§ Mr. Speaker
I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ 4.3 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon)
I beg to moveThat this House welcomes the thorough and comprehensive report by Mr. Desmond Fennell QC on the investigation into the King's Cross Underground fire; endorses the Government's commitment to invest in the improvement and modernisation of the Underground and its decision to provide £266m over the next three years for the implementation of the report's recommendations; notes London Regional Transport's constructive response to the report; and looks forward to continuing vigorous action by London Underground to implement its recommendationsThe House will agree that it is right to have a full debate in this House on the Fennell report, but it is also right that it should not have taken place until after London Regional Transport and London Underground had made their formal reply to the report. As the House will know, their reply was published on 6 February and copies were placed in the Library.
The fire at King's Cross Underground station happened on 18 November 1987—more than 16 months ago—but the tragic events of that night are still very much in our minds—and so they should be. The House will not need reminding that the fire resulted in the loss of 31 lives. I know that many are still suffering from the loss of a loved one or were themselves injured and are still trying to come to terms with what happened. I am sure that at least on this I echo the sentiments of the whole House when I once again offer my sympathy to those who have suffered. Also, we must never forget the heroism and sheer professionalism exhibited by many members of the emergency services on that night.
Let me remind the House of the events which followed that terrible tragedy. I appointed an inspector, Mr. Desmond Fennell QC, to carry out a formal investigation. The inquiry sat in public for 91 days, hearing a mass of evidence from 150 witnesses. A number of technical and scientific studies were carried out. I believe that it is generally agreed that Mr. Fennell's report, published on 10 November 1988, when I made a statement to the House, is thorough and comprehensive. It is more than a once-and-for-all prescription for some action to be taken: it calls for continuous vigilance and action, long after the debate has been forgotten.
Mr. Fennell concluded that the fire was caused by a lighted match, which fell through the gap beside the escalator treads and ignited an accumulation of grease and rubbish on the escalator tracks. The fire beneath the escalator spread to the wooden escalator components and then erupted into the booking hall in a flashover. The flashover was attributed to the "trench efect" in which the flames and hot gases are confined within the escalator trench and extend rapidly up it, before bursting upward and outward, at the top of the escalator. This phenomenon, previously unknown, was discovered and explained in the course of the painstaking research commissioned by Mr. Fennell during his work. The message is that nobody responsible for safety can be 916 complacent that all potential hazards have been identified or that the cumulative effect of individually unlikely events can be predicted, let alone ignored.
The report found serious shortcomings within London Regional Transport and London Underground Ltd. which called for a totally new approach to safety management and fire prevention. There were 157 recommendations, the majority of which were directed to LRT or LUL in particular. I accepted the resignations of the senior management and directed the two bodies to institute prompt action. The House will know from their formal reply that the new managements of LRT and LUL have accepted the vast majority of the recommendations which are addressed to them and many have already been implemented. I invite the House to take note of this response as a serious and responsible reaction to the criticisms made.
It would take too long to describe all the measures which are being taken so I shall just summarise the main actions. First, there is the elimination of wooden panelling from escalators. LUL is replacing the wooden skirting boards and balustrades, decking and advertisement panels with metal. I understand that 51 out of the 74 escalators have had their wooden skirting boards and balustrades removed and 23 have had their decking and advertisement panels removed. LUL is also proposing to close temporarily some stations so that this work can be completed by the end of August.
Secondly, there is the introduction of heat detectors and sprinklers beneath escalators. LUL has fitted linear heat detectors and alarm systems to 235 escalators and is aiming to complete the remaining 41 by the end of this month. Smoke detectors have been fitted into 113 escalator machine rooms. Work has now begun on installing sprinklers, and LUL aims to complete this by the end of 1990.
Thirdly, there are to be better below ground radio communication systems available to the emergency services. A VHF radio system has been installed for British Transport police use at 42 Underground stations and it is being enhanced to enable communication with London Underground staff. London Underground, together with the British Transport police and the London fire and civil defence authority, are looking at ways of achieving compatibility with the equipment used by the London Fire Brigade.
