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Infrastructure (Expenditure)

Volume 114: debated on Monday 6 April 1987

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the increase in capital spending on transport infrastructure in real terms since 1982.

Capital spending on transport infrastructure is expected to show an increase of 16 per cent in real terms in 1987–88 over 1982–83.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that very important figure should be publicised, given the myths that are being perpetrated on the Opposition Benches about the extent of the Government's increase in infrastructure expenditure? Can my right hon. Friend tell us how that compares with the wasteful expenditure that one sometimes gets on things such as subsidies?

My right hon. Friend is, of course, right. I recall so many times in the past his arguments for a better quality and increased pattern of capital expenditure by the state. On my right hon. Friend's specific point, as opposed to the 16 per cent. increase in transport infrastructure capital expenditure in real terms, subsidies are down by 31 per cent. in real terms.

Does the Secretary of State agree that investment in freight facilities is an important part of the infrastructure, not least if we are to have an upturn in manufacturing industry, and also if the nations and regions of Britain are to benefit from the Channel tunnel? How can the right hon. Gentleman justify the closure in the past week of the Freightliner depots?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting in the question that has not been asked because of the absence of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). He will recall that the changes that have been announced by Freightliner relate to the problem that it has had on constant losses on the domestic, not the international, side. We must rely on those who seek to manage that successful business to advise us on how they should invest in freight opportunities for the future. They have done that.

Will my right hon. Friend advise the House what proportion of the transport infrastructure applies to the railway industry, which has constantly been attacked by the trade unions, yet under this Government has gone forward in real terms?

Without notice I cannot give the precise proportion, but, just in case the Opposition would like me to give the precise figure for capital expenditure in regard to the question, although they will not appreciate the answer, the increase is 48 per cent. in real terms.

It is all right for the Secretary of State to stand at the Dispatch Box and brag about the increase for transport infrastructure, but is he aware that in the county of Nottingham we have an expanding industry in many places, particularly in my constituency, which is striving very hard in areas where the Government have closed down one or two pits? Several of those firms have a marvellous export record, but they cannot move the goods. Why not spend some money in my area for a change?

I know that the hon. Gentleman will not mind me reminding him of the way in which, under a Labour Government, far more pits were closed than under this Government, but I understand his legitimate interest in the movement of goods in his area. I hope that he will remember what I have said so far in my answer to the question. In real terms there has been a major increase in all forms of infrastructure capital expenditure throughout the Government's period of office. I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that expenditure, especially on British Rail and on local and national roads. I can give the hon. Gentleman detailed figures for his area in a letter that I shall be happy to send him after this Question Time.

When my right hon. Friend is looking at his capital programme for transport infrastructure, will he look again at the A417 and A4I9 route between Swindon and the M5 at Cheltenham? Does he accept that we now have a patchwork quilt of single and dual carriageway sections, which are dangerous to road safety and could be improved dramatically by the provision of dual carriageway throughout the length of the route? That would also help the economic needs of firms in my constituency.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for roads will consider my hon. Friend's question carefully. He will also direct my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that since 1979 capital expenditure on roads has increased by 30 per cent. in real terms.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how the allocation of that expenditure in 1986 differs from the allocation to various forms of transport in 1982?

I should not like to give all the details without notice, but I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman drawing his attention to the variations, going back to 1979, if he wishes. However, that would not deny the basic, essential point that is made from the Dispatch Box time and again, that we have massively increased expenditure on transport capital infrastructure.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when he visited Eastbourne last year he came by train? If he made the journey by car, would he agree that extra capital expenditure is required to improve the A22 trunk road?

Of course I went by train, because I knew that it was the proper way to travel on that route. However, I am also aware—because my hon. Friend has told me personally and at the last Question Time, the Minister with responsibility for roads — the road movement down to his constituency. I am sure that he will have heard the arguments again this time.