HC Deb 12 April 1960 vol 621 cc1068-9
24. Mr. Hannan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give an assurance that he will not refuse permission to any local authority wishing to make a contribution to the Lord Provost of Glasgow's Relief Fund for the dependants of the firemen who lost their lives in the recent disaster.

Mr. Maclay

I have great sympathy with the thought behind the hon. Member's Question but he will appreciate that, being bound in relation to rate-borne contributions by the terms of Section 339 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, it is not possible for me to give the assurance for which he asks. I am advised that the terms of Section 339 will allow me to approve contributions only if people living in the area of the authority concerned are going to be helped by the fund. I should add that, as I stated on 22nd February, I am in consultation with the local authority associations about the possibility of amending Section 339.

Mr. Hannan

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that that Answer will be taken as being miserable and mean and frustrating to many people in Scotland who want their local authorities to be associated with such a fund? The right hon. Gentleman has had time to move in this matter since the Auchengeich disaster. If it is his intention to introduce legislation, when will he do so? If not, will he allow facilities to a private Member who introduces such a Bill?

Mr. Maclay

I do not accept for one moment that my Answer should be taken as being miserable or mean. It was an Answer stating the statutory position by which I am bound.

Mr. Ross

Then do something about it.

Mr. Maclay

I have already been in consultation with the local authority associations about this matter, which is not something on which one should move without full discussion with the local authorities concerned.

Mr. Woodburn

Has not the time come when the Government should consider setting up a proper national fund? While we welcome all the generous donations which are made, they come in circumstances of spectacular loss, and there are many less spectacular incidents which bring as much hardship as the spectacular ones. Should we not cease to depend on charity and have some national way of dealing with these terrible disasters?

Mr. Maclay

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there are other disasters which do not attract the same emotional response throughout the country, but which produce equally deserving cases for help. The wider question of a national disaster fund is difficult and it is very doubtful whether there would be the response from individuals to a vague general fund which one gets with specific disasters.

Miss Herbison

Can the Secretary of State tell us how soon we can expect a decision from his consultations? Is he not aware that the Auchengeich disaster occurred at the beginning of October and that much ill-feeling was engendered by his decision, and that he has had since then time in which to make decisions and to amend the law?

Mr. Maclay

I have not yet received replies from all the local authority associations concerned, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that the question of what can properly be put upon the rates is not simple, no matter how much one sympathises with the objective which various local authorities have in mind.

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