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Gale Damage, North Scotland

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1952

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5.22 p.m.

This Supplementary Estimate deals with the Government's contribution towards the appeal fund launched by the Lord Provosts in Scotland to help those who suffered serious damage in the great gale which occurred on 15th January and which affected not only the Orkneys but also parts of Caithness and Sutherland. The damage was, I regret to say, serious. I have had the opportunity of visiting some parts of the afflicted area where I met the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).

The Committee may wish to have some information about the extent of the damage in order to justify this Supplementary Estimate. The approximate estimates of the damage are as follows: in Orkney, damage to agricultural property, £451,230 and damage to other private property £35,761, making a total of £486,991; Caithness, damage to agricultural property, £219,469, and damage to other private property £12,000, making a total of £231,469; and, in Sutherland, the estimate of damage to agricultural property and other private property together amounted to £15,000, a total of £733,460.

In addition there was damage to Government-owned property, not of course coming within the scope of this appeal. The Committee may be interested to know that further damage consisted, apart from local authority property, of damage to the property of the General Post Office amounting to £28,500, the Scottish Gas Board £250, the North Eastern Regional Hospital Board £920, and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board £7,000.

As the Committee will no doubt know, local appeals were issued in Orkney and Caithness for assistance to those who had suffered and, after consultation with me, the Lord Provosts decided to make a national appeal for funds to assist those local efforts. After we had received some preliminary reports of the extent of the damage, the Government thought it would be a proper and right thing to do to assist, and decided to make an Exchequer contribution to the Lord Provosts' appeal of a sum of £20,000, to which we now ask the Committee to agree in this Supplementary Estimate. The Committee would like to know that all the money collected in response to the national appeal has now been distributed to the local committees in the three counties, who have agreed to conform generally to certain conditions under which they will carry out distribution of these funds.

The total amount subscribed to the funds is as follows: the local Orkney Appeal Fund £17,879, Caithness £217, Sutherland £456 and the national appeal £39,011. On the 29th February the Lord Provosts decided that, including the advances they had made previously to the local funds, to help them tide over the initial difficulties of the period, the national fund should be divided as follows: Orkney £22,161, Caithness £14,750 and Sutherland £2,100, making a total of £39,000, and those payments were made to the three counties last week.

I know that the damage to the agricultural industry in the three counties was very serious, and I realise that some time may elapse before the normal level of agricultural production can be restored. That applies in particular to the poultry industry, where there was serious damage when hen houses were blown away, the poultry, unfortunately, being in the houses at the time of the disaster. But I think it will be possible, with the assistance which is being given, to overcome these difficulties and to carry out repairs which are necessary.

The really important requirements from the local point of view are adequate supplies of materials for the repair of buildings and fodder for livestock. The Government Departments concerned took steps immediately to see that materials and fodder supplies were laid down, and I hope I am right in believing that these arrangements have worked in a satisfactory manner, and the necessary supplies made available.

I can assure the Committee that I have not received complaints on this score, but if there are any it is certainly my desire and the desire of the Department to do everything in our power to see that these difficulties are overcome and the necessary supplies made available because we all realise that that is essential in order to restore agricultural productivity at the earliest possible moment. It would be a very retrograde step if farmers and crofters in the Orkneys or in Caithness and Sutherland were forced to send livestock to the markets at a prematurely early time instead of retaining them and fattening them. Everything possible is being done to avoid that sort of thing.

I have informed the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) recently, in a letter, that if, in the next few months, convincing evidence should be forthcoming to show that financial difficulties are retarding agricultural recovery, I shall be very glad to examine the position once again, but I hope and believe that, in spite of the very serious losses and difficulties which confront the farmers in particular, they are making good headway.

As I have said before, although not in this Committee, I was really impressed with the remarkable determination and spirit shown by the people whom I visited and saw—their determination to restore the damage and to get things going again, and to get on with the job. I certainly wish them well, as I am sure the whole Committee will do, in restoring the position. As I say, I wish to help in any way that I can and the Government can.

I do not think I need tell the Committee all the conditions under which the distribution of the funds will be administered, but I could very briefly give the intention of the local authorities in dealing with these funds. There will be, for example, the provision of extras, beyond what would be provided by local or national assistance, to enable persons who have suffered loss to resume their normal lives. There will be the supply or renewal of necessities or home comforts, and of such essentials as are required, and are not provided by either local or national sources, to enable persons to resume their normal occupations.

Tools and other things will be provided to assist those distressed persons who would otherwise be unable to resume their normal activities; and there will also be assistance towards relieving substantial losses incurred by persons where the burden would otherwise be a hardship for those concerned. The county committees are being established to administer the funds locally, and those committees will have full authority to deal with all individual cases. I have no reason to suppose that these arrangements will not work in a satisfactory manner.

As I have said, if they do not, we must look at the matter again, and try our best to help, but I have received a number of communications thanking the Government Departments for what has been done in helping in overcoming these difficulties, and I trust that the schemes and the distribution of the funds will work smoothly. I shall do anything further which is needed, if I can, to assist in this matter. I do not wish to take up a great deal of the Committee's time, so I will conclude now by saying that I hope that the Committee will approve this Supplementary Estimate.

5.34 p.m.

