HC Deb 07 May 1969 vol 783 cc456-8
Mr. Will Owen

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement on the rail accident at Morpeth earlier today.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

Yes, Sir. I very much regret to inform the House that at 01.31 this morning the 19.40 sleeping car train from King's Cross to Aberdeen became derailed at Morpeth, Northumberland. Reported casualties are seven killed and 94 injured, but these figures have not yet been finally confirmed.

I know that the House will join with me in expressing sincere sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives and with the injured.

The emergency services were called for at once and the first ambulance arrived on the scene within nine minutes of the accident, a most creditable performance.

I am not able at this stage to inform the House of the cause of this tragic accident, but my Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways is at the site now and a public inquiry will be held as soon as possible.

Mr. Owen

I am sure that the House will join with me in my right hon. Friend's expression of sympathy to the relatives of those who have lost their lives or who have been injured in this regrettable accident.

It is at this moment too early to comment upon the cause of the accident, but I hope that the inquiry will help to remove some of the rumours circulating this morning.

I am sure that the House would further like to convey its admiration to the citizens of Morpeth and the railway workers, and to the public services in the area who have responded so magnificently in this emergency.

Mr. Marsh

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The inquiry will be in public and it will be a full inquiry.

I would certainly support the views which my hon. Friend has expressed on the remarkable speed and efficiency of the local services, including the police and ambulance services.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware—as, of course, he must be—that I have 24 years' experience of this excellent railway line? Will he say whether this terrible disaster was due to a defect in the railway line or in the train?

Secondly, can he give the names of the Aberdeen passengers who were killed and injured and say what provision is being made for them? I offer my sympathy to all who have suffered by the tragedy.

Mr. Marsh

With the greatest respect, I ask the House not to pursue that line of inquiry. This is a very serious accident. There will be an inquiry into its causes. At the moment, I propose to say nothing beyond that.

Mr. Dewar

I should like to associate myself and, I am sure, everyone in the City of Aberdeen with the expression of sympathy which my right hon. Friend the Minister has made to the families and friends of those who have been so tragically involved in this appalling accident.

My right hon. Friend will, no doubt, be aware that there is quite a deal of widespread concern not only about the specific accident, but about what appears, at least, to have been an increase in the number of derailments recently. Can he give an assurance that the public inquiry will be wide enough in scope to look not only at the specific causes of the accident, but at the general situation in this field as it is at the moment?

Mr. Marsh

The public inquiry will, of course, be able to take into account any factors which it regards as relevant. I stress that, at the moment, no one is in a position to say what caused the accident. In view of its level of gravity, I think that the House would do better to leave the question alone.

Mr. R. W. Elliott

Will the Minister accept from all of us on this side of the House our association with his expression of sympathy with relatives of those who have been bereaved and for the injured? Will he fully appreciate that reports reaching us from the North Country during the course of the day have expressed the greatest admiration for the fire and ambulance services and the hospitals in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington, whose performance in this emergency has been highly commendable?

Mr. Marsh

indicated assent.

Mr. Bessell

Is the Minister aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends on this bench would wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy which have already been paid and to congratulate members of the public services who assisted so admirably and so quickly?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, during the inquiry, special consideration will be given to the question of increased speed of express trains and whether this is a cause, not necessarily in this case, but in general, of derailments?

Mr. Marsh

There will be a full inquiry into this matter. All possibilities will be investigated. Anything arising from that will be better dealt with after we have the report of the inquiry. In addition, there will, of course, be inquests.