asked the Minister of Transport how much has been spent on new road construction in the past two years; and how much he anticipates will be spent in 1979–80 at constant prices.
Expenditure on trunk and local roads in England was £544 million in 1977–78 and £516 million in 1978–79. I expect £562 million to be spent in 1979–80. All these figures are at 1979 survey prices.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite the improvement in the current year, we do not spend enough on new road construction? Does he agree that if we are to have an efficient and internationally competitive economy we should spend a higher proportion of total public expenditure on new road construction?
No part of transport expenditure can be immune from the present financial situation and the need to achieve constraints in public expenditure, but road programmes can have a part to play in the revival of our industrial manufacturing economy. We have maintained spending this year, and, indeed, we are slightly increasing it because we are not falling so far short of our plans as the previous Government always did.
Does the Minister agree that, while he may be right to give some priority to new road construction, the condition of thousands of miles of existing roads in Britain leaves a great deal to be desired? Is he further aware that the backlog is mounting, and that it could be decades before we catch up?
I do not agree that conditions are as bad as the hon. Gentleman claims, but I accept that many local authorities are not in a position to make economies on road maintenance and we therefore have to reflect that fact in the balance of resources distributed to the remainder of the transport programme. We have shifted some resources from trunk road building to trunk road maintenance because of the need to get maintenance on the faster roads with heaviest traffic up to the required standard.