§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland consumes nearly five pages and more than 1,000 words? Is it appropriate at this stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—with an important debate coming up—[An HON. MEMBER: "This is important."] I realise that it is on 609 foreign affairs. Would it not be more appropriate, Mr. Speaker, if the right hon. Gentleman were to circulate his statement, and give us a very brief synopsis at this time?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not aware of the facts that the hon. Gentleman has stated. I have not yet seen the statement. In any case, it is a matter for the Minister. Mr. Ross.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make the statement I promised on further news about the Scottish storm damage, and I apologise for its length——
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Need my right hon. Friend apologise for telling us in this House, and not upstairs in any Committee, of something of such importance to Scotland? May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to bear in mind that we Scots demand our share of time on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I can assure the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) that, if I were ever to forget the claims of Scotland, Scottish Members would remind me.
§ Mr. Ross
In the statement which I made to the House on 16th January about the gale which struck Scotland early the previous day, I promised to keep the House informed about progress in dealing with its effects.
As the House will know, I visited Glasgow myself on 17th January to inspect some of the damage there, and on that date, and again on 22nd January, I held meetings with a number of local authorities representing the worst affected areas. My Ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Office have all visited damaged areas, and have had useful discussions with the people concerned on the spot.
About 750 people—350 of them in Glasgow—are still in rest centre accommodation provided by the local authorities, while others are living with relatives and friends. A total of 796 families in Glasgow are having to be rehoused as a result of storm damage or threat to their homes: up to yesterday, all but 61 of these had been offered alternative accommodation, and 459 had been placed.
610 The storm caused millions of pounds worth of damage to public and private property as well as to agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Because of the widespread nature of the damage, it has not yet been possible for full assessments to be made by all the authorities and agencies concerned. Estimates indicate that local authority property, including housing and schools, has sustained damage which will cost some £9 million to restore. The present figure for private housing is over £7 million. Hospital damage is estimated at £130,000.
Most farms in the severely affected counties suffered damage, some of it severe. A reliable estimate of the cost of repairing damage to farm buildings is not yet possible, partly because of the restrictions imposed on access to farms on account of foot-and-mouth disease. Only a small number of stock have been lost. Horticulture has suffered relatively more severely, because much of the Scottish glasshouse acreage is in the areas most affected.
The damage to woodlands is at present estimated at about 30 million hoppus feet. This appears to be equally shared between the Forestry Commission and private estates. Arrangements for extraction and marketing will be considered at a meeting which the Chairman of the Commission is holding in Glasgow next Monday, when the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association and the timber trade will be represented.
My own Department has provided help to local authorities with staff for the handling of emergency arrangements and with the provision of supplies from emergency stores. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has provided more than 9,000 tarpaulins for emergency roof repairs, and a further 5,000 will be delivered today, while the Ministry of Public Building and Works has been helping with arrangements for the supply of roofing materials.
The Ministry of Social Security gave immediate help in dealing with the welfare problems which arose in the aftermath of the storm. All three Armed Services have given help in the form of manpower, supplies and transport which has been greatly appreciated by the local authorities.
611 Local authorities are dealing effectively with the necessary repairs to their own houses, but there are problems in securing rapid and adequate repair to privately owned houses, particularly tenements in multiple ownership, many of which have suffered very severe damage. I am, therefore, asking authorities to organise repair work not only to their own houses, but also to others so far as that they judge this necessary to get essential work done quickly. Indeed, many authorities have already done excellent work in this direction.
Damage to tenement property is particularly widespread in Glasgow, and the Corporation and my Department are working out with representatives of the owners and contractors a scheme to ensure that necessary repair work proceeds rapidly.
As regards finance, it is not yet possible to assess the extent to which damage generally is covered by insurance. But it is already clear that the costs to local authorities of the necessary repairs to property are likely to impose undue burdens on the local ratepayers in some of the worst hit areas. Where these conditions arise, the Government will provide appropriate financial help to the authorities concerned, on a basis to be worked out in discussion with the authorities as soon as all the relevant facts are known. Meanwhile, to deal with situations in which limited financial resources would otherwise lead to delay in proceeding with essential work, an immediate advance of up to £500,000 is being made available from the Civil Contingencies Fund, to be drawn upon by local authorities as required.