I am sure the Committee will want to join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing sympathy with these people, and more particularly join with him in acknowledging how much courage and resourcefulness the people of the Orkneys and Shetlands, of Caithness and Sutherland, have brought to the rehabilitation of their properties and their lives after this very substantial disaster. But thereabouts, I am afraid, my agreement with the right hon. Gentleman ends.

I do suggest to him that, if such a miserable contribution, after such a substantial disaster, had been offered by a Labour Government, these benches would have been in a frenzy of indignation. I am sure the Committee is glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared later to look at the circumstances if this miserable help proves inadequate, but I want to suggest to him that at this time of the year, from an agricultural point of view, and at this period, from the administrative point of view, of the people's ordinary arrangements, now is the time to give adequate payment.

I do suggest most strongly that when the damage is estimated at £750,000, more or less—and that is a conservative estimate: some of my friends in the Press whom I know to be acute and responsible people have put the estimate much higher, so that £750,000 is a conservative estimate of the extent of the damage—and when the right hon. Gentleman tries to persuade the Committee that £60,000 will be enough to meet the emergencies of this situation, and that the Government's magnanimous and substantial contribution is £20,000—two seventy-fifths of the extent of the damage—the remedy is insufficient to meet the need. Some of my hon. Friends will have a little to say later on about this curious piece of accountancy—the method by which the Government choose to make this miserable sum available; but I shall leave that for the second.

The right hon. Gentleman—I am sure, quite rightly—paid tribute to the work which the officers of the Department have given to these people. I am sure that he did not mean to mislead the Committee, because he is always direct in his submissions, but, if I understand the position correctly, of course this fodder and these supplies which the Department of Agriculture made available—very speedily, I readily acknowledge—to these people were not free gifts.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not, but, in case any body in the Committee thought the Government were being generous, I wanted to make it plain that they have not been generous. They have been helpful; they have been speedy; but they were not generous. The right hon. Gentleman also assured us that he had had no complaints. I am a little surprised about that. My information leads me to the conclusion that, while no one will get very much, some who need it very badly will get nothing at all.

I am told, for example—perhaps hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will corroborate this—that the crofters are being very harshly treated. I am told that on the Island of Hoy the crofters, who suffered very substantial disasters, and are unable to resume their normal occupations, have had no help at all, and have no expectation of help under the conditions laid down. I should be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would assure us he will look again at that point.

As the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee know, the people of those northern areas attracted a good deal of understandable admiration for the way in which they used disposable surpluses at the end of the war and adapted them to their crofting purposes. For instance, they used Army huts. They made improvisations. Not only is this grant of £20,000, measured against the actual damage of £750,000, plainly inadequate, but these improvisations which people were able to make with disposable surplus materials no longer can be made, because that type of material is under tax, and no longer available. We may therefore expect that their expenses will be substantially higher than in the two or three years following the war when they were expanding.

I do not want to run the risk of being thought over-dramatic. I certainly do not want anyone to assume that we as an Opposition are being irresponsible in our criticism. But I literally am pleading with the right hon. Gentleman to say a little more than he has so far been able to say. I will not risk incurring your displeasure, Mr. Bowles, but I must say that a Government which so recently found itself able to make concessions to Surtax payers should not find it too difficult to give more than £20,000 to these hard-working people, upon whose efforts the country literally depends, to meet the results of this substantial disaster.

5.41 p.m.

I join with the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) in pressing on the Secretary of State the truth of the saying,

"He gives twice who gives quickly."
The Secretary of State has indicated that his mind is open to giving us some further aid in Orkney. I hope he will be convinced that we merit further aid, and it would be of very great assistance to the islands if it could be given now.

I also join with the right hon. Member for Greenock in reminding the Secretary of State that in Orkney, and in particular in the outlying islands, a great many of the holdings are crofts, either in the strict sense or in the sense that they are very small holdings even though they may be owner-occupied. Those people have no resources to fall back on in a disaster of this kind, and they merit great consideration.

It is certainly not my business either to weary the Committee with what is, to a certain extent, a local matter, or to attempt to harrow the Committee with exaggerated stories of our troubles. Nevertheless, this was a very serious disaster for this small group of islands; it did a great deal of damage to many people who have few, if any, resources. I quite agree that it may be very difficult to judge the standard of aid to give, but it struck me at the time that the aid was small.

It so happens that at that time I had put down a Question about the amount of money spent on the repairing and rebuilding of this Palace of Westminster, and I was told that since the end of the war £3 million has been spent in that way. There are many people in Orkney and Shetland who feel that the production of those islands is in many respects preferable to the production of this Palace. I do not know whether that is a fair comparison, but the aid we are to be given is certainly small when compared with the amounts spent in other directions.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing the gratitude of these people for the help that has been given; they are very grateful to the Lords Provost and all those who have subscribed to the fund, many of them having little or no connection with the islands. We are very grateful, too, to the Secretary of State, who certainly came up and gave us some help at once. Far be it from me to belittle the help given, but there is a very big discrepancy between the damage, estimated at £500,000 or more, and the £40,000 which is about the total we shall be getting to meet it.

