submit their new proposals.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
Much criticism has been made in this House to-day, and in other quarters as well, concerning the letter which my right honourable friend saw fit to send to the City Council. Now that letter, as your Lordships will remember, rejected the City's proposals, for the reasons given, and proceeded to state the views which my right honourable friend himself thought would lead to a final solution. He therefore requested the City Council to prepare a plan on the lines which he had indicated and set out in the letter. In doing so, my right honourable friend acted with complete propriety and well within the powers which have been conferred upon him by Act of Parliament. Indeed, he 787 has authority under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—if he should care to use it—to give formal directions to any Council to submit—and I quote:such proposals as may be required by those directions.In point of fact, my right honourable friend did not exercise that power at all.
Now, if it is argued, as I think it was argued by Lord Cherwell, that my right honourable friend should not have expressed any opinion, then surely it must be remembered that this controversy has really raged and roared for seven solid years, with the choc-a-bloc motor traffic in the City of Oxford steadily becoming worse. I therefore put this thought to your Lordships: in all these circumstances, was it really wrong for my right honourable friend to give a lead to the City Council, or should he merely have rejected the proposals and left the City Council to think again?
VISCOUNT CHER WELL
Will the noble Earl forgive me for interrupting? Surely he does not say it was complete propriety to let these officials tell the town clerk that this was tantamount to a direction, and to leave the City Council to go on working for four months on the basis that it was a direction. He may have expressed himself in a curious way, but that was the result.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I always have grave doubt as to what conversation does take place on the telephone. I am only quoting what was done, not what was repeated on the telephone. It may, or may not, be accurate, for all I know. I would suggest to the House that my right honourable friend's letter can best be described as a provisional decision, though not a final one. If the City Council should decide to submit a scheme, there will be a full opportunity at the public inquiry for anyone to challenge it. I do not want to add anything further on this particular point, for I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would be quite inappropriate for me to attempt to sway your Lordships one way or the other. But, in view of what has been said, it would be utterly wrong to suppose that my right honourable friend had, in effect, already given his final verdict.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Would the noble Earl make it clear whether we are to understand that the City Council are now under an obligation to submit to the present Minister a scheme for a road to go through Christ Church Meadow?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
The City Council are now preparing a scheme, in the light of the letter, and they will be sending that scheme to the new Minister of Housing.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
Would the noble Earl make one thing clear? The City Council are preparing a scheme, but are they free to prepare any scheme which leaves altogether out of account either a road through Christ Church Meadow or a road through the park? Or are they under an obligation to prepare a scheme which includes a road either through Christ Church Meadow or through the park?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
They are not under obligation to submit the scheme, as was set out in the course of the letter. They are under an obligation to submit a scheme to my right honourable friend, and that is what they are now preparing.
I turn from that matter to deal with two questions which were asked me today. The first was put by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. He asked me what was the present position of the outer by-pass. I understand that steady progress is being made towards the completion of the outer by-pass roads. As noble Lords who know Oxford will be aware, the north-east and southwestern sections of that road are already complete. I understand that a trunk road order has recently been made by the Ministry of Transport establishing the line of the western are. The City Council is to submit a scheme for the southeastern section—this will be a classified road scheme. The noble Lord also asked me whether I thought that these by-passes would relieve Oxford of its traffic problems. That is a question which I could not possibly answer. It is a matter which will receive consideration at the public inquiry.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested three ways in which he thought considerable improvement might be effected in the traffic conditions. All those questions will also receive consideration at the public inquiry. But I 789 would say this with respect. To approve and to begin at once to construct a road, as the noble Viscount suggested, south of the river Thames would not be possible, for the scheme would have to be put up, in the first place, by the City Council, after which the usual public inquiry would then be held. The noble Lord who moved this Motion also asked what has been done about a shopping centre at Cowley. I can, I think, tell him that—as he probably already knows—the development plan earmarks twenty-three acres of land for a business and shopping centre. Much work has already been done in devising the best layout and development of the land. A compulsory purchase order was made on eighteen acres. It has recently been submitted to the Minister, with a report by the district valuer on the land values, and a public inquiry into the matter will be held in April.
From answering those two questions, I turn to deal with the statutory procedure in some detail, for it has an important bearing upon the proposal made by the noble Lord to set up a Royal Commission. As I have said, the City Council are now in course of considering my right honourable friend's letter, and I have no doubt whatever that when their proposals have been formulated, they will be widely publicised. The proposals which they submit—and I impress this upon your Lordships—will be alterations or additions to the original master development plan, covering the whole area of Oxford, which was submitted in 1953 and received the approval of my right honourable friend two years later. After the proposals have been advertised and published, anybody who has objections or representations to make will be able to do so at the public inquiry. The proceedings then will be identical to those which took place on the previous scheme, and the inquiry will range far and wide over every aspect of the problem. Following the inquiry, as we know, the inspector will make a report to the Minister, who in due course will give his decision. I am honestly convinced that the statutory procedure is fully adequate, for it provides an opportunity for everyone to be heard and enables my right honourable friend, before coming to a decision to obtain any further advice or information that he thinks desirable.
790 I now turn to the Resolution which is contained in the noble Lord's Motion. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, every council was instructed to prepare a development plan and submit it for approval—indeed, that was one of the principal purposes of the Act. As I have said, the Oxford Development Plan was submitted and finally approved. This was a comprehensive plan, for it covered all the uses of land in the city, and laid down a policy which could be followed for industry, residential development, roads, shopping centres—including the shopping centre at Cowley mentioned by the noble Lord—and other planning matters. The provision of inner relief roads was to come up for consideration, and the Council were to submit proposals as an amendment to the original development plan. It was on that understanding that my right honourable friend approved it.
The Resolution which the noble Lord has moved asks Her Majesty's Government to set up a Royal Commission to examine, to re-examine, the whole problem of Oxford. That seems to me—and I can only appeal to your Lordships—to ignore entirely the fact that the statutory procedure I have outlined already exists and, in any event, could not be set aside by a Royal Commission or any other body whatever. As we now know, the City Council have instructed their town planning committee to prepare a scheme for their consideration. Thus the procedure laid down under the 1947 Act is already functioning, and to superimpose a Royal Commission now would only cause the utmost confusion and delay a final decision.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, the noble Earl realises that doing as my Resolution asks would put an end to what the Government are doing now, and what the Council are being asked to do now, and what they have been doing for about ten times as long as any Royal Commission could take.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
With great respect, the noble Lord's Motion has not precedence over an Act of Parliament. The procedure which is laid down by Parliament, in its wisdom, must be continued.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
May I ask the noble Earl another question? Would it 791 not be possible for the Government to suspend action during the six months of the Royal Commission? Is there anything in the Act which says that they may not suspend action?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I think it will probably be better if I go on with my speech, instead of trying to deal with the point raised by the noble Lord on this question, but I think I should be able to satisfy him. I am endeavouring to point out that if a Royal Commission were set up the whole Oxford Development Plan would have to be reconsidered and, so far as we can see, that would take a considerable time. At any rate, we do not believe that it could be completed in six months or anything approaching that time. In addition, it would usurp the functions of the City Council which are laid down in the Town and Country Planning Act. Even If a Royal Commission did reach an agreed solution, their Report would not be binding in any way, either on Her Majesty's Government or on the City Council. Even if Her Majesty's Government accepted their findings, it would then be for the City Council to consider them and, if they were acceptable to them, to prepare a plan which would then be the subject of a further public inquiry. I cannot help feeling that, on second thoughts, the noble Lord and others who are associated with him would really not wish to duplicate the existing machinery without any assurance that agreement would be reached.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, is it really impossible that the City Council itself should welcome the advice of an expert Royal Commission before it goes on possibly wasting its time on further inquiry? Let us have the statutory machinery, of course; but do we not all want somebody to advise those concerned on the plan that ought to be applied now?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I feel sure that the most reverend Primate will have an answer to that very question when my noble friend the Leader of the House winds up the debate. In view of what I have said, I would suggest that it would be better to let the City Council complete the work on which they embarked many years ago. The decision 792 which they reach on this question is subject to public inquiry, where every point of view can be expressed. That could not happen in the case of a Royal Commission, since a Royal Commission only hears evidence from a series of witnesses or parties; but at a public inquiry held under the 1947 Act anyone can claim to be heard and cross-examination can take place.
§ VISCOUNT CHERWELL
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to interrupt? At the previous public inquiry, Christ Church asked to be heard about the Meadow Road, and were told that that matter was not before the court, but that they would undertake not to do anything about it until Christ Church had been heard. But we could not speak then.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I am trying to set out the difference between a Royal Commission and a public inquiry held under the 1947 Act.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I was not there and I am bound to say that this is the first I have heard of this point. If your Lordships should decide in favour of a Royal Commission, that Commission would not hear the evidence of any objector and there would not be cross-examination, as can be done at a public inquiry.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl under what Statute a Royal Commission is precluded from hearing any evidence they think fit to hear?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, what I am saying is this. A Royal Commission hears evidence from witnesses and parties who are asked to attend for the purpose of giving evidence; but under a public inquiry, held under the 1947 Act, anyone can claim to be heard, and cross-examination takes place before the inspector. I understand that cross-examination does not take place before any Royal Commission. However, I think the House would probably like to know at this stage that Her Majesty's Government would, in all the circumstances, be prepared to arrange that the inspector who presides at this public inquiry should not be an official of the Ministry of Housing, but an independent 793 person, specially chosen for that purpose. Again, contrary to the usual practice, his report would in due course he published. Finally, I can give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will take into account the views expressed by all parties, and until the procedure which has been laid down by the Town and Country Planning Act is completed they will not proceed to any final and lasting decision.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Before the noble Earl sits down, could he give any indication of the terms of reference that this independent inquiry will have?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
It will be under the 1947 Act, which gives the widest scope. Not only can this particular matter which the Council are now reporting on he considered, but other matters which are germane to it.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Can the noble Lord tell me whether the completion of the by-pass roads is being excluded from this inquiry?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
The by pass roads will continue to be built as they are now, because I understand they are wanted, in any event; but, at the same time, all the questions concerning the traffic on the by-pass road, and that at the moment proceeding through Oxford, will come before the inquiry.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Earl. He referred to by-passes that are being built now. He knows that there are no bypasses being built now they are all really in project. I should like to ask—perhaps the noble Marquess who leads the House would prefer to deal with this question—whether the building of the by-passes will be expedited. That, I think, in the opinion of every speaker up to now, is fundamental. If the completion of the by-passes is not going to be subject to this public inquiry, but only their future use after they have been built—that is what I understand—
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALIS-BURY)
Perhaps I might intervene. As I see it, the outer by-pass will not be subject to the result of the inquiry, but the relevance of the outer by-pass will come within the general scope of the traffic 794 problem which will be considered by the inquiry.
LORD LLCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Marquess. So the inquiry work can really be of benefit to Oxford only if it conducts its affairs after the by-passes have been completed, because then the inquiry will be able to measure the effect of the by-passes upon the problem of the traffic of Oxford.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, the House will have listened with attention to my noble friend who spoke on behalf of the Government and to the exchange of question and answer that succeeded his speech. I shall have something to say about that in a moment. I must begin what I have to say—and it will be brief—by making one observation on an earlier part of the speech of my noble friend Lord Munster. As I understood it, he succeeded in clearing away one element of confusion that had attached itself to some of our thought on this matter. He made it robin, if I followed him correctly, that the City Council at this moment are completely free to submit any scheme they like to the Minister, and are in no way bound or restricted by any letter or direction so far received from the Minister. It is something to have got that clear. From what my noble friend Lord Cherwell said, it was not clear at the early stage, and from that misunderstanding I think considerable damage has arisen in Oxford.
My position as Chancellor of the University, with a strong instinct for self-preservation, has so far precluded me from taking any part in, or expressing any opinion on, the several proposals that have been canvassed; and certainly I do not think any useful purpose would be served now by my attempting to take part in any argument on the merits or demerits of any particular plan. The objects that all sensible people (and in that category I would certainly include all Members of your Lordships' House), and all the people who love Oxford, must wish to see achieved, are, I think two: first, to 795 achieve and to put into operation that which, on the whole, can be held to be the best solution of this complex problem; and secondly, to ensure that that which is the best solution should be generally recognised by all concerned to be the best solution—not only to be just, but to be thought just.
That is where I pick up the important expressions that fell from my noble friend Lord Munster a few moments ago. I do not profess to be competent to decide off-hand upon the relative merits of his proposal, on behalf of the Government, that this public inquiry procedure would continue, but with, as I understand it, a beneficent difference: that the person presiding over it would not be an official of the Minister, and that its report would subsequently be published. That, I dare say, is all very nice, and it certainly appeals to my liberal mind. But it is an essentially different plan from that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, which I thought also was a very good plan when he spoke and which I understand has so far claimed the support of everyone who has followed him.
