§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the first speaker in this grave debate, may I say that I have many names of hon. Members wishing to take part, including all the hon. Members whose constituencies suffered the heaviest damage. I urge those who are called to make reasonably brief speeches.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
On Sunday, 15th January, what has now become commonly known as Hurricane Low Q was moving north-east across the Atlantic when it changed course and moved due east over the central belt of Scotland. It roared across this area as fur north as Perth and as far south as the Lake District. Some, in looking back on it, have compared it to the night of the Tay disaster. What is known is that on that night of 15th January the winds across the central belt of Scotland were certainly the strongest since records have been kept over the past 50 years.
Between 3 o'clock and 5 o'clock on the Monday morning of 16th January the damage was done and the hurricane left behind it a trail of death, injury and destruction. As many hon. Members know, the area which was most affected was along Clydeside and the Forth Valley. As a result of the climax of this two hours, 20 people lost their lives, seven have died since in accidents in buildings which had become dangerous as a result of the storm, over 100 were seriously injured, and over 1,800 were made homeless.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has already told the House that the total damage in town and country is estimated at £25 million. It may well be that when the opportunity occurs to make the full calculation the damage will be seen to be 402 greater. Certainly, the task of reconstruction following this damage is daunting. Therefore, I submit that this, alas, is a disaster on a national scale. It is a disaster beyond the resources of the people of Scotland to meet on their own. We in the rest of Britain would not wish them to do so, nor to face the consequences of a national disaster on this scale solely on their own resources
That is why the Opposition are raising the matter today in debate on the Floor of the House, so that the House can show its genuine concern for those affected and put forward ways by which the hardship and suffering can be reduced. The consequences of Hurricane Low Q are all human problems. We can talk in terms of buildings—and, of course, much more than houses and tenements are involved; schools, churches, docks and factories are also concerned—or we can talk of stock, crops and timber. I found in the countryside, particularly in Stirling-shire, the feeling that there had been insufficient recognition of the damage which those who live in the country had suffered as a result of the storm.
But what we are really dealing with in the debate are the sad consequences of the loss of families and friends whom nobody and nothing can replace, of homes which have been destroyed, of precious belongings and possessions which have been damaged, very often beyond repair, of capital and savings, especially in the countryside, which have been wiped out, and of jobs and livelihoods which have been imperilled. These hardships and sufferings, which are continuing in some cases, must affect each one of us here deeply.
It therefore behoves us to have a constructive debate. We look to the Secretary of State to tell us his proposals, and it is for each of us to take the responsibility for putting forward such ideas as we have on how the problems can be dealt with. The House looks to the Government as well as the local authorities for speedy, sustained and effective action to deal with the situation. They can be assured that everything they do in this regard will have the support of the House.
No warning was received that Hurricane Low Q would change its direction and veer to the east. Perhaps the Secretary of State can investigate how this 403 came about, or he may be able to tell us whether it is possible to make improvements in meteorological information which would in future circumstances give a quicker indication of danger of this kind.
What it meant was that the emergency services in the central belt of Scotland had no warning that the storm was about to hit them. It is a tribute to them, to the local authorities, and to other official services, as well as voluntary organisations, that they were able to get into action so quickly without warning, and that in so short a time they achieved so much.
The reception centres, in particular, and those who staffed them, both officials and volunteers, including girls from local schools and the Salvation Army, deserve the highest praise for the way in which they were able to man them and look after the homeless. Certainly, those I spoke to in Govan Town Hall said that they could not possibly have been looked after better.
It is interesting that what proved to be the key to the efficiency of the reception centre organisation was the immediate installation of high-powered radio telephone equipment. There is a lesson here for the whole country, that it is this specific type of equipment being readily accessible and immediately moved to the spot which enables the rest of the organisation to function so efficiently.
We must remember that although Glasgow is the greatest city, a very large city and the one which has suffered the most damage and naturally receives most prominence, other towns and cities were affected. Glasgow has rehoused by far the greater majority of those who were homeless, at the expense of having to push its own housing list further back in the process. We must recognise the contribution which has been made. I express the hope that the factors involved in running private properties will, when they find that they have properties empty under the same ownership, be able to help the homeless where required, in the same way as local authorities have taken the burden on themselves. This is a fair responsibility to be divided between local authorities and private owners, where accommodation is available.
404 It is now clear that the emergency coverings were put into position, quite rightly, both on municipal and private houses equally, with reasonable expedition. But the wind and the rain two nights after the storm accentuated the damage, particularly to people's personal belongings, furniture, chattels, and so on. On 31st January, Wednesday of last week, there were winds of 90 miles an hour sweeping right across the same area. They were 120 miles an hour during the hurricane, but 90 miles an hour is quite fast enough. Again, last weekend there were strong winds.
What this has done in many cases is to remove the temporary coverings, and, therefore, to a certain extent, to undo the good work which had been done. So the local authorities are again faced with this task of reactivating the emergency organisations in order to deal with these coverings. This has to be done. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that all of this emphasises that, although a good job was done with the emergency repairs and coverings, there is now a vital urgency to get on with the permanent repairs. This is the only proper safeguard against winds of this nature which are sweeping the area from time to time.
This has to be a carefully planned operation. using all the resources available, south of the Border as well as in Scotland. All the drive possible has to be put behind it. At the moment, those concerned are talking in terms of a time span of two years to do this work. I would suggest that that timetable is just not good enough. Two years is too long a period to wait before an emergency of this kind can be satisfactorily dealt with. It is another argument for treating this as a national disaster, which has to be handled on a national basis.
Here, I would like to put forward certain proposals, and I have no doubt that hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House will want to put forward proposals, for dealing with restoration in the cities and the towns. My first point is this: is it necessary to return to the previous construction of chimney heads and chimneys? This, I believe, depends upon the operation of the Clean Air Act, 1956. Where the damaged properties are in an existing smoke controlled area, the situation requires no further action, the chimney heads need not be replaced, and 405 the repairs can be much more quickly and cheaply done. In other areas, and, I suspect, the larger areas, smoke control areas have yet to be created. This poses a very great problem, because the time taken to create new areas is far too long to deal with this situation.
The new areas have to be surveyed by the local authority, there has to be a public inquiry, the Minister has to confirm the result and the area only comes into existence six months after that. I have made inquiries, and I am told that the average time taken from the beginning of such a scheme to the end is between nine and 12 months. In this context, I do not believe that this time phasing is acceptable, and I would suggest that the Secretary of State has to see how he can extend these areas much more quickly than that so that repairs can be made in those areas not at present smoke controlled, without the restoration of these heavy chimney heads.
§ Mr. Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
On the point about the chimneys, would the right hon. Gentleman like to explain what will happen to those houses which are burning smokeless fuel? In those cases the chimneys are still being used.
§ Mr. Heath
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this perfectly valid point. It means that there has to he an acceptance by those in these areas of going over to electricity or gas rather than to smokeless fuel. This is a proposition that would have to be put to them by the local authority in the context of what is done to speed up repairs. I believe that most people with damaged homes would look at this sympathetically. In any case, the grants to individual home owners under the Act are generous. They are compulsorily seven-tenths of the cost and the local authority can use its discretion up to the full 100 per cent.
It also helps a local authority, because it can get back from the Exchequer between three-tenths and three-fifths of what it spends. I would suggest that this Act is a means of helping considerably those who have been rendered homeless or whose homes require substantial repairs.
Secondly, the skilled labour force available to deal with the present situation is inadequate. I understand that there are 2,000 slaters in Glasgow who will be fully 406 occupied, and that they will be required elsewhere as well. It takes four years to train them for work on high buildings and, therefore, any question of a crash training programme would seem to be out of the question. I would suggest that the onus should be upon the Government to seek, throughout England and Wales, through the local authorities as well as the Ministry of Labour employment offices, those either skilled or who could be available after comparatively little additional training, to help the labour force in Scotland.
Of course, it will be necessary to provide them with homes and to show them what I understand is now the position, that there are agreed payment arrangements for the slaters doing this reconstruction scheme. If this can be shown throughout England and Wales to be the case then it ought to be possible to bring in additional men to help the labour force during this time. It requires a major effort, but I understand that it was done by the electricity boards when their power lines were down. I suggest that it should be done on an extended basis to deal with the problem of the reconstruction of buildings.
The third thing I would suggest to the Secretary of State, having got this under way, is that a survey is urgently necessary of all existing property in respect of the chimney heads. He will have seen, as I did, those which were so obviously to the naked eye well out of true, sometimes outwards and a danger to the streets and sometimes inwards, a danger to the buildings themselves. I doubt whether those who have not seen the consequences can really visualise what happens when three tons of solid masonry falls through a roof. I certainly could not until I had seen it. It goes through the roof, and the next floor, and the next floor, and creates a bomb crater in the basement, leaving death behind it. It is urgent that there should be a complete survey of these properties, and action taken. This will require further resources of manpower but I believe that now the storm has shown us this, action must be taken.
My fourth point is that all of this depends upon finance. Her Majesty's Government have already announced £500,000, to be the preliminary contribution as a loan basis for immediate use by 407 the local authorities. As I understand, the City of Glasgow has stated that it would require about £400,000 to enable it to get its own work under way. There is a feeling in Scotland, perhaps a somewhat bitter feeling, that Her Majesty's Government and their predecessors have been more generous in the past.
In the "Torrey Canyon" episode, the Government immediately came forward with an offer of 75 per cent. grants to local authorities and paid £1,600,000 on that episode alone. It is essential that the Government should make known quickly and clearly what is to be the permanent basis for financing the reconstruction which is necessary both by local authorities and by private individuals.
Turning to chattels—furniture and furnishings—the Ministry of Social Security has power to make once-for-all immediate grants to deal with emergencies of this kind, and I understand that it is already doing so. If that is not enough, the Lord Provost has announced that he can help from his fund. I did not find that this was widely known. As a result of this debate, it will become generally known that his fund can help. He did not make a national appeal. That was the Lord Provost's own decision and it must be a matter for him. But it raises the question whether what he has in his fund is sufficient to supplement what the Ministry of Social Security can do to help those whose furnishings and furniture have been destroyed.
If it proves not to be enough, I ask the Secretary of State to authorise Ministry of Social Security officials to use their discretion to make the additional payments which prove to be necessary. This will obviously depend on the means of those who have lost their possessions, but I believe that it would be the wish of the House that the Ministry of Social Security should use its discretion to the full in these cases.
Turning to the question of repairs, the Secretary of State said that the total damage comes to £16 million—£9 million for local authorities and £7 million for those privately housed. What is proposed is that £500,000 should be paid on a loan basis from the contingency fund. I suggest that grants as well as loans will have to be made both to local authorities and to private owners to 408 meet the bill of £16 million. This should be done comparably for both local authorities and individual owners.
I know that the Secretary of State has been somewhat critical of those who did not insure against storm damage of this kind. In fact, most local authorities are unable to insure in these cases. It is, in some ways, expecting a great deal of an individual owner to insure against a hurricane of this kind in this country. I should have thought that it was generally agreeable that, although those who have insured and received payments should have them taken into account in any grant or loan system, grants and loans will be necessary to enable the repairs on a scale of £16 million to be done. Therefore, I suggest that this must be part of the permanent financial arrangement.
I understand that private owners operating through factors have suggested that the Secretary of State should set up a loan fund which they would repay over 20 or 30 years. That is their decision. I understand that they would be prepared to do that. I do not think that that is a system which would work with individual owner-occupiers in Glasgow, many of whom have not great means, who have had their homes destroyed. It could be said that they could be given loans and that in the end some of them might find themselves forced to default. That is not a satisfactory approach to this problem. It is much better for the Government to face the fact that in those cases where means do not allow repairs to be done they would have to make a grant straight away as part of the permanent settlement rather than to leave it many years hence when people find themselves still unable to pay the loans and will have faced meanwhile many years of anxiety and worry.
I urge the Secretary of State to work out a basis of loan and grant for these repairs to take into account insurance payments which have been made by those insured and, in the case of owner-occupiers and property owners, to take into account means which they have available, to a certain extent, to carry out their own repairs. This is the only satisfactory basis for a permanent long-term solution. I urge the Secretary of State to do that quickly, because until he does it neither local authorities nor 409 property owners or owner-occupiers can have the means to pay for the repairs. Until he does it the builders and slaters cannot have confidence that they will get payment for any work which they start.
Therefore, the key to the urgent development of permanent reconstruction rests in the Secretary of State's proposals for finance. It is satisfactory that the property owners and slaters have reached agreement, I am told, on working at weekends and on doing standard repairs at a standard price. This is very encouraging. It behoves the Secretary of State to provide the financial backing so that they can get on with the work.
I turn to the countryside. Nineteen out of every 20 farms in this belt have been affected in some way or other. Many farmers, certainly those to whom I spoke, have suffered damage of between £1,000 and £3,000. Only 5 per cent. of those affected were insured to any degree at all. Of course, much could not be insured. They could not insure against storm damage to stacks, crops, timber, poultry and other farm produce. Therefore, special measures are necessary in any event. The nearest example to this damage, I suggest, was the storm damage of 1953 which swept Eastern and South-Eastern England and caused floods, but it also swept much of Eastern Scotland and produced a mass of wind-blown timber and damage to farms.
I should like to make proposals for the countryside. I deal, first, with horticulture. Much of the glass in the Clyde Valley was destroyed. The whole capital of some growers has gone. Their crops for next season will not materialise. Their capital has been wiped out and they have no immediate current income. It is true that under the Horticultural Improvement Act they can get a grant of one-third plus 5 per cent. supplement. I suggest to the Secretary of State that, when a man's savings and capital investment have been wiped out, this is not a satisfactory percentage to enable him to start again and that it should be supplemented. as in the towns, by a grant-loan scheme.
Secondly, many farmers have been affected by a loss of current income, because their cash crops have been swept away, as in the case of hay, or in some cases, as with poultry, entirely wiped out. The Government must consider help in these cases. The Scottish N.F.U. has no 410 disaster appeal fund as was the case in England and Wales in 1953 to which the Government contributed £for £. Therefore, the Government would be entitled to help in this respect in exactly the same way as if they were contributing £for £to an N.F.U. disaster fund.
The third point concerns timber. The Secretary of State told us that the damage was estimated at £30 million hoppus feet. This compares with 35 to 40 million in the disaster of 1953. There are some lessons to be learned from the action taken in 1953. The circumstances in many ways are comparable. On this occasion, a great deal of the woodland is now broken timber and useful only for pulp. It is of greatly reduced value. Even if the full value at present of the plantations were to be paid to the owner, he would get much less than the value of the woodland when it would have been fully developed. Therefore, he is suffering a considerable future capital loss. Action is urgently needed because of the possible destruction of it by insects while it is lying as broken timber.
So I would make a proposal that special arrangements as to blown timber should be put into force similar to those of 1953 and be given priority wherever possible. There is, of course, no longer the general licensing system which enabled this to be done in 1953. Nevertheless, there are various ways which could be used to help. The Forestry Commission can do so in dealing with its own woodlands and will presumably do so automatically, but in the case of the dedicated private woodlands the Forestry Commission can deal with them through its licensing arrangements.
I would utter a word of caution: that, of course, where those woodlands are providing current income for a woodland owner, the enforcement of this licensing system to hold back timber has to be used with discretion, otherwise one farmer is being helped only at the expense of another. But this can be worked out by the Forestry Commission.
Secondly, additional labour may be required in some areas to remove this timber and, again, special arrangements will have to be made for it, both for its accommodation and transport, and agreed arrangements for paying for it. I would also suggest to the Secretary of State what he probably well knows 411 already, that as a great deal of extractive machinery will have to be used for dealing with the blown timber that machinery should be now available for investment grant, which would help those who have now been endamaged.
Thirdly, the Secretary of State must try to inaugurate agreements with Government Departments, perhaps particularly the Ministry of Transport over Motorway fencing and railways, with the N.C.B. and with the local authorities about the priority use of blown timber. At the same time, he may rind it possible, or the Forestry Commission may find it possible, to persuade the mills, whether at Fort William, or Workington, or Ellesmere Port, to give priority to the use of this to get the blown timber off the ground as soon as possible. This may involve additional cost for the different mills for which they will look either to the local authorities or to farmers themselves after they have been helped. There is then the cost of freight. In 1953, the Government made special arrangements to cover two-thirds of the additional rail freight involved in transporting blown timber up to 50s. a ton, and I would suggest that this is done again, but with the figures brought up to date and comparable with modern prices.
My fourth point concerns the farm houses and buildings and fences. Many of these could not be insured. Farm buildings themselves were not insurable, nor was fencing. Improvement grants might be used by the Secretary of State's Department, but, again, I suggest that the present percentages are not adequate for a man who has lost all his capital and investment or a very great deal of it, and in any case farm houses themselves are excluded from improvement grants. Furthermore, where buildings have already been improved—in one case I saw new fencing which had had an improvement grant—but have got to he entirely replaced the farmer cannot claim again for improvement grant.
This, in normal circumstances, is absolutely logical and right, and that is within the terms of the Act. The Secretary of State would have either to amend the Act or find some other way of helping those who have received improvement grants and whose new buildings and fences have now been destroyed by the hurricane. So 412 I put to him this point which needs urgent action. I think that the House would certainly be prepared to help him.
I have put forward a considerable number of constructive proposals for dealing with this serious situation, but they do require speedy and decisive action by the Secretary of State and the Government. The Secretary of State and the Government are the only people who can take the action. They are the only ones who can take these decisions. Of course, it comes back, fundamentally, to finance and to the necessary legislative provisions to enable the finance to be used. In the disaster of 1953, the damage was approximately twice the size—£40 million to £50 million in total—but the local authorities did receive from the Government £5 million, and the £for £contribution of the Lord Mayor of London's Disaster Fund, which reached £6 million.
I would suggest to the Secretary of State that there is a long gap between the Government's approach then and what he has put forward as a preliminary contribution of £500,000 as a loan bank on which local authorities can act. I hope that today he will be able to tell us that he has now thought through this problem, and is able to make a clear and effective announcement which the local authorities, and all those individuals who have been affected, can act upon. I say to the Secretary of State: go to it—and he will get the backing of the House.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
Today's debate allows me to expand on the statements which I made to the House on 16th January and 25th January, and to say more than I then could about the action which the Government are taking.
I think that I would be expressing the wish of the House if I were to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on the constructive nature of his speech.
The storm which struck Scotland on the night of 14th-15th January left behind it a trail of devastation and destruction: 21 people were killed; at least 250,000 houses were damaged, over 1,300 of them beyond repair.
One can walk through Glasgow and wonder where the damage is. But anybody who has recently seen Glasgow 413 from the air will have been astonished and horrified at the area of green tarpaulins. These cover roofs in all parts of the city. The storm did not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the new areas and the old areas. It damaged not only old and inferior houses in the centre, but also some well-maintained property.
Glasgow did not suffer alone. Greenock, Paisley, Clydebank, Ruther-glen and many other towns suffered severely. Although no close estimate can yet be made, the cost of putting right the damage may be as much as £25 million to £30 million. The main elements of this are about £10 million in respect of local authority housing, schools and other buildings; £8 million for private housing; and £6 million for agriculture, horticulture and woodlands.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman spoke as he did about the emergency services and how they were tested and were found to be worth while. The local authority services were in action right away, supported by voluntary agencies, and rescue and welfare operations went on all through the night. On the morning of Monday, 15th January there began the issue to local authorities of bedding and other supplies from hospital and defence stocks, and work began immediately to make houses wind and water tight.
On 16th and 17th January my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my noble Friend the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary visited a number of the areas worst affected and had preliminary discussions with the local authorities. Then, on the morning of 17th January, the Minister of State met representatives of the house property owners and of the building trades in Glasgow. This started the series of discussions which have continued and which have led to their being able to get on with the work of repair, whether on private or council houses, without worrying about who is to pay for this and who is paying for that. Our determination right from the start was that the work must be got on with, and that nothing should be allowed to impede it.
They discussed the problems arising from the scale of the necessary repairs. The seriousness of these problems had 414 already become apparent. Having on the afternoon of that same Wednesday seen for myself some of the damage in Glasgow, I had a meeting with nine of the local authorities whose people had suffered most.
I asked them to let me know their immediate needs and, if they could, to let me have on the following Monday the best assessment that they could make of the cost of repairing certain types of property. I arranged for officers in my Department to take up posts in Glasgow, Clydebank and Greenock, each with the responsibility of maintaining liaison with a group of local authorities. That was put into effect the next day. On the same day, the Department's communications staff set up emergency wireless links for Glasgow Corporation's Welfare Department. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this, because it proved invaluable to the Corporation, to the police and to everyone else concerned.
The immediate urgent need was for large numbers of tarpaulins for first-aid repairs to house roofs. During the seven days beginning on the 19th, about 13,000 tarpaulins were drawn from Government stores in England and transported to Scotland by the Army and the Royal Air Force and distributed to the areas where they were needed.
On Monday, 22nd January, I held a return meeting in Glasgow. This time, not representatives of nine local authorities turned up but 120 representatives of a very much larger number of local authorities. They gave me some of the estimates for which I had asked and, from this meeting and the discussions which I had on the same day with property owners and with representatives of the building trade, one matter in particular became clear to me. It was that we had to find urgently some means of ensuring that money would be available for essential repair work on private houses.
That is why I got agreement and announced to the House on 25th January —which, strangely enough, was another day of memory for a blast of Jannvar' wind—that an immediate advance of up to £500,000 was being made available for this purpose from the Civil Contingencies Fund. As will emerge from what I say later, this is only an advance instalment 415 of the help ultimately to be given from the Exchequer.
We were faced with the problem that we could not expect people to go on roofs in these dangerous circumstances unless they knew that someone would pay them. The property owners did not know the extent of the availability of insurance and, rather than see a time lag, we put this scheme into operation. As a result, work has not been held up, and appreciation has been expressed about the effectiveness of these arrangements.
Throughout the period of which I have been speaking, and since then, we have had valuable help from the Army. There were nearly 600 people on the job, both Regulars and T.A. members, and Sappers were brought up from England to do specialised jobs. They moved furniture from damaged houses to temporary depots, cleared obstructions, carried out demolitions, and joined in the work of emergency repairs to roofs.
An idea of the damage can be gained from the fact that the Post Office made special arrangements to deal with 66,000 telephones cut off by the storm and has been able to effect temporary repairs in almost all cases. There were extensive interruptions to electricity supplies, but the electricity boards were able to make most reconnections within hours and to complete this work by 26th January.
As the right hon. Gentleman suggested, from the outset the Ministry of Social Security has worked closely with the local authority welfare departments in helping the homeless and others who have suffered, and it has been making the discretionary payments which he suggested.
The Ministry of Public Building and Works has operated an advisory service to local authorities, contractors and merchants on sources of supply of building materials and has dealt with shortages as they have arisen. We have had the help of the Ministry of Labour and the co-operation of employers in building up the force of skilled labour which is necessary to carry forward the work of repair. In addition, we are already organising people to come up from England. That is being done at Greenock, where they are being housed in a hostel. It is also being done in Glasgow and 416 in Rutherglen. We cannot be satisfied with the kind of time limits that people are talking about. We want to get it done quickly, otherwise the stock of houses will rapidly diminish.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Can my right hon. Friend tell us the number of people brought up from England? Is he prepared to bring them up even at the expense of halting phases of house building in more fortunate areas of England?
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think that my hon. Friend can ask me to stop essential house building in England, but I can tell him that we have had to take people off the house building programmes in Scotland, regrettable as that may be, to ensure that priority is given to the storm damaged areas, although there is a limit to which that can be done without affecting other trades. It is an intricate operation.
On Friday, 26th January, the day after I made my second statement in the House, I sent the text of it to all town and county councils in Scotland, together with a circular. This said that, if limited financial resources would otherwise lead to delay in proceeding with essential work, application should be made to the Scottish Development Department for an advance from the funds that had been made available. That is the £500,000 to which I have referred already.
