Scotland (Storm Damage)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th April 1968.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock 12:00 am, 4th April 1968

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement about storm damage in Scotland.

We debated in this House on 7th February the disastrous effects of the storm which struck Scotland on the night of 14th-15th January. I then promised to keep the House informed of the steps taken to rehabilitate the areas affected by storm damage.

As soon as the effects of the storm had been assessed, it was apparent that complete rehabilitation would inevitably be a long progress. The Government's efforts have been directed first towards making temporary repairs, so that the worst hardships were quickly removed; and then to seeing that the work of permanent repair is finished as quickly as is humanly possible.

Unfortunately bad weather has hampered operations. There was a dry and calm spell immediately after the storm, but since then the West of Scotland has suffered three periods of strong gales accompanied by driving rain and snow. It has been necessary on these occasions to divert workmen from permanent repairs to replace temporary roof coverings which had been blown away or penetrated.

Despite these difficult conditions, a great deal has been achieved. All the damaged local authority houses, numbering nearly 200,000—over 70,000 of them in Glasgow—were made wind and watertight at an early stage, and over 63,000 of them have now been permanently repaired. Repairs to houses owned by the Scottish Special Housing Association and the four new town corporations are proceeding satisfactorily.

Many owners whose houses are covered by comprehensive insurance are dealing with their own repairs. However, I informed the House on 25th January that I was arranging for local authorities to organise the repair of private houses where this was necessary to avoid delay. These arrangements rested on the provision of capital by the Government, the commissioning and payment of work by the local authorities, and the acceptance by owners of ultimate responsibility for the cost. The most intractable problem has been the repair of tenements in multiple ownership, many of which are inadequately insured.

Outside Glasgow, local councils have made themselves responsible for organising permanent repairs to the roofs of over 14,000 houses. Work on over 2,500 of these has been completed, and the councils assure me that all the roofs will be permanently repaired before the end of the summer.

In Glasgow, the storm damaged the roofs of some 10,000 privately-owned tenements: 5,000 of these were seriously damaged. This meant that some 80,000 households were, or could be, affected. Permanent repairs to these houses were proceeding fairly well until the weekend of 16th-17th March, when another bad storm struck the City, and the temporary patching suffered severely. A labour force of some 700 men, drawn from the Corporation's direct labour force, the Scottish Special Housing Association, and the private contractors' labour force, was set to work.

Under the direction of the General Manager of the Corporation's Building Department, this force has overcome the renewed emergency, and the Corporation and the Master Slaters have agreed to work together to ensure that all private houses in the city are fit to withstand next autumn's weather.

To achieve this, the methods of repair are being modified where necessary: strapping and roofing felt, durable enough to stand up to any weather for several years, will be used. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who discussed these arrangements last Friday in the City, has been assured by all those concerned that the existing labour force is sufficient to ensure that, by September, repairs will be completed which will fully safeguard all the roofs. Labour and finance have been, and are, the two key factors in this whole operation.

From the outset, everything possible has been done by the local and central authorities to assemble and dispose to best advantage the necessary labour force. The Ministry of Labour have combed Scotland for men, and have brought some from England. For Glasgow's needs men have been drawn from the Corporation's staff, from local contractors and from the Scottish Special Housing Association. The men have all worked magnificently, often in very difficult conditions. The work has called for an outstanding degree of trained skill, because of the high pitched roofs of the tenements. Let no one underestimate the danger of this work in the sort of weather we have experienced. I am sorry to say that six lives have been lost.

As to finance, the arrangements which the local authorities have made, with the backing of Government advances, have been deigned to ensure that no repair need be delayed because of lack of means. The private owners and factors have been assured that when local authorities are arranging to recover the costs of repairs they will examine each case individually and ensure that recovery does not cause hardship. Any deficit which a local authority incurs because of this will attract the special 75 per cent. Government grant. These arrangements are being administered flexibly: in urgent cases local authorities are giving instructions for repairs to be undertaken before all the formalities have been completed.

Since the storm there has been close co-operation between the central departments and the local authorities. I would like to pay a special tribute to the Lord Provost of Glasgow, who has shown outstanding qualities of leadership during the City's period of trial.

If I deal more briefly with the damage to agriculture and horticulture it is not because the Government underestimate the severe losses these industries have suffered, but because fewer complications have arisen in helping farmers and growers to overcome the difficulties. As an indication of the severity of the damage, I can tell the House that the estimated cost of the work covered in applications made to my Department under the various improvement schemes is now over £1 million.

However, I now expect that the restoration of damage to farm buildings will be completed within three months: in many instances farmers are taking the opportunity of making improvements under the schemes of assistance rather than restoring existing buildings. Repair work to horticultural properties is virtually complete. Where rebuilding of glass-houses is involved some delay has taken place because of the need to concentrate on seasonal work at this time of the year. I am glad to say that labour and materials are not presenting any serious problems either to farmers or to horticulturists.

