§ 3.21 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, upon economic and strategic grounds, in order to facilitate the free flow of traffic from the Midlands to the south of England, they will give early priority to the completion of the road plan for the by-passing of the City of Oxford, which has already been agreed upon by the appropriate authorities and the Ministry of Transport, thus fulfilling an urgent national need, and at the same time preserving the historic amenities of a great national heritage; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, I should be guilty of having a faint, indeed a 1018 churlish, heart if I did not rejoice in the fact that Her Majesty's Government have at last produced plans which bid in some degree to recapture the years which the locusts have eaten, and in their announcement that they are going to attempt to draw up a plan whereby this country may have the road system which it has lacked for so many years and without which the future economy of this country will be seriously jeopardised. I should be less than fair if I did not acknowledge the commendation implicit in the Motion which I have put before your Lordships this afternoon, and I hope for its acceptance by Her Majesty's Government and for the inclusion among the proposals in the recent pronouncement by the Minister of Transport of some of the things I want.
§ However, it is sad to relate that the proposals which have just been announced by the Minister for a four-year plan for the development of some part of our road system fall far below what I think is necessary in the particular case I have in view. But before I deal with that case, I think I should give your Lordships some basic facts in support of my contention that this is a question of immediate priority. I do not think that the dire necessities can in any way be met by the proposals of the Minister.
§ Oxford is situated in the South Midlands in such a position that through the city all traffic from the industrial North has to pass—from the A34, which draws the traffic from Lancashire through the West Midlands; from the A423, which draws the traffic from the Black Country; from the A43, which draws it from the East Midlands. All this traffic from the North, which is going to the industrial parts of the South and the holiday resorts on the South Coast between Brighton and Weymouth, passes through Oxford, and the city has become a veritable Clapham Junction of the South Midlands. Your Lordships are well aware of the industrial development that has taken place on Southampton Water. As I have said before in your Lordships' House, in the next generation the Fawley side of Southampton Water will become the Birkenhead of the South of England. Owing to the great export drive and the success of British industry, shipping at Southampton has developed to the extent that in 1954 it reached the all-time high level of 20 million tons.1019
§ Industrial traffic from the North to the South Coast has increased by 40 per cent. during recent years. The higher standard of living, increased holiday pay and all the other social amenities in which we all rejoice has meant a huge exodus at holiday time from the Midlands and the North, from the industrial centres of Lancashire and Yorkshire and from as far north as the Tyne and the Clyde. All this traffic filters through a single city. If your Lordships will look at a map, you will see that these three avenues of traffic come down from the North into this bottleneck. You will see that there is no other main road to the South between A38, which runs from the Black Country to the Bristol Channel ports, and A1, which runs down to London and thereafter branches out to the East. Our export drive, our shipping and the future industrial development of that area are bound to make this traffic increase, and increase to such an extent that chaos is the only term I can use for the future of the City of Oxford.
§ In discussing the question of abnormal loads in your Lordships' House, I have already mentioned that during the past twelve months the experiment of a one-way street has been tried in the City of Oxford. I am not going to discuss the merits or demerits of that experiment. What I am going to tell your Lordships is that just under 200 times—to be precise, 197 times—during those twelve months the whole of that one-way traffic has had to be stopped and put into reverse to allow abnormal industrial loads to go through the centre of Oxford, because there is no other way. I took a rough census in the peak holiday season of last summer. There are so many of your Lordships acquainted with the City of Oxford that the names I now mention will readily come to your minds. The coach traffic at the Midland peak holiday season, going to such places as Bournemouth, Southsea, Weymouth and Brighton, and which all had to go through the City of Oxford, stretched from St. Giles well up the Banbury and the Woodstock roads. All that traffic had to be funnelled through a small bridge at the end of Worcester Street to attempt to get on to the southern by-pass, a road built in 1932.
§ It was towards the end of last year that I consulted with all the authorities respon- 1020 sible for the origin of what is known as the Oxford Ring Road Plan. I had the pleasure of a long discussion with the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, who is the Chancellor of Oxford University; I discussed this plan long and anxiously with the Oxford city authorities, with the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield, who is the Chairman of the Oxfordshire County Council, with the Chairman of the Berkshire County Council Highways Committee and with the Oxford Preservation Trust, with which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has had so intimate a connection. They were all of the opinion that it was in the great interest of the City of Oxford that this ring road should be completed. The Oxford Ring Road had received their unanimous approbation, and there was complete unanimity in 1953 when they saw the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. It was with their acquiescence and consent that I put the Motion down on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House before your Lordships rose for the Christmas Recess.
§ It was because I thought—and, after all, it was public knowledge—that Her Majesty's Government had plans and intended to announce them as soon as they thought appropriate, for the extension of the road system of this country over a Four-Year Plan, that I believed that, whatever project came forward, the plan to by-pass Oxford, which had received on such strong grounds the unanimous support of all those authorities who had to be consulted, would be given the highest possible priority. I must confess to being somewhat disappointed that the proposal of the Minister to include that stretch of the ring road running from Botley to Wolvercote is in the Four-Year Plan but in the lowest category—Category C. Anything put in Category C sends cold shudders down my back. What it means is that this project, which would help towards avoiding the economic chaos which I have outlined to your Lordships, can be authorised by the Minister in any year up to 1959–it can be authorised in the financial years 1956–57, 1957–58 or 1958–59. If it is not authorised until 1959–and there is no promise and no undertaking that that will not be its fate—and it takes three years to construct, as it well may, eight years from now is the earliest time in which any relief will be given to the dire stress 1021 not only of the City of Oxford but of the economy of this country.
§ That is really the burden of my complaint. I am going to press the noble Lord hard; and I hope all noble Lords who have given this matter any thought will urge upon Her Majesty's Government that, having accepted the principle of this plan, they should make of it a special case. Later on I shall come before your Lordships as a self-confessed special pleader to bring this project to the highest, and not the lowest, authority, and for authorisation to be given for it to be started in the current financial year or, at least, the financial year which will start in April. I am delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, is here to hear me say this. I do not want to overstate the case, but my mind goes back to the days of Mr. Lloyd George. He had a road plan. The right honourable gentleman, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, had a road plan, as also did my right honourable friend Mr. Alfred Barnes. They went the way of all flesh. If anybody is of a sporting element, I doubt whether he would wager very much money that a horse which could not be saddled for four years would ever run in the race at all. As I have said, that is the burden of my complaint.
§ I have one other. A stretch of by-pass was built in 1932 and conformed to the same silly plan which all our road development has been subjected to in the past—the insertion of a two-inch pipe, in a length of inch piping, so that it led from nowhere to nowhere. It cost something in the region of £90,000, and served no useful or practical purpose. There are in this country hundreds of instances of the same thing. New we are going to add another length of piping on the end. I admit to the noble Lord straight away that that length of roadway, which is contemplated in nineteen-fifty-something, will meet 75 per cent. of what I ask for. But if only he would complete the remainder of the road—that is, the piece that runs from the south end of the southern by-pass to A423–it would then give practically a 100 per cent. cure to the trouble that I have taken the liberty of bringing before your Lordships this afternoon.
§ This is what will happen. I have already given your Lordships an illustration of the filtering of this traffic. 1022 Bear in mind that we are very short of main roads down the centre of our country. We have only three main avenues of transport: that going west to the Bristol ports, the great A1 that goes to London, and these three roads that filter through the centre of Oxford. When this road from Botley to Wolvercote is built it will take care of all the traffic that is going to the South, and will be of great advantage. But all the traffic that comes down into that funnel and wants to go to the South-East through Reading will still have to go through the centre of Oxford. I ask the noble Lord whether it would not be worth while, if only as an economic proposition, to deal with both together. That is my case for the economic and strategic part.
§ The growth of shipping in the South demands—and I am now looking straight at the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, because he knows this, from his intimate knowledge of Liverpool—a clear conveyor belt from industrial Lancashire and the Clyde right down to Southampton Water, which, by God's good grace, and nature, must always be (and I say this with great respect to Liverpool) the No. 1 passenger port of this country. It will expand, and we cannot afford this bottleneck. Strategically we cannot afford it, either. If, in another war, a bomb fell on the City of Oxford, I do not know what would happen to the South of England. Again, by God's good grace that did not happen in the last war.
