Departmental Accounts

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th October 2002.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 11:30 am, 17th October 2002

If she will make a statement on the auditor's qualifications regarding her Department's accounts.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report dated 26 February 2002 drew attention to a number of weaknesses in financial systems which have since been addressed. It must be remembered that the report refers to the preparation and audit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's resource accounts for 2000–01, which took place during a very difficult time for the former Ministry, and subsequently the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The foot and mouth outbreak was at its peak, machinery of government changes were in progress, and many of the Department's staff were redeployed to help deal with the exceptional increase in work loads which arose during that period. Nevertheless, steps have been taken to address the issues raised and, in particular, to embed resource accountancy into systems for budgetary control and financial management.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

They say that a week is a long time in politics, but I must confess that, having tabled this question three months ago, I had to rack my brain to work out what it was that I was trying to get to the bottom of. I am not sure that we have got any closer to the answer after the Minister's response. Will he tell the House how the unquantified future costs of foot and mouth disease will be taken account of in future accounts?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is probably referring to some matters related to the outbreak that have led to, for example, discussion about invoices and submissions for payment. They give rise to a contingent liability, which will be disclosed in the published resource account. The precise figures cannot therefore be given until they are finalised.