HC Deb 13 March 1989 vol 149 cc197-209

4.9 am

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

This is not only a god-forsaken hour but one that seems to have been forsaken by my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, whose presence at this debate I expected. I deeply regret his absence. Charitably, I acknowledge that the duties of a Minister are onerous, and charitably I acknowledge that therefore his absence is understandable. However, when I spoke to him between 10 and 11 o'clock there was no indication that he might be absent from this debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Traffic jams."' Yes, such things happen.

Despite all that, I greatly welcome this opportunity to introduce a short debate—or, more accurately, a short dialogue—on the theme of capital allocation and spending on roads in Hampshire. Were my hon. Friend the Minister present, he would have noted that my interest in that theme has become a little more marked. I do not apologise for raising the subject again. Far from it—I am glad of the opportunity, for such opportunities do not often come the way of Back Benchers and are not to be overlooked.

Despite the lateness of the hour, and despite the fact that I have raised the subject with my hon. Friend on other occasions, I am unrepentant at doing so again because it is one of supreme importance. My broad theme is addressed to the circumstances in which the county of Hampshire finds itself, but I suspect that they are not wildly different from those found in other counties in the south of England.

One may consider first the background to the predicament in which Hampshire finds itself. It is obvious that infrastructure investment—not least in roads—must be seen and assessed as part of the overall strategy of any Government's economic policies. The Government, whom I support so strongly, have an overall policy strategy that seeks to give dominance to market forces. The Government believed that economic recovery and regeneration would come through giving market forces—I say good evening to my hon. Friend the Minister—the fullest expedient rein.

The Government believe also that economic recovery and regeneration has been brought about in that way, and I accept that proposition. The Government have always argued also that market forces would generate economic activity, which would be a catalyst for national economic recovery. Again, that argument is one that I accept. It follows that the Government have always acknowledged that there would be regional differences in the rate of economic regeneration. They argued that the south of England, including Hampshire—which has for a variety of reasons avoided in general the worst of recession and has a higher level of economic activity than other parts of the country—would act as a catalyst for economic regeneration in other parts of the country. The Government argue that, that is happening, which I also accept.

The Government further argue that despite recession and a lower level of economic activity nationally in their earlier years of office than was desirable, an acceptable level of infrastructure investment, especially in roads, has been maintained. In the 1983 general election campaign, for example, the Government proclaimed a 100 per cent. cash terms increase in local authority capital expenditure on roads compared with 1979. The election campaign guide proclaimed a real terms 12 per cent. increase in capital spending on motorways and trunk roads since 1979, and a total real terms increase in roads spending of 17 per cent.

The 1987 campaign guide proclaimed a 30 per cent. real terms increase in capital expenditure on motorways and trunk roads since 1979, and a 30 per cent. increase in Government grant for local authority capital spending on roads. As recently as the last Autumn Statement, the Chancellor declared that infrastructure investment would increase yet further because of continuing economic recovery. He spoke of an extra £220 million being spent on roads in 1989–90 and an extra £250 million in the following year, and proclaimed that £3 billion would be spent on roads within the next three years.

If Hampshire could look to a fair share of that increased investment, there would be no need for tonight's debate. Hampshire's experience is diametrically opposed to the broad national figures of which the Government boast. By any criterion Hampshire has been and is a county of growth, whether we measure that growth in terms of population, housebuilding, industrial and commercial development, job creation or the creation of wealth. Arguably it has done more than its fair share—if we can talk in those terms—of generating economic activity from which the rest of the country can benefit. All that has inevitably resulted in increased traffic. It might be reasonable to assume that there has been a corresponding and fully justified increase in the county's infrastructure investment, not least in roads, but the reverse is the case.

My hon. Friend the Minister may recall his answers to my written questions on 2 March—column 292 of Hansard—and 3 March—columns 341 to 343. Hampshire county council has not been over-greedy or over-ambitious in its bids for allocations for capital expenditure on roads. In most years since 1979, at today's prices, it has bid for between £18 million and £20 million. In 10 years it has once exceeded £21 million—again at today's prices—and it has twice bid less than £18 million. There has been a broad consistency in its applications.

