HL Deb 25 January 1968 vol 288 cc465-73

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I might intervene, apologetically, to repeat the Statement which my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton indicated, in reply to the Question from the noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, would be repeated after it had been made in another place, on the subject of storm damage in Scotland. If I may make it clear, it is through no lack of confidence in my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton but in an attempt to recognise the importance of the subject that I have myself asked whether I might make this Statement to your Lordships.

My Lords, the Statement from my right honourable friend reads as follows:

"In the Statement which I made to the House on January 16 about the gale which struck Scotland early the previous day I promised to keep the House informed about progress in dealing with its effects.

"As the House will know, I visited Glasgow myself on January 17 to inspect some of the damage there; and on that date and again on January 22 I held meetings with a number of local authorities representing the worst affected areas. My ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Office have all visited damaged areas and have had useful discussions with the people concerned on the spot.

"Some 750 people (350 in Glasgow) are still in rest centre accommodation provided by the local authorities, while others are living with relatives and friends. A total of 796 families in Glasgow are having to be rehoused as a result of storm damage or threat to their homes: up to yesterday, all but 61 of these had been offered alternative accommodation and 459 had been placed.

"The storm caused millions of pounds worth of damage to public and private property as well as to agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Became of the widespread nature of the damage, it has not yet been possible for full assessments to be made by all the authorities and agencies concerned. Estimates indicate that local authority property, including housing and schools, has sustained damage which will cost some £9 million to restore. The present figure for private housing is over £7 million. Hospital damage is estimated at £130,000.

"Most farms in the severely affected counties suffered damage, some of it severe. A reliable estimate of the cost of repairing damage to farm buildings is not yet possible, partly because of the restrictions imposed on access to farms on account of foot-and-mouth disease. Only a small number of stock have been lost. Horticulture has suffered relatively more severely, because much of the Scottish glasshouse acreage is in the areas most affected.

"The damage to woodlands is at present estimated at about 30 million hoppus feet. This appears to be equally shared between the Forestry Commission and private estates. Arrangements for extraction and marketing will be considered at a meeting which the Chairman of the Commission is holding in Glasgow next Monday, when the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association and the timber trade will be represented.

"My own Department has provided help to local authorities with staff for the handling of emergency arrangements and with the provision of supplies from emergency stores. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has provided more than 9,000 tarpaulins for emergency roof repairs, and a further 5,000 will be delivered to-day, while the Ministry of Public Building and Works has been helping with arrangements for the supply of roofing materials. The Ministry of Social Security gave immediate help in dealing with the welfare problems which arose in the aftermath of the storm. All three Armed Services have given help in the form of manpower, supplies and transport which has been greatly appreciated by the local authorities.

"Local authorities are dealing effectively with the necessary repairs to their own houses, but there are problems in securing rapid and adequate repair to privately owned houses, particularly tenements in multiple ownership, many of which have suffered very severe damage. I am therefore asking authorities to organise repair work not only to their own houses, but also to others so far as they judge this necessary to get essential work done quickly. Indeed many authorities have already done excellent work in this direction. Damage to tenement property is particularly widespread in Glasgow, and the Corporation and my Department are working out with representatives of the owners and contractors a scheme to ensure that necessary repair work proceeds rapidly.

"As regards finance, it is not yet possible to assess the extent to which damage generally is covered by insurance. But it is already clear that the costs to local authorities of the necessary repairs to property are likely to impose undue burdens on the local ratepayers in some of the worst hit areas. Where these conditions arise the Government will provide appropriate financial help to the authorities concerned, on a basis to be worked out in discussion with the authorities as soon as all the relevant facts are known. In the meanwhile, to deal with situations in which limited financial resources would otherwise lead to delay in proceeding with essential work, an immediate advance of up to £500,000 is being made available from the Civil Contingencies Fund to be drawn upon by local authorities as required.