There are certain misconceptions which I wish to clear out of the way. The average Orcadian is not going round begging for assistance and doing nothing himself. That is very far from being the case. I live next door to a small farm run by an old lady and two boys. Their garage disappeared, their henhouses disappeared and the roof is off their byre, but they have never once complained; they have never once asked me to try to get assistance or to help them in any way. On the contrary, I have eaten six or seven of their hens killed in the gale and have had the greatest difficulty in persuading them to take any payment. Let us, therefore, discard the idea that the Orcadians are not helping themselves.

There is also an impression in certain parts of Scotland that Orkney is very wealthy. The Orcadians are a hard-working people; they have broken their farms out of hard land, and they did a lot of it before the days of tractors; a lot of Orkney has been made by a man and a horse working 10, 12 and 14 hours a day. Anyone who goes around, as I have, and talks to them about their damage will not find that they are making big profits or that they have big reserves. On the contrary, their reserves are in their buildings and stock. Certainly they have not big sums of money to fall back on.

This is also a matter of some national importance, because we produce 50 million to 60 million eggs for Britain and a lot of cattle, and it will be a set-back for the country as a whole if that production is permanently affected. Certainly there are bound to be serious effects on the poultry industry, but we should do all we can to minimise them.

It is extremely difficult ever to estimate the amount of damage or the amount that we might expect from the Government towards repairing the damage. There is agricultural damage; damage to fisheries, lobster fishermen, and so on; many houses have been destroyed—ten in Stromness alone—and many others have their roofs off. I would say that the estimated figure is probably the minimum. Many people have not made claims and many others will not be able to estimate their damage for many years, because there will be secondary effects owing to lack of fodder, for instance, and the difficulty in repairing buildings during the bad weather since the gale; those effects will be felt for a very long time. The £40,000, which I think is the total of the Government grant—

The total is approximately £57,000 local and national: £39,000 national, plus about £18,000 of other amounts.

I had left out the amount we subscribed ourselves: call it £60,000, then. From going round and making what investigations I can, I am honestly satisfied that that will not go more than half-way towards meeting the real cases of hardship far less to putting the county back to full production. The Government may say it is not their business to meet the real cases of hardship, although I think they would at least like to try to do so. I know of smallholders who have suffered damage estimated at about £500 who will not get half that. I do not know how many there are, but there are certainly some. This aid will not enable the Orkney to get back into anything like full production for some time.

I should like to cite two cases, because I think they provide good illustrations. One concerns a farm which the Secretary of State himself saw. It is a big poultry farm, the damage to which is estimated to be £1,000. Now that man does not want a grant, but he does want a loan. He must have a loan if he is to get back into production, but at present he is finding it very difficult to get that loan, and he would in any case have to pay a very high rate of interest. Another man had his seed oats blown away, and has lost some of his fodder. He has gathered up a certain amount, but the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary of State will appreciate that it is all wet, and will not be of very much value.

The Secretary of State said he would be sorry to hear of beasts being sold off because of lack of fodder, but last Monday morning when I was at his farm that man was at the market selling off his beasts because he cannot feed them. That is one case. I do not know how many other similar cases there are. This will be a continuing problem for some months, as the Secretary of State will understand, with men finding that they can no longer keep their beasts, or that the damage to the roof has gone too far, and so on.

I suggest to the Secretary of State that if he could increase the grant by a small amount now he would do a great deal to meet the cases of real hardship, and, what I think is as important: could he not consider making available some comparatively easy loans? I think that that would be a good thing not only from a local but from a national point of view: it would enable the farmer who is not reduced to real hardship to get back to full production.

A man wants to help himself. He wants to put back the roof on his byre and on his house, and he will do all he can to help himself, but he must have some assistance by way of working capital. Cannot the Secretary of State consider making loans? Lastly, there is the difficulty of tradesmen. There are very few masons available in some of the outer islands and a tremendous amount of work has to be done at this time of the year when the weather permits. We may need assistance from the south to get extra tradesmen and masons to get the roofs back on the buildings.

We are extremely grateful for all the help which has been given to us, but we do not think that it is quite enough.

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask him something that is important? My information is that the local authority of Orkney resents all this fuss being made about their wanting funds to help them. Would he say if he has been approached by the local authority requesting him to ask the Government for an increased grant?

I do not think that the local authority as a body has expressed an opinion. There may be individual members of the authority who have expressed an opinion but, so far as I know, there is no official opinion of the local authority. I can tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I have been approached by several individual people who have laid their cases before me, and I have been to see their holdings. I agree that we do not want to exaggerate this matter and to appear in the guise of general beggars. All we want is assistance over the really hard cases and help to help ourselves. I would agree with him that my estimate of £40,000 or £50,000 as the grant needed for hardship cases is my own estimate. It is the best that I can give. It may not be a correct estimate. But I would say that from any point of view, local, national or any other, some form of assistance in the way of loans would be of the greatest assistance.

We are extremely grateful for the help which has been given and we do not want to come begging to the Government for unnecessary assistance, but we should like to have some further help in the islands so that we can help ourselves to the best of our ability.

5.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to the production of the Orkneys, and I would say that the Orkneys' greatest production has been the very fine men and women which it has turned out over a long period of time. They are hardworking people, and, unhappily, many have had to leave home and seek their livelihood in all parts of the world. Their reputation stands high, and the last thing that anyone would think about them would be that they would beg or seek charity. They are, I am sure, most grateful to the warm-hearted people in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee who rallied to the assistance of the Secretary of State in raising funds for them.

