HL Deb 05 December 1990 vol 524 cc248-65

7.26 p.m.

Lord Moran rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, even at this late stage, they will reconsider their decision to route the M.1-A.1 link road across the battlefield of Naseby and will instead adopt the southern route avoiding this historic area.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper perhaps I may express my warm thanks to those noble Lords who have agreed to take part in this debate.

It is curious that we in this country pay so little attention to the sites on which some of the great battles of our history have taken place. Of course some of them, like those of the Wars of the Roses, took place so long ago that we no longer know where exactly the fighting took place. But other more recent battles we know about with reasonable accuracy.

Elsewhere battlefields are regarded as a very important part of a nation's heritage. In the United States their Civil War battlefields are beautifully cared for and painstakingly preserved. At Gettysburg a visitor is helped by plaques and markers to understand just what happened. He can stand on the ridge held by Union troops and see precisely where Pickett's charge began and ended. The whole scene is clear, vivid and impressive. I believe that it attracts around 1 million visitors a year.

By contrast, we in this country neglect our most important and significant battlefields. It is about one of these, that of Naseby in Northamptonshire, in the very middle of England, that I want to say a few words tonight. I have a personal interest in this because a few years ago I wrote a biography of Thomas Fairfax, who commanded the parliamentary forces—the freshly created New Model Army—on that day, Saturday 14th June 1645. Fairfax, helped by Cromwell, Skippon and Ireton, confronted his sovereign, Charles I, who was supported by the two palatinate princes, Rupert and Maurice. The resulting conflict was the decisive battle of the Civil War and established the supremacy of Parliament. By any reckoning it was one of the most important and significant battles in our history.

It is almost miraculous that the land on which the battle was fought, just north of the village Naseby, has survived for nearly 350 year largely unchanged and unspoilt. School children, those interested in our history or tourists can still see for themselves just where the battle took place. Unhappily, that uniquely historic site is now threatened with destruction by the building of a new motorway, the M.1-A.1 link road.

The argument about where the road should run has been going on since 1972 when the decision to build it was originally taken. The Department of the Environment originally appointed Freeman Fox, consulting engineers, to produce possible corridors for the road. They produced a proposed route south of the village, deliberately avoiding the battlefield to the north. Three months later the two local authorities concerned—Northamptonshire County Council and Daventry District Council—suddenly designated the area through which the southern route would pass as being of high landscape value, ignoring the outstandingly beautiful country north of Naseby, recognised as such by eminent authorities like Dame Sylvia Crowe and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.

Northamptonshire County Council argued, no doubt for its own good reasons, for a northern route through the battlefield. Letters of protest were published in the press from Dame Veronica Wedgewood, Sir Arthur Bryant and others, and the Society for the Preservation of the Field of the Battle of Naseby was formed. This society has fought valiantly against the plan to wreck the battlefield.

A public consultation exercise took place which showed overwhelming support for saving the battlefield. In August 1975 the then Labour Minister of Transport, Dr. Gilbert, announced: At Naseby the Minister considers that whilst all other factors are very evenly balanced the historical significance of the area is of overriding importance and he has therefore decided that the link road should follow the southern alternative past the village". I am quite sure that that was the right decision.

In 1976, however, things began to go wrong. Freeman Fox was dropped and the scheme was transferred to the responsibility of the county council working with the Department of Transport's eastern road construction unit which maintained that it was not restricted to the Minister's preferred route and would consider any alternative. It also put out misleading information about the effect of a northern route on the battlefield and alleged that bad soil conditions within the southern corridor had forced it to plan instead for a road running north of Naseby.

In 1979 the Conservative Government came to power and in 1982 the new Minister of Transport, Mrs. Chalker, said that circumstances had changed and bad soil conditions had caused the department to abandon a southern route. Some of your Lordships asked for details of that in this House in July 1982, but it emerged that the suggestion that soil conditions in the southern corridor were unsatisfactory was groundless. The department then shifted its ground and claimed that a northern route was cheaper, shorter and less damaging to the landscape, though that was not the view of experts like Dame Sylvia Crowe.

The department next produced exhibits setting out its plans which showed the battle area as a tiny hexagon, little bigger than the size of a football pitch. That was totally misleading because the battle involved about 21,000 men, many of them mounted. The department also suggested, incorrectly, that a southern route would almost touch the village. Throughout the proceedings the Department of Transport appears to have been far from evenhanded, to have given out misleading information and to have constantly attempted to belittle the importance of the battlefield. Indeed, at the inquiry the chairman of the Cromwell Association asked a representative of the Department of Transport a hypothetical question: "Can we assume, for the purposes of argument, that your road would totally destroy the battlefield; what then would be the position?" The reply was, "It would make no difference at all". It is that indifference to the importance of the battlefield that objectors have been struggling against for the past 18 years.