"In addition, as already announced, arrangements have been made to deal urgently with applications for improvement grant for the restoration of fences and other fixed farm equipment. Similar arrangements have also been made to deal urgently with applications under the Horticultural Improvement Scheme. The forestry situation will be considered further in the light of next Monday's meeting."

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement, which has been made in another place. We are very sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is unwell, and I am sure we all sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for having to take on this rather difficult subject at such short notice. The gale inflicted severe damage on farm buildings and woodlands in Scotland, and we are glad to know that consideration is being given to the difficulties of farmers and foresters; but, of course, much the most urgent problem is the large number of families in Glasgow and elsewhere who are completely homeless, living now in rest centres or with relations, and it is on that point that I should like a little more elucidation of the Statement.

The noble Lord said that, out of 796 homeless families in Glasgow alone, 735 had been offered accommodation and 459 had been placed. Does the word "placed" mean that they are actually in their new houses, or does it mean that they have been offered houses which are now under construction and, if so, approximately how long will it be before they are completed? With regard to the remaining 276 who have been offered accommodation, does that mean that they have just been given priority on a local authority waiting list for houses, or does it mean that they have been allocated specific houses which are likely to be ready for occupation at a definite time? I should also like to ask about the families who are not in Glasgow. All that the Statement tells us about those families is that about 400 persons outside Glasgow are in rest centres. Could the noble Lord tell us how many families outside Glasgow are in urgent need of rehousing, and what steps are being taken about it?

Finally, may I ask the Government to request the Scottish Special Housing Association—a Government body which was set up in 1938 and which has already built more than 60,000 houses in Scotland—to produce, if it can, emergency schemes to relieve the situation, if possible, by using the various methods of industrialised building which does not put such a heavy strain on the available supply of conventional building labour and materials?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Hughes is not here to answer because he visited the area and I know how deeply involved and personally concerned he was in this matter. Very few people in England appreciate just how serious this disaster has been and the extent to which, in certain respects, emergency conditions are still continuing. It is partly that, as well as my lack of precise knowledge, which makes it impossible for me to give answers to the highly relevant questions that the noble Earl has asked. Clearly, we are still in a transitional stage with regard to the position. So acute was the emergency at certain times that there was even a temporary wireless network set up in Glasgow. Of course the precise figures are changing, but a number of people are being housed with relatives, and all one can say is that they are under cover and that emergency repairs are being made.

The noble Earl made some impotrant points, and I noted in particular his reference to the Scottish Special Housing Association. I hope he will forgive me if I merely say that I will convey these particular questions to my right honourable friend and at a suitable opportunity write a letter to the noble Earl. But it may be that the concern of the House is such that they would prefer to be given further information by way of question and answer in this House. There may be an opportunity of doing this next week.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I do not want to press the noble Lord, but I think my noble friend who put down the Question about this may want to ask one or two questions. I wanted to know what is meant by the "offer of accommodation", and what it entails. Would it be possible for the noble Lord to get further information on that matter?


My Lords, as this discussion arises from a Question that I had tabled, may I join with my noble friend Lord Dundee in thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for making the Statement? I am sure that we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, a speedy recovery. Before I make one or two points on these matters, may I pay tribute to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and to the G.P.O. in the North of Scotland who have done magnificent work in restoring electricity and telephones. Although in some areas restoration is not yet complete, these bodies have done magnificent work.