The circular also dealt specifically with instances in which a local authority judged it necessary to organise repair work to houses in private ownership, and drew attention to the importance of avoiding giving owners the impression that the authority would be relieving them of ultimate financial responsibility for the work. It also said that adequate control must be exercised over the authorisation of work and the rates of payment under arrangements comparable to those being devised in Glasgow.
By this time, good progress had been made with the Glasgow scheme. On Monday, 29th January we issued to the Corporation a large initial sum to finance the essential repair work to be done under the scheme. As this scheme is the model which other local authorities were urged by the circular to follow, perhaps I should describe it to the House.
417 The first point to be made about it is that it will apply only to house properties, primarily tenements, where the owners are unable to instruct repairs immediately because of inadequate financial resources and limited insurance cover. It will not apply, for example, where properties are covered by adequate comprehensive insurance. We gather from the insurance companies that ordinary comprehensive insurance covers this kind of storm damage.
In the initial period, the repairs which will be financed will be limited to those necessary to make properties wind and water-tight and to prevent further deterioration.
The factors of house property will list the properties the owners of which in their opinion will be unable to instruct repairs for the reasons that I have mentioned. Tenements in multiple owner-ship present something of a problem. In this context, when we talk about owner-occupiers in Glasgow, we refer to owner- occupiers of tenement property in which they share ownership, it may well be, with similarly placed owner-occupiers or with the remnant of the original factored ownership. This is what makes it more complex and very difficult to work on the basis of grant, but I am prepared to look at specific cases.
In the case of a tenement in multiple owner-ship, arrangements will be made for all dwellings in the tenement to be included in the same list. The factors will give the lists to Glasgow Corporation. At the same time, they will notify any insurance company concerned with the property and ask their normal maintenance contractor to assess the repairs required and provide a rough estimate of the cost.
The Corporation has set up a special office under its Civil Defence Officer to administer the scheme. The office has professional and technical staff, some of them lent by the Scottish Development Department, as well as the necessary administrative and clerical staff.
On receipt of lists from factors, the office will check that the properties listed are in a condition which justifies permanent repair, or a modified repair, and are not likely to be demolished in the near future, for example, because of redevelopment or a road widening.
418 In the meantime, the factors will ask the owners to sign a form of undertaking which requests the Corporation to have the repairs done and commits the owners to repay the Corporation, if necessary, over a period. These undertakings will be sent to the special office together with the statement of work to be done and the rough estimate of the cost. On their receipt, the Corporation will authorize the work to go ahead, if they are satisfied that the property is appropriate for repair and that the repairs are reasonable and within the scheme.
When the work is finished, the account will be rendered to the Corporation through the factor. It will be the factor's responsibility to check the account, for example, to ensure that it covers only work necessarily done, that the hours charged for are reasonable and are priced at the agreed rate, and that the prices of materials are correct and in line with current prices. The account will be certified and sent to the Corporation, which will pay the contractor. It will be open to the Corporation to see that the work has been properly carried out and satisfy itself as to the extent that it merits payment. Separately, and probably after the account has been paid, the Corporation will arrange with the factor the method and period for the recovery of the cost from the owner.
As I said in the circular, I would hope that schemes by other local authorities would be on much the same lines. I am afraid that I cannot tell the House precisely how many authorities are arranging for permanent repairs to private houses after the initial first aid, because they need not consult me. But I know that Greenock, Paisley and Rutherglen are doing so. Fortunately, schemes of this sort are not required in all local authority areas in Scotland. In some the damage was relatively light, and there will be no complications where houses are detached or semi-detached and covered by comprehensive insurance.
The real problem arises from a complex of circumstances There are tenements with many occupants and multiple ownership. There are others which, because of a shortage of housing, have to be kept in use, despite age and unsatisfactory features which make them a "bad risk" for insurance so that in relation to their value the insurance companies just 419 will not cover them. There are others which have been bought for a few hundred pounds by people for whom home ownership, in the sense we usually use that term, is quite beyond their resources, but for whom this is the only way of getting somewhere to live.
In these circumstances, houses which, before the storm damage, were fit for occupation, and were occupied, might well be lost for ever. This certainly would happen if the damage were not quickly repaired. Deterioration would set in and eventually the houses would no longer be repairable at reasonable cost. If houses which can now be repaired are not repaired and put back into service, the housing problem in Glasgow and some of the other towns affected by the storm will become even more serious than it now is.
We have certain statutory powers under the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1966. For instance, there is a procedure by which the local authority can require the owner to repair, or pay for the repair of, a house which is unfit, but which can be made fit at reasonable cost. Indeed, the arrangement worked out in Glasgow is the equivalent of that procedure, but streamlined to meet the urgency of the conditions created by the storm. I have no doubt that all concerned will agree that it is a proper use of the authorities' general powers.
As I explained in reply to a Question by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) last Wednesday, this arrangement for local authorities to organise repair work to private houses does not relieve the owner of ultimate financial responsibility. We are not seeking to compensate owners for losses, but to secure that our housing stock is not depleted unnecessarily by failure to repair because of financial hardship or financial uncertainty.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
In making that statement about the private owners and costs, would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, particularly in Glasgow, there are many private owners who are poor, that some have been waiting 20 years for a Corporation house, and, in order to have somewhere to dwell, have bought single tenement houses for as little as £100? Will 420 my right hon. Friend give special consideration to such cases?
§ Mr. Ross
Yes. We appreciate this and, when we go into these matters, we will have these facts brought to us case by case in relation to tenement property.
The owner must, therefore, undertake to repay the local authority's outlays, though where it proves impossible to make the repayment in a single sum at an early date, the local authority may agree to an arrangement to pay by instalments. This might meet some of the difficulties.
We have to face the fact that the scheme seems likely to result in some residual cost to the local authorities. We can expect that a large part of the total paid to contractors by the authorities will eventually be repaid by owners. But, for one reason or another, some of the outlays will eventually prove to be irrecoverable. Obviously, it is impossible at present to judge what the amount might be.
This is, of course, in addition to the cost to the local authorities of repairing the damage done to their own houses and other properties. Taken together the total bill is likely to be formidable.
As regards the scheme for helping the repairs to private houses which I have already explained, any deficit falling on authorities which adopt this scheme will attract a special 75 per cent. Grant. But this is likely to be the lesser part of the cost to most local authorities, who will have to repair their own property, including large numbers of council houses. We cannot know for some considerable time what the cost of the storm to each authority will be.
This will depend on the scale of the damage suffered; on the relative proportions of private and public housing in the area; on the extent to which the damage to each type of property was covered by insurance; and on a number of other factors.
As soon as the authorities have collected the facts we will go into all these matters with them. It will need to be done individually, because the circumstances of each authority may well prove to be widely different. An assessment will have to be made, authority by authority, of the financial consequences 421 of the storm damage for its ratepayers. Although I cannot tell the House what the precise outcome will be for each authority, I give it this assurance. The Government are resolved that at the end of the day no local authority will have to bear an undue additional rate burden as a result of the storm. My assessment is that this may well involve Exchequer assistance running into millions of pounds, rather than hundreds of thousands.
I would now like to turn to agriculture—
§ Mr. Heath
Before the Secretary of Sate leaves that point, may I put this to him. What he has now said, without being specific on a percentage, is that the local authorities will not have to do anything unreasonable concerning their rates to pay for the damage which has been caused to their own housing; that will be covered by the Exchequer. I think that is what he said about the local authorities. Why is he saying that every private owner, whether large or small, who has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), has to cover the complete loss that he has sustained unless it is insured?
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur(Perth and East Perthshire) rose—
§ Mr. Heath
Could not the Secretary of State consider saying, or getting his hon. Friend to say when he winds up the debate, that, after allowing for insurance, no individual owner will have to bear an unreasonable burden, according to his means, for the damage which he has sustained in the hurricane?
§ Mr. Ross
It is very difficult even to say that. I have discussed this with the property owners in Glasgow and they seem reasonably satisfied with the scheme we have produced, although they suggest that if the burden is onerous in respect of certain people they would like to come back to me and talk about it. If they do come back, I am prepared to listen to them. However, it is far too early at this stage to give a blanket grant scheme, bearing in mind the variety of circumstances. Some of these tenements are owned by banks and some may well be owned by brewers. On the other hand, some are the obligation of the kind of person about whom my hon. Friend spoke. This is why we have to be flexible in our approach.
§ Mr. William Baxter(West Stirlingshire) rose—
§ Mr. Ross
I am sorry, but I would like to get on with my speech.
I would like, now, to say something about agriculture. In the situation immediately after the gale, the immediate concern was to care for the homeless, make temporary repairs to houses, pull down unsafe buildings, and generally secure human lives. If public notice was concentrated on town rather than country, this was because these immediate problems were greater in scale, more drastic, and it may well be more dramatic, in the towns and cities.
But the countryside was not forgotten. Unfortunately, many parts of the countryside were cut off because they were affected more by the loss of telephones. Officers of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland were out immediately seeking information on which to act. The first reports were on Ministers' desks by Tuesday morning, 16th January, and Ministerial and official attention thereafter was continuous.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made several visits to see the damage for himself, first on 21st January in Renfrew and Dunbartonshire, and then on 23rd and 24th January in the Carse of Stirling, Dunbartonshire and Lanark-shire, with special reference to horticulture. This was followed by talks with agriculture and forestry officials, and a meeting with representatives of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland 423 about the effects of the storm and the measures being taken to deal with it.
A survey of farms was not straightforward, since at that time the inspectors had to observe the foot-and-mouth restrictions, and many telephones were out of order. But it soon became clear that the effects had been serious. When many people think of the Central Lowlands of Scotland, they think of the industrial heart of Scotland. It is this, of course, but it is much more. It contains a large part of the best arable land in Scotland, and the Clyde Valley is the centre of the Scottish horticultural industry. Glass, of course, suffered particularly heavily.
Most farms in the affected counties suffered damage, some of it severe. Lighter buildings of the nissen hut type and other poorly constructed buildings suffered more severely. In general, soundly constructed, well-maintained traditional buildings withstood the blast very well. The modern portal-framed structures also stood up very well, but many old farm buildings, not worth very much in value, but costing a great deal more to replace, suffered severe damage. Fences, too, were often knocked down by falling trees.
I announced that special arrangements had been made to deal urgently with applications for farm improvement grant for the restoration of farm buildings, fences, and other fixed equipment damaged by the storm. These grants are payable under the Farm Improvement Scheme, under Section 30 and Schedule 4 of the Agriculture Act, 1967. The rate of grant is 30 per cent., including the 5 per cent. investment grant.
Assistance under the Scheme is subject to general conditions, and will be payable for the restoration of damage to farm buildings, provided that the cost on any one farm is at least £100. The building can either be restored, or a new one built. In either case the cost qualifying for grant will be the cost reasonably incurred, less the amount of insurance received, so if there is no insurance they will get a bigger grant.
Before work can qualify for this grant, my Department must have issued authority in writing for it to proceed, and normally this is given only after an inspection by my Department's profes- 424 sional officers. In view of the need to get ahead quickly, the first move that I made was to make arrangements for this authority to be issued locally, and this was done on 22nd January.
In some cases farmers had started repair work immediately, and I then arranged that where my officers were satisfied that such a start was essential they should make such authority retrospective to 15th January. It will be seen, therefore, that we have been as flexible as possible within our statutory powers. But we need to know what work is going on, and if farmers have not already done so they should, in their own interests, apply as quickly as possible to the area offices of the Department of Agriculture.
I may say that with the build-up of applications, particularly during the past week, there is an indication that this is now being done at a greater rate than before. So far, 1,011 applications under the Farm Improvement Scheme have been received in respect of work estimated to cost £646,000.
While I give these figures today for the information of hon. Members, I stress that they do not necessarily reflect the total damage. At a later date, when all applications have been received and examined, I shall be able to give a reasonably accurate figure of damage to farm buildings. In the meantime, work is going ahead on new construction.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of the record, accept that whereas it is possible to have a 30 per cent. farm improvement grant, in the majority of cases which have been discussed only 15 per cent. is applicable because the areas are clearly adjoining woodlands—this is where the trees have fallen—or they are not viable units? This includes, for example, the whole of the Government's smallholdings. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman would want to be a good landlord there.
§ Mr. Ross
I think the hon. Lady knows that I am a very good landlord there. I remember going round part of Dumfriesshire with the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro). The improvements which were to be made were to be on the Government's property. On the other point, I would not like to be tied by words now.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will clear up one point about which I am doubtful. He said that he was trying to assess damage, and would be able to do it only when the applications came in. Does not he realise that quite a number of farmers will not put in claims to repair damage because they will think that they are not able to pay for it, and therefore his list may not be complete?
§ Mr. Ross
This is always so, but I shall be surprised if there are many farmers in this category.
The Department's surveyors are keeping a close watch on the supply of building materials to see that repair work is not held up because of local shortages of materials. The Ministry of Public Building and Works says that so far no serious shortages have been reported.
Farm houses and cottages are not grant-aided under the Farm Improvement Scheme. This covers the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, who suggested that something should be done about them. Many of these were damaged, but these should, of course, be insured under the usual comprehensive policy which covers storm damage, and rural owners are therefore being treated in the same way as owners of private property in the towns which was damaged.
I said earlier that only a small number of stock have been lost. In relation to the scale of damage to buildings, this stock loss is very small, and even within the individual farming enterprise is not generally of such a scale as to cause undue hardship. More serious losses, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in passing, may well be due to the fact that a few people have had to sell off their poultry flocks quickly because of the collapse of their hen houses. They, too, in particular cases, will he covered by the Farm Improvement Scheme, but not those who are more intensively producing and are covered by the Board of Trade grant. But we will probably get an opportunity to look into this on the basis of the applications received.
With regard to crops, the major damage resulted to hay in stacks, particularly in the Carse of Stirling. Where this was baled, it should be salvagable, and where it was not, much of it was recovered, although losses were severe in individual 426 cases. I regret these losses of stock and crops, but these have to be accepted as a normal farming risk. No assistance was given in this respect, either following the Highland and Solway flooding last winter, or the flooding in Moray and Nairn in 1956.
I would like, now to say something about horticulture, and to deal, in particular, with the damage to glass-houses, something about which I feel strongly. Of approximately 300 acres of commercial glass in Scotland, 140 acres are in Lanarkshire, which was one of the counties most severely affected by the gales. On 16th January, the senior horticulture inspector of my Department visited a number of holdings in the Clyde Valley area which had been severely damaged, and also obtained more general information about the extent of the damage in the area as a whole.
The West of Scotland Agricultural College, whose advisory area covers the worst hit areas, has surveyed 389 horticultural holdings in its area, covering about 220 acres. Of the total, 4 per cent. is described as completely demolished or very severely damaged, and a further 4½per cent. has damage to glass only. The estimated cost of repairing damage is £200,000.
So far, the 40 applications for grant aid received cover work costing about £50,000. This will be assisted under the Horticulture Improvement Scheme and the rate of grant is 38⅓ per cent., including 5 per cent, investment grant. Arrangements for dealing with applications are broadly the same for the Farm Improvement Scheme.
The West College has estimated the loss of existing crops at about £3,800. More important, the potential loss of crops if the damage is not made good in time is estimated at £70,000. Restoration work is thus a matter of considerable urgency.
Much of the damage to glasshouses has been to houses upwards of 30 years old. By and large, recently constructed traditional type houses stood up well. There were, however, a few cases of severe damage to new houses of the Dutch light type. The older type houses suffering severe damage would have a value of not more than £2 to £3 per foot. Replacement, 427 however, would cost from £7 to £8 per foot. Insurance of glass is not common, because of the high premium, and, in any case, would not help here.
The main purpose of the Horticulture Scheme is, however, to assist the replacement of these old glasshouses, and we shall be using it for its intended purpose; but we can also use the Scheme to replace new glass destroyed by the gale. There are general conditions under this Scheme but we shall interpret these as helpfully and sympathetically as possible.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
As the Secretary of State is aware, it is necessary for a glasshouse grower to have four adjusted acres under the scheme to qualify. Can he assure the House that the qualification of four adjusted acres will be forgiven for a small grower in this difficulty?
§ Mr. Ross
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to be flexible in that matter it would be far better for him not to ask me to say something publicly on a matter in respect of which I am bound by Statute. All I can say is that I am limited by Statute but that I shall interpret this as sympathetically as I can.
On forestry, I fully share the concern which has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman about the windblow damage to Scottish forests. Its extent is formidable. The latest estimate of the volumes blown shows that in the Forestry Commission estates 22 million hoppus feet were blown, while the damage to private woodlands amounted to nearly 16 million feet, making 38 million hoppus feet in all. This represents about 4 per cent. of the standing timber in Scotland before the windblow, and is about equal to 18 months' normal production in Scotland.
It was not easy to arrive at even this rough estimate of the damage. It is even more difficult to identify its component parts and the detailed problems which have to be solved. The problems will have to wait upon identification. The Chairman of the Forestry Commission has reported to me personally on the meeting which he held in Glasgow on 29th January with representatives of the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association and the Home Timber Merchants' Association of Scotland. English organisations 428 were also represented, because from a marketing point of view they are concerned.
This meeting covered all those who were primarily affected by the wind-blow. There was, I am glad to say, a ready appreciation that co-operation by all parties is essential, and in the absence of a licensing system and quota system it is all the more essential to arrive at effective solutions. It was agreed that the problems of harvesting and marketing the blown timber could best be solved by the private growers, the home trade, and the Commission working in close collaboration.
It was realised that much more information was required before the main problems could be quantified and solutions proposed. It will be appreciated, therefore, that while this work is proceeding it is not really possible to do more than give an interim report.
Decision was taken to set up an action group wih six members—two from the Forestry Commission, two from the timber merchants, and two from the woodland owners. The action group has, in turn, set up small working groups of not more than three people to carry out the work in depth. They will, for example, collect further data by species and size, and the Commission has offered to help the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association with the field work in private woodlands.
It will assess the labour and machinery requirements needed to deal with the windblow and the extent to which normal planned sales of trees outside the blown area should be reduced by voluntary action. Other problems which it will consider will include transport, handling, the capacity of the sawmills to take the increased quantities of logs, and general marketability. I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's point about local authority demand.
Until these facts have been assembled only the roughest estimate can be given of the value of the blown timber. Much will depend on the species and location of the timber and the extent of the damage. It is not possible to give a realistic estimate of the total value of the blown timber at present.
The question of the further part that the Forestry Commission can play will 429 be considered when the action group's report is available. I am satisfied that for the time being active co-operation to deal with this problem, surpassed in forestry terms only by the 1953 windblow when 50–51 million feet were blown—the right hon. Gentleman quoted a lower figure—is proceeding as rapidly as possible.
I have given the House as full an account as I can at this juncture of what the Government have done, are doing, arid intend to do. We are determined to see to it that the grievous damage caused by this disastrous gale is made good as soon as possible.
While we appreciate the extent of the disaster we can be justly proud of the work that has already been done by local authorities, voluntary organisations and—if I may say it under my breath—Government Departments. The work is being pressed forward but, with the best will in the world, it will be many months before it can be completed. What I have tried to achieve is to see that the impetus is kept going and that it grows, and to that extent I am very grateful for the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech and will be concerned to hear as many constructive suggestions as are put forward.
I know that they have the wholehearted support of hon. Members on both sides of the House in their efforts, and that they mean to continue them. The right hon. Gentleman said that this is not just a problem of statistics; it is not just a problem of houses, or farms, or stocks and the rest; it is a problem of people —many people to whom life has been very cruel in recent days. Yet one lady who left one of the reception centres said, "Life can be as kind as it is cruel." She was talking of the spirit of aid and help that had been shown by everyone concerned in dealing with the people affected by this emergency.
If we can keep together in this kind of way we shall get over the disaster quickly. It has tremendous implications for our future programme of dealing with Glasgow and the older houses, and the lessons which have been learned, and the dangers implicit in not taking quick action, are present in all our minds. I can only promise the House that I shall do is much as I can to further the work that has started.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I am glad that we are having this debate; and on the Floor of the House, because, however important the Scottish Grand Committee may be, a disaster of the magnitude of that which hit Scotland on the night of 14th January is a national disaster for the whole of Britain and well merits discussion in this Chamber. I intend to refer only to the damage caused by the hurricane in Glasgow, although I am well aware that the countryside and other towns also suffered grievously.
The first point which should be cleared up is why there was so much damage endangering life. I am not concerned at the moment with slates being ripped off the roof, which caused only discomfort, even if serious discomfort, because that is not dangerous. What is dangerous, and what caused the loss of four lives in my constituency, is when chimneys fall and gable-ends collapse. What was the reason for this?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman is being a little simple. We know that the gale was the basic cause, but was it the gale plus lack of maintenance or the gale plus the method of construction, or was it that, in some parts of the city, the wind blew harder than in others—in other words, a meteorological problem?
I do not want to inject into the debate a party political note—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have the agreement of hon. Gentlemen opposite and I hope that they will agree that, although not wishing to do that, we cannot behave like ostriches and bury our heads deeply into the sand, that we must know whether there is any connection between the damage which may endanger life, and which actually caused loss of life in this case, and Acts of Parliament which not only restrict rents but which thereby restrict the money available for private maintenance. That is all that I want to know.
§ Mr. Rankin
Does the hon. Member realise that one factor which might help to account for the damage, and which he seems to be forgetting, is that many of the tenements which collapsed are over 100 years old and were built before 1860?
§ Mr. Galbraith
That relates to what I want to know. These tenements may not have been properly maintained. The Secretary of State made a very interesting remark, that there was no discrimination in favour or against the rich or the poor in the way that the damage was caused. All I can say, as a layman going around my constituency, is that this did not seem to be so. There seemed to be a prima facie relationship between dangerous damage and the rent restrictions, because in my constituency—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, I want the figures and the right hon. Gentleman said that he would give them. I am speaking only as a layman going about his constituency.
It is in the lower part of my constituency, along the Dumbarton Road, that the dangerous damage seems greatest, and as one goes up the hill from the river to the more prosperous parts of the constituency, it becomes less and less, until, among the mansions of Kelvinside, there seems to be no dangerous damage at all.
My conclusions may be wrong, but hope that the Secretary of State will look into this carefully. If he finds a relationship between rent restrictions and damage endangering life, I would urge him strongly to instruct his rent officers to deal with all types of controlled property so that, so far as poor maintenance is to blame for damage endangering life, we may in future, through having money available for higher maintenance, avoid the tragic loss of life which occurred on this occasion.
I pose all this in the nature of a question. I make no party political point, but I want to get at the facts relating to the past so that we can avoid it in future, if it is due to bad maintenance.
Now let me turn to the present and the tremendous problem of repairing the damage—not only the dangerous damage which I have mentioned but that which caused slates to fall off the roof and brought acute discomfort. I also pay a warm tribute to the fine work done so co-operatively by all the agencies involved, public and private. It was a magnificent job of work. I know from constituents who lost relatives as well as property how much they were comforted in their hour of tragedy not only by the practical help brought to them, but 432 by the feeling that everyone was in this together.
There is no doubt that the initial stage, when first aid was brought to everyone —private occupiers as well as council tenants—was a great success. But the second stage, of carrying out the permanent repairs, is full of almost greater problems. Each day, I get pathetic letters from constituents—I expect other hon. Members do as well—telling how, in spite of these first-aid measures, for which they are most grateful, rain is still coming in, and how they cannot, try how they might, get any workmen to come to put it right.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the work must go on, and I agree, but these letters show that it is not going on. These are not panic letters, either, from constituents unused to dealing with affairs. They come from people of consequence. I even had one from a university lecturer who was at his wits' end because he could not get anyone to take the least interest in the repair of his house. I believe that these letters which I get reflect the true position—that the volume of repairs is quite beyond the capacity of local firms, and that an emergency still exists in spite of the fine work already done.