On the other hand—this is the galling reality—the county is about to enter its sixth successive year of real terms decrease in capital allocation. Allocation for spending on Hampshire's roads reached its height in 1984–85. Allocation in that year, in todays' prices, was £19,200,000. It dropped by 6.4 per cent. in 1985–86, by a further 2.6 per cent. in 1986–87 and by no less than a further 17.1 per cent. in 1987–88. In 1988–89 it fell by a further staggering 24 per cent., and is due to drop by another 6 per cent. in the financial year that is about to start. A capital allocation of more than £19 million at today's prices in 1984–85 will become a capital allocation of £10 million next year. The county has to accept that, despite the economic growth that it has witnessed and the economic activity that it has generated, for six years there has been a continuing decrease in capital expenditure on the county's roads because of central Government restraint.

Meanwhile Hampshire's roads have been used more and more, well above the increase in the national average for traffic, because Hampshire is a success story. The wealth and economic activity of the county is increasing and the traffic is increasing. The national traffic levels have increased by about 25 per cent. on average in the past six years. The figures for Hampshire vary in different parts of the county, but where development and expansion have been greatest the rate of increase in the volume of traffic has been phenomenal. The M3 passes through my constituency at Basingstoke where there has been an increase of about 95 per cent. in the past six years.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced increased investment in roads nationally of £220 million next year and £225 million the following year, reaching £3 billion over three years. Hampshire will not benefit from that next year. Experience leads the county to be extremely cynical about the following years.

I shall now make some local observations. All hon. Members representing Hampshire constituencies can recite their own catalogue of concern and disquiet about roads in their constituencies. I shall select just two. The A33 from Reading to Basingstoke is a nightmare, and increasingly a death trap. The road links two of the most industrially and commercially active towns in the country. The volume of traffic multiplies each year. The present road is lamentably and dangerously inadequate. Hampshire county council rightly seeks to construct a new dual-carriageway A33. Restraints on spending mean that nothing can be done for several years. There are between four and six fatalities per year on that road and the fatality rate is increasing. It is possible that between 30 and 50 people will die on that road before Hampshire county council can find the capital to build the new dual carriageway. That is simply monstrous.

Another example is the A30, which crosses the Basingstoke ring road or the A339, at what is known as the Black Dam roundabout, east of Basingstoke. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall our past exchanges on that subject. The Department of Transport is the highway authority for that part of Basingstoke's road network. Whatever may emerge from district and county or district or county initiatives, the present situation should never have arisen. There can be few clearer instances of under-investment in the roads of Hampshire than what now happens at what is effectively exit 6 of the M3. The danger factor increases monthly with the volume of traffic. Repairs currently being carried out on the M3 only aggravate an already intolerable situation. Basingstoke district council has an exemplary record of sensible and sustainable growth. Basingstoke has been a magnificent success story. Hampshire county council has much to boast about. In sharp contrast the refusal of the Department of Transport to do anything other than carry out cosmetic improvements speaks for itself.

I somewhat mischievously invite my hon. Friend to find time in his busy schedule one day to get into a car with me, drive down the M4 from London, take exit 11 at Reading down to Basingstoke and travel down the A33, roughly between a quarter to eight and a quarter past eight in the morning. If he accepts that invitation I will arrange for him to be shown a video of what was happening at Black Dam roundabout while we were doing that journey so that he will have personal experience of the traffic in one small part of the county of Hampshire.

Perhaps that is enough of purely Basingstoke concerns. The theme of the debate is further afield than just Basingstoke.

