County Committees (Accounts)
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.
asked the Minister of Agriculture what action is being taken to close the gap in the sand-hills at Anderby Creek, Lincolnshire, through which a considerable quantity of arable land was recently flooded; and what compensation is available to the farmers concerned.
I understand that the Lindsey County Council are considering a scheme for closing the breach in the sandhills near Anderby Creek. I regret that I am not aware of any funds out of which farmers who suffered losses as a result of the recent flooding could be compensated.
Does the Minister realise that a considerable number of houses have either been destroyed or damaged in this area for which he is ultimately responsible; and does he also realise, with reference to the last part of his answer, that the present Bill before Parliament does not improve the possibility of giving any assistance to these people in any way whatever?
I can only repeat that I know of no source from which funds are available for compensation in these cases. I certainly have not any at my disposal.
Willow Beds (Planting)
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the increase in price of Argentine willows and exchange difficulties with that country, he will take steps to encourage the planting of new willow beds in England.
The difficulties to which the hon. Member refers and the consequent restrictions on the importation of willows from the Argentine in themselves provide an encouragement to home willow production.
If the willow growers make proposals to the right hon. Gentleman for the limitation of these imports, either by quantitative control or tariffs, will the Minister consider that seriously?
I can assure the hon. Member that I have already had conversations with representatives of the willow growers. Arising out of these conversations, I believe that the parties responsible are considering the possibility of a marketing scheme.
Is there anything in any international agreement to prevent the Minister taking advantage of the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles)?
Not that I am aware of.
Forestry, Forest Of Dean
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether in view of the long delay and misunderstandings that have arisen between the Forestry Commission on the one hand and local authorities and industrial concerns on the other in the Forest of Dean over matters of public interest, he will consider setting up machinery whereby these difficulties do not in future arise.
No, Sir. I am aware that there are certain difficult questions to be settled in this area, but I am satisfied that the existing machinery for dealing with them is adequate.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it might be desirable for the Director of Forestry for England and Wales to meet local bodies in the Forest of Dean from time to time in order to thresh out difficult questions as they arise?
The Chairman of the Forestry Commission is fully aware of the difficult propositions in the Forest of Dean. I can assure my hon. Friend that they are doing their best to square them up.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a local authority in the Forest of Dean recently wanted an extension of a cemetery and was offered by the local officials a marsh at an old colliery working?
That may be, but I understand that in the same area there was also some idea of building a crematorium.
Land Settlement Association
asked the Minister of Agriculture what are the total head office expenses of the Land Settlement Association.
Head Office expenses of the Land Settlement Association, Ltd., were £38,525 in 1947–48, the last year for which audited accounts are available.