HC Deb 23 March 1967 vol 743 cc1956-72

1.40 p.m.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

I am grateful for this opportunity of raising the question of flooding in south-west Scotland. On Monday, 27th February, we had in the south-west of Scotland what have been described as the worst floods for 30 years. It was fortunate that they occurred in the afternoon for, having seen houses flooded five feet deep, I can well imagine that there might have been many casualties if the floods had come up unexpectedly at night. The two counties in Galloway—the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire—have a long coastline and in many cases the shore is flat and liable to flooding, although the ground rises steeply behind. Thus, houses and roads are often built within reach of the sea.

The damage on this occasion was extensive and grievous all along the coast. I cannot mention all the towns and villages and much less the individual houses which were affected. Carsethorn, Southerness, Rockcliffe, Kirkcudbright, Creetown, Carseluith, Garlieston, Isle of Whithorn, Port William, Drummore and Port Patrick are only some of the places on the list. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), if he catches your eye, Sir, will no doubt mention many more places in his constituency.

I do not know if the Under-Secretary has ever made a tour in the wake of a disaster like this. I have done so three time in the last eight years. It is a melancholy experience. It is heartbreaking to have one's crops and wallpaper ruined and garden desecrated, although the material damage may be only of the order of £50 or £100. However, when there are scores of houses affected, even this damage may amount to a considerable sum.

I am thinking particularly of some houses which I have seen flooded before. Many houses were damaged much more extensively. I saw a trim little house at Carsethorn on the estuary of the Nith which had been protected by a strong sea wall. The sea had breached the wall, washed away the garden, and undermined the foundations. This property can be restored only, if at all, at great cost.

I want to discuss the damage under three headings—first damage to local authority property. This is mainly damage to roads and bridges, although other property, such as buildings which belong to a local authority, may be affected. Here I should like to pay a tribute to the staff of the county road departments who, two days after the disaster, when I toured the constituency, had already done much urgent remedial work. Neither the Stewartry nor Wigtownshire are rich counties. Both have a long coastline to protect. Will assistance be given to them under the Coast Protection Act, 1949? I understand that under this Act grants are at the discretion of the Scottish Office, and they may vary from 30 per cent. to as high as 80 per cent. Will the Under-Secretary ensure that these counties get the highest grant available?

Perhaps I might ask the Under-Secretary, while I am on the subject, why river boards in England and Wales can get an even higher grant of 85 per cent. for coast protection, whereas in Scotland county councils, which are the only coast protection authorities, are restricted to 80 per cent. and not to 85 per cent., which is available in England and Wales.

I want to ask the Under-Secretary particularly about the damage to harbours and sea defences at places like Garlieston and Isle of Whithorn. Both these harbours are tourist attractions for yachtsmen and summer visitors, but their harbour authorities have virtually no income or commercial activities and no funds available. Six years ago the county council spent several thousand £s on restoring the sea defences which are essential to the safety of these villages. The work has now got to be done all over again. Can the Under-Secretary give an assurance that this work will qualify for full grant under the Coast Protection Act?

In the case of roads, will the remedial work be restricted, on the other hand, to the specific road grants? In the case of class 3 roads, this may be no more than 40 per cent., which seems inadequate. In the case of unclassified roads, I believe that there will be no grant at all.

I turn now to agricultural land. The number of farms affected was, fortunately, not large, but the damage at three of them to my knowledge was very severe. Flats of Cargen is on the banks of the River Nith, while Arbigland and Mersehead are further down the estuary. In all cases the water had risen over and damaged the flood banks. At Mersehead I found that 114 sheep had been drowned, the farmhouse and farm properties were flooded and that 200 acres of arable land out of a total of about 500 were still under salt water two days later. River and sea banks were destroyed at other farms. At Grange of Cree and neighbouring farms over 500 acres had been lost in this and previous floods. Reinstating and maintaining flood banks is a severe expense.

In the Ross-shire floods in January this year farmers received a grant of 100 per cent. from the Scottish Office towards the repair of the river banks and the removal of silt and debris. The Secretary of State came to Dumfries on 3rd March. He never set foot in Galloway but announced that damage in the South-West would not qualify for similar treatment. Why ever not? I defy any one to say that the damage at Mersehead was less than at any farm in the Highlands. What is the logical difference between a river bank which is damaged, a sea bank, or even an estuarial bank? I would mention that flooding by salt water is far more serious for agricultural land than flooding by fresh water from a river. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and myself will need a great deal of convincing that the south-west of Scotland has not been discriminated against in this matter.