The Statement makes the point that full details of the hurricane, and the damage caused, are not yet available because communications North of Glasgow, which were cut off immediately after the storm, have in many cases not yet been restored. But I would ask that in planning the ail and assistance which they propose—and which, at the moment, rather naturally, is directed towards Glasgow, because the information about Glasgow is more accurate—the Government should make their survey on a wider basis; because the severity of the damage from the, hurricane in many areas was quite unusual and went far beyond that normally associated with storm damage. I am thinking in particular of the destruction of small fishing boats, which might represent the livelihood of a family. I am not asking for an answer now, but simply that this aspect may be looked into. There was extensive damage to farm buildings, where in some cases barns were completely destroyed. Houses in the course of erection were destroyed, and cattle were either drowned in the floods or poisoned through eating the hemlock washed down in the storms.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, might I just add to what my noble friend has said? While thanking the Government and appreciating the great help they are going to give, and while thanking the noble Lord for making the Statement, may I also draw attention to the remoter areas of the Western Highlands which have suffered great damage by the hurricane? I would point out that this is the second hurricane we have had in the last ten years. While I am appalled by the damage suffered in Glasgow, and fully commiserate with the inhabitants, the trouble in the remoter areas is that it is difficult for the householders or small owner-occupiers to get repairs done. I was wondering whether in this respect the Army could help. Perhaps it would be possible to send a detachment of Royal Engineers to the Western Highlands to help in repairs to farm buildings. I should like the noble Lord to put that question forward to the right quarters.

I would also point out that Lloyd's will not insure against hurricane damage in the Western Highlands unless one is prepared to pay completely exorbitant premiums. I wonder if this is an opportunity for the Government, through the Highland Development Board, to set up some special insurance fund for the Western Highlands particularly (because it is the Western Highlands which gets the brunt of the hurricanes) by which householders, farmers and landowners generally—and I have to declare an interest here as a landowner—could insure against storm damage at a reasonable premium.


My Lords, it is clear from the Statement of the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, that the magnitude of this disaster in Scotland is much greater than most of us had feared, or even imagined, and I should like to thank him for the encouragement he has given us, because it is clear that the Government are really taking this problem very seriously and grappling with it. Some years ago, when I was still the Member of Parliament for East Aberdeenshire, we had a similar disaster, though perhaps not quite so catastrophic, on the East Coast. It hit woodlands, more than anything else, rather than the towns. But these are acts of Nature which none of us can control.

The only thing I should like to say to the noble Lord—and I am sure he will agree—is that there are two things which are absolutely vital. The first is speed in assessing the extent of the damage, and where it has fallen, and the second is generosity on the part of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this discussion unduly, but I did not wish to interrupt noble Lords in their short speeches, since it might have appeared that I was taking refuge in my position. I thought they were relevant and interesting. I am very sorry that I cannot give to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, the information for which he asked. It is not available to me, and I am not even sure whether it is available in London. I stress again that the situation is very fluid, and I have given the noble Earl all the information I possess. He may rebuke me for not having obtained this further information, but I do know that my right honourable friend has been collecting information about this problem as hard as he can. I agree that it is important, and I will try to see whether some later information can be made available.

I am grateful to noble Lords for what they had to say. A lot of the information for which they have asked is not available. I noticed what the noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, had to say about the extent of the disaster. There are precedents as to the extent of compensation which can be paid in certain circumstances. Generally, in regard to fixed farm equipment, there are appropriate rates of compensation. I cannot at this moment give details, but I will certainly pass on the information to my right honourable friend, and convey the sense of the House in this matter.

I am relieved that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, drew attention to the second hurricane some while ago which occurred under a previous Government. Although no Government has yet been able to achieve it, I have no doubt that the time will come when there will be some degree of weather control. But that is a matter about which my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and the United Nations may have something to say. I am not sure how far this would be relevant to the West of Scotland alone. People, including myself, who are aware of the violent weather that can occur would not ignore the fact that other areas have been struck by disaster. There was the East Coast disaster a few years ago which was of quite an appalling kind. None the less, it appears that there is no doubt (at least we have heard nothing to suggest the contrary) that the emergency services did go into action. Certainly the Armed Forces did. I understand that the Army provided craftsmen and other troops to assist in repairing and clearance work, not only in Glasgow but also in the West of Scotland. I am sure that the tribute to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board will be appreciated.

My Lords, I do not think there is any further information I can give, beyond again saying that I will convey to my right honourable friend the feeling in your Lordships' House, which I hope that the public generally will appreciate, and repeating that of course the disaster did not occur only in Glasgow.