HC Deb 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc229-30
32. Sir D. Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why, in view of the improvement in the nation's financial situation, no grants are being made available to local authorities in the current financial year for unclassified roads in Caithness and Sutherland in spite of their importance to agriculture and forestry.

41. Mr. John MacLeod

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why grants have been refused to the County Council of Ross and Cromarty under the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act, 1897, for the year 1958–59.

Mr. Maclay

Grants are being paid for a number of projects at present under construction in Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland, but I regret that the need to restrict grants still continues and that it has not so far been possible to offer grant for any new projects to start this year.

Sir D. Robertson

Is not it a bad thing to withhold grants for essential road repairs while unemployment is running at a rate of 7.2 per cent. and many thousands of pounds are being paid out to keep men idle? Would not it be better to put them to work on the roads?

Mr. Maclay

I am only too anxious to get on with urgent road work where-ever it is humanly possible and consistent with economic conditions, but I should point out that the amount of employment given by extensive road works is relatively very small, although I agree that it is an element in reducing unemployment.

Mr. Woodburn

If the amount of employment is necessarily small, that means that not much labour is used in the making of roads. That seems all the less reason for closing them. Would the Minister say whether even after a war, in our hardest times, there was ever any stoppage of the development of these roads in the Highlands?

Mr. Maclay

There is no stoppage now. Work is going on. At the moment work is going on in Sutherland where grants of £20,000 have been approved, in Caithness £8,400, and in Ross and Cromarty £25,000.

Mr. Grimond

Would the Secretary of State agree that one of the things which makes minor roads so expensive is the stopping and starting of projects? Cannot he represent to the Treasury that the annual grant for this purpose sometimes leads to considerable extra expenditure? Since there is an indication in the private sector that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is relaxing the squeeze a little, can the right hon. Gentleman give any idea when the relaxation may reach the public sector?

Mr. Maclay

This work is continuous and that is why it must be phased gradually to avoid the kind of disruption to which the hon. Member refers. The second part of his question is one which is constantly in my mind.