HC Deb 10 April 1946 vol 421 cc1932-5

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

105. Mr. SNADDEN—To

ask the Secretary of State for War whether he has any information regarding the cause of the explosion which took place on the night of 6th April, between Dunblane and Doune in the county of Perth, when six ammunition huts blew up resulting in loss of life and damage to property; and what steps he intends to take to allay public anxiety in this respect

At the end of Questions

The Secretary of State for War (Mr.J. J. Lawson)

Mr. Speaker, may I with your permission, and the permission of the House, answer Question 105?

This explosion occurred at nine o'clock on Saturday evening, 6th April, and involved one group of six stacks of ammunition. I regret to say that one civilian was killed and one seriously injured. I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my deep sympathy with their relatives and with the injured man. The cause of this most regrettable accident is not yet known but a court of inquiry is being held.

I would like to take this opportunity of saving that the safety of the public receives the most serious consideration in the measures taken for the storage of the large stocks of ammunition in this country. As a result of these safety measures the rare explosions which have occurred have been confined in nearly every case to the initial stack or group of stacks. I ought to explain that the groups are placed at carefully calculated distances from one another so as to prevent the explosion of one group affecting any of the others.

Mr. Snadden

I am obliged to the Secretary of State for War for having answered this Question. Is he aware of the very great anxiety existing not only in the county of Perth, where vast quantities of high explosives are stored, virtually unguarded, but also in many parts of the country? Will he give an assurance now that steps will be taken immediately to have these ammunition dumps removed to a safer position? While that is going on, will he take urgent steps to see that the military personnel in charge of this vast area of ammunition has proper guards to patrol these areas? It is a very serious question, causing very great anxiety in my part of the country, and I think it requires the most serious investigation.

Mr. Lawson

I am aware of the very great and natural anxiety on this matter of the dumps, particularly arising from this explosion. There are, of course, regular military police patrols of these very large dumps. On the question of removal, I think I ought to say that we have priorities in these matters, and that those, dumps nearest thickly populated areas are the ones that are first removed. I think the House will he interested to know that in the last seven months no less than 250,000 tons of this ammunition has been destroyed.

Mr. Snadden

May I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that I have very good information that the guards are quite inadequate over 600 square miles of ammunition? Would he also bear in mind that at this season of the year the hikers and the holiday makers are beginning to come out into the country districts and that the slightest fire may blow up half the county of Perth? For all I know there may be another explosion this weekend The guards are quite inadequate.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the general anxiety in Perthshire and that ammunition is still being brought into this area in addition to what is already there, which constitutes an unfair danger to Perthshire?

Mr. Lawson

On the question of guards I am already making inquiries. I am not aware that any more ammunition is being brought into Perthshire but I will look into the matter.

Mr. Eden

In view of the importance of the matter not only in regard to Perthshire but other parts of the country, when the Minister has made his inquiry will he make the result of that inquiry public so that we can reassure the public?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, I will certainly consider that.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend's Department take financial responsibility for damage occasioned by this explosion and not seek to evade such responsibility by relying on technical defences by reason of this being explosive used for war purposes?

Mr. Lawson

I would like a particular case to be named in that respect.

Mr. Baldwin

Is the Minister aware that there are thousands of these dumps still being erected in certain parts of England and Wales in holiday making districts? Does he not think the time has come when instead of erecting shelters for the dumps they should be taken out to the North Sea and dumped there?

Mr. Lawson

Owing to the abrupt ending of the war, particularly in regard to Japan, vast stocks of ammunition exist up and down the country. I am not aware that they are being stacked afresh in various parts, but they may be taken from the vicinity of roads and agricultural land which are among the first priorities. We are doing our best to dispose of them as soon as possible and I have given some evidence of that.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a police patrol is nothing like so effective in looking after these dumps as is a regular military guard?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, I am aware of that and I am making inquiries.

Mr. York

Could the Minister give an assurance that dumps containing explosives will be taken out of wayside huts and put into enclosures from which the public can he excluded?

Mr. Lawson

We are doing our best to dispose of them altogether, particularly when they come near roads.