§ 4.11 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTHrose to ask Her Majesty's Government if they consider that the appointment of a former official of the Ministry of Health to conduct the public inquiry into Oxford's traffic problems is in keeping with the spirit of the undertaking given to the House during the debate upon this subject on February 13, 1957; and to ask, further, why there has been grave delay in the completion of the outer by-pass roads, despite the assurances given by Her Majesty's Government during the above-mentioned debate, and repeated in the House on February 27, 1957, a delay which has resulted in the Western by-pass not being yet open to traffic and the starting date for 497 the vital Sandford Link not even announced, when it was clearly accepted during the debate, that no inquiry could fulfil its true purpose unless it had before it the experience of the effect of these outer by-pass roads upon the problems to be considered; and to ask what action they propose to take. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have ventured to put this unstarred Question on the Order Paper because an inquiry which was forecast in a debate which took place in your Lordships' House 3¾ years ago is just coming to be held.
During that debate there was, I think, a remarkable spirit shown in your Lordships' House, and it was one of the best debates that I can remember listening to on a purely internal matter. I think the spirit of the debate can best be exampled by quoting two things that were said. The first was by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, VOL 201, col. 798]:
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.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who at that time was the much-respected Leader of your Lordships' House, commented on the controversy which had torn the City of Oxford and the University for years, and said (col. 833):
… this long controversy, which I am told has shaken Oxford to its foundations, and has had considerable repercussions outside, is not merely a 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 … it is a great industrial town, with a great industrial population in the suburbs:
The noble Marquess finally added:
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, and I entirely agree with him, it is a key point in our system of communications.
I hope that the same spirit as was shown in that debate may animate the discussion this afternoon.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord that, continuing Lord Salisbury's statement on that occasion, he added that on the most controversial point of all every noble Lord who had spoken had taken the same line; and there were fourteen who spoke.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Lord; I was coming to that later.
It was on February 13, 1957, that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, introduced a Motion in your Lordships' House on the tragic state of the traffic conditions in Oxford. He raised his Motion because all efforts for 20 years prior to that had failed. The noble Lord wanted a Royal Commission because of its prestige, and I think his argument ran that only a Royal Commission would bring these warring factions to anything like agreement. Her Majesty's Government took a different view: they wanted to suggest another method of approach. Upon that the main discussion ranged, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Salter, has said, there was complete unanimity. Eventually, owing to the fact that the noble Marquess, on behalf of the Government, gave an undertaking, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, withdrew his Motion. If it is not too facetious a remark, I well remember that at the time the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was greatly relieved, because the Government were facing imminent defeat in the Division Lobby, and the sigh of relief that he gave almost reverberated through the Chamber.
I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply to-day will absolve me from having any other motive in asking the first of these questions than this simple one: that I hold strongly to the view that if the Government give an undertaking to this House, that undertaking should be honoured not only in the letter but in the spirit. The alternative to what the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, wanted, was stated by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, who was the first Government speaker. After the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, had had such unqualified support for his plea for a Royal Commission, the noble Earl, Lord Munster, said this (col. 792):However, I think the House would probbably 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 person, specially chosen for that purpose.The Government's suggestion was that the inquiry should not be a Royal Commission, but that it should be an inquiry held under the 1947 Act, whereby a departmental inspector would be appointed 499 to report back to the Minister. I will not go into the reasons, but the Government had good reasons. I think the best thing I can do, without using words of my own, is to quote two extracts from the speeches that were made.
One is from the speech of the late Lord Halifax, who was at that time the Chancellor of Oxford University, an office now held by the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister. Lord Halifax, speaking on behalf of the University, was not at all enthusiastic, to put it mildly, about the Government's proposal. He said (col. 797):… if you had the firmly expressed unanimous opinion of two, three or four wise, impartial, uncommitted and trusted men … 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 the Government.The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, continued: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 other quotation I would make from the OFFICIAL REPORT is from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. He said (col. 799):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…The noble Earl went on to say (col. 800):… 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.I do not think I need quote any of the other speeches that were made, but the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who wound up for the Government said (col. 841):… the Government are very ready that this inquiry should be held, as my noble 500 friend Lord Munster has said, under some outside personality, not an official of the Ministry, whose report can be publishedAfter a plea from the noble Lord, Lord Salter, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, then asked leave of your Lordships to withdraw his Motion.
