HC Deb 29 January 1952 vol 495 cc14-6
Sir D. Robertson

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why he has decided that the costs of relief, rebuilding, repairs, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, fodder and other hurricane losses in Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland, are to depend on charity supported by a State contribution of £20,000, and if, having regard to the magnitude of the disaster, to the suffering of the people, and to the civil emergency which prevails, he will make a grant in cash and materials equal to £500,000 for distribution by the local authorities who will be responsible for its use.

Mr. J. Stuart

I welcome this opportunity of expressing the sympathy of His Majesty's Government, and, I am sure, of the whole House, with the people of Orkney and other northern areas who suffered in the recent storms.

Precise estimates of the damage are not yet available, but I have no reason at present to think that the proceeds of the appeals which have been made by the Lord Lieutenant of Orkney and by the Lords Provost of the five cities, to which His Majesty's Government have made a contribution of £20,000, will be insufficient to alleviate the hardship which has undoubtedly been caused. I was greatly impressed on my visit to Orkney by the spirit of independence and self-help which was everywhere evident, and all necessary steps have been taken to assist the work of restoration by making supplies available and by relaxing normal restrictions.

Mr. Woodburn

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the reports in the Press that the damage from this hurricane has reached over £1 million, and, of course, if that is so, a gift of £20,000 does seem a little niggardly; and is he aware that this is not a charity to the Orkneys because it will be an actual investment? The Orkneys have been one of the best food producing parts of this country and have developed their agriculture in a way quite unprecented, and this unforeseen act of God, as it may be described, has brought such distress that it would be an investment to restore these food producing qualities as soon as possible.

Mr. Stuart

I fully agree as to the importance of restoring the food producing abilities of the whole area, not only the Orkneys; but the right hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that insurance, of course, covers a certain amount of the damage which has been done, and I might add that it will be a little time yet before we can get a more or less accurate estimate of the full damage.

Mr. Thomas Williams

Since the late Government gave no less than £4,850,000 in respect of the disaster in Jamaica, this £20,000 looks almost derisory; and is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied—and this is the important point—that this very small amount is not likely to result in a much reduced output during this year?

Mr. Stuart

Undoubtedly there will be a reduced output of eggs and poultry—eggs in particular—but as regards livestock there was no loss to any appreciable extent. Feedingstuffs have been sent up, and I do not think that we need anticipate, apart from the poultry, any appreciable loss in output. As to the amount, there are precedents for such action on the part of His Majesty's Government and the position will, of course, be watched very carefully. I can assure the House that I have received letters from a number of persons in responsible positions in the North expressing their satisfaction at what has been done.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Secretary of State confirm that this grant was in the nature of immediate assistance, and that when the detailed estimates have been compiled of the actual damage done and of the relief that may be raised, he will look at this matter again? I think that the insurance will cover very little of it, and we do not know exactly what damage has been done.

Mr. Stuart

I agree that we do not yet know the exact amount of the damage. I am afraid that I cannot say more at the present moment because I do not think that I have any authority from the Government to say more on that point, apart from the fact that we shall, of course, watch the position very carefully.

Mr. James H. Hoy

Does the right hon. Gentleman's last reply mean that the Government are still prepared to reconsider the size of the grant to this area? Is that what he meant by his answer?

Mr. Stuart

The reply meant what it said. I am afraid that I cannot say more at this stage.

Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot

May we take it that my right hon. Friend, in his further examination of this subject, will consider that Scotland as a whole—and I am sure the whole House—would wish the subject to be considered with sympathy, not merely from the point of view of production, but in regard to the disaster which has fallen on these people?