I accept that in any normal run of bad luck with the weather, or with the fabric of housing, it would be impossible to justify an insurance scheme.
What is the position of a large authority with a large housing stock? Edinburgh, which is run by the Secretary of State's political friends, is certainly in that category, and so is Glasgow. When such authorities are faced with an unprecedented disaster they cannot be expected to deal with it. If they did undertake the task, they would be edged towards a dire financial crisis. The result would be the virtual obliteration of modernisation and new-build schemes in the areas of many of the larger authorities. If the massive burden were to be a charge totally on revenue, there would have to be crippling rate increases.
The Secretary of State has claimed consistently to be the ratepayers' champion. We are somewhat cynical about that, because we have seen the savage cuts in local authority finance that have hit ratepayers hard year after year. He can do something to redeem his rather tarnished reputation by acting generously to protect local government from the effects of a national disaster that could not have been foreseen.
My constituency is typical of that of many of my hon. Friends. Thousands of houses have been devastated. Many families have suffered enormous losses because of ruined carpets and furnishings. They are the same people who faced the disruption and expense of redecoration and the trauma of being decanted to temporary premises in difficult circumstances. It has been a desperate time. Those people want and deserve an assurance that their local authorities will be put in a position where they can, with the shortest possible delay, put right the damage and get them back into homes restored to a state in which they can reasonably be expected to live.
The Government must accept that the exceptional circumstances demand a generous and immediate response. The hon. Member for Pentlands has made it clear that he is still collating the information and considering the facts. I hope that that means that the door has not been slammed. However, we must be told soon that there is no question that the 75 per cent. grant aid is available only for road repairs and for the clearance of snow, as seemed to be suggested in Scottish Question Time last week. It must be available to local authorities that are facing this massive bill so that they can restore the housing stock to a reasonable state. We are talking, not about an abstract book-keeping concept, but about the homes of people who Opposition Members certainly represent.