HC Deb 04 July 1985 vol 82 cc610-22 9.27 pm
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the roads programme, although many other subjects might be more popular. High rhetoric and declaratory speeches about road transport and motorways do not trip neatly off the tongue.

An inferior road system has an effect on local communities and on the quality of people's lives. To make my central point, I do not need to discuss the Government's road programme at length. The importance that the Government attach to the subject has been clearly shown in the White Papers that they have published, in particular that of 1983. In that White Paper, the Government set out their national and local priorities. There is no doubt that the Government know what they are doing. If one considers the progress that has been made since 1979, the details given in the White Paper on Government expenditure and in my hon. Friend the Minister of State's announcement as recently as 25 June about 51 further projects at a cost of about £300 million. one begins to see that those priorities are being fulfilled. However, when one studies those matters, I believe that one finds that one ingredient has not received the degree of prominence that it merits.

In 1977, the present Secretary of State for Social Services produced what might be described as a seminal document setting out the attitude that a Conservative Administration would take to transport. The paper stressed that a Government implementing such a programme should seek to ensure that decisions were taken by and for the users rather than the providers of transport. In matters concerning local communities it is vital to ensure that local people's views are properly taken into account. That problem certainly arises in the context of planning legislation, and I have raised it in the House more than once.

The procedures adopted must pay more than lip service to local people's views and ensure that local opinion has a real effect on the policy adopted. When one considers the way in which road traffic policy is implemented at the local level it is clear that, despite our rhetoric before we came to power, local communities do not always feel that they have the input that they want.

The specific problem that I have in mind concerns the road traffic system in Newton Abbot, a substantial market town in my constituency. Devon is the third largest shire in England, with more than 8,200 miles of road—more than twice the total for any other county. There is no doubt that Devon and the west country generally have seen substantial improvements in terms of major capital projects. For instance, there has been the dualling of the Plymouth-Exeter road. There is now dual carriageway virtually from the end of the motorway to the Tamar bridge. In terms of major projects, the west country has benefited greatly and it was well entitled to do so.

Improving motorways and dual carriageways, however, may simply move the bottleneck further down the track. It thus becomes even more important to ensure that the traffic is dealt with properly when it leaves those main arterial highways and comes into market towns.

It would be all too easy for me to say that those responsible for planning the traffic system in Newton Abbot do not know what they are doing. I could make a splendid speech. The Gallery would become packed and reporters would be hanging on my every word. I do not go so far as that, but there is no doubt that the people of Newton Abbot feel that the needs of their town are not properly reflected in the traffic system provided for them.

These days everything has become a speciality. Even politics, which in our British tradition should be the province of the true amateur, has become professional. Traffic management, too, has become a speciality. There is certainly a feeling among my constituents, especially those living in Newton Abbot, that the specialists have designed a traffic system which is all very well for them but which simply does not work.

A specific example is the Penn Inn roundabout where priorities were altered in such a way that traffic ariving at the roundabout found that it had precedence over traffic already on the roundabout. By any stretch of the imagination, it was an extraordinary decision. Public protest was such that eventually the highway authority, to its credit, while not actually admitting that it was wrong, did the next best thing and changed back to the old system.

The system in Newton Abbot has not been completed yet, and those of us who are optimists are wondering whether, when the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted, the system will work. For the time being, the local people are faced with a system of one-way streets and mini-roundabouts, by which the authorities seek to control traffic. A person trying to get through Newton Abbot in a hurry on a weekday had better take a deep breath, because it takes some time to do so. On one occasion—this was not during the high season or at a particularly busy time of day—it took me 20 minutes to get across the Penn Inn roundabout.