I arrived in my constituency on the morning of the hurricane, and I have never seen worst devastation. I travelled overnight from Glasgow by train and the station authorities at Inverness were surprised the train had got through at all. The hurricane was so bad that they thought that the train might have been blown off the line. I made the journey from Inverness to Wick by road, and before we got to Dingwall we had three or four hold-ups by trees which had been blown across the road. In every wooded area in the region of the hurricane the roads were similarly blocked.

Happily, the hurricane only hit a small part of Great Britain, and it might have hit a much greater part. In my submission, the people who were not affected—and we represent many of them—would have been very pleased indeed to meet all the cost of this disaster, which hit a few and missed 50 million.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) that there was some simmering of indignation on these benches. I worked in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman in trying to get the local authorities to organise assistance, and in Sutherland they did that. The county council and the town council of Dornoch met together and appointed the Lord Lieutenant as a member of a committee to organise assistance. In Caithness they set up a similar organisation.

I think that there was a feeling among some who were responsible for the organisation in Caithness that there were many who did not need the money at all. I, who have the honour of representing the people, knew that there were many crofters and small farmers who had suffered greatly.

I spent some days travelling about the countryside to find out the extent of the damage. Reports were slow in coming in because of the number of telegraph poles and telephone lines which were down. Those that were standing carried bushels of straw entangled in the wires which had been blown on to them by the gale. In spite of all this, I never saw a more heartening sight than the way those people were trying to help themselves. Men, women and children were working all hours, and even in the darkness, by the aid of oil lamps. They were salvaging their crops and stocks and remaking their haystacks.

I wonder if the Committee realise that almost every haystack in the county was blown down. At Bettyhill, the hall where I and my political opponents have held so many Election meetings was completely flattened. It was a great and serious matter for these people, and when I got back here on 29th January, Mr. Speaker was so impressed by the urgency of the matter that he permitted me to ask a Private Notice Question.

I asked for £500,000. I did not know then what the damage was, and I may have asked for too much, but it was better to be on the right side rather than on the side of the Treasury, because I feel the hand of the Treasury in this. Everyone who knows the Secretary of State for Scotland is certain that it is not his doing. He is the instrument of inflicting Treasury policy on the country, and I believe that the fact that these great cities, which are so famous for their generosity, produced so little as £19,000 was because they realised that this burden should have been borne by all the people.

It would have been a very small contribution, even in these times when we are facing so many difficulties and trying to restore the value of the £. I believe that every man, woman and child in Great Britain would have been only too pleased to feel that they could assist in alleviating the sufferings of these very gallant people, who live in a severe climate and who have so many handicaps, by meeting all their losses. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to make an assault on the Treasury. He came here today asking for the Committee's approval for £20,000. I believe that the Committee would give him approval for the whole amount of the damage.

My right hon. Friend made no reference to local authority damage. I wonder how he thinks the little bankrupt burgh of Wick will meet its damage. Will it mean another 2s. in the £ on the rates? The burgh is already struggling to put its finances in order. I beg my right hon. Friend to take courage and make a determined assault on the Treasury. If he does I am sure that he will have the whole Committee behind him.

6.1 p.m.

Many of us agree with hon. Members whose constituents have been affected that the amount being provided is very niggardly. If I understood the figures correctly, the Secretary of State estimates the loss in these three areas at about £750,000, and the sum collected up to date from all sources at around £60,000. A rapid calculation indicates that there has been collected from the various sources 7 per cent. of all the damage which has already been estimated.

I understand that the crofters have made an appeal to the Secretary of State for help, and my information is that they were informed that there was no fund from which they could be assisted. I hope we may be told whether that is the case. If it is the case, it is a very serious matter for those crofters.

They are, of course, in the same position as others who have suffered damage, in that they can make application to the local committee administering the fund.

That puts it in a better light, but if in all the funds there is only enough to cover 7 per cent. of the estimated damage, the crofters and the others will be very hard hit indeed.

Everyone has agreed that the £20,000 is niggardly, but what are we really geting from the Home Department? We are not getting £20,000 from the Department or from the Treasury; we are getting the miserly sum of £10. That is, all the extra money which is being given. If they look at the Estimates hon. Members will find that although £20,000 has been given to the Lord Provost's Fund, the Supplementary Estimate is for only £10.

Hon. Members may wish to know where we get the other £19,990. They will find that this comes from an expected saving under Subhead H—"Grants for Physical Training, etc." I was horrified when I saw this, and I am not exaggerating in any way when I say "horrified." For some time I was Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and I know that, for the purposes of physical training and recreation, the provision of playing fields and village halls—

On a point of order. May we know what we can discuss on this Estimate? The hon. Lady is discussing a saving on Vote 27. Is it in order to discuss a saving? Surely it is in order only to discuss the actual money involved.

Further to that point of order. A Supplementary Estimate is the presentation of a two-sided account; on one side there is expenditure and the other side shows where the money has been drawn from. Surely the House has control over all the moneys dealt with by the House and therefore both matters may be discussed.