Recently I have been in correspondence with the county surveyor, Mr. A W Jacomb. I want to put firmly on the record my appreciation of his co-operation and kindness, and the high regard in which he is held by Hampshire Members of Parliament. The county surveyor has drawn to my attention another bone of contention—the transport supplementary grant criteria. The simple truth is that Hampshire is far from happy with its experience, perception and understanding of the working of the transport supplementary grant. The county argues that the grant works counter to its interests in a number of ways.

First, the county argues that the implementation of the review of the national primary route network has had disadvantageous TSG implications for Hampshire. In the circumstances created by the review of the national primary route network two years ago, the county council formulated a strategy based on the uncompleted spinal system of motorways in the county, a supporting trunk road system and a relatively small number of county roads. The county sought by that strategy to direct long distance traffic on to an appropriate road network. The county specifically sought to avoid the environmentally sensitive parts of the county road system.

The result has been that the county is receiving an unacceptably low allocation for county primary routes. It regards that state of affairs as intolerable. The county believes that the TSG criteria are biased against such a responsible overall county strategy, incorporating not just motorways and trunk roads but that small number of county roads.

Secondly, the county is deeply cynical about the implementation of the principle of more than local importance when seeking capital allocation for county roads. That principle seems in practice to work disadvantageously for Hampshire. Much of the coastline of Hampshire is urbanised. The linking road system forms part of the county primary network. The traffic flow on the road system of the urbanised coast route often far exceeds the flow of traffic on many national primary routes. The county's argument is that those routes should be given particular consideration as links to the national primary network, but that argument has been disregarded by the Department of Transport. The county's experience is that bids for capital allocation for such roads do not obtain TSG support.

Thirdly, the county believes that the TSG criteria insufficiently take into account development within the county, and especially the south Hampshire and the north-east Hampshire structure plans. The Department of the Environment tells the county council that it must foster economic growth, that it must revitalise older urban areas, that it must accommodate new development, that it must conserve the countryside. The county planners seek to do this, but without significant investment by the highway authority, it is impossible—and Government restraints do not permit this expenditure.

I have presented my argument. Because of the growth and development that Hampshire has witnessed, and the consequent increase in the volume of traffic, the county council needs a greater capital allocation for expenditure on roads and a greater transport supplementary grant. The county looks to the Government, and in particular to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, for a positive response.

4.31 am
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on taking another opportunity to raise the subject of roads in Hampshire. As he half indicated, he spends his time as a master of fox hounds with me as the fox. That is perfectly reasonable, of course, since as junior Minister at the Department of Transport I have to do all that I can to improve highways and to help highway users in England to protect the environment. In that respect, there are few areas more important than Hampshire. I must also do all that I can to reduce casualties—about which we have had various debates and questions this parliamentary day—and to allow for economic growth and cope with its consequences.

My hon. Friend acknowledged that infrastructure improvements—the things that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I would refer to as roads, bridges and railway lines—have enabled his part of Hampshire to grow at a rate substantially greater than that of the country as a whole, and to enjoy even the times of recession in Britain.

Indeed, Basingstoke and the areas around it have been showing the way towards a modern Britain. Large numbers of people, large numbers of vehicles, both domestic and commercial, and more movement have led to pressure on the roads in Hampshire and in other parts of the country. I shall pass over the dilemma of whether we should put extra money into the provision of more even economic growth across the country, or whether it is necessary to cope more adequately with those areas where pressure on the roads is greatest. Some areas would love to have the problems that my hon. Friend has described.

My hon. Friend and the House will understand if I interleave my remarks about Hampshire with comments about the country as a whole. It is well known to the county surveyor of Hampshire—and, I hope, to county councillors—that capital receipts must be taken into account when deciding how much the 107 highway authorities in England should have for expenditure on roads. I am delighted to be informed that in the last financial year Hampshire county council's spending power from receipts exceeded that of any other county council. I am sure that that is a reflection of good husbandry on the part of the county council, but I am not certain that those who provide information to councillors in Hampshire necessarily put that point at the top of their list. The ability to use capital receipts, or a portion of them, is one of those arcane mysteries that one comes across occasionally when people are making their points in public.

