§ 4. Mr. Speller
asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on the level of local authority expenditure on road maintenance.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
Provision for local authority expenditure on road maintenance in 1985–86 is £972 million, 15 per cent. more than the level of provision two years earlier. I expect authorities to spend that sum. I shall be announcing the provision for 1986–87 very shortly, at the time of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's autumn statement.
§ Mr. Speller
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Government on the increase in spending, but do they realise that rural and local roads are, in many cases, more important than motorways to those of us in the backwoods? Will the Government continue to spend more on providing easy access to the motorways for those of us who currently do not have that advantage?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but regret that I cannot give him the answer that he seeks. I am very well aware that the geography of the south-west means that the relatively few lines of road communication are vital for its economic health. We are increasing the number of those road lines by constructing an entirely new road, the north Devon link. As hon. Members know, we are doing everything that we can to relieve the main bottleneck of the A30.
§ Mr. Cartwright
What is the Minister's response to last July's report of the National Audit Office suggesting that the backlog of motorway maintenance will take seven years to complete, that spending on trunk roads maintenance is less then half of what is needed, and that additional investment now will produce savings in future?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I should be delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will tell him tomorrow, but it is not my job to do so. There has been a 15 per cent. increase during the past few years. If that had been combined with all local and highway authorities producing the efficiency that they are now achieving with our programme, there would have been an even greater benefit.
We have great scope for achieving better value for money from road maintenance. The Audit Commission is just beginning a major study in that very area. I very much welcome that, because we can then achieve even better value for money.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Is my hon. Friend aware that the substructure of rural roads has been allowed to break up as a result of the illegal target system imposed by the Government on local authorities and an inadequate level of TPP? Therefore, will it not require more than a 15 per cent. increase to bring the roads back to their proper condition? It is the destruction of the substructure, rather than damage to the surface, that must be repaired now, and 15 per cent. will not do the job.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am sure my hon. Friend will remember that the Select Committee on Transport recommended a 10 per cent. increase in real terms in provision. As I said, that matter will be dealt with tomorrow.
I am very well aware that it is important to make the sort of provision that will deter further deterioration. That is exactly what we have done by producing the code of good practice for local authorities, and we shall continue to encourage them to do the very things that my hon. Friend has requested.
§ Mr. Haynes
The Secretary of State is a disaster, although the Minister of State is all right—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sexist".]—The Secretary of State has plenty to say here, so why does he not open his mouth during Cabinet meetings at No. 10 and obtain money for road maintenance?
Is the Minister aware that police and local authority reports state that bad road maintenance contributes more than anything else to road accidents?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The hon. Gentleman is not being his customary self. My right hon. Friend is an excellent Secretary of State.
I cannot, for the reasons that I have already given, answer the hon. Gentleman's question. He has not drawn the right conclusion. If all drivers kept within the speed 301 limits and observed what was happening on the roads, rather than thinking of other matters, there would be fewer accidents.
We shall continue to put forward the necessary resources for necessary road maintenance. I have every confidence that that will happen.