The hon. Lady is in order. However, we cannot discuss savings. We are actually discussing Class I, Vote III, which deals with the grant to the three counties. The hon. Lady is in order just to refer in passing to the fact that the Vote is only £10, but that is Vote I and not Vote III. She must confine herself to Vote III.

We are asked to accept the Supplementary Estimate, and I wish to point out that we might have grave objection to accepting it because of the way in which it has been made up.

The reason I was so horrified to find that there had been a raid on that fund in order to provide this sum and make the Estimate only £10 was that I knew from my work at the Scottish Office the difficulties we have had in Scotland in meeting the needs of the people. Time and time again we had letters and deputations pleading for more playing fields and village halls.

The hon. Lady is now out of order. She can in passing just refer to the saving on physical training, but she cannot complain about that saving, and to that extent she is out of order.

On a point of order. Is not my hon. Friend fully entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain the saving and to speculate as to where the saving has come from?

No, never on a Supplementary Estimate. I do not know that I quite understand why the Rule is that way, but at all events that is the Rule.

I am very sorry that I cannot ask how the saving was made, particularly as I know that the Department has had to turn down many people who needed assistance for very important purposes.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) pleaded for a further grant to be made at once by the Home Department. If the Secretary of State decides to make another grant, all I ask is that he should not raid the children's meal service or some other such service. I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that it is at this time that consideration should be given to a further grant and that we should not wait until it is too late and stock which ought to be kept for future purposes has been sold.

6.9 p.m.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speed and efficiency with which he responded to the occasion. It is very unusual for a Government Department to act as quickly as did the Department and also my right hon. Friend.

I was once the victim of a political hurricane in Caithness and Sutherland, a very long time ago, before my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) came to that constituency and avenged me.

I have been watching this situation with a certain amount of anxiety because I naturally felt that £20,000 was a very small sum when compared with the estimates of damage. My knowledge of the local people made me realise that they were not the sort who would ask for charity. If they could do for themselves without asking for charity they would do so. After the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I think it is possible that there may be hardship which the Government and the local authorities are not finding because people are not telling.

My second point, therefore, is this. Is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that he has officials up there who are finding out the exact state of affairs? Is he quite satisfied that he has enough liaison either with the local people or with the officials up there to enable him to secure a report on the exact state of affairs and not rely on the representations of others? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has one story and Members from other areas concerned have presented a different set of facts. I should like to be assured that my right hon. Friend has the whole story, and if it is found on investigation that there is real need still existing, I hope he will remember his promise to give further assistance.

My right hon. Friend, in his speech, said that in a letter to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland he had offered to consider giving further help. Nobody else knows what is in that letter. Would it be possible for him to publish the contents in some form so that everybody, particularly those in the area requiring further help, would know that there was this promise of further consideration should the facts warrant it? Under those circumstances we could be assured that this hurricane damage, which has done so much harm to agriculture, could be put right by the valiant efforts of the people themselves assisted not only by the local people but by the Government.

There are precedents for hurricane relief. In the Colonial Office Estimates almost every year we find hurricane damage relief in Fiji, Jamaica, the West Indies and other parts of the world. In those Estimates in the last 20 years—

The hon. and gallant Member must be very quick on that point, too.

I agree, Mr. Bowles. There are precedents for offering hurricane relief on our own Estimates, and that is a precedent which my right hon. Friend could well follow.

6.14 p.m.

The lines of dramatic irony in "Macbeth":

"The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements."
could be aptly applied to the entry of the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) into our debate. His entry under the Highland battlements is far from auspicious or helpful. He is about as relevant to Highland people and places as this £20,000 is to the over £733,000 damage and the need of the hurricane victims in these Highland and Island counties.

I want to pay tribute to the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who so well represented the true attitude of the constituencies concerned in this matter. I have met many Highland people recently, including the public representatives of those areas concerned and of Caithness and Sutherland, and I can say quite honestly that I have not had a single complaint made to me or any request for money help. I have not heard any request to anyone to intervene directly to give financial help for the distress which these people have suffered. There has been distress and there still is, and all the damage has not yet been revealed.

But one of the most striking things about this disaster—and it was a aster for many—is the fact that the local people themselves were the very last to make any request to the country and to the Government for some assistance to meet their difficulties. On the other hand, I do not think that the Government were in any way gallant or represented the real feelings of the House of Commons and the country in treating the silent suffering, or shall I say dignified forbearance, of these areas with such financial contempt. I do not wish to get out of order on the question of the details of the way in which the money was pinched—that, I think, is the right word; that is the ethical level of the wangle of figures—

—that makes up this utterly inadequate figure of £20,000.

In passing, it just means that if, say, Shetland or Caithness want a playing field or something provided under the welfare scheme, for which this money was originally voted, they will be told there are no further grants from the £19,990, and so another injustice will be added to the effects of the hurricane. If they want any welfare or physical training or village hall grants from this fund, which makes up the £20,000, then they will be told, "You cannot have it; and you can add that refusal to the hurricane damage." This is a most pathetic device for finding £20,000 even at this time and even by this Government.

I will not assist the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) in minimising the importance of the present Secretary of State as he shrinks under Treasury pressure. We in the Highlands have had hard experience of the harshness of the Treasury under many Governments, but this was the worst possible way of raising this money because it was robbing quite a number of poor local Peters to pay a number of poor local Pauls; and possibly the same Peters and Pauls.

