HC Deb 26 October 1955 vol 545 cc165-8
18. Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement with regard to the effects of the recent hurricanes in Barbados, Grenada and British Honduras and what assistance has been afforded by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

34. Mr. Marquand

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what additional grants have been made from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund to make good hurricane damage done to houses and public services in British Honduras.

43 and 44. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) what long-term financial assistance the Government have in mind to restore the agricultural productivity of Grenada and Barbados following the recent hurricane;

(2) whether the Government will make available special re-housing grants to Grenada and Barbados following the recent hurricane.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

With permission, I will circulate a full statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am sure, however, that all hon. Members will wish to extend the sympathy of this House to the inhabitants of the stricken territories, and particularly to those who have suffered bereavement or loss in this disaster. As hon. Members will learn from the statement I am circulating, the territories received help at once from many sources, including, of course, Her Majesty's Government, and already much progress has been made in the work of rehousing the people and providing for their immediate needs.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

Would my right hon. Friend consider placing in the Library, for hon. Members to see, any photographs which his Department may have? Secondly, would he consider ultimately publishing a White Paper giving Her Majesty's Government's proposals for the rehabilitation of the economy of Grenada, because public opinion does not entirely realise that that country may not be able to pay its way for five or even ten years?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir. I certainly will make the photographs available to hon. Members, and I will sympathetically consider what my hon. Friend has suggested.

Mr. Marquand

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there already existed in British Honduras grave arrears of housing, aggravated by recent rapid increases in population? Does not the hurricane now constitute an emergency and require a much larger effort than the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate in that rather comprehensive answer to several Questions?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will await my comprehensive answer, because it deals with the various territories concerned. I agree with him that the blow is very serious indeed in British Honduras as well

Following is the statement: Hon. Members will know that on 22nd and 23rd September Hurricane "Janet" struck with its full force the islands of Barbados. Grenada and Carriacou, a part of the Colony of Grenada, in the British West Indies and a few days later the northern part of British Honduras, taking a heavy toll of life and causing very serious damage. Other islands of the Windwards Group also suffered, but damage was less serious and no loss of life has been reported. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will, I am sure, wish to express their sympathy to all the inhabitants of these territories, and in particular to those who have suffered bereavement or loss in this disaster. In Grenada, which was the worst hit, the death roll is reported to be 115 and about three-quarters of all the buildings in the island have been either virtually destroyed or severely damaged by the storm. The pier and warehouses at St. George's, the capital, disappeared into the sea. All services were violently disrupted and it is only now that they are beginning to be brought back into use. Most serious in its long-term effects, however, is the damage which was done to Grenada's crops. Most of these are tree-crops which it takes a long time to rehabilitate. A survey has shown that 95 per cent. of the island's nutmeg trees, over half the coconut trees and the whole of the food and banana crops have been destroyed. Most of the island's cocoa trees were beaten to the ground, though many are expected to recover; and it may be possible to replant many of the banana trees. Fertiliser is being shipped urgently to the island to replace valuable soil nutrients washed away by the torrential rain. In Carriacou the death roll was thirty-eight and, as in Grenada, the great majority of buildings and crops were destroyed. In Barbados the death roll was thirty-eight and 28,000 were made homeless. Large numbers of houses were destroyed, public services were disrupted, and the corn crop was lost. Fortunately, the sugar crop did not suffer major damage. In British Honduras sixteen people were killed. In the town of Corozal hardly a building remains untouched and surrounding villages were razed to the ground. Most crops were wiped out and the mahogany forests were damaged. Of the crops affected only sugar is likely to recover. A disaster of this magnitude might easily have had a numbing effect on the people concerned. In all the territories, however, people of all classes and, as always, the voluntary agencies turned immediately and energetically to relief work and the enormous task of rebuilding and rehabilitation was begun without delay. Emergency medical supplies, food, tents and building materials have been rushed to the affected territories from this country and from other territories in the West Indies. The assistance given by the Governments of British Guiana, Jamaica and Trinidad has been outstanding. Numerous voluntary agencies outside the area have rallied to the help of the stricken territories, in particular the British Red Cross and the American and Canadian Red Cross. The great prompt and practical help of the Royal Navy and the United States Navy was invaluable. Advantage was quickly taken of the prompt offers of a number of air lines and shipping companies to carry urgent supplies free. As hon. Members will be aware. I have myself in this country launched an appeal for funds to aid the affected countries and appeals have also been launched in Trinidad and in Jamaica to supplement the generous grants made by the Governments of these two territories. Considerable sums have already been received in response to all these appeals. It is not yet known what the total cost of making good the devastation caused by the hurricane will amount to, but clearly it will be large. There was obviously an immediate need for financial help to Governments concerned and Her Majesty's Government made grants of £50,000 each to Grenada and Barbados and £10,000 to British Honduras. Parliamentary approval will be sought in due course for these grants by means of a Supplementary Estimate; in the meantime such approval has been anticipated by the use of £110.000 from the Civil Contingencies Fund. At the same time as these grants were made, the Governments concerned were informed that further financial assistance would he made available by Her Majesty's Government where there is need when it has been possible to assess this. Surveys to this end are already in progress.
52. Mr. Russell

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will consider, in conjunction with the various Governments in the West Indies, the setting up of a special fund, on an insurance basis, to make good the damage and personal loss caused so frequently by hurricanes.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There are many practical difficulties about my hon. Friend's interesting suggestion, a major one being that a fund adequate to cover all contingencies would have to be so large as to be prohibitive. Nor is it Government policy to immobilise public funds in insurance against possible future liabilities.

Quite apart from such difficulties, however, the widespread damage to communities as a whole so frequently caused by hurricanes involves Government decisions of major policy on rehabilitation and as such is not of the kind which can suitably be dealt with on the actuarial basis of an insurance fund.