HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc670-2
11. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the board of London Regional Transport to discuss safety standards on London Underground.

Mr. Channon

I met the chairman and managing director of London Underground Limited on 18 April, when he briefed me on the action the Underground is taking following the fire at. King's Cross.

Mr. Cohen

The Secretary of State will have seen London Underground's "103 points for greater safety". While that contains many good points—begging the question why they were not implemented before—it leaves many problems unsolved. For example, instead of messing around trying to service wooden escalators, should not London Underground replace them, and should not the staff reductions that have made the Underground more dirty and dangerous be reversed immediately? Will the Minister answer the safety points and put up all the money to make the improvements to which I have referred?

Mr. Channon

I am anxious that the Underground should be safe and be seen to be safe. I welcome the 103 suggestions made by London Underground Ltd., covering removal of wooden cladding from escalators, installation of fire-resistant materials in stations and a host of other matters of which the House will be aware. I support what London Underground is doing. There is a question about staffing on the Order Paper, so I shall leave that matter. There is no question of expenditure being a constraint on the Underground carrying out its work. Safety is a top priority.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must be grateful to The Evening Standard for yet again, today and last week, highlighting the dangers revealed in the King's Cross inquiry concerning the regrettable inadequacy and old-fashioned nature of some of the fire prevention equipment on Underground stations, including those in the open air, which can be a greater fire hazard than we often imagine? The existence of a few dilapidated sand buckets at stations is no substitute for ensuring that there is proper fire prevention equipment at frequent intervals. Notwithstanding LRT's direct responsibility in these matters, will my right hon. Friend have further discussions with LRT on this important issue?

Mr. Channon

I am in continuous touch with LRT on this matter. There is to be a new post of senior fire officer in LUL. His first duty is to review the fire equipment and procedures. Under the present rules there is a daily check to ensure that there are extinguishers in each carriage, a fortnightly check by engineering staff and a full annual overhaul. I shall certainly draw London Underground's attention to my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm, or deny, that of the 103 points in the action plan none concerned a recommendation made to London Underground before the King's Cross fire and none was prevented from being implemented because of lack of finance?

Mr. Channon

I made it clear that LRT had taken action on several matters in advance of the investigation, including those that I have raised. There is no question of the inquiry making recommendations yet. We shall have to see what recommendations to improve safety emerge from the King's Cross investigation. The House will want to take that matter extremely seriously. In the 12 years before the King's Cross fire there was only one accident involving a passenger fatality in some 35 billion passenger miles travelled. London Underground's safety record should be studied in its entirety.