My Lords, if we go on having inquiry after inquiry I do not know what will happen. In the words of my Question I ask: Do the Governmentconsider that the appointment of a former official of the Ministry of Health to conduct the public inquiry into Oxford's traffic problems is in keeping with the spirit of the undertaking given to the House during the debate upon this subject on 13th February, 1957?I ask that question only because I have a jealous regard for the honour and prestige and dignity of this House, and because I feel that undertakings which are given should be honoured.
I think I ought to inform your Lordships that I have discussed this matter with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. He has written to me, and I will quote from his letter. He regrets very much that he cannot be here this afternoon. He then says:I have refreshed my memory as to the words I used with reference to this conference"—the noble Marquess calls it a "conference" but he means an inquiry—and it seems to me that they are quite unequivocal. I said: '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, whose report can be published. This outside personality … can make any report he likes and the Government will cansider it.' In view of the part I played in that debate. I feel bound to record my view that the Government must be regarded as having on that date given an undertaking that the chairman of the inquiry should be an outside person, and that it was in virtue of that undertaking that Lord Beveridge withdrew his MotionPerhaps the noble Marquess displayed in that debate a wonderful example of the wisdom he so often showed in your Lordships' House. So anxious was he to be conciliatory, that he said this (col. 845):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 501 assurance, because it means that nothing further will be done until they have had another chance of voicing their views.My Lords, I cannot think that the Government do not intend to honour such an undertaking. Perhaps the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, even at that time saw the difficulties that would arise in the compromise suggestion that Her Majesty's Government made. That is all I am going to say on that part of the question.
Now I come to the second part. This, to my mind, is the most serious, because, running right through the debate, echoed time and time again by every noble Lord who spoke, was the absolute necessity of completing the Oxford by-passes before this inquiry was held. Right the way through, noble Lord after noble Lord said: What is the good of having an inquiry into the state of Oxford traffic until these outer by-passes are completed, so that the inspecting authority, or the inquiry, or the chairman of the commission, whatever it might be that the Government set up, could have first-hand evidence as to the effect of these by-passes upon this deplorable problem?
If your Lordships will be patient with me, I should like to quote some of the strong things that were said. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said (col. 767):I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth that it is an urgent matter to complete those by-passes. Of course, it should be done.The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was even more insistent. He said (col. 801):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 those roads are completed, the great heavy traffic will go circling round outside the city and that the Oxford problem will have solved itself.The noble Earl, Lord Munster, said that there would be no difficulty in completing these by-passes. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, even in his peroration, said the same thing. He said (col. 840):The construction of the outer by-passes will not be held up until there is an agreement on the Oxford Traffic Plan.On that assurance, that there would be no delay, that they would go right ahead 502 and complete these by-passes, your Lordships were not asked to go into the Division Lobbies.
A few days later, so as to make assurance doubly sure, on February 27, 1957, I put this Question upon the Order Paper [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202, col. 76]:To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the widespread agreement expressed in this House during the debate on. Oxford traffic on 13th February, and outside by responsible organisations of local opinion"—I was referring then to the Oxford Preservation Trust and the University—that it is urgently necessary to complete the Oxford by-pass ring roads before other related problems can be objectively considered, they will authorise the necessary work upon these roads to be commenced forthwith.The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, gave a very encouraging reply, and I asked him this supplementary question:My Lords, will the noble Lord accept my thanks for his reply, and my assurance that it will be received with great satisfaction by those who have laboured so long to achieve the end he has just announced? 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?The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government said (col. 77):My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first supplementary question is, Yes.That was on a matter of high national importance which was the subject of assurances on two occasions, one during the debate on February 13, 1957, another given on February 27, 1957. Yet, my Lords, they have not even started the Sandford Link; the vital link to connect these by-passes has not yet been started and is not yet in the starting programme. Is that honouring an undertaking on what the Leader of this House said was a matter of great national importance? Every speaker agreed on the futility of holding the inquiry in a vacuum. For three years and nine months the Ministry of Transport have side-stepped this issue.
