HC Deb 23 January 1980 vol 977 cc408-10
2. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Minister for Transport how many trunk road schemes listed in the Supply Estimates as starting in 1979–80 are unlikely to start in the current financial year.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

Only the widening of the M1 in Hertfordshire, on which an action is pending in the High Court.

Mr. Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate the deep concern felt throughout the country about the arbitrary delay in such schemes, without any formal announcement by his Department? Can he say precisely how many schemes are held up and what steps he is taking to accelerate them, particularly over the statutory processes? Does he not feel that his party and Government owe that to the country, bearing in mind their criticism of the previous Government's policies?

Mr. Clarke

I do not think that there are that many arbitrary delays taking place. I have indicated that only one scheme listed to start last year has not started, and that is because of a legal challenge. It would not be right to try to abbreviate the statutory procedures and the legal checks on road construction, because many people have an interest in making sure that their views are properly represented.

For a list of schemes that are pending and in the pipeline, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave on 4 December to my hon. Friend the Member for Welling borough (Mr. Fry).

Mr. Fry

Does not my hon. Friend agree, however, that there was considerable under spending under the last Government? Will he give an assurance that he will take steps to see that it does not occur in the future?

Mr. Clarke

I am very aware of that under spending, but my right hon. Friend and I are not responsible for the former Administration. There are difficulties in predicting the weather and the statutory procedures that can lead to an under-spend. But it seems that this year spending is likely to be very near the cash limit.

Mr. Booth

The question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) related not to last year but to this year—the 1979–80 Estimates. The hon. Gentleman answered in terms of last year. Will he tell the House by how much the cost of the schemes listed in the Supply Estimates for 1979–80 which will not now start in the current year exceeds the £10 million cut in the road programme announced by his right hon. Friend, whether other schemes will be started to use the balance of the money in the road programme, or whether his right hon. Friend will announce another cut in the programme?

Mr. Clarke

My answer was about 1979–80. There is only one scheme listed in the Supply Estimates that will not start, and that is because we must await a High Court hearing. It is a scheme that we are anxious to begin—the widening of the M1 in Hertfordshire. There is no spare money in the programme; there will not be the under spend that has occurred in previous years.