I turn, thirdly, to private property. The private individual has suffered most in this flooding. Let me give a few examples. Near Kirkcudbright the road to the lifeboat station has been damaged and will cost £1,000 to repair. It is a private road. Much of this may fall on the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is a charity, and on local farmers.

At Isle of Whithorn Mr. McWilliam's grocer's shop had the back shop wall stove in and his stock wasted. Much the same happened to an hotel and another shop in the village. This had happened seven years before. At Port William the main street looked like a battlefield with doors and windows battered in by the waves. At Kippford the private road to about 12 houses in the village was washed away. It will cost £3,000 to repair. This also happened in the previous floods. At Carsluith the damage to a row of private houses and their approach road was about as bad. The subsoil is undermined and there will be no chance of getting insurance cover against flooding. Yet—this is a strange thing—before 1960 no flooding had taken place in this area in living memory.

These people would like to be sure that everything possible will be done to ensure that this disaster is not repeated. I therefore ask what the Scottish Office is going to do to help. Let us put the matter in perspective. When damage is apprehended only to private beaches in the Scilly Isles, £500,000 is poured out of the national coffers. But then, of course, the Scillies have a distinguished and influential patron in the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. We in southwest Scotland ask for very much less.

What aid can the Scottish Office give? Can the county councils make coast protection schemes which would qualify for grant, even though the part not covered by grant would have to be levied on the individual occupier as betterment? Also those who have suffered damage would like some compensation for their loss. Some of them, as I have said, have suffered more than once. Help was given in the 1960 floods and I believe it amounted to about 70 per cent, of the loss. Will the same be made available again under the present Government?

On 2nd March my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, some of my other hon. Friends and I tabled a Motion asking for a Scottish national disaster fund. I have been interested to see that since then the idea has been taken up enthusiastically in England by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) whose constituency has had a similar experience of floods. The idea briefly is that such a fund would be immediately available to help people who have had their homes ravaged. Apart from private benevolence, there are many funds with unused balances. The hon. Member for Devon, North mentioned the "Titanic" disaster fund which was wound up only a short time ago, and a fund for a colliery disaster which took place in 1910, which still has a balance of £200,000. If such sums were handed over to a national disaster fund, the fund would have a good start without a penny of Government finance. I should like to hear that the Scottish Office will take up and follow this idea for Scotland.

In conclusions, let me emphasise to the Under-Secretary that he must enable precautions to be taken to see that such a disaster does not happen again.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) on seizing this opportunity to raise this most distressing subject and also on the very able way in which he has explained the problems of the south-west of Scotland.

There, as the Under-Secretary knows, we have the two constituencies of Galloway and Dumfries. I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought out the anomalies in the provision of Government assistance at the time of a disaster. Dumfriesshire has suffered two disasters in the last six months. Last August, we had the major flood in the River Nith, and last month there was an exceptionally high tide in the Solway. Both were quite exceptional, unexpected and left a train of disaster.

In August, this followed torrential rains and brought the Nith and its tributaries down in high flood. Damage to the roads alone totalled £144,000 and there was untold damage to farms and households. Perhaps the total might not be far short of £200,000, which is almost as much as the damage caused in Ross-shire in December. In this case the Government gave only the normal percentage grants for roads, which left the ratepayers to stump up £65,000 to put the roads back into the order in which they were before. There was no question of improvement. Of course, there was nothing for householders or for the shopkeepers of Kirkconnel who lost a great deal of stock; neither was there anything for private roads, for damage to crops and loss of livestock. All my constituents suffered very severely indeed.

Last month, as my hon. Friend said, we had this quite exceptionally high tide in the Solway, built up by the very strong westerly gales. Again, this was unprecedented and great damage was done to private houses. I have here a list drawn up by the county councils of all the houses which were damaged. It is heartrending to see how many of the occupiers are retired old-age pensioners, and so on. It is altogether a very tragic example of how this sort of flood very often hits the people who have the least facilities to repair their houses, furniture, carpets and other possessions.

My hon. Friend told the House of the large number of villages and harbours that were seriously affected, and I can do the same. We had much damage at Annan, Kingholm Quay, Glencaple, Powfoot and Browhouses. There was a great deal of damage to houses as well as to amenities like tennis courts and bowling greens which were completely wrecked. In addition, there is the damage to farms and, particularly important —I press the Under-Secretary on this— damage to the salmon fisheries. This damage might have been worse had it not been for the most excellent work by the civil defence organisation that turned out at a moment's notice, by the local authority workers and many other volunteers.