Fourthly, there was to be enhanced emergency training for station staff. Station staff now receive fire and safety training every six months. Management and supervisory staff also receive regular refresher training in controlling station emergencies. Fifthly, there was to be liaison with the fire brigade, including joint exercises. These now take place twice yearly. Sixthly, there was to be closer monitoring of statistics and formal reporting up of incident investigations to ensure that trends were identified and action taken. Reports are now considered at director level.
Hon Members have expressed concern about the safety implications of the Underground ticketing system. This was addressed in the Fennell report, which recommended that there should be a review of the proposals. The House will know that the London Underground has recently discovered that in certain circumstances, if one phase of the three-phase power supply system fails, not all the gates will open automatically. London Underground is taking steps to eliminate that remote possibility and should 917 complete the work by the end of June. London Regional Transport has, at our suggestion, appointed independent consultants to carry out the review. It should be completed by the end of April. I shall inform the House of the review's findings and I shall ensure that prompt action will be taken if necessary.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Is the Secretary of State aware just how deeply unpopular the new barriers are to the travelling public in London? It is not just a question of them not opening up in an emergency, as we were given to understand they would. It is that access itself is difficult even if all the barriers are completely open, because they restrict the movement of people throughout the station. Has the Secretary of State gone round and seen for himself what happens at Westminster, for example, at rush hour in the morning?
§ Mr. Channon
Both my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport and I have seen the Underground ticketing system in operation. I accept that it is unpopular with some of the travelling public at this stage, although one cannot estimate how many, and I accept that the unfamiliarity of the system makes it unpopular. However, similar systems have been introduced in many underground systems round the world; I have a full list of those countries if the House is interested. The claims that the barriers are inherently unsafe are not shared by the London fire brigade or the railways inspectorate.
§ Mr. Channon
That is not my view alone, but the view of the London Fire brigade and the railways inspectorate, which are more likely to be expert than the hon. Gentleman or myself.
Whatever views the House may have about the opinions of the London fire brigade or the railways inspectorate, the important point is that consultants are considering the operation of the system. We shall have their report at the end of the month, the House will be able to study the findings and then we shall have to decide on an appropriate course of action.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the central reasons for introducing the barriers in the first place, other than increasing the number of exits, was to tackle fraud, which is estimated to total £25 million, all of which falls on the rail users?
§ Mr. Channon
My hon. Friend makes an important point. My hon. Friend the Minister will deal with the matter in more detail, if the House wants to go into the questions, when we have heard the comments of other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
The public are upset about the barriers not only because they are an inconvenience, but because they are viewed as serious safety risks. The Secretary of State has made the excuse that consultants are being brought in and that a report will be issued shortly. Why did the Secretary of State not stop the installation programme when he agreed to consultants being appointed to look at the safety aspects? Why are yet more harriers being installed while the safety aspects are being 918 considered? If the Government were really interested in safety, they would have stopped that installation programme.
§ Mr. Channon
Mr. Fennell made no suggestion that that should be done. The hon. Gentleman's view, which has also been expressed by other hon. Members, that the Underground ticketing system is unsafe is not shared. Let us wait for the consultants' report. It is evident that the system is, in some ways, likely to enhance safety. The gates, which are made to spring open in emergencies, replace fencing and one or two-manned opening's. Evacuation will be easier in some circumstances. The introduction of gates and ticket machines is often accompained by the redesign of the ticket hall to provide an open area less prone to congestion, and in some stations the barriers will release ticket controllers to give advice and assistance and to look out for problems.
§ Mr. Channon
I must press on. I have already given way three times.
The House will express its views, and hon. Members will hear what the consultants say at the end of April.
The Fennell report highlighted the need for London Regional Transport and London Underground to examine their management structures and introduce an effective and continuing audit of safety. I welcome the establishment of the new safety audit committee, together with the safety services directorate. I am sure that the. House would agree that it is absolutely vital to get a new safety culture. To do that, we must get the new structures right. Further changes may well be required in the future as the new management, under the chairmanship of Mr. Newton, who was appointed only last month, get further to grips with its task.
The safety audit committee established by London Regional Transport will monitor the safety of operation of all the subsidiary companies. The committee reports direct to the LRT board. It is chaired by a non-executive board member. In addition, a safety audit unit has been established within LRT to administer the safety monitoring process.
