HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 c160
8. Mr. McAllion

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the current level of Army ammunition accidents.

Mr. Freeman

According to Army records, the number of accidents in 1987 involving Army ammunition was 260. Those resulted in 112 injuries and six deaths; four civilians were injured and there were no civilian deaths. The accident rate in 1987 was not significantly different from that of the past 10 years.

Mr. McAllion

I hope that the Minister is sufficiently concerned by those figures, and by recent Army reports showing an increase in the number of accidents caused by lack of supervision and a general increase in the number of accidents among soldiers, to do something about it. Will he tell the House what steps he is prepared to take to ensure that training in the handling of ammunition and supervision of that handling is of the highest possible quality? What steps will he take to ensure that the appropriate authorities — district councils, community councils and environmental groups — are properly and fully consulted before Army exercises in order to minimise the risk of such exercises to the civilian population?

Mr. Freeman

The risk to civilians, as I hope I have shown, in 1987 and for the past 10 years was minimal. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter, and I share his concern. Some 98 per cent. of ammunition accidents are caused by errors in drill by soldiers; only 2 per cent. are attributable to faulty ammunition. Although the statistics show that there has been no great change over the past 10 to 15 years, I can assure him that the Army and the Ministry of Defence take all possible steps to reduce these figures, which, I agree, are too high.

Mr. Stern

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating British Rail on conducting a thorough inquiry into the recent incident involving a munitions train at Stoke Gifford in my constituency, which concluded that the standards of handling of munitions in transit to avoid accidents involving civilians were of the highest and should remain so?

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have always enjoyed close co-operation with British Rail. New regulations are to be introduced shortly, covering not rail but road transport, and I hope that that will improve our accident record still further.