Clearly, if local people are asked to design a traffic system, they will have many ideas. The fact that they may not be able to achieve a consensus does not detract from the basic proposition that, at times, traffic in this market town is being brought to a standstill and the common-sense views of local people on what should be done are not being properly reflected.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I have the advantage of knowing the hon. Gentleman's constituency extremely well, having lived there for many years. I am following his argument carefully. What exactly is his point? Is he suggesting that the previous Conservative-controlled county council, which presumably channelled the views of the inhabitants to the traffic planners, failed in its duty? Is he suggesting that that is why those Conservative councillors were deposed in the shire county elections?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Lady makes a particular political point. If she casts her mind back, she will recall that her stay in the west country was brief as, having succeeded in being re-elected in one parliamentary election, she was promptly deposed at another. I do not think that her reflections on how we act in the west country are especially helpful.

I come to the point that I would have made if the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) had been able to contain her exuberance. One cannot be certain whether the traffic planners in a town such as Newton Abbot have got it right. The present structure makes it impossible for local people to ensure that their views are taken into account. A planning analogy is the best analogy that I can offer the hon. Lady. What happens if the local community does not have the right to appeal once a planning application has been granted? It is too simplistic to say, "That means that it must be the fault of the local councillors." Of course it is not necessarily their fault. Whatever their political persuasion, local councillors properly give a great deal of weight to the advice that they receive from professional officers. The planners in Newton Abbot may be getting it right, but their views cannot be put to the test. Those living in areas where the traffic does not flow freely face considerable hardship. Their hardship may be exaggerated, but one must emphasise the stress faced by the travelling public in using a complex traffic system that is not working properly.

We can note the Government's priorities and the spending on major projects and can compare the record of this Administration with that of their predecessor. This Government are getting it right.

In the end, one must come down to local level and ask oneself: "Can we be sure that there is proper control, so that those who are responsible for road planning are providing transport systems that are there for the benefit of the people, dictated by the people and created in the light of their experience, or is it a case of transport systems being thrust upon them from on high?" That is the point that I wished to make to my hon. Friend.

9.40 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), because I lived for many years in his constituency. Not only were two of my children born in Devon, but I lived in the hospital at Newton Abbot. The information that he gave to the House earlier was completely inaccurate. I know the area extremely well.

I am not sure what the object of the hon. Gentleman's speech was. The amount of money spent by the Government on roads is markedly different from the amount that they have spent in other areas of transport. For example, the Government said that, this year, their priority would be to move increasingly towards the provision of bypasses. They would be welcome in Devon and Cornwall, as well as in Cheshire. It is unfortunate that the Government's sense of priority has meant that our motorways are becoming subject to a series of major reorganisations and resurfacing programmes at this time of the year. It would have been better if the Government had been prepared to undertake a sensibly spaced programme of road renewal at the same time as a programme of new major roads.

I do not argue with the hon. Gentleman's statement that the Government have spent much money on roads. However, they have not organised the programme correctly. Indeed, we may have considerable difficulty, not just this year but in the future, in getting a properly planned and organised road programme.

My objection to the Government's plans is different. At a time when the British Rail workshops at Swindon will be closed, with the loss of about 2,800 jobs, Government money is being spent not on providing new manufacturing and new work in the workshops but on a road programme that is still not properly organised or planned.

The Minister of State's efforts this week have shown some of the difficulties involved. She drove up the M1 to show that there would be some difficulties, but said that her planning had ensured that the difficulties would be absorbed by the travelling public. There would have been more admiration for the Department's planning had it provided some evidence over a longer period that the Government have balanced our need for a motorways renewal programme and the needs of our urban communities.

The major roads in my area desperately need updating. There are many problems on the roads between Shropshire —especially the constituency represented by the Leader of the House—my constituency and north Staffordshire, because the roads programme, as it is presently envisaged, will not allow us to spend enough money on updating A-class roads to take the ever-increasing freight traffic. The provision of motorways in the area precludes that. It shows the difficulty of planning in advance for increasing freight traffic.

The hon. Gentleman said that he is worried by the fact that traffic management is becoming too professional. His slightly derogatory tone when he said that reflects the attitude of the Secretary of State for Transport who, during the passage of the Transport Bill, showed only too clearly that he regards anyone who has a qualification in traffic planning as having slightly doubtful judgment and as being an unacceptable adviser in the planning of a transport system. That is stupid and reprehensible. For modern traffic management it is important to have the input of those who understand how traffic flows effect the areas through which they pass.