I was pleased that the Secretary of State came to see a part of Dumfriesshire, though only a very small part. I am sorry though that he did not ask the county council officials to show him where the damage had taken place. Those officials were in a far better position to show him the areas that he should have seen, than were those who in fact conducted him around. The officials would have shown him the miles and miles of fencing that had been washed away, the miles of shore and river banking which had been severely damaged, the roads which had disappeared and the wrecked salmon nets which provided much employment in Dumfriesshire.

I myself have seen much of this damage, and I must say that I am not very impressed at this stage by the shore banking repairs which have been undertaken by the Secretary of State's Department. I do not think they are nearly substantial enough. There is also criticism that particularly in the Gretna area these banks will not be ready in time for the next high tides. I have looked at the area around Gretna where many of the smallholdings are owned by the Department of Agriculture. I hope that Department will make a particular effort to see that the damage is repaired as soon as possible.

A particular criticism has been that an important culvert at one farm had not been cleaned out properly by the Department of Agriculture during the last six months. This culvert choked with the flood and caused the loss of 40 sheep. These smallholders all along the Solway coast have lost a substantial number of cattle and sheep. They have also lost the value of the fertilisers and manures that they have put on the fields this year. These fields are littered with debris. A major expense will be required to provide new fencing—not just 100 yards here and there, but literally miles of fencing. I have seen it myself. This fencing will be needed urgently before the summer grazing starts.

I return to the salmon fishery problem. The salmon fishers accept that the stake nets are liable to damage at high tides, and they accept this as an occupational hazard, but the roads to the nets have been completely washed away. The repair of these roads will cost thousands of pounds. One fishery estimates the cost at £3,000 for roads alone. If people do not have roads to the places where the nets are, there is an immediate likelihood of unemployment and severe loss of income for this important industry.

I accept that Ross-shire should have had the help which the Government gave shortly after the floods in December, but I want to know where the difference lies between the flooding of Ross-shire and the flooding in Dumfries and Galloway. Where is the difference between the damage to the Solway and the possible damage to the Isles of Scilly? I have a telegram here from the National Farmers' Union: Solway as important as Scilly shore. Suggest something done at once". That is a valid criticism. Why should not we be entitled to the same aid as has been given to Ross-shire and is now being given in the South-West approaches?

I put these specific questions to the Under-Secretary of State. I know what was said by the Secretary of State in his statement after the floods in Ross-shire setting out the financial assistance to be given to people in that area—and very deservedly so; I make no word of criticism about it—but may we in Dumfries and Galloway have 100 per cent, grants for repairing flood and shore banks? This is very important.

Secondly, may we have 100 per cent. grants for the repairing of private roads? There is such a large cost involved here that it is impossible to expect private owners to put the roads back into order on their own. Thirdly, may we have 100 per cent. grants for restoring fields to productive use?

Those three matters are, virtually, covered by the aid which was given to Ross-shire, and I want to make certain that it is available also for Dumfries and Galloway. Further, will the Secretary of State give an additional grant towards fencing? As I have said, miles of fencing have been destroyed in the southwest of Scotland. The sea came rushing across the low-lying ground, six feet deep, and took away the fences absolutely flush with the ground.

Last, what help will be given to the salmon fisheries? This is an important industry, and salmon fishers have suffered a grievous loss. I foresee unemployment in the industry if there is no help for them. I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that salmon fishers are in a special and, perhaps, peculiar position in that they are probably not eligible for agricultural grant. This is why I want to make sure that they are given help in this way. Finally, will the Secretary of State give help to the householders who have lost so much of their belongings?

What is good for one part of Scotland must be good for the whole of Scotland. It appears also to be good for the whole of England if we include the aid to the South-West approaches today. I implore the Under-Secretary of State to give a generous reply this afternoon and say that he will do all in his power to help the people of Dumfries and Galloway who have been hit extremely hard during recent weeks.

2.4 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)

The hon. Members for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) and for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) have raised a matter which we all accept as one of wide concern to themselves and other hon. Members and, very understandably, to many people in other parts of Scotland as well, including not only those affected but even those not affected by the recent floodings. It is a matter of concern to all.