I must admit that I have considerable misgiving about diverting my allegiance from something like the Beveridge Plan to the recent modern Munster Plan. I am not sure that I should be getting as good as I give up. I say that for this reason: of those two desirable ends that I mentioned—namely, to find the best solution, and to find something that is thought to be the best solution—I feel, from my experience in Oxford, that the second is likely to be much more difficult than the first. This controversy, as everybody knows—my noble friend Lord Cherwell knows it better than anybody—has brought sharp division to the University, and, among other evil consequences, has had the effect of making it very difficult for anything approaching general assent to be secured for any proposals, from whatever quarter they might be put forward. And, I must admit sorrowfully. I think it would be very rare to find in Oxford to-day much of that spirit of unselfish acceptance of distasteful proposals that brought the many members of the late Administration who were sons of Christ Church to range themselves behind the project of the late Minister for the road in the Meadow.
796 I cannot think there would be much of that altruistic feeling current in Oxford.
I do not happen to be one of those who ever liked what we know as the "Lamb and Flag" proposals. But whatever may have been their merits or demerits, they at least had the merit of making one thing abundantly plain: that general agreement was never likely to be achieved by anyex cathedrâpronouncement by any Minister. Therefore we reach the position that, the pros and cons of different proposals having been argued back and forth in councils and committees, colleges and the like, we are now at the stage where we are, apparently, leaving other things apart, within sight of a ministerial decision which, we have learnt, is not likely to advance us at all towards the goal of agreement. There is no sign of fusion of thought, with the parties coming to anything like unanimity. That is a very bad thing for the University, partly because it delays a solution, and partly because it introduces an element of disharmony into what is naturally a comparatively close society.
I certainly do not assume that the agreement that has so far eluded us in all this would necessarily be ensured by a further independent inquiry such as that for which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, asks. But it is the best chance and in the light of the statement that has been circulated about Christ Church, who have been the principal and most formidable dissenters, and in the light of what my noble friend said this afternoon, speaking for Christ Church, I think it is a reasonable assumption that, after an impartial and independent inquiry, we might look for acceptance—on the whole, fairly willing acceptance—within all quarters of the University. Why? Because all parties would feel that their case had been heard, and that they had had the fullest opportunity of making any case that they liked. That is the real difference between the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and the proposal which my noble friend advanced to us this afternoon.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
May I interrupt my noble friend? He will realise that if a Royal Commission were set up and ultimately reported, as I mentioned, there would be no obligation upon Her Majesty's Government to accept that Report. But, at the same time, whether the Government accepted 797 it or not, the Report of the Royal Commission would go back to the City Council who, in due course, would make their report on that matter, submit it to my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing, who then, under the terms of the Act, would have to have another public inquiry upon it.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
I am well aware of everything that my noble friend has said, and it does not affect my judgment in the smallest degree, and for this reason. He is much too old a politician, and too wise a man, not to know that, on a matter of this sort, if you had the firmly expressed unanimous opinion of two, three or four wise impartial, uncommitted and trusted men—
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
Unanimous, yes—they would have a profound effect on the City Council, the colleges and the University, and might even be held to have some effect upon Her Majesty's Government. I really think that my noble friend is not giving sufficient weight to the force of instructed, impartial and intelligent, public opinion that might easily be mobilised and called into play.
As to delay, I think that what might be lost on the swings would be gained on the roundabouts. I am perfectly willing—and I think every wise person would be willing—to spend a few months, not an indefinite period, but three, four, five or six months, in securing the conditions of agreement. It would be well worth doing. Therefore, unless I completely misconstrued my noble friend's proposal—in which case my noble friend who leads the House will put me where I ought to be—I would beg him, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to think again and to see whether they cannot give us the conditions that we, and those who know best, judge to be essential for the restoration of confidence and the best hope of achieving agreement on this problem.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, if I might interrupt the noble Earl again for one moment, is he asking for this Royal Commission to report on the inner relief roads of Oxford?
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
If my noble friend asks me, I would invite the Royal Commission, Dr whatever body is appointed—I do not attach importance to a name—to report on the whole thing.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If I understood the noble Earl correctly, he is not suggesting a Royal Commission, but an impartial body.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, since I do not occupy the august position in the University that my noble friend does, and therefore, need not walk with such Agag-like delicacy, I have more freedom to express my opinions in this matter. There is one thing in which I will certainly imitate him—I will be brief. Let me, first of all, declare my dis-interest in this matter. I am not a Christ Church man. My allegiance, like that of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is to a college in The High. But however many opinions may be held and expressed in this debate, I think there is one thing on which everybody will agree, except perhaps the noble Earl who just spoken: that is, that Oxford cannot be treated just as a local or localised problem. It is not only a national monument, but something much more than that. It has become a shrine of the Commonwealth and of the English-speaking people. I cannot feel that the Government are so treating it.
I should like at once to come down to the question of this inquiry, and particularly the scope of the inquiry, because that, it seems to me, is what really matters. I followed most carefully what the noble Earl, Lord Munster, said. We all understand the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. As I understand it—and let us make this plain—it is that a small Royal Commission should have a general roving commission to inquire into the whole problem of the congestion of Oxford roads and what is the right solution to that problem. I do not mind whether it is a Royal Commission or not. I see the advantages in having a Royal Commission, because it has a right to send for people and papers and to take evidence on oath. It also has a status, which I think is important.
As I understand it, what is being offered by the Government, in place of that, is that there should be an inquiry under the Town and Country Planning Act. After the months we have spent on 799 these Bills and the orders which come under them, we in this House are all reasonably familiar with the provisions of those Acts and with the powers and duties of the Minister and the various local authorities. But what is proposed by the Government is that the ordinary, what I may call town planning inquiry should take place, with one single difference; that, instead of there being a functionary, a civil servant, to conduct the inquiry, it should be conducted by an independent person and his report should be published, whereas generally, I think, the reports are not. But the Minister would remain entirely responsible. This would not be a report like that of a Royal Commission to the Government; this would be a report by an independent inquirer to the Minister, and the Minister would be the man who would take the decision. As my noble friend Lord Halifax has just said, if one thing is really clear in the whole of this unhappy business, it is that nobody, whether it is the town council or the university, is likely to accept a pronouncement from the Minister.
There is another important difference—the sort of inquiry proposed by Lord Beveridge, a Royal Commission, would cover the whole field. That suggested by Lord Munster would not cover the whole field at all. As I understand it, what would happen is that the City Council would make a report, and would put up a proposal. But it would be a limited proposal: it would be a proposal of a road here—it might be the Christ Church road; it might be another road, it might be something else. But it would be essentially limited. It is said that everybody can come and object. Of course they can, but they can deal, and the official in charge of this inquiry can deal, only with the specific proposal that is put forward. It is true that somebody might say "Well, I think this is a bad proposal, because it would be much better to let the circular roads be completed ". But one knows what these inquiries are: the more businesslike and judicial the man conducting the inquiry is, the more he keeps on saying to witnesses, "Please concentrate on the matter in hand, which is this particular road and nothing else."
Frankly, my Lords, I think that that would be quite inadequate. I am sure the Minister will try to be impartial but, 800 after all that has happened, people will not be sure that he is impartial. Whether with justice or with injustice, they will say, "The new Minister has the same advisers as the old," just as I would say that I do not trust my noble friend Lord Cherwell, because I think he is committed on this matter. If that is true—and it is a perfectly reasonable thing to say—surely it is equally true that all the people in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning are equally committed, or have been, and will find it difficult to come to this matter with an impartial mind. At any rate, what is quite certain—and this has been said so often, almost for centuries—is that it is important not only to do justice but to appear to do justice. I do not believe the Government will give that appearance unless there is a completely independent inquiry, independent in its personnel, and independent and wide in its scope.
Supposing we take the Government's proposal, what is to happen? Of course I know—we do not need to be told this—that if a Royal Commission report, the Government are not bound by their Report; nobody is bound by it. But people will pay great attention to it. Governments, the Oxford Council and the University pay attention to these things. Indeed, I should be greatly surprised if the City Council of Oxford were not rather glad of this opportunity. My noble friend said something about "Would the Commission be unanimous?" The last thing we have had on the City Council of Oxford has been unanimity. I gather that the most critical resolution of all was passed by the casting vote of the Mayor. Where there is a lack of unanimity, I think they might be greatly helped.
The chief respondents (if I may so call them) in this matter, Christ Church, have said that, if there is a Royal Commission, then they will stand by it. But if the course the Government propose is followed, what will be the standing of Parliament in this matter? When this proposal comes forward, shall we find that the Minister has made an order either approving or disapproving what the City Council do, or, for all I know, has made an order quite different from what the Council have proposed? I dare say that would be within his powers, but is he coming to Parliament?
801 I beg the Government not to think that in this matter anybody's reputation is at stake. I do not want them to stand in a white sheet; I do not want them to stand in the last ditch. Surely there is no question of Party politics in this matter. There is no question of principle here. Surely we are all joining together. Speeches have been made from all sides of the House. I very seldom agree with the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but I agreed with every single word of the speech he made to-day. I thought it was an admirable speech. Whether we are right or not, this surely is a particularly good instance of Parliament acting as a Council of State to come to the wisest conclusion. I am perfectly certain that, if there were a Report of a Royal Commission, backed by the full feeling of Parliament, it would be a good thing.
I do not regard this proposal as a precedent. The noble Earl was rather inclined to say, "You cannot do this sort of thing about roads." Of course, you cannot have a Royal Commission about every hotly contested road in the country; but Oxford is unique, and I do not believe that this would create a precedent. Whatever the tribunal that should be appointed, I am doubtful whether it is necessary to have the inquiry now. Generally, I am in favour of decision and action, but I am not at all sure that this is not one of the few situations in which "Wait and see" might be a wise policy. I will tell the House why. I do not believe, whatever tribunal of inquiry is set up, that it will get any conclusive evidence, because the evidence depends on unknown factors which do not yet exist. I have tried to read everything on this matter, and I believe that the crux of it is: what will happen to the traffic when these circular by-pass roads are completed? I think it may well be that, when these roads are completed, the great heavy traffic will go circling round outside the city and that the Oxford problem will have solved itself.
I am bound to say to the Government (and. I was once a member) that they are not without blame in this matter, because, while I should have thought everybody would agree that these roads ought to be constructed as quickly as possible, I understand that it is only in the last few months or weeks that the Ministry of Transport have approved the North-South by-pass and, I think, one of the 802 others. The Government certainly have a great many more urgent road problems in hand than they can possibly find money for. I should have thought, therefore, that the thing to do was to get on with these roads, and not be so keen to rush us into some other solution which may be the wrong one.
My Lords, I am profoundly grateful to the Government for what I gather is an assurance that we are not going to be rushed into what I may call a Sunset Boulevard. That, at any rate, is a considerable relief. But I should have liked the inquiry to wait until the facts are clearer the situation would then probably be less contentious. Of course, what is so important about a wide Royal Commission, as compared with a limited inquiry, is that a Royal Commission would say (though I am not attempting to dictate to them): "The best thing we can do is to get the circular roads constructed as quickly as possible, and get the shopping centre at Cowley completed." I could not agree more about that. Anybody who has seen the admirable shopping centre outside the City of Vancouver, for instance, and has observed its popularity, would agree with that. They might well say, "We had better wait and get these roads constructed."
When we pass a bad Act of Parliament we may do a lot of mischief. But we can go back on it—Parliament can repeal an Act of Parliament. Bad Acts have often been repealed. But if we take a wrong turning in this Oxford issue, we cannot repeal it. We cannot go back on it; we shall have done the mischief for all time. When Lord Melbourne's colleagues were proposing something that he thought was unusually stupid or ill-timed, he was in the habit of saying, "If only they would have the goodness to leave the thing alone." I am not at all sure that Lord. Melbourne's sage advice might not be a good course for us to follow to-day.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I find myself in close agreement with the noble Earl who has just spoken, perhaps because we have looked at Oxford from the same college windows. There is a certain geographical outlook in this matter. The Christ Church man sees it in one way; the New man looking at 803 The High sees it in another way, and the John's man see it in yet another way. We have to try to take a broad look at this question. I agree with the noble Earl that it is no good trying to consider this as some little domestic local government matter that can be dealt with in the usual form. This is a great national question. Oxford is a great national asset. That is not to say in the least that we should disregard either the University or the Town, because whilst it is a University City we must not forget that it has a very live City Council and a civic pride.
Here I think there is a case for entirely exceptional treatment. I had a good deal of sympathy with the late Minister of Housing. because he took a decision. It may have been wrong or right, but he took a bold decision. It aroused great opposition and he has now left that Ministry. I do not see that the Government need be bound by what he did. He is now at the Ministry of Defence which, as they say in the present House of Commons, is a kind of lay-by, not to be occupied by any Minister for more than two months. Meanwhile, we have a new Minister. Suppose we had the same procedure recommended. The same motions would have to be gone through, although this time they would be gone through by a Balliol man and not by a Magdalen man. But he would be subject to the same impressions. I think there is a strong case for the proposal put forward by Lord Beveridge, the Master of my old college, supported by Lord Samuel in what I thought was a most impressive speech. It is a case for cutting through the red tape and putting up something which will deal with the matter on the broadest national lines, not merely as a road problem, but as a problem of these communities—though perhaps they are hardly communities yet—which have grown up around Oxford, and of the preservation of Oxford.
