My right hon. Friend has had recent representations from six local authorities, three organisations concerned with tourism and development and four individuals. He replied that he recognises the need for very extensive improvement of this road and is accelerating a programme of improvements but that the urgent requirements are much improved alignment and visibility. He added that he intends to provide additional capacity, where necessary by dual carriageways, for particular lengths of road and that the design of the road will not preclude the ultimate provision of dual carriageways should that in future prove necessary.
Is the Minister aware that that represents the most short-sighted, irresponsible and stupid decision yet taken by the present Government in Scotland? No one has sought to justify this road on the ground of traffic congestion, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. Surely the Minister acknowledges that a dual-carriageway road here would make an immense contribution to the development of employment and tourist and recreational opportunities in the Highlands.
To hear the hon. Gentleman speak, it is fairly clear that he can never have travelled on the road concerned. One would not think that we had just announced this week a major acceleration of work on the A9, involving eight schemes amounting to 34 additional miles of work upon it. What this road needs above everything else is to be straightened and widened and to have its severe gradients removed. We are getting on with that job and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that.
Will my hon. Friend ignore the silly remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and will he accept from me, as the Member for Perth and East Perthshire, that there is very wide satisfaction with the large improvements which have been announced? However, can my hon. Friend assert clearly that there is nothing at all in his mind—[Laughter.]—which would preclude this road from being converted to dual carriageway for its whole length should that prove necessary in the future?
My hon. Friend can be assured that there is no danger of the present Government forgetting the importance of the A9, particularly as my right hon. Friend lives at the other end of it. I assure my hon. Friend that we are ensuring that the design of this road will be such as not to preclude the provision of dual carriageways in the future at any point where it may prove to be necessary.
I hope that the Minister will not be so foolish as to make his assessment of public opinion on the basis of a statement by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur). There is considerable disappointment and dissatisfaction that a scheme amounting to only £l0½ million has been launched and that the possibility of a dual carriageway seems now to have been put off into the uncertain future. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that to make a decision of this sort would be the biggest step that the Government could take to give confidence in the whole of the North?
I should have thought that the general and massive acceleration of work on this road was the very indication of Government confidence in the Highlands for which the hon. Gentleman is asking. If the road can be straightened and widened and if the gradients can be removed, it will be adequate for all the traffic that anyone can foresee will travel upon it. What the Highlands want is for us to get on with the job quickly.