London Underground has established a safety committee which meets monthly. That committee is also chaired by a non-executive member with a special interest in safety. That director has direct access to the chairman of London Regional Transport. These measures will ensure that any concerns about safety on the Underground can be made known at the very top of LRT. The committee has a wide range of functions, including safety and fire prevention, safety audit reports, as well as reviewing the underground's safety performance in relation to other similar undertakings or industries.
London Underground has also established a safety services unit, which includes a group of safety auditors and advisers, each with a particular speciality, and a safety programmes unit which provides a central focal point for the overall management and co-ordination of its reply to the recommendations of the Fennell report. 919 The lessons from Fennell go wider than just London Underground. Thirty of the recommendations were directed at the emergency services or Government Departments.
On 10 November, I made it clear in my statement that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be making regulations under section 12 of the Fire Precaution Act 1971, specifying fire precautions arrangements for Underground stations. The House will know, or it will wish to know if it does not already, that the consultation process on those regulations is now at an advanced stage and that my right hon. Friend intends to lay them next month. The regulations will encompass a number of Mr. Fennell's recommendations, above all those for the installation of heat detectors and sprinklers in escalators and other areas of high fire risk, for the protection and maintenance of exits so that all of them, including ticket barriers, can be immediately opened, and for the training and provision of staff so that, in an emergency, they know what to do and are there to do it.
I also told the House on 10 November 1988 that the railway inspectorate, with support from the Health and Safety Executive will be conducting a special investigation of London Undergound's safety management systems. This debate gives me the chance to report progress. The study team has now completed its field work and written an early draft of its report. I understand from the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways that further analysis is going well and that the aim is to produce the final text by the end of this month. The report will be published. I have no doubt that any study of that kind is bound to produce important lessons. As the House would expect, I shall want any such lessons acted upon promptly and vigorously.
I now refer to the railway inspectorate. The House will know from the response of my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport to a question by the hon. Member for Truro, (Mr. Taylor) on 13 March that, following a successful recruitment campaign, the inspectorate is now almost at full strength. Only two vacancies remain, and I expect them to be filled within the next couple of months. The chief inspecting officer has been carrying out a review of his staffing resources to see what further manpower needs are necessary in the light of the inspectorate's enhanced health and safety role recommended by Mr. Fennell. Meanwhile, as an interim measure, five additional inspectors are being recruited. The interviewing of candidates has just finished. We shall, of course, be sympathetic to any request for a further strengthening of the railway inspectorate.
I have heard Opposition Members allege that the Government's policies have led LRT to reduce its expenditure on safety. Those allegations are wrong and I reject them.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
That point is central to some of the comments that have been made. When I was a member of the GLC's London transport committee, the capital expenditure projections by the GLC at the time and its projections for further expenditure were substantially less than the amounts that have been spent by the Government. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that capital expenditure now is 60 per cent. higher than was envisaged by the GLC?
§ Mr. Channon
I think that my hon. Friend is right. It is a fact that in every year since 1984 London Regional Transport has been able to spend, more in real terms, on capital investment. As my hon. Friend has just said, in the year that has just finished, London Regional Transport had authority to spend around 60 per cent. more, in real terms, on capital investment than it spent in 1984–85—the last year of GLC funding.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
Is it not right to say that the Government turned down an application from the GLC and reduced its capital expenditure allocation by one third? What the Secretary of State is making a comparison with is not what the GLC wanted to do, by way of capital expenditure, but what the Government allowed it to do.
§ Mr. Channon
The hon. Member is rather changing the tune—we have not heard that particular argument before. In the past, the argument was that we were spending an inadequate amount on capital investment. Whatever were the merits or demerits of GLC control of London Underground, 60 per cent. more, in real terms, is being spent on capital investment than was spent in the last year of GLC funding. LRT's spending level of £365 million —£1million a day—was agreed before the King's Cross fire. That £365 million is the totality, not just the figure for London Underground.
The only point that I am making is that there is no question of the Government's starving LRT or the Underground of the funds it needed before the fire. Indeed, experience has shown that, in the past, they have not been able to spend some of the resources allocated to them by the Government.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
We ought to get the facts correct. It is quite clear that it was the Government who stopped the GLC putting capital investment into the Underground system. The GLC wanted to spend £669 million on transport in 1983–84, but the Government accepted expenditure of only £461 million—capital and revenue.
