HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1410-2
Mr. Noble

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the hotel fire in Oban, Argyll this morning.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

Just after four o'clock this morning a fire call was received from the police about a fire at the Esplanade Hotel, Oban. The fire station at Oban turned out two fire engines immediately and at the same time summoned assistance which was provided from Lochgilphead and Inveraray. When the Oban fire engines arrived at the hotel they saw flames coming from the upper floors and in the roof of the six-storey building.

A full report on the incident is not yet available, but I regret that it appears that at least nine persons have died and that about 20 are in hospital, some with serious injuries.

I know that the House will wish to express its sympathy with all those who have been bereaved or injured.

The circumstances are being immediately investigated and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will then consider whether a fatal accident inquiry should be arranged.

Mr. Noble

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement? Is he aware that I am glad that an appropriate inquiry will take place in due course? At this stage may I simply express on behalf of my constituents and myself, and particularly those in the Oban area, our deep regret over this tragedy and our sympathy for the relatives of those who died in the fire?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this morning I spoke to the Provost of Oban on the telephone? Is he further aware that I would like to express my gratitude and I am sure that of the House to the fire brigades and the police and hospital services as well as to all the voluntary services and the large number of members of the public who did everything they could to minimise the suffering of those involved?

Mr. Campbell

I am sure that the services will appreciate what my right hon. Friend said.

Mr. William Hannan

While I join in the expression of sympathy and thank the Secretary of State for his statement may I, without trying to prejudice any inquiry, ask whether the Secretary of State recalls the Press concern, expressed in the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman on behalf of some local authorities, over the slowness with which hotels are registering under the Fire Protection (Loans) Act, whereby hotels may obtain loans to carry out fire protection schemes? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the inquiry will be reminded of the circumstances of this Act?

Mr. Campbell

Without commenting on this case, I am aware of the concern expressed. I, too, am concerned that we should proceed with inspections following the Fire Protection (Loans) Act as quickly, and in as orderly a fashion, as possible.

Mr. Carmichael

May I associate the Opposition with the expressions of sympathy, particularly with the relatives of those who died in the fire? May I express the hope that those who were injured will soon recover? Dealing with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan), may I also ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the question—during the inquiry or subsequent to it—whether the loans granted under the Act are sufficient to allow hotels to install adequate fire protection?

Mr. Campbell

I will certainly look into that again.

Mr. Ronald King Murray

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the fire engines had to cover a distance of 40 miles? Will he look into this unsatisfactory situation particularly in view of the large population that Oban has, especially during the summer holiday period?

Mr. Campbell

That is not the case. The hon. and learned Member clearly did not hear what I said at the beginning of my statement. The two fire engines at Oban were on the scene within five minutes of receiving the call. Other fire engines from places nearly 40 miles away came in about an hour to give added assistance.

Mr. William Hamilton

May I ask at this point whether this hotel is conforming with the fire regulations?

Mr. Campbell

That is a matter which will have to be gone into. I cannot at this notice make any comment upon it.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman look rather wider, at the large number of deaths which have taken place through fire in Scotland in the last year or so, with a view to establishing whether there is a common factor? For example, there has been modernisation of old stone buildings. Will he see whether there is a common factor in these terrible tragedies?

Mr. Campbell

There have been a number of fires in Glasgow which have given cause for concern. I take it that that is the area to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring. We are looking for any common factors, and we know of some. There could be more arising from this further fire.