§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
As the House already knows, hurricane winds of quite exceptional strength swept over central and southern Scotland and the extreme north of England in the early hours of Monday morning, leaving a trail of death and devastation. According to the latest information in my possession, 19 people lost their lives in Scotland, at least 100 were seriously injured, 300 houses were destroyed and many thousands damaged, and 700 people rendered homeless. Roads and railways were blocked by fallen trees and other debris, many parked cars were crushed, and some power lines were brought down.
Her Majesty The Queen has sent a gracious message of sympathy to those affected. This I am conveying to the civic heads of the areas concerned, along with an expression of my own sympathy on behalf of the Government, in which I am sure the whole House will wish to join.
The worst affected areas appear to be on Clydeside. I have myself been in touch with the Lord Provost of Glasgow and the Provost of Greenock, while my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my noble Friend the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary are now in the West of Scotland. The local authorities and voluntary organisations have risen magnificently to the task of caring for the homeless and clearing the debris, and I have offered them all practical help that Government resources can provide. The Services are also helping.
I shall keep the House informed of the progress made in the re-housing of the homeless, and in the repair and restoration of damage. I hope to fly to Glasgow later tomorrow in order to get first-hand reports on progress and see something of the situation for myself.
§ Mr. Stodart
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the information he has given the House so speedily and express the sympathy of all on this side to those who have suffered in this appalling disaster. I would especially, as a Member for one of the constituencies of Edinburgh, where two people were killed, 1627 sound a special note of sympathy to that other great city which took the brunt of the damage two nights ago and 'has suffered conditions in which, according to the police, chaos was even greater than in the blitz. I would also add my congratulations to all the services which have been helping in the rescue work, including all those doing jobs which are comparatively unnoticed, such as clearing fallen trees on country roads—work which seemed to me to be done with great expedition.
Although, thankfully, much of the damage has been relatively minor and will, therefore, be covered by many individual insurance policies, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the most serious episodes merit assistance from us all? Is it not a fact that half Glasgow Corporation's houses, namely, 70,000 out of 140,000, suffered damage to the roofs, the plumbing or both? Is the right hon. Gentleman correct in saying that only 700 people were made homeless —
§ Mr. Stodart
I was about to say that I had read that the Glasgow police said that 1,000 were homeless in Glasgow alone. What are the prospects of speedy repairs, and what general powers does the right hon. Gentleman have to help?
Finally, what warnings of this exceptionally severe storm were given by the weather forecasting service? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the communication of forecasts of quite exceptional weather of this nature is adequate? I would assure him that any action he takes to help those who have endured the horror and terror of having their ceilings and floors collapse will receive all support from us on this side.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sorry about the slip I made. In fact, 1,700 people were rendered homeless. This was especially distressing, since it happened in darkness and was aggravated by power failures, the collapse of telephone lines and the blocking of roads. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, although chaos reigned for a time, a wonderful job has been done by all those involved in Glasgow and elsewhere in clearing the streets and restoring order. Our praise is due to all those people in the local authorities, the 1628 Services, the voluntary organisations and the rest who have co-operated so well in this.
Of course, the extent of the damage will have to be assessed. About 70,000 houses were affected, many of them in only a relatively minor way, I am glad to say, but one of the things which is worrying us is that there has been almost incessant rain today and, with roofs open or broken, more damage is being caused to furniture and furnishings. I am glad to say that the G.O.C. Scottish Command was there this morning and made an assessment, and the Army is helping with covered trucks by removing furnishings and furniture family by family to drill halls and such places.
I have arranged for one of my officers to be stationed in Greenock, one in Dumbarton and one in Glasgow, in contact with the Scottish Office, to see that everything possible can be done. An assessment of the housing damage is being made today.
I do not know that we can do very much more about weather forecasts than about the weather itself, but there is no doubt that this calamity to some extent took the weather forecasters by surprise, especially since some of the gusts of wind recorded were of a velocity higher than anything ever before experienced in Scotland. Although I have mentioned mainly Clydeside, I have had reports of damage in Fife, in Edinburgh, in Lanarkshire—particularly schools in Lanarkshire—in Ayrshire, in Lugton, with even a mention of Dumfries as well. There has been a trail of devastation, but I am glad to say that the authorities are coping very well indeed with it.
