HC Deb 31 March 1958 vol 585 cc820-2
5. Mr. C. Hughes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he has reduced the estimate for capital expenditure of the Gwynedd River Board for 1958–59 from £78,000 to £36,000; and if he will make a statement.

19. Mr. G. Roberts

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many employees of the Gwynedd River Board will be made redundant by the reduction of the estimate for the Board's capital expenditure for 1958–59 in Caernarvonshire, Anglesey, and Merioneth, respectively.

Mr. Godber

In view of the national economic situation, it has been necessary to ask drainage authorities, in common with other local authorities, to accept reductions in their programmes of capital expenditure. For a programme of land drainage improvement works in 1958–59 estimated at £63,000, the Gwynedd River Board was offered a provisional allocation of not less than £36,000 and, more recently, a definite allocation of £42,000.

In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), the river board has not yet had time to consider the effect of this allocation on its programme.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Minister aware that this big reduction will have far-reaching consequences on the countryside? Is he further aware, for example, that it is calculated that in Anglesey alone, where already there is a very high incidence of unemployment, thirty men will lose their employment as a result of this cut? Is it not the case that out of this £36,000 which the Minister has given to this area, £24,000 is to be spent in Merionethshire, leaving £12,000 only for Anglesey and Caernarvon? Does this not make a complete mockery of the Minister's promise to improve agricultural drainage in the country?

Mr. Godber

With respect, I do not think the hon. Gentleman has this quite correct. The actual firm allocation which I have mentioned is £42,000. The expenditure last year was £49,000, so the cut, if any, is very much smaller than the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Of course, if there are any special circumstances which come to light, we shall be glad to look into them. We have as yet no evidence of any definite, and certainly of no immediate, cut in employment by the board.

Mr. T. Williams

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that it is quite impossible to farm really efficiently if the land is badly drained? What is the point of giving more fertilisers to farmers if the land is not properly drained?

Mr. Godber

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the need for drainage. We are doing all we can, but there has been a credit squeeze, of which the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, and we are asking all river boards to keep down expenditure to the minimum necessary at the moment. We certainly want to increase expenditure again as soon as we can.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is an area which is burdened with a very high rate of unemployment, and that the employment aspect mentioned by my hon. Friend ought to be borne in mind?

Mr. Godber

Yes, of course, but I have no knowledge of any immediate sackings of staff at all, and as far as I am aware that is not intended.