As regards forestry, I have now considered the Forestry Commission's advice on the report of the Action Group. I am indebted to the Group for the speed with which they did their work. As I announced on 26th March, we have urged local authorities and wood using industries to give preference to home-grown timber whenever possible in the next two years. We are also appealing to private woodland owners to exercise restraint in felling meanwhile, and the Forestry Commission is giving a lead in this direction. In addition we propose to offer assistance in two ways.

First, an allowance for extra cost will be made to assist in the dispersal of sawmill timber to potential markets in other parts of the country. This will help to ensure that there is no glut in local markets which might result in valuable timber being allowed to rot. This assistance will be administered by the Forestry Commission, and will be payable to those bearing the transport charge. The Forestry Commission is working on the details and an announcement will be made early next week.

Secondly, we have given a good deal of thought to the provision of additional heavy machinery which will be needed to extract and handle the windblown timber. The timber trade will no doubt meet some of this requirement themselves. But in view of the temporary need for the plant the Government recognise that the trade may not be able to find all the capital for short-term investment on the necessary scale. We are, therefore, arranging for the Forestry Commission to hire out machinery to owners and timber merchants at commercial rates. Full details will be announced by the Forestry Commission.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

May I thank the Secretary of State for his very long statement. I am bound to admit, though, that I find it deeply distressing to the extent that the length of his statement is not matched by its contents or the indication of any Government action to deal with this very serious crisis. It seems to me that after two and a half months—and I accept what the Secretary of State has said about the weather, although that is not unusual at this time of the year—less than one-third of the council houses have yet been permanently repaired, and outside Glasgow the total is less than one-fifth. This seems to me to be a very slow rate of progress in the circumstances.

In regard to multiple housing, which everybody in our debate on the 7th February realised was a major problem, the Secretary of State has told us that it is intractable. Is there not something he can do, some urgent action he can take, in order to stop these houses deteriorating as they are very fast today? The Secretary of State has told us that the councils assure him that all the roofs will be in some state of repair by September, but does the Secretary of State mean only the council house roofs?—because these are the figures he is giving us and he is saying practically nothing about private housing.

May I turn to agriculture. What I have heard is that there is little or no chance of the agricultural buildings being repaired in three months, as the Secretary of State says he understands to be the case. That is totally different from what the farming community is telling me. It may be that labour and materials are available, but certainly the Government are doing nothing about the cost, and this was a very important part of our debate on 7th February.

In regard to forestry, I would thank the Secretary of State for the promise of help on transport and we shall await the statement that the Commission or the Secretary of State—I am not certain which—is to make early next week. But is it possible for the Forestry Commission to supply the extra machinery? Surely, they have an enormous task on their own hands and will need all the machinery they have; and, again, this does not seem to me to meet the demand that was made in our debate. I apologise for the length of my question, but it was a very long statement. May I ask the Secretary of State whether he does not now consider the situation is so serious that it needs the full-time or practically full-time attention of one of his Ministers in the Scottish Office in order to co-ordinate the immediate steps that are needed to prevent the rapid deterioration which is occurring in houses in Glasgow and elsewhere, and is he sure there are no more men available from elsewhere to come and help Glasgow in what is today a really desperate situation?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures I have given he will discover that they cover outside of Glasgow not only the local authority housing; and I believe that outside of Glasgow the local authority housing figure is even better than that within Glasgow. I was dealing with both sides there. Of course, we all admit that the multiple ownership of Glasgow tenements is a difficult problem, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, where we have six or seven owners and probably, over and above that, a factor who has the control of the unsold properties, all trying to agree in relation to who is responsible; so that it is going to take quite a long time.

I am sorry to say we have found evidence that there is not always cooperation between the factor and the owners. This was one of the reasons why we set up the special arrangements in relation to finance, in order that people could get on with the work and sort out these things later. But I hope the hon. Gentleman does not underestimate the difficulties in relation to that.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were doing nothing about cost in relation to the farming community. The only reason that I am able to give the House the figure I have given—over £1 million—is because in respect of this, under the farm improvements scheme, the Government are paying between 30 and 38⅓ per cent.