A full inquiry was conducted at which a number of distinguished historians gave detailed evidence. All of them agreed that a road running north of Naseby would do irrevocable damage to the battlefield. The two Ministers at the time, Mr. Peter Bottomley and Mr. Paul Channon, concluded on the basis of the inspector's report that the choice was a hard one. They said that they were in, no doubt of the significance that rightly attaches to the site of such an important battle in the history of Parliamentary democracy as a place for visiting, study and interpretation. On the other hand they have to consider the environmental arguments". They also noted the preferences of the local councils. Their decision was: With these considerations in mind the Secretaries of State have decided it is not reasonable that the whole area involved in the battle should be regarded as sacrosanct, as something to be preserved in its present form at all costs. With much regret, therefore, they conclude that the Link Road should follow the published route north of the village. They do not believe in any case that the route will have the devastating effect on the battle area as a whole that the objectors evidently fear". That was the key decision. It is my contention that it was wrong and that the battlefield should be protected.

It is true that the line of the proposed road will not run through the centre of the area where the opposing forces were first drawn up—the area between Mill Hill, where Fairfax and Cromwell drew up the parliamentary forces, and Dust Hill, where King Charles I stood with his troops. However, it will run through the areas where Cromwell's five regiments of horse were drawn up, where Prince Rupert's impetuous charge took place and where the parliamentary infantry were at first driven back. A large four-lane modern road on this alignment, with three massive overbridges across it, will destroy for ever the value and significance of this historic site.

Incidentally, I am surprised that English Heritage has not been more active in seeking to preserve this historic site. I have been told by its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who unfortunately is unable to take part in this debate tonight, that, English Heritage's responsibilities and authority do not cover landscapes as our locus is entirely the man-built environment". He added: Naturally this is an unsatisfactory situation and that is why we are pleased that in the recent Government White Paper on the environment it is suggested that in future battlefields should come under our aegis". However, the National Heritage Act 1983 states in Section 33(1) (a) that it is the duty of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission—that is, English Heritage— to secure the preservation of ancient monuments … situated in England". Section 33(8) of that Act defines an ancient monument as including any site which in the commission's opinion is of historic interest. I gather that English Heritage regards a site as not including a landscape, but if Naseby is not a site of historic interest, what is? The preservation society cannot understand why English Heritage was not represented at the two public inquiries, does not seem to have made representations about the threat to the battlefield to the inspectors or the Ministers and said in only one letter that, It … regrets the disturbance which may be caused to the site of the battle of Naseby".

It has clearly been very damaging that English Heritage has taken the view that it was inappropriate for it to intervene. Had it felt free to do so, we might not have needed this debate tonight. As it is, since the original decision by the two Ministers the plans have been altered in that three large and intrusive overbridges will be constructed on the road to carry side roads across it. This has resulted in a second public inquiry this year in which the society once more argued in favour of a southern route. Throughout the proceedings the society has brought together a formidable weight of historic and landscape expertise in support of its position. By contrast, the Department of Transport has been unable to find any historical witness to support its contention.

The society challenged the public inquiry report in the High Court. This challenge failed as the court held that it had no power to overturn the Ministers' decision, but Lord Justice Bingham concluded: If the issue before this Court were whether the appellants had established a formidable case for preserving the battlefield as it now stands, I would for my part have no hesitation in concluding that they had". It is that formidable case that I think should be decisive in this case and not the decision by two Ministers now no longer in the Government that it would be unreasonable to regard the whole area of the battlefield as sacrosanct. The society considered an appeal to the European Court, but that court cannot intervene because the requirement on member governments to make an environmental impact assessment came into force after the decision in this case was taken.

The grim conclusion was that, The Commission cannot on the basis of directive 85/337/EEC stop any member state from destroying its environment if it so wishes". However, we do not need to destroy cur environment or to wreck this unique historic site. The southern route is still available. The cost would be little, if any, more. It would be in a deep cutting; it would not damage the environment more than the northern route and, above all, it would not touch the battlefield.