Some elements of the local authority capital control system are changing. The situation in the future may not be so good as I claim—I do not have perfect foresight—but in general the previous system had worse implications for counties than for areas governed by certain other types of authority. Government have been unable to make a total distinction between local authorities with substantial capital receipts, which tend to be the housing authorities, and those such as the highway authorities and the counties which have expensive capital requirements for roads.

My hon. Friend will recognise that for 1989–90 the capital allocations for roads, as for all other services, have been set lower than provision to take account of total local authority receipts across all services, including council housing sales. The spending power of local authorities from capital receipts in 1989–90—which my hon. Friend refers to as "next year" and which I refer to as "next month", which makes it sound closer—is expected to amount to more than £4.6 billion, an increase of about 30 per cent. All local authorities, including the shire counties, will have more than they have for the current year. We are talking about a spending power for each local authority in the forthcoming month, or the year that starts next month, which will be higher than that for the current year. I am not sure that that information was totally clear from my hon. Friend's speech, but it was implied in his comments.

In setting capital allocations, the law does not allow account to be taken of the distribution of capital receipts between authorities. Most local authorities responsible for highways have below average ratios of receipts to total capital expenditure programmes and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the system has had a particularly inhibiting effect on roads expenditure. That has influenced authorities to underspend their provision. It is for each authority to decide on which services its capital receipts are to be used. No highway authority is without capital receipts to top up its roads allocations.

As my hon. Friend knows—the House will want to welcome this—proposals for a new system for regulating local government capital finance were published by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in July 1988. Last month the Local Government and Housing Bill was laid before the House. Part IV of that Bill contains proposals arising from last year's consultation and provides for a fairer system to be introduced for 1990–91. There are two key features. First, central Government control will be reduced from control over the extent of capital spending to control on the use of borrowing and Exchequer grants for capital purposes. Account will be taken of each authority's access to capital receipts. That last point should be good news for most highway authorities and for Hampshire, although it will be relatively less good news for Hampshire than for other authorities because of its existing position in terms of capital receipts. Secondly, the funding of local roads and transport capital programmes will be put on a clearer, more logical basis. Local authorities will retain full responsibility for determining their road and transport programmes.

Transport supplementary grant provides central Government support for local authority capital expenditure on roads of more than local importance. The criteria and guidance for TSG go out for consultation to local authorities and I am sure that Hampshire, like other local authorities, will put its view forward when that process takes place again in the current year. However, the responses from the local authorities, together with the associations, will have to be taken into account, along with the representations that I am sure will be made by Hampshire directly.

Grant is paid on the local authority's estimates of future expenditure at a flat rate of 50 per cent. Each local highway authority puts forward an annual transport policy and programme submission setting out its expenditure proposals for the next financial year. The 1989–90 TPPs include a proposal for expenditure of £690 million on schemes that the submitting authorities consider appropriate for TSG support. The Secretary of State is required to determine how much of each authority's proposed expenditure he will accept for grant. In doing so, the main factors to be taken into account are whether expenditure is on a road of more than local importance, the extent to which it would provide value for money and benefit traffic, its benefit to the community, industry and commerce, road safety and the environment.

Distribution of TSG is not based on a pre-determined formula. If it were, no local authority would receive extra when it has extra need and it could almost be included in rate support grant. Authorities could spend from current funds rather than relying on TSG to provide significant extra help. When a scheme is named for TSG, it carries with it a capital allocation to enable the local authority to borrow the rest of the money. In effect, having a scheme accepted for 50 per cent. funding by TSG allows the local authority to carry out work and solves the financial problems in getting a road scheme agreed.

Roads of more than local importance include not only roads on the primary network but bypasses, roads relieving communities of the effects of through traffic and links with motorways. The 1989–90 total for TSG is £204 million—an increase of nearly 7 per cent. on the current year. If TSG increases more than that capital allocation provision, the amount of capital allocation remaining available to highway authorities decreases. I do not remember during last year's consultations a local authority or an association of local authorities saying that it would prefer the TSG element of the capital allocation to be reduced.