§ Mr. Channon
I am telling the truth. I am giving the facts of capital investment. What interpretation the hon. Gentleman puts upon what I am saying is a matter of dispute between the two sides of this House. My recollection is that the GLC had plenty of money to spend on subsidising fares, but never had any money for capital investment in the Underground. That is the reality of the situation. The money that was available was spent on reducing fares, but no money was spent on the long-term health of the Underground, and that is something for which the GLC will be condemned.[Interruption.] Well, it is true.
Mr. Fennell's report on this tragic fire explicitly states:In my judgment there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards. I accept the evidence of the most senior management in London Regional Transport and London Underground that if funds were needed, funds were available. There does, however, remain the question of how the available resources were allocated and used by London Underground.
§ Mr. Terry Fields
When we talk about what Fennell had to say, we are getting to the nub of this matter. Fennell said also that the board put more emphasis on performance and profits than on human safety. The avoidable and unnecessary death of my comrade, Station Officer Townsley and others is down to the board and down to this Government—on a par with the spirit of the Herald of Free Enterprise.
§ Mr. Channon
I do not agree with all that the hon. Gentleman says, but I do understand the strength of his feelings about this matter, which he has expressed on many occasions. I am coming on to refer to Fennell's view about the climate that he found in London Underground at the time of the inquiry. His report makes it clear that, sadly, London Underground and LRT had allowed a climate to develop in which safety was not given the priority we should all have wished it to take. The point I am making is that, in his view, the resources that had been made available had been misallocated.
There is now an entirely new management at the top of London Underground, and the climate has changed completely. Fennell exposed major weaknesses, which are being attacked. LRT has made an estimate of the cost of implementation of Fennell's recommendations—some £266 million over the next three years. We have made full provision for that amount, but that is not the end of the matter. That is the point that I want to emphasise to the House again and again. Safety must remain the No. 1 and continuing priority of LRT and the Underground. I am sure that problems will continue to be identified in due course. No doubt we shall have shock-horror stories all over again. If we get them, we shall ensure that London Underground deals effectively and speedily with any new problems that may arise. I want to make it clear, as I have in the past, that finance will not be a barrier to implementing the Fennell recommendations or any additional safety measures that may be identified in due course.
In my view—I think the House will agree—safety includes protection against crime, which is becoming a worrying fact of life on London Underground. As the House knows, the Government published a report in 1986 on "Crime on the London Underground" and provided £15 million additional finance to LUL to implement it.
We also agreed an increase in the complement of the Underground division of the British transport police from 280 to 350 officers and we agreed last year on the recommendation from Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary to an increase in the division's complement by a further 50 officers.
The additional funding has financed the inauguration of an Underground police radio network recognised by the 1986 report asthe single most effective aid to improving the efficiency of Underground policing—and by the Fennell report as an essential facility.
The additional funding has also supported the setting up of new area police stations to allow extension of the home beat policing system commended by the inspector for its effectiveness in the Stockwell area, where the number of robberies has fallen in each of the last three years to half the 1985 figure—contrary to the rising trend elsewhere. New area offices are being opened at Finsbury Park, Wembley Park and Hammersmith. These are important steps, and they are producing results, but the 922 level of crime is far too high and the rising trend of violent crime throughout the system worrying. We shall continue to make combating crime a priority and I shall keep the matter under constant review.
§ Mr. Channon
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I have already given way about 15 times and think that I should press on—[Interruption] I even gave way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) so perhaps the House will allow me to get on a little further.
§ Mr. Channon
Thank you so much—[Laughter.] I am not sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) does.
§ Mr. Channon
Yes, it is indeed serious.
The Government have recognised the central role and strategic importance of the Underground in keeping London moving and sustaining economic growth. Major improvements are needed in the London Underground. system to improve safety, to relieve congestion, to modernise the system, and to provide additional capacity to cope with the future increase in demand.