§ That brings me to the last part of my Motion—the City of Oxford, a great historical heritage which was spared devastation during the war. Surely we are not going to succeed where our enemies failed. Here I become unashamedly a special pleader because, while I am not going to claim that the traffic problem of the City of Oxford is greatly different from that of a number of other cities, I am going to claim that the City of Oxford is different from any other city in Britain. The City of Oxford is not a British city, it is an international city. Oxford has educated the world—and I say that with great respect to the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, because he had the misfortune, shall I say, to go to Cambridge. But Oxford is the hub and the heart of our civilisation. It is a city which everybody visits on corning to this country. Oxford 1023 will always have a traffic problem—at all events, I hope so, because the day that it does not, it will have lost its grip on the civilised world.
§ I am not going to claim for one moment that what I propose for the economic and strategic importance of this country will solve Oxford's internal problem. Oxford will always have an internal problem, and goodness knows! it has one now. What I do say seriously to your Lordships, however, is this: that until the external problem is grappled with, the internal problem will never be seen in its true perspective. In a city like Oxford, if it is necessary to plan the internal roads and streets to take care of external traffic, then something is bound to happen that will produce an outcry in history as a great act of vandalism. I expect a number of noble Lords this afternoon will say, "That kind of thing cannot happen." It can. It was not long ago that your Lordships' House had to rescue Oxford from the erection of gasometers which would have obstructed the view—my noble and learned Leader, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, will no doubt remember that.
§ I am not going to enter into the close controversy which goes on between one faction which wants to drive a ring road through Christ Church to relieve the centre of Oxford, or the others—mainly, I admit, Christ Church men—who say—"No, that is the wrong way to do it. What we must do is to enlarge and widen Holywell Street and pull down New College." I am not going to enter into the niceties of an argument like that, because the issue can be taken care of by the appropriate authority. The appropriate authority to plan the streets of Oxford is the highway authority, which is the Oxford City Council. These ring roads, which I maintain are essential for the national economy and will take an enormous amount of traffic outside Oxford, are the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, because they have agreed to the plan with all the authorities, have accepted responsibility to qualify them as trunk roads, and, therefore, bear 100 per cent. of the cost. I would prefer to leave the internal problem to those who are far more fitted than I am to discuss it. The fact remains, however, that there is this problem. It is unique. Motor vehicle 1024 registrations in Oxford have increased by over 75 per cent. in the last four years, and every term we have an influx into Oxford of 7,000 cyclists. It is a problem, but I hope that this afternoon we can at least "see the wood for the trees."
§ I do not expect the noble Lord to say—I should be foolish if I did, because I have been in his position before—"Of course, I will give you precisely what you ask." What I hope he will do, and what I hope other noble Lords who speak in this debate will seek to persuade the noble Lord to do, is to convey to his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, and Her Majesty's Government, that this is a special case. Oxford is a special city. We must preserve it at all costs, and we must take out of it that terrific commercial traffic which I have described to your Lordships this afternoon, of hundreds of tons of stuff going through the heart of that city. The noble Lord may pray in aid of his case a traffic census which was taken. It was taken, however, at the wrong time, and did not take care of the real factor. The real factor in a place like Oxford, with its very peculiar traffic of industrialisation, is not the number of vehicles which pass through, but the weight of the vehicles. The census should be loaded by the fact that a load 20 ft. wide and 18 ft. high, weighing 100 tons, is worth forty or fifty other vehicles.
§ One final word. Noble Lords may have wondered why I stand up here in your Lordships' House, since I suppose that 90 per cent. of your Lordships went to either one or other of the main universities. I have not had the privilege of ever being a member of Oxford University, but my forbears' roots are deep in Oxford, and it was in the City of Oxford over forty years ago that I put my faltering feet on the lowest rung of the industrial ladder. Ever since then, Oxford has had a greater influence on my life than any other single material factor. That is why I do not think it is necessary for me to apologise to your Lordships for moving this Motion this afternoon. As regards Oxford, I am no carpet-bagger. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but before doing so it would, I think, be in accord with the traditions of this House 1025 that I should admit to a certain personal interest in the Motion. For the past year I have been living in Woodstock Road, one of the two great highways into Oxford from the industrial North. My wife and I have already specially lined all the curtains facing Woodstock Road, and we are about to put double windows on all the windows facing Woodstock Road. We think we may get a little relief from the thundering noise of Woodstock Road if this Motion is passed and acted upon by the Government. I ought to admit that we do not look for much relief, because it is not the through traffic that matters only or mainly; it is the hooting of the motorists and the cyclists who go about their business in Oxford itself. However, I have that interest and I have admitted it.
Now let me support in the strongest possible way everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said about the importance of proceeding with the construction of the roads mentioned in the recent announcement of the Government's road plans, and of proceeding with those that affect Oxford much more rapidly than is necessarily contemplated. I do not think I need add anything to the admirable arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I would rather turn to the wider arguments leading to pressing for speed of action in regard to Oxford. The Motion before the House is concerned directly with through road transport, but the reasons underlying it cover a much wider field. Of the reasons that have been put forward, one is that it would be a contribution towards preserving the historic amentities of a great national heritage. I should like to say a few words about those amenities, how they are threatened to-day and why the threat to them makes it urgent to take so much action in regard to Oxford.
Oxford to-day, as a city of beauty and of immemorial association, as a chosen resort of the chosen youth not only of Britain but also of all countries in the world, has lost much of its character, and it is threatened with losing more as a simple result of unplanned, excessive industrialisation. I am not going to dwell in detail upon that or paint pictures of the surging crowds, the hooting of cars and cycles, the continual and growing destruction of academic calm of any sort or kind and the marring of any chance of appreciating many of the beauties of 1026 Oxford. If any of your Lordships is interested in that or wishes to see evidence about it, I would recommend him to read an admirable inaugural address which was given last year by the duly appointed Professor of Geography in Oxford, Professor Gilbert. If any of your Lordships wants a copy of the Professor's account of the growth of Oxford and its destruction by its growth, I shall be happy to see that he receives one.
I suggest that the rescue of Oxford from that threat and the restoration of its amenities should now be undertaken as a national task, with all the authority necessary and on a considered, accepted plan. Of course, much more is needed for that than the perfecting of by-passes to enable through traffic to get past Oxford without going through it. When the Government proposal was announced, one of the Oxford critics of the proposal said it was almost pure waste of money to spend £600,000 on the two projects labelled "Oxford"; that if he had £600,000 for Oxford, he could use it much better for other purposes. So could I. If I had £600,000 for saving the amenities of Oxford, I certainly should not put that £600,000 into by-passes. But I accept that what the Government have in mind is not primarily the saving of Oxford but the improvement of road transport. I welcome that they should incidentally, in improving road transport, do something, I think on the whole small rather than great, towards helping to restore and preserve the historic amenities of a great national heritage. I accept, therefore, with gratitude this plan, and I hope they will act more quickly to bring these proposed by-passes into being.
But I shall be still more grateful, and Oxford and the whole country will be more grateful, if they will then indicate a hope of doing some of the other things which are needed for the purpose for which this Motion has been put down. First, it is not sufficient to have by-passes without securing how they are to be used. I think that means, in the last resort, for so important a purpose as preserving Oxford, some form of prohibition of the use of the Oxford central roads when the by-passes are constructed, compelling those who have no business in Oxford to go by the by-passes and not to come thundering through its centre. I think 1027 that means an amendment to the law. I hope the Government will consider it.
Oxford's second and really more important problem is that it is already built up practically to its boundaries, yet its growth of population under industrialisation goes on in regions entirely beyond the control of those interested in the preservation of Oxford. As a county borough—we suffer in Oxford from being a county borough—we have no say at all or interest in the local government of the neighbouring counties of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The latter has just announced an intention to increase the population of Botley, a neighbouring village, by building houses for some 4,000 or 5,000 additional people, all of whom will work and shop in Oxford and add to the congestion of its streets. That is a decision taken at Reading, not at Oxford or in consultation with Oxford. There is nothing to stop similar growths just outside Oxford. There is no power in the government of Oxford, with its present boundaries, to secure the green belt round it which every city of its size (it has 120,000 inhabitants now) should have. As some of your Lordships know, last year the City of Oxford asked for an extension of its boundaries. That proposal passed through another place but was rejected by this House, in its wisdom. I hope that on investigation this House may come to a different view. No solution can be found of Oxford's problems for the preservation of its amenities without an enlargement of its boundaries, so that the authority for Oxford may have a sufficient area within which to work.
To come to my third point, I suggest that the time has arrived to end piecemeal action in dealing with Oxford problems and to get an agreed policy for rescuing its amenities from destruction. Two recent illustrations of harmful piecemeal action are worth mentioning. One is the sanctioning by the late Minister of Housing and Local Government of the conversion as a multiple shop of one of the few hotels in Oxford, the Clarendon, in the Corn Market. Hotels are badly needed, but shops are not needed there, as I shall illustrate in a moment: they are needed in a quite different part of Oxford—not in the Corn Market, but in Cowley. That decision, taken by the late Minister of Housing and Local Govern- 1028 ment was taken against the strongest possible opposition, of the City and of the University alike. That is how we are treated.