What is necessary is a consortium of some sort, perhaps making use of some of the larger firms like McAlpine, and led by the S.S.H.A., and that this should concentrate from all over the country, England as well, a team which will get this repair work done as quickly as possible. Nothing else will do the job. In the interests of Scotland, it is far more important to save existing houses from further dilapidation, with plaster deteriorating, ceilings coming down and dry rot taking root, than to build a few more new houses.
The national priority for Scotland at the moment should be preservation and not construction. If the right hon. Gentleman follows this course with energy, as he suggested that he might, and in the process slows down the new building so that repair work can go ahead faster. I assure him that we on this side will make no party political points if, in consequence, the number of new houses being built declines, because at this moment what Scotland needs most is the speedy repair of its existing stock of houses.
433 The financing of all this work is very complicated, as became clear from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. There probably should have been a national disaster appeal, and even now it may not be too late to establish one, but it is clear that to set up disaster funds on an ad hoc basis is not satisfactory.
There should be a permanent fund and I organisation in existence to which the public can subscribe at any time, but particularly at the time of a disaster, when their sympathy is likely to be most generous. If the recent storm in Glasgow has stimulated the Government into setting up this sort of machinery on a national scale, some good for the future will at least have come out of the disaster. However, that will not help in the, present crisis.
I am not clear about the Government's financial intentions in this matter. It seems that they intend to give a grant to local authorities to reimburse them and insulate them from the consequences of the storm. If so, it seems that they cannot, in fairness, ignore private occupiers who have suffered equally. Perhaps a way round the difficulty might be that suggested by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition; to combine repair work with the grants available under the Clean Air Acts, thus killing two birds with one stone.
If, on the other hand, the Government do not intend adequately to help local authorities, and if some of the cost of this repair work falls on the rates, then it should be shown as a special and separate surcharge which should not be levied on private property which has been damaged. If this is not done, private residents will be paying twice over for doing their own repairs and, through the rates, for the repair of council houses.
It is difficult to find a formula for financial help that is fair to everyone, taxpayer and ratepayer alike—the council tenant as well as the private tenant, the insured as well as the uninsured. However, there is no need to hurry over this. It can be gone into in detail and at length later. At this juncture it is not necessary to find a final financial solution to the problem, though I hope that in striking a balance the Government will lean on the side of generosity.
What is necessary now is men, rather than money. The Government have 434 made finance available by way of a loan and this has been of considerable help, but it is not enough. The problem is so gigantic that it must be tackled like a military operation and on a national scale. I urge the Government to recognise their responsibility to the people of Scotland, who are still suffering, and to attack this problem with the sense of urgency it still undoubtedly requires.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
The human misery and widespread havoc caused by the hurricane can be appreciated to the full only by those who lived through it and saw the aftermath. I experienced both. As soon as possible, I went to my constituency, where rest centre accommodation had been provided in church and public halls for about 100 adults and 70 children.
In a situation in which one might reasonable have expected to find chaos, there was complete order. An army of people had already done a great deal to lessen the personal consequences of the disaster. We therefore cannot pay tribute too often to the magnificent, tireless and sometimes dangerous efforts of the members of the local authority services, the voluntary organisations and the general public. After 30 years' membership of Glasgow Corporation, when I surveyed the scene in the Shettleston public hall that evening I felt extremely proud, despite the tragedy I was witnessing. I was proud of the work that was being done by the members of our health and welfare department, the police and firemen, the W.V.S. and the public in general.
Throughout this time there emerged what is so characteristic in times of stress and distress—particularly in times of personal tragedy in Glasgow—the true spirit of the Glaswegian, the warm, human, friendliness and neighbourliness that is so readily, freely and unstintingly shown. This disaster has been rightly labelled by the Leader of the Opposition as a national disaster, and all hon. Members will agree that it should be so labelled. Despite this, and all the praise that has been rightly meted out to all concerned, a tremendous task lies ahead.
Having said that, I must admit that, to my knowledge, there has been what I can only describe as a slight lack of 435 co-ordination. I will give an example of what I mean. The other day I had to telephone the master of works in Glasgow about chimney heads that had come down or had been removed in a damaged tenement. The rain was still coming in and I was anxious that the tenants in this tenemental property should feel that everything possible was being done to help them. I regret to say that the master of works said that the matter was not one for his department and that I would have to contact the health and welfare department.
A similar situation arose in a block where chimney heads had been brought down and the tenants were without warmth because, apart from conventional fires, they had no other form of heating. When an appeal was made for electric fires, no one was able to help. In the sort of weather that we in Glasgow have recently been experiencing—cold, ice and snow—one would have expected help to be immediately forthcoming. Certainly, someone should have been on hand to advise these people where they could obtain, as a loan if not as a gift, sufficient electric heaters to make them reasonably comfortable.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I had exactly the opposite experience. When I contacted my health and welfare department I was told that the matter had to be transferred to the city engineer's department, which is the master of works' department.
§ Sir M. Galpern
My hon. Friend's experience may have been different, but it shows the same lack of co-ordination. I accept that these may be little irritations, but to the people who have suffered, and who are still suffering, they loom large, particularly since they expect a measure of co-ordination in these matters among the various departments of the local authority.
I am glad to say that, in this case, a newspaper took up the struggle and appealed to its readers who could spare electric heaters to get in touch with the newspaper, which would arrange for them to be collected and delivered to people who had applied for them. After the immediate problem had been dealt with, and urgent matters sorted out, nig- 436 gling problems of this sort should not have arisen. There might have been better co-ordination within the local authority.
My right hon. Friend has announced that a central office will deal with financial claims. I hope that, as a result of this debate—and remembering that I am speaking with personal knowledge of Glasgow—a central office will be established within Glasgow Corporation which will prevent one department having to refer people to other departments and that a group of individuals will be on hand to sort out immediately all the difficulties that arise.
I wish to make it clear that I am not being over-critical in this matter, because I appreciate that, faced with this terrible disaster, certain points are bound to be overlooked. Nevertheless, in the case to which I referred—where electric heaters were needed—the question of who would install the necessary electrical circuit arose. I am referring to a poor type of tenement in which special plugs were needed to take the electric fires, the tenants being unable to light coal fires.
I have received a number of very pathetic letters from tenants who are afraid to continue living in their tenemental properties. They believe that in view of the high winds and gales still to come it would be unsafe for them to continue living in houses where visible damage has been done and temporary repairs have been carried out. Yet they have been urged to continue to reside in those properties. I must have had at least 24 letters coming under the heading of a psychological problem.
It would be far too much to say that where the master of works has designated a house as being fit for habitation after temporary repairs, the tenants should return to live there when they are under this constant fear. They say that they are awake all night because they are afraid to go to sleep and, as a result, they are unable to perform their work the following day. I do not know whether or not it is unfair to ask that in these circumstances the Corporation should, at least for a period, provide alternative accommodation for those so psychologically affected.
The loan machinery announced by my right hon. Friend today seems to me not 437 to indicate a sufficient sense of urgency. If we are to go through all the procedures he mentioned—that a member of one department has first to look at the property, and then another has to say whether it is worth repairing, and another has to see whether the tenants in the property will agree ultimately to defray the loan—it will all take a considerable time and, in the meantime, the water comes cascading through the roof. I should like to be assured that this machinery will not in any way mean that there will be undue delay in starting this urgent work.
There is difficulty in getting an undertaking of the kind that will be necessary if the repairer is to be guaranteed payment. One has to know something about these tenements at first hand to realise the difficulties of the people who occupy them. Some people refuse to sign anything. If one person stands out, and says, "I am signing nothing" have all the other tenants to suffer as a result? I mention this point to show the kind of difficulties that arise, though I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend and the members of his staff will be able to sort out these problems.
This is a national disaster, but are we treating it as a national disaster? I intervened to ask my right hon. Friend whether labour could temporarily be diverted to this work from some of the new house building—and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) spoke to the same effect—and whether we might not make an urgent appeal to local authorities in England to release skilled workers so as to carry out these necessary repairs as expeditiously as possible.
By a coincidence, the results of a survey commissioned two years ago by Glasgow Corporation from Mr. Cullingworth to ascertain the state of housing in the city have been presented in the last couple of days. The report is a very sad commentary on the state of housing generally in Glasgow—not that we were previously wholly unaware of the situation. It reveals that Glasgow has twice as many buildings built between 1891 and 1900 as the national average. It classifies 10,000 houses as being unfit, and gives 6 per cent. of those houses a life of less than five years. It labels 75,000 houses as being sub- 438 standard and not improveable at reasonable cost.
One has to ask oneself a very direct and fundamental question: if we are to treat this as a national disaster is it worth spending any money on those categories of houses, or should we now say that this is the time to demolish them? There may be some blessing even in such a tragedy as this if it makes us face the unfortunate state of housing generally in our city so that, instead of wasting money—and in many cases it will be wasted money—on trying to patch up houses that should be demolished, we say, "This gives us the opportunity to reassess the whole project of free housing for the people of Glasgow."
I repeat a very serious suggestion to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I made it two years ago, when the Prime Minister announced the appointment of the present Minister of Public Building and Works as a Minister with special responsibility for housing in London. I said that housing conditions in Glasgow warranted a similar appointment.
Many of the problems of which we have heard today, and problems that will arise in the future—because this will probably be a two- or three-year undertaking—require someone specially designated as an additional Minister at the Scottish Office responsible for housing in Scotland, and charged with the specific duty of deciding, in the aftermath of the hurricane, whether to demolish or to patch up, and to see to the cutting of all red tape that is all too prevalent still and which will still further rear its head again. I believe that only by the appointment of someone solely concerned with this aspect shall we be able to deal expeditiously with the unfortunate results of the hurricane and the whole question of our future approach to rehousing people in Glasgow and elsewhere.
Therefore, while I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for all their past efforts, I say that this is a grand opportunity, not to be missed, once and for all to regard Glasgow's housing position as a national disaster and do something really worth while by appointing a special Minister to deal with it.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Esmond Wright (Glasgow, Pollok)
I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that this is a debate we would rather not have had, but, though one regrets what has occasioned it, I believe, though with qualifications, that this House is the most appropriate place to discuss the disaster.
I want to avoid partisan references, although some of the points I make will inevitably have some measure of partisanship. Anyone who lived through the night of the hurricane, who walked round the streets during the following few days, or who accompanied the Lord Provost on his journeys, could not but be moved by what he saw. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) has said, this is a national disaster which has some of the features of a wartime scene. I pay particular tribute to the voluntary services, especially the Salvation Army, to whom my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made reference.
It seems imperative that we should ask ourselves the questions which were implicit in the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). He asked: why did it happen? Both he and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) suggested short-term and longterm solutions. On the question of why did it happen, it has been assumed that this hurricane was a once in a millennia affair, but there are regular periods when 120 m.p.h. winds occur. The wind force four days ago was 92 m.p.h. and the wind force four days before that was 90 m.p.h. In the next six weeks we can expect wind forces of that order to be a regular feature of the West of Scotland weather. In other words, the hurricane seemed to blow wide open the whole policy of political and financial neglect, not only of Glasgow's housing but of Scotland's housing.
We have been talking much too readily as if this will not and cannot happen again. This is the price we pay for our so-called political virtues. We live from crisis to crisis. If we are to be statesmen, we should seek to avoid crises arising. These crises have arisen in the past. In 1927 40 people were killed in a similar storm. In August, 1948—I 440 make reference only to Scotland—there was severe flooding in Berwickshire and East Lothian and the Government provided £100,000 to help in meeting the cost of the damage. We all remember the 1954 gale which sank the Princess Victoria in the Irish Sea with the loss of 28 lives. These are recurrent phenomena and it is imperative that we address ourselves to the social policy needed to meet them.
In passing, I refer to a local matter. Floods on a smaller scale and without loss of life occurred in Househillwood in December, 1966, to which Glasgow is still paying a tribute of total neglect. There seems to be a curious attitude to housing problems in Scotland. This is one feature of Scottish prejudice which we have seriously to examine.
I am sure that very few hon. Members are not aware that every time one sails up the Clyde one meets the City of Glasgow 20 miles out in that low cloud below which rests the grime and soot of two centuries of the industrial revolution. The red sandstone and grey sandstone buildings are paying the price for at least 70 years of neglect. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) may be right in speaking of a century of neglect.
§ Mr. Rankin
While accepting that a great deal of the damage was caused by the effect of wind on property and by subsidence, will the hon. Member accept from me that it does not require a wind in Glasgow to blow down the houses? In my constituency because of age alone three tenements have subsided. That has happened in Govan through no other cause than extreme age.
§ Mr. Wright
I accept that point. I intended to come back to it later, but I take it up now in passing since the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston referred to one of the Cullingworth Committee Reports. The Cullingworth Report on "Scottish Housing in 1965" said that the oldest dwellings in Glasgow werefar from being the poorest equipped.… Those built before 1861 had higher amenities than any built since 1918.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member for Govan has made the point about age of a question of age as of the maintenance property twice. It is not nearly so much of old properties.
§ Mr. Wright
I think that it has been established that there is a problem of climate in Glasgow. There is a recurrent wind force of high velocity and at this time of the year it seriously handicaps existing private and corporation tenements. It is a tenemental problem. The Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right in his reference to a fact which is so little appreciated south of the Border. On the top deck of these houses there are three tons of masonry which in some cases is entirely unused.
I wish to suggest both short-term and long-term remedies. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead, I found the description by the Secretary of State of the loan bank which he envisaged a trifle ambiguous and uncertain. I understand that there is £500,000 on tap now and, as it were, an unlimited fund beyond that. I am not sure that I am putting this the right way and I should be grateful for correction from the Minister of State, but if this is true a great many owner-occupiers in Glasgow simply cannot afford repairs on the scale which will be needed. It will be absolutely imperative to make plain to them how they can be assisted financially, how they can get that assistance and under what system of repayment, if any, they will receive it. I should think a statement on grant assistance alongside the loan assistance is unavoilable.
A second short-term action seems equally important to dealing with the fundamental problem of insurance cover. If we say that there is to be a grant, and certainly if it is a £75 outright grant, those who have insured in a sense will be the sufferers. One possibility is to say that there should be a grant of, say, £15 to all who have been affected by the hurricane, insured and uninsured alike, because there is in all insurance schemes, a basic £15 which they have to meet themselves. That would go a little way, but obviously it would be only a token of what might be forthcoming.
I come to my third point, and here I become a little more critical. I pay tribute to what the Corporation has done and the wisdom of the Lord Provost in saying that the Corporation must go to the help of private owners of property as well as municipal tenants. But I am very puzzled that the Corporation should be carrying on its policy of destruction 442 of air raid shelters in the Hyndland and the Hillhead areas, and giving this priority.
§ Sir M. Galpern
I think that it has already been pointed out that the type of unskilled labour used in demolishing air-raid shelters is not the type suitable for carrying out repairs.
§ Mr. Wright
I accept that, but if one watches the army in operation, as I did in St. Andrew's Drive, one has seen men working under great difficulty and among them untrained men who were risking their lives. I say this advisedly, because one of my constituents was killed while doing repairs, in addition to those who were killed by the hurricane. Anyone who has lived in a top flat in Glasgow knows that not very well-trained men can be freely and fully used to a greater extent than has been the case so far.
A fourth point, already made by the Leader of the Opposition, but which needs emphasis, is the failure of the weather report service. All of us who commute regularly to London watch this service at home late at night. And it is certainly true that on the Sunday night there was entirely inadequate warning of the hurricane. Yet it was already blowing at gale force and by morning it was 120 m.p.h. A great deal of investigation of this needs to be done.
In terms of short-term remedies, I again stress the use of the Services. The Army was used. The Secretary of State paid tribute to the Army and the T.A. I trust that the Government will remember the value of the T.A. in crises such as this one. I trust that the Government will also remember the rôle which can be played by Civil Defence officers. The H.Q. for this operation is now staffed by Civil Defence officers. Some senior officers in the Armed Forces believe that there is a rôle to be played by the Army in a permanent sense in helping out in civilian crises such as this one. I trust that in their thinking about the rôle of the Armed Services the Government will keep this point in mind.
It is now three weeks after the event and almost anything which is now said sounds inadequate in terms of constructive suggestions for dealing with the events of the 14th and 15th January. The hurricane revealed a whole century of 443 neglect, as the hon. Member for Govan said.
§ Mr. Wright
That neglect arose from many factors, and when I list them the hon. Member will not be so quick to say, "Hear, hear."
Those factors are a steady policy of low rents in Scotland, owners' rates till recently, and a feu duty system, all of which made up a policy of social neglect. This policy of social neglect has been furthered by the present Glasgow Corporation I support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Shettleston that a special Minister should be appointed to take charge of housing in Glasgow.
I want to make several major proposals for the long-term to deal with the situation in the West of Scotland, especially since the Secretary of State implied that a survey was about to be carried out. First, I believe that there must be a large-scale programme for the maintenance of older property and financial help for owner-occupiers of tenement flats—the red sandstone, the grey sandstone buildings of the 1880s, the 1890s, and the turn of the century. Glasgow has always been good at destroying its past. I see no reason why, after what happened in the hurricane, we should not begin to appreciate the value to the city, to Corporation tenants as well as to owner-occupiers, of those late Victorian and Edwardian buildings.
Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we must get rid of chimney stacks in smokeless zones and start on a policy of getting rid of them everywhere, especially in areas which are to become smokeless zones. These tons of masonry can be killer weapons. I have received many letters as I am sure other hon. Members have, expressing the fears people have about what will happen in the next high wind. People are asking whether TV aerials swung by wind will blow more slates off or knock down a chimney head and cause another disaster.
Thirdly, I believe that Glasgow Corporation, whose multi-storey blocks rode this hurricane much better than any other buildings—
§ Mr. Wright
People at the top of even those buildings said that the sensation was one of seasickness. However, those buildings rode out the storm.
The hon. Member for Govan says that they are new, but they are suffering from neglect. I remind Scottish Members of Pollockshaws and the mud flats around the river. It is an area of total neglect and an area in which the walls of ground floor flats are peeling. There are conditions of acute discomfort there which hurricanes have nothing to do with.
One reason is that Glasgow Corporation, whilst spending money on rehousing people from the clums—and I salute the Corporation for doing that—is not spending money on the maintenance of the multistory blocks it has erected. It is important to remember that the conditions in some of the multi-story blocks which survived the hurricane are very far from pleasant. This has nothing to do with the hurricane. Remedial action is necessary on the part of the Corporation, which is very mean in the matter of spending money on its maintenance department.
Fourthly, and in the long-term, we cannot consider this problem without bearing in mind the whole rent structure and the rate structure of Glasgow and, looking ahead, of the large regions which are likely to follow it. There are other parallels than those I have mentioned of hurricanes or strong winds in the West of Scotland. An earthquake in Dallas in 1905 led to the creation of the office of city manager. The hon. Member for Shettleston might well have proposed that these big cities, which will become even bigger and in which problems such as these will become even more acute, not less acute, will have to have city managers responsible to the electorate. I cite the present Town Clerk of Glasgow as an example of someone who could be a very efficient city manager. We must think in managerial terms when trying to cope with problems of this magnitude.
Finally, we must somehow recruit more slaters, plasterers and other workers to cope not just with this problem, but with the fact that Glasgow has over 80.000 people on its housing waiting list. Glasgow is a city which is going through a vast social revolution. The present small labour force cannot cope with these problems.
445 I should appreciate it if either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State will give me answers to these points in due course.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
We have now heard three speeches from Members from Glasgow, with a series of interjections from another hon. Member which have now totted up to a speech in itself. After the two Front Bench speeches, the debate has developed more or less into one of criticism of Glasgow Corporation.
§ Mr. Steele
It is not for me to defend Glasgow Corporation. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) consisted of an allegation of lack of co-ordination. I have had a long experience of Glasgow Corporation. I know that the lack of co-ordination between the various departments is not new. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will inform the Corporation of this criticism.
§ Mr. Hannan
I hope that that expression of opinion will not be taken by the Corporation to be the opinion accepted by other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Steele
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I was referring to what has happened in the debate so far in contributions from Glasgow Members.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith) reminds me of the story of the psychiatrist and the young man. I will not go into details. No matter what subject is under debate the hon. Gentleman always sees the problem existing because of the operation of rent restriction and low rents. I think that some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite will recognise the story from that allusion.
The publicity given to the damage which took place in Glasgow and Greenock has given a clear indication of all that happened there, but there is not, I think, a full realisation of what happened elsewhere. I am glad, therefore, that the Leader of the Opposition, who made a very good speech today, drew attention to the extent of damage outside those two areas. It so happened that, on the Monday afternoon, after the storm, I 446 had to travel from Lesmahagow, where I live, to Helensburgh, and my journey took me down through the central part of Lanarkshire, through Glasgow, down through Dunbarton to Helensburgh. It gave me some idea of the extent of the damage. All along the road there were slates, fallen bricks, sheets of corrugated iron, wooden garages which had been blown across the road, and fallen trees. The number of them had to be seen to be believed.
The reason for my journey to Helens-burgh was to attend my annual meeting with the West Dunbartonshire branch of the National Farmers' Union. Hon. Members will not be surprised when I say that only two farmers turned up. It was the shortest meeting I have ever had with the West Dunbartonshire branch. The reason was obvious. In West Dunbartonshire not one farm has escaped damage. The cost for some farmers is in the region of £3,000. They very much appreciate what the Government have said about using the Farm Improvement Scheme, but, as has been pointed out already, it does not cover many of the repairs which will be necessary, and neither does it take into account the loss in respect of crops. It has been put to me that a loan scheme should be made available to enable farmers to deal with their problems.
After my visit on the Monday, I returned on the Friday and Saturday, and I discussed with a number of people affected exactly what had happened. It was quite clear that many had had a night of terror. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston when he says that a good many people have no desire—indeed, they will not do it—to go back to the houses which they occupied before.
The local authorities face an enormous task. It is right to pay a tribute to all the local authorities and the voluntary organisations for the vigorous way in which they tackled the job on the Monday and following days. From my contacts with local authority officials and others, I know that they are grateful for the Government's work in this connection. They were especially glad in Dumbarton to have a visit from Lord Hughes, who saw for himself what had happened. They appreciate also the Government's initiative in getting tarpaulins and ropes 447 speedily delivered into the area to make temporary repairs possible.
There are two separate problems here. There is the question of first aid, what had to be done for the homeless, and the immediate future of those concerned. As I say, this problem has been tackled very well, and all concerned are to be congratulated on what they did. There is then the problem of permanent reinstatement of people's homes. This is more difficult, and it is here that troubles are bound to arise.
In the landward area of Dunbarton, for the local authority houses, the houses of the new town corporation and of the Scottish Special Housing Association and for private houses, the estimated cost is about £340,000. In Dumbarton Burgh it is about £130,000. In Helensburgh and Cove and Kilcreggan, the full effects have not vet been estimated, but there has been severe damage in the small Burgh of Cove and Kilcreggan, This small burgh, on the outermost edge of the peninsula, is not in a position to face the cost of the damage there.
Forty-nine schools were severely damaged, and many had to be closed. Much industrial property also was damaged. Two churches were completely destroyed. In one case, I think, a problem has been solved for the presbytery, because there has been an effort for some time to get the churches to amalgamate. The other one, however, presents a different and very difficult problem. It was a new church, built on the Bellsmyre housing estate. As well as being the church, it was the social community centre for the whole area. That church has been completely destroyed. I am not sure what assistance the Government will give. My right hon. Friend did not mention it today, and I have as yet no idea of what is likely to happen. But something must be done quickly. There must be a building scheme at once because, as I have explained, it was not merely a church but was the centre for community activities.
After the first-aid work, we face the long and arduous task of permanent repair. The problem here is manpower. It is not easy to get people trained to go on a roof. I tell the House frankly that I can go up as far as the gutter of a house, but I do not want to be asked to go further. I admire men who are 448 able to wander about on a roof just as though they were walking about on the ground. But I recognise the danger. It is not a job which everyone can tackle.
