The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg) suggested that the present proposals are inadequate. I must refute that, because there is no justification for that charge to be brought against the Government. Of course the damage has been severe. That was recognised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his statement during the recess. The Government are taking a reasonable and sensible approach to the problem in the offers that we have made to the local authorities. We are following precedent, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) suggests, because we are happy to follow the example of the Labour Party in dealing with such problems.
There is also a precedent on the question of insurance. The Opposition have pressed, not just once but on at least two occasions, local authorities to insure their properties. We believe that it is only sensible that local authorities should try to provide, through insurance, for such a disaster. It is in the best interests of their tenants. This lesson should drive the point home to those local authorities that find themselves embarrassed by the fact that they do not have as much money as they might have expected.
It might be helpful if I remind hon. Members of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on 12 January while the House was in recess. He said then that a special grant would be made to local authorities that have incurred exceptional expenses due to dealing with the effects of the severe winter weather. The special grant assistance will be made available to Scottish local authorities on a basis similar to that adopted by them, and previous Governments, when dealing with earlier emergencies caused by exceptional weather conditions. As before, we believe that local authorities should meet part of this exceptional expenditure themselves. For that purpose we have set a threshold for each authority of the product of a 0.67p rate.
Expenditure beyond that level will be assisted by a grant of 75 per cent. of the cost. The Scottish Development Department will, very shortly, issue a circular giving guidance on the criteria to be adopted when determining what is exceptional expenditure for grant purposes.
We recognise that the winter has been nothing short of disastrous for many thousands of householders and for local authorities throughout Scotland. I wish to take the opportunity to express our appreciation, and that of the Opposition Members, of the gallant work carried out by local authority staff, especially during the holiday period, in unselfishly coming to the rescue of thousands of families. With a great sense of duty, they carried out a difficult operation in the midst of severe winter weather.
I understand that, as a consequence of water damage, more than 4,000 households in all parts of Scotland have had to move into temporary accommodation arranged by local authorities, and that most of them are still there. Many others have made their own arrangements with relatives or friends. That is profoundly distressing for all those involved. I extend on behalf of the Government and the House our genuine sympathy towards all the people who have suffered damage and discomfort.
However, with the immediate crisis over, councils are turning to systematic assessment of the damage and of the measures required to repair it. It is a daunting task. We still do not know the full extent of the damage, but it appears certain to run into many millions of pounds.