HC Deb 12 November 1984 vol 67 cc398-9
3. Mr. Blair

asked the Secretary of State for Transport by how much spending on motorways and trunk roads has increased in real terms since 1979.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

At 1982–83 average prices, estimated expenditure for 1983–84 exceeded that for 1979–80 in real terms by just over 20 per cent., rising from £574 million to £689 million.

Mr. Blair

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is an alarming disparity between the capital spending on roads by his Department and the capital spending by local authorities? Does he not understand that the way forward is not to inhibit revenue spending by local authorities on vital public transport, but to increase capital allocations so that local authorities, including my own in County Durham, can provide the road links that are vital to attracting and keeping new employment?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman is right in suggesting that many authorities have taken money from the allocations for local roads to spend on revenue subsidies. It is partly to encourage them to spend more on roads that we are moving to a capital-only transport supplementary grant. I hope that that will inhibit them from transferring as much as they have in the past.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are delighted to hear the encouraging figures about expenditure on motorways since 1979, because it makes the motorways so much safer? However, will my right hon. Friend at long last give proper consideration to increasing the speed limit on motorways from the antiquated 70 mph to the 80 mph, which would be so much more appropriate?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend is extremely ingenious, but I hope that he does not treat the speed limits in the same evasive way as he treats questions on the Order Paper. The Government have considered the speed limit on motorways and we came to the decision that I have announced. We do not intend to reconsider it at the present time.

Mr. Chapman

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Department is still on course for completing the M25 round London by the autumn of 1986?

Mr. Ridley

That is completely correct. I repeat that that is our present expectation.

Mr. Snape

What authority does the Secretary of State have to instruct local authorities on how this money should be spent? Is it not more properly a local decision whether money is spent on public transport or road building? Why does the Secretary of State have this sudden passion for building roads in towns?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have no authority, and that is the answer to the question of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Perhaps I should introduce the two hon. Gentlemen to each other, because the hon. Member for Sedgefield suggested that local authorities should spend more. I agree, but they can do that only if they stop transferring the money provided for one purpose to spend on another. It is to encourage them to concentrate on road spending that we are moving to a capital-only TSG. In view of what the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has said, I imagine that he will support that move.