§ Sir M. Galpern
Although we appreciate the information which my right hon. Friend has given us, will he bear in mind the fact that the repair of 75,000 on the present estimate, and possibly 100,000 in the ultimate, of municipal houses alone will involve Glasgow in substantial additional expenditure? Is it the Government's intention in any way financially to repay the corporation for this additional expenditure? As these hundreds of homeless people have suffered tremendous personal and financial losses, and since the Lord Provost of Glasgow, for reasons best known to himself, has refused to open a disaster fund, will my right hon. 1629 Friend consider launching such a fund, to which I am sure there would be a most generous response?
§ Mr. Ross
On my hon. Friend's last comment, the launching of such a fund is generally a matter for the civic heads in the area concerned, and I will rest on that. I will be seeing Lord Provost Johnson tomorrow, I hope. As to the assessment of the cost of the damage done and questions of how this burden should fall, I think: that we must wait until we get a proper assessment of the damage. Today the Minister of-State is in Glasgow —he has been to Greenock—and is proceeding from there to Cambuslang. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary has been to Dumbarton, where he saw the county clerk, and the Vale of Leven, where severe damage was done at Bon-hill, and he is going this afternoon to Cambuslang and Edinburgh. I will be in touch with them both tomorrow and with the other civic authorities, and I will get a proper appreciation of what is involved in relation to expenditure and so on.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor
The right hon. Gentleman's personal visit to Glasgow tomorrow will be greatly appreciated. Will he congratulate the police and the fire service for their wonderful job? As most of the houses which collapsed were old stone dwellings, will the right hon. Gentleman do everything he can to ensure that the cuts announced today will not affect the removal of many of these old and dangerous properties?
§ Mr. Ross
We have been speeding up the removal of the worst of these old buildings considerably and we want to proceed with that. Quite apart from new building, we will also examine the extent to which we put resources into the improvement of our older houses. It was not only the older houses which were affected. One of the disastrous features of what happened in Greenock was that a relatively new block was involved: a chimney head fell in, with several fatalities.
I pay tribute to the police, the fire authorities and the cleansing departments for the way in which they have tackled this work. The W.V.S. and the health and welfare departments have worked wonders. As to the Army, the Cameronians are already working in Glasgow and the Royal Highland Fusiliers are moving down from Fort 1630 George and will help to clear trees in parks, and so on. This disaster has evoked a considerable spirit which redounds to the credit of Scotland.
The damage has been serious. The disaster to the bereaved families is irreparable. I am sure that the House will join me in extending our sympathy to the bereaved families.
§ Mr. Small
While I recognise that the Secretary of State is active in the matter and that we cannot legislate for the elemental processes of nature, undoubtedly this has been a tremendous catastrophe for the City, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would expand slightly on the remit for the physical use of the Armed Forces in clearing up the damage and going in for a degree of reconstruction as a practical method of support.
§ Mr. Ross
There are limitations to what we can ask the Armed Forces to do within their capabilities, but I assure my hon. Friend that we have had no trouble with them or with the trade unions by reason of the fact that they are performing tasks which normally they would not perform. I shall be looking, with the authorities, tomorrow at exactly what help can be given in the way of organisation in respect of immediate and major repairs. I have authorised my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State to take decisions in relation to what can be done immediately and to what is required.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
As the relief work is apparently being impeded at the moment by flooding in some areas, and as there are possibilities of rain continuing, and further high winds, will the Secretary of State make sure that all this Government assistance continues to be available and is sustained? The Secretary of State mentioned the Cameronians, but they are in process of disbandment and we do not know to what extent they could continue to help. As a way of possibly helping the plight of the homeless, will the Secretary of State consider asking the Government to rescind the cut of 1,500 houses in the house-building programme for Scotland?
§ Mr. Ross
I appreciate the relevance of the point which the hon. Member made about keeping people on this work 1631 as long as they are needed. But in the latter part of his question he was talking about cuts in respect of approvals this year. If they are approved this year, the houses will be completed in about two years' time, and that will be of no use to meet this problem. Let us talk about that quite separately. The fact that in the past year we have been able to build more houses than have ever been built before, and that it was possible for people who were rendered homeless in Greenock to be put into new houses right away until such time as their own houses are repaired, is an indication of the greater preparedness which exists than we might have had some time before.
