HC Deb 20 February 1969 vol 778 cc765-7

Mr. Gordon Campbell (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the avalanche which occurred in the Cairngorms yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

The avalanche on Cairn Gorm buried nine climbers who formed part of a larger party from Glen-more Lodge engaged on an exercise in winter survival. Those buried were all quickly rescued by local rescue teams.

Of the seven who were injured, the two most seriously hurt were taken by R.A.F. helicopter to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. Six of the injured are still in hospital.

Local services and volunteers operated with great speed and effectiveness, and I am sure that the House would wish to join me in congratulating them on the action they took.

Mr. Campbell I am sure that the House will be relieved to know that no lives were lost, and will hope that the injured will have a rapid recovery. I am sure, also, that the House would wish to express its admiration for the speed and success of the rescue operation, including the services provided by the Royal Air Force.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this episode could have been very much more serious? Now that we have a winter sports and recreation area growing in Scotland, has not the time come for special arrangements to be made by which warning can be issued when there are dangerous conditions during the winter?

Mr. Ross

Warnings had been issued here. They had been set up for a few days, I believe. Because of the importance of this, and also because of the dangers to which the hon. Gentleman referred, some time ago we set up a special review of the liaison necessary between Army headquarters in Scotland and the chief constables in respect of this type of rescue work.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is interest in the Cairngorms in the South of Scotland, as well as in the North? If this accident had happened at the weekend, or during the New Year's holiday, when more than 4,000 people were on the slopes, this might have been a major catastrophe. Will my right hon. Friend see to it that every possible precaution is taken to give warning?

Mr. Ross

I have already said that every precaution is taken to give warning. I think that what we should appreciate is that Glenmore Lodge is run by the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation, and that these were special parties out under experienced people. The chances are that if they had been altogether inexperienced and not working in this way they would not have been out on the mountains.