HC Deb 22 November 1960 vol 630 cc964-5
27. Mr. Mathew

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will now declare the extensive and repeated flooding in the south-west of England and in other areas as a national disaster, and give a lead to a national flood disaster fund to relieve the personal loss and damage suffered by victims.

36. Sir J. Maitland

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will now set up a committee to examine and report on the problems connected with the introduction of a national disaster fund in this country, in order that the House may have a basis for the discussion of the creation of such a fund.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

There are difficulties about the idea of a National Disaster Fund. I am not convinced that it would be an improvement on the present position from the point of view of those who suffer loss. There would be great difficulties of definition and administration. I am inclined to think that it is better to continue as at present, i.e., for the Government to encourage local appeals and to promise to supplement them should they prove insufficient to meet the need. I do not think that a committee would add to our knowledge in this matter.

Mr. Mathew

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as a result of there not having been a national fund and the collection of the money being left to local funds, in the County of Devon alone the claims on the county fund exceed the money collected by no less than five times? Does not he think the time for reviewing and considering this matter is past and that a national scheme should now be initiated?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not sure that a national scheme would improve the situation. In my position as Chancellor of the Exchequer I have gone a very long way to meet the needs by saying that the Treasury will supplement to the degree required what is raised by local funds.

Sir J. Maitland

In view of the difficulties to which the Chancellor has referred, would it not be a good idea if an outside committee had a look at these things and reported on the difficulties so that we can see whether it is advisable or not? Arising out of that, how is it that if these things are so difficult a member country of the Commonwealth has set up a fund which, I understand, is very efficient?

Mr. Lloyd

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would send me particulars about that. It is a fact of which I was not aware. I have to come to a decision on the information available to me. Regarding the present series of disasters, I do not think that the institution of a national disaster fund would help, but I am certainly prepared to consider future action in the light of our experience and what has happened this year.

Mr. Grimond

When the Chancellor is considering these matters, will he bear in mind that the local situation is extremely unsatisfactory? Is he aware that the amount of money collected—I have had some experience of this—depends on where the disaster occurs, what other news appears in the newspapers at the time, what time of year it occurs and how much publicity is given? Is he aware that there is a great deal to be said for having a national fund to cover all national disasters in whatever circumstances they occur?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not at all certain what would be the extent of voluntary contributions to such a fund.