Dumbarton Town Council recognises that this work is beyond the capacity of the local authority workmen and the firms in the area. It has been able to secure the services of a firm from Dumfriesshire, which has brought its men to Dumbarton to help. This firm has gone further and engaged men from Inverness to come down to Dumbarton in order to get the work done. Perhaps other local authorities are doing the same. It is urgent that whatever steps are necessary shall be taken to release men for this work.
I was very much interested to visit one house in Dunbarton where repairs were being carried out and speak to one of the tradesmen about how the job was going. He said, "I have not got time to talk to you. I want to get on with the job." I learned that he was working with the Admiralty in Faslane, had got leave to work temporarily with the firm, and was engaged in repairs to his own house, so I could understand his urgency. No doubt there are other bodies and firms that could make men available, and I hope and trust that this is done.
The 64,000-dollar question is: who is to pay? This will be the main argument today, if any takes place. On Dunbarton County Council's present estimate of repairs, at least 10d. or 1s. in the £would go on the rates, and I am confident that it has not yet been able to make a full estimate. That estimate is for local authority housing alone, and with the cost of education, police, clearance of roads and everything else concerned, it adds up to a substantial sum. Here, I agree to some extent with the hon. Member for Hill-head. If local ratepayers are to be asked to make such a contribution, we cannot possibly penalise owner-occupiers in payment of that kind of rate for the repair of local authority houses without doing something at the same time for the owner-occupiers who have themselves suffered damage. That is a fair proposition.
I was encouraged to some extent by my right hon. Friend's statement that he hoped that the contribution to be made would ensure that there was no really great hardship as a rate burden on the local authorities, but we shall have to 449 wait and see exactly what happens. I appreciate that the whole problem will mean great difficulties. There are quite a number of owner-occupiers who are, unfortunately, not insured as they should be for storm damage, and the cost of repairs will be greater than they can afford.
Overall, there are two lessons which we should learn from this tragedy. I do not refer to the old property in Glasgow, with which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) dealt so effectively, because Glasgow is a special problem by itself. There is nothing like it in the whole of Scotland, and the pity is that some of the difficulties there were not dealt with many years ago.
My experience in the country was that it seemed to be the post-war local authority house that suffered the most damage. In one particular scheme I notice that there was a certain design of house on which all the chimneys came down. This design was not just in one area, but was dotted all over the scheme. In the county, there was another type of house—and only that type—that had the roof blown off. From what I have seen it seems that the post-war local authority houses suffered most of the severe damage, as compared with privately-owned houses, and one wonders whether the local authorities have suffered particularly badly. I should like to know if an examination will be made to see whether there were reduced standards in local authority houses because of the necessity to keep within central authority cost figures. I hope and trust that that question will be examined.
Tributes have been rightly paid to the rôle played by the Civil Defence workers and, in Dunbartonshire particularly, those associated with the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory. This was a voluntary effort, and we must pay tribute to voluntary effort. Despite my keenness, appreciation and work for the Welfare State, I have never hesitated to suggest or help the creation of more and more voluntary efforts. They are always necessary. My local authority is very much appreciative of the way they work in Dunbarton. When one thinks that the voluntary effort in Sicily recently was dissipated to some extent because of a lack of central direction one realises how fortunate we are to have a Civil Defence voluntary organisation with men and 450 women trained for emergencies of this kind. When this sort of thing happens, they can do a very effective job, not only by themselves but by directing the work of many others who are anxious and willing to help.
My local authority has asked me to say that it hopes that at this stage the Government will consult with the local authorities on the Civil Defence units and voluntary associations which it is proposed shall be disbanded to see if something can be done at least to maintain some part of the organisation, to enable us to make sure that if a future tragedy of this kind occurs we shall have well-trained, efficient people to help us deal with it.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
The whole House is very glad to have this opportunity of discussing a very distressing and, we hope, unique situation. It is of some consolation to those who have suffered so much and of some hope to them that we are all trying today to find ways and means of alleviating the anxiety which still remains with so many people.
Like the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), on 15th January, having travelled overnight to London, I was called back because of the results of the hurricane. I saw, between landing in Renfrew and where I live in Stirlingshire, a very wide cross-section of the damage, and I was utterly appalled at the extent in my constituency, in Glasgow, and around my home.
It is worth considering the cost incurred in those areas outwith Glasgow where the damage has been less but where the incidence of cost upon a comparatively small population is very heavy. Therefore, I should like to cite the burghs in my constituency, in Barr-head, where the modest figure of perhaps £20,000 worth of damage has been done, and in Renfrew, where perhaps £50,000 worth has been done. That damage is almost equally divided between private and public property, so far as is known at present.
If the cost of this damage is to fall upon the ratepayers it would amount to an increase in rates of approximately 10d. in the £. This seems to be an imposition greater than the community can bear, 451 and a double imposition for the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) has explained. It is a pointer to the fact that it would be insufficient to cover only one section of the community through any grant which may be envisaged.
The County of Renfrew has suffered damage amounting to £335,000 to private property, and damage to local authority property of something like £131,000. This clearly reflects the pattern for the county, and it is mainly on an extensive county basis. Again, the rate-borne effect of this would be greater than that which the community could be expected to bear. There is one special case which I would like to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State, because it suggests a pattern which may be repeated throughout Scotland and which is very serious indeed.
On the outskirts of Renfrew, the Scottish Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, which is very dear to the hearts of many people, has re-erected a sectional building which it had acquired on the closing of Renfrew airfield. It is not possible to insure such a building until it is erected. It was within a fortnight of being completed and overnight it was flattened. Here we have a voluntary society erecting a building with voluntary contributions, at a cost of £1,000. It is now flat and uninsured. There may be other institutions in similar circumstances, and, if so, it points to the necessity of considering this matter very widely when contemplating compensation.
I join in the praise for the good work which local authorities have done, particularly county and borough officials. They have rightly shown a complete lack of discrimination in the repair work. Repairs were done where needed. This was right and I hope that we shall follow this policy when we finally evolve a compensation plan.
A large number of people have asked me why people were not insured. There is a very distinct line to be drawn here and it is illustrated in the case of private housing as compared with local authority housing. The latter are not insured. It is clearly not a viable proposition for a local authority to insure its own houses. The same applies in some privately owned—
§ Mr. W. Baxter
Is the hon. Lady correct in what she has said about local authority houses not being insured? Most local authority housing with which I have come into contact is insured, at least for fire, and very often for storm damage.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
As I understand, the subject under discussion is storm damage. Of course, people are insured for fire damage. They would be very foolish if they were not, but this is completely different from the insurance requirements for storm damage.
No doubt the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) will be able to give us specific instances where local authorities insure their housing against storm damage. The point is that the householder should be insured, and it is to be hoped that many are. I was glad to hear the suggestion, which I had intended to make, that the first £15, which is not normally carried on an insurance policy, be paid by the State, to all those who have suffered damage.
The taxpayer's position clearly enters into this. Someone asked why should the taxpayer pay for an act of God, which is the point at which insurance companies no longer cover. I do not think that it is reasonable to suppose that the taxpayer should give full compensation to the person who has suffered, but I do think it reasonable that we should ensure that no man be put out of either home or business. That seems to make very considerable demands upon the State.
There is yet another anomaly. I have heard of a case, of which I have no personal knowledge, concerning a fairly old house standing in perhaps an acre of ground. There are 40 trees there which were blown down. I was told that there is an old lady living in the property. The trees are not insured. This is the kind of case that falls between any plans which the Secretary of State or anyone else has been able to think up. It leads me to believe that, between the case of the mentally handicapped children's building and this, there is a wide variety of cases which are unlikely to be covered by any pattern that can be devised and for which special provision ought to be made.
I want now to deal with the position in the countryside. It is quite true that the publicity given to Glasgow was earned, because this great city suffered so much, 453 and because the total volume of suffering was infinitely greater than in any other part of Scotland. That does not mean that the countryside escaped lightly, as I know very well from the area in which I live.
I want to bring to the attention of the Secretary of State the kind of difficulty that arises when there is a failure of power for a period of eight to 11 days. This happened in my constituency, and in my home area. Because of the failure, many small farmers were unable to use bulk milk containers which they had gone to great expense in installing. The contents of these containers were entirely destroyed by the failure, at a considerable loss to the farmers.
There are, therefore, a multitude of side effects in the countryside falling into this category of which I will give two instances if I have time. The average farmer has carried a loss of £2,000 to £4,000. This is the case in Stirling, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. The average loss for a farmer in that area is just on £2,000. This is obviously constituted in a variety of ways. It is clear that some farms may have suffered £1,000 worth of damage and that others may have suffered £4,000 worth. It is not difficult to lose £4,000 worth of property in this area, because the cost of one hay sled exceeds that figure.
I now turn to the point which I raised in an intervention during the Secretary of State's speech. I am glad that reference has been made to a form which has been sent out because until today it has been very difficult for country people to know how to apply for a grant. It will, therefore, be helpful when publicity is given to the right hon. Gentleman's comment on this matter.
I have in my hand a form from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. It is not very reassuring. It says:I thank you for your telephone call on"—such and such a date—and note with regret that you have suffered storm damage to your property as a result of the recent gales. The restoration works may"—and I ask hon. Members to note the word "may"—be assisted under the Farm Improvement Grant (a) if the cost is not less than £100, (b) if it is not fully met by insurance payment, and"—454 this is the important part—(c) all other conditions of the scheme are met".This is where the difficulty arises.
In the implementation of the scheme, buildings for which the farm improvement is relevant must be brought up to a very high standard indeed. Many small farmers have lost buildings which were not up to that standard, but, nevertheless, they were of great value on the farm. A common example in Central Scotland, where the storm damage struck is a small dairy farm on which dairying has become unprofitable and the byre has been translated into a cattle reed. This is the sort of building which would not qualify for a farm improvement grant. It is the sort of building which has suffered particular damage, and it seems to me doubtful whether it will qualify under the proposed scheme. I do not want to press the Secretary of State too strongly on this, because I hope that in his Department, without too many public pronouncements, there may be a charity of vision which will be very acceptable in the areas most concerned.
Even if an applicant is fortunate enough to qualify for the 30 per cent. and has suffered £2,000 worth of damage, the difference is quite great and quite a large sum for an individual to find. If, on the other hand, the qualifications are not fully met and entitle the applicant to only 15 per cent.—and this is especially true of fencing—difficulty can arise. I hesitate to refer to my own experience, but on the Friday night I finished a fence at a cost of £475 with the Secretary of State's valuable financial assistance. I have to re-erect the fence. I assure hon. Members that I do not have £475 with which to do it. These are the sort of practical considerations which must be borne in mind if we are to make the Farm Improvement Scheme the basis of compensation in the countryside.
I do not wish to detain the House, because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I know that others will say more effectively than I could that which must be said about the timber position. However, I should like to make two points. The quantity of hardwood which has been blown greatly exceeds proportionately the percentage of hardwood which has 455 been blown in any storm during this century. This is a real problem. The hardwood timber which has been blown in this case is undoubtedly of very high quality. Most of us who have lost 150year-old or 200-year-old trees have lost trees which we should not have dreamt of cutting down. There is on the market, therefore, some very good timber of the hardwood type.
I hope that where felling licences have been given—I can think of a major one which is effective in this field—some assistance will be provided by restriction, because this is a separate problem from the very much more extensive problem of the commercial woodlands. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we have the terrible problem of commercial woodlands providing both the capital and the income to sustain comparatively small units. It is through this aspect of their endeavour that they are viable.
Secondly, I sometimes wonder whether people realise the appalling on-cost of transporting timber when it has to go anywhere further than the nearest sawmill. It is clear that it will have to go considerably further in this case. I know of a quotation of £78 to transport one root three miles. This raises a point which is common to town and country. Trees which have blown across roadways, irrespective of whether they are "authority" or "private" trees, have in some instances been cleared by what I might call the excellent organisation set up for the purpose. But it is not clear who will pay the bill.
The Army cleared some trees, the local authority has cleared some trees and private enterprise in various forms has cleared some trees from the roadways. It is plain that nobody will be sent a bill for paying the Army for doing this. It is a lot less clear who will pay the bill if other people have cleared trees. I hope very much that the Secretary of State will be glad to receive the very minor bills in this respect.
I close by emphasising the appalling problem presented to the whole of Central Scotland and the enormous difficulties which many of our constituents face. I ask the Secretary of State to extend to them that charity of which I know he is 456 capable and to encourage his Department to do the same.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I will not, of course, quarrel with the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). It was, as her speeches normally are, full of good common sense, and all of us would endorse the last two or three sentences. As for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, it was, if I may say so without seeming to he patronising, of a very high quality, and not critical in the bitter sense, though, of course, it had some reasonable propositions to make. The only thing about his visit to Glasgow that I found disconcerting was the company he found himself in, with three Members for Glasgow seats.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) referred particularly to the shortcomings of Glasgow Corporation. Much of what he said—if I may say so, though it is not for me to rule—seemed to me a little away from the purpose of the debate, although when things of that character are said, I am sorry, but one must use a little of one's time to reply to some of the political points. The Opposition in 1957 and 1958 had every opportunity to put right the matters about which the hon. Member for Pollok complained. It was they who introduced the Rent Act and they who introduced the Valuation and Rating Act following the Sorn Report. We said at the time that it would be of no use to deal with the problem.
Moreover, the hon. Gentleman seemed critical of the Corporation, because he objected to its not spending sufficient on the maintenance of houses, although he rather saluted the Corporation for spending money on building houses. This brings us back to the old problem of priorities. It is for the hon. Gentleman to make up his mind, in the circumstances of shortage of housing, in Glasgow particularly, and the added difficulties of the storm, whether more resources should be spent on maintenance or whether we should get on with the principal job of building houses. I should say in passing that there is a statutory amount which the local authorities have to set aside for the maintenance of houses. It may be that the hon. Gentleman does not think it 457 quite sufficient. That is another matter, but at least local authorities have to comply with this statutory requirement.
I could hardly refrain from a facetious remark when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith)—I think it was he—said that flying slates are not dangerous. As someone who has had some experience, my advice to him is that if he sees flying slates coming at about neck level he had better duck, and duck quickly.
This brings me, perhaps rather laboriously, to what seems to me the principal problem with which the Secretary of State and the local authorities are confronted in an emergency of this character. Some of the leader writers in the newspapers and the columnists who write diatribes and criticisms of the Government—any Government—and about the slew progress in construction and repair had better think again, because we can place as much money as we like at the disposal of the local authorities but the thing which determines the rate of progress in restoring the position is the skilled manpower which we have to go on roofs. If some of the leader writers and columnists were able to construct roofs of slates as quickly as they can construct sentences then the problem would be very much easier to solve.
There are, I understand, in the City of Glasgow only about 1,200 to 1,300 slaters. We are limited by their pace and their degree of productivity. It is very much to be regretted that there are not more of them, and, of course, we could wish that in the past, through training courses and so forth, we could have had more of our young people taking up appreticeship courses for such a dangerous and laborious job.
There was one good thing which one of he Sunday newspapers did; it was one of those which were most critical of the Government; and the only good thing it did that Sunday was to produce a front page picture of two men on a tenement root. It was obvious to me, as one who has been on roofs—during the blitz, during my time in the Fire Service—and who, therefore, knows the risks which are run and the dangers of swinging masonry, that they were running a great risk. Indeed, there were one or two fatalities. So when the newspapers are 458 being critical of the situation let them, let all of us, remember the debt which we owe to the men who are doing the job which really matters.
A good part of my speech was made for me by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) —not the—if I may use the adjective—pettifogging minor criticisms about the administration by Glasgow local authority but about the need for a new look at the purposes of the Corporation and its job in trying to comply with the Cullingworth Report. In the first place, it seems to me that the thing which my right hon. Friend and the local authorities have to do is to use all the powers they have, or to take extra powers, to deal with empty houses in the City of Glasgow—and there were empty houses even before the gales, and they were long empty, for some reasons best known to those who are responsible for administering them. Whether such action has already been taken, I know not, but I would ask my right hon. Friend to get in touch with Glasgow, or to receive the local authorities if they approach him, to see to it that early action is taken.
Next is the need for classification of the various tenements. I know that Glasgow Corporation, perhaps beyond what many others have done, has been very efficient in doing just this job; that is to say, it knows at this moment the properties which normally would have been due for razing to the ground, whose lifetime is now some five or ten years. One of the problems will be whether my right hon. Friend should even entertain some of the public resources which have been mentioned going to what are essentially slum landlords. Those of us who have been troubled with this problem over the years in Glasgow know the problem of the absentee landlords and abandoned buildings. It would not surprise me if some of the owners should suddenly emerge from their hiding places when there is the public purse to be dipped into. I ask my right hon. Friend to make quite sure that the public moneys will not be abused in that respect.
Another big problem, which has been mentioned already, though I make no apology for coming back to it, is the multiply-owned tenement housing, for which, because of the added damage of the storm, the insurance companies now 459 and in the future are not likely to accept the risk. In the disbursement of some financial help I would hope that the people in those houses in their extremity may receive some degree of priority.
That is another category. I have already mentioned abandoned buildings. There are some 60 buildings of this type in Glasgow and workmen will not go into them because of the danger arising from loose electric cable ends, gas pipe ends, rotting timber, and rotting floors through which they are likely to fall in a moment. These buildings certainly, and others with a short duration of life, whose conditions has been exacerbated by the storm, must, I think, be brought to the ground. I should like my right hon. Friend to give the assurance, if he will, that the pace of demolition of these houses, and his excellent record of slum clearance, will be maintained.
I need hardly remind my right hon. Friend that, according to the Culling-worth Report, Glasgow Corporation assessed that of its total housing stock in 1966 of 326,000, 10,000 were classified as unfit and 49,000 were sub-standard but improvable at reasonable cost. In other words, 41 per cent. of its total housing stock was below standard:
The Report went on to say:The problem, especially in Glasgow, is of such huge dimensions as to place it beyond the resources of any single authority, even though it be the largest authority in the country.That position has been aggravated by the recent storm and gales, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue, as he hinted that he must, to do all that he can to ensure that the impetus in improving housing conditions is maintained. We hope that he will approach the Cabinet to see to it that Glasgow's problem is recognised in the fashion that the Cullingworth Report suggested.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head mentioned another important aspect in the course of his speech, and perhaps I ought to say that I did not disagree with everything that he said. To put it in a positive way, apropos the new Cullingworth Report, a couple of days ago the editorial in the Scotsman had this to say:It also found, however, that 35 per cent. of dwellings without a bath, 23 per cent. Of 460 those without an internal water closet and 37 per cent. of those not having a full hot water system have an assessed life of 30 years or more. From the standpoint of the community, would it not be better to try to bring these houses up to standard rather than let them deteriorate further?Certainly I agree with that, and I hope that something will be done to maintain this kind of property, if necessary by asking for reasonable rents. This is further to a point which was made some weeks ago in an Adjurnment debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown). People are leaving the city and going to live elsewhere. They seem happy to pay higher rents to other local authorities than they are prepared to pay to Glasgow, and that is quite wrong.
§ Mr. Hannan
I apologise to my hon. Friend. I thought that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated that the damage has been particularly bad in the City of Glasgow, and he has referred to the scheme which has been worked out. From what we heard earlier about the proposals, I think we should take this opportunity to congratulate both sides of the House who, through the usual channels, have arranged today's debate. In addition, our congratulations should be extended to my right hon. Friend and his Ministers and the officials in his Department, who have served Scotland and its local authorities well. The proposals which my right hon. Friend has made today will go a long way to assuage and calm some of the more serious doubts and carping criticisms which have been expressed.
I have referred to the two kinds of resources necessary, the physical and the financial resources. However, it is the physical resources which will put right the damage much quicker than finance. It is true that those who do it will want some reassurance, but, the financial arrangements having been made, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to do something to recruit more labour. The point has been made already by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, 461 Shettleston. Is it not true that some skilled labour of this character has been coming up from the North of England to the Dumfries area? That is the sort of help that we need.
I come now to insurance. I do not intend to give the House a recital of some of my own personal history, but I served in the insurance world for some years, and I know the problem of completing application forms, having claims assessed, arid the rest of it. No doubt knowing of my past associations, the British Insurance Association has written to me making a number of points which reinforce my right hon. Friend's statements about the administration of these moneys. If what I lave to say is not known to him, I hope that some inquiries will follow. I have not had any complaints from my constituents in this matter, but I think that the general public ought to know the position. and the letter covers some of the points which hon. Members have raised.
The British Insurance Association takes in all insurance companies except Lloyds, and, of course, Lloyds is concerned with rather special kinds of insurance. However, the normal term "storm, tempest or flood" covers what has happened.
The letter says that insurance companies are working overtime and doing all that they can to settle the thousands of claims as quickly as they come into their offices. In addition, the Regional Committee for Scotland is in close touch with the Development Department of the Scottish Office and helping to administer the Glasgow Relief Scheme, backed by the Government, in three ways.
First, to get the scheme off the ground, they have agreed that the proceeds of claims may be assigned to the Corporation. As I understand it, claims will go on being assessed but, in the meantime, it the Government have paid out moneys, settlements from the insurance companies will go to the Corporation in lieu of the sums that have been spent. Second, the insurance companies are forgoing their rights to approve estimates for repairs to insured property in many cases. To take the example of car damage, normally an insurance company would want an estimate before the car went to a repairer. In the case of houses, the insur- 462 ance companies are prepared to forgo that. I hope that that statement is right. If it is, it is a big stride forward. Third, the insurance companies are co-operating over the procedure for the estimation of the cost of roof repairs and the prompt payment of the repairer which is no less important because it will encourage them to carry on with their work.
I want to conclude by referring once again to the work done by the Government through my right hon. Friend and his colleagues. I know that the Lord Provost of Glasgow has issued a Press statement congratulating the Government and expressing the Corporation's great happiness that matters have been considered so quickly. The presence of my right hon. Friend's officers on the ground has greatly facilitated matters. For the first time, the strained relations between Glasgow Corporation and the Glasgow Property Owners' Association have improved somewhat. The President of the Property Owners' Association has publicly expressed his deep appreciation of the way that Glasgow Corporation has handled the matter. This is somewhat in contradistinction to the outside carping criticisms which have appeared in newspaper columns. I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing the appreciation of the people and Corporation of Glasgow to the Secretary of State for Scotland and his officers.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
My first plea to the Secretary of State for Scotland is to resolve the uncertainty of many people in various categories. As we sit here today many people are hanging on the decisions which will be made in any statement at the end of this debate.
My second plea is for a direct grant system. Priorities financed by the Government are always painful, and we all have our different views on these questions. Without going into matters too deeply, might I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider a direct grant method for solving at least part of the problem. Many members of the public do not have exact ideas on what the words "advance funds" and "financial help" really mean. There are many people who quite sincerely believed that the first instalment that has been publicised was simply a payment on account of a grant.
463 They are upset to know that it was a payment on account of some other arrangement.
I have made two pleas in rapid succession. I would now refer the right hon. Gentleman to the meeting which was attended inter aliaby the Provost of Hamilton, and representatives of many other authorities in the list of 120. It was his genuine understanding that this was not a loan. He said that he would be disappointed if he thought this was to be a loan. The Burgh of Hamilton was fortunate in not suffering as much as some other places. The total loss for Hamilton was given at the first meeting as something over £98,000. It is now about £107,000. Like many other places, I do not suppose that this will be the final figure.
The Burgh of Hamilton was able to take the exhortation to heart—because it was not such a massive problem—to attend speedily to all the cases in its area where people were needing houses repaired, checked, verified and reassurances given. They were able to rehouse. They were fortunate, because the problems in the Burgh of Hamilton were not as grave as in the City of Glasgow, which has been so badly struck. In the remaining parts of my constituency, however, there are many and varied problems. In almost every category that we have heard mentioned today, there has been somebody suffering the same kind of thing in my constituency.
