asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the enormous damage to fencing, hedges, ditches, roadways and gates occasioned by Army manœuvres upon agricultural land; and whether, since neither labour nor material is now available to landowners and farmers, he will arrange for Service personnel to carry out proper permanent repairs either shortly, or following temporary repairs, immediately after the war?
It is essential for war-time manœuvres to be realistic, and a certain amount of damage is unfortunately unavoidable. Bearing this in mind, I trust my hon. and gallant Friend will agree that the damage caused by these manœuvres is not unduly heavy. Land repair units are provided in connection with large-scale exercises to carry out the repair work essential for the working of the land. They clear ditches, repair roads and supply and fix fencing and gates. Gates are difficult to get, but a large number is being obtained, and a fair proportion of them is, I understand, already available. Where hedges have been destroyed chestnut paling or wire fencing on timber posts is fixed across the gaps. It is unfortunately impossible for the Army to undertake the replanting of hedges and other skilled and long-term repairs of this kind. The compensation paid to the farmer should enable him to carry out such work when circumstances permit.
Can I have an assurance that my right hon. Friend has not closed his mind to reconsideration of the matter as supplies become available?
I certainly have not. I left out the last sentence of my answer. May I finish it, though it does not add very much to what I have said? I should have added that I sincerely regret that manœuvres inevitably cause damage. The Army is, however, doing its best to reduce the inconvenience and make good the loss suffered by farmers, and I understand that these efforts are widely appreciated by the farmers themselves. That answers my hon. and gallant Friend's somewhat premature Supplementary Question. I shall be glad to arrange for him to visit the areas in question with the President of the Claims Commission if he would like to see what is going on and how claims are dealt with.
Surely my right hon. Friend is aware that a great deal of the damage has nothing to do with manœuvres? It is because people who drive Army vehicles are not taught how to reverse properly.
On the contrary, the experience of everyone who has been in the area in which these manœuvres were going on has been that the road discipline of the Army is exceedingly good. I have had letters from Members of the House to that effect.
Would my right hon. Friend like to see some of the damage done in the Noble Lord's constituency, which I shall be pleased to show him?
Can I pour any oil on the troubled waters?