Since 1985 we have all become more conscious of the need to preserve all aspects of our environment if we possibly can. In their own recent environmental White Paper, This Common Inheritance, the Government say that they are now, asking English Heritage and the Countryside Commission to develop their educational programmes, SD as to make the public more aware of how the countryside, and historic landscapes, have evolved. It has invited English Heritage to prepare a register of landscapes and sites (such as battlefields) which have historic significance but where there are no longer any identifiable remains … through this register the Government, local planning authorities and others will be alerted to the significance of these sites when considering development plans and applications for planning permission".

In the light of that, which I welcome, and of the fact that since last week we have a new Prime Minister and new Secretaries of State for Transport and for the Environment, I hope that the Government will be prepared to think again. Why destroy this battlefield when a practicable and reasonable alternative exists? As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said in this House last year, to do so would be an appalling example of vandalism.

We live in a small, precious and vulnerable island. We should at the very least preserve the historic sites that we have. The Department of Transport seems utterly insensitive to these things. I think that left to itself it might plan a motorway through the close of Salisbury Cathedral or a roundabout around York Minster. We must look to Ministers to take a more enlightened view. It is not too late to put right a grievous mistake. To move the route south of Naseby now and save the battlefield would be welcomed by everyone interested in our national heritage and would earn the Government the thanks of this generation and future generations.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it must be very rare for an incoming Minister to be presented with an opportunity, by a stroke of the pen, to immortalise himself as the man who saved the reputation of his department. If the right honourable gentleman in another place who has become the Secretary of State for Transport will take the trouble to read the very persuasive case that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has put before us, and agree to this proposal, he will be able to liquidate the reputation of the Department of Transport as philistinism incarnate.

It is a curious story that we have had put before us. It raises some interesting issues. I have been told by those acquainted with the area, which I am not, that there is no pressing evidence that such a road was ever necessary and that if the inhabitants of the area north and south of the battlefield had pooled their efforts and made a case against such a road they might have been successful. However, that is hypothesis.

What I can say is not hypothetical, having followed the argument and read some of the documents and having seen some of the maps concerned, is that the county council seems to have behaved in an extraordinary way for some elected persons holding planning authority. I am told and I have read that they have now put on the alleged battlefield various markers which do not correspond to the views of the historians who are competent to tell us how the battle was waged. By doing so they have managed to suggest that the battlefield was somewhere else. The road, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out, would undoubtedly ruin the battlefield.

On some occasions historic monuments were moved. Temples in Egypt were moved in order to avoid the flooding of the Nile. This would certainly be the first occasion on which a battlefield was moved by a county council in order to enable it to pursue its favourite road project. The noble Viscount who is to reply used to speak on behalf of the Department of Education and Science. It is again extraordinary, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out, that a government who have insisted on the central importance of British history in the national curriculum should be indifferent to an event which, as the noble Lord pointed out, played a cardinal role not merely in the development of a war but in the future of our political institutions.

There are extraordinary paradoxes in this and an extraordinary feeling that we have not been told the full story as to why the county council, against the advice of those concerned with education, historians and qualified surveyors, should persist with a project which seems to have no justification at all that it is prepared to explain. It is trying to divert attention from the damage to the battlefield by pretending that it happened somewhere else.

The presence in the Chamber this evening of the leading historian of that period, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, obviates my having to say anything more on the subject, and I gladly yield the floor to him.

7.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for introducing this Question. He and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, have between them put the case so well that they have not left me with much to say. Let us suppose that we have in front of us a proposal to take the original death warrant of Charles I or an original text of Magna Charta and destroy them as part of a project for recycling old paper or even parchment. I think that, quite rightly, your Lordships would express a good deal of indignation.

However, historical evidence does not take only a written form because it may take a physical one. It may be just as valuable and significant in the physical form as it may be in the written. For a while during the 1960s the study of war was somewhat out of fashion. People felt that it was something that they disliked and therefore they did not want to study it very much. But it is a capital mistake to think that it is our job to like or dislike the past. Our job, whether we like it or not, is to understand it.

During the past 20 years there has been a considerable revival of military history associated in particular with King's College, London, which is my own college. That has been very largely concentrated on logistics and money. Unlike modern major generals, military historians do know what is meant by commissariat. Although that has been a very valuable and important trend, it is nevertheless important that there may still be occasions on which the whole course of a war is actually determined in a few minutes on a field of battle.

Historians, like Ministers, are very rightly wary of answering hypothetical questions. So I am not going to say that if King Charles had won the Battle of Naseby he would have won the civil war. I cannot assert with any confidence that he would not have done. There was a moment in the middle of that battle when the parliamentary foot soldiers wavered and were on the verge of breaking and running. It is at least a possibility that if the events of those few minutes had gone the other way the whole course of the war would have been different.