Before the hon. Member proceeds with his allegation that we have been robbing somebody to provide this fund, it might be as well if both he and the Committee understood that that is not what is happening at all. These moneys were unexpended balances under another Vote and they have been transferred for this purpose. To go into details has already been ruled out of order, but I might explain that this is what might be called a method of bookkeeping, and does not mean that the taxpayer does not provide the £20,000.

It is more like a method of bookmaking than of bookkeeping. This was money which was voted by the previous Government for a specific purpose and because it was left unexpended when the Labour Government went from office, this Government took it, with half a year still in which to spend it.

The hon. Member may be interesting, but he is not strictly in order.

I was trying to keep in order; and I take it that the reply of the right hon. Gentleman is also out of order.

I hope he will not squander this last £10 in some frivolous extravaganza of profligacy to celebrate the passing of this proposal as the end of any further need to help the Highlands and Islands. If the people in the Islands and Caithness have met this disaster with a dignified forbearance and almost with silence—certainly they were silent so far as the county council are concerned—we should have been led to go to the other extreme of offering them dignified assistance on a scale of decency, rather than insult them with this niggardly offering.

Please let us not take silence as the measure of the need. I am sure that this Committee would have passed without question an adequate, even generous, grant of assistance. I invite any Member of any side of the Committee to say whether that is not so. No question of political controversy arises and no question of breaking the Treasury or any threat to national solvency. The right hon. Gentleman has still time to come forward and try to be more generous in this matter. I am not going to accuse him personally of lack of generosity, but I suggest that the question ought to be approached again with the support of at least equally influential Cabinet colleagues in order to bring the scale of assistance to something commensurate with the need.

Let us not take the forbearance in misfortune of these areas as any measure of their need. I hope that the Committee will urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the need for reconsideration, because this kind of economy is unworthy of the House of Commons and of the right hon. Gentleman himself.

6.22 p.m.

The Committee are being a little less than fair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in censuring his action in connection with the disaster in Orkney and Shetland. He acted with great promptness in going up there and he made an immediate grant of £20,000. When he was there he made it clear that other assistance would be given. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I would refer to the speeches made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson).

They are a proud people in Orkney and Shetland and in the North, and it may well be that the full facts have not come before the Minister. This debate will serve a useful purpose in making it clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland, as he has said tonight, will give full consideration to any claims that may be made. A suggestion has been made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland which it is thought would be far more acceptable to many of the independent Northerners. I hope that it will go on record that our Secretary of State has done all that lies in his power and has shown great sympathy over this disaster, which we all regret so much.

6.24 p.m.

I would not like it to be thought by the country that we in this Committee are being irresponsible in raising this matter. If I thought for a minute that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government had done everything in their power, I would be silent. It is because we feel that enough has not been done that we are speaking tonight.

Look at the Estimate. The extent of the sacrifice which the country is being called upon to make to help the people who suffered is £10. That is the Supplementary Estimate. We had a disaster. One hon. Gentleman has suggested that we should not speak about this matter because the people of Orkney and Shetland have not raised their voices. Because people are not vocal about their sufferings is no reason why this Committee should avoid its responsibility of helping where need is required.

At this time of the year, every Member of this House is deluged with memoranda from pressure groups asking for financial assistance through the Budget, and very often getting it. The people of the Orkneys are not the least independent of the independent folk of these islands, and the fact that they have not pleaded with us does not mean that we should not recognise that something has to be done.

That need has been proved by the Secretary of State for Scotland himself. He said that later he might examine the position once again. Those were his words. Surely on the facts that he has already told us—and they were very grudgingly and ungraciously accepted by the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan)—the damage amounted to at least £750,000. He neglected local authority damage, building damage at the post office, and everything else like that. [Interruption.] I am not going to presume to teach arithmetical calculation to the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South.

Because I select my pupils. One thing on which there is no doubt at all is that the actual amount which is being raised in various ways, including the £20,000 by the Government, to offset the damage will total just over £60,000. [Interruption.] If the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South, who has already addressed us and entertained us, has anything to say, I will be very glad to give way to allow him to speak. He failed to enlighten us very much about what he wanted when he spoke, and I do not think he can do it any better by sitting there and just mumbling. On the figures of what is being raised to offset this immediate hardship, the Secretary of State for Scotland should have already re-examined the position.

We have another responsibility in this Committee. We have to look after the traditions of Britain, which has a very proud tradition of not waiting to reexamine a position when facts are there in front of us. There was a hurricane in Jamaica. The amount given was well over £1 million, if I remember aright. There was flooding in Canada not so long ago, and immediate help came from this country.

People might begin to wonder whether it is distance from these islands that is the measure of the help that should be given, but even that does not bear examination when we recollect that it is not so many years ago—a matter of two or three—that the same Department had to deal with flooding in South-East Scotland. I wish that the Secretary of State would refresh his mind on the amount of financial assistance that was given at that time. He will find that it was a good deal more than the miserable £20,000. I sincerely hope—

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Border floods, the help was £20,000.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman remembers that although £20,000 was given in cash, the Minister at that time did much else, both in agriculture and engineering, to deal with drainage, reduction of flooding, and re-channelling. The facts are in the possession of the Department.

