HC Deb 05 November 1980 vol 991 cc1262-4
2. Mr. Booth

asked the Minister of Transport what the decline in the capital expenditure of roads as a proportion of the total public expenditure will he between 1978–79 and 1983–84 on the basis of the Government's proposed public expenditure plans.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)

Decisions on the allocation in future years of trunk road resources between construction and maintenance have yet to be made. However, I expect expenditure on capital projects to remain broadly in line with the 0.4 per cent. of total public expenditure in Great Britain which it represented in 1978–79 and 1979–80.

Capital expenditure on local roads in 1978–79 and 1979–80 was also about 0.4 per cent. of public expenditure. The amount spent in future years will depend on decisions taken by local authorities.

Mr. Booth

As the total expenditure on road construction and maintenance in England is planned to fall between 1978–79 and 1983–84, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of public expenditure, how can the Minister assure us that there will not be a further cut in the construction programme, as maintenance costs on all motorways and trunk roads are bound to rise during that period? Does the planned reduction of total road construction and maintenance expenditure from £1,123 million in 1978–79 to £1,065 million in 1983–84—which is a cut in the percentage of public expenditure on roads—indicate that the Government intend the road programme to bear more than a fair share of the total public expenditure cuts?

Mr. Fowler

I am not trying to give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute guarantee about the future. This is an extremely curious issue for the Opposition to latch upon. The largest cuts in road spending in Britain, and in the history of the road programme, were implemented by the previous Labour Administration, when expenditure went down by half. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at our record for the first year he will see that we spent more on motorways and trunk roads than was spent in either of the last two years of the Labour Government.

Mr. Farr

In view of the savage cuts that have been made in local areas, particularly in expenditure on education, social services and many other sectors, does my right hon. Friend recognise that there is no earthly reason why some of these rather fanciful new road schemes, which I gather are still in the Ministry pipeline, should not at the least be deferred for a considerable period, and preferably abandoned?

Mr. Fowler

I do not agree with my hon. Friend that there are fanciful schemes in our programme. We have pruned them. Indeed, all the representations that I am receiving refer in particular to the need for bypasses to be built. The important thing is that, as far as possible, we should seek to protect investment programmes, and that is what we are trying to do.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

In view of the many repairs to our motorways, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that our motorways are not of an adequate standard? When considering the future of motorways, will he ensure that they are built to a higher standard? Will he also bear in mind that road conditions throughout the country are deteriorating so much that more accidents are bound to occur and that something more should be done to make certain that our roads are brought up to a good standard?

Mr. Fowler

There is no evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's contention that our roads are not up to standard. In fact, the examinations and inquiries carried out by the local authorities show the opposite to be the case. Clearly, when we come to motorways, such as the Ml, there is no question but that because of the amount of traffic over and above the projected increases, and particularly the increase in heavy goods vehicle traffic, maintenance will continue to be necessary. There is no escaping that question.