HC Deb 25 November 1981 vol 13 cc877-9
11. Mr. Lamborn

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if, in view of the general worsening of the structural condition of roads, he proposes to increase the road maintenance budget to meet this situation.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The funds available for structural repairs on motorways and trunk roads have already been increased. Expenditure last year was about £80 million and this year it is expected to be in excess of £120 million.

Mr. Lamborn

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the County Surveyors' Society stated in its recent report "Transport in the 80s": The increase in the need for patching and surface dressing indicates that there is a general worsening of the structural condition of roads"? Will the Secretary of State therefore consider increasing the budget for non-motorway roads, the maintenance budget of which has been reduced from £63 million in 1979 to £38 million in 1980–81?

Mr. Clarke

The county surveyors and their staff carry out these non-trunk road highway repairs. I therefore understand their anxiety to have more money spent on such projects. However, in co-operation with the county surveyors we carry out an annual survey of the condition of trunk and non-trunk roads, and there is no evidence to show that standards are deterioating.

Mr. Iain Mills

Will my hon. and learned Friend pass on to my right hon Friend the Secretary of State my apologies for my confusion during an earlier question about dates of Transport Acts? As he knows, it seems as though I have been a permanent member of the Standing Committees that consider transport legislation.

Would not a more cost-effective use of existing moneys for the maintenance of roads result from a reduction in the £100,000 ceiling for direct labour organisations, thereby giving better value through further privatisation and competition?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that we have had such a succession of Transport Acts, all of which have improved transport provision, that it is difficult to separate one from another.

The Government introduced the statutory limit of £100,000 above which counties must put contracts out to tender in order to get the best value for money. We shall keep that figure under review, but we are anxious to see how the new system develops now that it has been introduced. I agree that a system of open tender and greater use of private contractors is likely to result in better roads and value for money.

Mr. Haynes

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his reply to the original question was shocking? Is he further aware that both he and his predecessors have introduced legislation to deal with people who abuse roads? Will he provide the finance to maintain these roads properly in the interests of road safety?

Mr. Clarke

Obviously I did not manage to speak at the same volume level as the hon. Gentleman, because he could not have heard my main answer. I described an increase in expenditure from £80 million to £120 million. That is a 50 per cent. increase in cash terms, or a one-third increase in real terms, for maintenance of trunk roads and motorways. I do not know how much the hon. Gentleman would spend, but the Government are spending more in areas where the money is needed.

Mr. Parris

Will my hon. and learned Friend point out to those who call for increased expenditure on the roads and railways that there must be a limit to the total amount of investment that the Government are able to put into transport systems?—[Interruption.] Will he remind them that investment in one must be at the expense of investing in the other or, alternatively, at the expense of investing in social and other services?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, it was interesting to note that when he said that there must be some limit to the amount of taxpayers' money available there were numerous cries of "No" from Labour Members. Unfortunately, one or two Labour-controlled local authorities try to run their transport policies on the same basis as that accepted by Labour Members.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the transport supplementary grant continue in its present form for the foreseeable future?

Mr. Clarke

There will certainly be a transport supplementary grant settlement this year, which we hope to announce soon. We have not reached final conclusions about the future, but the grant is likely to continue in its present form.

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