The hon. Gentleman fears that the problem is being dealt with, not by local councillors but by others—an abstract set of advisers hidden away far from his constituency who take decisions over which he has no sway.

One of the problems in Devon is that for many years one political party has believed that it is firmly in the saddle. Its reponse to his constituents is often conditioned, not by the needs of the area but by the way in which that party envisages its political advantage. There might be problems in the Newton Abbot area. I suspect that they are not unconnected with the complexion of the political party which has been in control for many years. It was in control when I arrived in the county and has only just relinquished that control at county council level.

The time has come for the Government to accept that roads must be part of an integrated transport system. Their relationship with the movement of passengers must be calculated, not only on the basis of the numbers of heavy lorries or of road trains, but on the basis of how they can best be integrated with the rail system the aeroplane system and overall transport planning for the future. Britain can no longer afford simply to think in terms of a road system without recognising the Government's responsibility for planning their commitment to transport spending over a wider area.

Unfortunately, an effective and vocal roads lobby has emerged. It has advocated changing basic and important forms of transport. The Secretary of State for Transport is straightforward and honest and has made it clear that the only kind of transport planning that makes sense to him is to remove the bus system that operates for the benefit of its passengers and to replace it with a system of anarchy under which any sharp pirate who can make a penny out of the system will be allowed to benefit. The Secretary of State believes that the train and inland domestic airways systems should be regarded less favourably in terms of planning than the motorway system.

The Minister of State is not only highly intelligent but committed to intelligent road planning. At long last this year she has succeeded in achieving some acceptance in her Department of the fact that many communities want roads developed which are useful to them. People want more bypasses and more A roads. They want the motorway system to be updated so that it does not constitute a hazard to the environment.

Only the other day I was told by a member of the police force in my constituency that, apart from the speed at which vehicles travel, the hazard caused by the closeness and the number of vehicles on the M1 and M6 is the equivalent of that caused by road trains and major freight movement. That cannot be the only efficient way to transport goods. No proper planning has been done. Public transport should comprise a wider and more intelligently grouped system of services. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider seriously what he has said and will not seek to give the House the impression that transport planners are some obscure and removed breed of men and women who have no understanding or appreciation of the needs of local communities. The Secretary of State for Transport neither understands nor accepts the role of transport planners. In fact, these planners have made their life's work the extension of the interests and needs of local communities so as to integrate them with the national interest.

Mr. Nicholls

Surely the hon. Lady must realise that she is trying to have her cake and eat it. She is suggesting that all the transport sins of the world have been caused by the fact that in the past Devon county council was Conservative controlled. Secondly, she suggests that I am being unkind to traffic managers. Does she not realise, even from her brief acquaintance with my constituency, that the road patterns in the area have been devised at the behest of professional traffic managers? I said clearly—I am surprised that the hon. Lady was not able to grasp the argument — that it is too easy to criticise traffic planners. I said as clearly as I could that there should be another input. The expertise of the user should be taken into account as well as that of the professionals.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The hon. Gentleman has confirmed the argument that I was advancing. He seems to believe that transport planners operate in a vacuum. If he has not noticed that local councillors are consulted, that county councillors are consulted and that many people throughout the region are consulted, he has confirmed my view of the Conservative party. It is clear that it is so disinterested in the views of others that it does not take account of the occasions when it takes decisions which should be based on the informed views of transport planners. If the decisions on traffic planning in Devon have been taken entirely by council officers until this stage, I am not surprised that a different set of people is in charge of the county hall.

I am interested that the hon. Gentleman feels that 15 years is a short acquaintance with his constituency. If we take account of some of the recent political results, he might consider that if he is not careful my acquaintance with his constituency may turn out to be rather longer than his own. However, I would not want to be unkind.