Not all requests for grant can be met. There is competition for grant among authorities' programmes. That helps to ensure that grant support is concentrated on schemes which offer the greatest benefit. Some 61 new schemes have been accepted for TSG in 1989–90, 17 of which will directly assist inner-city areas. I make that point because although I am about to deal with Hampshire—we must recognise that in the past some areas have not received the attention that they should have. If it is possible to help to regenerate inner-city areas, some of the enormous pressure for continued economic growth in areas such as Basingstoke and Hampshire will be relieved.

If some of the figures that I am about to give do not appear reconcilable with those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, it is probably because I am not putting the case across in the clearest way. It might be sensible for Hampshire's county surveyor to take up detailed points with the regional office of the Department of Transport. I suspect that they will be able to agree facts, even though my hon. Friend and I may be putting some of the totals differently.

Hampshire's capital allocation for roads for1989–90 is nearly £11 million, which is a 4 per cent. increase on last year. Nationally, the average is a 2 per cent. decrease. I make that point gently, not because it is a significant cash increase for Hampshire but to compare it with the cut for the rest of the country. Hampshire's TSG for 1989–90 will be more than £4.8 million, which is a 17 per cent. increase. The national average is an increase of 7 per cent. Instead of a 7 per cent. increase, Hampshire is receiving an increase of 17 per cent., and instead of a cut of 2 per cent in capital allocation, which includes TSG, it is receiving an increase of 4 per cent.

Mr. Hunter

On capital allocation, it will be necessary for the county council and my hon. Friends' officials to consult further, but my clear understanding of his answer to my written question about a week ago, to which I referred in my speech, is directly opposed to the answer that he has just given. The matter therefore needs to be pursued in far greater detail.

Mr. Bottomley

I am sure that that is right. The difference may be between real terms and cash terms.

The change in transport supplementary grant—the 17 per cent. increase—has occurred despite an adjustment because of underspending against agreed TSG-supported programmes in previous years. An adjustment for underspending is not a penalty or a criticism. No highway authority, whether it be the Department of Transport nationally, which cares for 4 per cent. of roads, or the local highway authorities, which care for 96 per cent., can programme precisely what spending will take place in any one year. It depends on statutory procedures, the weather and a multitude of other factors.

The transport supplementary grant total for Hampshire includes continued support for six major schemes, including the Portswood to Swaythling bypass costing more than £10 million. I had better give the next figure quietly because other hon. Members may start to say, "What about us?" The Blackwater valley route is now estimated to cost more than £43 million. I am aware that the Blackwater valley route is a road shared with Surrey and is geographically on the boundary of Hampshire, rather than providing help for the centre of Hampshire which for the purposes of todays debate I regard as my hon. Friend's constituency. To be able to continue work on a £43 million scheme, or even a £10 million scheme, involves quite a lot of road and quite a lot of money.

Support has been included for one new major scheme—stage two of the Totton western bypass. Hampshire's capital allocation for 1989–90 is the sixth highest of all shire counties and the 10th highest of all 108 highway authorities. I seem to have miscounted previously. If I continue my speech much longer, the total may reach 110. The more serious point is that Hampshire's capital allocation is the 10th highest of all local highway authorities. Hampshire is a major highway authority and a major county.

Mr. Hunter

It is the largest county.

Mr. Bottomley

As my hon. Friend says, it is the largest county even without the Isle of Wight. The high estimated capital expenditure on roads in the future, especially on the Blackwater valley route, is likely to keep Hampshire near the top of the league.

Those points do not deal with my hon. Friend's underlying problem—what is to happen to the A33, the Reading-Basingstoke road. He rightly points to the fact that increased traffic is bringing increased danger. He has also made the point that he is not concerned only about county roads. He referred, too, to the Black Dam roundabout and asked whether the Department's grant criteria had a bias against Hampshire.