Another example is the recent proposal (I do not know whether or not it has yet been accepted) to authorise the taking of a piece of land which till now has been in one of the best residential parts of Oxford for garages and light industry. The land is very near to the part in which I live—that is another interest of mine in it—and the proposal is to take this land, which was dedicated some time ago as an open space, for the construction of garages and light industry—more industry in the residential part of Oxford. I do not know what is going to happen to that scheme. I believe that at the moment it is still under discussion, but that it is likely to be approved.
The problems of Oxford are not at all simple, nor do those who have studied them always agree either on the facts or on the policy that they recommend. In spite of the surging mass of nonacademic people, there are still a great many academic people in Oxford. Academic people are apt not to find it easy to agree with one another. There is, for instance, a standing difference of opinion as to how much of the crowding of Oxford streets is due to through traffic, and how much is due to internal traffic. But these differences only mean that a policy ought to be prepared, after full inquiry into all the issues, after giving all those with the right to speak, and perhaps some with no real right to speak, a chance of airing their views. The natural way to get an agreed policy on a complex problem like that of Oxford is to have an authoritative, independent inquiry—that is to say, an inquiry either by a Royal Commission or by some similar body.
There are, of course, in Oxford, many different "doctors" with many different prescriptions. All we agree upon is that the patient is sick to death and is in a very grievous state indeed. We all have different prescriptions. I hope that I may briefly give my own prescription—it can be summed up easily under four main heads, two negatives and two positives. The first negative is that there should be no new or increased opportunities for industrial employment in Oxford. It is already large enough, in fact too large, yet more is being asked for by some of 1029 the firms concerned. Secondly, there should be no more shops in or near the present congested shopping centres of Carfax and the Corn Market. Those are my two negatives. Let me pass from them to the two positives. The first positive is the completion at the earliest possible moment of a by-pass system round Oxford. That is the theme of the Motion before the House. That will need to be followed, as I have suggested, by prohibition of the use of the City's central roads by anyone who is merely using them to pass through without having real business in Oxford.
I come to my second positive, which is the creation of a well-designed town centre in Cowley, the new centre of population east of Oxford, complete with shops, places of entertainment and meeting, public offices and so forth, so that the tens of thousands of people who live there shall have the chance of comfortable shopping near their homes without having to struggle across Magdalen Bridge on buses and on bicycles, and all the rest of it. That briefly, states my four-point prescription for the disease of Oxford. I should be completely happy to have that prescription discussed and argued out with other prescriptions, before an authoritative Commission. The one indispensable thing is effective Government interest in our problems, and effective backing for the plan that emerges from that independent inquiry. The rescue of our historic and beautiful buildings has been accepted as a duty of Government. I ask now that the Government should extend this principle to cities—should be ready, after independent inquiry by a Commission, to save from destruction the beauties of a historic city all but unique in Britain and the world.
The case for that request is strengthened by the fact that Oxford is not quite unique, in past beauty or in present peril. The dangers now threatening Oxford are not confined to it. It has a sister city called Cambridge which, if it has not grown quite so disastrously as Oxford, has nevertheless been showing most remarkable and alarming tendencies of growth. Over a recent period of twenty years, between 1930 and 1950, the population of Cambridge has grown by some 30,000, as compared with the 40,000 increase of Oxford. Let me say at once that there is a fake in that comparison. The 30,000 1030 are all people inside Cambridge; and while the 40,000 are also inside Oxford boundaries, Oxford has, in addition, some 14,000 or 15,000 people who have been added to the urban population outside the City boundary. But even though the comparison, as I gave it, slightly exaggerates the case of Cambridge as against that of Oxford, it is quite bad enough that Cambridge should be growing and now has over 100,000 population as a town—again, the same kind of growth, namely, through various industries, not one great industry, like that of Oxford.
These two cities, Oxford and Cambridge, are of outstanding importance. When the threat of war has passed and the problem of finding a real use for the people of this country and of the world arises, I believe that our best service to the world will be to use them as centres of culture, history and beauty. How wanton and wicked to destroy two outstanding centres of academic beauty, of academic culture, in the heart of our country! I beg the Government seriously to take up, as one of their fundamental duties, the problem of saving these two cities from the dangers now threatening them. I do not ask them to accept my particular proposals, or any particular proposals; but I do ask that an inquiry should be put in hand to produce an authoritative plan for doing that which ought to be done in this country, and that Her Majesty's Government will be ready to back any remedy that emerges from that inquiry. These are not, of course, the only historic cities of beauty in this country, but if we could make a beginning with these two we should then have the means and the spirit to go on to all the others.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I have no interest to declare except that nearly fifty years ago I went to Oxford. I am a pious son, owing more to my mother, Oxford, than I can ever adequately express, loving the place, loving everything it stands for, and being most desirous to help in any way I can. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has asked me to say a few words because some years ago I was able to be of slight use in connection with certain gas works, and we were able to prevent what would have been a catastrophe in those 1031 days. It is thought, for that reason, that I have some kind of locus standi here. My only other justification is that I happen to be President of the Travel Association, and I know what a centre of attraction Oxford is and how right it is that we should be prepared to open our hearts to people who come from all over the world to see Oxford. It is not only the material advantages that come to us, though they are very important; it is the things of the spirit which Oxford typifies and which I think put Oxford, and perhaps Cambridge, in a rather different position from a great many other towns.
I have listened with a great measure of sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, but I would utter this word of caution: I am frightened lest the fact that all these difficulties have to be solved and all these academic people have to agree may lead to the view that it is no good doing anything until those difficulties have been solved. That may delay things for a very long time. We have great difficulties to solve in Oxford, and we do not know how they are to be solved; but that is no reason for holding back from doing this particular job at the earliest possible moment. I earnestly plead with the noble Lord who is to reply not to fall into the error of letting the best become the enemy of the good. Whilst sympathising with the viewpoint of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, I want to get something done now.
I do not pose as an expert on traffic problems though I know from my own experience how serious is Oxford's traffic problem. To give a simple illustration: if one draws a line from Oxford down to Weymouth in the South-West and another line from Oxford down to Brighton in the South-East one gets an inverted "V." Draw a line from Oxford to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North-East and another line from Oxford to Liverpool in the North-West. The whole of the traffic originating within those areas going from North to South has to go through Oxford, along St. Giles's, the Corn Market and Carfax. That appears to be the only alternative route to going West through Gloucester or, of course, through London. It is a deplorable situation. We are told that there is to 1032 be this new route, but we know about it only that it is to be a scheme for a ring road and is to be authorised in 1956–57, 1957–58 or 1958–59. Perhaps the Minister can give us at least a measure of assurance that the scheme will be authorised in the year 1956–57.
To what extent will that ease the problem? I cannot say, for I know only that when the deputation of all the authorities who were unanimously agreed upon this scheme waited upon the Minister in, I believe, December, 1953, the City Engineer of Oxford said that as the result of a spot check he estimated that 40 per cent. of the traffic was "by-passable." I do not know whether that means traffic which normally would use the by-pass if it were there, or which would travel or could be sent on to the by-pass under the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. The estimate was 40 per cent. and I know of no other or better one. But, as the noble Lord has said, it would be foolish to imagine that the problem will be solved when this particular section of the by-pass is completed. I claim that by doing this particular part you put yourself in a position where you can begin to solve the Oxford problem; unless you get the by-pass built you cannot do so. As one who went to Oxford fifty years ago (I am sorry to say) and who remembers the Oxford of those days, I feel, when I compare that Oxford with the Oxford of today, that what has happened is nothing less than a national tragedy. Let us, while we can, take some first step towards a rectification of this situation, or at least let us prevent it from getting worse. I beg the noble Lord to use his influence with the Minister to ask that this little bit of the scheme, for such relief as it brings, shall be proceeded with at the earliest possible moment.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, amid the varied galaxy of dignitaries addressing you this afternoon my only claim is that I have had perhaps a longer continuous personal experience of Oxford traffic than any noble Lord present this afternoon. For except for the four years of the Kaiser's war, I have worked in Oxford, either in a College, or, later, in an office, continuously since 1911; and except for the last ten of those years—since 1945–I was living within the city boundaries. 1033 Indeed, my memories of Oxford's traffic go back much further even than that, for my maternal grandfather was the last Rector of the City Church at Carfax, and in my very early childhood, in the late 'nineties. I frequently stayed with him. I can thus remember an Oxford which it would still have been appropriate to describe, in the words of Keats:Thou still unravished bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,"—an Oxford which was still what every university city ought to be, a place of peace and contemplation set apart from the world. For, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, he is not right in saying that it would be a pity if Oxford should ever cease to have a traffic problem, because that would mean that Oxford would have lost its hold on the intellectual leadership of the world; the great intellectual movements have mostly come out of very quiet places.