When natural calamities of this kind affect the lives, homes and livelihood of people in this country, we are all bound to sympathise with those who have suffered, and it is proper that their misfortune should be discussed with sympathy and understanding in the House. The hon. Member for Galloway, in stressing the sense of sympathy which all should feel, asked whether I had seen the aftermath of a disaster of this kind, and he described his own experience. In fact. I have seen the consequences of such a disaster, on a much wider scale than this, when almost the whole of Northern Italy was devastated by floods. I assure him, therefore, that I bring a good deal of personal understanding and sympathy to the matters which he has raised.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice of many of the points which he intended to raise. I am confident that at least some of my reply will satisfy him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acted promptly, considerately and sympathetically in cases of exceptional hardship.

We have recently witnessed two periods of serious flooding in Scotland in the two areas to which both hon. Gentlemen referred, one in the Highlands last December and one in the South-West at the end of February in the area covered to a large extent by the constituencies of Galloway and Dumfries. On both occasions, the floods presented difficult and urgent problems for the authorities on the spot, both the local authorities and the Government authorities concerned, and, like the hon. Member for Galloway, I take this opportunity to pay a merited tribute to those who worked so hard and so effectively to mitigate the effects of what had happened.

It is in the nature of these events that the first and most clamant call is made on the initiative and resource of the responsible people who are near at hand. In the course of the recent floods, we saw splendid examples of the community spirit at work, fostered by the local authorities and by the people themselves in the area. It is proper that such efforts should be noticed, and I am glad to pay tribute to all those who made them. I am grateful for the opportunity now given to do that today in the House.

The Secretary of State was able to visit both of the areas affected and saw some of the damage at first hand. Both hon. Gentlemen paid tribute to the speed with which my right hon. Friend came up to the south-west of Scotland to see the consequences which they have described, and I am sure that they will agree that the promptness of his visit was ample demonstration of his concern. I remember the hon. Member for Dumfries pressing me, only 24 hours after the flooding, to visit the area. I replied that I would do so if I could. In fact, the Secretary of State himself paid an immediate visit.

Officers from the various departments of the Scottish Office were engaged from the outset in assessing the damage and in coping with the problems it raised, but the Secretary of State and his Department were not the only ones to show concern. For example, the Ministry of Social Security was very quick to respond with supplementary assistance to particular cases of hardship, some of which were of the kind described by hon. Members this afternoon. In the southwest of Scotland, officers of the Ministry of Social Security, who had been warned to be ready for immediate action in situations of this sort, were quickly on the job.

It is an understandable reaction that people who have suffered from floods and similar natural disasters should look to all possible sources of help and compensation, and, above all, to the Government. Naturally, they take the view that what has happened to them has arisen from causes totally outwith their own control, that it disrupts the normal pattern of their life and economy, and they need help in coping with its effects. The hon. Member for Galloway suggested that the Government have failed in some degree in their responsibility towards those who have suffered, and, in particular, he drew a distinction between the Highlands and the south-west of Scotland. I wish, therefore, to put the picture of the Secretary of State's responsibilities in the right perspective.

In arriving at conclusions about the nature and scale of help which can be given in any situation of this kind, the Secretary of State has to keep in mind two main considerations. These are the statutory limitations which govern the ways in which he can make public money available, and the nature and scale of the damage which has been caused in relation to the area as a whole and its natural pattern of economy. No Government have ever been free simply to meet without question every claim for assistance arising from circumstances of natural emergency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in exactly the same position as his predecessors in this respect. Questions of judgment are always involved, and the duty to exercise judgment, however difficult it may be, is inescapable.

On agriculture, I cannot agree with the hon. Member that Government assistance is inadequate. In the case of severe Hooding which occured in Inverncss-shire and Ross and Cromarty in December, we are undertaking the task of restoring the floodbanks and removing silt and debris from the fields in so far as this is necessary to restore agricultural land to productive use.

As the hon. Member said, the full cost of this work will be met by the Government in those areas, except where the damage is wholly or partially covered by insurance or a contribution can be expected from other funds. The total cost in that area—the Highland area— is estimated at about £250,000, and to undertake this is a very real measure of practical help. The work is making good progress with the aid of 22 earth-moving machines—a fleet which I hope will shortly be augmented as other machines become available.