I shall deal with the third point first because it is the easiest. There is no bias against Hampshire in the transport supplementary grant criteria. If there were, it would not be the year for any county surveyor in Hampshire to make the point because a 17 per cent. increase in transport supplementary grant when the rest of the country has 7 per cent. suggests that any bias is working in favour of Hampshire rather than against it. For any good politician, which the county surveyor may be, or any good honorary county surveyor, which my hon. Friend the politician may be, it is better to start striking early for future provision, as Hampshire will be able to use money to great advantage.

My hon. Friend came to the Department and put me right on a number of issues. I pay tribute to his past attention to the road needs of Hampshire as well as to the other needs of his constituency. I understood that the work on the A33 Reading-Basingstoke road was not expected to start before 1992. I am not sure to what extent the county has programmed in relation to the expected availability of funds and to what extent in relation to the planning, design and statutory processes that it would have to go through before it could expect to start the work. For the purposes of this debate, it is perhaps not particularly important that I should know. What matters is that the county should have the expectation of being able to obtain the funds reasonably close to the time at which it needs them. One of the advantages of our present transport policies and programme system, and of the transport supplementary grant system, is that most authorities can gain access to money when they are nearly ready to start a road. In general, we try to help highway authorities with roads when they plan to start to spend significant sums in the subsequent financial year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke referred to the Black Dam roundabout. The Department would like to cope with some of the problems as soon as possible. On another occasion my hon. Friend pointed to the doubling of the local work force that is forecast over the coming two or three years. It is important that the district and county councils should keep the Department's regional office informed of developments because significant increases in occupied offices in the area will contribute more significantly to congestion than it would in other areas, where there is no direct link between the use of offices and road access. We hope to make small-scale improvements in the roundabout, which we hope will ease traffic congestion in future. We shall also be looking for a more long-term scheme, to be added to the national programme when that can be justified. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and I agree on what needs to be done, but we shall have to try to sort out the timing of a long-term scheme to relieve congestion.

My hon. Friend engagingly invited me to go for a long drive with him. I am not sure whether to accept. I do not want to commit myself until I know the standard of his driving. One of my troubles is that by nature, and because of my responsibilities, I do not exceed the speed limit, so I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his tolerance of my arriving slightly late for the debate. Even at this time of the morning, I try to drive well within the speed limit. I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall continue to use my eyes as I drive through Hampshire, and my ears when I am within range of my hon. Friend. I shall also try to continue to help his part of Hampshire to cope better with traffic needs.

Without making too many partisan points, I should point out that it is important to have a road network which complements the country's public transport and rail network. We expect the railways to continue to contribute to the country's economic future, although we understand that it is no longer axiomatic—as it was for the first two years during which I was responsible for roads—that a new rail proposal will be welcomed with open arms. Privately, I think that the reason why Jonathon Porritt is to retire as director of Friends of the Earth is that whereas some people who regarded themselves as Friends of the Earth said during my first two years, "Never build a road—always build a railway," when a railway was proposed this time it was not the Friends of the Earth who leapt into public print to say "Don't worry about a railway—it's good for you." I am not sure that the railways in question were welcomed with open arms in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) any more than they were in my constituency of Eltham.

It is right to have roads which meet the needs of people who now have access to cars. It is not complacent to say that we shall never be able to cope with all the potential demand for people driving into inner and central London as car commuters but that it should be possible to cope with congestion in most other parts of the country most of the time. More people now have cars than ever before. During the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister since 1979, the proportion of adult women with driving licences has increased from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent., and it will go on increasing to 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. Since 1979, the proportion of retired people with driving licences has increased from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent., and it will go on increasing, as the age curve moves forward, to 50 per cent., 60 per cent. and 70 per cent.

