HC Deb 23 November 1954 vol 533 cc1030-1
12. Mr. Woodburn

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the periodic disasters which through the vagaries of the weather are causing distress and loss to country and town dwellers alike; and whether he is now prepared to consider an insurance scheme to provide for immediate relief and ultimate compensation for victims of such calamities and not leave them to rely on the uncertain and unequal responses to public appeal; or if he will consider accepting Government responsibility.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, but I am satisfied that a Government insurance scheme would not be appropriate. The attitude of the House to the grave disasters which have from time to time afflicted the country is well known, but it would be a different matter to recognise in advance that a responsibility would rest on Her Majesty's Government whatever the scale or nature of the troubles might be.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that circumstances have changed, and that these days he himself collects about two-thirds of the profits of industry, so that many of the sources from which charity came are not so full as they used to be? If the Chancellor is going to collect large proportions of the profits of industry, should he not be prepared to accept some of the responsibilities that used to be accepted by people who gave money to charity? Is he not aware that damage to people's houses by some of these floods is just as serious as was war damage, and that the tragedy is just as serious for the people concerned, although it does not always arouse equal public sympathy?

Mr. Butler

In the end the State comes along and does its duty. The difficulty of carrying out the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is that we have to see so far ahead and over so very wide a realm, some of which is that of private insurance, whereas war damage lay in the realm of what I might call national insurance. That is why I cannot adopt the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, though I see its value.

Mr. Bottomley

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider combination of Government action with public spiritedness by putting a ½d. extra on postage stamps? Would he consider something of that kind?

Hon. Members


Mr. Butler

That is a very valuable suggestion, which I will discuss with the Postmaster-General.