Let me he perfectly frank. I indict the Ministry of Transport for deliberately delaying the completion of the Sandford Link. There is nothing that may happen in the planning and execution of something that the Government think is of 503 high national importance that cannot be overcome by the ordinary processes of administration in three years and nine months. If it cannot be overcome in three years and nine months it means that the administration of that Department is pretty poor. No, my Lords; it was deliberate, and I am going to tell your Lordships why.
I will go back to 1955. In 1955 the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, after this discussion had raged in Oxford for years, went down to Oxford and said, "There is only one solution to the problem of Oxford traffic and that is to plough a road through Christ Church Meadow". That, as your Lordships may well imagine, raised the fury even more; but that was the policy of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. That is why the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said in his speech that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government were committed. That is the plan they were committed to. During all that controversy it was public knowledge that the Ministry of Transport were in favour of ploughing a road through Christ Church Meadow. I myself asked them, and they said, "Yes". That was the policy at the official level. So I am driven to the only conclusion that one can come to: that there was collusion between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Transport, because the moment these bypasses are completed by this vital Sandford Link it will make such an outstanding contribution to easing the traffic congestion of Oxford that any talk of driving a road through Christ Church Meadow will disappear. And that is the reason why I put this Question down.
I have just one final thing to say. I also discussed this matter with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and I have had a letter from him which I am going to read. Again it starts by apologising for not being here. Lord Swinton writes:Lord Salisbury's undertaking on behalf of the Government reflected that feeling"—of unanimity in the House—and was warmly welcomed. He stated plainly that when a new inquiry was set up, the commissioner or chairman would be free to consider any alternative scheme. This of course included the suggestion, which obtained a wide measure of support, that no plan for interior roads should be adopted until the circular 504 roads were completed and the result of those roads could be tested.I am sure the Government intend to give full effect to that undertaking. But I am glad you are asking your Question, which will allay anxiety which I know is felt in some quarters.So, my Lords, with that I ask the Question that stands in my name.
§ 4.38 pm.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, as you have heard from the noble Lord who has just spoken, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, this Question arises out of a Motion made by me in this House on February 13, 1957. As he has also told you, that Motion was supported by practically every speaker in the House not speaking for the Government. But it was withdrawn by me on rather urgent entreaties, may I say, from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and also from some of the friends—I see one of them here to-day—Who had supported my Motion strongly. In those circumstances, I hope that before he replies the noble Lord who is speaking to-day for Her Majesty's Government will allow me to put certain considerations before him. First, while not accepting my proposal for a Royal Commission on Oxford traffic problems, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in 1957, not only agreed on behalf of the Government to the appointment of an independent person to make an inquiry but also agreed that the scope of the inquiry should be wide enough to examine any proposals that I might submit for dealing with the Oxford traffic problem.
I shall in a moment tell your Lordships that I have strong views as to the need for measures quite distinct from the making of by-passes or roads. I know what I am speaking about when I say that. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, also most kindly offered me any help that he could give me to secure that the inquiry took place without delay. As your Lordships have heard already, in spite of the hopes with which I withdrew my Motion, the inquiry promised in February, 1957, is only just beginning, after 33¾ years. How did that happen? 505 I know how it began. It began because Oxford City Council definitely declined a request from the Government to submit a scheme for dealing with the Oxford traffic problem. They undertook instead, as a necessary preliminary to an inquiry, to make a survey of the traffic and parking in Oxford. In telling the House of this, as they did in answer to a Question which I put to them in July, 1957, Her Majesty's Government said that as soon as the survey was complete, action would clearly be necessary. I have not heard of any action, just as I have not heard whether the Oxford City Council ever made their survey or ever published it. They may or they may not, but nothing has been heard by me.