In one sense the views of the Secretary of State for Transport are unique. They bear a strong resemblance to the views that prevailed in 1802—I do not suppose that there was a Secretary of State for Transport in those days —on the part of the member of the Cabinet who was responsible for deciding how many ruts, for example, a stagecoach should have to deal with in travelling from one inn to another. I am sure that the views of that Minister were similar to those of the Secretary of State.

The Government are prepared to spend a great deal of money on roads, but their spending has been directed almost exclusively at motorways. I note that the Minister of State shakes her head in dissent, but motorways have, almost exclusively, been the Government's spending target. Very rarely has Government spending been spread across our road transport system in such a way that local communities have benefited by the building of bypasses, for example. I am glad to note that the hon. Lady's common sense is now reasserting itself. This year there has been the announcement of a change in planning for the coming years. I hope that she will be able to carry out that programme for the remaining two or perhaps two and a half years in which she and her colleagues occupy the Department of Transport. It is probably the team of Ministers whose policies will be least in need of total change when the time comes for the Government to leave office.

I ask the Minister of State to explain to the hon. Member for Teignbridge that transport planning must be based on informed and expert advice. There is nothing wrong with being a transport expert. I know that such experts upset the Secretary of State, but their expertise is useful and should be valued. The fact that the advice of the planners is frequently disregarded in the present climate is no criticism of the experts. Instead, it is a plain and open criticism of Ministers and their way of running the Department.

9.55 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

As a Devonian, I would like briefly to contribute to the debate. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who did an admirable job representing the interests of his constituents. However, there were a few paradoxes in some of his points. He talked about ensuring that the views of local people were taken into account in any decisions on bypasses or other works. I entirely agree with that. There should be full consultation so that people can ensure that they have the road systems that they want, that there is free flow of traffic and that the environmental aspects are acceptable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) also touched on the question of bypasses. The matter is raised often because of the environmental consequences. Many people do not want large lorries rushing through their towns. Being a Devonian, coming originally from Plymouth, I know the Newton Abbot area fairly well.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned traffic management, but that is only one aspect of the skills necessary to ensure that we have the right traffic system. He said that the system in Newton Abbot does not work. However, the other aspect is traffic engineering, which involves the expenditure of money to ensure that there is the right kind of traffic furniture, that roads are dug up, that cables are laid, together with all the other expensive activities associated with ensuring that an area has the right traffic system.

The hon. Gentleman said that the system in Newton Abbot did not work because people in a hurry could not get where they wanted to go. The hon. Gentleman can speak more effectively for the people in his area than I can — indeed, I would not dare to speak for them. But people want consistency of journey time. If people rushing to get to the station know that it will take half an hour, they will allow half an hour. If they hit a bottleneck during the rush hour, that means inconsistency in travel time. People in rural areas are happy to spend a longer time getting to a particular place because they want a good environment. They do not like inconsistency.

The question of bypasses is important. The Minister, from a sedentary position, suggested that a great deal of money is being spent on bypasses. We all know that the bypass programme has suffered considerable delays because of the Government's desire to continue with the motorway programme. They are putting in the large links and ensuring that there is the right motorway infrastructure. We understand that objective. However, the people in the rural areas—and the hon. Gentleman is from a rural area—want bypasses.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman proclaims himself to be a Devonian. As a fellow Devonian, I must tell him that, for the third time, he has completely mispronounced my constituency. If he is saying that there should be a bypass in Teignbridge, perhaps he would help the House by telling us what place he wants bypassed.

Mr. Randall

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not know when this new constituency came into being. I am probably a few years older than the hon. Gentleman, I was born in that part of the country and I am prepared to have a competition on Devonian pronunciation, but that would probably be out of order.