We cannot understand the war without understanding the battle; and we cannot understand the battle without understanding the ground. The great Victorian historians, and S.R. Gardiner in particular, never wrote the history of a battle without walking across the ground covered by the battle itself. That is a good tradition. I have done that on the rare occasions when I have had to write about a battle, which as a parliamentary historian I fortunately do not have to do very often. But you cannot do it if the battlefield has been destroyed.

We may think that the story is known and that it is not going to change. That is not the case. The historical story does change constantly in response to the asking of further questions. It is not the Battle of Naseby but the Battle of Marston Moor in which the whole story has been changed within our working lifetime by the exercise of aerial photography. That demonstrated that the water course which divided the two sides has moved a considerable distance since the time of the battle. Let us suppose that that battlefield had been destroyed. It would have been quite impossible for that to be discovered. We would have been left with the wrong story with no prospect of ever being able to correct it. It might be the battlefield of Naseby next time, so there is here something that is important not only on heritage grounds for tourists, but also as a serious point of academic study.

I appreciate that the academic interest is only one among many involved in this matter. I agree with the Secretary of State, Mr. Channon, who argued at the time that the academic interest in this matter should not be sacrosanct. In a reasonable political universe, where we are dealing constantly with competing claims, little should be sacrosanct. I think, though, that it is a claim which, other things being equal, deserves a serious hearing. It was my first objective when investigating the subject to try to see whether other things were in fact equal.

I think that Dr. Gilbert in 1975 was right that the other issues were more or less evenly balanced. I accept that there is a case for a road. The carriage of goods from the industrial midlands to the east coast ports is a matter of economic significance. I was prepared to investigate whether the use of the northern or the southern route would make a significant difference either to the cost or the distance involved. Any difference with regard to distance is minimal. Since it depends on quite small points of how the loop of the road is planned, it may be slightly shorter or slightly longer on the southern route; but either way there will be no great difference. There is no strong argument in terms of saving distance.

What was said at the 1984–85 public inquiry seems to be correct in that there is no significant argument on grounds of cost; or at least that seemed to be correct until very recently. We are now told that three massive bridges are needed over the road on the northern route. That must change the financial arithmetic. It must make the northern route more expensive. What we are now being asked to accept is the destruction of a historical site of great importance, not for the sake of an overriding public interest but for the sake of an unnecessary waste of public money. I hope that that can be prevented.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, we must all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Moran for initiating a debate on this important subject, and for putting his cast iron case so clearly and so forcefully.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested that a new road might not be necessary at all. He may possibly be right. Nevertheless, we must give the Government the benefit of the doubt and for the purposes of this debate at any rate start from the assumption that a new road connecting the A.1 with the M.1 is indeed needed, not withstanding the well established maxim that new roads usually generate new traffic beyond their capacity to handle. I should add in parenthesis that any new road connecting with the A.1 will be positively useless and will make matters worse unless the Government act quickly to get rid of the terrible bottleneck near Alconbury, where the M.11 extension, which carries so much heavy lorry traffic from east London and the east coast ports, funnels into the A.1.

But assuming that we agree with the principle of a new road, where is it to go? If a similar debate had taken place two or three years ago, I would not have put down my name to speak. At that time the word "Naseby" simply meant to me yet another Civil War battlefield, many of which almost totally lack either atmosphere or sense of history, at least to those who are not specialists in the subject, possibly because the impact of the late 20th century has destroyed any atmosphere there might formerly have been.

Moreover, the part of England in which Naseby is located is not noted for its remoteness or by and large, for its scenic beauty. However, about 18 months ago my wife and I decided to make a long detour on our way North to see what all the fuss was about. We were immediately completely converted to the point of view put forward by noble Lords who have spoken in the debate so far. Partly perhaps because Naseby is rather isolated and difficult to get to, partly because there are few if any 20th century intrusions, the site is extraordinarily atmospheric, albeit not to the same extent as Culloden, which must surely seem poignant and haunted even to someone with almost no knowledge of the history of the highlands. Nevertheless, Naseby exudes an almost tangible sense of the England of 345 years ago. I strongly urge an alternative route upon the Government, the more so since I am very conscious of the way the once peaceful and in parts still beautiful Oxford canal has been ruined by the M.40 extension from Oxford to Birmingham, even before any traffic other than construction traffic has run along that motorway.

