HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc481-4
8. Mr. Booth

asked the Minister of Transport whether contracts were awarded for all of the following trunk road schemes in the financial year 1979–80 for which provision was made in the Supply Estimates 1979–80: M3 Compton-Bassett widening, A6 Elstow bypass, A17 Heckington bypass, A17 Swineshead bypass, A31 Bere Regis bypass, A40 North-leach bypass, A40 Hillingdon West End road, A40 Gloucester North bypass main works, A49 Brimfield bypass, A66 Bowes bypass, A66 Troutbeck diversion, A303 Furze Hedge improvement, A423 Dorchester bypass, and A17 Leadenham bypass.

Mr. Kenneth Garke

Contracts were awarded for none of these schemes in 1979–80.

Mr. Booth

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recall that he told the House on 23 January that there would be no underspend in the 1979–80 roads programme and that there would not be the situation which had occurred in previous years, which he had criticised? What has happened to the money contained in the 1979–80 Estimates for these specific programmes? Has there been underspend? Has the money been allocated to other road schemes? Are the Government in considerable difficulty with their roads programme as a result of a failure to carry out the schemes that they included in their roads Estimates?

Mr. Clarke

The programmes that I have mentioned have not been started for a number of reasons, some because of legal challenge, some because of statutory procedures, and a few because of lack of funds. The situation is much more complex than the right hon. Gentleman states. I have taken especial care in answering question No. 27 tabled by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) to set out the details of the financial background. I regret to say that there has been a slight overspend this year in contrast with previous years. We have breached our cash limit by a small amount. The programmes that are listed in the question that cannot be started could not possibly have been built by the previous Labour Government within their cash limit. Had they gone ahead and built everything for which they had programmed, there would have been either the most massive breach of their cash limits or neglect of vital motorway maintenance, neither of which we are prepared to contemplate.

Mr. Adley

Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) has picked his priorities with care? Hon. Members representing constituencies in Hampshire and in Dorset hope that the first and penultimate items will be completed as soon as possible.

Mr. Clarke

All the schemes that the right hon. Gentleman has identified are popular in their localities. None of them has been abandoned. I hope that most of them will be built in the next year or two. The Northleach bypass is the subject of a successful High Court challenge and is having to be considered again.

Mr. Skinner

Why does the Minister, like many other Conservative Members, keep apologising for the spending cuts that the Government have introduced? Why does he not follow the Prime Minister, who, when interviewed a short time ago on the anniversary of her first year in office and asked "What would you do if you had the opportunity to go over your programme today?", replied that she would have cut spending much more harshly and much more quickly? Why does he adopt such a schizophrenic attitude? Surely he should be supporting the public spending cuts that the Prime Minister thinks are wonderful.

Mr. Clarke

The road building programme has to bear its proper share in the cuts. We are seeking to achieve a stable level of programmed expenditure and to achieve that in practice year by year. That was never done by the previous Labour Government. The construction industry was ruined by that Administration using capital cuts as an easy way out whenever they faced a crisis. They then grotesquely underspent the provision, which led to great criticism from the construction industry.