I see no reason why women, pensioners and people who may have been categorised as ethnic minorities should not be able to use the roads in the same way that white middle-class men have been able to do for generations. Part of the democracy of transport is to say that, whatever one's background, sex or age, anyone who can drive reasonably safely can share the roads, although if all the car drivers get their cars out of the garage at the same time and try to drive in the same area they may have a greater opportunity to listen to local radio for a longer time than they otherwise might.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

The Minister cannot possibly be suggesting that all car drivers would get into their cars at the same time. He must acknowledge that, even though more women are acquiring driving licences and may be becoming car owners, for most of their lives the majority of women are still more dependent on public transport. Although he has again acknowledged that there are limits to car use in the city, when we are talking about a county as close to London as Hampshire it is important to recognise that we cannot keep building roads in counties such as Hampshire and allow all the increased volume of traffic to go into London.

There is a difference between the hon. Gentleman's and my party's policies on roads in London. As he knows, Opposition Members believe that there is no reason to justify major new road schemes in London. That point applies to other parts of the country, too, particularly the south-east and the traffic generated in the capital where restraint is undoubtedly necessary and will be more necessary in future.

Mr. Bottomley

As the county elections approach, it will be interesting to see the number of county council wards in Hampshire and other places in the south-east in which the Labour party puts up candidates.

Ms. Ruddock


Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Lady says, "Everywhere." We shall see, but I believe that there is an informal alliance between the Labour party and the Social and Liberal Democrats or the SDP in parts of Hampshire.

Mr. Hunter

And in Basingstoke.

Mr. Bottomley

And in Basingstoke, too. The hon. Lady has contributed well to the debate. We must remember that, as the county council season approaches, people will put themselves forward to join the highway authority, which is what the county council will be. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke will tell the House whether the Labour party intends to stand down for the remaining parts of the alliance, or whether the alliance will stand down for the remaining parts of the Labour party.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

What about Durham?

Mr. Bottomley

That is rather a long way from the nominated subject for debate.

Ms. Ruddock

As the Minister tempts me into making party political points, he must acknowledge that, of taxes raised through road funds, the proportion spent on roads was close to 35 per cent. when Labour left office in 1979. I understand that it has now fallen to 25 per cent. The Minister cannot suggest that in general the Labour party has been less committed to investment in and expenditure on roads. None of our county council election candidates would have any difficulty in making the case that they have been committed and will continue to be committed to road matters. As the Minister knows full well, my point related to London.

Mr. Bottomley

If I can stop when I get to London rather than going further north on this occasion—

Ms. Ruddock


Mr. Bottomley

I would rest by saying that we spend on roads roughly what is raised by vehicle excise duty. The argument that we do not spend all that we raise on taxation on fuel on roads would be a fair point. Hypothecation—which is one of those polysyllabic words that means spending the money raised on things from which the money comes—was a principle that was dropped 51 years ago. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) can probably confirm that. I do not believe that it applies any more to alcohol duty than it does to petrol duty. If it is Labour party policy that all the money raised on the combined tax on fuel and on vehicle excise duty should be spent on roads, I am not sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has approved that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Deptford could consider that matter with her right hon. Friend.

Mr. Hunter

More than 51 years ago, the window tax was never spent on windows.

Mr. Bottomley

I grant that point to my hon. Friend.

I shall pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Deptford about London. If the Labour party is saying that it will never spend any money on roads in London, that is not the point. The hon. Lady has conceded that we should spend some money on some roads in London. The question is what sort of roads. I am grateful that, as a constituency Member of Parliament, I managed to persuade the Labour Greenwich council and the GLC to put forward proposals for the Rochester way relief road.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I remind the Minister that we are dealing with capital allocation for roads in Hampshire. Perhaps he will refer to the subject under debate.

Ms. Ruddock

We got carried away.

Mr. Bottomley

I apologise for being led down the garden path by the hon. Member for Deptford, who is continuing an invitation that she extended to me at Question Time today.

