HC Deb 26 May 1954 vol 528 cc379-80
16 and 17. Mr. Janner

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (1) what estimate he has made of the amount of the backlog on new construction work necessary to bring the roads of this country up to present-day requirements, that has resulted from the cessation of such work during the war and financial stringency which has existed since the war; and whether, in view of the impracticability of dealing with this backlog out of annual revenue, he will set up without delay an expert examination into alternative means of financing such work by means of a road loan;

(2) whether he has yet reached a decision as to the desirability of the final abolition of the Road Fund; and whether he will consider the desirability of introducing such legislation as is necessary to abolish the Road Fund, together with legislation which will provide for the establishment of a new National Highway Authority, which will, in collaboration with his Department, have authority to raise capital by way of loans for the construction of new modern highways in this country.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I could not usefully attempt an estimate of the backlog to which the hon. Member refers. There is so much room for differences of opinion on this question that the answer is any-one's guess. I do not think that it is necessary to set on foot an examination into means of financing road work by means of a special loan. Whether such expenditure should be met out of revenue or by borrowing is a matter of budgetary policy. The recent recommendation of the Select Committee on Estimates about the Road Fund is being carefully considered, but a final decision has not yet been reached.

Mr. Janner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he will not get a fair share of the national resources which are available for this very important purpose? Is it not high time that some scheme was devised whereby this very vital necessity of getting the roads into proper order could be attended to? Does he not think that, in the circumstances, he might consider the suggestions made in these two Questions, or some similar suggestion?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

In regard to the technical abolition of the Road Fund, my view was expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary on 15th February. There are other considerations involved, and we are looking into them. In regard to a loan, I can only repeat that it would have to be secured, serviced and eventually repaid, but, unless there are tolls, roads do not earn an identifiable revenue which may be collected. If added to capital expenditure and interest, it could only be serviced by increased taxation or equivalent economies. This is a matter of budgetary policy, which is too complicated and lengthy to deal with in a supplementary answer.

Mr. Nicholson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the existence of the Road Fund leads to very misleading conclusions on the part of the public and that it would be an approach to reality if it were abolished as it is merely an anachronistic relic?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Speaking personally, I am accused of not getting a large enough share of the Road Fund or of raiding it, and people do not like it when that happens, but there are other complications.

Mr. Gibson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he would have support from all quarters in the House if he put heavy pressure on the Chancellor to get a very much heavier capital allocation for expenditure on new roads?