asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the urgent need to render the road system of England fit for modern traffic conditions and defence needs, he will call a conference of Departmental Ministers and outside advisers to decide upon the minimum programme of road works which must be carried out forthwith in the national interest.
I have been asked to reply. No, Sir. Existing arrangements provide full opportunities for consultation on these matters and the roads programme falls to be determined under the normal Government machinery for apportioning shares in the national investment programme among the many competing claims on it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister regrets that, in present circumstances, it is not possible to allocate to the roads as large a share as we all should wish.
Is the Lord President aware that, thanks to Government neglect, the road system in this country is very rapidly becoming a very poor bag of physical assets?
I appreciate the point, though I think the hon. Member puts it in a rather partisan manner. It is, of course, typical of the Opposition that they are urging the Government to increase public expenditure and, at the same time, in the country, are denouncing the Government for spending money.
Is it not a fact that in a few years' time it will cost many millions of pounds to repair our roads? Is not this a most foolish economy?
I am an ex-Minister of Transport. I appreciate the point, but capital expenditure, at this time, must be undertaken with a sense of relativity. A few days ago, the Opposition were demanding that all the national capital resources should be spent on housing. Today, they are demanding that now the national resources should be spent on the roads.
Within the total amount of Government expenditure, which should not be exceeded, is there not room for some re-allocation of expenditure as between one Department and another?
I should be charmed if I were allowed to be a privileged spectator of the noble Lord, in a Government economic committee, allocating these various claims on the national resources. I should have a most amusing time.