In addition, as already announced, arrangements have been made to deal urgently with applications for improvement grant for the restoration of fences and other fixed farm equipment. Similar arrangements have also been made to deal urgently with applications under the Horticultural Improvement Scheme. The forestry situation will be considered further in the light of next Monday's meeting.
§ Mr. Noble
I thank the Secretary of State for giving us that comprehensive report. I am sure that the whole House will appreciate the fact that this report 612 shows the very extensive damage which has been suffered all over Scotland. The whole House sympathises with the people who suffered. I think that the whole House would wish to thank not only the Ministries concerned and the Armed Forces for the work they have been doing, but also the Post Office and electricity boards, who have been working day and night to restore communications.
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to help in the multiple tenement situation in Glasgow, where private owners might otherwise not be able to effect immediate repairs. He has been able to offer half a million pounds to local authorities from the Civil Contingencies Fund. Does he think there is any need for help of some sort to private owners outside this in view of the very stringent restrictions on bank overdrafts at the moment? Those carrying out emergency repairs may need special help.
While I welcome the possibility of getting the damage repaired under farm improvement schemes, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that many people will have started immediate repairs to buildings and fences so as to maintain the viability of their farms? Can these be considered even though applications were not put in beforehand? Does he consider that 3⅓ per cent. is enough for horticulture? Glasshouse destruction having been very great, perhaps 3⅓ per cent. will not cover the need to repair.
After the meeting which, I understand, is taking place soon, will the right hon. Gentleman study the question whether any special steps by the Government are needed to help with forestry equipment?
§ Mr. Ross
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tribute he has paid to those who have been involved, including those in the nationalised industries. I am glad that he mentioned the electricity boards, because one of the difficulties has been that many dairy farms have been without electricity. We have been trying to get priority treatment there.
I appreciate that apart from multiple ownership, repairs to other properties may be held up. My concern is that local authorities shall authorise the repairs. The question of the cost will come 613 later. I shall consider the point the right hon. Gentleman made on that matter.
I hope that we shall show a reasonable flexibility over the farm improvement schemes and what can be done there. Vie have already had talks with the National Farmers' Union about this and I had a meeting with the union in Glasgow on Monday. In regard to the rates, we are pretty well tied. There is no doubt that people who lost glass have suffered considerably. In one particular case at Burnhead, Larkhall, about one-third of a very large acreage of glass was lost.
§ Mr. Small
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making this statement. I did a tour of the reception centres and saw a trail of human tragedy. I made a t analysis and I commend to the Secretary of State the heavy burden placed on rehousing by local authorities. My right hon. Friend should not leave out of mind the principle of requisitioning of private property—say, for nine months or a year—to balance the stresses and strains of those who are most desirous or re-equipping themselves and their families, even temporarily.
§ Mr. Ross
I appreciate that many local Members have been playing their part, and I am grateful for it. I am quite sure that we will not require to requisition private property. We were very fortunate in having such a record housing completion total last year so that we could put many people into new houses.
§ Mr. Stodart
Last week the Secretary of State expressed sympathy with the suggestion that the National Coal Board might be invited to suspend imports of timber and to use home-grown timber instead. As so much of the Board's requirements come from the South of England, a long way away, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of a transport subvention to make homegrown timber more competitive?
§ Mr. Ross
I am grateful to the hon. Member. He spoke about timber on the day when I made my first statement and I have had a report from the Forestry Commission. We should leave this to the meeting which is to be held. The position about timber is not nearly so bad as at was in 1953, when there was a problem of transport clearance and the 614 rest. These things will be looked into at the meeting on Monday.
§ Sir M. Galpern
Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that extensive repairs will not in any way be delayed by an acute shortage of slates, ridges and chimneypots? Will he carefully review the half a million pounds in relation to the tremendous financial damage which has already been suffered?