The proposal is that we should have a Royal Commission. I imagine that if they did report, it would be quite open to the Government, if they agreed, to cut through the red tape by special legislation for Oxford. That may well be the right course, because it is not Oxford's fault that she happens to sit in the middle of a great transport area. I do not see why the whole weight should fall 804 on Oxford. There may well be exceptional monetary considerations, needing exceptional legislation. My only doubt is about finding the impartial people. I was talking with a Liberal some years ago about whether one could find an impartial man in industry. He said that he could find three. He named them, and they all happened to be Liberals. That is rather what one finds when one seeks an impartial person. We must have these "four just men"; but they will take some finding. Lord Beveridge stressed that they should be young men. I hope that we shall not have a devotee of that modern "packing case" architecture which we see all over the place, or Oxford might then be worse off than she is now. At any rate, there is bound to be great difficulty in finding them.
I am quite sure, however, that in this matter the Government will be well advised to fortify themselves, if they can, by some absolutely impartial opinion. I do not see where they will get that under the proposals put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Munster. Either the Minister will make a decision, and then perhaps he will be thrown over and there will be another Minister, or the Government will have to make a decision and stand by it. Ultimately it is a matter for Government decision. They have got to take their courage in their hands and put forward a real proposal. I think they would be fortified if they had an opinion put forward by four or five people, or whatever number it may be, chosen specially for this task. I think they would then have a chance of doing something. Otherwise, I am afraid that this problem is going to hang on and on, with ultimate complete frustration, because of failures to agree and the inevitable failure of the Minister who has tried to deal with it.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, owing to a number of "casualties" in the list of speakers, I find myself immediately following my noble friend Lord Attlee. I think that up to now every single speaker, with the exception of Lord Munster, has taken much the same line, and I imagine that all the succeeding speakers, except the noble Leader of the House, may well equally take the same line. If it were merely a question of my supporting everything that has been said up to now, I should have followed the example of my two predecessors and would have dropped 805 out. I find myself in some difficulty. There is no doubt in my mind that this whole question has been bedevilled by the fact that the Minister may have taken what might be regarded as a courageous course in difficult circumstances, when it was impossible to get any kind of agreement amongst those who were responsible, and therefore felt that he had to give a lead to get over that. I think that is perfectly true, as the noble Earl explained in his speech.
But the fact remains that, by doing so, he has hopelessly prejudiced his own position, because eventually he will have to decide on evidence that will be produced at an inquiry—possibly conflicting evidence—and nobody will believe that he had not already made up his mind, in view of the circumstances of the communication which he addressed to the Oxford City Council. It may be that it was tantamount to a direction. It may be that it was not a direction. But everybody regarded it as a direction, and to me it is a little difficult to accept that it is anything else but a direction, or was so intended. That is the first difficulty that we have to face; and when we consider the case of the kind of inquiry that the noble Earl recommended, though l should, in the ordinary way, have thought that an admirable suggestion, the fact remains that unless the Minister gives a totally different decision, nobody will believe that he had not already committed himself to a view and that anything that transpired in the course of the inquiry made no difference at all.
The next point about which I find some difficulty is that there has already been a very wide inquiry on the redevelopment of Oxford. One may make little of that point, and I do not want to be legalistic, but the Act of 1947 does provide an elaborate machinery to enable local authorities to prepare their development plans. They have first to make a survey of the area, and if they are doing their duty it will be a very wide survey and should elicit all the facts about traffic difficulties, shops and other things involved in the making of the plan. On the basis of that survey they make a plan, and that is presented to the Ministry. I do not know whether, in this particular instance, they had expert advice on their plan. Then a public inquiry into the plan is held at which everybody who is interested, and many people who are not 806 Interested, appear and express their views. Eventually, on the basis of the data at that inquiry, the development plan is approved or modified.
Now all that has been done, and no noble Lord who has spoken hitherto has expressed a word of criticism of the way in which this development plan had been approved. All the matters with which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, dealt—the question of shopping in Cowley, of the redevelopment of Cowley and so on—had presumably been inquired into in preparing the development plan and opportunities will have been given to anybody who think that the plan is inadequate, The plan has now been approved, and I understand from the noble Earl, Lord Munster, that it is actually being implemented. Land is being acquired for the express purpose of providing for more shopping in Cowley. and for a centre, to enable the City of Oxford to become less congested by providing counter attractions in Cowley. I therefore find myself in some difficulty in understanding what a Royal Commission would inquire into. According to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Beveridge and Lord Samuel, they would be covering exactly the same ground as that which has already been covered in the public inquiry into the development plan for Oxford. I do not want to pour scorn on Royal Commissions. They are sometimes very useful bodies. Usually the function of a Royal Commission is to keep a Government out of difficulties. When a Government are unable to make up their mind and want to postpone a decision, they set up a Royal Commission. I have never known a Royal Commission report in six months, as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has mentioned.
My Lords, I stand corrected. But on a complicated matter of this kind, which is so highly controversial, I doubt very much whether any Royal Commission could report in less than a number of years. I should not have attached all that importance to that point. I should not regard that in itself as a case against the setting up of a Royal Commission, except for the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, put it forward as an argument for a speedy way of settlement. I do not mind if they take a couple of years.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
My Lords, certainly most of us who are supporting this Motion are quite satisfied that any small group of, say, four or six people could produce a Report in well under six months. The noble Lord has explained what a lot of material there is there. What is now in question is to come to a conclusion, and everybody has come to a different conclusion. As the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, has said, what is wanted now is an authoritative voice to say: "This is the best way out." I believe that that could be done far more quickly, in six months.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, does the most reverend Primate want this Commission or Committee to go into the question of the problem as a whole for the whole of Oxford? Does he think they could come to some agreement in six months?
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive my intervening, may I say that I have had the experience of presiding over three Royal Commissions, and on two occasions the Commission reported within twelve months, that being a condition of my acceptance of the chairmanship.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, much depends on the terms of reference to the Royal Commission. If the terms of reference were to do over again the work that has been done by the City of Oxford, then I should say, without any fear of contradiction, that that could not be done in less than several years.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, if I might make a suggestion to the noble Lord, I do not think we want to quarrel about what ground we cover. Everybody has accepted the broad development plan which had not got these roads in it. I should be perfectly content with a Commission or an inquiry which said what roads have to be built in and round Oxford.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, now we are getting somewhere, because up to this moment I was under the impression that the case that had been made was that there should be a comprehensive inquiry into the development of Oxford, and it was to that point that I was addressing myself in saying that I did not think, 808 having regard to the development plan which has been already approved, that such an inquiry was called for. Obviously, some kind of inquiry into the road question is called for. I believe everybody in this House is agreed that the particular proposal of the Minister is unsatisfactory, though whether at the end of the day a more satisfactory proposal can be arrived at, I should not like to say. Many of us feel that the Minister's decision (and I must call it that, provisionally at any rate), was arrived at on inadequate facts. I doubt whether he could really have informed himself of all the data that could be made available. But I do not want to over-stress that point.
The fact remains that the only question now to be decided is that of the best way of dealing with the traffic congestion, which is a very limited matter and far different from the kind of investigation which was visualised by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and others who have spoken in the debate. If it is merely a question of deciding what is the best way of solving the road question, then I am bound to say that we have narrowed the problem down to within very small limits. Should it be an inspector appointed by the Minister but independent of the Minister? Should it be a Royal Commission? Should it be a small number of intelligent, objectively-minded people, or should it be a number of experts? Frankly, I do not mind which it is, so long as you appoint a body of people, or one person, to investigate the facts and make a recommendation.
But we are not out of the wood yet, because at the end of the day someone has to consider this recommendation. No-one, so far as I know, has suggested that the Report of a Royal Commission, or the report of an inspector, or anyone's report, should be final and conclusive. At the end of the day, that must be the responsibility of the Minister. And, unfortunately, the Minister has committed himself hopelessly. Well, we have a new Minister, and it may be that he will feel that he is in no way bound by the views of his predecessor. I very much hope that that will be the case. From the opinions that have been expressed since the noble Earl spoke, it looks as though the appointment of an inspector, even if he were to be independent, even if his report were going to be published, would 809 not be acceptable to many of your Lordships. If that should be the case, I think it is so desirable that we should, at any rate, get a tribunal which is acceptable in this matter—a matter which is of great concern to all of us—that I would suggest that the Government might consider seriously the idea of appointing a panel of experts They would be objective.
In the end, it may well be that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is right, and that it would be better not to have an inquiry at all, because it would be almost impossible to agree either upon the terms of reference or upon the tribunal itself. But may I give one or two reasons why I think a committee of experts would be preferable to a body of people like a Royal Commission? This is, fundamentally, a technical question—a question of roads. of course, those concerned must hear in mind questions of beauty and the undesirability of doing anything to spoil Oxford. That must, clearly, be a part of their terms of reference. But it really is a technical question. There is the proposal for the construction of a tunnel and there are various other questions involved in deciding what is best going to solve the traffic problem—I think we are agreed that it is going to be limited to that. It seems to me that: I body of experts could arrive more satisfactorily at a decision than could a body of people who started off with little knowledge of the subject and had to learn about it as they went along.
At any rate, my contribution to this debate is that, whatever tribunal is agreed upon, the terms of reference should be limited to the question of the roads. The general development of Oxford has been approved, and, in my own view, the most satisfactory tribunal in spite of the most reverend Primate's objection—would be a small committee of experts. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to that suggestion. In conclusion, I would say that I do not feel very strongly about which form of tribunal is agreed upon, so long as we get a tribunal which will be objective and will be competent to give objective advice to the Government.
§ 5.54 p.m
§ LORD ADRIAN
My Lords, at this stage I do not think there is more than just one consideration which someone 810 from Cambridge should bring to your attention—that is, the harm that can be done to an academic society by a decision which may leave an abiding sense of grievance. I think there is no doubt at all that this unfortunate and lengthy dispute has divided Oxford into two, or possibly more, camps. Colleges, after all, are bound to breed loyalties. Their whole effectiveness depends on their being small societies within universities where seniors and juniors meet together, and where people of every interest talk to one another. Like all peace-loving communities, we have no aggressive intentions, but if we are attacked it becomes almost our duty to defend ourselves. And colleges are made up of people who are not naturally quarrelsome, but who have been trained to take no argument at its face value. Animated discussion of every kind of problem, is, of course, the lifeblood of any university, but such discus-skin cannot go on when it has reached the stage where the two parties are scarcely on speaking terms.
I know the great harm which can be done to a learned society by a bitter dispute of this sort, for my own college once suffered from it, when the Master tried to force his policy on a reluctant body of Fellows. It. was 250 years ago, and the Master, Bentley, had some excellent intentions, including that of the provision of more teaching in natural sciences. But some of his proposals were less farsighted, and they were forced on the opposing party, without proper discussion, by the threat of economic sanctions. The long and bitter quarrel which followed had disastrous results on the whole life of the college for upwards of thirty years Trinity recovered very slowly. No doubt these present disputes will be a great deal less disastrous in Oxford, but one feels that there would be less chance of their becoming disastrous if they could be judged by some sort of impartial tribunal. I cannot myself, of course, distinguish between all varieties of impartial tribunal which the Government might appoint. But if an impartial verdict could be reached, I think that many of us would feel that our friends had not been unreasonably treated And most of us, I feel, will agree that it case is not so urgent that it has to be settled without a fair trial.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, I have rarely, if ever, listened to a debate in which opinions have been so nearly unanimous and speeches so completely convincing as has been the case to-day. I was extremely glad that Lord Beveridge, in proposing this Motion, explained his proposal for a Royal Commission in such a way as, I think, to meet most of the objections which may have been in our minds and which caused us to hesitate as to whether that was the right course of action. He explained that he wanted only a very small body like that of the Coal Commission, to which he referred. And I think he demonstrated very clearly that the procedure of inquiry under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, is not really suitable to a problem of this kind, because it is essential, when conisdering the merits of a particular proposal, that you should be able not merely to have the arguments for and against it, but also to weigh it against the alternatives. Therefore, I think the case for some special inquiry, whether or not it is called a Royal Commission, or something under another name of the kind my noble friend Lord Beveridge had in mind, has been made out overwhelmingly. No answer which can begin to weigh against the arguments put forward in favour of it has been given by the noble Earl who has spoken for the Government.
