HL Deb 26 March 1975 vol 358 cc1178-82

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the present position regarding the clearing of rubbish in Glasgow.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland informed another place on 17th March that, as a result of an unofficial strike by the drivers of refuse vehicles in Glasgow and because of the health hazard arising from the accumulation of rubbish, the Government acceded to the Corporation's request for assistance. On Wednesday, 19th March, Army units began a clearance operation to remove the health hazard. That operation is now fully established. The Government deplore the circumstances which have left no choice but to take this step at the request of the Corporation, but first priority must be the health of the people of Glasgow. The Government hope that even now the men will return to work so that the Corporation can do the job which is properly its own.


My Lords, while agreeing that the Army has been doing a magnificent job, is it correct that they can remove each day only about the quantity of rubbish which the city produces each day? Are the Government aware that the residue of rubbish, which may take many months to clear up, together with the sickening horde of rats, constitute now not just a health hazard but a real danger of serious epidemic?


My Lords, up to yesterday the Army had been responsible for clearing 6,887 tons but, more important, they have cleared rubbish from 22,000 out of a total of 100,000 tenement properties, and that is the area where the health hazard is greatest and where the concentration of effort is taking place. The amount of rubbish which is generated each day— approximately 1,000 tons—is handled by the Army, but under the management arrangements operated by Glasgow Corporation.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the condition of Glasgow at the moment is a disgrace to any civilised country ; that rubbish and garbage is piling up; that rats the size of cats are now rampant all over the city, and that the troops are being asked by the police not to carry out the full duties with which they have been entrusted? Does not my noble friend, as I hope I may call him, realise that it is time a very senior Minister of the Crown went to Glasgow to take immediate action on the spot? I personally should like the noble Lord himself to go there.


My Lords, there is a great deal of what the noble Lord has said with which I disagree. In the first instance, I have seen pictures of the rats in Glasgow, and unless the cats are suffering from severe malnutrition, the situation is exaggerated. But the Army are doing a first class job. There are as many soldiers on the job with as many vehicles as the situation permits. If it were possible to use more men that would be done; but there is a limit to the number of vehicles that can get to an incinerator and into the tips at a given time. If we put more on, all we should be doing is to create queues of vehicles waiting to be emptied. It is not correct that rubbish is accumulating still further because, although the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was right about the daily additions to it, the rate at which the Army, with the co-operation of the binmen—and we must remember they have not been on strike—are working is such that the accumulation is being diminished. If the men do not return to work, the estimate is that the whole of the accumulation is likely to be removed by the end of May.


My Lords, is the Minister able to assure the House that all the incinerators are now being worked?


Yes, my Lords, the three incinerators are in operation.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, could the noble Lord confirm that the soldiers have been warmly welcomed by the great body of Glasgow citizens?


I think that is a fair statement of the position, my Lords.


My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why the citizens of Glasgow were allowed to deposit their rubbish on the tips and regulations were not made getting them to deposit their rubbish in open spaces, as was done at a later date? Does the noble Lord agree that this has caused trouble and seems to show a grave lack of prevision on the part of the Corporation?


No, my Lords ; I do not think it shows any lack of vision on the part of the Corporation. In a situation like this, the Corporation are unable to move faster than the rate at which they can carry the mass of the population with them. Action in any particular direction which was taken too soon might in fact worsen the situation. I think the Corporation have acted very wisely in this matter; they did not call for assistance until they were absolutely certain that this could be done with the maximum beneficial result. It has been shown that they were right in that because, apart from some picketing in the first two days, there has been no trouble between the strikers and the Army.


My Lords, while I am grateful to, the noble Lord for the information he has given, is he aware of the reports in today's Press that the strikers have arranged to send some of their number today to visit other parts of Scotland with a view to spreading the dustcart strike? Should this occur, will the Secretary of State for Employment, or another senior Minister, be ready to deal with this matter urgently during the Easter Recess?


My Lords, I can assure the House that if a situation should arise that requires Ministerial attention, it will be given. I may say that since the Army went into action in Glasgow, one or other of the Scottish Ministers has arranged to be there almost every day. In fact, either last week or the week before, the Minister of State, Mr. Millan, was on the train between Glasgow and London each night of the week.


My Lords, will the noble Lord arrange for the soldiers to be paid the £96 per week that the strikers have turned down?


My Lords, I am not certain that the figure of £96 is what the strikers were offered. What I do know is that the soldiers are being paid an additional 50p per day above their ordinary rates. It may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. would consider that, according to Ministry of Defence arrangements, that is generous.


My Lords, on that latter point, is it not derisory to pay the soldiers 50p a day to undertake tasks in which they were never expected to indulge? They enlisted for quite different purposes, and while they ought to come to the aid of the civil authority in the event of turbulence, this is quite another matter. Could they not be treated a little more fairly?


My Lords, I am certain that none of the men involved joined the Army with the expectation that they would be clearing rubbish in Glasgow. But it is part of the normal duties of the Army, if necessary, to give assistance to the civil power. So in that direction they are carrying out part of a duty which can properly be entrusted to the Army. As to whether or not the payment which is being made on top of their ordinary pay is generous, I am not in a position to express an opinion. What I am saying is that the 1,500 soldiers who are involved are doing the job with a willingness and enthusiasm that does great credit to every one of them.