HC Deb 15 December 1964 vol 704 cc211-4
Sir K. Joseph (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will now make a statement on the flooding in Wales, and on the action being taken.

The Minister of State for Wales (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

I have been asked to reply.

Following heavy rains on Saturday, 12th December, many rivers in Wales overflowed their banks and caused extensive flooding, especially in Mid- and North Wales.

As soon as he heard about this, by right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went to Wales, and, in the course of yesterday, covered by helicopter the Wye, the Severn, the Dee and the Conway valleys. He also landed at Newtown, Montgomeryshire, and saw some of the damage on the spot.

Local authorities and various voluntary organisations brought their emergency services into operation, and I should like to pay warm tribute to all who rendered help in this emergency.

My right hon. Friend was also most impressed with the cheerful spirit of the people who were struggling so valiantly to make good the damage to their homes.

The floods are gradually receding, but until they subside further it will be impossible to form a realistic estimate of the damage to public and private property, and to say how much of the damage is covered by insurance.

Requests from the respective authorities for financial help to relieve distress, will receive prompt and sympathetic consideration, and I have been asked to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government associates himself with this statement.

My right hon. Friend will make a further announcement as soon as he has heard from these authorities. In the meantime, every effort is being made to restore public services, and the situation is rapidly returning to normal.

Any local authority which needs advice or assistance has only to telephone the Welsh Office in Cardiff and everything possible will be done to help.

I hope to visit some of these areas myself later this week to learn at first hand what remains to be done.

Sir K. Joseph

My right hon. Friends and hon. Friends and I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy with those who have been distressed by the floods, and appreciation of the civil and Service authorities, who are doing all they can. We welcome the willingness of the Minister to make a further statement as soon as possible.

Mr. Roberts

I am sure that my right hon. Friend and these unfortunate but brave people of Wales will very much appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's expression of sympathy.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

In associating myself with what my right hon. Friend has said, I should like to ask two questions. Did the river boards concerned give adequate warning to those who were to be flooded? Under the last Administration there were certain arrangements, particularly with the Ministry of Agriculture but also with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, about losses. Will loss of livestock—dead stock—and other forms of property be considered by the Government on this occasion?

Mr. Roberts

I am glad to say that despite the extensive nature of this flooding the loss of livestock appears to be very small. It seems that farmers have learned from previous unfortunate experience to move their stock to higher ground as a result of warnings by the river boards and other agencies which, I gather, have been effective in most areas.

As to whether losses of livestock will be considered—which was, I think, the gravamen of the hon. Member's inquiry—I have said that all requests from the respective authorities will be promptly and sympathetically considered. I understand that the farming community, after their experience three or four years ago, have been able to make rather more comprehensive insurance arrangements with the appropriate houses during the last three years or so.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Is the Minister aware that this problem is by no means limited to Wales alone, but applies over the border, especially in the Severn Valley? Can he assure the House that help given in 1960 to local authorities, mostly by the Services, for example, in providing facilities for drying out houses which were flooded, without any cost to the local authorities, will again be provided on this occasion?

Mr. Roberts

I am sure that I can give that assurance. Where any local authority is deficient in the equipment that the hon. Member mentions it can apply to the Welsh Office for assistance from other authorities which have this equipment. In any case, any request for aid or assistance of any sort will be very promptly and very sympathetically considered.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Has the application to be made to the Welsh Office by counties that are not in Wales?

Mr. Roberts

I am responsible for the Welsh Office only, so far, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that these problems span any boundary. The misery, worry and terrible loss that happens to people caught in this kind of disaster must be considered jointly by the Ministers concerned with the areas affected, and there will be very close co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I should imagine that a question by the hon. Gentleman to the Minister of Housing and Local Government would get a fuller answer than I have been able to give him.

Mr. Peter Thomas

In thanking the Minister of State for his statement, may I ask him whether he has any information that he can give now about the extent of the damage in the Conway Valley?

Mr. Roberts

The extent of flooding in the Conway Valley, which the right hon. Gentleman and I know so well, has been quite considerable. The extent of the damage, however, this time appears to be far less than we at first feared. I gather that the loss of livestock is minimal, but I shall be visiting the Valley on Friday or Saturday and will meet the representative of farmers and local authorities in order to make a fuller assessment of the extent of the damage.