Since then, I have had to witness at close quarters the progressive violation and vulgarisation of the university city during this century. I wonder how many of your Lordships are aware that in 1874 the timid proposal to erect a barracks outside the city boundary provoked an angry debate in Parliament, and, incidentally, an angry maiden speech from Lord Randolph Churchill. What a change since then, my Lords! We have lived to see, as Lord Beveridge reminded us just now, a Minister of the Crown (of, I think, a Conservative Government) brushing aside the unanimous objections of University and City to the erection of one more chain store in Cornmarket Street. We have lived to watch the centre of Oxford remodelling itself on the model of Birmingham; and I, at least, have known what it is to try to teach in a college room the windows of which open on the roaring maelstrom of the High Street.
I have every sympathy with the main thesis of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I do not know much about national through traffic, but, for what it is worth, I am only too ready to endorse every word he has said about the desirability of completing the ring by-pass system round Oxford, in the interests of the national traffic problem. But I am primarily interested this afternoon, I must frankly admit, in the Oxford 1034 traffic problem. I want to make it clear—rather clearer than Lord Lucas of Chilworth left it; even, possibly, a little clearer than Lord Beveridge left it (and Lard Beveridge had perhaps some wishful reasons for hoping that the by-pass would supplement his efforts to double his windows in Woodstock Road)—that it would be very dangerous to overestimate the contribution which a ring road round Oxford will make to diminishing the traffic which is throttling, deafening and desecrating Oxford. For if we suppose anything of that sort, if we suppose we are going to go half way—or 40 per cent. as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, seemed to suggest—towards solving the problem when we have completed these ring roads, that illusion could only indefinitely delay the finding, within the City of Oxford, of those remedies which conflict of interests and timidity have already delayed to the eleventh hour.
I want to make it a little clearer than I think any of the noble Lords who have spoken before have made it, though they have all pointed towards this fact, that the heart of Oxford's problem lies within the city itself. Proof of that is fairly easily come by. Here I am afraid my statistics—and I am always very timid about statistics—are going to be different from those of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. The Vice-Chancellor of the University was telling me only yesterday—and, as we all know, he is very interested in this subject—that the several, not one but several, censuses of city traffic which have been taken on various occasions, and at various times, in Oxford have all arrived at substantially the same result. They have all shown that 85 per cent. of the drivers of vehicles had business of one kind or another in Oxford, and that only a mere 15 per cent. had no business in the city and were there merely in transit. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that they did not take their censuses at the right time. All I know is that they have taken a census on several occasions and that it has always yielded that result.
If any noble Lord doubts the broad fact that the Oxford traffic problem is pre-eminently an Oxford traffic problem, and not a ring-road problem, let him go to Oxford and stand in the High Street on a Thursday afternoon—which is early closing in Oxford. On early closing day 1035 of course, shops are shut. But businesses and the professions are still active; the University is still at work. Yet the High Street, you will find, wears a startlingly different, indeed an almost civilised, aspect. You can hear yourself speak; you can cross the road without taking your life in your hands. I have even, on occasion, been reminded of the tranquil High Street of those 18th century engravings hanging in common room corridors, which must provoke so many nostalgic pangs in the bosoms of professors on the way to their evening glass of port. I think there can be very little doubt that, even when we have got this ring road round Oxford—and I, like Lord Lucas of Chilworth, am very anxious to see it completed—we shall still have somewhere about 75 per cent. of the traffic problem within Oxford left to us, because, as Lord Beveridge has made clear, it is basically the unplanned growth of Oxford itself which has created this problem.
Therefore I want to conclude by supporting, to the best of my poor ability, the plea with which Lord Beveridge concluded. Oxford has failed to produce its own solution: there are too many conflicting interests. Christ Church want to pull down New College, and New College want to drive a road through Christ Church! You do not get very much further that way. Will not the Minister set up a Royal Commission, a committee of inquiry of independent persons, who will provide Oxford with an authoritative solution of a problem which it has failed to solve itself? If the noble Lord's Motion is not going to delay some such devoutly to be desired solution as that, I, for one, shall wish him very well and thank him for introducing it.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I should like to put a slightly different point of view from that of other noble Lords, and to approach this matter from an angle different from that of the noble Lords who have spoken about the amenities of Oxford and the internal traffic of Oxford. I should like to say a few words on the other aspect of the question—the commercial road users and their point of view. I think that quite apart from the road census figures, much of the heavy traffic is through traffic. I can assure your Lordships, having spoken to them, that 1036 there is no operator or owner of commercial vehicles who would willingly let his vehicles go through Oxford if there were any possible alternative. There are two reasons for that. First, it is extremely expensive in time and fuel, and I think people are apt to forget that waste of time and fuel means that goods are carried at an increased cost and the customer pays more just at a moment when everyone is trying to get down the cost of living, and no operator will willingly waste time and fuel in that way if he can avoid it. At the moment there is no reasonable road except through the middle of the city. Another reason why they do not want their vehicles to go through the city is that the important question of fatigue to the driver comes into play on long-distance traffic. To drive a heavy lorry through the middle of Oxford on a crowded day is extremely tiring and a driver may even have to do a short journey on a long run. So much for the commercial user.
As regards the ring road, I do not know whether one can call it a Government proposal or a hint by the Government that they are going to complete a further portion of the ring road, but I view this with some concern. Although we are grateful for anything we can get, we have been used in this country for many years to having beautiful road schemes proposed, and authority being given to complete only part of it, leaving the remainder to be completed the following year or in five years' or ten years' time. I sometimes wonder whether the Ministry of Transport have yet realised that nowadays roads are not made with picks and shovels; they are made with efficient and heavy machines, which are extremely expensive, and one of the greatest expenses of modern road-making is the period during which these machines are not in full use. Often we see being completed sections of road which are so short that many machines are not working. These machines make the roads at different stages, and to have them fully occupied they need to be working on long stretches of road, so that the machines that dig up the road and the machines that lay the tar, and so on, are all working on different sections of the road at the same time. These machines are expensive to move, and in the past, when only a section of road in a scheme has been completed, we have seen the machines 1037 brought to the site and that short section completed, and then sent off to the other end of England.
From what the Government have told us, it would appear that they are going to do exactly the same thing at Oxford. They are going to complete a further portion of the ring road. That is the most expensive way of completing a scheme—by doing it in driblets. I would ask the Government to think again about whether these machines, once they are there on the site, cannot complete the whole scheme. We do not want to see these machines sent off, perhaps to Northumberland, then to Bristol and then, a year later, brought back to Oxford. That is what has been happening in times past. That is the most extravagant way of making roads. I trust that the Government will reconsider whether the whole of this scheme cannot be completed at once. It would be cheaper per mile of road. Perhaps this is not the occasion to bring forward the idea of a highway authority, in which I am interested; but if a highway authority were set up and operating their own finance instead of requiring yearly budgets, that is the sort of thing the authority would do—get their schemes completed in one operation at a much lower cost. As apparently at Oxford the road is not going to be completed in one operation, I hope the Government will have another look at the matter.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMONDS
My Lords, I really feel as if I ought to ask your Lordships' indulgence in making a speech, not for the first time but for the first time from this place. My first duty is to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, because I was unable to be here to hear his speech, but as he knows, I was engaged on other duties of the House. But I have a very good idea of what he was going to say because he was good enough to write to me. May I explain that I have here a personal interest? I am speaking the words which my noble friend Lord Halifax, as Chancellor of the University of Oxford, would have spoken if he had been here. It happens that I hold the office of High Steward of that University (your Lordships, I hope, will not ask me to explain what are the exact duties of that office), and my noble friend has asked me to 1038 take his place and say a few words to your Lordships.
In a sense, the interest of the University of Oxford is wholly diverse from that of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who spoke last; and yet we reach the same result, for if the noble Lord, speaking in the interests of lorries and heavy traffic, is anxious to avoid Oxford, so is the University of Oxford anxious to be avoided. That points to the fact that there are two problems here: there is the through traffic and there is the internal traffic. Both from the national point of view, from the point of view of the through traffic, and from the Oxford point of view—the point of view of the traffic problem in the city—it is imperative that the road which is contemplated should be completed at the earliest possible moment.