The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he is dissatisified with the road systems in his area, but traffic engineering involves money. Many towns run campaigns — I see them in the Cotswolds—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Mr. Randall

When I travel through the Cotswolds on my way to Westminster each week, I see little notices asking when villages will have a bypass. The Government's rate-capping policy has had a devastating effect on road building programmes. If the hon. Gentleman is unhappy about roads in his area, he should put some pressure on the Treasury and ensure that investment in the road building programme and in traffic engineering and traffic management systems is not restricted.

The Labour party can now claim to be Britain's Green party as well as that which cares for the development of industry. People in rural areas can come to us and be sure that we shall push their case for bypasses and improved road systems.

10.1 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) for raising this subject. I hope that I shall be able to put to rest some of the fears about what is obviously a Devon county council road safety programme, as my hon. Friend mentioned mini-roundabouts.

I am shocked at the lack of knowledge which, in a more crowded Chamber, would have been a further embarrassment to the Leader of the Opposition, that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has displayed. She has not caught up with what has been going on. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if, as well as replying to his debate, I put the hon. Lady on the right road.

Mrs. Dunwoody

How kind.

Mrs. Chalker

I would not want the hon. Lady to be under the illusion from which she is obviously suffering on this subject, in addition to all of her other illusions about transport. I shall not trade in political insults with her, but it would be wrong to let her comments go without correction.

We should all love consistency of journey time, but that matter does not necessarily rest in the hands of transport planners. Transport planning, no matter how good or bad, does not alter the consequences of drivers travelling too close together and having a bump. The real problem about journey time is the behaviour of motorists rather than road engineering.

During the past five years there has been a major effort to involve local people early in the planning of roads. That is especially true of the Department's schemes on main roads. The process is lengthy for bypasses, main roads and special junctions. Quite frequently, the whole route goes out for consultation, as happened with the A41 in Chester. We try to measure local views.

All of that occurs before the scheme is worked up into public orders which are then published for the preferred route. It is at that stage on most of the schemes that we have an opportunity to learn from local people.

The instance my hon. Friend cited tonight about mini-roundabouts in Newton Abbot is not one with which I am familiar because it is not a departmental scheme. I can assure him, however, that I will find out what is going on in Newton Abbot. I have seen a number of other road safety improvement schemes which have deployed mini-round-abouts and in the initial stages they have not always been easy to accept. This is because some other part of the planning which may have worked— and here I agree with every word he said—on the drawing board had not taken the fullest account of the well-imbued habits of the local population in taking short cuts and all the other moves they were accustomed to making in the town.

We have had a number of such instances where for very good reasons, particularly where accident black spots have occurred, mini-roundabouts have been very successful in reducing the number of accidents, particularly those which were simply car bashes and non-injury accidents. That is one of the reasons why we have sought, in the right places, to extend the use of mini-roundabouts. But if it is not working in an area, I hope that the county council will do exactly what the Department has done. If it finds, with a local community, that the scheme is over-stressed in terms of new traffic management, there could be meetings with the local population such as I have had in Reading and other areas round the country, to amend the scheme.

Patterns change in road traffic management as new roads are opened and as habits change, and the council should always be amenable to advice and discussion with the local community. I hope that will happen in Newton Abbot.

The schemes that operate in an area such as Newton Abbot, or anywhere else for that matter, sometimes involve a change of priorities. From time to time one can be critical of the insufficient signing of such a change, because people often drive their cars by instinct and habit, and if one does not strongly impress upon them a changed system of priorities one gets the sort of problems my hon. Friend has rightly described. That would not enhance road safety but might well add to the number of non-injury accidents.

I understand what my hon. Friend was saying about an incomplete system in Newton Abbot. It is right that, wherever possible, we should consult local people and local shopping communities as well as pedestrians and motorists. In most of those schemes that is the responsibility of the local authority, the highway authority, and not my Department.

The House and, indeed, the Government have been watching very carefully what has been going on in recent years in the national road programme. It has been my job for the last three or more years to try to sort out the transport policies and programmes submitted by the highway authorities to determine how much we could give them to assist with their chosen priorities, whether they were bypasses or other road improvements. As well as getting the local programme moving, we have for the whole period—I can vouch for this since I became a Minister at the Department in 1982—given attention to the three aspects of the road programme.

