HC Deb 08 July 1996 vol 281 cc7-8
5. Sir David Knox

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much has been spent on motorway and major trunk road construction in each of the past three years at constant prices. [34686]

Mr. Watts

At constant 1994–95 prices, £1,479.4 million was spent in 1993–94, £1,459.9 million in 1994–95 and £1,254.2 million in 1995–96. These figures relate to the construction of all trunk motorways and all-purpose trunk roads.

Sir David Knox

In view of the congestion on motorways and major trunk roads, does the Minister agree that those figures fall short of what is required? Is he in a position to tell us the cost to industry of road congestion?

Mr. Watts

There is no absolutely accurate assessment of congestion costs, but many people will have heard the Confederation of British Industry estimate, which is in the range of £18 billion. As to the adequacy of the provision, my hon. Friend will be aware that decisions on priorities for public expenditure are taken by the Government looking at all competing claims in the round. It is the job of the Department of Transport to target the available resources on improving conditions where they most urgently need such improvement.

Mr. Allen

Anyone who gets stuck in congestion on our roads experiences the truth that the Conservatives have slashed central Government spending on road maintenance and new roads by a third, and have savaged local authority spending on the roads programme by a third as well—all to help pay for a puny pre-election bribe. Will the Minister admit to the House, and especially to Conservative Back Benchers queuing up for their bypasses, that the roads programme is a con? It includes 114 schemes, but only one scheme went ahead last year. Instead of such fantasies, will the Minister use his last few months in office to devise an honest roads and maintenance programme and then stick to it, so that the construction industry and drivers may have some certainty about the future?

Mr. Watts

It is easy for the hon. Gentleman to come up with what he calls an honest policy because the Labour party's policy as set out in "Consensus for Change" is to impose a moratorium on new road schemes and to scrap plans to widen the M25.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will write to me and explain how his views on a moratorium square with those of his party leader, who said in a speech on 4 July: Part of our policy will be the upgrading of road and rail".

Mrs. Lait

What percentage of the past three years' spending on motorway construction has been funded by the private finance initiative and what percentage does my hon. Friend expect in the future? Is the Minister simplifying and speeding up PFI procedures so as to provide us with a good, modern road infrastructure?

Mr. Watts

In the past three years there has been little expenditure on "design, build, finance and operate" schemes because they were not in the pipeline. We now have 37 main trunk road schemes in the three tranches of DBFOs, and they will be carried forward much more rapidly using private finance than if they were procured conventionally.