In the case of the South-West, I do not consider that assistance on this altogether exceptional scale is justified. The information I have is that the extent and severity of the damage while it may be serious in some individual cases—the hon. Gentleman raised the question of the farm at Mersehead, about which I shall shortly write to him—is not in any way comparable with that in Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty in its magnitude. The total cost of repairing those flood banks which have been damaged in Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire is provisionally estimated at about £24,000, of which £7,000 is in respect of my Department's own estates and £5,000 in respect of the Crichton Royal Hospital, both of which will in any case be wholly financed from Exchequer funds.

The damage for which private owners are liable is thus about £12,000, and I do not consider that this is sufficient to justify special measures of the kind which have been taken in the north. The owners concerned will, however, be able to get the normal 50 per cent. grant under the agricultural drainage legislation. Six applications for such grant have already been received and a start of work has been authorised in all of these cases. It has been observed that the total sum involved is considerably less in the South-West than in the North, and it would perhaps be easier to cope with. But the hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He cannot argue that we must both act because the damage is great and because it is relatively small. From the individual's point of view the damage always seems great, but there is a distinction between a situation in which a large section of the economy of an area is affected, and which may call for exceptional measures, and that in which several individuals may suffer loss.

In the first case, the whole community suffers not only in the sense of the total of individual hardships; the total economy is affected by the scale, and the scale brings in a qualitative difference. That is why we should treat as an exceptional situation the considerable damage which was done in the Highland areas, and why I think that it is in a separate category, though the damage and hardship in the individual cases may be every bit as great in the South-West as in the Highlands.

In addition to the standard 50 per cent. drainage grants both in the Highlands and in the South-West, I am ready to assist the restoration of fences and other fixed equipment with the normal 30 per cent. grants under the Farm Improvement Scheme. There is no difference here between the Highlands and the Solway. In the Highlands, 19 applications have been received for such assistance and a start of work authorised in nine urgent cases. The corresponding figures for the South-West are five applications received and one case in which a start has been authorised. Further authorisations may be expected shortly as inspections proceed.

The hon. Member referred to the question of compensation for losses of stock and crops. Where this was raised in connection with the Highland floods my right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that the Government could not accept responsibility for such compensation, and this applies equally to the Highlands and the South-West. There are many natural hazards to which livestock and crops are subject—bad harvests, snow storms, and so forth. One thinks of the bad winter for sheep farmers in 1965–66. It would be inequitable to single out flood losses for special treatment.

Local relief funds are sometimes available in such cases. My information is that although there may be one or two individual cases where losses were heavy, they were not substantial taken overall. Five farms have reported losses totalling eight cattle and about 180 sheep, roughly 60 per cent. on the one farm mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and this is not comparable in scale with the crop and stock losses in Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty, which totalled about £40,000.

Nor is it comparable with the situation the hon. Member described around the Scilly Isles, where the problem is not merely the cost of dealing with an event, which in that case would be when the oil reaches the shore; the money is being spent in an effort to prevent the event, and that would be the situation wherever it took place. I should have thought that there is a valid distinction, which, with his usual generosity, the hon. Member would be the first to recognise.

Mr. Brewis

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a need for coast prevention work to prevent the next disaster?

Mr. Buchan

One would want that; I accept that point.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the repair of roads and bridges damaged by flooding. There is provision for special financial assistance for that. In the case of trunk roads, approved repair work is done wholly at Exchequer expense, from trunk road maintenance funds reserved for the purpose. The hon. Member is correct in saying that there are separate grants for Class 1, 2 and 3 roads.

As regards classified roads, if the county council cannot meet the emergency demands from within its normal allocation of grant for maintenance and minor improvement works, the Secretary of State does his best, within the resources available, to pay extra grant at the rate appropriate to the class of road concerned.

Extra grant payments totalling about £127,000 have already been authorised for the repair of flood and storm damage to classified roads in this financial year: of this figure, over £91,000 related to works carried out in Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire, Aberdeenshire and Banffshire following storms of last autumn, and the balance to the flooding which took place in Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Orkney in December. Over £36,000 has been spent on similar work on trunk roads in Dumfriesshire, Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty and Sutherland. Last month's flooding in the South-West caused damage in Kirkcudbrightshire to the A75 Dumfries-Stranraer trunk road and certain classified roads. The necessary repair works have been completed. The cost of repairing the trunk road, which the Government are, of course, meeting, was £2,500, and I am pleased to say an additional grant of £1,358 has been offered to the county council towards the cost of repairing the classified roads, which goes some way to meeting the total cost that the county council face.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the unclassified roads. The extra £1,358 given to the county council will have the effect of lowering total costs for that.