§ Mr. Dempsey
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Meteorological Office for Scotland has admitted his failure to alert Scotland to this storm and that when people were given the information, belatedly, he appears seriously to have underestimated its strength? In view of that situation, will my right hon. Friend consult the Minister of Defence with a view to improving the operational activity of this unit in Scotland?
§ Mr. Ross
I known nothing about that, but I will look into it. Even with the best will in the world, we may always have mistakes of this kind. We have had them in the past, with floods in the north of Scotland, and elsewhere. The serious problem arises from the manner in which a situation can change. With the storm happening at that time, it was not possible for people to be given that kind of warning.
§ Mr. Galbraith
On the question of the warning given by the Meteorological Office, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the storm was so violent that no amount of warning would have made any difference? Two of my windows were blown in. One of the most disastrous events occurred, involving four lives, in the Partick district of Glasgow—part of my constituency. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I should like to join 1632 my hon. Friends in bearing testimony to the good work which was done by the public services? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that from a tour which I made of Glasgow yesterday it seemed to me that much of the damage was due to old property which may not have been properly maintained? If he has not the facts at the moment, will he find out to what extent that property was subject to rent control and, therefore, may not have had the right amount spent on it in maintenance? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is an important matter.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I have been phrasing my questions as far as I can in an interrogatory way. This is a matter of very great concern to my constituency.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not questioning the importance of what the hon. Member says. I am questioning the longitude of it.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. Would the Minister look into this aspect of the matter to see whether enough maintenance work is done on this kind of building? Perhaps he would circulate in some way the number of old buildings involved and the number of new buildings.
§ Mr. Ross
I assure the hon. Member that I will look into all relevant factors which contributed to the catastrophe. I wonder what might have occurred if this had happened suddenly during the day and if there had been children playing around these older buildings. The disaster might have been even worse. The fact that it happened at night made it more difficult to give the kind of warning necessary. Bearing in mind the velocity of these winds, even with warning it might have been difficult to avoid a certain amount of disaster.
§ Mr. Tom McMillan
Because of the amount of clearing up needed among tenement buildings in Glasgow, will my right hon. Friend consider using the large number of unemployed people in these areas to clear up quickly?
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think that I shall have any difficulty at all in relation to getting the men to do the job. When I 1633 spoke to the Lord Provost last night his appeal to me was for equipment, such as trucks and shovels and that kind of thing. I am glad to say that we have provided all the help that has been required. The Director of Public Buildings and Works in Scotland has been on the scene today to ensure proper liaison with the private building industry in relation to all the equipment necessary.
§ Mr. David Steel
Members of the Liberal Party would like to be associated with the expression of sympathy which the Secretary of State gave earlier. Would lie add a tribute to the engineers of the telephone and electricity services who, as far as I know, are still working in parts of my constituency, and presumably elsewhere, to restore communications? Will he not close his mind, once he has looked at the situation, to the possibility of restoring some of the cuts in housing, even though the effects are long-term?
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member knows me well enough to know that I shall never close my mind to increasing the housing programme in Scotland. He knows of the reluctance with which these cuts were made. I am satisfied with the fact that we have a building programme in Scotland of houses under construction or already approved which will enable 1634 us this coming year probably to improve on the very high housing figures which we have already achieved. That is by the way. I gladly pay tribute to the Post Office engineers, and we should also pay tribute to those in the electricity services and on the railways. I gather that 57 lines into Glasgow were blocked. I am glad to say that they are getting pretty well back to normal.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What assessment has been made of the damage to school buildings, and what lessons have been learned about the quality of school buildings?
§ Mr. Ross
It is too early to learn lessons about it. In Glasgow about 61 schools were affected, some of them in a minor way. I had a report sent in from Lanarkshire about 3 o'clock today, stating that quite a number of schools are affected, 20 of them seriously and involving the evacuation of whole or part of the school. There are 100 with broken glass. In view of the weather and the rain which we are having, no doubt further damage is being caused where there is broken glass. All that is being assessed.