But I must add this, for I fully agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, so eloquently said, and with what the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge said: that that is only a part of the problem. What we in Oxford are anxious about is this, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take note: we hope that, if and when this by-pass road is constructed, the authorities will not fold their hands and think that that is all that is required to solve the Oxford problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, censuses which have been taken have shown that not more than 15 per cent. of the traffic in Oxford at any time is through traffic. It might be argued that those censuses were taken at the wrong time, but I understand that they have been taken on numerous occasions and have always shown that result and never a different result; and I do not think it is open to those who take a different view to say, without testing, that a census taken at a different time would have shown a different result. Of course, these figures are necessarily to some extent arbitrary, and they can show only that there is an enormous volume of traffic in the centre of the city of Oxford.
One only has to look at Oxford on the map, or if you know it, to recall what you know of it, to realise that there is a large increase in the population which I goes to the centre of Oxford for shopping and business. To those like myself and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, 1039 whose memories go back a long time, and who remember what Oxford was like in our undergraduate days, it is a tragedy to think that this great university city should now wear the aspect that it does. That is a matter on which other noble Lords have spoken, and I do not think I can add to what they have said; but it is a tragedy that the glorious sweep of the High and the Broad should wear the aspect it does during every busy day. It has not the atmosphere of a university city and that should, if possible, be corrected. It may be that that time has passed. I do not think it is possible that ever again Oxford will wear the aspect which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, envisaged when he quoted Keats's glorious poem. That is gone. But at least we can avoid a worsening of the position.
What is to be done? It has been said, and truly said, that Oxford has not itself agreed upon the appropriate measure. The noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, was to have spoken to-day, but he is not here. Therefore, it is unnecessary for me to say anything about Christ Church and Christ Church Meadow—the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, is to speak, and he may have something to say about that aspect. I am not advocating on behalf of the University any one scheme—I could not do it. But I do say this: that it is imperative that something should be done; and that "something" can be done only if a Commission or Committee which commands universal respect is set up to consider the whole problem of the internal traffic in Oxford. That is a suggestion which has already been made. I know that it will win the assent of the Hebdomadal Council; I think it will win the assent of the City; and I hope that it may have the support already of Her Majesty's Government.
If Her Majesty's Government will bear in mind that this by-pass is only a part of one large problem; if they do not hold their hands and say: "When we have built this by-pass you in Oxford will have had all the money you can have," but will regard the plan as a whole, and this as only the first instalment of its solution; and if towards its final solution they will appoint such a Committee as previous speakers have advocated, then I think we shall have gone a long way towards solving a problem which is of vital import- 1040 ance, not only to this country but to the world, because Oxford is a treasure for the whole world.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the question that we are discussing to-day raises what is really a test case. It raises large issues of national policy. It is not merely a question of building a few miles of road, sooner or later, here and there, but is really a competition of priorities, a competition of values. What value are we to set on industry? What value are we to set upon such imponderables as a city like Oxford? That there is need of a system of main roads which can bear the traffic from rapidly developing industry is certain. We see these vast new enterprises in this country—the manufacture of steel, oil refineries, atomic energy plants and great airports, all enabling Britain to hold her own in the forefront of the industries of the modern world. But we must consider, also, what effect all these will have upon this island as a place for the habitation of a civilised people; the beauty of the countryside, the dignity of our cities and the cultural heritage that we have inherited from nearly a thousand years of history.
What shall be the aspect of this Britain to visitors from overseas—from Australia, New Zealand and all parts of the Commonwealth, and from America, North and South? Will they come here and leave with feelings of reverence and affection, or will they look with feelings of dismay at the manner in which this heritage has been spoilt by our own generation? We must look forward to the fact that, with air travel, with probably a great cheapening of the transport of the world, and with the rapid development of population in America, North and South, the countries of Europe will have an attractive force for the peoples of the Western Hemisphere and the peoples of Asia and Africa which, in the coming 100 years, let me say, will be far beyond our present imagination. Already the tourist industry is of great importance to this country, and is even of economic importance from the point of view of dollar earnings. But in the future it may be many times as great and important.
Oxford and Cambridge are cities not only famous throughout the world, but unique in their own character: there is nothing anywhere comparable to those two cities as university cities. You find 1041 that American visitors and others who come to England almost always go to Oxford, and from Oxford go on to Stratford. Therefore, from the point of view of international amenities (if I may use that term), we have a most important trusteeship for the preservation of these two university cities, with their old beauty, charm and attractiveness.
The changes have been very great. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was boasting of his antiquity and describing the Oxford as he first knew it. But when I went up to Oxford the noble and learned Earl was a little boy, just learning his letters at the age of four. At that distant date of 1889, Oxford was a quiet little agricultural town of 30,000 inhabitants, with the farmers coming in every week in their traps to go to the cattle market—where the bus station now is—to sell and buy cattle and sheep. There were of course, no cars, and not even any bicycles, because when I first went there the rubber tyre, and what was called the "safety bicycle," had not been invented—it came in at just about that time. The only sign of modernity in the town was a little one-horse tram that used to amble along Cornmarket Street and The High. The University at that time, in those placid surroundings, was, on the other hand, a place of intense intellectual activity, very vital and effervescent. I do not suggest that it is otherwise now; but the peacefulness and the tranquility of the town in which it was did not impair, but rather greatly increased, the intellectual energy that was being manifested in the University.
Now, instead of a population of 30,000, the population of Oxford including the suburbs is in the neighbourhood of 125,000–a four-fold increase within a single lifetime. The streets and shopping centres have not been planned for any such numbers. Public buildings and the whole equipment of the town were quite adequate for a town of 30,000 inhabitants, but far from adequate for a town of 125,000 inhabitants. Everything is crowded. During the busy hours, if you walk along Cornmarket Street you are almost pushed off the pavement as you try to make your way along the street. The High Street is the scene of an almost continuous procession of buses, lorries and other vehicles. There was a danger—and it has not yet passed—that Oxford would, if it proceeded at its present pace, 1042 become before long a great industrial city, perhaps a second Coventry. Added to all this internal growth we have the fact that has been dealt with by previous speakers: that, from the point of view of transport and highways, Oxford is a nodal point in the centre of England, with great highways for transportation, main roads going through it from north to south and east to west.
During the war, while attending regularly at your Lordships' House, I was resident week-ends at Oxford and lived there for four years. The Oxford Preservation Trust, which has done such splendid work for a long time past in trying to make headway against all these adverse conditions, did me the honour of asking me to become one of their Trustees; and they appointed me as chairman of a committee to examine precisely those questions that we have been discussing here today. That was a small committee, but it included the chairmen of the planning committees of Oxford City and Oxford County, and several other experts, local or national. We sat for a year and a half; we held fifty meetings; we heard much evidence, and in 1942 we presented a unanimous report surveying the whole situation. It included many measures including, I think, almost all those that were suggested by my noble friend Lord Beveridge in his speech this afternoon.
The proposals are very much the same as those that are now being adopted by the City Council, the principal one being the creation of a second city centre at Cowley, in view of the fact that the greater part of the population of Oxford is now east of the Cherwell, east of Magdalen Bridge. It is proposed to replan part of Cowley and to make it into a civic centre, with proper institutions to cater for that larger half of the population, so obviating this terrible daily and weekly incursion from that side into the centre of Oxford. It also included the completion of the ring of by-pass roads for the through traffic. Indeed, it is as long ago as 1925–that is, thirty years ago—that the proposal that there should be by-passes to the north and to the south was first put forward. By 1935, one of the northern by-passes had in fact been built, with an extension of about nine miles, and our committee, of which I have just spoken, reported that:If it had not been constructed, conditions in the High Street, at Carfax, and Magdalen 1043 Bridge would by now have become quite intolerable.But the increase since my committee reported in 1942 has been so vast as to be far greater than the amount which is carried through on the northern by-pass, and the conditions are now, to quote the words, "quite intolerable." The present situation cannot be allowed to continue, and as a remedy we have proposed, as every other inquiry and other authority has proposed, as a measure of first priority, the completion of the southern by-pass.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, in his speech just now, said that in Oxford there were different views about some of the particular proposals. That is so, and it is very natural. But on this proposal everyone is agreed. There has not been from the beginning, and there is not now, any difference of opinion as to the need for giving priority to this by-pass. My own committee, in their unanimous report—now thirteen years ago—said this:We find that there is a general agreement that these outer by-passes should be proceeded with and completed at the first opportunity. This work should indeed have priority, as soon as the war has ended, over all other road projects in this district. Its completion would bring a further diminution in the long-distance traffic passing through the centre of the city.That was thirteen years ago! On January 16 the Oxford Preservation Trust (they have sent me this fact for the information of your Lordships' House) unanimously agreed—I quote:that the Minister for Transport be informed that of any of the projected by-passes necessary for the circling of the city, the Trustees regard the Western by-pass"—that is the one we have been speaking of—as the most urgently required, and strongly pressed priority for its construction.That is the purpose of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
Now at last, taking the question of road transport in general, Her Majesty's Government seem to be really alive to the need for vigorous, comprehensive and, one might almost say, dramatic action. Their plan comes by no means too soon. It seems to me to be, in the main—I am not qualified to form a technical opinion—a very fine scheme which the nation as a whole should cordially welcome. But the fault of it, from the point of view of 1044 Oxford, is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and all subsequent speakers have said, it is wrong to put this Oxford project so far down the queue: it really must be given a priority.
