§ 35. Mr. Fernyhough
asked the Minister of Transport how many schemes for constructing and improving roads, sub- 1266 mitted to him by local authorities, have been refused by his Department during the last five years.
§ Mr. Hay
Highway authorities apply to us for grants towards the cost of major improvement schemes on classified roads. The large number of such schemes in relation to the funds at our disposal makes a priority system necessary whereby schemes are selected for grant on the basis of need and urgency. This means that schemes must often be deferred, but outright refusal is rare. Systematic records of any such refusal are not kept.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the broadcast to which I have already referred his right hon. Friend said:The initiative for constructing, improving and maintaining over 95 per cent. of our roads is the responsibility of local authorities …Is he aware that the right hon. Gentleman said:I am anxious and willing to do my part,and that, speaking to his radio audience, he added:You must elect local authorities eager to do theirs."?It is obvious that the councils have been eager to show initiative and that it is the deadly hand of the Ministry that is stopping them getting on with the job.
§ Mr. Mellish
But is the hon. Gentleman not aware that in trying to defend himself and the Minister he must take into account the fact that local authorities resent very much the implication that the right hon. Gentleman created that the local authorities have been responsible for holding up these plans?
§ 37. Mr. Loughlin
asked the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied that local authorities are submitting schemes for constructing and improving roads in accordance with the national road planning requirements of the areas over which they have control; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
Yes, Sir. The schemes which I invite local highway authorities to submit for grants are those which I 1267 have agreed with them individually as being most important either for the national economy or for road safety.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Is the Minister aware that his Answer contrasts very markedly with his statement in the broadcast to which reference has already been made? Is he aware that I have had representations from local councillors in my area who resent the implied criticisms of local authorities, other than those manned by Conservative politicians? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has consistently turned down schemes which my local authorities have submitted to him, and will he now apologise for this unseemly conduct?
§ Mr. Marples
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) has been disappointed with his local authorities and the recent results. The Ministry of Transport rarely turns down. It has a system of priorities, but the initial choice must rest with the highway authorities themselves, since they have statutory responsibility for improving the classified roads.
§ Mr. Benn
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the difficulty is that there is no public national plan for road building in this country? Is he aware that civil engineering contractors complained only a few days ago that they have as many road-building machines idle as they have in use? Is he aware that what is required is the publication of a White Paper by the Government setting out their plans for road building over the next five years?
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member has a later Question on that subject and had better wait until we reach it. If the hon. Member compares what is being done now in building and improving roads with what was done by his party, I think he will find an improvement.