§ Mr. Ross
My hon. Friend should appreciate, to take his last point first, that I spoke about an immediate advance. One of the things brought to my notice by the trades themselves was that there was a danger of slaters not going on the roofs unless they were sure that they would be paid. We are getting over this hurdle. There is no shortage of slates. Slates are virtually indestructible and those which come off an old building can be put on to a new roof.
I do not think that there is any shortage—it is a matter of distribution—but we have asked people to intimate their needs and they are being well directed. If there is a shortage, it may be of tiles, for the simple reason that there is such a variety and there are special demands.
Earl of Dalkeith
In view of the tremendous contribution which forestry can make towards the problem of imports, will the right hon. Gentleman do everything he can to speed the recovery of the industry? In particular, will he give sympathetic consideration to a subsidy to get the blown timber to the markets in the South of England, where it can compete with imports?
§ Mr. James Hamilton
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very comprehensive and detailed report. I congratulate him and his hon. Friends at the Scottish Office on the expeditious way in which they have carried out their duties. Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to use his good offices with the insurance companies in cases where there are tenemental buildings with various occupiers and one insurance company which will not grant the necessary permission to carry out work, to cut through this red tape and get 615 these houses put in good order for those concerned?
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Will the Secretary of State recall that on the occasion of a previous gale the licensing system was used to ration the cutting of standing timber so that the blown timber might be more quickly marketed? Is not this worthy of consideration?
§ Mr. Lawson
I commend the very speedy way in which the Minister of State and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, went to the worst areas without being invited and acted speedily. Is there any truth in Press statements to the effect that the Scottish Office was unmanned over the weekend?
§ Mr. Ross
I thank my hon. Friend for his expression of appreciation of what Ministers have done. This is our job. I have heard this allegation about the Scottish Office being closed. The staff at the Scottish Office have been working day and night since this disaster. I was appalled to read a report in a newspaper that the staff was not in attendance on Saturday or Sunday. The appropriate department worked for 12 hours on Saturday and for nine hours on Sunday. The civil defence emergency stores were open all weekend dealing with claims.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
Is the Secretary of State aware that there are many steadings which cannot be adequately insured? They are old, and an intolerable burden would be placed on the farmers concerned if they had to effect the repairs on the basis of the improvement grant scale. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware further that slates have nails and that when slates fall off a roof they are apt to be broken? Therefore, there is a shortage of slates and it is quite unrealistic to say this is not true.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Lady can take it from me that there is no shortage of 616 slates. If she gets into difficulty over this, she can do the same as she did last week and phone me up personally. This was the one thing she did not mention when she telephoned me. I had the impression that she was on the roof of a steading up in Stirlingshire. I was very angry to discover that she was in London at the time. I assure her that we will examine this question. Agriculture has an advantage here, in that there are statutory schemes which we can use. This facility is not available in other spheres.
Mr. Tom McMillian
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the next phase of this exercise in Glasgow tenemental property is that we shall be spending up to £6 million to ensure that people continue to live in filthy slums? Would it not be wise to use this occasion to spend the money on Clearing the slums and asking authorities inside and outside Glasgow to house the people moved from these buildings?
§ Mr. Ross
I appreciate my hon. Friend's feelings. As a result of this exercise, I hope that we shall be taking down many of these filthy slums. It would not help Glasgow if we took down all these places, many of which are still quite good homes. It would be impossible for Glasgow to deal with those who would be made homeless if that were done. We have been speeding up slum clearance. I gave the figures last year. We hope to continue with this trend.
§ Mrs. Ewing
Will the Secretary of State give consideration to the fear and distress of those who are still in so-called habitable houses, but who know that those tenements have been severely affected? The strength of the structure has been affected by the gales. The normal February and March gales are coming. What steps does the Secretary of State intend to take in regard to these properties which, though not the worst affected, are nevertheless affected? People in private property—some of it tenemental—are now affected by risks against which they cannot get insurance. They do not know where they stand. Some of them are finding that no tradesman will effect the necessary repairs. No one from the local authority has been to tell them whether the property is safe. These people are living in fear.
