HC Deb 08 March 1962 vol 655 cc588-91

Mr. Hayman (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he is aware of the severe damage caused by gales and heavy seas in West Cornwall, and whether he will make a statement.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister For Welsh Affairs (Dr. Charles Hill)

Yes, Sir. I understand that in Penzance and Newlyn about 50 families were evacuated from their homes yesterday evening because of flooding by the sea, but many of them are already returning. Although structural damage to houses does not appear to have been severe, the sea defences I understand, have been extensivly damaged and I have arranged for an engineering inspector to visit Penzance today to advise the council on repairs.

In the Camborne-Redruth area, I am informed that storm damage to houses has been fairly widespread, though it is too early yet to say how severe it has been. I am in touch with the Camborne and Redruth Urban District Council.

Mr. Hayman

May I thank the Minister for his reply, and say that the question was prompted first by the fact that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) is in bed as a result of an accident? May I also ask the House to pay tribute to all the public services in Penzance, which carried out wonderful work during a terrifying experience?

Will the Minister bear in mind that the population of Penzance is only 19,000 that there are several miles of sea defences, and that Penzance and Camborne-Redruth are both areas of high and persistent unemployment?

May I ask him whether he will arrange for the Government to be generous in the grants that may be necessary for sea defences, for road works and public works of that kind and will he be prepared to assist West Cornwall in the public appeal that has been launched for the repair of damage to private property by matching it pound for pound?

May I, further, assure the right hon. Gentleman that Camborne-Redruth has an immense amount of old property, which is in places very exposed to gales from the Atlantic?

Dr. Hill

I gladly join with the hon. Member in the tribute which he paid to the public services. The main problem is that of the sea defences that have been breached. If any undue burden falls on the rates, the council will be eligible for Exchequer grant towards that cost.

The question of damage to houses is primarily a matter for concern in the Camborne-Redruth area. The local authority, for example, estimates that £2,500 worth of damage has been done to its own property. Again, if any undue burden falls on the rates, we will gladly consider the position. I understand that the Camborne-Redruth Council has decided not at this moment to launch an appeal. If it does so decide, I will consider the position that arises.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Can my right hon. Friend give any details of the damage done on the coast of South Devon, particularly in the vicinity of Dawlish and Dawlish Warren?

Dr. Hill

I have had no report or request from the local authorities in that area. I am making inquiries, but at the moment my information is limited to what I have seen in the Press.

Mr. G. Brown

The Minister's reference to an undue burden on the rates, which is the same as the reference that he made in the case of Sheffield, is very vague. Will not the Government now consider whether, in view of this damage, following on the wind and storm damage in the Midlands and the North a few weeks ago, there is not a very strong case for considering the setting up of a national disaster fund, to which automatic recourse could be made in the case of any authority very badly hit, like this one?

Dr. Hill

On the subject of "undue", the resources of different authorities vary. I think that it is wise that the circumstances of each authority, in the light of the burden that falls upon it, should be individually considered.

On the general subject of a disaster fund, I have nothing to add to the reply I gave to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) a few weeks ago.

Mr. D. Marshall

With reference to the answer which my right hon. Friend has already given, can he say whether he has any knowledge at all as to any breaches in the sea defences, either in East Cornwall or in the immediate surroundings of West Devon?

Dr. Hill

I have given the House all the information I have at the moment. I am seeking to get more comprehensive information and I expect to have it during the course of the next day or two.

Mr. Loughlin

In view of the nature of the particular area involved in this breach of sea defences, does not the Minister agree that almost any burden would be an undue burden? In these circumstances would he not take the perhaps unprecedented step of giving an assurance that the Government will bear the cost in this instance, because of the nature of the area?

Dr. Hill

The words I have used have covered what has happened previously in similar circumstances to the satisfaction, I believe, of the local authorities concerned. I readily accept that, in this case, from the reports so far received, there may be a very heavy burden on a small authority.

Mr. G. Wilson

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether his answer extends over the whole of Cornwall, because I understand that there has been some damage in my own division, but I have been unable to get full particulars of it?

Dr. Hill

Yes, Sir, in so far as it refers to coastal defences, or damage to houses, which it would not in the case of my hon. Friend's division, the reply obtains generally.

Mr. M. Stewart

Is the Minister aware that his reference to "any undue burden" on a local authority did not give general satisfaction? Is it not possible to lay down more clearly what are the principles which will govern help from the central Government in these cases, so that the local authorities will know more clearly where they stand? Has he noticed that there has been damage in the Isles of Scilly and, as that is a community with a very small population, will he be ready, if necessary, to give it help in the repair work that will be required?

Dr. Hill

To the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the answer, clearly, is "Yes". To the first part, as I have said in answer to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), I think that it is in the interests of local authorities, with their varying resources, that each case should be considered on its merits. I assure the hon. Geneleman that they will be fairly and sympathetically treated when the cost is known.