I am sorry I did not make it clear when I spoke of machinery being hired out, in relation to the Forestry Commission, that this is additional machinery which I am authorising the Forestry Commission to purchase so that they will have available extra machinery which we could not expect merchants to procure themselves for a temporary purpose.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , Glasgow Kelvingrove

We appreciate the efforts being made by my right hon. Friend it this matter, and we also appreciate the fact that although we know storms and rain are frequent in February and March in Scotland this does not make the problem any easier. There still remains the problem of how to tackle these difficulties. But is my hon. Friend aware that two problems still remain? The first is that there seems to be, at any rate, a lack of co-ordination, of some kind of co-ordinating committee or influence, to which further damage can be notified.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Questions on this statement must be reasonably brief.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but as was indicated, it was a rather long statement. I will be as brief as I can. There seems to be the lack of a co-ordinating committee to which further damage can be reported, so that action can be taken even from a temporary point of view. The second thing that is lacking, from a longer-term point of view, is some kind of communication with the public, some means of indicating to them when their particular building will be permanently repaired.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

These are very valid points and I would be the first to admit that I have not been satisfied with the coordination achieved in Glasgow. My hon. Friend the Minister of State was there last week and he is there today. He has been having discussions this morning and this afternoon, and I shall be seeing him tonight. I have already arranged for him to inform the corporation that I would like to see it on 19th April, and I will see that this point is really covered.

As regards long-term communication with the public, this, of course, is one of the difficulties. We cannot expect people to be other than subjective about this when their own house is either directly or indirectly affected.

I must apologise to hon. Gentlemen for not covering this point, but what is holding us up at the moment is the massive task which is before Glasgow and the number of people with whom we have had to deal. We have combed Glasgow. I saw a statement, I believe by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), suggesting that there were thousands of people unemployed in the building trade who could assist.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor:

That is untrue. My suggestion was that they could be employed on building new houses.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we looked into this in respect of the whole of Scotland; and the number of unemployed slaters and felters was 33, of whom only six were available for work or able to come to Glasgow to do such work. Their names were supplied to the firms. There has probably been an over-estimate of what Glasgow can do on its own, and that is one of the reasons why we have to make better use of the men and materials available for this semi-permanent repair and why we are combing the whole of the United Kingdom for men. The bottleneck is not money, but labour, but it should not be thought that the difficulty will be easily overcome. However, it follows that we want central control and a discipline of priorities about which work can wait and which cannot.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I must protect the business of the House, I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will ask reasonably brief questions and give reasonably brief answers.

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement about forestry compares very unfavourably with the equivalent statement which was made in 1953 in a considerably shorter time? He referred to an allowance for extra cost; can he assure us that it will be no less than the figure of two-thirds which was given in 1953? Is he aware that a growing number of people regard the administration in Scotland as falling very far short of that which followed the "Torrey Canyon" incident?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The hon. Gentleman is comparing things which are not alike. He will appreciate that 90 per cent. of the windfalls in 1953 were in private forests, whereas on this occasion it was less than 50 per cent., and that marketing is affected by different location. This is a rather complicated scheme, because it relates to the location of the damage and to whether taking the timber to the market is taking it away from its ultimate market. I would rather he awaited the exact details of the scheme.

Photo of Mr Adam Hunter Mr Adam Hunter , Dunfermline Burghs

Should not the policy of giving financial assistance to local authority properties which were not insured be extended to people with private properties who found themselves in exceptional circumstances and who inadvertently were insured for everything but storm damage?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I have now made it plain at least three times that if such people have the repairs approved by a local authority, the local authority will be able to assess any hardship and give more time to pay, or allow such people to pay very much less than the cost.

Photo of Miss Betty Harvie Anderson Miss Betty Harvie Anderson , Renfrewshire East

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us are concerned about multiple ownership in tenement properties and that it is not all within the boundaries of the City of Glasgow? Can he assure the House that, subsequent to 25th January, adequate instructions were issued to local authorities pointing out their responsibility for not only repairing local authority housing, but organising the repair of private property? Was there an instruction other than that contained in Circular 3 of 26th January?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

There was no instruction, because local authorities cannot be given what is not their statutory duty. All local authorities have accepted this responsibility.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

If the hon. Lady has any details, I should be glad to have them. My information is that the local authori ties in the smaller areas with a lesser problem are getting on very well.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there has been the maximum expedition in advising and assisting glasshouse horticulturists? Can he tell the House what advance there has been with developments in wind resistant structures so that such a disaster may not recur?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

In my original statement I drew attention to the kind of buildings which had best withstood the wind. I hope that we shall be able to learn from our experience and to give advice. I understand that there has been close contact between the Department and individual horticulturists whose glass houses have been damaged.

Photo of Sir Fitzroy Maclean Sir Fitzroy Maclean , Bute and North Ayrshire

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean exactly by "wind and watertight"? Many of the tarpaulins which were originally put on are now flapping in the breeze and letting in the rain. Is there not a shortage of slates?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I have had no information about a shortage of slates. Eradication of penetration by rain is one of the problems, and many tarpaulins have had to be replaced.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Is there a shortage of tarpaulins? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, contrary to the general belief expressed on both sides of the House, many people think that both his officials in the Scottish Office and local authorities have done very well in the circumstances and that much of the carping is out of place?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The local authorities have done a wonderful job. If the operation were entirely within their control, or could be entirely within their control, we might have a better centrally directed effort, but as many of the building firms in Glasgow are themselves property owners, and so, naturally, tend to deal with their own properties first, such direction has not been possible. The insurance companies have done a very good job and I understand that they have already provided £400,000 in respect of 8,000 claims for the repair of houses in Glasgow.

