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Flooding, Salford (Assistance)

Volume 437: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1947

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [ Mr. Collindridge.]

1.21 a.m.

In view of the lateness of the hour, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not propose to keep the House long on this Adjournment Motion. On 20th September, the River Irwell burst its bank, with the result that within an area of 600 acres, 6,120 small dwellings were flooded. The exact damage is estimated at the present time at more than £500,000. On three separate occasions I have raised this matter in the House by means of a Question to the Prime Minister, which was ultimately transferred to the Minister of Agriculture but not reached, with the result that I had to content myself with a written reply. Then came a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect of the assistance which the Exchequer is prepared to give in respect of the recent flooding. After hearing his statement I put a Question on what the effect would be on the flooded area of Salford. I received what I considered to be a favourable reply, and followed it up with a further question. In reply to that further question, the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed sympathy with Salford. I now want to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what he is prepared to do for Salford, now that he has had time to consider the question properly.

1.23 a.m.

The hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. McAdam) has indicated to the House, just what the difficulty in Salford is. Last September, Salford suffered very heavy flooding, and as a result more than 6,000 houses were damaged. Although I believe that the actual cost of that damage is not known, and there are various estimates of what it comes to, it must certainly run into six figures. It is true that at that time he approached my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Later he went to the Minister of Health. He was told that it was impossible for either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Minister of Health to do anything, because legislation would be required if a grant of the kind which he wanted were to be made.

During the winter, as we are all aware, considerable flooding took place in the Fen District, and a great deal of damage was done. In addition to the flooding, livestock suffered through heavy falls of snow, and my right hon. Friend announced that the Government would make a grant to the Lord Mayor's Fund—then about to be opened—of a million pounds. In addition, the Government later agreed to give help to those who had been stricken by the severe winter and floods. My right hon. Friend did make it clear that, although he sympathised with the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Salford and with the plight of the people in that area, it was quite impossible to date back, as it were, the help to be given to the victims of the floods and the heavy snow of the winter to something which happened seven or eight months ago in the city of Salford.

I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend and those associated with him, including the Town Clerk of Salford, have made an application for assistance to the Lord Mayor of London and to the committee which has been set up, giving the fullest possible particulars of the distress which has been caused and the damage which has been done in that city. I understand that the Lord Mayor and his committee considered this matter yesterday afternoon, and I am delighted to think that whilst they feel that the fund must first of all be used for the purpose for which it has been, and is being raised, namely, to assist those who have suffered more recently than Salford, nevertheless, it is hoped that, when demands on the fund arising from the recent flooding in the Fens and other similar districts have been met, something may be done to help Salford and any other areas which are in the same situation. I think my hon. Friend the Member for North Salford can take heart from this, for it does follow that if the Lord Mayor has invited Salford, as I understand he has, to make another application a little later in the year, he would not have done so unless he felt that there was every hope that Salford will get some assistance from the distress fund.

As I have indicated, it is, unfortunately, impossible for the Government itself without legislation to help Salford in the circumstances, but there is the Lord Mayor's Fund. People all over the country have made contributions to this fund and a sum which I believe is now fairly considerable has been collected. It is, therefore, my hope that in the light of the promise made by the Lord Mayor to the City of Salford, it will get much needed help from this fund. I hope that my hon. Friend will be willing to leave the matter there, feeling certain that, before this year is out, Salford may get the assistance she so badly needs.

1.29 a.m.

I rise to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Salford (Mr. McAdam) in regard to the flooding in that city. I am very disturbed at the treatment that has been meted out to that city. I should like to remind the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the flooding was not caused by the people themselves; neither they nor the City Council were responsible for it. Those who suffered as a result of the flooding were respectable working-class people, many of whom lost much, including their furniture, bedding and clothing. It was very regrettable that we could not persuade representatives of the Government to go into the district and see the conditions that were existing at that particular time. All we were able to do was to talk to Members of the Government who were very sympathetic; in fact, we began to think they were going to dole out sympathy in buckets. They gave us sympathy but no practical help at all, and it made me think it was like serving gravy without any meat. The excuse was made that legislation in this House was so heavy that they could not promote legislation to deal with a case like Salford. But six months afterwards they found a way out; they decided to hand over the sum of a million pounds to the Lord Mayor's Fund rather than face up to their responsibilities so far as the ratepayers and City Council of Salford were concerned.

I want to remind the Financial Secretary and hon. Members of this House that these people who were so badly affected have had to subscribe towards this million pounds by direct and indirect taxation. One had to be there to see the misery these people were suffering, and I sincerely hope that the Government will do as much as they possibly can to persuade those who are controlling the Lord Mayor's Fund to be as generous as possible. I am rather disturbed to think we may have to wait for months, and there may be nothing in the "kitty" at that time if they are going to deal in a generous way with the other victims. The city of Salford has never paraded its poverty, though it could have pleaded years and years ago that it was a distressed area. Its rates are 22s. in the pound, and we have faced up to our responsibilities for many years. We feel that we have made our case for the Government not only to show sympathy, but to do a little more than that and give us as much assistance as they possibly can.

1.33 a.m.

just to complete the team work so far as Salford is concerned, I would like one minute during which to speak on this matter. I want to confirm the statements that have been made by my colleagues, the hon. Members for North Salford (Mr. McAdam) and South Salford (Mr. Hardy), about the state of affairs resulting from the floods in that district. We are very deeply concerned and worried because nothing has been done by the Government towards the alleviation of these troubles. I found great comfort in the Financial Secretary's words, and I think that as a result we have a hope we had not before this Adjournment Debate tonight. I sincerely express the opinion that as a result of the statement made by the Financial Secretary we shall, in due course, receive something that the city of Salford so badly needs. We thank him very much.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes to Two o' Clock.