But let us be clear what it is we want to inquire about. We want an inquiry only into matters upon which there is a real difference of opinion—namely, whether there must be an inner relief road (and by that I mean something between the north of the parks, on the north, and the river, on the south) and, if so, what it should be. There is no earthly reason why an inquiry on that subject, by whatever body, should delay for a moment the many important measures on which there is universal agreement in both the City and the University of Oxford, whatever is decided on the controversial question. These non-controversial measures include the completion of the by-passes, intermediate roads—by which I mean roads either north of the parks or south of the river—and the development of a shopping centre at Cowley. All these things can go on at once, without being delayed for an instant by the fact that there is a 812 new inquiry. As they are universally agreed, and will certainly take as much effort and as much money as will be available, we should be losing nothing by getting on with them at once while we take time to look again at what is really disputed.
I suggest that for several reasons this is an opportune moment to hold an inquiry in the appropriate way, to look without prejudice from the recent past at the controversial question. We have a new Minister. We have a new Vice-Chancellor, whose opinion, I think, is more likely to be in consonance with the view of the vast bulk of University opinion. In the third place, we have had a clarification of a most important misunderstanding. I do not think that it ought to be assumed that a majority of the City Council would have been in favour of this Christ Church road if a considerable number of members who voted had not been under the misapprehension that the Minister's letter was an imperative direction which they must obey. There must be time for the Council, as well as for others concerned, to look at the question after the clarification we have had—or, at least, which I hope we have had. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, without dissent, either from the noble Earl, Lord Munster, or from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, that he understood that the City Council are now absolutely free to put forward a plan that is not consistent with the Minister's letter, I hope that that is so. If it is, I trust that the damage done by the decisions taken under a misapprehension in the past will not again distort their judgment.
There is one further reason why the question should be looked at again. I understand that the consultant whom the City Council had engaged to work out the consequences of the continuation of the road, if it is built across the meadow, will present his report this month. I think that when the members of the Council who voted, by a rather precarious majority, for the Christ Church Meadow road look at the consequences, particularly in the light of the fact that they are now told they are free from ministerial direction, it is extremely unlikely that they will again affirm support of this Meadow road plan.
For a few moments, if I may, I should like to speak on behalf of the Oxford 813 Preservation Trustees, as I have been asked to put their views before your Lordships. As your Lordships will know, the Oxford Preservation Trustees have existed from long before the Town and Country Planning Act, and in the past, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel knows well, they have done services of great importance far the preservation of amenities in Oxford. They have urged the view very strongly, as my noble friend has already said, that the right course at this moment is to get on with what is agreed while considering further whether something more, and, if so, what, is needed.
They have also pointed out, with, I think, great force, that many people who have advocated the Meadow road have done so under the impression that, as a counterpart, they will secure that Magdalen Bridge is closed for the entry to the High Street of motor traffic. I think they are being led into a trap. Once the road across the Meadow is started, it is irrevocable, but a regulation by a Minister to close traffic across Magdalen Bridge is as precarious as the Minister's own tenure of power. If this were done and there were still congestion of traffic, as there is likely to be, I do not believe for a moment that such a ministerial regulation, would stand; it would be cancelled by the next Minister. Therefore I am entirely in agreement with the main recommendation which I have reported as being the view,nemine contradicente, of the Oxford Preservation Trustees. They include representatives of both the City and the University, and many other residents who know the Oxford problem inside out, and they had the advantage, in considering this problem, of not being a legal authority, such as the Minister and the planning committee of the City Council, and did not feel bound to adjust their own judgment of the situation to what were thought to be ministerial directions. I suggest that when we have a body of that kind, presenting without any dissent the view which I have just summarised, it should carry great weight.
I would add just a few personal remarks which are consistent with that view. I ask your Lordships' indulgence, for this reason. I think your Lordships will have noticed some relationship between the views of rival advocates and 814 the location of the colleges to which they owe loyalty. In some respects, the bias of institutional loyalties of this kind is likely to be an even more serious obstacle to reaching a policy that is in the general interest than personal interests of profit; because an honest and responsible person who has a pecuniary interest in a particular policy will not only declare that interest but will hesitate in his own mind, and certainly before expressing it, to advocate a policy which is in accordance with that personal interest. But there is no such restraining influence when one has a loyalty to an institution; and Oxford University, as everyone knows, is composed of colleges which have the most ardent, and often conflicting and competing, loyalties.
I do not profess to be any more exempt than anyone else from such a bias, but I happen to have a number of conflicting and counteracting biases. I was born in Oxford, the son of a mayor of Oxford. I spent my boyhood in Oxford, before I had any association with the University. And when I had an association with the University, I lived as an undergraduate and as a Fellow of two colleges in the High Street, and therefore might have a bias towards putting the interests of the High Street over everything else. But I was also a Member for Oxford University for thirteen years in the other place, and have therefore been conscious of a responsibility to all colleges equally with those which happened to be in the same street as my own.
With that, I should like to underline a little what I have reported as the views of the Oxford Preservation Trust. The road across the Meadow is the most disastrous proposal, because its damage is irrevocable and immense. It would damage the amenities of Magdalen School; it would completely ruin the characteristic charm and beauty and the tranquility of Christ Church Meadow; it would run through that beautiful memorial garden and impair the attraction and charm of that greatest of additions of recent years to the amenities of Oxford, the opening out of the view of the south side of the wall of Christ Church. It would have no value at all unless it were carried—we do not know at what cost, along what route—through St. Ebbes, because without a road through St. Ebbes the traffic going into the City will have to turn at once up the steepest 815 hill in the City. The certain loss is immense, the benefits completely uncertain and incalculable. As I say, I do not believe for a moment that it would, in fact, save the High Street, for the reasons that I have mentioned, to which I may also add the fact that, under the plan, traffic conies into the High Street from Rose Lane. But I will not develop that aspect further.
Therefore, I am sure that, whatever is the right solution this is the wrong one. I entreat your Lordships to endorse and confirm the case, which seems to me overwhelmingly, in favour of getting on with what is agreed, and on what is not agreed having some form of inquiry more suitable than that provided under the Town and Country Planning Act. And remember this: that you are not losing anything by the time spent on the latter, because within a given time and for a given cost—and undoubtedly the financial resources, whether provided centrally or locally, will set a limit to the work even upon the agreed measures—you will, by concentrating upon these agreed measures now and acting at once, be getting better and quicker relief and without the loss of amenities which the proposal for a road across the Meadow would involve. I therefore strongly support the essential proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, which has, I think, been overwhelmingly proved to be the right one, whatever be the precise name of the inquiry, by everyone who has spoken except the representative of the Government.
§ 6.16 p.m.
My Lords, I much regret that I was unable to be present during the early part of this debate, for the subject is one of great importance. Like everybody I have heard all the arguments "about it and about", and I find it difficult to believe that the Royal Commission for which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, is asking could throw any further light upon the so-long-debated problem or is likely to come to any unanimous conclusion or recommendation. As Mr. Duncan Sandys very rightly saw, the time for decision had come; the only trouble was that he decided wrongly. No doubt he made this arbitrary decision because he felt that he could never get agreement. But you can get agreement. Everybody will agree with the right solution, and it is vital to 816 get the right solution. If the Government make a failure about groundnuts, we lose only the taxpayers' money, which can be replaced but if the Government fail to solve this road problem, we lose Oxford, which cannot be replaced. It is one of the noblest and most beautiful of our possessions, a treasure beyond all price, and we shall never be forgiven if we spoil it.
Yet all the time we argue over second best alternatives, everybody knows what ought to be done. Everybody knows in his heart of hearts that Mr. Roy Harrod is right: that Magdalen Bridge should be closed and that a traffic tunnel should be constructed starting at The Plain, going under Christ Church Meadow and St. Aldates Street and emerging in the neighbourhood of St. Ebbes. Everybody, or nearly everybody, would agree with this. The agitation would subside. The enraged professors, the embattled dons, would lie down like lambs. In France it would be done at once, as it has been done under the Palace of St. Cloud. But here the instant reaction of this spendthrift nation, faced with a bill for culture, is: "What will it cost? Ought we to spend money on luxuries? What about the export trade and the balance of payments?"
Well, I should like to persuade the Government to pay for this tunnel. They have had a windfall. In future they will not have to hand out every year to the undeserving inhabitants of Jordan £12 million. I observe that that kind of payment never raises any form of protest. Some atavistic, imperial pride keeps everybody silent when money is poured into the desert sand. Such Votes, unlike any attempt to finance a civilised life, go through without a word. Why not use this annual £12 million, thrown back on us by those ungrateful Arabs, to do the many little jobs that are required to make a decent life at home? You can call it, if you like, the Arabian Nights Fund, and never allow it to be diminished.
In my family life most of my income, like everybody else's, is spent on Brussels sprouts, but we always set aside a small sum every year for making our lives more attractive and more civilised. And £12 million is a small sum out of an expenditure of £5.000 million. I know that the big lines of our economic policy are set upon saving, and, indeed, the principle is based so obviously upon necessity that 817 such saving may have to go on for years. But on every organisation on which I have ever had a say, I have always held out against the consistent and logical application of a general principle. To be logical is the hall-mark of a small mind. To be unable to make an exception is the hall-mark of a weak mind.
This new Government are not lacking in imagination and self-confidence. They must see that if they go all out for their admirable general principle and make no exceptions to it, opportunities will be lost that cannot recur. The chance to save a situation passes by, and something, like Oxford, may be killed that it is of vital importance to keep alive. Every year something of this sort turns up, and we have no Arabian Nights Fund to deal with it. If we had, I am sure it would be popular. People feel that there is nothing to show for the £5,000 million spent on our daily life—nothing that is even news—and would enjoy the spectacular results accomplished by the expenditure of this £12 million. We have already moved a considerable way in this direction. We have the funds allotted to the Arts Council and the Historic Buildings Council, both under £1 million a year, and too small. We have the £50 million of capital in Mr. Dalton's admirable Land Fund, one of the best measures of the Labour Government, but not used enough.
I venture to put before your Lordships, late though it is, a brief survey of the sort of thing I mean, limited, of course, to my own field of knowledge, and ignoring the fact that such cases occur all over the country. All the arts are concerned, and I would take first the loss of valuable books. Your Lordships will remember that £100,000 had to be produced to save theCodex Sinaiaticus, and a few years later I saw laid out in a row the thirteen books from Lord Leicester's library at Holkham, for which another £100,000 had to be paid. Every year some 250 pictures of national importance are referred to the National Gallery before being sold to the United States. In 1956, the Government found the money for two. The drain continues. Also the National Gallery needs to be enlarged if it is to show its treasures. Covent Garden and Sadler's Wells both have large overdrafts which should be paid off. Covent Garden, if it is to reach international standards, needs an opera 818 school on the same lines as the excellent ballet school recently created in Richmond Park.
Unless the best site in London is to be lost the Government should implement the National Theatre Act and give Shakespeare his proper place in the community. It is time that the new Ministry for the Colonies, which makes such an ugly gap opposite Westminster Abbey, was built. It is time to build that flyover at Hanger Lane, in default of which the Western Avenue cannot function. It is time that the Government put some determination into saving the treasures at Chatsworth. All these are easily within the scope of such a fund as I recommend. We could even he more ambitious and contemplate the removal of Charing Cross Bridge. This dream of the London County Council, costing some £50 million, would take only four years' use of this fund to accomplish.
I hope the Government will give serious consideration to this expansion of Educated England, and that they will inaugurate the scheme with the Oxford Tunnel. I am afraid that the Government will not civilise Britain with that lighthearted generosity with which they subsidised Jordania. Some vestiges of obsolete imperialism still cloud their vision. They cannot yet see that our future is Athenian and not Roman. It has been Roman, and it is going to be Athenian. I often look across at the inscrutable faces of the Ministers on the Front Bench, trying so hard to look as if they believed that men live by bread alone, and I never quite despair of puncturing that thin layer of official composure. The noble Marquess who is to reply to this debate has a genuine love of beautiful things. He used to be on the Committee of the National Trust. He does not have to read that notice, put up all over the place so helpfully by the Ministry of Works, "This park is beautiful"; he knows that before he is told. He knows that there are very few things in this world more beautiful than Oxford. I would ask him for only one thing: Out my suggestion should reach the eye of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If this suggestion is not accepted, I feel that we shall have to fall back on the platitudes and dreary solution of a Royal Commission.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ LORD BRAND
My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, with great interest. I wondered at one moment whether the House of Lords are accustomed to having a filibuster, as in the United States, when somebody may speak for some time in the most interesting and amusing way, but slightly off the point. I have nothing to say in disagreement with almost every speaker who has spoken this afternoon, except with the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, which I dare say was a joke, that we should build a tunnel under the Meadow. The Meadow Road, to my mind, contradicts everything that we are aiming at. I should like to put the case against it for a moment or two, somewhat differently from what has been said this evening by other speakers. It seems to me that if w have an inquiry or Royal Commission, or whatever it may be, those who take part in it should be instructed to ensure that the new roads to be built in Oxford should aim at keeping the mass of population in the suburbs away from the University City. The great disadvantage of the Meadow scheme is that it would result in a larger road, to bring more people out of the suburbs into the University City and more crowding in the Cornmarket, which is one of the most crowded streets in the world.
