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On a point of order. Can I make the point, Mr. Speaker, that my Questions Nos. 16 and 17 are related to the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday on cuts in public investment? In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) who took the point of the roads programme in questioning him, the Chancellor said that his right hon. Friend would answer Questions on which detailed supplementary questions could be put.
These are the Questions. We did not then press the point on roads. Large numbers of hon. Members either have Questions down or have constituency interests in the road programme and it is obvious that the ordinary run of Question Time will not cope with this situation. I therefore rang up the Minister's office this morning to ask whether the right hon. Lady would be good enough to answer these Questions at the end of Question Time and I was told that that was not possible. We have now a situation in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer avoided questions yesterday and the Minister is avoiding detailed Questions today. I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to protect the rights of back benchers and the Opposition and I appeal to the Minister to change her mind even at this late hour.
I regret that it is quite impossible for me to answer these Questions at 3.30, when I have another urgent official engagement.
The recent deferment measures will result in a reduction in Exchequer expenditure of about £7 million in the current financial year and £12 million in 1966–67. From now onwards the starting-dates of new schemes will be settled only by reference to the new financial allocation and will no longer be postponed for any fixed period. These arrangements will allow the schemes originally deferred to go ahead, together with most of the schemes originally programmed for 1966–67. Moreover, there will be an acceleration of the rate of expenditure after that year if the economic situation permits.
Is not it clear that the rate of expansion of the road programme has now been permanently-slowed down? The Minister has confirmed that the saving in the current year is £7 million and in a full year £12 million, which is the figure that we were given in November, but is the figure really worth anything to the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the losses caused by the lack of continuity in the execution of the road programme, and against the overall loss to the economy due to inadequate road communications? Will not the Minister do what her predecessor failed to do, and what she seems to be failing to do, and impress upon the Chancellor that the road programme must have priority above all other public works?
I cannot accept for a moment that this means any kind of serious cut-back. All that we have had is a reduction of £19 million over two years in a five-year programme running at £1,000 million. If all goes well with the economy we shall regain this loss pretty well completely by the end of the period. In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's party when in Government 10 years ago was spending less than £9 million on roads in Great Britain while we shall be spending in 1966–67 £145 million in England alone, I do not think that it lies in the right hon. Gentleman's mouth to talk about deferment.
If the effect of deferment will be somewhat eased next year and some progress will be made, can my right hon. Friend say what will be the overall effect on the next five-year programme?
The fact is that we shall be making up in 1966–67 about one-third of the ground which we lost in 1965–66 and, as I have said, we hope to make up the rest of it in the following years before the end of the five-year programme.
As about 80 per cent. of all freight is now carried by road and more than 500,000 new cars come on the roads every year, may I ask the right hon. Lady whether, far from making any cuts, she should not be considering substantial increases in the programme, particularly if she has any intention of implementing the Buchanan proposals?
We have not made any cuts. We have been increasing. There has been £19 million-worth of deferments, but we already are catching up on the last six months' deferment. We hope to catch it all up in the programme. It is a question of phasing it. I would point out that in the road programme we shall be spending next year £148 million while it took nine years for the Opposition when in Government to produce a roads programme at all and then they were spending under the road programme an average of only £80 million a year. If that is not an increase, I should like to know what is.
Can the right hon. Lady assure the House that not only will there be no reduction in spending on the development areas but also on the roads connecting those areas with the rest of the country?
The deferments did not apply to schemes in the development areas in any way nor to schemes that in any way affected—[Interruption.] I am saying, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained yesterday, that the operation of the policy up to now has to be in the situation as it is legally at the moment. This is the explanation which the Chancellor gave yesterday. No road programmes were deferred in these development areas.