That suggests to me my third point: that the preservation of the beauty and inspiring influence of Oxford is a task far too important to be left to the initiative of the Oxford City Council, with their pitifully limited vision and, I would say also, in defence of them, their limited powers, because the Council are limited to the area of a county borough. This city of international significance calls for rescue today by the use of the best brains and all the necessary powers that the Government, and none other than the Government, can really command.
Let me come to my fourth point. In my view, as one who has lived in Oxford at intervals spread over 63 years and is living there now, as in the view of many others of equal or greater experience (here I am going to differ slightly, perhaps, from the noble Lord who has preceded me) the problem of traffic congestion in Oxford cannot be solved—I am not sure that it can even be lightened appreciably—by making roads or closing roads. I am not against making roads, but I beg of you not to put your trust only in them, and, above all not to postpone other action that it may be possible to take. This is Thursday afternoon. If any of your Lordships were in the High Street at Oxford at this moment, or at any time this afternoon, you would find the traffic problem vastly different from what it is on any other afternoon of the week, because this is early closing day. There is clear evidence that a great deal of the traffic block is created not by through traffic, and will not be affected in the least by 506 by-passes. The situation to-day, Thursday, is that people are not coming from Cowley and everywhere around Oxford to shop in the Corn Market and in that neighbourhood. That is something to bear in mind.
The problem of Oxford is not mainly a problem of transport facilities. I am not against transport facilities; I say only that one should not pin one's faith in them. It is a problem of town planning, of deciding, when a city of historic beauty has become an industrial city also, just where the new population which comes there shall find each of their human needs met—their needs for housing, for shopping, for social life, for taking part in local government and all the rest. But if you can carry out this town planning wisely—it is still not too late—then Oxford, as a still beautiful meeting place for learning and industry, for people working in all kinds industrial occupation, for teachers and students, would, by the combination of those two necessities of learning and study and of working industry, render a service to humanity greater than it has ever rendered in the past. I am delighted at the thought of young men and women of Oxford and their teachers naturally and necessarily meeting the people already in industry and getting to understand the nature of the world into which they are growing up. That is a thing which is not given by a city like Cambridge. It is a good thing that it may be possible to do it well at Oxford.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
It cannot be done by any other university city as well as Oxford can do it, and I plead that it may be possible for Oxford to do it. I have used the argument which has convinced me, after many years of study of Oxford, that it is primarily a problem of town planning and only secondarily a problem of by-passes and roads. I am sure that for the rescue of Oxford the need is for town planning even more than for roads. But I do not ask Her Majesty's Government to accept my view, or that of my many friends. I am perfectly content to make my case for town planning rather than, or as well as, for roads, through an independent inquirer of high quality, though I should prefer to have 507 more than one first-rate mind brought to bear upon this problem. I think it is a case for two or three minds. Though I should not reject an independent single inquirer, I want to say that the Government are underrating the difficulties of the subject and the need for getting the best possible brains to work on the subject.
Let me end by making a final plea that this problem of Oxford should be dealt with urgently. Frankly, I am terrified that we cannot begin to make an inquiry into what causes congestion—whether it is through traffic or local traffic—until we have finished these roads and experimented, as I suppose the City Council would, for four more years to ascertain the effect. I live in Oxford and nearly every week-day I have to put to myself the problem: is it going to be more difficult for me to cook my own luncheon when my daily servant is not there than it would be to manage to drive my car up the High Street? I generally decide on cooking my own luncheon, except on Sundays, when it is possible to get across the High Street, or on Thursdays when also, if one goes after lunch time, it is possible to get across the High Street. But at any other time it is a lunatic proceeding to try to do that.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD CHESHAM)
My Lords, I do not think it is for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge in his remarks, deeply as we respect him; nor in any way to disagree with the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, generally on the place of Oxford in the world. It is, of course, tempting to do so, and as I heard a voice from the Benches opposite remark, under the sting of the penultimate remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that he was becoming controversial, it becomes doubly tempting to do so. But I believe that my function this afternoon is to attend strictly to the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has raised in his Question, although I hope I shall succeed in doing so in what the noble Lord has rightly pointed out has been the spirit of this House, as evidenced before.