There are two reasons, to my mind, why the populations of the suburbs—which. I might remind your Lordships, amount to 91,000 out of a total population of a 106,000—crowd into the University City. One is, because all the great shops are there. That is the main reason. If we could only move Marks & Spencer's, Boot's, the new Woolworth's and other big stores, to the other side of Magdalen Bridge, our problem would be half solved already. But that we cannot do. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, rightly proposes that shopping centres and centres of amusement should be built in Cowley, and my own view would be in other suburbs, too. For while Cowley has, or had in 1952, a population of 31,000 out of a total of 106,000, Marston and Headington had 17,000 and North Oxford and Summer-town had another 17,000. That makes much more than half the population of 820 the whole of Oxford in those three suburbs. It is highly important that they should, so to speak, amuse themselves at home, instead of going into the small University City, whose population, from the figures I have been given, amounts only to 10,000. Therefore, the object of the whole exercise should be that the people in the suburbs should be kept out of the University City.
But they come in now, not only for the shops, but also because there are not sufficient roads and bridges by which to get from one suburb to another. It must be remembered that Oxford is surrounded by rivers, and it is difficult for these people in Cowley and Headington, in North Oxford and in Marston and in other suburbs to get from one suburb to another without coming through the University City, either over Magdalen Bridge or over Folly Bridge. The whole object, therefore, of an inquiry should be: how can we keep the population of the suburbs, so to speak, at home, and how can we relieve the University City from the enormous number of people who come there on Saturdays. holidays and other days and clutter up the whole place? I was told in the Municipal Offices—perhaps the figures are very rough—that 15 per cent. of the traffic is through traffic and 85 per cent. is local traffic. Those may be somewhat imagined figures; nevertheless the local traffic is very large and comes from the suburbs. Therefore, to my mind, what is needed is to build the by-passes, to build the intermediate roads such as Sir Patrick Abercrombie has recommended, and after that leave the question of an inner relief road until it can be seen what has happened when you have done those two things. Very likely the problem would then have been solved.
Therefore my view is that the questions which will come before a Royal Commission, or any commission of inquiry, are comparatively simple. They have been studied in the past and there is a great deal of information about them. I see no reason why a general opinion on intermediate roads should not be given within six months, leaving the question of an inner relief road for later on. Whether the inquiry should be by means of a Royal Commission I cannot judge. I feel that any inquiry must be made outside the Ministry. After the decisions 821 already taken by the Ministry—because the Ministry officials must have had a large part in it—I cannot think that the Oxford public will be satisfied with another inquiry of the kind by people who have already committed themselves. Whether it should be a Royal Commission I do not know. I have sat on bodies like the Macmillan Committee, which is a Committee and not a Commission. It was a good Committee. It took evidence and cross-examined people. I am quite sure that some inquiry which is not a Ministry inquiry is required.
I should like to add one thing. I believe that any court of inquiry, or whatever it may he called, which is going to be instituted, should have power to call experts from abroad. Having known the United States pretty well, I hold the view that we know nothing about road making here, compared with that country. Also they have had a great deal more experience than we have had in dealing with problems of cities crowded out by motor cars. It may be that a public inquiry under the Ministry could not call experts from abroad.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I think the whole House will thank the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, for having introduced this debate. It has produced a remarkable unanimity. Not a single speaker has said a word in defence of the Minister's proposal for a road through Christ Church Meadow. My noble friend who intervened on behalf of Her Majesty's Government said that what was said in this debate would be studied. I propose mainly to speak on, and I hope to damn, the proposal of the late Minister for this road through Christ Church Meadow. I want, however, at the very outset, to comment, quite briefly, on something said by my noble friend Lord Munster. It will be remembered that the Minister's letter was dated September 21, 1956. It received enormous publicity. Every organ of the Press, all local authorities and every amenity society believed that what the Minister had done was to give a direction. No doubt whatsoever was expressed by anybody but that that was the meaning and intention of the letter.
The first intimation that it was not a direction was given in the defence filed in the action brought by Christ Church.
822 That defence was delivered on January 21 of this year. Therefore, every action that the Oxford City Council are at present taking in compliance with the Minister's letter was initiated under a complete misapprehension of the law and of the facts. I do not know, nor does any of us, what the Oxford City Council may think fit to do now that the fact has been made clear that They are under no obligation. I think, however, that the delayed disclosure of the truth is extremely unfortunate —and here I speak as an ex-Minister in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning responsible to some degree for piloting through another place the Acts of 1943 and 1944, both now replaced and amplified by the Act of 1947. If the Government knew that the local authority concerned, the Oxford Preservation Trust and every organ of opinion, was under the impression that this was a direction, and knew that it had not been so intended, I think they might have corrected the mistake. It may be, of course, that it was not until their legal advisers saw the statement of claim filed on behalf of my college that they were advised on what was tenable and what was not.
I confess at the very outset that I am a Christ Church man, and that I love my college more perhaps than any other institution. I k now that that love is shared by my noble Leader, with whom I was contemporary at Christ Church, and who will wind up this debate, and whose desire to do the right thing for Christ Church and for Oxford no one doubts. I do not believe that the fact that I am a Christ Church mail determines my attitude on this occasion. I believe that I should be as violently opposed to this proposed road if I belonged to any other college, or indeed if I were not an Oxford man at all. I was delighted with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who, not speaking as an Oxford man at all, expressed views on this road through Christ Church Meadow which I think commanded assent in every quarter of this House. I confess that, as a lover of Oxford and as a lover of England, I shall fight by every means this plan of the Minister to drive this road through Christ Church Meadow. Indeed, I felt, and I feel, a sense of anger and devastation that such a plan should ever have been put forward, and I honestly believe that, if this road were to be proceeded with, the 823 Government responsible would be numbered among the great vandals of history.
I propose to state and establish three main propositions. The first is that the proposed road would do irretrievable harm to one of the loveliest things in Europe; the second proposition is that it is unnecessary, and the third is that it would not bring about the intended relief. Let me take those three propositions in order. About the beauty of Christ Church Meadow itself it is, of course, difficult to speak—de gustibus non disputandum. What makes this Meadow uniquely lovely? Precisely the fact that it is an ordinary field—a piece of unspoiled country coming to the very walls of the ancient city and enjoying heavenly peace and quiet. May I quote some sentences from a friend of so many of us, Roy Harrod? In a letter toThe Times, he said that thebeauty of the Meadows is so various by season, by hour, by weather, that after thirty-five years I am often thrilled by some new aspect. The Meadow; are the only place from which one can get the sense of Oxford as a unity. At its best the Meadows panorama of trees and buildings may be reckoned one of the finest in the worldA different view was taken by another contributor toThe Timescorrespondence. He remarked that apart from the riverside walks Christ Church Meadow was—I now quote:an ordinary grass field and not by itself a place of striking beauty.His letter proceeded to speak enthusiastically of the Minister's proposal, and of (again I quote):great opportunities for landscape gardening and tree planting.He added that it gave—a striking opportunity, if used imaginatively, to turn Christ Church Meadow into a place of rare beauty.My Lords, that letter achieved something that is rarely achieved by a letter inThe Times—it made me and other readers feel physically sick.
To me, and to thousands of others, the view of Christ Church Meadow, with the walls, the cathedral, Merton, and the distant views of Magdalen Tower and the unspoiled country front the rivers up to the very walls, constitutes one of the loveliest things in Europe, and perhaps in the world. If the Minister were determined to destroy all this, at least his letter 824 might have shown some consciousness of what it was he was destroying. What did it do? It said this:The special attraction of the meadow lies in its riverside walks to the south and east.Nothing could be further from the truth. England has other riverside walks, but it has nothing, nor, so far as I know, has any other town of which I can think, which quite matches this unspoiled countryside coming to the very walls of the ancient University City. So much for what the road is to destroy.
Let me pass now to my second proposition, that it is unnecessary. Here I would repeat something said by Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and quite rightly said; something that has been forgotten by a few subsequent speakers. A good deal has been said about the failure of the Oxford authorities to agree. That failure has been greatly exaggerated. Both University and Town were completely agreed on the work that should be first proceeded with, and were completely agreed that there was no case at all at the present time for these intermediate roads. That was the position of agreement reached when the late Minister saw fit to intervene. They are. I think, completely agreed on the practical steps that should now be taken, and they are, or were, also agreed that there should be none of these intermediate roads, at least until these practical steps have been taken and found wanting.
I myself am not in favour of the total closing of Magdalen Bridge to motor traffic, at any rate at this stage. The High has been a highway, I suppose, for a thousand years or more, and I believe that its closing would not only involve unreasonable interference with the convenience of the inhabitants, but would also involve some æsthetic loss—some loss to the liveliness of the scene. But that does not mean that I do not agree with what many noble Lords have said, that of course there may be a case for some restriction of traffic.
My Lords, let me pass to the next point. If there were to be the suggested restriction of traffic over Magdalen Bridge, it then becomes demonstrably untrue that the alternative route has to be in the immediate vicinity. If you once make the decision to effect the closure, then you have more freedom of action on 825 where you can put the alternative route. I am not going to deal at length with the practical steps that we all think should be taken; but lest it should be thought that people who take my view are against all action, I would say that I entirely support the proposals of the Oxford Preservation Trust. Many noble Lords have mentioned the proposals of Professor Abercrombie. Read the proposals of the Trust, and consider the possibilities of the development of St. Ebbes. What is the source of a great deal of the problem? It is the fact that at the moment there is only one useful bridge, when of course there should be three more. There should be two further bridges over the Thames and another over the Cher.
I have dealt with the injury done to amenities. I have pointed out that this is unnecessary. Let me now come to what I believe would be alone sufficient to damn this road-namely, its futility. In arguing this matter with various persons since the proposal was originally put forward by the former. Minister of Housing and Local Government, I have noticed that people ask: "What is your alternative?" That very question is an example of begging the question. By asking "What is your alternative?" they imply, wrongly, that this road would solve the problem. But it would not. The question is a perfect example of what logicians callpetitio principii. I noticed that one of the few defenders of the scheme of the Minister said, in correspondence toThe Times, that traffic was increasing and would increase by not less than 10 per cent. a year. That was his case in favour of the Minister's proposal. But if that is so, if traffic is increasing by that amount, and if all this traffic is to have the uncontested right to pass through Oxford, then what follows? It follows that the proposed road will, in any case, be wholly insufficient. Then, of course, The High will be promptly reopened—and that may not be sufficient. We shall have, in addition, a second road driven through Christ Church Meadow. That, I suppose, will be described as doubling the standard, of living—two roads through Christ Church Meadow where there was only one before. What is to happen to the road after it has gone through Christ Church Meadow?
The most extraordinary fact about this whole controversy is that we have not 826 been told how the road is to cross St. Aldates. If it is to cross on the level, then, of course, the present congestion at Carfax will be repeated a few hundred yards lower down. If the road is to be taken underneath St. Aldates, perhaps we should treat the tunnel proposal with more respect, for if there is to be a road there at all, a tunnel would be the right thing but I hope we shall be told how the road is going to cross St. Aldates. I believe that some people in the Ministry of Transport have in mind that it should cross by a great bridge, a kind ofcloaca maximawhich, as one looked down from Carfax, one would see beyond the noble front of Christ Church and Wren's immortal tower. And after it has crossed St. Aldates, what course is this road to take? What is it to do, for example, when it reaches Beaumont Street? The amenities of Beaumont Street were respected when the Ashmolean extensions were planned and when the Oxford Playhouse was built on the other side. How is the new road to treat Beaumont Street? Is Worcester College to be separated from the rest of the University? And how is it to issue into St. Giles, one of the noblest streets in England? Why were none of these things even considered before this road was recommended?
I beg your Lordships not to be defeatists. In spite of every blunder of the last thirty years, the greatest beauties of one of the loveliest cities in the world can yet he saved. In the long run, I am absolutely certain of this: either all will be saved, the whole area, from the Parks to the Isis or nothing will be saved. Do not imagine that if you filch from Christ Church what Christ Church has preserved, to its own financial loss but to the immense benefit of the people of Oxford, for four centuries, that that will be the final sacrifice. May I say, in passing, that the Meadow has never been more valuable to the people of Oxford than it is to-day? When I was an undergraduate, it was still possible, without much difficulty, to reach the countryside of the Scholar Gypsy. Try now to reach the countryside on foot from the centre of Oxford in any direction. It is a superhuman task. But the people of Oxford can take their children and perambulators into Christ Church Meadow. It has never before been such a valuable amenity as it is today. Another correspondent inThe Timespointed out how much 827 simpler and easier it would be to acquire the open meadows from Christ Church than land for an alternative road. Perhaps. But, by the same logic, the Park of Magdalen may be taken for housing, and St. John's, Worcester, or New College garden may be taken for a super-garage.