I have a specific question for the Minister who is to reply. A former Conservative Transport Minister, who is not in the Government now and has not been in the Government for several months, made a most extraordinary, even shocking, declaration rather more than a year ago in connection with the Naseby controversy, as it so happened, although he could have made a similar comment about other road "improvement" schemes. The Minister in question was reported as saying in effect that those who persisted in resisting road improvement schemes had blood on their hands, in that every day road improvements that were deemed necessary by the Government were delayed by objections the more likely it was statistically that people would be killed or injured in consequence. Apart from the fact that that was a "guesstimate" with no factual support, it was a shocking thing to say and an appalling example of moral blackmail.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that every individual, if he so chooses, is entitled to object, responsibly and within the law, to bypasses, motorways, outer ring roads, road widening schemes or whatever, and is entitled to do so not only legally but morally, irrespective of whether his or her objections are based on a historical, aesthetic or environmental viewpoint or, slightly less altruistically, stem from what we now call NIMBY—not in my back yard—considerations. It takes a strong man or woman to stand up to moral blackmail applied in the full glare of publicity. If individuals are to be frightened off making legitimate objections to road schemes in this way, one might as well scrap the planning process altogether and automatically rubber stamp every government scheme.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on one matter because I happen to live only four miles from Alconbury. The congestion on the A.1 is serious at times and we need an A.1-M.1 link. Let no one doubt that.

Having represented Huntingdon in another place for 34 years until 1979, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister succeeded me as local MP, I too am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has raised this matter. I know the battlefield of Naseby. It seems to me that an overwhelming case has been made against building a motorway across it. That case has been so well made that I can be brief but I would venture to summarise the matter by saying that the historical, environmental, financial and practical reasons for choosing the southern route are overwhelming. It is to me astonishing that those who were responsible before last week should have made an obviously wrong decision, as has been said.

I found it rather significant to discover that the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, is president of the society for the preservation of this battlefield. It makes one wonder what an outcry there would be, not only in Europe but in this country, if it were decided to build a colossal motorway with three bridges across the battlefield of Waterloo, which the Belgians have done so much to preserve, and have done it so well.

I merely wish to add to what has been said about the historical importance of the battlefield of Naseby and to bring the matter up to date, now that Huntingdon has produced our first leader of the nation since Oliver Cromwell. In passing, I should like to point out that our Prime Minister has a deep sense of history.

Oliver Cromwell would not have become the nation's leader if the New Model Army—which he trained, although Fairfax led the army—had not won the Battle of Naseby in 1645. Both the Parliamentarians and the Royalists had well-trained, efficient and brave armies. Until the Battle of Naseby, the Royalists had been victorious in most of the fighting. However, the Parliamentary Party won an overwhelming victory at Naseby and the war took a decisive turn. Although the war did not end until the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Cromwell was never defeated in battle after the battle of Naseby; neither, incidentally, was he defeated in politics.

Towards the end of his life in 1658, Cromwell tried to unite the country as much as he belatedly could, having previously imposed divisive policies upon it. I hope that I am not saying anything irrelevant to the debate when I say that I believe our new Prime Minister will do much to unite the country, just he has already succeeded in uniting the Conservative Party.

Let us hope that what has been said in this debate will add to that unity by the new Secretary of State for Transport and the new Secretary of State for the Environment getting together to reverse the wretched decision to build a four-lane motorway with three bridges right across the middle of the battlefield. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, that will add to its cost. There is no doubting the fact that these bridges will be built right across the middle of the famous battlefield. I have been there, and I can assure your Lordships that that is the case.

There is power to reverse the decision which has already been taken; all that is needed is the will to do so. Therefore, I hope that when my noble friend Lord Davidson responds to the debate, he will not just repeat to the House the departmental advice which he has been given. I earnestly implore him to assure us this evening that he will bring to the attention of both Secretaries of State concerned the very strong arguments which have been put forward by your Lordships this evening for reversing the decision which has so far been made.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate. There have been contributions from distinguished academics and strong representations have been made to the Government from both sides of the House. We have had a fascinating re-run of the civil war and a remarkable, philosophical speech from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who has a very distinguished academic role in relation to the matters we are discussing.

The whole House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for introducing the debate. His eloquent and factual speech represented a powerful indictment of the decision which has been made. He contrasted the situation—if that decision is upheld—with the practice in other countries. Other noble Lords also mentioned that aspect. The noble Lord takes the view that the Department of Transport has been both indifferent and insensitive to representations made over a long period of time. Those views have been supported by many noble Lords today; they have also been supported by distinguished parliamentarians elsewhere, not least the former Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, Mr. Michael Foot, and many others. I dare say that if other noble Lords could have been present this evening, they would have wished to present the case in a similar way.

