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Road Programme

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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asked the Minister of Transport what is the likely effect of the public expenditure cuts on the road schemes scheduled in the Northern region.

The timing of all schemes in the trunk road construction programme is at present under review. It is not yet possible to say how particular regions will be affected, except in respect of those schemes likely to be ready to start by the summer of 1980 and referred to in the reply given by my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) on Tuesday 4 December 1979. The revised programme will appear in the White Paper on roads policy which will be published as soon as possible after the conclusion of discussions on public expenditure up to 1983–84.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, one week before the by-election in Hertfordshire, his reluctance to give effect to cuts in the road building programme can be understood? Will he take into account, in the compilation of the review, that the Northern region suffers a higher unemployment rate than that of any other part of the country, barring only Northern Ireland? The continuing development of infrastructure is important, and roads play an important part in that.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that giving the go-ahead for the Billingham diversion and the Stockport east-west bypass was not done with the Hertfordshire, South-West by-election in mind. We are made well aware of the dangers of committing public expenditure shortly before by-elections every time we examine the position with regard to the Humber bridge.

What about the Berwick-upon-Tweed bypass, to which all the necessary permission has been given? Is the hon. Gentleman ready to make an early start on that?

I should like to give a 100 per cent. "Yes" to that question. I believe that I can, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman in the next few days and confirm—I hope—the good news.