Nearly twenty years have passed since, on June 18, 1937, I first attacked the national scandal of our destruction of the beauty of town and country by our folly and neglect. I ended my speech in another place on that occasion [OFFICIAL REPORT (COMMONS) Volume 325, col. 743] with these words, which I believe were right and which I venture now to repeat:There is, I believe an association to advertise the beauty and charm of England abroad, to attract foreign tourists to these shores. It receives, I believe, a grant from a Government Department. They say that truth in advertising pays. If so, let me present my right honourable Friend with this slogan to use in these foreign advertisements: 'Visit England now. No other country is destroying its beauty so quickly. A visit postponed may be too late.' To-day that simple, shameful statement is the literal truth. That it is true is a scandal, and I urge my right honourable Friend to dally with it no longer but to end it. If he does, he will have this reward, that he will, as far as in him lies, have saved the matchless beauty of the English scene. If we fail we shall destroy in a generation the gift of the ages. We shall incur, and we shall deserve, the detestation of posterity.If we treat the unlimited expansion of road traffic everywhere as a Sacred Cow about which no question can be raised, then there is nothing that we can save. But we shall be acting with a folly unique among the great nations. What is needed to-day is a determination by Her Majesty's Government to save Oxford—the whole of the area which is of priceless value, from the Parks to the Isis—a determination as unquestioned, as uncompromising and as invincible as was Sir Winston Churchill's determination to win the war. It can still be done, but nothing less will suffice.
§ 7.0 p.m.
My Lords, as I have listened to each succeeding speaker, or almost all of them, I have thought to myself that I have never heard the speaker in question to better advantage. That, I suppose, is another illustration of the fact that one tends to think that people are speaking well when one agrees with 828 them. I have heard hardly a sentiment expressed from non-official sources with which I have not been in full sympathy. I was, like most of your Lordships I think, deeply moved by the speech to which we have just listened. I know that the noble Marquess, whom we all want to hear, is a great lover of Christ Church besides being one of her most distinguished Honorary Students, and this must be a trying occasion for him. I do not usually feel sympathy for the noble Marquess; I usually reserve sympathy for myself when I confront him. On this occasion, however, I feel rather a tender emotion towards him: I would not be in his shoes for anything. I speak as an old member of Christ Church governing body, and I have always looked towards him with deep admiration.
I have no desire to detain your Lordships at any length. All the main points on this matter have already been stated, but I think that perhaps there are one or two aspects on which we should record what I think must be general agreement in principle. I only hope that the Government will recognise that on these points there is no difference at all. First of all, there is the question of the outer by-passes. I am not clear whether we have had any new pronouncement on that question to-day; I rather think that we have not. We understood from the noble Earl, Lord Munster, that things would be going along in just the same way as they have been hitherto. That is most unsatisfactory. I expect that the noble Marquess has probably been forwarded a copy of theOxford Mailcontaining an article headed "Scandal of the Bypasses". I think that few people in Oxford would deny that there is a scandal of that kind. May I ask the noble Marquess whether he can give us any assurance that these by-passes are going to be speeded up more than seemed to be the case when we entered this Chamber this afternoon? Can anything fresh be said about by-passes? I think that everyone interested is profoundly dissatisfied with what has occurred in this connection hitherto.
Then as regards the Cowley centre, I suppose I have a kind of vested interest in Cowley as my title in full is Lord Pakenham of Cowley. It is a title which was assumed without the permission of the inhabitants, but it has not been publicly resented so far as I am aware. I 829 ask the noble Marquess whether he is prepared to say anything on the actual centre. To be candid, the Oxford Mail, which some of us read now more than when we did when we were living in Oxford, in so far as it apportions blame for failure to get the centre project advanced, suggests that perhaps more blame rests on the City than on the Government—though blame is apportioned fairly liberally all round. May we take it that the Government believe that the centre is a really worthwhile objective and that they will do anything in their power to speed up the establishment of that centre? I should hope that there was total agreement in principle, but I feel that we are entitled to ask for something more definite than we have received so far.
Now I come to questions upon which there has been great agreement in the House but which have aroused much controversy in the last year or two. I summarise them in this way. First of all, should we proceed with any inner roads while the by-passes are being constructed? Secondly, if inner roads are to be built, where are they to be built? Thirdly, coming to a more particular case, are we to understand that the Government or anyone else favours a road through the Meadow? I am not going to say much about any of those questions for they have been so thoroughly dealt with already. But if I am asked what I think about a road through the Meadow, I would say that I naturally regard it as a totally revolting conception. This gives me no special claim upon your Lordships' attention, but if the noble Lord who spoke earlier has driven himself 25,000 times along Carfax, I suppose I can claim to have run round the Meadow more times than any other man alive. 1t is true that I did so more slowly than anyone who could really be called a runner. Of course, that sort of thing is no longer possible; a gentle stroll is the most one would permit oneself nowadays.
Are we to understand to-day that not only are the City Council free to put forward such a plan as they prefer, whether or net it includes a road through the Meadow, but also that the Government are totally uncommitted on the question of whether a road through the Meadow is desirable? That is a point which I feel must be pressed, because 830 the answer of the noble Earl, Lord Munster, possessed that sign of ambiguity which is sometimes, though not always, evidence of progress in official thought. I therefore feel that by the time the noble Marquess replies we shall be entitled to still clearer guidance on these points.
The noble Earl informed us at some point—unless I heard him wrongly—that the Minister had given a lead, the lead taking the form of recommending that the road should go through the Meadow. Mr. Duncan Sandys has gone; he has been translated to higher spheres. I do not speak as any personal critic of the late Minister. He is an old friend of mine—if one may claim friendship with a figure of such national eminence, to whom we are all looking to equip us with a far better system of defence at far smaller cost. Mr. Sandys is a man from whom miracles are daily expected. I speak as an old friend. He was the author of one of the greatest practical jokes of modern times. Purporting to write from the Proctors, he summoned thousands of undergraduates to the University buildings, thereby causing the utmost chaos, while he enjoyed the jape and afterwards departed laughing heartily. He learned early in life that it is possible to fool a large number of people for some of the time—particularly in Oxford. I hope these lessons, while they, no doubt, caused him infinite merriment, will not be bought at too high a price by the unfortunate Town and Gown, His successor is another col. league, a man of quiet humour. On the whole I think that in these cases someone who keeps his humour to himself may perform greater service to town and country planning. As I say, I am speaking in no personal sense about the late Minister.
I come now to the procedural question which is, in fact, the question raised in a most cogent way by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. Assuming that these questions are still in dispute—the question whether we should push on with inner roads while by-passes are still being constructed and, if so, what inner roads; and, in particular, should the Meadow road he proceeded with—what is the correct procedure for examining these difficult issues? I do not think anyone has yet given the Government credit for what 831 I think the noble Earl hoped might be regarded as an advance that he offered. I would not deny him all gratitude. I would say that he offered us a quarter or perhaps an eighth of a loaf—at any rate, a bit of bread. I do not think one must ignore altogether, the fact that the position stated regarding an inquiry was more satisfactory than some of us might have expected when we came here to-day, though vastly less satisfactory than most of us could accept.
The procedure adopted—let us be fair —does provide for a chairman or an investigator drawn from outside the ranks of the Ministry (that must be regarded as a step forward; it is certainly not a step backward; it would certainly not be the ordinary procedure) and for the report to be published. Let us be grateful for these admittedly small mercies. But I myself—and we are all speaking entirely for ourselves, so far as I know—feel that that is totally inadequate as a machinery for examining these great questions. I think that the noble Earls, Lord Swinton and Lord Halifax, made it abundantly plain, speaking after the Minister, how far that seemed to fall below what was required.
If I may reiterate two points, I cannot believe that an inquiry of that kind would be accepted by all the combatants as carrying the authority, or anything like the authority, of a Royal Commission. That I should have thought was obvious to all of us. Secondly, taking the phrase employed earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, I gather that the inquiry would still be piecemeal, an inquiry only into a particular proposal, not an inquiry into the whole situation affecting roads. The inquiry procedure which was explained to us by the noble Earl, Lord Munster (and I think your Lordships will agree that I am interpreting as most of us understood it what he said), would deal simply with the plan that the Oxford Corporation would be putting up to the Minister, and would not be able to take a general view of the road situation, now and in the future, in Oxford. If I have interpreted the noble Earl wrongly, I hope the noble Marquess will put me right. Even if it could take a general view, it would affect me to some extent, but I cannot pretend that it would affect me the whole extent or anything like it. I come back to the fact that something of the magnitude and recognised significance of a 832 Royal Commission, whether it is literally called that or not, is essential to enable a fresh start to be made, and until we have a fresh start made I do not think that this issue will be cleared of all its ambiguities.
The perfectly legitimate argument has been brought forward by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, but one not, I think, sufficiently adequate, that we must not interfere with the autonomy of the City Corporation. I may or may not be the only former city councillor of Oxford here. I represented, at one time, Cowley Ward, and at another time the South Ward of Oxford; but I have no mandate to speak for them, or for anybody else, to-day. I am bound to say, however, that if that is the argument, it would surely be right and proper to apply it to ministerial regulations from the late Minister, Mr. Duncan Sandys, who has already interfered grievously at least twice with the free judgment of the City Council. The Council drew up a plan and wanted to get on with the bypasses, but they were informed that they must have inner roads as well. Then they were sent a letter which I understand is not a directive—the noble Earl thought that it was a "request "—but, in fact, it indicated very strongly a definite line to the City Council; and woe betide them! in practice if they did not follow that line. Speaking in a most respectful way, I do not think that it well becomes the Government to take up the line that it is their critics who would be interfering with local autonomy. I would applaud one statement in the document which emanated. I think very creditably, from Christ Church, where it, was said that in view of the Government's intervention it was difficult to see what the City Council would do if they had a completely free vote. We must all think that, by the time the controversy has reached this stage.
We are in danger of seeing a supreme sacrilege committed. I hope the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will be able to relieve our minds a little, but I cannot disguise from him that I do not expect that he will be able to improve to any vast extent on the statement made to us by the noble Earl, Lord Munster. Again speaking entirely for myself, unless some big development in policy has occurred since the noble Earl addressed the House, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, will press this matter to 833 a Division, and I hope and believe that it will be carried in a way which will show the whole world that the lovers of Oxford have not lost their sense of Oxford's value and the meaning of that incomparable heritage.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, must confess that I approach this debate with some trepidation. First, I feel rather in the situation of Casabianca, although that is a situation fairly familiar to Ministers and ex-Ministers on both sides in this Chamber. Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has already told your Lordships, I was an undergraduate of Christ Church, and I have still a connection, of which I am very, proud, with my old College. Therefore, in the nature of things, I cannot regard this matter from the entirely detached attitude from which perhaps I ought to regard it—but, at any rate. I will do my best. Thirdly, I still feel, in spite of what has been said since, that after the information which the noble Earl, Lord Munster, gave the House earlier in our discussion, there should hardly be need for a second Government speech.
The main propositions which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has sought to achieve by this debate have been, first, to make sure that no final decisions are reached on any scheme to deal with the Oxford traffic problem—no final decisions have yet been reached—and secondly, that no action will be taken pending a further inquiry of a most comprehensive kind. As I understand him, those were his two main objects and also the two main objects sought to be achieved by the other noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion. I should have thought that on both these points the House ought to be satisfied, first, by what the noble Earl, Lord Munster, has said, and secondly, by what I am about to say.
If the Government have not been able to accept the specific proposal for a Royal Commission on this subject, it is not, I would assure the House, because we do not regard the subject as important enough. As more than one noble Lord has pointed out this afternoon—and I entirely agree—this long controversy, which I am told has shaken Oxford to its foundations, and has had considerable repercussions outside, is not 834 a mere local question affecting the City of Oxford alone. Oxford (and here I agree strongly with what was said by my noble friend Lord Swinton) is perhaps one of the most beautiful and most famous cities in the world—I can say so as a son of Oxford—and certainly one of the glories of our country. Moreover, nowadays—though from what he said the most reverend Primate did not seem to think this quite relevant—it is a great industrial town, with a great industrial population in the suburbs. Finally, as he noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, and t entirely agree with him, it is a key point in our system of communications, being on the main traffic route between the industrial Midlands and he South and West of England, including the great ports of that part of the country. I am sure that we shall all agree that Royal Commissions have been appointed in the past to consider much smaller problems than that, and if, I repeat, Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept this proposal, it is for far more practical reasons than those have adduced up to now.
In the speech with which he opened he debate, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, painted a charming and persuasive picture of a Royal Commission, of its simplicity, of its efficiency and of its general harmony. He had no doubt that without difficulty it would be able to reach agreed conclusions on a problem on which, up to now, no two people have agreed. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, too, I thought, assumed in his speech that the Commission would come to a unanimous conclusion. I really wonder what makes him think so. He did not explain why he thinks that, and, of course, I do not know. The contributions which have been made by noble Lords this afternoon certainly do not bear out any such thesis.
I quite accept the fact that all noble Lords who have spoken dislike the Meadow road plan, but I do not think they were agreed about anything else. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, thought that the traffic position was becoming intolerable. The noble Viscount, Lord Cherwell, did not think it was intolerable at all. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that it was largely a matter for local solution, and he produced a most interesting plan 835 which he thought would go far to do the trick. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that it was not local at all; and we had a speech just now from the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who put out quite a new plan about new bridges which would solve our problem.
