A joint central-local government working group is currently looking at possible alternatives to the present grant-related expenditure for road maintenance. For capital expenditure on roads, the grant-related expenditure is directly related to the transport needs of the areas. It is derived from the amount of each authority's bid for capital accepted for transport supplementary grant.
Is the Minister aware that many highways and roads are still suffering from the ravages of the severe winter of two and a half years ago? Is it not time that the Government gave road users a fairer deal in response to the massive amount of money that they give to the Government by way of licensing fees and taxation? May we have a better deal and better roads?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have not had hypothecated taxation in Britain since 1935. This year's spending on local road maintenance is 22 per cent. above what it was in 1981–82. Expenditure has increased in each of the past three years. West Yorkshire should look to the fact that it has emphasised revenue support for buses. It must decide whether it needs to increase revenue support for buses by 17 per cent. as it has — it has also increased capital expenditure by 18 per cent.—or to spend the money on road maintenance.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, under existing policy, the quantity of new road building and improvement in Greater London has been pitiful? Will she note the report of the Select Committee on Transport, which commends a crash programme of construction and improvement if London is to be fit for visitors and to move around in, especially because of the increasing importance of road communications and the transport industry?
Is the Minister aware that our principal roads are falling into disrepair at an alarming rate through lack of maintenance which is largely the result of the Government's cheese-paring? Does she agree that we need an emergency programme if we are not to lose all the advantages of saving lives by compelling the wearing of seat belts, because motorists will swerve to avoid the large potholes that are now to be found in all our major roads?
One of the problems of spending on road maintenance is the high variability of its cost as between different local authorities. That is why we are trying to create a code of good practice for road maintenance to ensure that every county gets the best value for money. We are asking counties to concentrate their resources on the roads that are most in need. Many of the decisions about where money is spent are in the hands of the counties.
When my hon. Friend examines grant-related expenditure, will she consider city, town and county authorities diverting heavy lorries out of the centres of towns? Will she encourage them to maintain roads properly and to use maintenance grants to find ways of keeping heavy lorries out of the centres of built-up areas?
My hon. Friend knows that county councils have considerable powers to re-route heavy goods vehicles. They must take into account the state of the roads on which they re-route such vehicles. We have made substantial increases in our bypass programme so that towns can be saved from the ravages of heavy goods vehicles. It is up to the counties to consider the suitability of alternative routes before taking powers to direct heavy goods vehicles on to them.
Does the Minister believe that it is possible to drive from Birmingham to London on a summer Saturday in less than three and a half hours without being delayed by miles of motorway that is cordoned off for road maintenance? Does she agree that no maintenance seems to be done at weekends as those doing it appear to regard it as a quaint form of outdoor relief?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that maintenance on our oldest motorways is necessary to conserve our best assets. He also knows that maintenance must be done in better weather, otherwise the money is wasted. If he is so seriously delayed, I am surprised that he has not taken a train.