We must not forget this is the oldest underground railway system in the world and the measures required are expensive; the reconstruction of one station alone, Angel, which many hon. Members know, cost £40 million. That is why we have given approval to yet another significant real increase in the capital expenditure for the Underground in 1989–90—about twice as high in real terms as in 1984–85—to allow LRT to embark on a range of major upgrading projects, including many measures to reduce congestion in stations and on trains.
However, more will need to be done. The central London rail study has identified the need for a major upgrading programme to relieve congestion on the Underground and on Network SouthEast and I shall be taking decisions later this year on the need for new lines through central London to cater for the future. The east London rail study will also shortly be reporting on the best options for improving rail access from central London to docklands and east Thames-side.
Of course I accept that the Underground is congested and that much needs to be done to improve the quality of service. Substantial sums will have to be invested, and I am determined that that will happen. Inevitably, when the investments are made, while the improvements are under way, passengers will suffer some inconvenience, but passengers will not suffer in vain.
It is my intention that London travellers should eventually enjoy a safe, efficient and high quality Underground system. That should be the wider context for this debate and it defines the challenging task now facing Mr. Newton and the new management in LRT. I have given him a clear remit, published on 22 March, establishing that safety is the highest priority, followed by the need to provide for the projected increase in traffic on the Underground and to docklands and the need to improve the quality of services and security afforded to the traveller.
923 All of us know that those who experienced or suffered in this tragedy will never forget what happened—nor must we forget it, on whichever side of the House we sit. The right measures must be taken. We must ensure that this kind of tragedy is never allowed to happen again, and we must do everything in our power to try to avert it. We owe that to those who lost their lives. I have described the positive steps that LRT and LUL have taken to ensure that safety receives the highest priority. I emphasise again that I am sure that more will need to be done. Everyone involved must continue to view safety as the number one objective.
Mr. Fennell's report ultimately contains a vital message for all large organisations, whether or not they are in the transport field, that safety must be one of the top priorities of management. I am determined to play my part in fulfilling that objective for the industries for which I am responsible. I hope that the House will recognise that Mr. Fennell's report has set in hand a necessary change of perspective within London Regional Transport and London Underground. I am convinced that it will be a lasting change, and I am determined that it shall be.
The Opposition have put down an amendment. I assume, therefore, that we shall be asked to divide at the end of the debate. That is a pity, but that is for the Opposition to decide. Whatever division there may be on the point on which the Opposition base the amendment, the clear and united message from the House should be that we demand that safety must be paramount in all questions of this kind. If we implement it effectively, the Fennell report will ensure a lasting change of attitude in London Regional Transport and London Underground to the benefit of future and present travellers on the system. That is something that the Government are determined to achieve. I ask the House to support me in that aim.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:congratulates Mr. Desmond Fennell QC and his assessors on the report into the investigation into the King's Cross Underground fire on 18th November 1987, particularly the scientific skill shown by the personnel of the Health and Safety Executive Laboratory at Buxton in discovering the new phenomenon of the trench effect; expresses its deepest sympathy to the relatives of the 31 people who died in this terrible tragedy; endorses Mr. Fennell's tribute to all members of the public, London Underground staff and emergency staff who helped others, especially Station Officer Townsley and Police Constable Hanson; looks forward to the urgent implementation, by both the Government and London Underground, of all the report's recommendations; but regrets the fact that Mr. Fennell ruled as ultra vires any consideration of the role that the funding of London Underground may have played in the circumstances leading up to this terrible disaster.At last we have this debate, 16 months after the fire, five months after the publication of the report and four months after the debate in another place. The amendment makes clear our point of view on the matter. We congratulate Desmond Fennell and all those associated with producing the report. We express our appreciation for their analysis and conclusions. We record our deepest sympathy to the relatives of the 31 people who died and to those who are still suffering from the trauma. We state our admiration 924 for the emergency services, the public and the London Underground staff who played a major part in the rescue. We pay tribute especially to the contribution of Police Constable Hanson and of Fire Officer Townsley, who died a hero's death.
We are impressed by the Health and Safety Executive laboratory at Buxton for its painstaking scientific research into the trench effect of a new fire dynamic, something that we have learnt much about, which means that many people will have to change their traditional thinking on fire. We congratulate the personnel of the Health and Safety Executive. I am sure that all hon. Members endorse the view that much credit is due to them.