§ LORD CONESFORD
It was the same as that of my noble friend Lord Salter. It is the plan of the Oxford Preservation Trust, and it has been put forward by several speakers.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It was certainly not a plan advocated by all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. In such circumstances, I cannot agree with the most reverend Primate that there is 100 per cent. agreement in the House on this question. For my part, I do not think I have ever heard so many people supporting a single proposal disagree so fundamentally among themselves on what they wanted.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Let me continue. In spite of this, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, argued that a Royal Commission would surely be able to reach results very quickly—he suggested in six months—although the members would presumably have no previous knowledge of the subject. Because that was a great point: that they must not have previous knowledge of the subject, so that they might be able to approach the whole thorny problem from the beginning, including the comprehensive calculations of traffic flow and various types of traffic that have been mentioned, the parts played by these various types of traffic, and so on.
I wish that I could feel as confident as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, does, that a Royal Commission would be such a panacea as he seems to think. It certainly has not been my experience, after a fairly long period of political life, that a Royal Commission is the most rapid method of getting things done. I was astonished even to hear such a thing suggested. On the contrary, Royal Commissions, to the public mind, if not the minds of your Lordships, have always been regarded as the classic method open to a Government to delay a decision on any subject. Indeed, I really believe that had 836 it been the Government—had my noble friend Lord Munster and I put forward this proposal for a Royal Commission, and not the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge—we should have been attacked by noble Lords who have been criticising us today; and precisely for that reason. I can imagine the sort of "beating up" that we might have had: we should have been stigmatised as disingenuous and told we were dilatory; we should have been accused of postponing any decision until the Greek Kalends—and, in my view, with some justice.
But doubts on the part of the Government as to whether a Royal Commission would be likely to achieve all that its supporters hope are, I assure your Lordships, not the sole reason why the Government do not consider that such a Commission would be the most appropriate instrument in this case. There is another and, I think, sound reason, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, this afternoon. He said, with all his authority—and I do not think there are many people in your Lordships' House who know much more about planning than he does—that there is other machinery in existence to serve the same object, under the Town and Country Planning Act. That machinery has already been put in motion some months ago and, to my mind, it would be foolish to try to halt it now, when, presumably," much of the work has already been done: indeed, it might not be possible to do that; at any rate, it would be difficult, for it is laid down by Statute. Therefore, all I suggest would happen, if the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, were approved in exactly its present form, would be to superimpose upon this machinery a Royal Commission, with an enormous duplication of labour and waste of time. I am certain that nobody here, whatever his personal views may be, wants that, least of all noble Lords who support the Motion that has been moved this afternoon.
There seems to be a fear on the part of some noble Lords that the Government are unalterably committed to the Meadow road, and that all the City Council are expected to do is to work out the practical details. Please believe me, my Lords, when I say that that is not the case. It is, of course, true, as has been said several times this afternoon, that after the rejection of the two inner relief roads—what 837 I may call the "Lamb and Flag" plan, named after one of the two roads in question—my right honourable friend the late Minister of Housing and Local Government, after consultation with his colleagues, asked the City Council to prepare a plan for an alternative inner relief road in the form of a road running across Christ Church Meadow. Some steps had to be taken to relieve the congestion of Oxford, and my right honourable friend had come to the conclusion, after a great deal of study—and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who said that he did devote a good deal of time and study to this problem—that this was the best alternative. The noble Viscount, Lord Cherwell, said that he gave a direction, bur I assure the noble Viscount that it was not, in fact, a direction. As the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said, my right honourable friend requested the Council to prepare the plan.
§ VISCOUNT CHERWELL
The town clerk inquired of the Ministry whether it was a direction. He was told that it was a direction, or at any rate tantamount to a direction. I am sure that the noble Marquess does not wish to slide off on the word "tantamount".
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No. I have made inquiries about this matter, and the information I have is that the Ministry know nothing about any such telephone conversation. The town clerk did not say that the letter was a direction, though he did say that it was tantamount to one. But he went on to call it a provisional decision, and not a final one, when he advised the Council. That is what my noble friend Lord Munster said this afternoon. I think the town clerk was right, because in the nature of things the conclusion which was reached at that time could be only provisional. For one thing, although the Minister has the ultimate power under the Act, as I understand it, to give any direction to the City Council, no Minister, in fact, in such circumstances, has ever exercised that power; and my right honourable friend—I have it from him personally—had no intention of using that power. What he did was to give the City Council his convinced view. it was his convinced view and, as I say, he gave it to the City Council. It is now for them to consider the matter, in the light of what he said, and to make up their minds; and no 838 doubt that is what they are doing at the present time.
§ VISCOUNT CHERWELL
Is it not a fact that for four months the City Council went on working on the assumption that it was a direction, because they had been so informed by their town clerk, after speaking to the Ministry?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Viscount, Lord Cherwell, takes the town clerk's view of this conversation as the right one. Is it not open to me to take the view of the Ministry? The real point is that telephone conversations are liable to misconstruction and to misunderstanding. I do not accuse anybody of having been in the least disingenuous in This matter, but I do not think the noble Viscount has made out his case.
§ VISCOUNT CHERWELL
But it was well known that they were proceeding on the assumption that it was a direction. Whitehall should have informed them that they were under a misapprehension.
THE IS4ARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Why did the town clerk tell the City Council that it was a provisional conclusion?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is difficult to argue these things in your Lordships' House. I can only give your Lordships the information I have; and that I have done to the best of my ability.
§ LORD SALTER
Perhaps I might say this. I do not think it is really a matter of who is to blame for the misunderstanding. It is commonly known that there was a misunderstanding. Could the noble Marquess assure us that the City Council is completely free now to put forward a proposal which is not consistent with the Minister's advice, which may even be against an inner relief road altogether, and that the Government will then, without commitment and with an open mind, consider the merits of any such proposal?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If I may say so, I was just coming to this point. When the noble Lord made this point, I made inquiries, and I understand that legally the position is that the City Council can produce any plan they like, or no plan at all. That is the legal 839 position under the Act. They have now been asked to produce a plan which was based upon the road through the Meadow. That is quite correct. But they are under no obligation to do so. I thought the noble Lord would like to have that information. Moreover, if the City Council do accept the view of my right honourable friend and proceed to formulate a plan of the kind which he recommended, there would still have to be a public inquiry on the new plan, and only after that could any official decision be taken. At such an inquiry, I should like to make it clear, all points of view may be put forward, not merely with regard to this particular plan, the Meadow plan, which the City Council put forward—if they do put it forward—but also regarding the traffic problem of Oxford as a whole. As we all know, there are a great many opinions about that. There are those who favour the Christ Church Meadow Road—not very apparent here this afternoon, but still they do exist. They will be able, if they like, to support that view. There are others, like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who favour some other inner relief scheme. They will be able equally to support that opinion. There is yet a third school of thought.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I am astonished at this statement, having regard to what happens at public inquiries at present. Does the noble Marquess really mean that people will be able to go to a public inquiry on a proposal for a particular road and talk about anything else they like? That does not happen at present.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am only telling the noble Lord what will happen in this case. I cannot tell him what happens in other cases.
The final and third school of thought, which is, indeed, strongly represented here this afternoon, does not favour inner ring roads at all, and believes that the proper solution is to be found first in the completion of an outer ring road, and to divert the industrial traffic from the Midlands to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred.
§ LORD SALTER
Might I ask the noble Marquess one question? He said that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, had 840 proposed another inner ring road, but, as I understood the noble Viscount, he advocated as an alternative for an inner ring road an outer road south of the limits.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, can speak for himself, but he had some plans which would lighten the traffic through The High without proceeding to the device of an inner road.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
A road which would enable the traffic of The High to be screened and a great part diverted. You cannot do that until you have some other road to which it can be diverted.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not want to make a great deal of that. I was only trying to explain that anybody could put forward his own view. With regard to this outer ring road, there is a word I ought to say in view of a question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. The construction of the outer by-passes will not be held up until there is an agreement on the Oxford Traffic Plan, and, indeed. I am able to give the information that financial approval has just been given for the continuation of the north-western sector of this particular road. But the relevance of the outer bypass road, no doubt, will be taken into account in any discussions and decisions that may ultimately be taken over the Oxford Traffic Plan. They have a bearing on it, but they will not be held up until the whole plan is completed.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Marquess for the information about the financial sanction for the Western by-pass. The one worrying us is the one agitating the Minister's mind, which is the Eastern bypass, known as the Sandford Link. That is the last remaining part to complete the link. That has been accepted in principle. Can the noble Marquess tell us that that will be expedited?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am afraid I cannot say that this evening, because I have not the information, but I will report to my right honourable friend the point which has been made by the noble Lord.
So much for the outer by-passes. This third school of thought, what I may call the Beveridge school of thought, also has 841 another important proposal, and that is for the building of shopping centres at Headington and Cowley so as to make it unnecessary for the industrial population of these places to come into Oxford to buy what they need. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, rightly emphasised the importance of that particular point. I agree with him most strongly that it may be a most crucial element in the solution of the Oxford problem. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that it formed a part of the Oxford City Council's original plan. I think II am right in saying also that a start is already being made with transforming that idea into reality.
With regard to all these things—these various alternative plans which have been put forward this afternoon—I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that those who think like him and, indeed, those who do not agree with him but have some alternative plan, will all have plenty of opportunity to voice their views at this public inquiry. That assurance, I understand, would cover even such questions as the closing of Magdalen Bridge, to which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, I think, referred to in his speech.
May I ask one question? Perhaps it is not quite fair, but I wonder if the noble Marquess could tell us whether it would include the proposal for a tunnel?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think anything is ruled out. In my view, it will be open to anybody at this inquiry to put forward any idea that he thinks helpful. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, was a little unfair about the inquiries that are normally carried out under the Town and Country Planning Act. There was, I thought, an implication in what he said that these are really fakes; that they were to provide a facade after the Minister and the local authorities had already reached a conclusion. If he did not think that, there are many people who do, and I would assure him, or any other noble Lords who feel like that, that it is not the fact. But in any case, whether that was true or false in other cases, it is not the plan here. On the contrary, the Government are very ready that this inquiry should be held, as my noble friend Lord Munster has said, under some outside personality, not an official of the Ministry, 842 whose report can be published. This outside personality—the chairman, I think the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, called him—can make any report he likes and the Government will consider it. He could quite properly say, for instance, if that were his view, that he found the case for Meadow Road was not made. It is open to him, after his inquiry, to make whatever report he thinks good, and that report can be published.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess, but he is giving us now very important information. As I understand it, it is quite clear that the reporter can say: "The Oxford Corporation Scheme is, in my opinion, a bad scheme which should not he carried out." That is perfectly clear. But suppose he thinks that that is a bad scheme, but that the scheme of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, of completing the circular road, the by-pass road, is the right solution. Although he is having an inquiry into a specific scheme put forward by the Corporation—which, I should have thought, under the procedure of the noble Marquess, is all he was entitled to do—he can turn it down or approve it, or approve it with modifications. Is the noble Marquess right that in place of the Corporation's scheme he could propose an entirely different scheme put forward by somebody else?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My understanding is that he hears evidence from everybody and draws his conclusions, whatever they may be, and reports to the Government. I take it that that does not merely mean his saying: "I do not approve of the Meadow Plan." He could say that the impression he had gained was that this, that or tile other would be better.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, is not the suggestion that, whatever may be the normal practice, in this particular form of inquiry which the noble Marquess is proposing it would be open to the tribunal to put forward any scheme that they liked, even though in normal circumstances it is doubtful whether they could do more flan express their view on the proposal that was put before them?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the House will allow me, I would rather 843 go on because I have before me some words which have been agreed by the Minister and which I am empowered to read to the House.Indeed, I can give an assurance that my right honourable friend"—that is, the Minister—intends to secure that the inquiry is of the widest scope.I do not suppose that it would go quite so wide as suggested in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher—that seems to be beyond the scope of any inquiry —hut it would be very wide indeed. The Minister added that:he would regard it as his duty to appoint a person to hear all objections and representations relating to the Council's scheme. He takes the viewthis is my right honourable friend—that the whole question of Oxford traffic congestion would be relevant, and he will instruct the person appointed to allow the discussion to cover all relevant questions, including views about alternative solutions.I think that is quite clear—at least I hope it is. I have had that from my right honourable friend since the beginning of this debate.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
May I ask a question in relation to this rather minor point? In view of the general dissatisfaction in the country about the conduct of inquiries into such matters as the siting of new atomic energy stations and the like, will a properly qualified lawyer or judge be in the chair to be able to examine witnesses, and to project properly the evidence to the Government?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I cannot anticipate exactly who it will be, but it will be an independent person who is believed to have the competence to perform this particular task. High though my admiration is for judges, they are not the only people who can fulfil this particular function.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Will the noble Marquess allow me to intervene?. I am grateful to him. He has said, 844 in effect, that it is now up to the Oxford City Council. They have a perfect freedom not to produce any plan at all. They can say: "In our new-found freedom, we are not going to have anything more to do with the Meadow Road. We are going to revert to the proposal under our development plan of having no inner relief roads at all, and so there is no inquiry to be held. Therefore, there will be no inspector appointed." Have they the freedom to do that?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think it would be quite open to them to say that they do not propose to produce a new plan. What would be the result I am not quite certain, but they can do it. As I understand it, in answer to what the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, has said, it is all within the ambit of the existing law. It is sometimes suggested, though I do not think it has been suggested this afternoon, that it was the intention of the late Government to ride roughshod over the law in the case of Oxford. I can assure your Lordships—though I am sure you do not need much assurance—that this was never the intention, either of my right honourable friend the late Minister of Housing or of his colleague. Ultimately, of course, the decision must rest with the Government. That is inevitable and that would be the position, even if the matter was referred to a Royal Commission. But, for obvious reasons, the Government want, as much as any noble Lord here wants, to get the best solution, the quickest solution and the most acceptable solution. We are all at one, at any rate, over that. Continued delay over this very difficult and intractable problem would not only be extremely bad for Oxford itself but it would do no good, in my opinion, to anybody anywhere. I cannot, of course, guarantee that any procedure, however well conceived it may be, will produce a result satisfactory to all.