§ Mr. Ross
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her maiden oral question to me since her arrival here. Last week I began to think that she had emigrated.
On the question of tenement property, it was to meet this very need that we drew up this scheme, so that people needing help can go to the local authority, which will be able to authorise work. We are aware that there are dangers. This is why we spent our time first on demolishing chimney heads and buildings which were dangerous. An examination will be carried out to ensure that no building which is dangerous will be allowed to stand unattended.
§ Mr. Faulds
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was discourteous of the Secretary of State for Scotland to make that reference to the hon. Lady the Member hr Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing). She has indeed emigrated. She has left her home in Scotland and she has been down here a hell of a lot of the time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that the House or the Chair needs the advice of the hon. Gentleman. The Chair must look after matters like that.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
As it is evident that all Scottish Members are greatly concerned about the terrible disaster which has befallen Scotland, will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to having a debate, either on the Floor of the House or in Scottish Grand Committee? I have gone over a goodly part of West Stirlingshire and seen the terrible damage which has been caused. What will be done about the cash crops in the cash lands of Scotland, which have been blown all over the place? Those people will be very dependent on trying to retrieve some of that crop, as it is the very substance of their livelihood. In other places, where the seed——
§ Mr. Baxter
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. This is why it is so important that there should be a full debate. I will not pursue it further.
§ Mr. Ross
Cash crops can be, and have been, destroyed overnight without a disaster such as this. I am more concerned with getting on with the repair work than with having a debate. Hon. Members must appreciate the complexity of the matter. No one knows better 618 than my hon. Friend that one of the things we are up against now is that practically all the work must be done on roofs. There are a limited number of people who can do it. We are getting all the help we can. We are trying to organise this on a basis of priorities.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor
Will the Secretary of State agree that, despite the valiant efforts of public authorities, the job in Glasgow will take months because of the shortage of labour, and so on? Would it be possible to see if other public authorities or councils not affected could help with the massive job to he done in Glasgow?
§ Mr. Ross
The job facing the building industry is a vast one. With the best will in the world, it must take months. Last week I read critical statements about working men in Glasgow on demolishing air raid shelters. The implication was that they should have been on the roofs. I hope that the editor who allowed that criticism to appear in his paper now appreciates that in that week two men were killed having fallen from roofs. Roofing is a skilled job. We are doing all that we can and getting all the cooperation we need from the building trades. The places from which one would normally be able to draw tradesmen are places which are themselves affected. It was put to me that the S.S.H.A. should be able to do some of this work. The association is very busy on exactly this problem with its own houses. There has been such co-operation that local authority workmen have been working on private houses and vice versa. This is the kind of spirit in which we shall be able to get on. People have volunteered to come to Glasgow to help.
§ Mr. Rankin
Does my right hon. Friend realise that he is minimising the problem? It will not take months to deal with this; it will take years, particularly in Glasgow. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are 85,000 houses at this moment in Glasgow in which human beings should not be living and that with the heavy winds of March in 619 front of us a similar disaster might occur? Does he not think that next week the Scottish Grand Committee should meet to discuss this Situation?
§ Mr. Ross
I assure my hon. Friend that the Scottish Ministers and I have been in constant consultation with the people in Glasgow who know the facts, and that it is quite wrong to say that there are 85,000 people at risk. My hon. Friend was, I think, a bit reckless in saying that. In my two Statements, last Tuesday and today, I have made absolutely clear what the facts are as we know them and what action has been taken. Most people in Glasgow are appreciative of what has been done.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Chair is by no means unsympathetic to the problem which we are discussing, but I must protect the business of the House.
§ Mr. Manuel
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for raising this matter, but I realise that you do not know the geographical areas of Scotland. My constituency was extensively damaged. In one small village 23 families were rendered homeless. Should not I have an opportunity to ask the Secretary of State about it?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not unsympathetic. The problem exercised my mind all the time I allowed supplementary questions.
§ Mrs. Ewing
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the discussion has not been full enough, I beg to give notice of my intention to raise the matter on the Adjournment.