Such representations have not only been made from Parliament. They have also been made by the CPRE, by the late Sir John Betjeman and by distinguished historians, reflecting the views so eloquently presented tonight by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Could there be a more powerful and eloquent witness than the former Member of Parliament for the area through which this battlefield passes than the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I trust that the noble Lord will forgive my intervention. Naseby is not in the Huntingdonshire constituency; it is in a Northamptonshire constituency. However, I happen to know the area of Naseby and I have ridden around the battlefield.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, that is good enough for me. Apart from the the main point of issue, one needs to consider also the credibility of the Government's assertions in their White Paper. In my view, an overwhelming case has been made out for the Government to reconsider their decision.

I have no doubt that the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, can say that this is a stale matter and that the decision has been made and re-made on many occasions. I hope that he will not do that. I hope he will say that, in the light of the very strong case which has been made out, the Government will seriously consider what has been said. As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, there is an overwhelming case for doing so. We have two new Secretaries of State. It could hardly be argued that they will have had time to study the case in all its details, taking into account all the demerits of the Government's case, in the few days since they took office. The noble Lord said rather fetchingly that they now have a chance to immortalise themselves on the issue. They should certainly seize the opportunity. It would be far easier to immortalise themselves in this connection than in any reappraisal of the poll tax or of our decrepit transport system.

On the assumption that a road is required—I believe that it is, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who knows the area rather better than most of us has confirmed that fact—the choice is still relatively simple. There is, first, the northern route. I refer to the proposed M.1-A.1 motorway link from Rugby to Huntingdon which would run north of Naseby village. This would undoubtedly destroy the Naseby battlefield. If the Department of Transport under its previous bosses regarded that prospect with indifference, this House does not.

There is also the southern route running through agricultural land. No doubt there would also be an environmental penalty to pay, but this is an area, as I understand it, in which large estates predominate. It may be they that have made the strongest representations to the Government thus far.

Perhaps I may briefly review the history of the decision. As has been said, the original decision was made by Dr John Gilbert, my honourable friend in another place—with whom I served in government—on 7th August 1975 on the basis that while all factors were very evenly balanced, the historical significance of the area was of overriding importance, and he had therefore decided that the link road should follow the southern alternative past the village. That decision has been praised on all sides of the House tonight. It was a decision made after extensive local consultation. The consultation demonstrated vividly that local opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of preserving the battlefield and therefore of adopting the southern route. The Government have never shown convincingly, from the time that they began to reconsider the decision, that the considerations applied by Dr. Gilbert were wrong.

It was only a short time after the Government came to office that the decision was reversed. That position, doggedly maintained ever since, rides roughshod over local public opinion. It demonstrates the proposition that is sometimes put forward: our mind is made up, do not confuse us with the facts.

Over the years successive Ministers have maintained the position. I urge the Minister to consider the following points. It was asserted that bad soil conditions within the southern corridor ruled it out. Based on information I have received from the society which has briefed noble Lords, my understanding is that physical investigations have never been undertaken. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that point. Is the assertion right or wrong?

The inspector, Brigadier Morrell, conceded in the report: I do not feel qualified to judge the disputed claims of landscape experts". The evidence given by such experts (in contrast to the lawyers who attended the inquiry) wholly supported the southern link. It did that on environmental grounds alone. Despite that, the inspector's recommendation was, extraordinarily enough, based on landscape issues, and that constituted the basis of the Government's conclusions.

Yet, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, at the beginning, and as has been repeated by others in the House, no oral evidence on that matter was submitted, rightly or wrongly, by English Heritage. The Department of Education and Science, despite the heritage arguments, said not a word. The department responsible for tourism totally ignored the matter, and ignored incidentally the potential for tourism in the area. It seems that the Government, almost deliberately, neglected to intervene.

I have no doubt—this is what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, when answering questions on the matter on 26th January 1989—that the Government will pray in aid the fact that there has been litigation in the High Court and the Court of Appeal and even the European Court of Justice, and that those court decisions were unable to change the situation. The reasonable explanation for that, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Renton, as a distinguished lawyer will aver, is that the High Court's remit in such matters is restricted, because all that it could determine was whether the Minister had fulfilled his constitutional duty by holding a public inquiry. That he did.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to the remarkable observations of Lord Justice Bingham when the matter went to the Court of Appeal. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg said that the environmental impact assessment directive was not in force—it did not come into force until July 1988—and therefore it could not intervene. What the European Court of Justice said was something of an indictment. It said that the Commission could not, on the basis of the environmental impact directive, stop any member state from destroying its environment if it so wished. We hope that the Government will not so wish.