What we have heard this afternoon leaves me even more doubtful than I was before, because all of us, once we have taken up certain positions, are reluctant to abandon them. I can, however, assure the House, at any rate, of this: no final decisions have been taken yet. No-one is yet finally committed, neither the Government nor anybody else. No final decisions will be taken pending the results of the inquiry to which I have just referred. And I may say, too, that every 845 point of view will be taken into account by Her Majesty's Government in coming to a conclusion. If further statistics or other information are needed they will not hesitate to ask for them. Further, the Government will be very happy that there should be a further debate in this House, after the public inquiry has taken place and a report has been published, and will listen to what is said by noble Lords before taking any further action. I thought probably noble Lords would like that assurance, because it means that nothing further will be done until they have had another chance of voicing their views.
As I have said, we cannot agree with the specific proposal for a Royal Commission, but we do agree to the widest public inquiry of the type I have described. That is our position, which I hope is now clearly understood. In view of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, will now be ready to withdraw his Motion and not add to the already too great controversy which has grown up over this question. I can assure him that he will lose nothing by so doing.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
May I ask the noble Marquess one question? Will the commissioner, as a single person, he set to work straight away, or will he have to wait for an indeterminate period until the City Council have submitted some answer? Will he only get to work then?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think, clearly, that the City Council are already working on this plan, and they must produce a plan; but I do not see why it should cause any great delay. At any rate, I do not think it would cause as great a delay as would be involved in starting the whole subject at the beginning with a Royal Commission.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
If the Government mean to work by means of a commissioner, cannot he be given his duties to do now?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think it is necessary to stick to the machinery of the existing law, which, after all, has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Government certainly do not want any unnecessary delay.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I rise in a state of great difficulty to know how I am to understand, and how the House is to understand, the speech and the practical proposals of the Leader of the House. May I, before I come to those practical proposals, if the noble Marquess will allow me, correct two statements which he made about myself and my attitude? The main object of my Motion was not to prevent action at all; not just to stop going ahead. The main object was to get something done after agreement.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I can assure the noble Lord that I never said that. I said that the result of this proposal might very likely be that; not that that was the purpose.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
The words I have down are that the object of this was to delay action of any sort until there had been further inquiry. I shall be delighted to accept the correction of the noble Marquess of my understanding of him, in spite of my having written it down at the time. The other thing that I should like to correct is his statement that those who spoke did not agree on anything else except disliking the Meadow Road. I thought, that with hardly any exceptions, or certainly with only two or three exceptions, everybody who spoke was in favour of my proposal. I am sorry that he has not been able to advance the whole way and to accept my suggestion. Of course, by sticking to the statutory procedure, while apparently endeavouring to disregard every way in which it has been done in the past, he puts all of us in a great difficulty.
Look at the plan as it was put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Munster. I may say that, in putting it forward, he and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House have paid no consideration at all to the criticisms I made, not about dishonesty or about agreement behind the scenes between the Minister and officials, but in regard to the appalling delays that have taken place under this Act in the past. I know what I am talking about in regard to the dates when these things were considered. No attention has been paid to that. Let me say too, that neither the Leader of the House nor the noble Earl have answered my point on that at all. There has been appalling delay, and 847 in the past it has been piecemeal procedure.
The proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Munster, would have meant appointing an independent Commission but giving the City Council the right of dictating its terms of reference on the proposal put forward. That has been the procedure in the past, and it, has been adopted apparently in the legal procedure. Now the noble Leader of the House has practically said, "We will appoint a Commissioner who can examine anything he likes." Remember that, under the existing inquiry procedure, all that anybody outside can do is to make objections to a specific proposal. That is the present procedure. May I take it that you have decided to abandon that procedure completely and, instead of a Royal Commission, to appoint a Commissioner who can cover the whole ground—not only roads, but everything necessary to restore Oxford?
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
In the absence of any proposal. I am bound to say that my attitude towards what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury is putting before us will depend upon his answer to that. Does he mean that, in place of appointing a Royal Commission, the Government are going to appoint a Commissioner with absolutely the same width of power and the right to get expert knowledge that a Royal Commission would have? If so, of course, he is accepting my proposal with, I regret to say, the one great disadvantage that no Commissioner can carry the weight that a Royal Commission can. The whole purpose of a Royal Commission is not to order anybody about—it has no such power—but to persuade to agreement. No Commissioner, whoever is appointed, can have that influence and power. That is why I am bound to say that I am greatly disappointed in the answers that we have received. Could the noble Marquess the Leader of the House possibly answer my question, whether it is intended that the new Commissioner shall have terms of reference as wide as those in my Motion for a Royal Commission?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think I can do better than read again the words which were specially prepared 848 for the information of the House by my right honourable friend the present Minister of Housing. I read them out most carefully to the House. I said:I can give an assurance that my right honourable friend intends to secure that the inquiry is of the widest scope. He will regard it as his duty to appoint a person to hear all objections and representations relating to the Council's scheme. He takes the view that the whole question of Oxford traffic congestion would be relevant, and he will instruct the person appointed to allow the discussion to cover all relevant questions including views about alternative solutions.That was what I was empowered to say, and it seems to me very wide indeed.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess my question again? Supposing the Oxford City Council, in their new-found right, say that as their development plan originally did not include any proposals for intermediate roads—intermediate roads were put in only at the dictation of the late Minister—there is no proposal from the City Council to the Commissioner, what does the Commissioner do?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Well, if the Council adhere to the original plan, I suppose the original plan must be examined again. Obviously it must be. The plan which they were requested to examine would then be out of it, because they would have discarded it and would not have put it forward. They would have examined it but not put it forward, and any scheme which then emerged would be the subject of public discussion. If I may say so to the noble Lord and the House in general, I think that this situation is so tangled that there is great requirement for a public inquiry of the widest character, whatever be the developments. I think it would be a great pity if anything happened which "snuffed out" any further public inquiry. I think that would be wrong.
§ EARL ATTLEE
The noble Marquess used the word "relevant". Is it relevant to the scheme that has been put forward? That seems to me to narrow it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I take the wordsthe whole question of Oxford traffic congestion would be relevant.to mean relevant to the inquiry, not relevant to the scheme. It would be within the terms of reference of the inquiry.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I am sure that the noble Marquess is doing his best to meet the wishes and feeling of the House, and I think we all realise the difficulty that even the Leader of the House is in when he speaks for a Ministry for which he is not personally responsible. For my part, I should be perfectly satisfied if I felt sure that the man who is to conduct this inquiry will be able, if he so pleases, to say, "I think that the circular road should be completed before anything else is done."
Quite frankly, it seems to me that what the noble Marquess is proposing to us is quite good—though I think it is miles outside the Act, if I may say so. I do not like it any the less for that, because I am quite certain (I speak in the presence of a great many lawyers) that under the Act what the inspector must do is to report upon the scheme which is proposed to him. He can turn that scheme clown, and he can hear any evidence of reasons why it is a bad scheme. No doubt that would include other schemes which were not put forward but which are better. I do not believe that under the Act he can report to the Minister and say, "I turned down the Corporation's scheme in favour of another," because the Corporation are the people who must make the scheme. But if we can be assured that in this case—never mind the Act—the inspector will have the right to hear about alternative schemes to the one which is put forward, and the right to report to the Minister—so that we can discuss it in Parliament—in favour of a scheme which has not been put forward by the Corporation but which is an alternative to the Corporation scheme, then for my part, I would accept the proposal.
§ LORD CLITHEROE
Before the noble Marquess replies, may I just put "this one point about the 1947 Act? If this inquiry could be outside the 1947 Act and in accordance with the terms of what the noble Marquess has said, I am sure we should all accept it. But what we fear is that the assurances that he has given us are not consonant with an inquiry under the 1947 Act.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
On that point may I suggest to the Leader of the House that it should be quite possible for the Minister to appoint a person to hold an 850 inquiry (a) under the Act, and (b) to inquire into such further matters as he might consider necessary and desirable There is no reason why a person should not be appointed under two Acts of Parliament and have functions under both. In this case it would be the first, the legal, statutory position under the. Act, and, secondly, such additional functions as the Minister might confer upon him.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think it would be wrong, and a pity, too, to scrap the machinery of the Act which is at present in operation. What I said about an inquiry, I understand, is absolutely correct, and it would be competent not only for the chairman to turn down the Meadow plan but to recommend an alternative scheme if he thought that proper. That would be within his powers. I understand that to be the position.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord is pressing me very hard on a Department which is not mine I do not want to mislead the House. I can only tell the noble Lord what is the purpose of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I am making a definite declaration on what they intend to do. It does not seem to me to matter exactly how it is lone so long as it is done. I put it to the House in that way.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I am sorry to rise again but I feel that I must do so. I hope the noble Marquess and Her Majesty's Government will understand that my desire is to come to an agreement about the next step and to avoid a Division, if that is at all possible. I hope that the many noble Lords who have supported my Motion will allow me to avoid I Division if I may have the answer to one more question—I must apologise for troubling the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. What has really been wrong about past procedure under this Act in Oxford is the intolerable delay. Can the noble Marquess give me any kind of indication of when we can expect this Commissioner to get to work; and if he does not get to work, can the noble Marquess say when we may again raise the question in your Lordships' House? 851 This flatter has gone, intolerably slowly. I know what I am talking about. Some people in Oxford, excellent as they are, find it impossible to agree. Could there be an undertaking that the appointment of a Commissioner will be announced and the inquiry established within three months from now? I should be quite happy to stand another three months delay.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, my difficulty in answering the noble Lord as he would like is that the ball is at present with the City Council, under the Act. I have no doubt that the City Council will take full notice of what has been said in this House to-day, and I have no doubt that it will be possible to indicate to them, too, that Her Majesty's Government would be very glad to have as early an answer as possible. But we cannot say to the Council, "You must report by this or that time," because under the Act the initiative rests with them. I do not see why there should be undue delay. I should have thought that what has been said this afternoon would facilitate an early reply on the part of the City Council. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, once more that if I gave any impression to anybody in your Lordships' House that I thought his object was to delay, that was the very last thing that I wanted to do.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, replies may I, as one who has supported him throughout, make an appeal to him? I believe that he has the essence of his proposal if he clinches on what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has just said—namely that there shall be an inquiry, possibly by means of a person who has, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has suggested, both a statutory and a non-statutory role, but that in any case there will be an inquiry that is not limited in the way the noble Lords, Lord Clitheroe and Lord Beveridge and I myself feared to 852 examination of a particular scheme. if the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, clinches on that, I beg him not to press the question of delay, or the time to be taken, but to accept the offer.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, that is entirely my desire, but I am afraid that I do not accept the view that the City Council will necessarily act with all the speed that is required. I want to stress what I said about these delays having gone on so that the problem has grown larger and larger. If I were to withdraw my Motion to-day, when should we have an opportunity of raising this matter again? Will Her Majesty's Government help us on that? May I raise the matter again if, after three months, there seems to be no progress?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, may I suggest leaving it to the noble Lord? If he feels that the delay is undue, and will put down a Question in this House, I will do my best to see that he receives an Answer, though I hope that such a course will not be necessary. But it is always open to the noble Lord to do that, or if he likes, to get in touch with me. I will do anything I can to help, but I simply cannot answer for the City Council.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I accept that, and particularly the last statement by the noble Leader of the House. If he will allow me to come and see him and discuss the matter, to see when the House can, if it wishes, express the strong feelings, the really tremendous feelings, which exist for getting on with the Oxford problem by a real inquiry, then I will ask leave of my noble supporters who have come here to support me, to withdraw my Motion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I will do my best to help him.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at seven minutes past eight o'clock