HC Deb 12 June 1972 vol 838 cc1002-4
Mr. Hamling

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the rail disaster at Eltham last night.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

I very much regret to inform the House that at 9.36 p.m. last night a 10-coach excursion train from Margate to Kentish Town was derailed on the London side of Eltham, Well Hall Station The driver of the diesel locomotive hauling the train was killed; the second man was seriously injured. Three passengers were killed, and 128 were injured and taken to hospital where 39, many of them seriously injured, were detained.

The House will wish to know that I have received a message of sympathy from the Queen, which at Her Majesty's request I have passed on to the Chairman of the Railways Board. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also sent a message to the Chairman. I know that the House will join with me in expressing most deep sympathy with the relatives of those who were killed and with the injured. The police, fire and ambulance services were all on the scene within five minutes of the derailment. I would like to acknowledge the magnificent way in which they and the voluntary services carried out the work of rescue.

I am not able at this stage to inform the House of the cause of this tragic accident. My Chief Inspecting Officer went to the scene early this morning and will be holding a public inquiry as soon as possible.

Mr. Hamling

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy of his reply. Is he aware that we on this side of the House join him and the Government in expressing deep sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives in this tragic crash? Is he aware, further, that we join him in congratulating the police, the fire brigades and the voluntary services for their very prompt help? What is more, Army nurses and doctors were also on the scene very promptly, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman joins us in offering them our thanks. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that there is one very sad aspect of this accident, which is the ghoulish attitude of a lot of people who thronged the scene and made it rather difficult for the rescue services? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will join us in deploring their action.

Mr. Peyton

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. Certainly I intended my thanks to cover all those involved in this very difficult work of rescue. If there were those who took the opportunity to view their terrible occurrence merely as spectators, I can only say that I have received no complaints from the Railways Board. But one can only deplore the fact that people should allow idle curiosity to permit them to get in the way of operations vital to the saving of life.

Mr. Michael Foot

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of sympathy to all those who have suffered in this tragic accident? We congratulate those who worked so successfully to deal with the consequences of it. The right hon. Gentleman said that the inquiry would be in public. I apologise to him if he went on to say so, but will there also be a public report?

Mr. Peyton

I did not say so. The answer is that the inquiry will be in public and will be reported.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the last published annual report of the Chief Inspecting Officer there was an indication or the first improvement for several years in the number of train derailments? Has my right hon. Friend had any indication from the Railways Board about whether this splendid improvement in the general situation is continuing?

Mr. Peyton

I have received no specific indication. At this juncture one can only deeply regret an occurrence such as this which forms a blot on an otherwise very fine record.

Mr. Stallard

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the athletic and social club which organised this outing is in my constituency and that many of the victims are constituents of mine? May I associate myself with the tributes that the right hon. Gentleman has paid and with the expressions of sympathy to the victims and their relatives?

I join in paying tribute to the people in the immediate neighbourhood who gave help after the accident. According to some of my constituents to whom I have spoken, they acted in an excellent manner and provided help and assistance, and I think that we ought to record our thanks to them.

I welcome the statement that there is to be a public inquiry. I do not intend to go into that any more until the findings are known, when perhaps we may have some further exchanges.