The reasons, stated and unstated—the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to some of the unstated reasons—come to this. First, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, admitted—it is plain in law, and right—that a Minister can overrule an inspector, but in this instance the Government have chosen not to do so. On 26th January 1989 he said: My Lords, possibly, but at this battlefield there are no remains of the battle to see. It looks like an ordinary field, so far as I am aware".—[Official Report, 26/1/89; col. 820.] The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, clearly has not visited the site or he would not have said, so far as I am aware". He also said that most battlefields look like ordinary fields. That is true. I have recently been to Yorktown. That looks like an ordinary field. Waterloo also looks like an ordinary field. The Belgians have taken great trouble to preserve the battlefield, as I am well aware from having travelled along that motorway on many occasions. It has been falsely asserted by the Government that all that was at stake was a battlefield little bigger than a football pitch. As the noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out, there were 21,000 men mostly on horseback fighting along a front of two miles—some football pitch!

The unstated point is that there are powerful vested interests which have sought to influence and have succeeded in influencing the Government, Northamptonshire County Council, Daventry, landowners, and so on. The Government have put above all the case for road haulage, but it is a bigger case than that.

Why are so many agitated about this issue? The battle fought on 14th June 1645 was the decisive battle of the Civil War, ensuring the supremacy of our Parliament. As my right honourable friend Michael Foot put it in another place, it was one of the birthplaces of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom. It is also a pleasant area. It is a pleasant battlefield. It is good to visit because it provides an unspoilt view of the landscape. That is the view of Professor Woolrych, who gave evidence to the public inquiry in 1984. There is tourist potential as there is in relation to other battlefields. There is also considerable educational potential. It is something, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has clearly demonstrated today, about which children should know. I am convinced that a visit brings history to life. That is surely a critical matter.

There are environmental considerations which cause grave concern here. There are two routes, almost equal in length, but the northern route would have a disastrous impact. The southern route would not. It is more favourably placed. It would not involve nearly as much public expenditure as that relating to the northern route.

If the Government dispute that point, which has been made to them over and over again, let them give comparative figures. I believe that in winding up the debate the noble Viscount should do so. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, the northern route would involve building three massive bridges because the route runs along a high ridge. That does not apply in any way to the southern route.

Even on public expenditure grounds, about which the Government claim to be concerned, they have been demonstrably wrong. I believe that the Government have miscalculated. That is the view of everyone who has spoken in the debate. The Government should change their mind, even at this late stage. Naseby was a decisive battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads and I sincerely hope that it is not the boneheads who will triumph.

8.20 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate which has, more than almost any other that I can remember, brought out the exceptional erudition, knowledge and experience which are features that so distinguish your Lordships' House. Your Lordships may have overrated the influence that I might have with my colleagues. However, I can tell the House that I personally will ensure that the Official Report of this debate will be read by my right honourable friends, the Secretaries of State for Transport and the Environment. Nevertheless, that is as far as my influence extends at this stage, and I shall confidently leave it to my noble friend Lord Renton—who has considerably more influence—not only to send a copy of the Official Report to our right honourable friend the Prime Minister but I dare say to have a cup of coffee with him.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government's reasons for their decision to route the M.1-A.1 link road to the north of the village of Naseby. At this moment it remains the intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport to build this much needed link road across the East Midlands on the route already authorised by the made orders. This will take the road north of Naseby. The Department of Transport is already constructing about half the length of the 45-mile road and is pressing on with completion of the statutory procedures for the remaining sections of the road. We expect to start work for the section around Naseby in the summer of 1991.

The merits of competing routes to the south and north of Naseby have been discussed at length over about the past 15 years. The original orders under the Highways Act for the Naseby section were published in draft as long ago as 1982. It is now the time to put intention into practice and build the road.

My right honourable friends the former Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport confirmed the need and fixed the alignment for the whole route of the M.1-A.1 link road in a letter of 6th April 1987 which conveyed their decision. This followed a report by an independent inspector who held a public inquiry between September 1984 and June 1985. That inquiry heard a great deal of detailed evidence and cross-examination, alternative proposals and counter proposals on many issues, including the effect on Naseby battlefield. Overall the inspector found that the case for an M1-A1 link road was overwhelming. At that original inquiry the debate on the route at Naseby and related issues alone took about four weeks.