I should like to ask one or two specific questions. First, will the Government consider putting a ceiling on the amount which will go on the rates? It is hard to suggest what the ceiling should be, but could it be, for example, said to be well under 6d.?
Secondly, will the Government arrange for the payment of the cost of the damage in such a way that local authorities do not have to borrow money over a long number of years. One estimate which was sent to me was that in Stirling 1s. on the rate for more than 10 years would be necessary to repair the damage there. I have not been able to get an estimate for Hamilton, but that is the kind of exercise that many authorities will be going through and working out to send to the Minister.
464 Like many others, I feel I must dabble in insurance for a minute or two. I would urge that special consideration be given to those with houses too old for insurance and those with houses on which insurance could not be obtained at normal rates. The average in Scotland will be higher than elsewhere. In some agricultural areas it is not normal to have insurance at all. There are certain types of policy which contain the word "comprehensive", but where specific price limits are imposed, and storm and tempest damage excluded. I have asked the Glasgow Bar Association member dealing with property damage to give me a list of the types of damage their clients have encountered which are not insurable and the type of insurance claims they have met which I will then send on. I thought such a list might be of assistance. The variety, as we have heard during the debate, is such that human ingenuity can hardly deduce all the permutations. We will have to wait before all the types of loss are revealed.
To take an example, a chimney-head falling on a car or on a neighbour's glasshouse is not an insurable risk. There are dozens of others, but I will not weary the House
The urgency in the non-insured cases is where the question of uncertainty comes in. Many of these people are living in modest houses, some of the type mentioned costing £200. but others costing £1,000 and £1,500. Many of the people in these houses are old-age pensioners, widows or deserted wives. Others have very low incomes and husbands who cannot get work
I have made a plea for a grant. If this is ruled out and we are to have a loan on the understanding that the private owner will repay it, I presume all those categories of person would be considered very carefully. As is well known, these people are very worried because they are uncertain. They do not know how they would be able to repay the money to the local authorities. There are many people in Scotland who want to pay their due, whereas if the Government were to say that this is a grant which will be made proportionate to individual circumstances in all cases of loss they might feel that was a different situation. There are many people who can ill-afford to 465 have the repairs done, but, if they are done I am sure that they will insist on paying unless there is a grant.
We have heard about tradesmen. I should like to make a positive suggestion which has not been mentioned before. It is the case that some local authorities recruited additional tradesmen who were engaged on contracting work involving penalty clauses. By the good offices of certain local authorities some big firms have agreed to waive the penalty clauses for a certain number of weeks to release these tradesmen. I appreciate that this only needs legislation, which would take time, but a personal appeal by the Secretary of State for Scotland to firms with tradesmen of the appropriate degree of skill, which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) mentioned, might produce extra tradesmen. This may have been considered, but it has not been mentioned. I do not know how many tradesmen that would release, but I think it would release a great number in Scotland alone. If we were sill short we could, if necessary, go to England. If this were done, the waiting time for all this work to be completed could be cut down from the two-year period, which has been mentioned, to something more acceptable to us all.
Concerning the makeshift arrangements for temporary housing, many people are eagerly waiting to know into which category they fall. Are they to be rehoused? The right hon. Gentleman will know better than I. If a statement could be made about what will happen to those living in temporary accommodation I am sure it would help. From my window I can see a tarpaulin on the tenement opposite. Every time there is a wind, part of the tarpaulin blows aside and exposes the roof yet again.
There are many people who are not even sure if, by leaving their property to go to relatives, they are in some way losing entitlement. It may be they should not worry. However, could a statement be made which would put their minds at rest? We all get pathetic letters. I suggest that everyone who reasonably apprehends that his roof is unsafe—even where there may be nothing to see, but he fears this—should have an entitlement to a safety checking. This may come back to the shortage of skilled men to carry out the check, but if people felt 466 they had an entitlement to a check, even if it meant waiting for a couple of weeks to get it, it would put a great deal of the fear and distress out of the minds of some of these people who have sent us these pathetic letters. I have received letters from people with young children. They say that they are afraid to put their young children into this, or that room, particularly if they live in the top flat of a house.
One or two categories of the business world have been mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a glasshouse owner in Larkhall, who has suffered such extensive damage that he has virtually been put out of business. A percentage grant will be a step forward, but it will not be sufficient in his case. Three shops and a pub in my constituency suffered considerable damage and are closed. The publican, in particular, has reached the age at which he cannot start again. It means that he will be forced to retire sooner than he intended. One tenant, thinking that he had a certain amount of security, spent a lot of money on his shop. Perhaps he should not have clone, but he did, and now has no premises. There are two small shopkeepers who also find themselves in the predicament of having no shop. The burgh council is, of course, trying to assist, but naturally there are difficulties.
Insurance does not cover consequential loss, and if there is a direct grant some proportion of it should be allotted for consequential loss. I do not accept the solution of a straight £15 per head grant. Some people agree to pay the first £15 of damage when they take out an insurance policy, and so anomalies will arise if lump-sum payments of £15 are made. One person may suffer damage amounting to £5, while the person next door may suffer £200 worth of damage. To pay £5 to one, and £15 to the other, will not get us very much further forward, and I therefore suggest that a grant should be made to these people. The £15 flat rate suggestion is tempting because it would be easy to administer, but I prefer the proposal for a grant on a proportion of loss.
In whatever scheme is put forward, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise the principle of latent damage. In other words, if an expert employed by, say, the local authority can show that 467 the structure of a house was weakened by the storm, and if, in six months' time, or perhaps even a year hence, it collapses or is damaged, the owner should be included in the help offered.
I conclude by pleading with the Government not to cut down on the number of houses to be built in Scotland. We were facing a national emergency, of housing in Scotland before the storm hit us. Because of this storm we suffer a double disaster. I plead that the Government reconsider their plans.
Glaswegians are generous people, and so are the people in the West of Scotland. They are always prepared to help others through all kinds of situations when an appeal is made to them. Would it be possible to appeal to the generosity of the whole of Britain? I am sure that many people would like to help those who suffered because of this storm. We must accept, however, that whatever help is provided there will still be pockets of sufferers. I ask the Government to be generous, and to be definitive. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who does not think that a scheme should be introduced quickly. I ask the Government to be definitive, and to be definitive, and to be generous, and to give others a chance to be generous, too, in setting up a disaster fund.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
I listened to Mr. Speaker enjoining us to be brief. I agree with much of what has been said in this debate, and particularly with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. When he spoke about the restoration of towns and cities, I thought that it was the best speech I have heard him make in the House.
Those who came through this hurricane and who lived in Glasgow during the war must have been impressed by the terror which was about on that night. During the war, when the air-raid sirens went few people bothered until the blitz hit Clydebank, and then everybody lived in fear when the sirens went.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) referred to the speech I made a few weeks ago. In that speech I was trying to make the 468 case for Glasgow getting an increased share of the grant. I said that it was a very old city and that she was now beginning to show her age.
I join in the tributes which have been paid to the voluntary services, the Corporation, and the Army for the magnificent job they did. The chief officers of Glasgow Corporation are full of admiration for the help and encouragement they have received from my right hon. Friend and his Under-Secretaries of State.
The hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) asked for a ceiling on the rates. I understood the Secretary of State to say that no local authority would suffer because of the storm damage. Am I correct in that?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I suppose that is fair enough, but it does not go as far as I would like.
Glasgow is in a unique position. It is significant that 100 years ago Glasgow's first city improvement Act received the Royal Assent. Since 1885, when the Royal Commission under Sir Charles Dilke reported, through to the Royal Commissions of 1912 and 1919, successive Governments have been warned of the state of Glasgow's houses. It is no surprise to the people of Glasgow that the storm took such a heavy toll. It brought to the notice of the people of the United Kingdom the conditions under which we live in Glasgow. The wonder to us who live in Glasgow is that the disaster was not much more widespread and that we are not numbering our dead and injured in thousands, rather than the 20 or so poor people who were killed. We offer our sympathy to the bereaved.
According to Cullingworth, it appears that 150.000 houses in Scotland should be condemned. Of these, probably 11,000 will be in Glasgow. I think that the wind proved the fallability of such figures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) has tried to show on several occasions, many of Glasgow's houses are more than 100 years old. If we recognise the fact that four-fifths of the houses built in Glasgow since 1918 are local authority houses, we find that the majority of tenement houses are in the 60 to 100-year category. It is here that we find the continuing cause of our trouble.
469 The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith), who is my Member of Parliament, injected a little political acid into the debate. He referred to the Rent Restriction Acts. Section 25 of the 1919 Act required the owner of a property to take all reasonable measures to make the house reasonably fit for human habitation. Much of our difficulty today stems from the fact that properties were not kept in good condition. It is the failure to carry out necessary repairs which has brought us to tie brink of catastrophe.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Rent Restriction Acts were to blame for the failure to keep houses in good repair. It is true that repair costs have rocketed and that many landlords must now find themselves in difficulties, but they would have had a much better case if they could show that when it was possible to increase rents, when the cost of repairs was falling, they fulfilled their responsibilities to their tenants.
Throughout that period there was an acute shortage of houses and the emphasis was placed mainly on increasing the existing stock of houses rather than on demolition. I read in one report that houses in Lyon Street which were regarded as unfit in the 1930s were demolished, through the unceasing efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael), only a couple of years ago.
In May 1967, at the last count, Glasgow had a stock of 330,000 houses. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) spoke about the 11,000 houses which are unfit for human habitation and the 75,000 which are substandard and cannot be made fit. I thought that my hon. Friend's solution was rather facile—that we should demolish them, and that money would be wasted in repairing them. If we demolished them where should be accommodate the people? My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill talked about Glasgow's out-county estate. The Government should investigate the way that Glasgow is being asked to pay for the privilege.
The 11,000 and 75,000 houses are situated in an area of discontent—an area of fear and terror every time the wind blows—and not the exceptionally high wind but the normal winter wind.
470 The people there live in terror. In normal winters ceilings come down; chimney heads come down and people are injured. Hundreds of people live in misery throughout the winter. No matter how hard they try—whether they visit their councillor or go to their medical officer of health or the chief sanitary inspector —they just cannot get the repairs carried out.
One woman came to my "surgery", and I went to see her on Saturday. She said, "My ceiling has come down for the fifth time. The storm brought it down." It was a lovely house—beautifully kept—but the ceiling had come down for the fifth time. She was one who had bought her house in a tenement. Three people in the tenement own their houses and the rest are factored. With the ceiling coming down for the fifth time it is obvious that the necessary repairs to the roof have never been carried out.
I know another woman who had two ceilings down and another one ready to come down. She had no light, and water poured in down the light fixture in the centre of the living room. She had gone to her house factor and he had said," I cannot do anything for you. It will be at least six months before we get round to repairing that. I have only four men." That is the position that we are now in. Where shall we get the men? If the money were available—if my right hon. Friend said," The money is there "—we would not have the men. I doubt whether we shall get many from England, because the roofs of the houses in Glasgow are different from those in England. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill said, work on a Glasgow roof is hazardous and risky, and requires great skill.
From these benches, which are often critical about Defence Estimates, I want to pay tribute to the work done by the soldiers in Glasgow in that period—not only for their work but for what they did in entertaining people by putting on cinema shows and by providing meals. They did a first-class job. Within that body of soldiers there was a small core of skilled men who could work on roofs. I suggest that this avenue should be explored.
I know that it is a sensitive matter from the point of view of the trade unions and 471 that the position will have to be negotiated. But here is a reservoir of skilled labour which can be used. The people cannot wait for six months; they cannot wait even for one month. These soldiers could render their skills almost immediately and do a first-class job. This was a grave emergency, and it gave rise to a first-class response, but if we are to have Operation Rescue rather than Operation First Aid, many more of the country's resources will have to be utilised.
I cannot see how the property owners will overcome their problems. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal, but this disaster provides him with an opportunity to give the necessary leadership and to devote the necessary resources, in order to encourage and assist those who are willing to tackle the problem, while compelling action on the part of those who are a little laggard in their attitude.
The situation which has existed in Glasgow for years demands an increase in the rate of slum clearance. We are on the brink of tragedy in Glasgow. If these slums are not dealt with in Glasgow in a couple of winters' time it will not take a 100 m.p.h. gale to blow them down; they will be blown down in normal winter gales, and many people will lose their lives. We have delayed far too long in this matter. We need an urgent reappraisal of the situation and a reconditioning of existing houses, together with a full-fledged campaign of inspection and repair in order to prevent further deterioration. We want an increased allocation of new houses, which makes nonsense of the Government's decision to cut housing in Scotland.
I referred earlier to various reports about housing the working classes of Scotland. In all these reports the accent is upon assisting the working classes by subsidising the building of houses, and the rents after the houses are built. This may be all right, although some Members may disagree. I have always felt it unfair that a member of the same working class who attempts to solve his own problem by buying a house receives no help at all until he pays Income Tax. If he tries to solve his own housing problem by buying his house, he is penalised. He receives no assistance, and this is manifestly unfair. Assistance could be given. This 472 is not the time to argue that point, although it probably is the place.
The point that I am trying to make is that many members of the working class who are purchasing their houses in a commendable effort to solve their own problems will be faced with calamitous bills for repairs. Their insurance will not cover the cost, because insurance companies will pay only to the extent of the buildings' worth, and these are buildings that the property owners want to hand to the corporation because they are practically valueless. This means that the insurance cover will be very little. I appeal to my right hon. Friend; these people must be helped.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I think that my hon. Friend is being unfair. He must remember that the mortgage option scheme was designed to help precisely the type of people to whom he is referring.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It will not help the type that I have in mind—the man who tries to solve his own problem in Glasgow. He has to find a house in a tenement. That is the only place in which he can find one. Many insurance companies do not regard a Glasgow tenement as a good risk.
I appreciate the point made about the Clean Air Act. My constituency of Springburn is not yet subject to the Act, and many chimneys which have come down will have to be rebuilt. I am pleased that something is being done in this matter. It costs £125 to rebuild a chimney head, and if a grant can be given in respect of the Clean Air Act it will save much trouble. Apart from chimneys which have come down, some are ready to fall at any moment and the grant should be offered to those willing to have their chimney head demolished and observe the Clean Air Act.
Glasgow faces a tremendous bill on top of a tremendous redevelopment programme and its finances are stretched to the uttermost limit. This, on top of the £8 or £9 million already committed, is further stretching its resources. I refer my hon. Friend to paragraph 73 of the Collingworth Report:The problem, especially in Glasgow, is of such huge dimensions as to place it beyond the resources of any single authority.473 If that was true when the Report was written, it is doubly true today. We have had our last warning. This may be our last chance. I urge my right hon. Friend to do everything in his power to alleviate Glasgow's travail.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I am sorry to begin on one note of dissension from all the speeches so far, in that I believe that our procedures for debates on Scottish affairs in the Scottish Grand Committee are insufficiently flexible to allow for a debate o an emergency situation like this. Although we have cause to be grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for having opened the debate and given up a Supply Day for it, I do not think that this should be necessary. There should be a flexibile system for calling the Scottish Grand Committee when required. It is all very well to say that this is a national affair, but very few English Members have been present to hear the debate today, so there is no real distinction in this case. Thus, one lesson which should be learned from the disaster is that we might look at our Standing Orders relating to meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee—
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
The hon. Member is wrong. The Standing Orders relating to the Scottish Grand Committee permit the Scots to meet there, and I understood that there was an offer of a debate in the Grand Committee on this subject.
§ Mr. Steel
I entirely agree, Mr. Speaker.
I want to deal first with the position in my constituency. I have received factual information from the three county councils and eight burgh councils in the area, and I am glad to say that for most the damage was relatively trivial. The costs facing the local authorities are relatively small but, rather than weary the House, I will give the Secretary of State 474 full details later. The burgh most affected by the damage is Innerleithen, a small burgh in the Tweed Valley in Peebles-shire, where the cost of repairs of local authority houses is estimated to be £4,000. This is an important point, since £4,000 is a minute sum compared with the total damage we have been discussing, but a 1d. on the rates in a little town like Inverleithen raises only £235, so £4,000 is a considerable burden for them.
One interesting fact which my inquiries among local authorities revealed is that there seems to be a certain shortage of some materials for repairs. In particular, I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that two local authorities reported that there is a complete shortage of zinc ridging—
§ Mr. Ross indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Steel
Well, I am simply conveying the information of two local authorities. I shall be glad to hear if this is not so, but this is what I have been told. This relates to other materials also, of which I will give the Secretary of State details.
Peeblesshire is the Scottish county most severely hit, with the exception, I think, of Midlothian, in terms of the damage done to timber. It is estimated that the Forestry Commission has lost 150,000 cubic feet of timber and private woodlands about 900,000 cubic feet, representing about 50,000 trees, which is about six times the normal annual amount of felling in Peeblesshire. Therefore, the damage to timber has been severe. All the sawmills will be very busy and they estimate that it will take up to two years to clear the fallen trees. Therefore, some will be almost unusable for their intended purposes, because they will in that time be affected by various forms of decay. Thus farmers and woodland owners will suffer loss.
It is right to pay tribute again, particularly in a part of Scotland like my constituency, to the people who have been working continuously right up to now on the repair of electricity cables and telephone lines. This work, including necessary overtime, has been going on solidly ever since the night of the gales.
I turn finally to some general observations and lessons which we should learn 475 from this disaster. It was probably a disappointment to many people when the Secretary of State made his announcement about £500,000. Psychologically, that was probably wrong. It is interesting to compare what was done over the "Torrey Canyon", when it was said that, for every item of local authority expense above a burden of 2d. on the rates, the Government would pay 75 per cent. At least everyone understood this formula and knew what the effect would be on him.
Even today, when the Secretary of State improved on his previous statement by saying that no "undue hardship" will fall on the rates in any one town, the interpretation of that phrase is still wide open. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will be generous, but that is not the same, he will agree, as a clear-cut statement of what the financial effect will be both on public and private property—
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)
The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. The £500,000 of which he spoke is an entirely different scheme and has no parallel with the "Torrey Canyon" disaster. The matter which he mentioned was reflected on by the Secretary of State earlier today, and is entirely different.
§ Mr. Steel
I am not certain how it is entirely different. I am talking about the expense faced by local authorities as a result of disaster— [Interruption.] Very well, but I am talking about what the Secretary of State said this afternoon about no "undue hardship" falling on the ratepayers in any community. I think that he will agree that that is not the same as some sort of formula, as in the case of the "Torrey Canyon". It is wide open; I hope that the Secretary of State will interpret the words "undue hardship" very generously.
In addition to the damage which it has done, something which has not been mentioned already tonight is the fact that the storm has obviously shortened the life of many older properties, some of which are being condemned now and others of which will be condemned shortly. It is impossible now, or even in the near future, to assess the long-term hidden damage, and it has clearly made 476 Scotland's already bad housing situation still worse.
This brings me to what should be one of the most concrete points to emerge from the debate. I join with those on both sides who have raised the question of the Government's cut in the housing programme. I know that the restoration of the cut of 1,500 in Scotland will have no immediate effect on the housing situation, but I believe that the Secretary of State now has a strong case for going back to the Cabinet, armed with the latest Cullingworth Report and the report of this debate, to ask that we should not suffer the same 10 per cent. cut in our housing programme as the rest of the United Kingdom—simply because of the acute housing crisis in Scotland, which has been made worse by this storm. I hope that he will feel that he would have the support of all hon. Members if he were able to persuade the Government to lift this cut.
One minor point brought home to me by one or two people affected by the damage is that the Scottish Office might think of using its excellent series of public announcements on television to tell people their rights once they have suffered damage. The amount of ignorance which exists is remarkable. For instance, a lady in Edinburgh was unable to persuade her landlord that he was responsible for replacing broken windows. This is extraordinary, but there is a good deal of misunderstanding about people's rights and perhaps the general Scottish Office announcements could be used to explain this to people.
In the long term, perhaps the best lesson we can learn from this disaster is that a gap exists in our Welfare State. It is that we make no provision for calamities of this kind. Last year my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party sought leave to introduce a Bill—it was sponsored by Members of all parties—to create a national disaster fund. The leave of the House was given, but the Bill did not proceed further because the Treasury, the Charity Commissioners and others had grave doubts about it.
There is a case now for establishing a national disaster fund, which would accumulate the surpluses which are given by voluntary contributions to individual 477 disasters and all contributions paid in by the Government from time to time. Instead of the need, every time a disaster occurs, to make ad hoc arrangements to meet it—I am thinking of Aberfan, the "Torrey Canyon" and now this disaster—with crisis meetings, appeals, and so on to see what can be done in a hurry, a permanent national disaster fund should be established as part of our welfare State.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I am glad of this opportunity to take part in the debate. I speak now because I felt it important that hon. Members who represent Glasgow constituencies should have the first say, for there can be no doubt that Glasgow suffered more acutely than any other part of Scotland in this disaster.
This was a real disaster for Glasgow and for other places, like Greenock. It brought great suffering to many families aid to some of them it brought tragedy. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition dealt with the matter in a constructive way and did not in any way try to make party capital out of what has been a tragedy for so many homes.
I understand the impatience of some of our people. I appreciate that some of them may be feeling that the Secretary of State has not been moving sufficiently quickly. As is so often the case, the Press in Scotland played on these intense feelings and used them as a rod with which to whip the Secretary of State. I am glad that this debate is taking place because my right hon. Friend's constructive speech showed clearly not only what he, as Secretary of State, had been and still is doing, but what is being done by his officials, by the Corporation of Glasgow, by many voluntary organisations and by everybody in Glasgow who has been able to give help—from the Secretary of State down, or, some might say, from my right hon. Friend up. All have been pulling their weight to try to overcome as quickly as possible the damage caused by that awful wind.
In my constituency the homes that suffered most were the temporary houses of the local authority. We still have a great many of these temporary houses in Lanarkshire. Many of them had their 478 roofs blown off and I hand it to my local authority and the workmen who were employed to repair the damage. These men worked seven days a week, and even at night by flood light, to ensure that, as soon as possible, the occupiers of these houses had watertight homes. Nevertheless, a great deal remains to be done.
When I hear my hon. Friends speak about the shocking conditions in the tenements of Glasgow, I cannot but feel glad that in my constituency, which used to have property in which such conditions prevailed—I am thinking of the old miners' rows—we now have scarcely any property of that type because Lanarkshire has an excellent record in house building. However, my constituency, like others, has entailed great expense and will be faced with further expenditure because of this disaster.
Although the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) criticised the Secretary of State, I was glad that my right hon. Friend said earlier that no local authority will have to bear an undue extra rate burden. I have sufficient faith in my right hon. Friend to know that he will see to that. When the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing)—in trying to ensure that it would not be a heavier rate burden than is absolutely necessary—tried to take the matter further; she asked if it would be any higher than 6d. If my right hon. Friend were to say that what he has in mind was a rate burden of about 6d. in the £, I would tell him that he has been misleading us greatly. I say that because I am expecting that, whatever the increase may be, it will be nothing like 6d. but, rather, that it might be only 1d. or 2d.
A number of private houses were damaged in my constituency and the other day I received a pathetic letter from an old couple who own their own little house. It is not a house in a tenement, but stands by itself. The roof was blown off in the storm. I am speaking of thrifty old people who made sure that their home was insured. However, they were not insured against this sort of damage. They wrote to me expressing their extreme worry over what occurred.
Today the Secretary of State outlined the arrangements that have been made— 479 as a result of meetings, discussions and so on—with Glasgow Corporation to ensure that private houses would be repaired first, and that then the money would be got from the owners. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will say that the arrangements are as closely tied up for places like Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire for private property as they are for Glasgow Corporation.