The facts which I have put forward about the help given on that occasion show that it was comparable to the extent of the disaster, and prove that even then the Labour Government of that time did far more than is being done by the present Minister and by the Government. In the light of the facts about the other part of the Estimate, how the assistance is being provided and where the money is coming from, it is really disgraceful.

Is the hon. Member suggesting that the money does not come out of the pockets of the taxpayers?

No, I am suggesting that it is coming out of the pockets of the taxpayers.

However, the extent of the additional sacrifice which people are being asked to bear is exactly £10. which is the amount of this Estimate. It cannot be talked away. It says there that the total of the additional sum required is £10 which is not budgeted for. So I do not agree with those people who talk about being less than fair to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman; I blame the Government. I do hope, however, that he will attack severely any Treasury obstacle that remains when, having re-examined the position, he appreciates that more help has to be given.

It was my good fortune, during the war, for some considerable time to be in the part of the world which has been stricken, so I know the kind of people they are. They are the kind of people who help themselves with whatever lies at hand or they can get. They do not wait for help. They have already started on this task, but it is not just their task. What these people produce is part of the wealth of the entire country and it is vital to us at the present time. We cannot afford to let them work with inadequate equipment.

The Secretary of State said he has sent materials and fodder, but those things are no good unless the people have the financial backing to acquire them. From what we have already been told, it is apparent that financial help is not there at the present time. So from every point of view the Secretary of State for Scotland must re-examine this position and give additional help to that part of the country.

6.32 p.m.

I intervene merely because there is a question of principle involved which should be discussed. Of course I support the Estimate, but it comes at the wrong time, in the wrong way and for the wrong amount. It involves considerations which are ethical and strategic as well as economic. I think the Committee will agree with me when I say that it is a disgraceful thing that a visitation of Providence which has done so much damage to a part of Britain should be left to be dealt with by private philanthropy. It is quite wrong. It should have been dealt with by the House of Commons long ago on a national basis and in a more generous and fitting way.

There are two or three questions I want to put to the Secretary of State which I hope will be answered by whoever replies to this debate. Why was this matter not dealt with at the time of or immediately after the devastation? Why now are we being asked to vote this comparatively trivial amount, an amount which is quite disproportionate to the damage done?

If, as I gather, the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that this sum should be increased, it is not in order to do so.

I am arguing, as previous speakers in this debate have argued, that the sum which it is proposed to vote is quite disproportionate to the damage done. The figures were given by the Secretary of State without any objection on the part of the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the damage amounted to £783,000, while £57,000 was subscribed by private charity—a sum which is merely one-fourteenth of the damage done—and now this Committee is being asked to vote a sum to make up the estimate. My argument is that the sum we are being asked to vote is quite disproportionate to the damage, that it is inadequate and that the Secretary of State should explain to the Committee—

If the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman is that this sum of £20,000 should be increased, it is out of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Hopkin Morris. Are you ruling that the hon. and learned Member will be out of order if he argues that the sum allocated is too small?

If the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing that the sum allocated should be increased, that would be out of order.

With respect, Mr. Hopkin Morris, it seems to me to be playing with words. My argument is that what we are asked to vote is much too small for the purpose for which it is intended. I am addressing the following questions to the Secretary of State: why was this not done earlier? Why was it not done at the time of the damage? Why is the sum—I will not say "not larger" but so small? And why has not the Secretary of State asked Parliament at a much earlier time for the money for this purpose?

I venture to suggest to the Committee that in no other country would such a state of affairs, where part of Britain has been damaged in this way and no attempt made until today to deal with it in an official way, be tolerated. That, as a matter of principle, is entirely wrong and the Committee should not tolerate it.

6.38 p.m.

Before I deal with other points, I want to say to the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) that the intention of the Government to make this grant was announced 10 days after the storm occurred. It so happens that this Estimate might have come before the Committee some days ago, but it did not do so owing to a discussion on another Supplementary Estimate, although I was waiting anxiously and patiently. It is not due to any dilatoriness on the part of the Government, because we announced our intention; and I have now come to the Committee in the hope that it will be approved.

Do I take it that the local committees are already set up for the disbursement of this money? Or are they still to be set up? It is no use agreeing the principle if the vehicle of expression has been given no attention.

The money has already been sent and it was distributed last week to the three local committees in the different counties.

At the outset I want to deal with another point which has been mentioned by several hon. Members this evening. I do not wish to get out of order, Mr. Hopkin Morris, but with regard to the method of accounting or estimating I wish to make it clear that the Government contribution to the fund is £20,000. Therefore, £20,000 of the taxpayers' money goes to the relief of distress in Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland.

That is what matters and I hope that is not out of order. It is not being stolen from other funds. The truth is that the other Estimate, if I may refer to it, was under-spent, not through any fault of my own. Therefore, the money would only have gone back to the Treasury. This is, I say, a form of accounting—

—but the point is that it had been voted to the Scottish Home Department and if we had handed it back to the Treasury we should have had to get it back from the Treasury again. It is fairly simple.

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain to the Committee if the intention of the Government was that £20,000 should be made available to the Orkney fund provided that he saved £19,990 from some other fund, or did the Government mean to give an additional £20,000?

