HL Deb 02 July 1957 vol 204 cc538-41

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when the authorisation for the commencement of the work on the extension to the Southern by-pass and Sandford link roads necessary to complete the Oxford by-pass ring road will be issued in fulfilment of the undertakings given to the House by the Government on the 13th February and 27th February last.]


My Lords, on February 27 I was able to announce that the preparation of the engineering details for the western by-pass round Oxford had been authorised and that it was hoped construction would begin next year. I also announced that financial approval had been given for the eastern by-pass. So far as the remaining section of the ring road is concerned, that part which is included in the scheme for the extension of the southern by-pass from South Hinksey to Littlemore, with a link to Sandford, I explained that that was the subject of a draft order about which certain representations had been received and were under consideration. I went on, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to assure your Lordships' House of the importance the Government attached to the Oxford by-pass roads.

The position today is substantially the same as that which I described to your Lordships on February 27 last. When the roads already authorised have been completed, Oxford will have a very useful system of by-passes by which through traffic from the north can reach the Abingdon—Southampton road by way of the western and southern by-passes, or the Henley road by way of the northern and eastern by-passes.

The cost of the western trunk road by-pass is estimated at £1,600,000. In addition, the Government are making a grant of £810,000 towards the cost of the eastern by-pass. This is 75 per cent. of the total cost, which is estimated at £1,080,000. My Lords, this is not, I think, ungenerous, nor is it intended to stop here; but the estimated cost of the road from South Hinksey to Sandford to complete the ring round Oxford, a road which will have to span the river and the railway, is over £1 million. I am not in a position to inform your Lordships when this money will be available, as the line of the road has not yet been established. The divisional road engineer is now conferring with the Oxford county surveyor about a revised design to meet the representations which have been made. Progress has been made in the course of their discussions, but no firm conclusion as to the line has yet been reached. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation will certainly look at the matter again as soon as the line has been fixed.


My Lords, I can only thank the noble Lord for the length of his reply—not for the fullness of the facts given. If the noble Lord will permit me to say so, I am sure that his statement will be received with disappointment, if not with consternation, by your Lordships, who were under the impression that the undertakings given in the two debates to which I have referred in my Question were explicit. With regard to what the noble Lord has said about detail, may I inform him that the Sandford link is vital, because it provides the only alternative route across the River Thames from Oxford to Abingdon, and until it is completed, all the rest of this work is more or less inconclusive and a waste of money. However, may I ask the noble Lord to accept it from me that the subject is far too big to be dealt with by question and answer, and as the Answer which has been given to my Question is so eminently unsatisfactory, I intend to put down a Motion at the earliest possible moment to allow your Lordships to express your opinions upon this deplorable Answer on a vital national question.


My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the noble Lord's two points. If he wishes to put down a Motion he will, of course, do so—I am at his service and that of the House. But I am sorry that he should have used language quite so strong as that which he has used. I cannot think why he finds deplorable an Answer which was given in exactly the same terms as the one I gave to the House some weeks ago. There has been no change: there has been no change of plan and no change of promise. This is a matter of opinion to which the noble Lord is entitled, but he would not expect me to agree with one single word of what he has said.


My Lords, without necessarily associating myself with the particular epithets used by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, may I ask the Government, speaking not only personally but as Chairman of the Oxford Preservation Trust, whether they realise that, while there are many disputes about other aspects of the Oxford traffic problem, there is universal agreement on the great importance and urgency of the completion of the whole by-pass ring, of which this is an essential element? The very fact that there must be delay in taking other measures that will ultimately be necessary is perhaps a greater reason for doing everything possible to reduce to the minimum the delay in completing this vital part of the by-pass ring.


Yes, my Lords, I fully appreciate the importance of this last portion of the ring and I have told your Lordships so on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, we cannot do everything at once, and, as I have made perfectly clear to the House, we are already doing a great deal. That does not minimise the weight of the noble Lord's observation that the completion of the whole task would indeed be more than satisfactory.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord's criticism of my language, may I ask him to bear in mind the Question I asked him on February 27? I then said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202 (No. 39), col. 76]: May I ask him whether the House may take his reply to my question as an earnest of the Government's desire to treat this as a matter of high national importance, which was the note running through the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House during the debate to which my question refers? That was the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. The noble Lord's reply was [Col. 77]: The answer to the noble Lord's first supplementary question is ' yes '.


My Lords, that is what I said and that is what I have repeated this afternoon. The Government fully appreciate the urgency of the matter and I cannot allow it to be said for one moment that there was anything in the remarks I made on February 27 that could suggest that approval had been given for this portion of the road—the Sandford link. Approval had not been given for it and nothing I said then suggested that it had been given, nor could any such implication be drawn from the words I used on that day.