HC Deb 25 November 1981 vol 13 cc879-80
14. Mr. Fitch

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he expects to spend the full cash limit for the trunk road programme this year.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

It is too soon to be sure how expenditure will compare with the cash limit, but an underspend of about 5 per cent. now seems likely.

Mr. Fitch

Does the Minister not agree that in this period of severe unemployment in the construction industry such an answer is deplorable? Does he not further agree that we should spend all available money on necessary road construction, and particularly on trunk roads?

Mr. Clarke

Our estimates of the cost of new roads proved to be overestimates. The tender prices have been keen and we have managed to deliver our road programme at a lower cost than we expected. That is good news for the taxpayer, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it reflects on the unhappy position of the construction industry. We shall continue to deliver the trunk road programme as our contribution to the construction industry and the employment of its work force.

Mr. Waller

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it has been almost a fact of life that there has been underspending from year to year on the cash limits? Does he further agree that it would be an admirable improvement if any underspend could be carried over to the succeeding year?

Mr. Clarke

Since the Government have been in office, there was a slight overspend in the first year, and in the next year a slight underspend. This is the first significant underspend that we have had. There has been interest in the idea of carrying forward underspends into subsequent years, but that would lead to an increase in the overall level of public expenditure next year. Obviously, that is not consistent with the country's present economic problems and the Government's economic policy.

Mr. Snape

In view of the concern about road expenditure, will the Minister tell the House how much per head the average family pays towards the building maintenance and policing of our trunk road network? In the unlikely event that he will be able to give the House that figure, will he say whether it includes the cost of pollution, delay and the 7,000 road deaths that occur each year, thanks to the concentration of the Department and successive Governments on road traffic, to the exclusion of everything else?

Mr. Clarke

The taxation that is paid by all road users—drivers of private cars and goods vehicles—greatly exceeds the cost of maintaining and repairing the roads. Road users rightly make a substantial contribution to the Government's revenue, part of which—over £800 million—is used by the Government on railways.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

In view of the expected underspend, will the Minister give immediate consideration to bringing forward into this financial year the start of the Newcastle upon Tyne western bypass, bearing in mind that the land for the project was purchased 40 years ago?

Mr. Clarke

Of course, time has to be taken up with the engineering design and preparation of schemes. We trunked the Newcastle upon Tyne western bypass only six months ago, and, unfortunately, we are not yet ready to build it. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a desirable road, and we shall press on with it with all possible speed.

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