We are told that there will be no undue burden on the rates. Whatever the burden may be, owner occupiers will have to carry their share of it. I am thinking of the little people in my constituency—people like the old couple of whom I spoke and whom I visited last Friday—who should not be obliged to find the whole cost of repairing their damage and, at the same time, contribute towards the cost of repairing damaged council houses. I beg my right hon. Friend to give further thought to this matter.
I appreciate that the officers of the Ministry of Social Security have done excellent work in the weeks since the storm occurred. Many families have expressed their gratitude to those officers and I appreciate that discretionary grants have been awarded. I would like to see that old couple in my constituency and people in their position being helped with the repair of their damaged homes. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could have discussions with the Minister of Social Security to see if some arrangement could be made.
No matter how generous the Government may be, they cannot dish out money on every side sometimes to people who need none of it—and the Ministry of Social Security might be the appropriate vehicle. I know that that would put a further burden on supplementary benefit officers who have already carried a very heavy burden for a very long time, but I am sure that they would be very willing to carry that extra burden if it were to help the kind of people whom I have in mind.
In my constituency a number of people own glass houses in which they grow tomatoes, flowers and the like. A few of them have suffered very great damage. My right hon. Friend has announced that 480 they would qualify for about 38⅓ per cent. grant. But what about the man with a nursery, who does not have a number of acres under glass but only a very small piece of land? I understand that the provision will not apply to him, yet some of these small people have the whole of their capital in their business. They work morning, noon and night. They are the type whom I would like to see helped, and I hope the Government will find some means of helping them. If I cannot be told tonight what cen be done for them, perhaps I may be told later.
§ 7.33 p.m.
Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
I very much welcome the atmosphere of party political truce in which this debate began and in which it has largely been conducted. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on turning his back on the temptation to use a Supply Day to attack the Government on some vulnerable point, and instead, devoting attention in a constructive debate to a very serious problem. Obviously, we do not attempt to blame the Government for the hurricane, but we will judge them on the remedial action they take.
Glasgow has certainly stolen the limelight, as it were, in terms of destruction and damage, but Edinburgh also suffered a great deal. No fewer than 72 houses were destroyed and 8,000 were damaged. The repair bill is estimated at about £½million. Suggestions have been made in the past about jerrybuilding in Edinburgh, but some of the so-called jerrybuilt houses have stood the test remarkably well, and some of the builders who have been criticised previously now deserve some measure of praise.
I hope that the following suggestion on housing will be regarded as constructive. Would the Government consider inviting the Building Research Station to conduct a special study of the effects of this hurricane upon housing in Scotland? As we all know, a lot of new industrialised house building systems have been used in the last few years, and this gale might provide a good opportunity to find out whether the buildings are as satisfactory as we hope they are. Personally, I think that they have proved themselves well, but it is right that we should take advantage of what the gale may be able 481 to teach us about bad workmanship, bad design, or even lack of maintenance.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
Is the hon. Member aware that in the new town of Livingston in my constituency extensive damage was done to houses built by the industrialised method?
Earl of Dalkeith
That emphasises my point. It would be worth while getting the Building Research Station to undertake a serious examination of that type of house, and it would be a convenience to the House and to everyone else if the Station then made a report as soon as possible.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) has told me that many people living in multi-storey high flats spent a night of very great anxiety. I hope that those people are now reassured that the buildings, having withstood that gale, should be able to withstand anything. Nevertheless buildings of that type should be included in the searching investigation I suggest should be made by the B.R.S.
I was worried by the Secretary of State's attitude to compensation for damage to privately-owned houses. A great many owners of those houses would not have insurance cover for storm damage, and I hope that, even though some of the houses may he owned by brewers, the right hon. Gentleman will not have a closed mind towards giving some compensation even though, perhaps, it means offering rather less to local authorities.
I echo the praise that has been given to the voluntary services and, if it is not invidious to do so, I single out for special praise the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. Now that so many people have seen what a wonderful job the members of that Service do, it may help recruiting. The praise given to the civil defence suggests that we should think very seriously before putting that organisation on a care and maintenance basis.
The G.P.O. and the electricity boards have so far not received the praise in this debate that they deserve. They had to tackle an extremely difficult job in the countryside very quickly. I know that some hon. Members were left without light for some time, but their staffs dealt with the position with great energy. Here, I would ask the Minister to consider whether the Government's policy 482 on underground cables should be reviewed in the light of the costs of repairing damaged lines which occur every time there is a gale.
Turning to forestry, I declare my interest in the usual way although, luckily, I did not suffer very greatly from the storm. For laudable reasons, the industry did not wish to emphasise the damage and suffering it had endured, because that was material suffering and forestry owners knew how very much human suffering there was in the towns. As a result, not very much publicity has been given to the catastrophic damage suffered by the industry in Scotland. It is especially right, in the context of forestry that we should be having a United Kingdom debate, because the whole nation is affected quite apart from the damage suffered in forests in northern England. Little has been heard about that.
The scale of the problem is something which I think escapes the layman, because we tend to talk about such things as 38 million hoppus feet and no one knows what on earth is a hoppus foot. Some people think that it is an affliction or a disease. To put it in rather more graphic and concrete terms, 38 million hoppus feet is equal to an international-sized football ground packed solidly with timber sawn square to a height greater than the height of the clock tower containing Big Ben. To put it another way, it is equal to a solid wooden wall 6 ins. thick and 7 ft. high reaching from Edinburgh to Athens—a distance of 2,000 miles. That gives some idea of the scale.
More damage is likely to be discovered because many trees which appear to be unharmed will be vulnerable to gales coming from a different direction to which they will be exposed. Over the next 18 months or so damage to forestry is likely to rise by about 10 per cent. It would have been three times as great if the ground had not been frozen at the time.
The importance of forestry is in relation to the balance of payments and import savings. Although 38 million hop-pus feet sounds small in relation to the annual import figure and the annual consumption figure, the fact that the total volume of imports is so colossal means that the quantity of blown timber could involve a substantial figure. Provided we use this to the best advantage for the 483 country, it could amount to a saving of imports of between £9 million and £12 million. It is from this angle that the Government should tackle the question of remedial action.
Here I highlight three specific problems and suggest means by which they might be tackled. The Secretary of State referred to the action group being set up, which will report later, but if the Government are to produce quick decisions immediately recommendations are made by that group, they should be thinking about possible remedies now. This is why I advance some suggestions. The first necessity is to maintain price stability in the market. There is a danger that this surplus of timber, particularly of mill-sized timber, suddenly made available may cause a glut. The effects on growers would reach not only among those in Scotland but from John o' Groat's to Land's End if timber market prices became unstable. This is very much a national point.
As to action which can be taken, there are certain precedents in the 1953 disaster in which there was a voluntary limitation of felling. Quite apart from the felling licences which were operating at that time, there was a limitation outside the affected areas. The Government should give consideration to assisting those who co-operate in doing this and by so doing lose income which they depend upon each year. I wonder, in view of the high Bank Rate, if the Government would consider making long-term loans available to them. The Forestry Commission could set an example in respect of its forests in other areas. This is something which I am sure it will do.
The second problem is the question of direct financial loss which the industry has suffered through breakage of timber, which can amount to 10 per cent. perhaps of the 38 million hoppus feet. There is the investment loss as a result of a crop of trees at 30 years of age being worth only a quarter of what they would be worth at 60. There is the high cost of harvesting, through the disentangling of timber and very much higher costs of replanting and draining the ground.
Action which should be considered is threefold. First, there should be a revised planting grant for affected areas to 484 encourage those who have suffered to restock quickly. It is essential that restocking should take place next winter. Otherwise all kinds of weeds will grow and it becomes almost impossible to established the next crop. Unless extra encouragement is given, those areas in many cases will be neglected, not planted, and will become wildernesses for years to come.
I also suggest action through the introduction of long-term loans at reasonable interest rates. I recommend very strongly the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the Government should look seriously at the question of investment grants in respect of machinery used in forestry. This would not be very difficult. It is simply a question of broadening the present definition to include such machinery as power saws, debarking machines, winches and tractors used for timber extraction. If these could qualify for the 45 per cent. investment grant in development areas and a 25 per cent. grant elsewhere, it would go a long way towards helping the industry. This is a permanent necessity, which is especially necessary now.
My third point concerns marketing and transport. If we are to secure maximum import saving advantage, we must get timber to consumers who normally are beyond the economic range of the forests. For instance, the National Coal Board in the Midlands is at present importing a great deal of timber. Provided we can get the timber there from forests in Scotland economically, a great deal more could be saved in imports. There is also the question of getting timber to local authorities in the South and to builders, door and component manufacturers, and to pulp mills which are outside the economic range of many forests. In these there may be supply problems due to diverting manpower to salvaging mill-sized timber. There should be a temporary transport subsidy for specific areas. A figure which has been suggested to me is 10s. a ton. This might apply to about half a million tons out of the total 1½million tons which have been blown and it would amount to about £250,000. This would enable the timber to be taken to consumers who could make the best use of it by saving imports.
485 I suggest that the Government should give instructions to nationalised industries, including the National Coal Board whom I praise highly for its co-operation and willingness to help in this problem. In addition, nationalised industries and local authorities could perhaps be encouraged to specify the use of homegrown chipboard. This concerns an industry which at the moment is working nearly 30 per cent. below capacity. As imports of chipboard amounted to £5 million last year, they could make a considerable contribution to reducing imports.
I suggest that the Government should publicise the research findings of the Forest Products Research Laboratory showing the many ways in which homegrown timber can be used. Through lack of knowledge of these local authorities and builders often do not use home-grown timber when they could do so. A footnote about a transport subsidy is appropriate because it highlights very clearly how disastrous will be the effects of the Transport Bill, which could easily increase the cost of transporting timber by as much as 7s. 6d. a ton, which the industry simply cannot afford.
There are various other points I should like to make, but I feel that I am taking up too much time. No doubt more suggestions will be made to the Government about how to deal with the forestry industry's problems.
The pulp mill problems will certainly have to be examined carefully to see how they can be helped. I know of one which is not working to full capacity. Because of high charges for electricity at certain peak hours, it has to close down. If the Electricity Board could give a guaranteed rate throughout the day, mills such as this could be kept going all the time.
There are two other points in connection with farmers and foresters. Hedgerow trees have been blown down in large numbers, taking fences with them. This will cause terrible cultivation problems for farmers. Many farmers do not know how they will be able to get their crops sown this spring because of the timber which is still lying in the fields and because of the difficulty of getting fences re-erected.
Then there is the question of roadside trees which, as all hon. Members will 486 agree, contribute so much to the beauty of the countryside. Many roadside trees fell across roads during this gale. We must establish who is responsible for paying for the cost of clearing them. If it transpires that the owners of the trees are landed with the burden, I very much fear that we shall be looking upon a naked countryside in future. If we want a countryside enhanced by roadside trees, local authorities and the Government together should make it possible for owners to be absolved of the burden of clearing these trees.
This is the second disaster to hit rural industries in a year. Once again it is brought home upon us what a puny creature man is when dealing with nature. Trees fortunately do not get foot-and-mouth disease, but they suffer other hazards beyond man's control. We cannot blame the Government for gales, but we shall judge them, and the country will judge them, upon their ability to help the industries and the people who have suffered out of their difficulties.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) will forgive me if I do not comment on that part of his speech which dealt with forestry. As I have no expertise in that subject, I shall not seek to make a contribution to it. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this has been a very useful debate. I shall keep my speech as short as possible, because I know that even at this stage a number of my hon. Friends wish to take part.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was constructive and non-political, as was the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Both Front Bench speeches were temperate and moderate. They set the tone for what has been for all of us a useful and interesting discussion and one which I hope will show people outside that we are genuinely worried about these problems.
There has been a little exaggeration in some sections of the Scottish Press about lack of interest on the part of Members of Parliament. Scottish Members, not only here but also in their constituencies, have shown a great deal of interest and given much valuable assistance. This has enabled us all to see— 487 this has been said before, but it cannot be said too often—the exceptionally valuable work which has been done by the police, the fire service and the voluntary services. I was impressed by the number of young people in my constituency who, although they belonged to no voluntary service and no organisation, played a very active part in assisting those whose houses were damaged and who were placed in jeopardy.
In the very nature of things, a number of suggestions have been made to the Government as to their future course of action. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) projected his mind rather further than most of us have been inclined to do. He suggested a number of things which might be done in the future. I am inclined to agree with him on one point, namely, that we in Scotland have in a sense been overtaken by the fact that our housing is exceptionally bad. We read newspaper reports of Government agencies or quasi-Government agencies telling us how bad our housing is. Our housing is bad now. It was bad under the Tory Administration. It has been bad for a very long time.
The only answer is to continue with the policy of building many more new houses. In my area the older houses have taken the brunt of the storm damage. One answer to those outside and inside the House who have been critical is that in the last year 40,000 houses were completed. The only way that we can ever hope to solve the present difficulties is by building more and more new houses.
I want to say a few words about the problems facing owner-occupiers. I do not want anyone to think that I am not interested in the problems of those who own bungalows, semi-villas and the rest. Those are people who normally buy their houses through recognised agencies. They are people who, like myself, probably bought their houses on the advice of solicitors. They have bought their houses and they have insured them. They are reasonably well protected because of their own knowledge of these problems.
The group of people about whom I am worried—this problem arises particularly in the West of Scotland—is those who own small houses—two-apartment tenements, and so on. Many years ago we had a discussion in the House as to 488 whether it was wise that such houses should be sold at all. Be that as it may, it is now a fairly common practice for houses of this kind to be sold. They are not sold in the way in which semi-villas, bungalows, and so on, are sold. As my bon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) said, little help was given to these people. My hon. Friend was interrupted and reminded that there was an option mortgage scheme. Unhappily, the option mortgage scheme does not apply to those who are my main concern today.
The people who are my main concern in this section of my comments are those who buy two-apartment houses for £300 or £400. They pay off the debt at, say, 30s. a week. They do not do this through building societies or with any legal advice. They depend entirely on the good will of the person who sells them the house. Unhappily, this has not always been forthcoming. They buy with little advice. Consequently, they are in very serious difficulty in that in the vast majority of cases they have not insured their houses.
One thing which has troubled me in the course of my investigations into this problem is that these owner-occupiers in small houses in a tenement block pay a factorage charge to a recognised factor. I am told that they are legally obliged to do this. Some property owners or factors seem to be failing in their responsibilities. I have seen the accounts which factors send to the occupiers of these small houses. I mean no disrespect to the owners of these houses when I say that many of them are not as well informed about their responsibilities as they might well be. They take it that if somebody is factoring the property on their behalf he will ensure that all possible care is taken to insure the property for them. I have looked at some of the charges which have been made. In many cases the factors simply have not insured the houses and have not advised the owners that this was something that they should do.
Houses of this kind are being sold in great numbers in the West of Scotland—I can only speak for that area—and it is important that the small purchaser should have a better assurance about the nature of what he is buying. It is unfair that they should be saddled, as many 489 have been, with houses nearly at the condemned stage, A good many people have told me that they have bought houses and then found out that they were due to be condemned. They had not been made aware of this fact. Sometimes the houses are in a bad state of repair. Houses of this kind should not be sold unless specific guarantees are given by the sellers.
These folk have a lot of worries. Will they be obliged to pay the cost of demolition, should that be necessary? My right hon. Friend has been helpful in saying that work should go ahead with all possible speed, but, if I remember aright, the legal responsibility for the cost of demolishing a house lies on the shoulders of the owner-occupier. I should like an assurance, particularly on behalf of these people, that, if it be necessary to demolish a house, the law on this point will not be pressed to the limit.
Small owner-occupiers and tenants of private properties have difficulty in organising repairs. In my constituency and in surrounding areas I have seen the work which the local authorities have done. This has been excellent in Lanarkshire, and it has been organised very well. Likewise, some property owners hive organised their affairs extremely well. But it has been difficult for some of the folk to whom I have referred, the owner-occupiers of two-apartment and three-apartment houses, to organise their affairs and to get repairs done. Very often, the lion's share has been taken by other agencies better able to fend for themselves. I hope, therefore, that something will be done specifically for small owner-occupiers and tenants.
My right hon. Friend has told us of the scheme in operation in Glasgow, and I am happy to hear that it operates also in part of my constituency. But I want to know whether these assurances will apply to the rest of Lanarkshire as well.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) spoke of the difficulty in disseminating information. In the Press over the past few weeks, there has been a great deal of comment about storm damage, but, unhappily, the statements made by members of the Government, by officers of the Department or by officials of town councils have had little prominence. There is still a great lack of 490 information and, as a result, a great deal of worry in the minds of ordinary tenants and owner-occupiers. I suggest that, in major areas, centres should be established specifically for the purpose of giving advice on storm damage and problems of that kind. There should be some such place to which people can go. Many people have gone to burgh surveyors and so on, but it would be a great help if there were storm or gale information centres to which people could go for guidance. This part of the problem is really the background to our whole discussion. There is uncertainty about the position of our constituents.
Now, the question of compensation for goods. I was delighted to hear that the Lord Provost of Glasgow has set up a fund. It will be of considerable value to many people in his area. Unhappily, the benefits of donations received by the Lord Provost of Glasgow or the benefit of what he does by using the common good fund or his personal fund will not be distributed to other people. There is a strong case, therefore, for assistance in compensation for goods and possessions which people have lost. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) pointed out that this could, presumably, be done only through the Ministry of Social Security. Here again, there is uncertainty. I hope that the Minister of State will indicate the lines on which the Ministry of Social Security could give assistance.
One difficulty facing my constituents is that they are not certain whether they should apply. They seem to be under the impression that only those already in receipt of some form of supplementary benefit or unemployment benefit can apply for assistance to the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I hope that my hon. Friend will say that, even when a man is working, if he is on a small wage, he will have some sort of benefit.
I leave the matter there. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to continue with the work he has been doing up to now.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
I find myself in agreement with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) has just said. Indeed, I find 491 myself in agreement with almost everything said from both sides of the House in this debate, which is most unusual.
Together with hon. Members of all parties, I put my name to the Motion calling for a debate on the storm damage in Scotland, and I am glad that we have had one. It has been a most useful debate. The gale may, perhaps, have served one useful purpose, by helping to ventilate—if that be the word—a lot of topics which badly needed ventilation. I am particularly pleased that the debate has been held on the Floor of the House and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition opened it. This has shown the emergency for what it is, a national emergency. This is how it should be treated.
It was right that most of the hon. Members called so far represented Glasgow and its outskirts because that was where the full force of the gale struck. But my constituency also had its share of damage. The Burgh of Rothesay alone suffered £50.000 worth of damage, private and public. That is a lot of money. Millport, too, suffered £12,000 worth of damage, which for a small community is a heavy burden. To show the violence with which the gale struck Cumbrae, I can tell the House that the brand new public conveniences which have just been erected were blown 60 ft. out to sea.
§ Sir F. Maclean
Arran, because of its sheltered position, was relatively lucky, although there was some damage there, too.
On the mainland of Ayrshire, my constituents were, on the whole, more fortunate than their neighbours in Greenock, Gourock and Glasgow. At least there was no loss of life. But it was a capricious storm that struck here and there arbitrarily. The wind swung from one point of the compass to the other. Thus the Burgh of Stevenston suffered much worse than the adjoining burghs of Ardrossan and Saltcoats. Largs, on the other hand, where the hostile Viking ships were driven aground and wrecked in the great gale of 1263, again got off lightly, though for exactly the opposite reason, namely, that the storm did not strike as hard there as it did elsewhere.
492 Quite apart from the urban areas, serious damage was suffered in my constituency, as in others, by farmers, horticulturalists, poultry farmers and, particularly, by timber growers—private growers as well as the Forestry Commission. But what has struck me particularly wherever I have been, both in my constituency and out with it, has been the remarkable spirit shown by all concerned. It was remarkable how quickly roads and railway lines were cleared of fallen timber, not always an easy job, and how quickly the essential services were restored. How relatively quickly, for example, telephone and electricity facilities were brought into action again. I was shown the time sheet of an employee of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board who had put in 116 hours in one week. That is what I call backing Britain. Incidentally, the motor vessel "Keppel" completed the Millport-Largs run as usual at 7.40 on the morning of the storm—a really good effort by the crew. To my mind everybody concerned, whether publicly- or privately-employed, deserves a very warm tribute for their work.
I was very glad that the Secretary of State spoke as he did of people, because in all this the human element is extremely important. The same spirit was shown wherever I went by the victims of the disaster. They showed great restraint and unselfishness in being quite ready to wait for repairs to be done to their houses while others who had suffered worse than they had were attended to. Those of us whose constituencies were not among the worst hit should, I think, show similar restraint and I therefore do not want to detain the House for too long. But there are a number of questions I should like to ask. I appreciated the generally sympathetic and positive attitude of the Secretary of State, and the same can be said of his Department ever since the disaster struck. But I should like more information on one or two points.
First, I am not a great believer in weather forecasts, but it would be interesting to hear whether anything more can be done meteorologically to see whether we can get a little more warning when these disasters are about to hit us, whether there is any way of telling if a hurricane will suddenly change course in 493 the middle of the Atlantic as this one did.
Another point concerns builders and building materials. The Secretary of State said today, for the second time, that there is no serious shortage of building materials. My experience has been that there is a shortage of slates, possibly because roofs are largely now made of synthetic materials. But a lot of the houses damaged had slated roofs and therefore must be repaired with slates. The quarries both at Balachulish and Easdale are both now shut. I do not know whether there is any prospect of reopening either of them or getting slates from another source. My experience has been that it is even harder to find slaters than the slates. It has been suggested that we might get them from cities in England which do not need them so much at present. Could we be told something about that?
I was glad that the Secretary of State and a number of hon. Members showed proper appreciation of the terrible damage suffered by horticulturalists, people with glasshouses. I have sent him one or two letters from constituents which show a very sad state of affairs. For example, one is from a man who has had all his glass blown down and, probably because he used a grant to put it up, also has a big overdraft. There is also the question of what happens to the crop, left under the glass, or the crop he would have put under it if it had been there. Then there are henhouses—also very easily damaged. I was glad that the Secretary of State said that in the case of horticulture he would apply the regulations very generously. I hope that he will do the same in the case of farm damage where there is the problem about farm improvement grants. There are farmers who have used them once and therefore cannot use them again. I hope that he will examine that and see what can be done to help them.
The question of forestry was covered very exhaustively by my noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith). I hope that when the Minister winds up we shall hear whether the Government have any plans to restrict felling and possibly, imports. I realise that this is not simple and that there are difficulties about the large-scale restrictions in either case. But it is very im- 494 portant that there should not be a glut on the market. And so whether felling and imports can also be restricted voluntarily or otherwise are very important points.
All this brings us to the 64,000 dollar question, namely, finance. As the Secretary of State said, it is a very complicated problem. What will the Government do about it? It may be difficult to say much more than the Secretary of State has said at present but I hope that we shall get more information on this soon. He said that as soon as all the relevant facts had been collected the Scottish Office would go into them carefully and no local authority would have to bear an undue additional rate burden on account of the storm. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give a very generous interpretation to the word "undue". This should cover council houses.
But what about privately-owned houses? I was very glad to hear what the hon. Member for Rutherglen and the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) said about this. This is a very real and serious problem. I am not talking about large and rich houses but small and poor ones. Some may be substandard. Many are either uninsured or even uninsurable. Where disaster has struck them, you get some tragic human problems. There has been talk of a national disaster fund and I think there is a lot to be said for that. I hope that the Government will consider this carefully and, if such a fund is set up, I hope that they will follow the precedent set by several previous Administrations and contribute £for £to what is raised.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
Owing to the lateness of the hour, I will not enter into the privilege of criticising, nor the pleasure of praising, but get down to the fundamental facts as I see them relating to this great national disaster. I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members who have praised the Opposition for giving us a Supply Day to discuss this very important and non-political problem.
