asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will arrange for each county agricultural executive committee to publish annual accounts covering all its activities, starting with the year 1948–49.
Any accounts for county agricultural executive committees which are to be published will be submitted by my Department to the Comptroller and Auditor-General for audit. The figures relating to such transactions of all the committees already appear in the annual Appropriation Accounts of my Department. It is proposed to publish annual trading accounts relating to the various trading services of committees, commencing with the year 1948–49. The exact form of these accounts and in particular the question whether separate figures will be given for each committee has not yet been settled.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that generally when people have good accounts they are keen to publish them, and when they have bad accounts they are sometimes reluctant to do so; also will he remember that his present policy encourages the opinion that there are certain extravagances which will be concealed? Does he not agree that that is not fair to the individual committees who are doing such excellent work?
Does not the Minister agree that it would be of great interest and value to the country if the county committees would publish their accounts separately in view of the fact that many county executives are doing their job efficiently and that some are not doing it efficiently? In view of the need for keeping down expenditure does he not think that that is desirable.
I have said to the House on several occasions—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) did agree with me a few years back—that to publish separate accounts would necessitate very long explanatory notes at the bottom, comparing county with county geographically, with the rainfall and all the rest, or wrong conclusions might be reached.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that that may have been true, and was true, for three or four years, during and immediately after the war, but it does not follow that it is still true or that it will be true in future?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the geographical considerations, the rainfall and other factors, have not changed during the past three years.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, having regard to the geographical factors being one consideration, that a common system of accountancy is very desirable in these matters.
Is the Minister aware that there is a very great demand in the counties that these accounts should be published; and does not he agree that if they were published it would greatly strengthen the position of the county executive committees which are now closed corporations in the eyes of the inhabitants and the farmers?
I assure the hon. and gallant Member that I have received no such representations from any county.