508 Unless I am mistaken, I might disagree with the noble Lord because I thought he went to considerable pains to build up the background and atmosphere in which an undertaking was given to this House; and I thought I detected some kind of implication that he thought my answer would not be a very good one and that Her Majesty's Government have not fulfilled the assurance that was given at that time. I may be wrong about that, but if the noble Lord did make that implication then certainly I begin to disagree with him.
In the course of his remarks the noble Lord read out the words of my noble friend Lord Munster, but I should like to repeat them—I am quoting from col. 792: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 person, specially chosen for that purpose.That is the undertaking that was confirmed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury; confirmed at the time, and confirmed, it would appear, in a letter which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has received; and, indeed, confirmed by me in the sense that, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, there has not been any intention of doing otherwise. I hope I may make that plain, because I intend to spend a few minutes explaining just how that has been carried out, and in showing your Lordships that the appointment of the inspector by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government accords fully with both the spirit and the letter of that undertaking.
The gentleman appointed to hold the inquiry which is to begin in Oxford on December 1 next is Sir Frederick Armer. His appointment was made on September 8 this year and it was announced in the Press and on notice boards in the City of Oxford. It is perfectly true that Sir Frederick was, until 1956, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Health. Since 1956 he has been Chairman of the Board of Control, on a part-time basis; and that post he has now given up. Some people have tended to argue and imply—and certain remarks that I have heard make me think that there is definitely some misunderstanding abroad on this matter—that it might be thought that an 509 ex-officer of the Ministry of Health like Sir Frederick Armer is likely to be prejudiced in favour of what is presumed to be the "official" view—and I use the word "official" in inverted commas. That is the view, to which the noble Lord referred, expressed by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government in 1956 in favour of a road across Christ Church Meadow. But there is no solid basis at all for saying that.
Sir Frederick Armer has no previous connections with Oxford in any shape or form. He was educated at the University College of South Wales and Monmouth. He has had no part in the discussions which have been going on for so many years about Oxford roads. His career in the Civil Service has been in a Department which has not been directly concerned with planning or roads for many years and which is quite unconcerned in any way with this particular problem. At the end of this month he will be quite independent of the Civil Service. I submit that there is no ground whatever for any suggestion that his previous official position will expose him to any form of departmental influence or that he will approach the problem with anything but a completely open mind. I believe it would be hard to find anyone else with less previous connection with the discussions on the Oxford problems, yet who was at the same time so well equipped for the particular task as Sir Frederick Armer is.
If I may refer again to the debate in February, 1957, I would point out that it was the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who is sitting opposite, who mentioned the difficulty of finding independent and suitably qualified people to serve on what was then the proposed Royal Commission; and I think he was undoubtedly right. Sir Frederick Armer's experience has been administrative rather than legal or technical, but he has been dealing with lawyers and technicians all through his official life. He has already taken a difficult and far-reaching inquiry which raised complicated legal and technical issues under the Clean Air Legislation, and produced an excellent report upon it and he has other experience of this kind. Her Majesty's Government have no doubt about his independence or his competence, and they are, in addition, very grateful to him for agreeing to take the inquiry.
510 The inquiry itself, beginning, as I have said, on December 1 will, in full accordance with undertakings given in 1957, be in the widest possible terms. No consideration affecting the problem of traffic congestion in Oxford will be excluded from it. If anyone appearing at the inquiry chooses to put forward arguments about the effect of the siting of various types of property, and about the traffic conditions concerned—for example, it might be shops or a shopping center—this will come within the terms of reference.