It is thirty years since this scheme was first put forward. It is thirteen years since the Oxford Preservation Trust committee said that it ought to have immediate priority. Yet nothing has been done. Small pieces of that by-pass have been made at the beginning and at the end, and the part in between is left, so far as my information goes, untouched. It is like beginning to build a bridge, say, of four arches, and after you have built the first arch on one bank and the second arch on the other, you think that you have gone half way towards building the bridge, and you have not built anything. It is only when the bridge is completed that you have anything there at all, and the work that has been done on the ends of this by-pass will be to a great extent wasted until the whole and the centre part has been completed.
We who are interested in this are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for the initiative which he has taken in this matter today, and for the assiduity and care with which he has prepared his Motion and commended it for your Lordships' consideration. I am glad that, by so doing, he has somewhat redeemed the reputation of the Front Opposition Bench with respect to Oxford, because when the last Government were in power they behaved very badly in that respect. It was mentioned today that we had a great battle over the gasworks which, as your Lordships know, are a shocking outrage upon Oxford City towards the railway, spoiling what should be one of its finest aspects, and absolutely blocking the replanning of the whole of that part of the city.
When a proposal was brought forward by the gas company to spend a great sum of money in modernising these works and enlarging them, and when they said that they were doing that only as a preliminary to moving the works elsewhere, that specious argument was not accepted and we went to the Government. I myself went with others as a deputation, in the room of the then Lord Chancellor, and saw several of the Ministers. They were objurate. They gave full sanction to this abominable scheme. How was it stopped? 1045 It was stopped by your Lordships' House. Fortunately, the Statute which took away the powers of Parliament in this regard and transferred them to the Ministers had not yet come into operation; and in its last hours we were able to bring the particular Order before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House which, incontinently and without hesitation, threw it out. The consequence has been that that scheme was stopped. We were told that the effect would be to reduce the Oxford gas supply to chaos and anarchy. Nothing of the sort has happened. All that has occurred is that the gas works are being moved to another location, out of sight and quite convenient. Your Lordships' House in that regard rendered a great service to Oxford and to the nation.
Now there occurs another opportunity. Here we have another proposal, a very bad proposal, to postpone for years this most necessary and urgent work. We shall await with great interest the speech of the noble Lord—from Cambridge—who is going to reply. As has been said before, in this kind of matter the two universities stand or fall (and very often they fall) together. I hope the noble Lord will not decide that "a soft answer turneth away wrath." I hope that he will not give merely the "soft answer" which so often comes from the Government Bench, saying that of course no one could be keener on preserving the beauties and amenities of Oxford and of Cambridge than the members of the Government, many of whom come from there; that the matter is very close to there hearts, and that they are determined to do everything that is feasible, but—and then come the other sentences to which we are so well accustomed—that they have to consider and balance the advantages; that they cannot neglect the needs of the great industrial centres of the North, which also have their claims; that the matter has been gone into most carefully by a committee (or whatever it may be); that the noble Lord is not authorised to-day to say that there will be any change made in the order of priority which has been published but that he will certainly convey your Lordships' opinions to the Minister and that it may well be that, at some later time, some action in some direction might conceivably be, or be not, taken. That is what I should regard as a "soft answer."
1046 If this work is not carried out, I can assure noble Lords on the Government Bench that the matter will not be allowed to drop. These schemes will no doubt require some Statutory Instrument to enable them to be carried into effect. I do not know what the procedure will be but, if that is so, and if such an Instrument comes before your Lordships' House for consideration, then, if this is not done, I hope that your Lordships will insist that the matter should be referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House; and that if the Committee resolves, as they did in the case of the gas works, that Oxford deserves to be protected and should not be "put off," your Lordships as a whole will, when the matter comes before them on another occasion, take the necessary resolute action. I do not assume necessarily that the noble Lord's reply will be in the negative, but I think that we should consider it very carefully when we hear it. We are not likely to be deceived into thinking that what is really a negative is to be regarded as a positive.
§ 5.4 p.m.
My Lords, we have just listened to a great son of Oxford speaking in that compact, resolute style of his which is the envy of all of us. I am rather sorry that my noble and learned Leader Lord Jowitt is not present to defend himself against this charge which was levelled, rather surprisingly, in connection with the gas works. We were rightly told earlier by the noble and learned Earl that he won the gratitude of Oxford for what he achieved on that occasion, but now we have the noble Viscount accusing him, as I think he was accusing him, of having betrayed Oxford.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
It was the departmental Ministers who gave their sanction. I could give the names; it was not the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt.
The noble Viscount levelled his remarks at the Front Bench here. I feel that the noble Viscount has become a little confused, because the charge was levelled at this Front Bench. The Leader of this Front Bench in fact played a most active part in preserving Oxford from the menace 1047 of the gas works, so I am only saying what I feel sure the noble and learned Earl would have said.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I was concerned with the Ministers who actually gave the sanction for the extension of the gas works on its present site. Those Ministers who had departmental authority were the "villains of the piece."
I have said what I have said. The noble Viscount will appreciate that his recollection is different from that of some of us present who also were thanked for what we were able to do on behalf of our native city.
We are immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for bringing forward this Motion. Certainly it has attracted a galaxy of old Oxonians and noble Lords who are renowned for their love of Oxford and who have achieved distinction in other ways. I am under something of a difficulty because the easiest thing would be for me simply to assure the noble Lord opposite that, so far as I can make out, we are all agreed, and then, after a very few sentences, sit down. But, though I do not want to detain the House for more than a brief time, I am bound to say that I have detected one or two undercurrents in the discussion which are not perhaps altogether harmonious with the main theme submitted. I think all of those who have spoken have urged the Government to act promptly. I think all of those who have spoken are disappointed that the extension of the by-pass is not included in Scheme A. In that most important respect we are solidly behind the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and we are all at one in pressing our claim upon the noble Lord who is to reply.
But the noble Lord, Lord Elton, if I understood him rightly—and I am still more sure in the case of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds—seemed to be saying, in effect, that this step should not be taken unconditionally but should in some way be linked with a reform of the internal arrangements inside Oxford. I think I am doing justice in that respect to what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, said.
§ VISCOUNT SIMONDS
The noble Lord will forgive me. I certainly did not intend to make it conditional. I begged Her Majesty's Government to bear the whole scheme in mind, and in any case to get on with the by-pass.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount. I am sure it was my fault if I did not understand him aright. I am glad that the position has been made abundantly plain. We are all at one in begging the noble Lord who is to reply, and through him the Government, to proceed rapidly, much more rapidly than the Government seem to be intending to proceed, with the extension of the by-pass. We do not wish to make it in any way conditional on what may be done inside the city.
Without destroying our unity or impairing it for more than a moment, I must protest against the language—though I think perhaps it was used humorously—of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, when he said that there were all these dissensions inside Oxford; that Christ Church wanted to pull down New College, and New College wanted to drive a road through Christ Church. I know that the noble Lord did not say that quite seriously, but I think it would be unfortunate if such words, from someone of his great eminence, were allowed to go out without the word "laughter," or some similar phrase, being attached to them, because, if they were to be taken seriously, it would present a very sorry picture of Oxford and would lessen the sympathy which the town would otherwise deserve. We have heard about this wonderful academic centre, but if all the colleges could do was to make plans to destroy one another, I feel that perhaps some of us would send our sons to Cambridge; and, in any case, if there was any money to spare, it might be used on some other university.
