asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to publish his next White Paper on roads.
asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he plans to issue a further White Paper on roads policy.
In the spring.
In this winter season, is it not a relevant consideration that major roads should at all times be open and safe for the passage of vehicles? Is the Minister satisfied that emergency gritting should be a grace and favour arrangement by council workmen rather than a contractual condition of their employment?
This is one of the items in our emergency regulations as a matter of essential supplies. The position with salt is difficult, but we are making arrangements to help counties in difficulties, such as Berkshire. I know, too, that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) is concerned about the position in his county.
Is it not a fact that we have not yet debated the last White Paper on the new road programme, and that 10 years and £6,500 million of public expenditure have gone by since the last major debate in the House on the new roads programme? Is that not 10 years too long, and may we have a debate on the new White Paper?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has always been anxious that there should be debates on roads White Papers and I support that view. However, we have to look at the situation in the round, and I do not believe that my hon. Friend's criticisms are justified.
Will the Minister specify what emergency regulations he was referring to a moment ago, because I am sure that the House was a little taken aback by what he said? Road maintenance funds are very low in any case, and some counties are finding it difficult to pay for essential gritting. Surely, for that reason alone, the Minister should be particularly concerned because of the bad weather that we are experiencing and the consequent danger to those travelling on our roads.
I withdraw "emergency regulations" and substitute "priority supplies". On the question of salt and the cost of gritting this year, there have been financial problems because expenditure has been much higher than was expected. However, that is taken into account in the general review of maintenance costs that we undertake each year, and I am sure that this year's problems will also be taken into account.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the West Midlands, and particularly in Birmingham, there has been totally inadequate road maintenance, including gritting, for months because of the continuing dispute between the Tory-controlled district council and the Tory-controlled county council?
I am sure my hon. Friend is right. I have heard him make that point before.
In the preparation of the White Paper, will the Minister bear in mind the neglected needs of the Midlands and especially the fact that the needs of the manufacturing part of the car industry have not been taken into account? Will he also bear in mind the need for manufacturers in Birmingham and other parts of the Midlands to be able to gain access to the coastal ports and assure us that long-term investment, which is important to jobs, will have a high priority in his considerations?
I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said.