The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge (and may I express my gratitude to him for giving me advance notice of the points he was going to raise) entered a plea that the preservation of the beauty and influence of Oxford is too high a task to be left to the City Council. My Lords, I know again that we are all greatly respectful of his opinion in such matters; but I think we must just also remember that it is Parliament, in its wisdom, that has made the City Council the planning authority for Oxford, although, of course, it is true that the Government have in fact the final say in what is done and. of course, can intervene if necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, inquired about a further assurance that was given: that when an inquiry had been held and reported, there would be another opportunity for your Lordships to discuss it; and he asked whether that assurance would be carried out. My Lords, of course it will. I hope that he had not really at the back of his mind any feelings which made him think that it would not be. That assurance was given, and when the report is made there will, of course, be an opportunity for your Lordships to debate it.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me? Perhaps I did not emphasise what I wanted to emphasise. I had no doubts that the debate will take place in this House, because the Government cannot control that. The House decides what it will debate. I will read the operative words. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 201, col. 845]:Further, the Government will be very happy that there should be further debate in this House, after the public inquiry has taken 511 place and a report has been published, and will listen to what is said by noble Lords before"—I repeat, before—taking any further action. I thought probably noble Lords would like that assurance, because it means"—again, these are the operative words—that nothing further will be done until they have had another chance of voicing their views.The point was not that we could not debate the report, but that no action would be taken until this House had had a debate. That is what I said. Those are the operative words.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I understand that. Perhaps I put in an unnecessary qualification or reservation. I will say simply that the answer to what the noble Lord asked me is, "Yes".
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I ask one question of my noble friend, because it is of some importance; and it is this. Am I to understand from what he is now saying that when the inspector has made his inquiry his report will be published and made known to this House as soon as it is known to the Minister?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, the assurance given was that the report would be published and that your Lordships would have a chance to say what you thought about it and the Government would listen to that before anything was done about it. That is the assurance that was given, and that is the assurance to which I am giving the answer "Yes" when asked whether it will be carried out.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, may I go on to the reason why the inquiry is being held now? It is that the Oxford City Council have asked my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to hold it. In making the request, the Town Clerk asked that the inquiry be held at an 512 early date. And I think it is important to remember what I have just mentioned: that the City Council is the planning authority and it has asked for the inquiry to be early, 'because the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, complained that there had been a long time in setting the inquiry up. He referred to the question of the traffic census and said he had not heard about it. Well, a survey was put into operation and a committee was formed to carry out the census and survey. The collection and the analysis proved a laborious task, as also was the careful and correct presentation of the report. They finished their part of it in March, 1958, and it then had to be further evaluated and was reported on by the Road Research Laboratory in July, 1959,—
§ LORD CHESHAM
—and was published in September, 1959. That is the answer to the noble Lord's implied question about the census. But to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on the other hand, it would appear that the inquiry is too soon.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, let us not become confused about this. I am now talking about the inquiry which is being set up in Oxford on December 1. I have finished talking about the traffic survey.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am sorry. I do not think that the inquiry that can open on December 1 is too late, but I think that the road should have been finished two years ago, and perhaps then the inquiry could have been held before.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, it may well be that that is what the noble Lord meant. He made a considerable point and I am coming back to it again in a minute. He made rather a point that it was useless holding the inquiry until the road was finished.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Do not put those words into my mouth. I quoted the debate and said that that was the consensus of opinion of all the speakers who spoke in the debate.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I can go only on the evidence of my eyes and ears, but I am coming back to it. The noble Lord tells us, then, that that was the consensus of opinion: that the road should be finished before the inquiry was held. Never mind for the moment about the why and wherefor of its not being completed at this moment. But it follows from that, I should have thought, that if the inquiry is useless if the bypasses are not finished, then because they are not finished the inquiry is therefore useless. That is the way I interpreted what the noble Lord said. But be that as it may, it merely indicates that there is room for variation in opinion as to the timing of this inquiry, and evidently some balance must be needed because there is a considerable distance between the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, so far as I can see. Personally, I think this timing is right for reasons which I shall come on to in a moment.
