HC Deb 29 May 1956 vol 553 cc17-9
22. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for War to make a statement on the fire which occurred at the underground troops assembly centre at Goodge Street, London, on 21st May, 1956, and following days, indicating the number of soldiers who were there at the time of the fire, the units to which they belong, the number, names and units of the persons injured and the extent of the injuries in each case; the present condition of the assembly centre and the damage done to it; and whether he will now finally discontinue the use of this dangerous and unsuitable place as a troops assembly centre.

25. Mr. Gibson

asked the Secretary of State for War to make a statement concerning the fire which occurred in the Goodge Street deep shelter on 22nd May; and whether it is proposed to cease using this shelter as a troops transit camp.

26. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the Secretary of State for War to make a statement On the recent fire in the war-time deep shelter in Tottenham Court Road, with particular reference to what is believed to be the cause of the outbreak.

27. Mrs. L. Jeger

asked the Secretary of State for War to make a statement about the outbreak of fire in the underground troop shelter in Tottenham Court Road; and whether he is prepared to discontinue the future use of this transit centre.

Mr. Head

When this fire broke out there were thirty-one members of the permanent staff and ninety soldiers in transit in the London Assembly Centre. There were no casualties. An inquiry will be held to investigate the causes of the fire. The answers to some of the points raised by hon. Members will, therefore, have to await the results of this inquiry.

Although the full extent of the damage caused by the fire is not yet known, I am satisfied that we should not be justified in spending public money to make the underground portion of the Centre fit for further use as a transit centre. We have for some time been urgently seeking alternative accommodation. This did, and still does, present great difficulties because suitable accommodation in central London is extremely hard to find. For the present we have had to make stopgap arrangements which are far from convenient.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing appreciation of the very fine work of the London Fire Brigade in fighting this fire in extremely adverse conditions.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister realise that he has a duty to young Service men to put them in healthy and safe assembly centres and not in a make-shift place such as this? Does he remember that I have warned him about this place? Will he undertake not to do it again?

Mr. Head

The hon. and learned Gentleman told me that, as I well knew, this was an uncomfortable place to use as a transit centre. Nobody in my Department wanted to use it, but it was a question of finding some accommodaton in central London. As regards the danger of fire, I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is being wise after the event.

Sir F. Medlicott

Can my right hon. Friend say whether smoking was permitted in the shelter, and whether there are any indications that the fire, like so many others, was caused by some careless cigarette smoker?

Mr. Head

That is the subject of a court of inquiry, and we had better await the result of it.

Mr. Gibson

Does the Minister's Answer mean that the War Office will not use the shelter as a transit centre in future? This is a real point in the minds of at any rate some of us who regard it as more like putting soldiers like rats in a cellar than actually housing them. It ought not to be allowed to continue. I did not understand the Minister's Answer and should like to get the point clear. Did he say what I have suggested?

Mr. Head

Yes, I said that.

Air Commodore Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the officials of the camp have in the past made representations to his Department about the unsuitability of the camp?

Mr. Head

I cannot answer that question without notice, but I can tell my hon. and gallant Friend that we were well aware of the defects of the place for a considerable time.