Orders of the Day — Scotland (Storm Damage)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th February 1968.

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Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire 12:00 am, 7th February 1968

I am not certain how it is entirely different. I am talking about the expense faced by local authorities as a result of disaster— [Interruption.] Very well, but I am talking about what the Secretary of State said this afternoon about no "undue hardship" falling on the ratepayers in any community. I think that he will agree that that is not the same as some sort of formula, as in the case of the "Torrey Canyon". It is wide open; I hope that the Secretary of State will interpret the words "undue hardship" very generously.

In addition to the damage which it has done, something which has not been mentioned already tonight is the fact that the storm has obviously shortened the life of many older properties, some of which are being condemned now and others of which will be condemned shortly. It is impossible now, or even in the near future, to assess the long-term hidden damage, and it has clearly made Scotland's already bad housing situation still worse.

This brings me to what should be one of the most concrete points to emerge from the debate. I join with those on both sides who have raised the question of the Government's cut in the housing programme. I know that the restoration of the cut of 1,500 in Scotland will have no immediate effect on the housing situation, but I believe that the Secretary of State now has a strong case for going back to the Cabinet, armed with the latest Cullingworth Report and the report of this debate, to ask that we should not suffer the same 10 per cent. cut in our housing programme as the rest of the United Kingdom—simply because of the acute housing crisis in Scotland, which has been made worse by this storm. I hope that he will feel that he would have the support of all hon. Members if he were able to persuade the Government to lift this cut.

One minor point brought home to me by one or two people affected by the damage is that the Scottish Office might think of using its excellent series of public announcements on television to tell people their rights once they have suffered damage. The amount of ignorance which exists is remarkable. For instance, a lady in Edinburgh was unable to persuade her landlord that he was responsible for replacing broken windows. This is extraordinary, but there is a good deal of misunderstanding about people's rights and perhaps the general Scottish Office announcements could be used to explain this to people.

In the long term, perhaps the best lesson we can learn from this disaster is that a gap exists in our Welfare State. It is that we make no provision for calamities of this kind. Last year my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party sought leave to introduce a Bill—it was sponsored by Members of all parties—to create a national disaster fund. The leave of the House was given, but the Bill did not proceed further because the Treasury, the Charity Commissioners and others had grave doubts about it.

There is a case now for establishing a national disaster fund, which would accumulate the surpluses which are given by voluntary contributions to individual disasters and all contributions paid in by the Government from time to time. Instead of the need, every time a disaster occurs, to make ad hoc arrangements to meet it—I am thinking of Aberfan, the "Torrey Canyon" and now this disaster—with crisis meetings, appeals, and so on to see what can be done in a hurry, a permanent national disaster fund should be established as part of our welfare State.