As I see it, this national disaster falls into certain categories. The first is the main tragedy of this unprecedented storm, the terrible loss of limb and life. Second 495 is the loss of valuable household furniture, goods and personal belongings which, in several instances, were completely destroyed. In a third category there is the damage done to houses throughout Scotland, whether tenement houses or small country cottages or farmhouses. The fourth category is to do with the damage done to industry and to agricultural holdings. Fifth is the loss of seed crop. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to belittle the fact that much of the cash crop from the grassland of Stirling is the hay that has been in the stacks, much of which was completely destroyed. In this category there is the livestock which was killed. My sixth category covers the damage sustained to commercial forests.
In each of these categories it is my contention that a different method of assessing the damage and the compensation payable must be accepted by the Government. They cannot all be lumped into one category. To take the first category, loss of life and injury, this should be assessed for compensation on the basis of industrial compensation as it would apply to anyone killed or injured in their work. As to the loss of household furniture and chattels, compensation should be on the basis of fire damage. For damage to dwelling houses and local authority property, an assessment should be made of the damage done, the age of the property and its expected life and a percentage of the damage having a relationship to these assessments should be paid, and this payment made right across the board.
The damage to industry and agricultural holdings presents a difficult problem. In this category come industrial holdings large and small. At Greenock there was a crane worth £1 million which was completely destroyed, while, as hon. Members have said, there are the small businesses, such as the glasshouses in Lanarkshire, which also were destroyed. All these industrial holdings, agricultural buildings outwith the farmhouse, should be put into one category and an assessment made. It is my belief that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Seed and livestock can be fairly and reasonably assessed, having regard to the market price of the items in question, 496 whether a cow, a hen, corn or hay. This is not a difficult matter. My last category dealt with the damage done to forests. Afforestation is an important part of our economic well-being. While we may be tempted to pay no regard to those people who own great forests, they are a national asset, and we must be fair and reasonable in trying to assess the damage. I commend the words of the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith), who made valuable and sensible suggestions with regard to afforestation which should be examined carefully.
When it comes to trees and hedges, which are to do with the beautification of the countryside—trees on farmland—they cannot be put in the same category as commercial forests. I would consider that they should be dealt with entirely differently and very little if any compensation given for them. I suggest that in any valuation for such trees the criterion to be adopted should be whether the trees are valued for local government purposes. This compensation should be carried out on a generous scale and dealt with urgently.
We should try to get those which have fallen used to the best advantage and have the sites cleared so that more can be replanted as early. as possible. This is not just for the well-being of the owners of the forests, but for the nation as well. It behoves each of us to look with some degree of concern at this great national loss to the community.
All these things must be exercising the mind of the Secretary of State. I know that what I have suggested would entail many people assessing and valuing the damage done. But if what is being done for agricultural property were being done for all private property, be it industrial or residential, and if each individual who wished to claim put in a claim to either the local authority or the Secretary of State, the assessment of the damage could be undertaken by people with expert knowledge, members of the staff of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, local authorities, and inspectors of local authorities. There could be an influx of competent and well-qualified people from across the border to help in this assessment.
It would be remiss of us as custodians of the public purse to do anything which would seem to give a blank cheque to 497 any section of the community to fill in any figure they desired. Without being too critical of the Government's actions, I must say that they have to get down to the more practical application of ideas to be equitable and fair in the disbursement of any money available.
It has been suggested that the building trade has been well utilised. I do not think that it has. We all pay tribute to the work which the Armed Forces did in Glasgow, but when I went to see some of my farming friends throughout the West Stirlingshire area on the Friday and Saturday I found them working like Trojans, together with their wives and wee laddies and anyone who could help to salvage the damaged crops. Why was not the Army utilised for this purpose? There w is not a soldier in sight to help in this great endavour of saving the livelihoods of the many excellent people whom I have the pleasure to represent.
I would commend the suggestion about putting the whole aspect of storm damage to the Building Research Station. This is of paramount importance. Although while the wind was at its height some of the tall buildings of Glasgow and elsewhere were not seriously damaged, we never know what may happen if the wind comes from another direction. A full investigation should be made of existing buildings and of buildings erected in future to ensure that they are of sufficient strength to withstand winds of even greater gale force than we have experienced.
I concur with what has been said about the City of Glasgow. Here is a sore which should have been healed many years ago. It would be remiss of anyone to say, "It was your fault" or "It was my fault." The Industrial Revolution was the fault of no one in the House. We have simply inherited what transpired during the Industrial Revolution. It behoves us to try to make sensible contributions to deciding how the problem in Glasgow can be solved. This is the first priority of a civilised Scotland—cleaning away the unsightly, slum houses of Glasgow. This could be done by organising the building industry in such a way that we had a different contractual procedure from that adopted in the past. If only we had the will, determination and drive to do this, it could be done within the next 498 ten years, and that would be a revolution in itself.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
This has been a very constructive debate, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the information which he gave. I must tell him, however, that I had hoped to hear from him a statement of further action which would be fair to town and country and to private householder and local authority tenant alike. I find it hard to discern this fairness in what he had to say.
The right hon. Gentleman said, in effect, that no grant or special aid would be available for private householders. I would call his attention to the problem which faces house owners whose homes are uninsured and people who find it very difficult to meet the first £15 for repairing the damage which they have suffered even though insured.
The right hon. Gentleman said that Exchequer assistance for local authorities may well run into millions of pounds to avoid undue strain being put on the rates. I am sure that that statement will be welcome, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to contrast this part of what he said with the remainder of that part of his speech. He told us then that there would be no help for the individual private householder and no help for the farmer, beyond the flexible application of existing grants. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that after his meeting with the local authorities in Glasgow on 22nd January he referred to the damage as being out of all proportion to the authorities' ability to meet the bills. I would ask him to bear in mind that there are many other individuals, far beyond the local authorities themselves, whose losses as a result of this hurricane are out of all proportion to their individual ability to meet the bills. I am not saying for one moment that the Government should provide some sort of free insurance cover and so in effect reward imprudence. I am suggesting, though, that the Government should have special regard for the hardship confronting those whose interests were uninsurable or who have suffered heavy losses and hardship in consequence of this hurricane. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in planning one's life and one's insurance programme a 499 hurricane of this ferocity, for example, is not a hazard which one reasonably expects.
Last week I asked the Secretary of State in a Question if he would seek to set up a national disaster fund, to provide help for people in extreme hardship. I was disappointed that his reply was, "No". I hope that tonight the Minister in reply to the debate will consider the hardship which faces many of our people in Scotland and who are not being helped at all.
I turn to the countryside. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the feeling there was generally in the countryside that the extent of the disaster beyond the cities had not been really understood. I am not suggesting that the Government have not realised this. I think that in the whole process of communication, through the Press and so on, in the early days interest was concentrated on the cities, and little attention was drawn to what happened in the country. Perhaps it was natural that the first focus of interest should have been on Glasgow in particular where the tragic loss of life and destruction of houses gave a dramatic poignancy to the total disaster. Nevertheless, the damage to agriculture and to forestry was enormous. We have heard some estimates today. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that those estimates are likely to go up as the extent of the damage becomes more accurately known.
Before I develop this point perhaps I could ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could consider one relatively small but still important point concerning agriculture. It is really a tax point. I hope that the cost of the repairs to farm buildings, steadings and so on, will be shown in the profit and loss account, and not in the capital expenditure account. This, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, can have quite an important bearing on many farmers, and I hope he will consider it.
The aid which is being given to farming is through the flexible interpretation of the farm, horticulture and hill land improvement grant schemes. This flexibility is welcome, and I hope it is being applied with common sense, for the hurricane, of course, paid no heed at all to the scale of the grants for which a farmer 500 is eligible. There is a wide variety in the scale of these grants, ranging from, at one extreme, l2½ per cent. to another of 38⅓ per cent. in the case of horticulture. Therefore, the unfortunate victim finds himself placed between bearing the total cost of damage, less any insurance cover which he may have, or finding the minimum of 61⅔ per cent. in the case of horticultural buildings and 87½cent. of the cost in the case of an intensive poultry breeding unit, for example.
The cost of the damage he has suffered is difficult for a farmer or horticulturist to raise in the present state of the economy. If he can raise the money, it is very expensive to service it and, as I have said, it is particularly difficult for the man who has an intensive poultry unit. One of my own constituents found his intensive unit blown away, his stock lost, and his capital and his income literally gone to the wind. The only help to which he can turn at present is the possibility of investment grants of 12½per cent. in respect of his building and equipment. How can he expect to stay in business? He and others like him will find it very difficult to return to what had been their livelihood a few hours before the hurricane.
However flexibly they are applied, these grants cannot take account of consequential losses, and they are severe. We have heard about haystacks which were blown away, people found that their cash crops had vanished, and, if the hay was retrieved at all, it was so scattered in the rain which came afterwards that it was badly damaged and much less valuable.
Perhaps I might refer briefly to the subject of horticulture, with special reference to Kinross, where there is an important local horticultural industry. It suffered very badly. I have heard of one case where losses amounted to five figures. It has to be understood what the loss of a glasshouse means, because it does not end with the collapse of the building. The income from it goes for quite a long time. Even if the glasshouse can be repaired fairly quickly, the chances are that the grower will have missed the early market, and timing is of paramount importance.
I understand that there is a marked shortage of cut glass in the area. Sheet glass is available, but it is too far away, 501 and there are transport and cutting difficulties. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the importance of getting glass to the horticultural areas as soon as possible.
As for forestry, I do not know if it is recognised how severely Perthshire suffered. In respect of private forestry alone, over 4½million cubic feet of timber was blown down in those few hours. That represents nearly five years' cut in Perthshire. That gives some impression of the extent of the disaster which struck forestry.
I would underline the point about the need for felling licences, for special marketing arrangements and for a transport subvention. In addition, I call attention to the consequential losses involved here. Clearing cannot be restricted to windblown and damaged timber only. Larger areas will have to be cleared and replanted at a heavy and unexpected cost.
Another point on which the Minister of State might care to comment is damage to fencing between agricultural land and woodland. While it is eligible for grant, it is only half-grant, because only half represents an agricultural interest. I think that the full grant should be paid. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider that.
I end by calling attention to the two grave problems which need the Government's attention and which have not so far been much in the public eye. The first is the gap which will have to be covered by farmers, horticulturists and foresters between the level of grant and the total cost of the damage. It is a gap which may extend to as much as 87½per cent. of the total, less whatever insurance cover there may be.
The second great difficulty is that of the consequential losses to farming, forestry and horticulture. I think that they are excluded from the estimates which we have heard, and they are excluded completely from the grant aid about which we have been told. However, it is those losses which may ruin some of my constituents and many other people in Scotland.
I hope that the Minister of State will reply to these points in some detail when he winds up the debate.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) on the matter of forestry. Although a lot of trees were blown down in my constituency, which poses a considerable problem, there is no forestry and no agriculture as such. However, the three small towns within my constituency—one of 20,000 inhabitants, another of under 30,000 and the third of under 40,0000—were very badly hit indeed. Fortunately, there was no loss of life—we take this as a blessing—but there was a good deal of injury and a considerable amount of damage to property. The damage was of the type which has been mentioned.
I go along with what hon. Members have said about the danger of chimney heads. This is a serious matter with which it ought to be possible to deal in a practical way. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) pointed out, chimney heads are not always necessary, and perhaps we shall reach the stage one day when houses do not carry them.
The thing that struck me most when I went around Stirling and looked at the damage was not the danger from chimney heads, but from slates. In one area of comparatively recent building there were several hundred slates lying on the ground. They were in a small area between streets. It terrifies one to think what might have happened if this hurricane had been blowing between 3 and 5 during the day instead of between 3 and 5 during the night. I am sure that lives would have been lost, particularly the lives of children.
It is difficult to imagine that people could have escaped. Some slates had been blown down close to buildings, some a little further away, and others even a considerable distance away, having been hurled through the air. Like chimney heads, this is something we do not really need. One or two hon. Members have referred to the Building Research Station. One problem that the Building Research Station might set itself is how to produce roofs free from the tremendous danger that flying slates represent and safer in the sense spoken about by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan). 503 In these days it should be possible to devise a roof which is reasonably safe in both these respects.
I want to say something about what was done in my three towns. Of the three, Grangemouth does not claim to have had anything like the damage of Falkirk and Stirling, both of which proportionately suffered damage in roughly the same band as Glasgow. Probably in financial extent of damage, compared with the size of the population, Stirling was a good deal worse than Glasgow, with Falkirk almost in the same range.
I was in Falkirk on the morning after the storm. I went to see the housing manager at about half-past ten that morning, and discovered that he had already been round the damaged houses. He knew the size of the problem, how many people he would have to rehouse, and that kind of thing. He had the situation well within his grasp. On the same day both Stirling and Falkirk held emergency meetings of councillors and officials who were concerned with the problem to make plans. These plans were carried out during the week, and when I was there on Friday I was told that things were pretty well under control. I attended a meeting of the Stirling emergency group of councillors and officials who were immediately concerned, and I must say that by the end of that week of interest I was very much impressed with the way in which these towns had tackled the problem.
This is a small municipality, the kind which is coming under a good deal of criticism nowadays. People are looking forward to the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government and thinking that changes should be made. I am not against change. I think that changes are necessary in Scottish local government, but in towns of this size one finds councillors and officials with a detailed knowledge of the people and places in the town. They know them intimately. They are in the habit of carrying responsibility for them, and when something like this happens they work together until they drop. I expect that some of them did drop through overwork.
About 10 years ago, in a Committee room upstairs, a nationally known social scientist said that a housing manager knew people as figures in an index. In 504 all the time that I have been representing them, I have never been into the office of a housing manager in my towns without, when I mention Mrs. So-and-So, being told all about her. It has never been necessary for files to be sent for, for assistants to be consulted, or for them to be looked up in an index. This is the kind of administration that one gets in a small unit. I am not trying to do more than make the point that there are virtues in a municipal unit of this kind. The virtue lies in the way in which people work together, and accept responsibility.
My experience of these three towns in providing other forms of help is similar to that experienced by other hon. Members. The Army, which occupies a traditionally prominent place in Stirling, gave its married quarters to the town for use during the emergency. In addition, the Territorial Army Associations and the fire and police services rendered considerable help.
More than one hon. Member has referred to the work done by the employees of the Electricity Board and the Post Office, but help came from other directions, too. The W.V.S. did a noble job. A youth hostel in Stirling offered its hostel, together with beds and bedding, for ten days. One of the big hotels offered the use of its bathrooms to people who were not only dishoused, but a bit grubby. Things like this made a tremendous difference to the spirit in which the disaster was tackled. Everyone seemed to muck in. There was a great spirit of cooperation between neighbours, friends, ordinary citizens, and official and voluntary services.
I must not continue in as much detail as my notes contain. I want to say something about the question of finance. There has been some discussion as to what would be an undue burden on the rates. The highest figure suggested to me was 3d. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) suggested that it might be ld. or 2d., and ruled out any possibility of 6d.—as I do.
I want to make a general point about the organisation and means of tackling this kind of emergency in the future. Financially, we have the Civil Contingencies Fund. I am not sure about the arguments of hon. Members who want to add to that a standing national disaster fund, 505 but I shall leave that point for the moment. It seems to me that we could now begin to think of something in the material sphere comparable to the Civil Contingencies Fund in the financial sphere—perhaps a civil contingencies drill. Men and material are needed and we know, broadly speaking, what kind of men and materials they are because of the kind of emergency to which we are prone.
The "Torrey Canyon" disaster was out of the ordinary. Most emergencies arise from flood, fire, or tempest, and we know that we shall normally need additional medical help and will have to deal with problems of homeless families and damage to property. After it and during it we know that we shall have some ticklish compensation problems to settle. We might now begin to think out some kind of drill in respect of a pool of labour. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out the complexity of the problem of shifting workers of one type from what they are doing to another job. That is why we should be working out this organisation now. We should be trying to lay down some guide lines in order to test them out in the next emergency.
The same is true of materials. Broadly speaking, we can guess what kind of materials will be needed and we can suggest a drill for bringing additional materials from, say, the South of England to another part of the country, and so on.
Financial payments could also be dealt with in the same way. My right hon. Friend was talking about the scheme devised for Glasgow, and which will be put into effect for other towns. If the scheme works well it should be retained not merely on the files; it should become part of our contingency planning for this kind of disaster, so that when the next emergency occurs it will not be merely a question of finding finance from the contingency fund or disaster fund; there should be, within the competence and knowledge of the Government, a certain number of standard steps which can be fairly quickly put into operation. Many ticklish problems of the allocation and transfer of workers and the sharing out of scarce materials could be settled in principle well beforehand.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
The debate has demonstrated what a wild trail of damage came the whole way across Scotland on the night in question. I endorse what the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm Macpherson) said, namely, how fortunate it was that it came in the early hours of the morning. About £2 million-worth of damage was suffered in the County of Fife, and the county council told me that it suffered damage costing £500,000. There are two other large burghs, a university and many hospital buildings, so the trail of damage was considerable.
There is some doubt about how much shortage of building materials there is, and I wonder whether the Scottish Office could list what is or is not available. Farmers told me that there was a shortage of asbestos sheets. After inquiries through the trade in the South, it seemed to me that certain sizes were in short supply and that for one size there was a waiting period of six or eight weeks. If people know how long it will take to get certain goods, they will know whether to wait or to substitute other goods and get on with the repairs. The Scottish Office could do this.
We might consider carefully the type of buildings which we put up. Far instance, the new Victoria Hospital, which the right hon. Gentleman opened last summer—a brand new building—suffered considerable damage and broken windows. Steps should be taken to see whether the style and type of our buildings meets the circumstances for which they are designed.
Many hon. Members have spoken about insurance. I wonder whether storm damage of local authority houses can be so easily written off, as it appears to have been, as something which local authorities should not insure against. That produces an anomaly, in that the prudent householder who insures is also paying for what the local authority has not done.
Without being too pessimistic, all the experience—particularly in the Caribbean and the United States—shows that we seem to be getting many more hurricanes than previously. Therefore, it is not enough to say that, if something stood up this time, everything will be all 507 right because there will not be another storm like this for 100 years. We might have another in a few years. Unless we thoroughly review our precautions it will not be a question of what this calamity has cost but what the cost may be if another storm follows hard on the trail of this one.
For the farming community. there is the difficulty of removing large hardwood trees which have fallen on farming land. When large trees have blown down, the difficulties are great, but at least a major contractor can be brought in and a salvage operation put in hand and a lot of timber taken away usefully, but when a farmer has perhaps 20 trees littering his land, no merchant will shift these butts so that he can get on with his cultivation. I have suggested that the Department of Agriculture should buy several mobile cranes which it could hire out to individual farmers to lift trees and put them by the roadside, where they could be collected and sold to a merchant. I hope that this can be considered, since otherwise I see no means of getting these big butts, which are lying all over arable fields, taken away.
This debate shows that, with a united effort on behalf of everyone, there is no doubt that we can minimise the effects of the storm, but it will require a strong and severe effort from everyone.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
I was extremely glad to be able to give my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) an opportunity to speak for a few minutes—not only because, like many other hon. Members, he had sat all day hoping to get in, but because I know that he personally suffered a great deal during the storm.
This has been perhaps the most remarkable debate on Scottish affairs in the House in my time. It has been almost a lull after a storm. I think that the House would wish, as many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides have said, to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who opened the debate, not only for having decided that this was the right thing to do but particularly for the careful, analytical speech which he made, bringing out the various points which seemed to him, 508 after his visit to Scotland, to need thought and consideration.
Although I was not in Scotland at the time, perhaps we were fortunate that the gale struck at that hour in the morning. I shudder to think, on reviewing the damage in the countryside and the towns, what the death toll might have been if a lot of traffic had been on the roads and people had been in the streets. This reinforces the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that we should be careful to discover if a method exists to warn of storms of this severity and to relay warnings rapidly to the points of greatest danger. Television is often being watched in homes, and radios are frequently played in cars. It would be possible to get news of pending storms of this violence to people, and while we hope that storms of this magnitude will be rare, we cannot be certain of that. It should be part of our emergency drill to make people aware of impending danger. Great danger may be in store if a disaster of this type should occur again.
Argyll was in the face of the gale, but in some ways my constituency was luckier in that the number of houses damaged was not as great as the number damaged in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Nevertheless, with a coastline such as Argyll has, which is exposed to gales of this ferocity, serious damage is bound to occur. Oban and Dunoon suffered considerable damage and much of what the Secretary of State said about help being given to local authorities in these affairs will be useful to them. That is particularly so in places where many private houses were damaged. but I will return to that subject later.
As yet, I have no co-ordinated picture of the damage to farming in my constituency. This is not unnatural, both because of the size of the constituency and the disruption caused to communications. However, I know a considerable number of people who suffered great losses.
There are some curious results of this disaster; like the silting up of the harbour at Easdale. Not only cannot ships get in but a number of boats which were inside the harbour are still there and cannot get out. Even if the weather turns good, the fishermen have a dreary immediate future because they cannot get out 509 might consider this matter. I understand that the Department possessed a dredger, wich was used in the fishing ports of Scotland. If that dredger is available and could be used to do an emergency quick clearance job on this harbour, my constituents would be exceedingly pleased.
Typical of the damage was that caused at the top of Loch Etive to a jetty which was not extensively used but which, we were, and still are, hoping will be used increasingly for tourist excursions up the loch and around Glencoe. The jetty was completely blown away. On a matter of priorities, I accept that this cannot rank very high in a national disaster of this kind. However, damage of this type is a perfect example of how the Army could be used. In the past we have used sappers to build airstrips. Perhaps this damage in my constituency could provide a good training exercise for a branch of the Armed Forces to build a jetty, which would be of extreme value.
We, like others in Scotland, have been worried not just with the effects of one gale, but with the continuing gales and heavy rain which we have had since this disaster occurred.
Let me now try to bring together some of the main arguments that seem to me to have come out of the debate but which have not yet been dealt with, so that it may help the Secretary of State to give us answers, and some indication of the way in which the Scottish Office intends to lead the Scottish people in facing the real problems that this disaster has brought about.
Throughout the debate there has been an underlying realisation of the fears of people in some areas of Glasgow that the chimney heads are a threat of danger with a killing potential. My right hon. Friend asks specifically, and his idea was echoed by many other hon. Members, whether some action could not be taken immediately and urgently to deal with the smoke control areas. It would then be possible, as he said, to abolish a very large number of chimney heads, if not all of them, and so help to solve two problems at the same time. Local authorities and private individuals might be prepared to give up some of their insistence on their rights of public inquiry, and so on, if they felt it was for the greater need of Glasgow at this time. I hope that the point will be very carefully considered.
510 I must say that I was disappointed that the Secretary of State was not able to give more information about finance. I know that it is only a little more than three weeks since the disaster struck, but I am certain from everything that has been said on both sides that hon. Members are getting large numbers of letters from constituents who want to know what their position is and how they will be helped.
We had heard from the Secretary of State—although I gather from my hon. Friends that it was not always understood—of a £500,000 loan to cover the immediate needs of local authorities in meeting the first essential commitments. The House welcomed that news at the time. We said that we appreciated that it was just the first instalment—as, indeed, the Secretary of State indicated it had to be with the sort of figures he was talking about in relation to the total damage in Scotland; a total that may be considerably exceeded by the time all the different pieces of information are collected and correlated.
I am quite certain, however, that on both sides there is a feeling that while it may be right to be as generous as the Secretary of State hopes to be to local authorities, there is a basic injustice in giving a grant of 75 per cent. or more to local authorities for their damaged houses while leaving a large range of people in private houses—some of them in circumstances such as the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), and many other speakers have described—in the position that, as private owners, they must, in the words of the Secretary of State, in the long run pay out the full amount of all expenses incurred by them or on their behalf.