I should like to say a word about the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that the inquiry should have a good deal more emphasis on town planning than concern with problems of the roads. I suppose that, to an extent, this is so; and, indeed, it is why the inquiry is being set up by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing until Local Government. But surely it must be right to say, in so complicated a set of circumstances as exist in Oxford, that we cannot possibly divorce the two. They go hand in hand and cannot possibly be split up into separate subjects; and I think it is perfectly right and proper that this comprehensive inquiry should take both town planning and road considerations into account.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me, in agreeing entirely with what he has just said, to add one more point that I want to feel with certainty is put before the man who holds the inquiry? I have definite reasons for what I said: that we cannot put too much of the burden of dealing with this problem upon the Oxford City Council. I hope that the inquiry is going to be wide enough for me to be able to give those reasons, as I am prepared to give them in black and white to the person holding the inquiry. I need not waste the time of the House in putting them now.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I should have thought that what I said would have indicated that that was so, as I understand it.
Now I should like to turn to the second part of the noble Lord's Question. He has made a considerable play, if I may call it such—and it is really almost the key phrase of the Question as he put it upon the Order Paper—about the clear acceptance during the debate that no inquiry could fulfil its true purpose unless it had before it the experience of the effect of these outer by-pass roads upon the problems to be considered. He spent some time drawing your Lordships' attention to just exactly upon what this acceptance, and the clarity of it, was based. My Lords, I have studied the OFFICIAL REPORT of that debate, and I do not find insistence on this point, shall we say, running through it quite so clearly as does the noble Lord. He said it himself at the time, and I have no doubt that, having said it, he accepted it, he quoted to us something said by the noble Lord, Lord Samuel, which did not, in fact, mention the point. He had confined himself to saying that the completion of the by-pass was important, but he did not attach it to the inquiry. The noble Lord also quoted another remark by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who did say it. So, so far as I can find, it was the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and Lord Swinton, who made this point; but nowhere can I find any evidence that there was any clear acceptance of that point on the part of the Government—and I think that is important. I think it would be best if I were to state—
§ LORD LUCAS of CHILWORTH
Then what the noble Lord should do is to read column 793—all my interjections and the reply by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. That clearly states it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, that is exactly the column which I have read and re-read in my endeavours to find some degree of acceptance on the part of the Government, which I have been unable to do. Therefore, in view of the amount which the noble Lord has made of this point, I think I ought to read it again—and, with your Lordships' permission, I think I ought to read it out aloud. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of 515 Chilworth, said to my noble friend, Lord Munster (col. 793):I am grateful to the noble Earl. He referred to by-passes that are being built now. He knows that there are no by-passes 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 under stand—Then the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said: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 problem which will be considered by the inquiry.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Quite. The noble Marquess said:… 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 problem which will be considered by the inquiry.They cannot come within that unless they are completed, can they? I should not have thought so.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, that is where the noble Lord and I differ; because I should have thought that, if you were discussing traffic problems and there was going to be a certain road, you could consider it relevant to the problem which you are discussing without its ever existing. If the noble Lord is going to claim that as Government acceptance of his point, it is the most tenuous acceptance I have ever heard of in my life, and must be an understanding which is so tacit as to rival the endless silence of outer space. I do not think there is much point in going on about that. The noble Lord and I evidently do not understand things in quite the same way; and I think, therefore, that it would be better if I went on to make clear what is the Government's attitude on this question of the outer bypasses, which I shall do quite briefly.
My Lords, the by-passes are necessary anyway, whatever the final decision may be on whether there should be roads near the centre of Oxford or where they should be. The probable effect, which is what I understood was intended, of 516 traffic on the outer by-passes is certainly a proper subject for the inquiry, but, if there was a case for them, there really was no acceptance that they must be completed first. There are other reasons, also, why decisions on whether or where any relief roads are to be built cannot be held up very much longer. My Lords, there are many other proposals for redevelopment in Oxford which are being held up by the uncertainty about the relief roads, if they are going to be and where they are going to be; and, on balance, I think it must be right to go ahead with an inquiry into the possible schemes now without waiting for the by-passes to be completed. But, quite apart from this, my Lords, as I said before, the City Council have, in fact, asked for the inquiry to be held now.