I now turn to the more personal aspects of the flooding which were mentioned by both hon. Members. I accept the picture that they painted, and it was good that they should bring to the nation's attention the kind of situation facing individuals. They will not expect me to comment on each of the individual cases.

It has been suggested that the Government ought also to help recompense those individuals and private concerns who have suffered damage to their homes, property and means of livelihood. This is a difficult sector, and one in which any Government are liable to be accused of taking a harsh view. But I was pleased that both hon. Members seemed to be coming to the concept of society needing to care about its problems. If they had gone any further they might have come over to this side of the House.

The prudent man must be expected to consider, and seek to secure adequate insurance cover against, such eventualities as damage to their homes, property and means of livelihood, and he normally does so. Resisting similar suggestions in 1961, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, then the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, said: Everyone who may have property at risk should in ordinary prudence take his own precautions and should consider the importance of insuring."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1961; Vol. 645, c. 139.] The insurance companies have said in the past, and around that time as well, that they are prepared on request to provide cover against flood at modest terms to householders and small traders irrespective of the situation of their property.

None of us can ignore the possibility of a sudden misfortune. It is a reasonable view for the Government to take—particularly in areas where standing risk exists—that people should protect themselves against flood as many already do in the case of fire. Nevertheless, there are cases which go beyond this, cases of particular hardship. The Dumfries office of the Ministry of Social Security's Supplementary Benefits Commission was able to help out in individual cases. It met a number of the bills for additional laundry arising from the flooding and paid out money by way of grants for extra fuel for drying out houses, replacement of bedding and so on.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the position of private householders under the Coast Protection Act. Perhaps one provision of the Act should be mentioned here. Section 4(2) provides that a coast protection authority may enter into agreement with an individual for the carrying out by that person or by the authority of any coast protection work which the authority has power to carry out under the Act. I take the point that the hon. Member made about harbours, particularly if any fishery problems are involved. Though we have not had these raised with us, we shall be prepared to look at such matters sympathetically.

The hon. Member raised the question of the percentage grants towards this work, and particularly made the point in relation to river boards in England of the 85 per cent. grant. The question of payment of Exchequer grant in any case arising under these provisions would have to be dealt with in the light of the circumstances of the particular cases, and they vary, as was quoted, between 30 and 80 per cent. according to the coast protection burden and the authority's rating resources.

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension in supposing that in England Exchequer grants may be as high as 85 per cent. The top limit in England, for various complicated reasons, is 79 per cent.

I have taken the point about river authorities. But we do not have river boards to the same extent in Scotland. We merely have boards to deal with the problem of river pollution. In England, this is not under the Coast Protection Act; it is under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, and the grant may go up to 85 per cent. for work covering both river works and tidal and sea works.

The hon. Gentleman's final main point was about a Scottish National Disaster Fund. This subject has come into prominence recently because of the terrible disaster in Aberfan, our flooding experience and what has happened near the Scilly Isles this week. This matter was discussed in the House during last week by the Leader of the Liberal Party. Whatever attractions the scheme may have—I think it has many attractions—I am not sure that it is necessarily the right answer, partly because the specific situations created by flood and storm vary greatly from one occasion to the next and each calls for a specific solution. No one envisaged the oil tanker situation this week. The hon. Gentleman may agree in the light of what I said earlier that so far the Government have not been ungenerous in the application of specific remedies.

I think that I have covered most of the points raised in general terms.

Mr. Monro

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's courteous reply, even if it is totally disappointing. Can he explain what help he hopes to give to the salmon fisheries, particularly in regard to their shore banking and private roads?

Mr. Buchan

I have made a note of the hon. Gentleman's point on that, and will write to him about it.

I am sorry that I cannot today give the hon. Members exactly all that they and their constituents want, but I hope that any explanation of what we have done and of how far we can go within existing legislation—by which we, too, are bound—will show that the Government have acted very swiftly, and that it will satisfy hon. Members.

Once more, I should like to take the opportunity to express my sympathy with those who have suffered. I thank the hon. Member for Galloway for raising the matter and for the courtesy he extended to me in giving me notice of so many of the specific points that he wanted to raise. On behalf of us all, I would also express our thanks to the local authorities, Government officials and others who have acted so swiftly to alleviate immediate loss and hardship.

Forward to