It is, of course, a help if, through local authority agencies, this expenditure can be spread in some way, and these private owners do not have to repay in a lump sum but in instalments, but, basically, I do not believe that the House or Scotland will feel satisfied if a very large number of people, some of whom have suffered a very severe loss in relation to their income or earnings, are left to carry the whole burden themselves. Their position would be made enormously worse if they not only had to carry the whole of their own loss in a disaster of 511 this sort but were also expected to bear some measure of an increased rate in order to pay for damage towards which the Secretary of State, in his wisdom, is to give a 75 per cent. grant as well. I hope the Secretary of State will look at this whole problem of finance urgently and see whether a good deal more can be done in some way or another to help people whose losses have been outrageous in relation to their resources.
The next point which came through clearly from the debate and which is of the greatest importance is that this is a major problem for skilled labour in Scotland today. My right hon. Friend asked whether we could draw supplies of skilled labour from across the Border. The Secretary of State said this was already being done. When he was asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) how many had come, there was—perhaps inadvertently—some considerable reticence. It will be necessary, and it is immediately necessary, to get the maximum number from England and other parts of Scotland not affected by the storm as quickly as possible.
Everyone, and I am sure the Secretary of State is as much aware of this as any of us, realises that it is most important to get permanent repairs to roofs done as fast as is humanly possible, because with gales and high winds still likely over the next two or three months, unless we get permanent repairs done, the damage will continue and be much worse. I hope that we shall be assured by the Minister of State that every possible source of labour and the skills particularly needed will be tapped to help in this very serious problem.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) mentioned the value in the period immediately after the storm of a few units from the Army who had the necessary skill to get on to roofs and do immediate repairs there. He said this was an area which is rather sensitive because the trade unions might feel it an undesirable development. I think everyone in the House will agree that, when dealing with the sort of situation there is in Glasgow now, this is no time for any trade union to be sensitive about things of that sort. We need the highest possible productivity from the 512 largest possible number of skilled men. If we have to bring in specialists from the Army or elsewhere, I am confident that the Scottish trade unions will not object. If they do, the entire Scottish nation will overrule them.
The problem of materials is important. The Secretary of State, who is generally well-briefed on these things, was a little less accurate than sometimes when in his statement to the House he referred to slates. I shall not pull him up on that.
§ Mr. Noble
I am certain that when he made the remark he had not had to try to reslate a roof with slates which had fallen off or had been taken from other roofs. That is not an easy operation. There are problems in the supply of materials, but this is the sort of operation in which, if the Government have the necessary information and the necessary drive, they can do a good deal to make certain that material flows quickly through to the areas which need it.
I was interested, as very hon. Member will have been, in the speeches of those hon. Members who became slightly philosophical about Glasgow's whole housing problem, past and future. Unless houses are dangerous or seriously substandard I do not believe that we can afford the policy which the hon. Member for Shettleston appeared to be advocating. I do not believe that this is a moment when we can put bulldozers in and knock down a large number of houses. Even if they have only five or six years' life left, in this situation we shall probably have to repair them, if the cost of repair is not unreasonable. There are no other houses into which the displaced people could be decanted.
One of the significant points made by my noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) was that the Building Research Station is presented with a very good opportunity to study the effects of really high winds on different types of structure. I have no doubt that we shall go on building houses of different types all over Scotland. We heard about the new houses in Livingston which had been damaged. We heard about the temporary houses in North Lanark whose roofs had been blown off.
513 Many hon. Members have given examples of the type of housing which was damaged.
§ Mr. Noble
That may well be. I would not like to be dogmatic about that. This is an opportunity to study what winds can do. if the building regulations need altering, they can be altered and local authorities and private owners can be given the best available advice, because, whatever else is certain, we know for sure that before many years pass we shall have another gale, perhaps nearly as severe as this one.
All hon. Members welcomed the tremendously good work done by the Civil Defence, the Territorials and the voluntary services. I support the plea that the Government should bear this in mind when thinking about the future of these services, because it is difficult to contemplate how we should face emergencies such as this, with all the good will which is always shown by people at times like these, without an adequate number of pained people to guide and lead and bring the efforts to the best results.
Has the Minister of State considered the problem of caravanners? Caravans are not exactly buildings. I do not know what category they come into. I have written one or two letters to the Secretary of State about this matter. In my constituency a number of people are living in caravans, perhaps because they are working in an area where there are not many council houses. They have put all their savings into buying the caravans. All that has gone. These like small owner-occupiers, are very hard luck cases and something should be done to help them.
Much has been said about the problems of the countryside. Though I do not in any way distrust the Secretary of State's belief that the Scottish Office can be flexible where the relevant statutes are fairly clear, he is at the moment in the fortunate position of having an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill going through the House. He introduced a new Clause to it not long ago. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would be only too willing to help him if he wanted to 514 introduce another new Clause empowering him to give assistance in agriculture for the correction of storm damage where the existing statutes do not already empower him to do so. He will have very willing support from this side of the House if he wants to do it. Although one can be flexible to a certain extent, there are, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, people who examine only too carefully whether the Secretary of State is spending money properly. This is, therefore, a useful opportunity for him.
I doubt that what the right hon. Gentleman thinks adequate for the glasshouse growers will prove adequate. He has said that only 4 per cent. of the glass is damaged, but it is not every owner of a glasshouse who has lost 4 per cent. Certain people have been severely hit, and there are grounds for thinking that, unless a good deal more can be made available, perhaps in the form of grants and loans, as will be necessary for ordinary houses, too, I believe, many of these people will be unable to start their business again. I hope that a good deal of thought will be given to that matter.
Several of my hon. Friends have stressed the importance of the damage in forestry, damage not only to the trees themselves but damage to the income and capital of the people who grew and owned them. Many sensible suggestions have been made. I am certain that the windblow action group—I am not sure that I like the initials "W.A.G." for this body—will study what has been said in the House, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will do his best to see that the recommendations which the group bring forward are translated immediately into effect.
One piece of information which I have not heard given to the House is that Thames Board Mills has issued a statement saying that it is prepared to take a greatly increased amount of sawn logs to get its mill going at full capacity over the next two weeks. This is a good example of help from across the Border. Naturally, the company hopes that the extra paper and board it produces will find a ready market in this country, and it is prepared to take the risk of building up large stocks of timber in order to help in this crisis.
It will be vital in the next week or two to produce a guide for the people of 515 Scotland about the claims which they have and where they can obtain the information they need. The information should be detailed right the way through. It would not, I hope, be a complicated White Paper type of operation. It need be no more than a simple statement of facts and guidance for householders, tenants, owner-occupiers, farmers, foresters, and glasshouse owners, giving a summary of what they can do and how they can get help. I hope that, by the end of that time, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to be more generous in his outlook than he has been able to be today.
Hon. Members who have spoken, and those who have been in Scotland, have seen the energy and initiative shown by the Scottish Office as a whole in dealing with the immediate crisis. I have been critical in the past when we had shipping strikes and I could not induce Ministers to come and visit my constituency. This time, Ministers covered the area quickly and effectively, and the Scottish Office backed them to the full. But this was the immediate period of the storm. The long haul is now starting.
There is an enormous amount to be done. It is a daunting task, which will take all the energy and initiative of the Ministers and staff of the Scottish Office and, I dare say, many English Ministries, in order to pull out quickly from the effects of the disaster, as we must. As long as the Scottish team are seen to be doing this, they will get the support of the House, as they have all through the debate. If they seem to be lagging, the whole House will begin kicking.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)
This has been quite an extraordinary debate, particularly with so many Scotsmen taking part, for its non-political character. Occasionally the old Adam, and sometimes even a little bit of Eve, came out now and then, but essentially it has been a remarkable self-denying ordinance that we have imposed on ourselves. It is a tribute to the House that it has risen to the occasion and treated the matter as a real national emergency calling for constructive comment. That was exemplified by the opening speech of the Leader of the Opposition, for which 516 every hon. Member on this side of the House is very grateful.
Dealing first with the constituency point of the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) I can tell him that we shall look at once into the question of the Easdale harbour. The answers to a large number of the questions asked about forestry tonight will emerge in their policy consequences from the Report of the Committee, whether we call it W.A.G., T.A.G. or whatever it may be. I am very glad that the Committee is made up not just of the Scottish organisations but of the English organisations, which emphasises the essential importance of solving the problem of the wind blow on a British scale. I have noted the point of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) that the voluntary cessation of tree-felling that accompanied the 1953 disaster affecting forestry may well be repeated. Since his personal concern was not so badly affected, he will no doubt want to apply a voluntary restraint on himself.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition raised the question of investment grants. We must consider this in the general context of the Government's policy. He must admit, in all fairness, that while forestry has not received the investment grants it is relevant that forestry production is exempted from Capital Gains Tax, and the long-term nature of forestry operations is recognised in the taxation provisions. Private forestry is also eligible for individual refunds of Selective Employment Tax, including refunds to contractors engaged in forestry activities. I take one of the right hon. Gentleman's other points, which was emphasised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North, and we are looking at the rate of planting grant.
Earl of Dalkeith
Is the Minister considering this in relation to the whole country or just the areas specifically hit by the storm damage?
§ Dr. Mabon
At this stage I should not like to say. It is important that Ministers allow the Action Group, in which we have a lot of confidence, to get ahead. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tried to outline all its points of reference today. It has seven factual references to which there must be answers to give to Ministers, and from 517 them there will be a number of options which Ministers can take on policy matters. The hon. Gentleman outlined several and advanced one new one. The Government will certainly look at the debate very closely and see the various recommendations made. Some are mutually exclusive; some Members made recommendations with which others disagreed. But we want to examine each suggestion and see whether it is valid in the context of the problem. I should not like to spend any more time on forestry, except to say that we are anxious to receive the recommendations from the Action Group.
If I may turn for a moment to agriculture, the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) mentioned that a farmer had told him that he could not get grants for the replacement of farm buildings and fences erected with the Farm Improvement Scheme grant but destroyed in the gale. I am assured by the Department that this is not quite right. The cost of replacement, less insurance, will again rank for F.I.S. grant. This also goes for buildings under construction destroyed by the gale. If any farmer has not put in al application because he is under this misapprehension he should certainly do so immediately. We have given instructions to local officials and made this point quite specifically to them.
May I say this in relation to a number of other matters that I may touch upon, not necessarily affecting agriculture. I only wish that Ministers were given the se me publicity on facts like this as they are when some of the criticisms are made in the popular Press. I can only rely on hon. Members opposite and my own hon. Friends, if Ministers do not get this publicity, to try to make this point. These matters affect the lives and livings of people. It is very bad if we cannot get this across to our people—not something that we are arguing about but something that has been settled and is of assistance. I should be grateful if misapprehensions that are cleared up in this debate can be cleared up elsewhere by hon. Members making sure that all those with whom they come into contact are given the facts.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
Could my hon. Friend not utilise the medium of television to tell of the Government's policy in this respect?
I got seven minutes one night and eight minutes another night. I cannot remember exactly how often the television authorities will let us on, but I am prepared to sit for two hours, for as long as I can, but I doubt whether the television companies would allow me. I am certain that all Scottish Ministers would be prepared to appear on television and to give interviews to the Press to get this point over, and I hope that television and the Press are listening.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) mentioned the very sad case of the young man at Burnhead Nursery and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary has already visited the gentleman concerned, I think on 24th January. What I would suggest is that if we could get the full application in the normal way, within the remit as it stands, we will get an inspector out to go over the application and discuss this and we will see how far we can go with this matter.
I take the point that we do not want to be inflexible in these matters, but there are times when statute gets in the way, and we might well take into account some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman in his concluding remarks, despite the fact that we may be involved in Money Resolutions. I should not like to promise anything about that because it is extremely complex and we might be able to settle many of these problems in an entirely different way.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) asked about the cost of repairs with reference to the profit and loss accounts. Quite apart from the example he gave, this is a very important question and I am advised that the individual farmers concerned ought to approach their local tax inspectors and get this quite clear. As we understand it, in the usual way any work assisted by the Farm Improvement Scheme or the Horticulture Import Scheme is clearly of a capital investment nature and ought for tax purposes to be considered in that category, written-off over a period of years.
The hon. Lady for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) mentioned a dairy farmer losing cash income because bulk containers were out of action as a result of power failure. I cannot go into all the circumstances now. I have a lengthy note here from the Milk Marketing Board. 519 She will readily appreciate that it did its best in most difficult circumstances, observing, of course, public health laws. I think that everyone was very appreciative of the good humour and understanding, not just of the men who drove the lorries, but of the men who operated the depôts and bases from which the work was done.
I agree with her criticism that farmers do not know about much of the help available. We have tried in Press notices on the 22nd and 24th January to make the matters raised concerning both schemes known as much as possible. We expect farmers to turn for information to the local offices of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. These local offices have been instructed to help farmers in every way they can to ensure that they know as much as possible about the present position.
I turn to some of the major points made in the debate. The right hon. Member for Bexley mentioned the inadequate warning of the gale. I commend to his attention—I am sure that he has read it but perhaps he will want to refresh his memory about it—the Answer which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force gave to one of my hon. Friends on 19th January. He will see that it was extremely difficult for the best meteorological talent available to predict this very peculiar and unique change in circumstance. My hon. Friend said:This effect was probably heightened locally by the topography of the Forth and Clyde valleys".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 707.]I accept that many lessons can be learned from our experience, and not merely lessons concerning the Building Research Station. We have a great deal to learn from the gale and its consequences on different fabrics and styles of building. But there is the point—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) mentioned it—that the topography of the valleys and of the cities and constituencies affected might well have played a part in determining the kind of damage done.
Some claim that certain kinds of houses suffered peculiarly badly. Some say that modern houses were badly affected. Some- 520 one referred to jerry-built houses of the 1950s. Some say that buildings badly affected were prefabricated dwellings, or old tenements which should have been condemned 10 or 20 years ago, or well-maintained tenements because of the very heavy sandstone chimneys, some of which the Leader of the Opposition saw. I heard his interview on television in which he described the heavy weight of the chimneys and of cases in which the sandstone had been bricked together at the base and had fractured and caused the damage which he described.
All I am saying is that there are other elements to be considered other than the fabric of buildings. For instance, there is the climatic character of the hurricane and its impact on housing. I have been told that the multi-storey buildings can withstand a gale of 350 miles per hour, but I should not like to be in a multi-storey building during a gale of half that force. Nevertheless, it is a consolation to know that some tests have been done on modern buildings in these circumstances.
I turn to the survey of chimney heads. I agree with the right hon. Member for Argyll that this is a very important matter. The Master of Works in Glasgow and the burgh surveyors in other towns have been very busy and have been constantly surveying building—not only obviously damaged buildings, but buildings about which there has been doubt. Ultimately, there will have to be an examination of all buildings. No one knows what latent damage to the structure may have occurred after this winter has passed and perhaps long after the hurricane has been forgotten. We must have a survey made of the buildings and particularly of the chimney heads.
I accept that we could demolish many more chimney heads than is at present contemplated. Half of Glasgow is already under smoke control regulations. Some local authorities, like Dumbarton, have not hesitated but have simply put in gas-fired appliances and have not bothered to replace chimney heads. That may not sound very democratic. It may not allow for the public inquiry process and may not suit everybody. The electricity board may even be offended. But there comes a point when we must put aside some of the niceties in order to get ahead with dealing with the implicit danger to life which many chimney heads 521 represent. I take the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about this matter. We underlined that not only to Glasgow but to many other authorities which have been acting very quickly.
There was one other point which the right hon. Gentleman made which we very much appreciate, and that was his comment about vacant tenement houses. Up to the present time, generally speaking, the local authorities have rehoused most of the homeless. Of course, there are still many people who are homeless and are having to live with their in-laws and other relatives and friends. In some cases we are trying to get in touch with people so that we may know where they are and know what to do for them, when it may not be possible for them to go back to their own homes.
The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), was that property owners' associations in the different cities and burghs might be able to ask property owners who have in their possession houses which are vacant to make them available for the rehousing of people who have no homes, and who may have to wait a considerable time to get into proper homes even if they are ever able to get back to their homes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) asked about the Glasgow scheme, that is, the scheme which we are seeking to finance with £500,000—and that, I regret to say, has not been fully appreciated, even in this debate, or by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I will return to this in a moment. The Glasgow scheme, as it is called, of course should be followed by other county councils, other cities, other burghs similarly affected. Indeed, we are trying to encourage them to do so, and some authorities have already done so. In the Circular of 26th January we asked that they should look at this very closely and follow the procedures we have outlined in the model scheme. These are not as difficult as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) thought. They are streamlined and can work very rapidly, despite their apparent complexity. I would commend them very strongly to hon. Members who may be faced with this problem in their con- 522 stituencies and where local authorities have not subscribed to this sort of scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) mentioned laggard property owners, as he called them—that is to say, those property owners who are reluctant to go ahead with repairs. All I can say to him, if it is true that some property owners are dragging their feet in this regard—and if they are I am surprised at them, because it is in their own economic interests not so to do—is to draw attention to the local authorities' statutory power under Sections 11 and 12 of the 1966 Act which allow them to compel owners to have house repairs done. I say frankly to him that I think that they should use this power if there is a genuine case of property owners not being willing to go ahead.
I turn to the repair of private houses outside Glasgow. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) dealt with this also. We would like to encourage this in counties even though the number of damaged houses in the counties is not quite as large in proportion as in Glasgow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen asked about owner-occupiers being relieved of the cost of demolition of houses so damaged as to be uninhabitable. If an owner is unable to pay demolition costs which the local authority has incurred, the local authority may purchase the land compulsorily and pay the difference, if any, between the value of the land and the cost of demolition. In this we are acting under Section 23 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1966. This is in the extreme instance of where we have to abandon a house permanently. I am sorry to say that in the last week we have had to abandon a number of houses—in my own constituency, over 100—because temporary repairs have proved insufficient to strengthen the houses to stand up to the gales which have succeeded the great hurricane, the central subject of this debate.
As to advice, local authorities should be giving advice locally on this matter, and some have done exceptionally well, but I really would urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to make sure that their local authorities are providing —at advice centres themselves, or through citizens' advice bureaux or the 523 Women's Voluntary Services—advice to their people.
On the question of the release of contractors from penalty clauses, although we cannot override the law on this matter, we are appealing to town councils, county councils and new town corporations and many private individuals not to enforce penalty clauses against contractors who want to release labour temporarily for these purposes. We have had a singularly favourable response. We know of no instance where anyone has been difficult about it, provided that the circumstances were explained fully and clearly.
On reported shortages, most of the shortages which we have encountered have been overtaken. We have had an official in the Ministry of Public Building and Works solely concerned with ensuring that local shortages of zinc ridging and other roofing materials were overcome. If there are shortages in any area, I hope that the hon. Members concerned will refer the local authority to the Ministry of Public Building and Works or to the Scottish Office, who will deal with the matter.
Mention has been made of the shortage of cut glass. The Ministry of Public Building and Works has been assured by Pilkington's, the suppliers, that there is plenty of glass in standard sizes. Again, if there are local difficulties, I hope that the grower, the contractor, or the hon. Member concerned will contact the local office of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Similarly, with the shot Cage of slates, I am told that quarries in North-West England and Wales are giving priority to demands from Scotland.
In relation to damage to property under construction, liability for such damage will depend on the terms of the contract. Under the R.I.B.A. standard form of contract which we have been urging local authorities to use, there is specific provision to cover storm damage during the construction period.
The Ministry of Social Security has been very good in what it has done in Scotland so far. I am much indebted to my right hon. Friend the Minister for her personal intervention at times when events were getting to a difficult stage. We have had excellent co-operation from her Ministry, and I intend to take to 524 her one or two of the suggestions which were made during the debate about the further use of the Ministry in relation to the operation of the scheme affecting the repair of private properties.
I am sure that everyone would agree that, to a large extent, the confusion has been about the £500,000 which has been mentioned. The primary purpose of that sum was to help the local authorities pay workmen for doing repairs on private properties. It had nothing to do with helping local authorities to get on with their own work. That is a matter which we shall come to when we know the estimates. It was to make sure that we did not ask private owners to pay bills for which they had no insurance money, or, alternatively, immediately to find the difference between what was needed and what they received from their insurance companies. Nor were we willing to see small builders, contractors and slaters having large overdrafts which they could not service. The money is to pay the workmen for doing the work. Later on, we will look at the overall reckoning.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head, struck the most important note of all in relation to being cautionary over these matters. When we first looked into them, the estimates were of the order of £3 million. Today, they are of the order of £30 million. Everyone has commented about this, including the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). They have all said that we do not know the full extent of the damage and, therefore, we cannot anticipate how we are to work out the full financial consequences. Someone suggested making lump sum grants either to the local authorities or to individuals or to both. I could think of no worse way of dealing with it than by lump sum grants.
Take a person who has insured regularly for 10 years, as against another person who has never insured. Do we repay the premiums for 10 years as well as reimbursing the £15 that may be lost by the prudent person under the contract, as well as reimbursing the other?
Another suggestion was give them all £15. I am assured that, if one takes each tenement in Glasgow as having an average of 10 houses, the Chairman of the Property Owners' Association has estimated that the maximum cost to owner- 525 occupiers would be of the order of £25 to £30. Therefore this is not in itself the answer, but I take the point that there may be cases where even such a small sun may be more than an old-age pensioner could possibly bear.
That is why I come back to the point about the Ministry of Social Security on subsequent matters of repayment, or it may be that this will be a matter which we shall consider at a later stage with the local authorities, once their servicing of the scheme has shown that they cannot, with the best will in the world, recover the cost without causing extreme hardship to individuals. This is a matter which will have to be tackled in that way. I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in the most important section of his speech:The Government are resolved that in the end of the day no local authority will have to bear an undue additional rate burden as a result of the storm. My assessment is that this may well involve Exchequer assistance running into millions of £s rather than hundreds of thousands.It is very important that whatever we decide is with an eye on those whom we can help best of all and not in simply taking a leap, a guess, at it without having all the facts available.
As I say, we are in constant touch with authorities over this matter and, as my right hon. Friend said, we shall, authority by authority, seek to examine the commitments as they have arisen on them and then be able to make a distinct choice to how and in what way they should be aided from the national purse.
§ Dr. Miller
I know my hon. Friend is coming to his peroration, but when he is considering various suggestions, will he consider the possibility of some form of compulsory insurance in tenancies to insure the personal effects of people? It is tragic how little insurance working people carry for their personal effects. I am told that for a matter of 6d. a week one can be insured for about £500.
§ Dr. Mabon
This is a very difficult matter. I know that some authorities are pointing out to their tenants that, in the case of fire, many who lose all their possessions are quite unaware that for a small sum they could have insured them against fire. Whether that should be made 526 compulsory by the local authorities on their tenants, I should not like to say at this juncture. Certainly, in private tenanted property it would be difficult for landlords to place this condition on them. In the case of mortgages under Government and building society schemes, it is always a condition that the mortgagor insures not only the property, but its contents, against fire and tempest.
I have very little time left. I merely want to sum up in this way. I would have liked to have made reference to improvement of old houses which will be following from the Cullingworth Report which was submitted to the Secretary of State last year. This matter may be discussed in the House at some time.
I would have liked to make comments on the complexity of insurance, which I agree is a matter of difficulty.
I would have liked to have said something about labour. I have hinted that we are already working on this; that is to say, bringing labour not only from unaffected parts of Scotland, but also from parts of England. We look to England to a large extent to provide us with the skilled building labour that we need to help us repair the damage which has been done. Local authorities are being encouraged to ask in various towns in England for this kind of assistance.
The Secretary of State is a West of Scotland man—he does not have the good fortune to be a Glaswegian—but I was proud to be with him in the reception centre in Shettleston when he asked one lady, "Do they treat you well here? Are you all right? Are they good to you?", and she said, "Aye. great. I will hook up for next year". Let us pray that there is never a next year. But let us be grateful to the warm-hearted, good-natured people who have risen so splendidly to this national calamity and have worked, every one of them, so hard to try to get us over the difficulties on to the road to recovery. I think that we in the House of Commons have exemplified this need for all to pull together at this time. I am grateful to the House for the reception it has given to this debate.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.