The inspector concluded that the evidence given by five eminent historians supported the view that the Department of Transport's proposed northern route would cross the battlefield near its southern edge. He said the objectors' alternative southern route put forward by the Society for the Preservation of the Field of Battle of Naseby would have a greater overall impact on the environment. Bearing in mind the minor extent to which the proposed road would encroach upon the battlefield, the inspector was not convinced that the additional effect upon the environment of the objectors' alternative route could be justified. He concluded that the department should not adopt a route to the south of Naseby in preference to the published route north of the village.

I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that more physical boreholes—that is site investigation—have been carried out to the south of Naseby than to the north. This was reported to the 1984–85 public inquiry. However, I do not believe that this is either the place or the time to re-open that public inquiry.

In coming to a decision my right honourable friends the former Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport dealt with the hard choice between preserving the whole battlefield and protecting the sensitive environment south of Naseby. They were in no doubt of the historical significance that rightly attaches to the site of such an important battle. On the other hand, they had to consider all the environmental arguments.

The two affected local authorities—that is Northamptonshire County Council and Daventry District Council—opposed the objector's alternative southern route because among other things it affected the designated area of high landscape value which lies to the south of Naseby. The alternative route would impose more visual intrusion on a greater number of dwellings than the northern route, subject more dwellings to increased noise and have a particularly severe effect on the village of Haselbech where local people were united in opposing the alternative route.

My right honourable friends the former Secretaries of State concluded that it was not reasonable that the whole area of the battle should be regarded as sacrosanct, as something to be preserved in its present form at all costs. That present form, I might add, is unlikely to resemble the countryside of 1645.

Lord Renton

My Lords, it is not far off it.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I take my noble friend's point. My right honourable Friends did not believe, in any event, that the road would have such a devastating effect on the battlefield as some fear.

The road would cross near the southern edge of the battlefield at low level. The natural topography north of Naseby village comprises a series of ridges running generally from west to east. The link road will run along a valley formed between two of these. The high ground to the south of the road will then shield it from the village of Naseby and the ridges to the north will shield views of the road from the main area of the civil war fighting.

Not only has the question of the route north of Naseby been thoroughly investigated during the required statutory procedures of highway scheme preparation, but it has also been pursued by the Society for the Preservation of the Field of Battle of Naseby through the High Court in August 1988 and through an Appeal Court in January 1989, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, told us. On each occasion the validity of the decision of my right honourable friends the former Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport has been upheld. An application to this House in March 1989 for leave to appeal was subsequently refused.

Also following the recommendation of the inspector in his report on the 1984–85 public inquiry, my right honourable friends the former Secretaries of State agreed that, in an effort to reduce the effects on local road users, changes should be made to the provisions for minor roads which currently run across the battlefield. These changes (to provide one new bridged crossing and to amend another) were also subject to the rigours of the statutory procedures which involved a second public inquiry held in February 1990.

The route of the main line of the link road was not strictly within the ambit of that inquiry. Nevertheless, the inspector agreed to hear the further submissions of the Society for the Preservation of the Field of Battle of Naseby on that already well rehearsed topic. He concluded, and my right honourable friends the former Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport agreed in their decision letter of 22nd October this year, that no new evidence of sufficient clarity or substance had been presented such as to cast doubt on the analysis of the original inspector and the findings of the then Secretaries of State following the 1984–85 inquiries.

Lengthy, detailed, comprehensive and sympathetic consideration has been given to the route of the link road at Naseby. Yet another review now would show that a change of route would achieve nothing but delay because of the fresh statutory procedures which would be required. The need for the scheme was substantiated at the 1984–85 inquiry; this need remains beyond doubt and the growth in traffic in the intervening years makes it all the more urgent. The link road will provide a vital and necessary route between the industry of the Midlands, East Anglia and the east coast ports and thence to Europe. It will reduce fatal and other accidents on existing roads running through a large number of communities in the East Midlands and bring them relief from the environmental effects of heavy traffic. To realise these benefits as soon as possible it is right to press ahead to complete at the earliest opportunity the route which exhaustive consideration of all points of view has shown to be the best choice.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask this question. Does he have any figures as to the relative costs of the two routes? We should bear in mind that the building of overhead bridges is bound to be an increased cost. On the proposed northern route, there would be three bridges.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the quantum of costs on both the northern and southern alignments was put to the 1984–85 inquiry and the southern route was more costly by £1 million. I take the point about the extra cost of the bridges and I shall certainly look into it and let my noble friend know about it.

Back to