I do not know where the noble Lord, Elton, obtained his information. He has explained that he has lived in Oxford longer than any of us, though he is now some miles away. I think perhaps he has got out of touch. I suppose that I am one of the comparatively few Members of the House who were educated at New College and have been a don at Christ Church. I can assure noble Lords that, to the best of my knowledge, no such sinister designs have ever passed 1049 through the minds of either great establishment. The noble Lord said that he was taking to the Vice-Chancellor, who is also Warden of New College, only yesterday. I feel that the Vice-Chancellor, my old tutor—perhaps the one to whom I, as do others, owe most—is the last one to wish to drive a road through Christ Church. I feel that the noble Lord may wish to re-call those words, However, he remains seated. I am extremely sorry—
§ LORD ELTON
I think that the noble Lord is making rather heavy weather of these words. It is not customary to add "laughter" in brackets in Hansard, but that would roughly represent the note which I was wishing to strike. I do not, of course, suppose that New College wishes to drive a road through Christ Church, or Christ Church to pull down New College. It was a hyperbolical way of saying that some people want to widen Holywell and others want to drive a road through Christ Church Meadows. I must express deep regret if it has been misunderstood by the noble Lord. I do not think it was taken too seriously by other noble Lords.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but he has implied that New College would like to drive a road through Christ Church Meadows. I should regard that as a detestable plan, as I am sure would the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and anybody who loves Oxford.
§ LORD ELTON
May I correct the noble Lord once again? I do not think I said—I certainly did not mean to say—that New College, as such, wished to drive a road through Christ Church, but that some people wished to drive a Mall through Christ Church Meadows, and other people wished to widen Holywell. In my stupid, hyperbolical, and now much regretted, way, I was simply trying to convey that fact; I was making no sinister charge against either Christ Church or New College.
It is most handsome of the noble Lord. I feel sure that when he reads his original remarks in Hansard, he will be glad to have been given the opportunity of repudiating them. When all is said and done, these are serious issues, and I think it is rather 1050 a pity if undue attention is called to these semi-humorous exchanges which I now gather from the noble Lord have been taking place. We then come back to the great question of whether this is to be done, and, if so, whether it is to be done soon. I think that everybody here, including the noble Lord from Cambridge, agrees (I cannot ask the noble Lord to appreciate the unique position of Oxford, but he will agree) that if there is any other city in this land of ours comparable with Oxford, there is only one; and I am sure that he joins with all of us in wishing to see the beauty and the majesty of Oxford restored and enhanced.
I apologise if I spoke rather waspishly to one towards whom I have nothing but reverence, but the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested that there was a vigorous intellectual life in Oxford in his time, and that that took place in peace and quiet. He may recall a reference which came into my mind when I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Elton—Matthew Arnold's description of Oxford:Oxford so beautiful, so lovely, so unravaged by the fierce intellectual life of the century.He made that reference before Lord Samuel's time, and a little before the time of other noble Lords present. I suppose the City was ravaged in his time by other things, just as it is ravaged now by the traffic problem. But, by and large, we all stand together in this: that Oxford is a place which brings credit and glory to our country throughout the whole civilised world. We are deeply disappointed that the implementation of the plan for this extension is something which can be put low down in a list, and which may or may not come off. If it is left in Category C, there is nobody—not even the noble Lord who is to reply, not even a Minister of most exalted character—who can give his personal promise that it will come about. That kind of promise cannot be given with any assurance of its being honoured when a particular project is put in a list so large and put off so long. This is not a Party matter—it has nothing more to do with one Front Bench than another—but the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has a responsibility, and on behalf of all those who have spoken, whether we agree as regards Christ Church or any of these 1051 internal arrangements, I beg the noble Lord to give us an answer that will seem worthy of Her Majesty's Government.
§ 5.16 p.m.
My Lords, I think I should first make some remark in regard to this Category C which seems slightly to have taken the attention of several noble Lords. Category C is not three down a list; there merely happen to be four different schedules which are called A, B, C, and D—Schedule B happens to be Scotland. Category C is the list of projects which we are going to get on with as soon as it is physically possible to do so. That is what it boils down to: they are not ready. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is a great enemy of traffic congestion, as we all are, and we salute him for it and for bringing this matter before us to-day. He is, of course, not alone in this matter, because the Members of Parliament for Oxford and Abingdon have been active in approaching my right honourable friend on the subject. But in the outcome the matter is being debated in your Lordships' House, and what more appropriate place could there be, where there can be found such a muster of the famous sons of Oxford as we have seen this evening?
First of all, may I deal with the question of the by-pass which is the main substance of the Motion. As has been pointed out, three great main roads converge on Oxford: they are the East and West, A40 and A34 from the Midlands down to Winchester and Southampton, and A43, leaving Oxford as A423, leading from the East Midlands down to the South-East coast. The traffic going east or west can already by-pass Oxford by the northern by-pass, and there is also a section of a by-pass completed in the South-West; but at the present moment that is not of much use. If one takes Carfax as the centre of a clock, Oxford is now by-passed from 11 o'clock to half past 2 and from 6 o'clock to 9 o'clock. At the moment, these by-passes are of no use for traffic from the Midlands aiming south of Oxford, and this is the traffic to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, wishes to call our attention. Unfortunately, the figures for the last nation-wide census of traffic in August, 1954, have not yet been fully analysed, and I do not propose to give incomplete figures; but it is known that 1052 the traffic is extremely heavy. The impact of this through traffic on the already congested interior of Oxford is very bad.
Within the city the City Council are responsible, but for the trunk roads my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport is responsible, and he has decided that he must do what he can to draw off as much of this through traffic as possible. He has decided, as is already known, to extend the existing south-west by-pass from Botley to Wolvercote, which will give a connection with A34 and A43, using a further section of the northern by-pass. Later, he hopes to extend northwards from Wolvercote to give a more direct connection, a shorter line, with A34 and A43. When the Botley-Wolvercote section has been completed Oxford will be ringed completely, except for the south-east sector—namely, from, say, half past 2 o'clock to 6 o'clock. It will then be natural for all through traffic from the West Midlands to by-pass Oxford. It will not necessarily take away traffic to and from the South-East because that could be done only by completing a further section of the by-pass, say from 5 o'clock to 6 o'clock, joining on to A423.
This particular section goes over swampy ground and contains a lot of bridging. It is an extremely expensive section to complete and moreover is not expected to carry anything like as much traffic as the section we intend to complete. Furthermore, it would be possible, if commercial users have the habit pointed out by my noble friend Lord Derwent of avoiding Oxford at all costs and are bound on that route, to avoid Oxford at the cost of some detour and to get on to the A34 instead of following the Henley Road right into Oxford. I might mention at this stage a point which has been raised in several speeches: the question of diversion of traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, was in grave error in thinking that under the powers we at present have we can compulsorily divert traffic, for we cannot discriminate.
I apologise. I thought the noble Lord was referring to the application of law. We can say a route is unsafe for traffic of a certain category, but we cannot pick out any 1053 kind of traffic and say, "Through traffic cannot use this road whereas internal traffic can." There may be some gap in our legislation that may be looked at one day. I am afraid that, with the best will in the world, we shall always find, whatever by-passes we may provide, that a lot of coach traffic from the Midlands and the North will deliberately pass through Oxford in order that the passengers may see the colleges. There is nothing we can do to stop that. The works we propose to undertake will be authorised in this mysterious three-year period, 1956–59, to which noble Lords have referred. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, and others that there is no significance in the wide spread. When one starts a series of road works all over the country one has not the slightest idea of the rate at which each individual scheme will be able to proceed. That depends entirely on legal questions, acquiring land, designing bridges and other factors; therefore, if an allotment of money is to be spent more of less equally for each year, it is quite impossible to say far in advance that any particular scheme will fall in any particular year. I can assure the House that this particular scheme is going ahead as fast as is physically possible. The order is expected to be published by the early summer and we then have to wait three months for objections. There are generally objections and there may be an inquiry before we can start securing the land.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? He is on a most important point here. If he says that the order will go through by the early summer, could he interpret that by telling the House what will be the date of the authorisation? Does the date of the authorisation come after the preliminaries or does the date of the authorisation come when the Minister says to the local authorities, "The green light is now on; go ahead"?
That point has escaped my memory at the moment but my memory may be refreshed in due course. We intend to get on with the job and we want to publish this order as soon as is possible. The tentative date is the early summer. I have made inquiries as to the type of delays that usually take 1054 place in projects of this type. I am told there is frequently a period of two years from the publication of an order before contractors can get on to the site. I inquired what period contractors take for this kind of job. In the past they have frequently taken about two years for such works. The determining factor is not the provision of this wonderful modern machinery but the preparation and designing of bridges, and the sinking of boreholes and similar provision for building bridges; and there are five bridges involved here.
