HC Deb 17 May 1978 vol 950 cc449-50
6. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with the resources available to regional councils in Scotland to keep minor roads in villages in a proper state of repair.

Mr. McElhone

The provision for road maintenance in relevant expenditure for rate support grant in 1978–79 has been increased as compared with 1977–78. It is for regional and island councils to determine priorities for particular roads.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that because the work on these roads, before reorganisation of local government, was undertaken by the district councils, they seem to have been left out of the calculations of the new regional councils? Would it not be right for the Scottish Office now to consider a more satisfactory arrangement in order that the maintenance of these roads becomes obligatory rather than discretionary?

Mr. McElhone

The 1973 local government reorganisation Act was designed to leave as much power and autonomy as possible with the local authorities. That was the Conservative Opposition's Act. Therefore, we, as a Government, have increased our financial contribution through the rate support grant from £72.7 million to £78.3 million at 1977 prices. We, as a central authority, have increased our money. It is for the region, within the rate support grant allocation, to determine its priorities, be they roads, villages, or otherwise.

Mr. Thompson

Does the Minister accept that a great burden would be placed upon quite ordinary house owners if they had to bring roads up to the standard that the regional councils demanded before the regional councils would take them over? Would that not be a great burden on ordinary people?

Mr. McElhone

The real damage to roads in the last few days—and this will apply also to the next few days—resulted from the large number of SNP Volvo and Japanese car owners rushing to Hamilton to save their deposit.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Do not this Question and Question No. 4 make the Minister think that there may be too many responsibilities and powers at regional level and too few at district level?

Mr. McElhone

I cannot accept that. The SNP fought a campaign on the issue of abolishing the regions and it got a very clear answer from the people of Scotland.

Mr. Younger

Does the Minister agree that the truth of this matter is that the reduction in standards on minor roads is due to the extreme pressure placed by the Government on local authorities as a result of the total failure of all their economic policies?

Mr. McElhone

I am sorry, but I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee I had the chance to point to the failings of the Tories' 1973 Local Government Act. We gave priority to local authorities, in the sense of allocating additional money to them. We have allocated almost £6 million for next year, which can be spent on roads. If local authorities wish to use the money for maintenance or for other purposes, or, indeed, for purposes away from roads altogether, they may do so. We have left it to discretion at regional level. Surely that was the decision of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), as the Minister who piloted the legislation through the House.