I shall return to the capital allocation for Hampshire. I hope that it will be possible for the Labour party to play a greater part in the local politics of Hampshire. It would reduce the chances of the Social and Liberal Democrats or the Social Democrats winning as many seats as they might otherwise win. I hope that the Labour party's reinvolvement in Hampshire will be echoed in Surrey, in the Isle of Wight and in the other counties where at one stage it slipped to about 2.4 per cent. of the popular vote. With the capital allocation in Hampshire, I believe that local politics would be enhanced by that greater participation. If it meant that the local Labour party started to vote at Labour party conferences on the sort of matters that concern people in Hampshire—such as roads, a sensible defence policy and other important issues—that would be good for politics in Britain.

Ms. Ruddock

What about railways in Kent?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke did not raise the question of railways in Kent. Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to return to the points that my hon. Friend made.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced an increase in road spending. As my hon. Friend said, most of that will go on national roads. I give a warning that if the people tendering for roads decide to put their prices up they will not get a steady programme in the future. The person who wrote the second editorial in the New Civil Engineer misinterpreted what the Department was saying, is saying and will say in the future. It would be much easier for us to release a fairly steady work load if the contractors put forward fairly steady prices. We shall not go back to the sort of budgeting of the last Labour Government who between 1975 and 1979 had to halve new national spending on new national roads in real terms. We are not that kind of Government. We are willing to take the hard decision, even if it means disappointing some of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke for a time. It matters that we should keep the national finances under control and spend more money on capital investment than on current subsidies. We expect to see a 40 per cent. increase in the money available for the national roads programme during the next two years of the public expenditure survey period, and we expect to have a more sensible system of local government capital spending so that counties such as Hampshire can spend the kind of money that they need.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The Minister said that contractors should not expect to put in tenders at the same prices. That is interesting. From the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee a week ago, it is clear that his Department is relying on a recession in this country so that tender prices will drop. That is the significance of the Minister's remarks and of the evidence given to the PAC.

Mr. Bottomley

It would not be proper for me to anticipate the conclusions that the PAC will reach in its report following the attendance of the permanent secretary. The point that I was seeking to make about the New Civil Engineer is that officials gave clear advice to Ministers and Ministers took the decision. I am in no sense trying to do the work of the PAC—that would not be proper—but it is perfectly reasonable for me to point out that whoever supplied the information to the New Civil Engineer did not understand or did not listen when questions were answered about how the Department's budget would be spent. Ministers took a clear decision on whether the new capital programme or the capital reconstruction should carry the load. When second leaders in the New Civil Engineer—not an earth-shaking event, although I pay tribute to the magazine's general role—put on the accounting officer a responsibility taken by Ministers, and accuse Department officials of not understanding what they understood perfectly well and put to us in a way that we understood perfectly well, it is right to put the record straight. I wish that the rest of the press would occasionally report the words of Ministers when they praise the work of civil servants for giving clear, non-partisan advice rather than saying that the Civil Service has been politicised or is incompetent. I note that the Press Gallery is not full—not that one ought to notice even if it were.

My lion. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has rightly drawn attention to the fact that a highway authority, especially Hampshire, could spend more money to great advantage. We are moving towards a system whereby counties such as Hampshire will be able to do just that. My hon. Friend says that Hampshire has been badly done by. I have done what I can to refute that in a friendly way. Hampshire has had more capital receipts available than other highway authorities and has had a greater increase in transport supplementary grant, although I accept that the free capital allocation is not so great as it would otherwise have been.

There were some points of difference on detail and number and I will ensure that the regional office gets in contact with the county surveyor of Hampshire to see if there is an irreconcilable difference that my hon. Friend and I should sort out. If it turns out that I have given any incorrect figures, I shall say so as soon as I can.

The residents of Basingstoke are well served by my hon. Friend. I hope that it will be possible to move forward with the transport supplementary grant system in such a way that my hon. Friend and Hampshire will be satisfied with the criteria and with the outcome and that unnecessary congestion, casualties and inhibitions on economic growth will be removed by sensible improvements to national and county road networks.