To anybody who wants to see this bypass opened, I freely admit that those estimates add up to a gloomy picture, although a slightly less gloomy picture than that envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. We are moving into something which is rather new territory, for it is many years since there has been a trunk road programme in this country; and we do not know how long contractors will take to do the job. My right honourable friend is a bustler and is anxious to get on with the job, and the work will certainly be done as soon as is physically possible; but I would repeat that it is physically impossible to include it in the 1955–56 programme, because the preliminary work is not there. By providing a by-pass my right honourable friend is doing his best to take from the city the biggest stream of through traffic. But he would like me to give this word of warning, though it is not really necessary for many noble Lords have reiterated it: we must not over-estimate the importance of the by-pass. I should not like to give precise figures, but those given by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, were pretty near the mark: that something like 80 per cent. of the traffic of Oxford is generated by Oxford itself.
If I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment I would refer to figures placed before the House by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. Those figures were placed before the late Minister by a deputation not long ago. At that time the Minister was informed that a recent spot check by the city engineer had disclosed that by-pass-able traffic now using the Woodstock-Banbury Road had risen to some 40 per cent. The date was October, 1953. That statement referred to traffic now using the Woodstock-Banbury Road. Other figures 1055 may refer to traffic for the whole of the city, but it is really the Woodstock-Banbury traffic we are at present discussing.
I should not like to enter into any disputatious argument about these figures. I have had figures but decided not to give them to your Lordships, as I thought they were extremely muddling and might be somewhat unreliable. The method is not very precise. But a substantial portion of Oxford traffic is generated by the city itself. That brings us to the action the City Council have been taking. In May, 1945, they instructed Mr. Thomas Sharp to prepare the plan. This was done and published in 1947. The plan made very definite proposals for keeping traffic away from the congested area. But these proposals were most controversial—indeed, there was no chance of getting any wide agreement on them.
In 1947, the City Council became the planning authority under the Town and Country Planning Act, and they submitted their own twenty-year plan for land utilisation. As regards dealing with traffic, they have not adopted the Sharp proposals. In broad outline, they have tried to deal with the traffic problem not so much by the provision of new or wider roads but by regulating the erection of houses or shops so that the need to go into the congested part of Oxford is lessened. I was inclined to think that some of the proposals made by Lord Beveridge were more or less made by the plan—for instance, more shops at Cowley and more houses at Littlemore, and so on. But the plan is definitely deficient in methods of dealing with traffic congestion in the City of Oxford, and it may be that the City Council are expecting the by-pass to do this for them. If so, my right honourable friend thinks that they will be disappointed.
Meanwhile, a further scheme has been put forward and, indeed, has been in operation for a time. That is the system of one-way streets. This, too, has provoked great opposition, particularly from the inhabitants of the very narrow streets which have had to be called in to provide this two-way movement. At the moment, my right honourable friend has the report from his inspector on the working of this plan and is considering it. The Oxford Development Plan is with the 1056 Minister of Housing and Local Government, and I cannot yet say whether he is going to approve it, with or without any modifications.
The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, raised the question of Cambridge. It is thirty-four years since my motor-bicycle and I first contributed to the traffic congestion of Cambridge, and I have rather forgotten about the city. But Cambridge, too, had a post-war plan, and this also has aroused the most bitter controversy; and in the result the Cambridge Development Plan, put forward by the County Council, the planning authority in that case, has not included these controversial works. The plan has been approved by my right honourable friend with the suggestion that the sites for the controversial works should be kept clear of building, so that, if public opinion changes, something can be done about it.
We have had portrayed a very desperate situation, a situation which is the fault of all public men in this country for the last thirty or forty years; and we all have our share of blame. The problem is what to do about it. Desperate situations require desperate remedies, and the desperate remedy of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, was something in the nature of a Royal Commission. Indeed, in some ways, that would be a rather desperate remedy, because it is shouting to the world that town and university have completely failed—as I think the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, have both admitted—to produce a plan.
No Minister ever likes to interfere in matters of this sort: nothing but great unpopularity is to be bought therefrom. But powerful arguments have been put forward by the most eminent persons this evening, and almost an S.O.S. has gone up from this House. It is perfectly obvious that both my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will have to consider very carefully indeed what has been said in this debate. There are, of course, suggestions other than that for a Royal Commission which might meet the case. I would point out, however, that, whatever is the outcome, someone is going to produce a plan which will be at least as unpopular as those which have already 1057 been turned down in Oxford and Cambridge. Unless the academic and civic authorities are slightly more compromising, it is very likely that the report of any such inquiry or Commission would, in its turn, merely provoke another desperate controversy.
We are sometimes faced with the question of whether to put our Motion down before the Government have made up their minds and seek to influence them, or to put it down after they have made up their minds and get some information. Lord Lucas of Chilworth has performed the latter task, but his supporters have clearly performed the former. Her Majesty's Government have not made up their minds, and I know that this debate will be very useful to both my right honourable friends. For that reason, I think we should be very grateful to the devoted and distinguished sons of Oxford who have spoken in this debate, for it is their aim, as it is the aim of all of us, to try to preserve this priceless heritage which we have had handed down to us, and at the same time to make conditions compatible with the considerations of modern traffic.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, there are occasions here—and they occur frequently—which illustrate to the people of this country the undoubted value of your Lordships' House as an Assembly wherein subjects of this kind can be debated without political rancour, Party spirit or any of those undesirable factors which sometimes intrude in other spheres of debate. I think this debate has been an outstanding example of that, and that it will prove to have been of immense service. As mover of this Motion, I must thank all noble Lords who have joined in the discussion. I have had powerful support, and I do not read into what any noble Lord has said anything contrary to what I said, to the effect that there are two problems.
As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, quite rightly said, this matter is in two parts. There is unanimity that one part must go forward, but there is no unanimity concerning the second part. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, put the matter in a nutshell when he said that the proposed by-pass roads, which have been agreed to by every authority that had to be consulted, from the University to the City Council, 1058 from the County Council to the Preservation Trust, are the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government: they will have to find 100 per cent. of the money. The internal planning of Oxford, on the other hand, is the responsibility of the City Council. They are the planning authority; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, quite rightly said, no Minister, without very careful consideration, would ever interfere in the appropriate sphere of the local authority and planning body.
Though I have no authority to speak for the City Council, I have been in close and constant touch with them on this problem for the last three months, and I have no doubt in my mind that as soon as the word "Go" is given with regard to these by-passes and the Council can look forward, with reasonably good fortune, to their completion, their attention must then be turned to the internal problem. With the external problem out of the way, the internal one will be so pin-pointed that it will not escape the notice of the most purblind individual. I think that is the way in which we ought to proceed. I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for his reply. If I may use a colloquialism, I do not want to shanghai him, but, if I understood what he said aright, it was that the word "Go" on the by-pass section from Botley to Wolvercote will be given in this coming summer, and that, if normal processes then obtain, we may reasonably expect completion within three years. I agree that the noble Lord's estimate is the same as mine.
My Lords, I think I should correct the noble Lord. I was rather more pessimistic than the noble Lord: I said four years. Normally speaking, on past experience, it is two years from the publication of the order before the contractor gets on to the site, and two years before he packs up. That is the past experience of similar schemes. I also said that we expect to publish this order in the early summer. I do not guarantee it, but that is our expectation.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I thought it was three years, but there is no great difference between us. A race cannot start at all until somebody has fired the pistol. The noble Lord could not tell me how fast the contractors would work, but the noble Lord has told me 1059 that his right honourable friend is going to pull the trigger of the starting pistol in the summer.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
That is far better than I expected, and I express my grateful thanks to him. I am sure that nobody could have expected a better issue to our debate than that, and I do not wish to say anything that will prejudice him; but I hope that the Minister will now give consideration to that portion of the by-pass—I am sorry, but I got rather confused by the noble Lord's analogy of the clock—at the southern end which will link the completed A34 with A423, on the southeastern section. If the noble Lord would prompt his right honourable friend to 1060 have that section started when the other is finished, so that there is a continuity, I am sure that any effort I have displayed in this debate, and all the eloquence of other noble Lords, will have been well worth while. There is one other thing that I should like to say, in passing. If the noble Lord looks at the Amendments which we have put forward to the Road Traffic Bill, he will see that I have tried to help him out of his dilemma of how to influence traffic to use by-passes and not go through main towns. With renewed thanks to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for his reply, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at sixteen minutes before six o'clock.