In our 1981 document, in the 1983 road review, the road White Paper and in the 1985 "National Roads England" report, our priority has always been to relieve residential areas, and those that do not need to take heavy traffic, by a full bypass programme. This is not a sudden conversion, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich suggested, and she needs to indulge in a little more reading——

Mrs. Dunwoody

Come, come.

Mrs. Chalker

It is all very well to say "Come, come", but the hon. Lady plainly does not know what she is talking about. Her comments on the bypass programme, motorways and roads renewal were all jumbled up together, and she plainly did not take account of the fact that in 1974 and 1975 the Labour Government completely slowed down renewal on the motorways, and in 1976 stopped it altogether. Yet since 1979, when this Government came to power, expenditure on roads had been extended by more than 30 per cent. in real terms. That is what the hon. Lady gets wrong when she says that we have not programmed the renewal. She talked about fitting it into the overall infrastructure, but in 1984 and 1985 we sought to balance that by agreeing to every capital investment scheme brought to us by British Rail.

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Lady has had her whack, and I wish to put her right. She also said that insufficient had been spent on renewal, but of more than £3.8 billion, £1 billion was spent on renewal. Even adjusted for inflation, that is far more than her Government ever spent. The remaining £2.8 billion has been spent on new construction in the last five or six years. To have completed 171 major schemes and added nearly 500 miles to the national network in response to the increasing, and still increasing, demand for personal road transport has been a feat on which my engineers and staff in the Department of Transport are to be congratulated. There are now more schemes in the programme that are capable of being carried through.

That programme will give the communities their bypasses and will build the roads that will lead to new industrial areas, which will result in economic regeneration. Over the next 10 years, the programme could total some £4 billion. If the hon. Lady is concerned about spending, I suggest that she takes a while to read this report, which details what is happening overall and what is happening scheme by scheme throughout the country.

When she intervened, I thought that she would plead the case of the A52 Barthomley link. That is a scheme that she has been very interested in, but I should like to have seen a little more energy expended by certain other people, because the fact that it is moving along is due to——

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mrs. Chalker

I will give way to the hon. Lady in a minute.

It is because we have pushed hard for that linkage from the M6 across to the hon. Lady's area that this has happened. I know, and she knows, that it was partly because of land difficulties, but that should tell her something. It is not enough to say, "We need a road between two places" and not to observe the great difficulty that can sometimes arise in assembling the land between one place and another before a scheme starts. That is the reason for the length of the programme and the time it takes. We now have a full preparation pool which is a reality, which is being worked upon and which we did not inherit in 1979.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady's energy in pushing the Barthomley link against opposition from the local Conservative county councillors and one or two other people who were determined that we should not have this needy means of conveying goods from my constituency to the M6. But I refute absolutely any suggestion of lack of energy by any of the Labour councillors on Crewe and Nantwich borough council. If she is referring to the Duchy of Lancaster and her colleagues in the Government who have spent over six months talking about this without any obvious attempt to push it forward, I concur with that point of view. The Labour councillors and the Labour representatives on the county council were most anxious to proceed with it. It is unfortunate that others of a different political persuasion did their best to delay it.

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Lady will make any point that she can latch upon in place of facts. It was on the regional annual consultative committee for the north-west, where the county councils from different areas were gathered together in 1982, that this issue was, first raised, not by Labour councillors but by Conservative councillors. We wanted to get on with it. It depended also on the Cheshire county council. While any chairman of highways will bring to my notice schemes that he wants to pursue, I can honestly say that most of the representations I have received in recent years have been from people of my party and of no party. They certainly have not come solely from the hon. Lady or from her party.

