HL Deb 11 February 1953 vol 180 cc369-73

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will desire to hear at the earliest possible moment the statement I am now in a position to make. It is a similar statement to that being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Good progress continues to be made in the work of repairing the breaches and it is hoped that more than two-thirds of the breaches will be closed to high-tide level before the next high tides; the remainder are for the most part in areas where any flooding which may occur will not be likely to endanger the public. Since my last statement five more deaths have become known to the police, so that the total number of deaths is now 288. About fifty persons are still reported to be missing. There are still nearly 30,000 persons living away from their homes.

With regard to rations, my right honourable friend the Minister of Food, in order to help housewives to replace stocks of rationed food which they have lost in the floods, has authorised the food offices concerned to give an additional temporary ration card which will enable them to obtain two weeks' extra supply of rationed food. Arrangements are also being made, through local food offices, for retailers to rebuild their stocks of rationed foods and to obtain additional replacement supplies of the scarcer un-rationed foods such as canned milk and dried fruit.

As to furniture, in my statement on February 9 I undertook to give information about arrangements for collecting and distributing furniture, offers of which have been coming in generously from the public. From now on, any person wishing to offer furniture should make the offer in writing in the first place to the nearest local office of the W.V.S., and no furniture should be despatched until arrangements have been notified to the donor by the W.V.S., who have undertaken to be responsible for the distribution of the furniture in co-operation with the local authorities, as needs are ascertained. The W.V.S. will arrange for the transport of suitable furniture to the appropriate centre, if necessary visiting the person making the offer. The Government will bear the cost of transport of furniture accepted under these arrangements.

Her Majesty's Government hope that local authorities, voluntary organisations and others, will be prepared to co-operate, if approached by the W.V.S., in providing local centres in which furniture can be temporarily stored pending transport to the main depôts. The most useful gifts are likely to be floor coverings, materials for curtains and chair covers, household utensils, heating stoves, household linen and small—I would emphasise "small"—tables, chairs, chests and cupboards. Victims of the flood who are in need of furniture should make application to the local authority of the area in which they normally live. They should give their names and both their usual and their present addresses, and should state the extent of the damage which they have suffered and their requirements. The local authority will, after checking the applications, pass them on to the W.V.S., who will get into touch with the applicants and will try to meet their needs out of the gifts that have been made.

With regard to the warning system, I am now in a position to announce the arrangements which have been made to give warning to the public if it is thought that there is likely to be danger from further floods. The essential features of the scheme are as follows:

  1. (i) warnings will be localised as far as possible;
  2. (ii) the river boards will be responsible for advising the police if there is, in their opinion, any threat of danger;
  3. (iii) the police will be responsible for giving warnings to the public and to local authorities and public utility undertakings. The river boards will be responsible for warning people at work of the repair of the sea defences and for securing their safety in the event of further inundation.
The river boards will receive from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, by teleprinter, reports from the Meteorological Office and also data of high and low tides obtained from Leith, the Tyne, the Tees, Grimsby and Harwich, or Felixstowe. The police in the coastal areas have been asked to make surveys, in consultation with the officers of the river boards, in order to find out which are the probable danger areas. They have also been asked to nominate senior officers to attend at the headquarters of the river boards during the hours of high tides in the emergency period in order to initiate police action, if required, without delay. They are taking steps to inform the public in the danger areas of the times of high tides and of the local warning arrangements.

The precise arrangements will depend on the circumstances of the areas concerned. They will include, as appropriate:

  1. (i) the posting of police or civilian watchmen at threatened points;
  2. (ii) the patrolling of villages and towns with loudspeaker cars;
  3. (iii) the use of suitable warning devices, for instance, maroons:
  4. (iv) warnings to isolated houses and farms;
  5. (v) warnings to local authorities;
  6. (vi) warnings to public utility and major industrial installations;
  7. (vii) stand-by warnings to owners of small craft and any owners of vehicles who may be able to assist in evacuation, and
  8. (viii) the surveying of practical escape routine.
All these arrangements will be in operation from this evening.

In addition to these local arrangements, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has arranged with the B.B.C. for the broadcasting of information as follows:

  1. (1) The Ministry will be informed by a river board of the issue of any local warning and will, where necessary, inform the B.B.C. with a request to broadcast the warning.
  2. (2) At hourly intervals throughout the day and night the B.B.C. will broadcast on the Light Programme, 372 long wave, 1,500 metres, details of warnings of high tides at various points on the East Coast, and of any flood warnings which have been issued.
Further details of these arrangements (which will operate from to-morrow afternoon) will be issued by the B.B.C. So far as can be foreseen, the danger areas are likely to be few, and there is little risk except during the period from three hours before to one hour after high tide. Her Majesty's Government have, however, thought it right for the present to err in the direction of excessive precautions and they hope that the public in the areas affected will co-operate, in particular by strict compliance with the advice of the local police. Special vigilance should be shown by the occupants of bungalows in low-lying areas, and the owners of bungalows in the Canvey and Jay wick areas are particularly warned that it will not be safe for them to return before Thursday of next week at the earliest.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble and learned friend Lord Jowitt, and on behalf of my colleagues on this side of the House, I should like to thank the Lord Chancellor for making that statement. We are quite satisfied that Her Majesty's Government are doing everything possible to alleviate the suffering caused by this terrible disaster and are taking every precaution to prevent a recurrence of the trouble. We are very grateful.


My Lords, as one who raised with the noble and learned Lord the question of the delivery of furniture, I am personally well satisfied with the arrangements which Her Majesty's Government are making for collecting furniture from those donors who are willing to spare it. May I ask two questions? One is with regard to clothing. I understand that at one time there was a great shortage of men's clothes. I gather that that shortage no longer exists. Offers have been coming in to such an extent that the W.V.S. are overwhelmed. If the noble and learned Lord can say anything on this subject, will he kindly do so? I believe that large quantities of men's clothing are still coining in. Are they still required? The other question is with regard to warnings. How long is it proposed to continue these warnings? Is it merely for the next period of danger, or is it to become a permanent feature within the areas affected?


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount for what he has said. With regard to the questions which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has asked, I am not in a position to say anything about clothing, but I will certainly take steps to find out and let him know. I should myself infer from the statement (which has been prepared not by me but by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary) that since no mention is made of clothing the need for further help in that direction has ceased to exist. I can only answer that hypothetically. With regard to warnings. I think I must say that we have not looked beyond the present emergency. Whether it will be necessary for such precautions to be part of the normal life of the East Coast I hesitate to say. All I have said to-day relates to the present emergency.