Photo of Mr James Davidson Mr James Davidson , Aberdeenshire West

I have some questions about storm damage in the rural areas. First, on what percentage basis will grants be decided for farmers who take the opportunity to carry out improvements at the same time as repairing storm damage? Secondly, will the allowance for the extra cost in the dispersal of timber to avoid overloading local saw mills allow for the additional cost arising from the increase in petrol tax and the increase in licence duty?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will make due allowance for the total extra cost which would otherwise arise. If farm improvements fall within the scheme, they will attract the appropriate percentage and I have already told the House that we are interpreting that very flexibly.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Govan the temporary repairs were quite ineffective? Is he further aware that at the end of two months no permanent repairs had been started? Can ha assure us that something speedier will be on the way very soon?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

My hon. Friend must appreciate not only the complexity of the operation, but its massive nature. The roofs of Glasgow took generations to build and it will take more than a few months to repair them permanently. We hope to get on very much more quickly with roof felting and then do full repairs with roof slating.

Photo of Professor Esmond Wright Professor Esmond Wright , Glasgow Pollok

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the clarity of his statement, but I emphasise that he has omitted a number of fundamental issues. One, there is no sense in Glasgow of an imaginative lead from Westminster. Two, the people of Glasgow are not sure to whom to make their appeals. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the general manager of the housing department—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We cannot have a speech now. Hon. Members must ask questions.

Photo of Professor Esmond Wright Professor Esmond Wright , Glasgow Pollok

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. May I make three sharp sentences? First, there is inadequate knowledge of to whom appeals should be addressed. Two, there is inadequate attention to priorities. For instance, I have had a letter from a constituent saying that because she has no children, her need is being neglected, although every room in her house is incapable of being lived in.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Every long question cuts out another questioner.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to be able to deal with individual cases without notice. This is a matter for someone on the spot in Glasgow to sort out. The hon. Gentleman said that people did not know with whom to get in touch to get help. I do not look at television very often, but I heard the Lord Provost of Glasgow announce on television only last Friday night exactly where these appeals should be addressed.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his statement today will be bitterly disappointing to those whose hopes he raised on 7th February by thoughts of realistic action? Is he aware that forestry interests in Scotland will be shocked by his vagueness about a transport subvention and other questions on which precise decisions were expected today? Further, does he intend to provide no further help for farmers and horticulturists who have to find for themselves up to 87½ per cent. of the losses they have suffered in what we were told was to be treated as a national disaster?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

As regards forestry, inevitably I could not go into detail today. The details are complicated, but I stated that they would be issued early next week by the Forestry Commission, which will itself administer the scheme.

On the other matters which the hon. Gentleman raised, he should appreciate that the liabilities which the Government are taking on under the Farm Improvements Scheme are very considerable. There are probably many more people who would like to have 38 per cent. of their costs met in this way. Many of these troubles could have been covered by insurance, and by many other people they were.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

Despite the efforts of the Secretary of State and the local authorities, the people of Scotland do not feel that enough is being done. Will not the Secretary of State take more seriously the suggestion that one of his Ministers should go to Glasgow and stay there, taking control, until much more substantial progress is made?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

No, Sir. I am satisfied with what was done. We did that during the emergency, and we had Ministers there—not necessarily the same Minister all the time—probably every day. We allocated particular staff to deal with the emergency, and they were there. We have allocated staff from the Scottish Office to be there, and they are there even now.

If further action is needed, arising out of the discussions which my hon. Friend the Minister of State is having today, it will be taken in order to strengthen the organisation which Glasgow requires. But I am perfectly certain that the local authorities—I have faith in the local authorities—have shown both outside Glasgow as well as inside how well they can cope with this problem.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor:

As a committee of Ministers dealt with the fenland floods in 1957, and a Cabinet emergency committee was set up to deal with the "Torrey Canyon" emergency, why will not the Secretary of State send one Minister to deal with this problem until it is solved? One of the main troubles in Glasgow is a shortage of information and advice. Will not the Secretary of State take the initiative in setting up an office in each affected area to which people can go for legal and technical advice, as lack of it is often what is holding them back from signing the forms to get the work going?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

We set up a special office in Glasgow. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not know about it. It is not Ministers we want in Glasgow today. We want slaters. Recalling the high, pitched roofs of the tenements in Glasgow, I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is the shortage which is holding things up. We want slaters, more slaters, and we are combing Great Britain for them.