There is another point, before the right hon. Gentleman answers that. He has tried to say that this money was not spent. Can he tell the Committee the number of miners in Fifeshire who are through from Lanarkshire and have no place in which to meet, and of the many other people who could well have used the whole of the £50,000 under that Vote?

Lots of other people could have used it—the hon. Lady knows that. It was voted by Parliament for a specific purpose, and it was underspent. The point is that the fund is getting the £20,000 and that is what we are discussing.

The right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) referred to this assistance as being a miserable contribution—

—but as he knows, it is public money. It has not yet been distributed. I informed the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland in a letter that we could look at the matter later when the distribution and administration of the fund was more further advanced. If my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) wishes to have a copy of the letter, I do not think the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland would object.

I have no objection to that. There is nothing secret about it. It was a letter to the hon. Member, who has written and spoken to me on the subject. I endeavoured to explain earlier what I said. I said something to the effect that if in the next few months there is convincing evidence that financial difficulties are retarding agricultural recovery, I shall be prepared to examine the position again.

A great deal has been said tonight about letters and some Members, at least, have said that nobody has asked for money. Some people think that the crofters on the Island of Hoy have suffered a great deal of damage, that many of them will have to leave the island, and that this will lead to a further depopulation of the island. Has the right hon. Gentleman been appealed to on behalf of the crofters, and has he replied in another letter, which has not been quoted, saying that there is no fund from which any money can be given to help them to rebuild their houses and to re-roof their premises?

No such reply has been sent to the crofters. The Island of Hoy was pointed out to me as we passed by, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is well in the minds of those who are responsible for the administration of the fund and that the crofters on Hoy or elsewhere are just as much entitled as anybody to apply to the fund for assistance for those who are in need.

The main points which have been raised are to the effect that more should be given. I have dealt with that, because, as I have said, the existing funds have not yet been distributed. Therefore, it would not be right or proper for me or for anyone else to suggest that further public money should be made available at this stage.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked one or two questions, to which I should like to refer. I agree with most of his remarks but I am sure that the local committees, who know the local problem and difficulties, are the right people to handle these funds and that they will do so sympathetically. I am sure that the hon. Member would agree. The funds at present at their disposal have not yet been distributed in full, and I think we should await any further consideration until we see how it goes.

The hon. Member referred to credit facilities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred recently to the need for all engaged in agriculture to have adequate credit facilities. The banks are aware of that and I am sure that, locally, they will do what they can to assist. I agree that those who are repairing damage and the farming community generally who have suffered in Orkney and elsewhere, may require additional assistance in the way of borrowings during the current year and, perhaps, next year.

I have in mind rather interest-free loans or a reduced rate of interest. Will the Secretary of State be giving instructions to banks? I have provided him with details of a case in which it appears that they have not felt able to give the facilities which, he admits, are necessary.

I will approach, if not attack, the Treasury on that subject and I will endeavour to see that that matter is handled.

The hon. Member referred in particular to building and roofing materials, and on that I am in full agreement with him. We have been hoping that local merchants have been able to maintain supplies and that adequate supplies have been sent to them. If there are any cases where merchants locally are short of roofing, building materials, and so forth, I will certainly do anything further that I can to assist if the hon. Member will communicate with me.

I hope the Committee will agree that we have covered most of the ground. I only say, once again, that I view with the greatest sympathy all those who have suffered damage. I will do anything further than I can to help, and I am sure that I express the views of the whole Committee when I say that those who have suffered damage through the serious gale have the Committee's good wishes and sympathy. I hope that the Committee will be prepared to agree to the Estimate.

I greatly regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not found in his vocabulary one sentence to indicate that he will consider at an early date the inadequacies which may arise from this contribution.

I have repeated what I wrote to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, and I have stated more than once that the existing funds have not yet been distributed in full. A cer- tain amount has been distributed to needy cases. Surely, it is only sound business, particularly in dealing with public funds, to see if, and what, further help is required before we make up our minds.

The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech and in the letter that he would be prepared to look at the matter again in some months. We are now in March. If anything is to be done in the current season, it will have to be done quickly. I cannot conceal the feelings of my hon. and right hon. Friends that he has been unable to go further.

Let me put one specific point to the right hon. Gentleman. I readily accept his assurance to my right hon. Friend that he has not told crofters in the Island of Hoy that no funds are available to them. So that no further misunderstanding may arise, will he assure the Committee that the crofters in Hoy who have suffered damage to their property, and particularly to their homes, will have funds made available from these sources for such purposes as the re-roofing of their homes and the repair of damage that arose from the hurricane?

I thought I had answered the point. Certainly, they are in the same position as others. They should make application to the local Orkney committee administering the relief fund, and I am sure that the applications will be sympathetically considered. My Department and I are not dealing with the distribution of the funds, which, as I have said, have been distributed on a fair basis between the three counties. The local county committees will deal with the applications and hardship cases and will distribute the funds.

Question put, and agreed to.


That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1952, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland and of the Scottish Home Department, and the salary of a Minister of State; expenses in connection with private legislation; expenses on, and subsidies for, certain transport services; grants in connection with physical training and recreation, coast protection works, services in Development Areas, &c.; grants and expenses in connection with services relating to children and young persons and with probation services; certain grants in aid; and sundry other services.