Now, my Lords, I turn to the question of the outer by-passes themselves, and to what, with his characteristic force and vigour, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had to say about them. My Lords, he stood at the Despatch Box opposite, and he indicted the Ministry of Transport for delay over three years. Indicted, indeed, my Lords! I was simply amazed to hear him use that word, because I cannot find that there is any warrant for the suggestion that the time taken in planning the outer bypasses and getting them going runs counter to the assurances given by Her Majesty's Government during the debate in 1957.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I did not say that. I referred to the Sandford Link, not the outer by-passes: the vital Sandford Link. The other bypasses are progressing, but they will not assume their full importance until the vital Sandford Link is completed. That is what has taken three years to do; and it is not started yet.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Perhaps, if I continue and say what I was going on to say, it will have a rather clearer meaning, because I know that the noble Lord said that, and I am coming on to what I have to say about it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I want to look at just what is the position today: at what has happened since 1957, 517 when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, got up and categorically said that nothing was happening. Let us just have a look at that. The Northern and Southern by-passes, I know, were completed before the war. The Eastern by-pass, connecting the London Road (the A.40) at Headington with the Henley Road, at Littlemore, was completed in July,. 1959. The Western by-pass was started in January, 1959, for completion in March, 1961. I agree that, due to difficulty in getting access to certain land, a three-months' extension was granted. Therefore, if all goes well—and as to whether it will go well, some of your Lordships may have noticed that it is raining rather a lot at the present time—we hope that the by-pass will be completed next summer.
So far as the Southern by-pass extension and the Sandford Link are concerned (perhaps I may refer to them collectively, as the noble Lord has done. as the "Sandford Link"), I would refer your Lordships to the Question of July 30, 1958, when my noble friend Lord Mancroft informed your Lordships that there had been no avoidable delay The necessary statutory order fixing the line of this road was made in 1959, and a draft order dealing with the side roads affected by the new trunk road will be advertised early next year. This draft order could not be prepared until details of the junctions to which it related had been settled. My Lords, they have now been settled. Acquisition of the land not affected by this side road order is now going ahead. In addition, my Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has told the City and County Councils that he will be willing to consider their proposals for extending the Eastern by-pass in a South Westerly direction to join the Sandford Link so that these two schemes can be carried out at the same time
§ My Lords, is that nothing? Is that no progress in three years?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I think the noble Lord is being a little unfair. I do not know how many other cities he can find which have a by-pass system which, by next summer, will be round 340 degrees of the 360.
§ LORD CHESHAM
"It is not like that yet", says the noble Lord, but it will be, and I do not think that, having regard to the road programme and the calls upon it, and, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister explained in another place, having regard to all the things we have to undertake in this country, Oxford has in fact had a very unfair crack of the whip. I do not think it is too bad.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was very good to me—he always is—because he told me some of the points he would make, and he said that he would play the thing rough. Well, he has played it rough, I think. I do not mind that in the least, because when the noble Lord tells me that he is going to play it rough, I know for certain that he is going to play it straight, and that is a very valuable thing. He has, of course, as always, played it straight, but on this occasion he has, in my view, also played it a bit narrow.
My Lords, may I end with one more point which the noble Lord made, and that is the opinion stated by my noble friend Lord Mancroft in answer to his Question, that this was a matter of high national importance. Well, I stand here to-day and say that I agree with them both: that this is a matter of high national importance. The noble Lord has tended to interpret that remark, I think, as being "of the highest national importance". At least, I would have tended to get that impression from what he has said. Her Majesty's Government do regard it as a matter of high national importance, but it is not the only matter with which we have to deal. The noble Lord knows as well as I do—he has been told often enough—exactly what are the problems about authorising these schemes. But it does remain a matter of high national importance which will be attended to as soon as it can.