Whereas in 1982 we found that local authorities were traditionally underspending on their road programme, we have achieved, in the interest of people who need bypasses and new industrial links something which I did not believe was possible. In 1983–84, the outturn on the road programme was within 1 per cent. of the budget. I was very pleased but quite surprised. However, in 1984–85, we managed to spend to within 0.5 per cent. of the increased budget. Every scheme that is brought forward goes through the statutory processes. This frequently takes far longer than is at first envisaged, because people must have their say and objectors must be freely heard at a public inquiry through an independent inspector. Occasionally it has not been easy to ensure that available resources have been properly programmed and managed.

Those two figures refute the comment of the hon. Lady that the programme was not properly organised and managed. It is exceptional for any Government Department to stay so close to its budget. Another thing that makes me proud to be a Minister in the Department of Transport is that the increased investment which the Government have been able to allocate to road infrastructure and other aspects has been matched by an ever-improving performance from the construction industry. Competitive tendering and improved productivity, plus more effective programme management, have meant that not only have we secured better value for money but we have got a better deal for the taxpayer and the road user. Because the road programme is well developed to a total provision in 1985–86 of £824 million, with schemes ready and waiting to be brought in should any currently expected to start this year fall behind because of statutory procedures or for any other reason, we are doing exactly what is expected by spending £600 million on new construction, which is 5 per cent. in cash terms more than last year. Added to that is £224 million for reconstruction.

Road repairs affect motorists all over the country. The hon. Lady complained about resurfacing being done at this time of year. It was sad to hear the main Labour spokesman on transport show that she does not understand the optimum combination of times at which to do roadworks. It is important to have high night ambient temperatures to allow the materials used to set in the best way. It is necessary to utilise the long daylight hours to the best advantage. It is also necessary to do the work at a time when there may be less rain. That is why we do not proceed with schemes that are time-conscious in June, but leave them until July, when we seek to get them done before the holiday season starts.

The whole programme, whether of renewal of motorways, where we are beginning to catch up with the road renewal that was not done in the 1970s, or of new onstruction, whereby we shall add .100 miles of new road to the national network, of which 65 miles will be trunk road and only 35 miles motorway, mainly the M25, is, by any account, the right way to proceed with our ever car-conscious nation.

One cannot turn one's face against what the people want by way of new roads.

Mrs. Dunwoody

When are the Government going to start?

Mrs. Chalker

That is why we have 295 schemes in preparation. Whatever the hon. Lady may mutter, if we give better value for money and get more work done for the same budget I can only be pleased with the hard work put into the roads programme by the whole Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge referred to the objectives of the policy. Our objectives have always been to serve the provision of roads in three ways. All hon. Members who have spoken have mentioned bypasses. A bypass removes traffic, especially lorries, from places where it has no business, improves the safety of roads and provides industry with more efficient communication. Those are the three objectives of the work.

We are keen to serve industrial needs but also to serve the nation with great sensitivity for the environment by making sure that people have the roads they need. In carrying out those aims we have reached a rate of return of about 11 per cent. on average. That is a highly profitable return for any construction industry.

We are doing well on volume, too. That is one of the better aspects of the improvement that we have managed to carry out over the last five years. I am not complacent. I do not think the programme is yet good enough. We can do more and we can do better.

If we are to provide the national road links for which the Department is responsible, I expect local authorities to abide by the codes of practice and the guidance that the Department has been developing with them. By that means we shall put right the problems at local level to which my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge referred. Those problems are not always understood by engineers who live a long way away. I cannot comment in detail upon the Devon county council scheme, but I shall find out about it and will write to my hon. Friend.

We can be proud of the improvement in the codes of practice. We announced three weeks ago six road schemes in the south-west. Consequently my hon. Friend's concern will be brought to our attention and also to the attention of the county council. As the highways authority, the county council plays a major role. It discusses its priorities with the Department and their links into the national road network.

I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend that the Department is fully aware of the "brother" programmes of the county councils. I hope, too, that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich has learnt tonight just a little about the roads programme. I recommend that she should read "National Roads England 1985". By the time she has finished reading it, she might find that she enjoyed it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Ten o'clock.