Like the Secretary of State, we look forward to all the recommendations in the report being implemented as soon as possible; on that I think that there will be unanimous agreement in the House. However, one substantial reservation is identified in the amendment. We regret Mr. Fennell's decision to rule as ultra vires any consideration of the role of the funding of London Underground in the circumstances that led to the fire. We believe that that decision was wrong. Indeed, the Secretary of State made it clear in correspondence that we have had on the terms of reference for other tragedies on the railway system that the terms of reference are traditional and should have allowed anything to be considered. It was only the judgment of Mr. Fennell that the matter should be ultra vires. Therefore, he refused to accept evidence on that point. That was an extraordinary decision. The Secretary of State claimed some support for the view that it had no role in the circumstances leading to the fire. It was curious for Mr. Fennell, a barrister, to decide that he would not hear evidence on the part that funding played.
In chapter 2, paragraph 14, of his report, Mr. Fennell stated:This Investigation had only one goal: to ascertain the cause of the tragedy and to try and ensure that it will never happen again.We all agree with that; indeed, that point was made by the Secretary of State.
We are in common agreement about the cause of the fire. The analysis is clear about the circumstances that led to the fire. There is a unanimous acceptance of the cause of the fire; that the fire was on an escalator at King's Cross, that the accumulation of grease and dust became the seedbed for the fire, that it was ignited by a lighted match from a smoker who continued to defy the ban on smoking, and that fire incidents were not uncommon. A number of previous inquiries over recent years have recorded similar incidents and recommendations, which were not implemented, and which were ignored by London Regional Transport and London Underground. The wilful neglect of the use of water fog systems, due to cost considerations, contributed to the horror of a new concept in fire dynamics —the trench effect. The trench effect caused a massive flame-thrower effect that led to the considerable death and destruction.
As in all tragedies—as anyone who is concerned especially with safety will know—a combination of smaller incidents came together to contribute to the tragedy. It was a combination of inadequacies, each of them small enough in themselves but combining to make the tragedy so much worse. For example, as Mr. Fennell points out, there was no one with overall responsibility for safety in London Regional Transport. A system for training staff on fire drill and evacuation was not evident. Anyone who has spent a 925 considerable period at sea—or who is familiar with the legislation of the House—will know of the continual fire training that must be carried out on ships, and the important part that that plays when the time comes to deal with an emergency, especially with a fire.
The staff of London Underground were unco-ordinated and haphazard in their reactions to the fire. There were poor communications and, indeed, the very operations room was unstaffed, and had been unstaffed since 1984, due to the cuts in staff implemented by the London Regional Transport Board. There was an ambiguous interpretation of fire legislation and certification that was to apply to all the Underground system.
There has been some controversy about the role of the GLC, but from Mr. Fennell's report it becomes increasingly clear that the issue of fire certification was a matter of dispute between the Secretary of State's Department and his inspectorate and, indeed, the fire brigade and the GLC. The GLC wanted to treat all the Underground system as being subject, in law, to fire regulations. The people who opposed it on that issue were the Government, the inspectorate and London Underground. I shall return to that point a little later, because it raises the issue of the inspectorate—for which the Secretary of State is responsible—which must have received the greatest indictment of its operations of any inspectorate in this country at any time.
There is ample evidence in the report about the roles of the various bodies concerned. The railway inspectorate was undermanned, insufficiently resourced, confused as to its responsibilities, had no proper liaison with the London fire brigade and was too informal with the management of London Underground. I am bound to say that those have been common criticisms of the inspectorate in the Department of Transport going back many, many years, even before the Secretary of State had taken over the responsibilities of that Department.
In Mr. Fennell's report there is ample evidence to support all the conclusions. The 157 recommendations will undoubtedly, if implemented, effect radical improvements to safety, which all of us in the House want to see.
As the Secretary of State has said, the report will not only affect London Underground. To the good and to the credit of Mr. Fennell's report, I am aware of many publicly and privately owned industries that have made a special examination of the report and are considering what they can learn from it in dealing with similar incidents. Other Departments, especially the Home Office, which is heavily involved in fire certification, other underground railways —for instance, Glasgow and Tyneside—and those concerned with the Channel tunnel will learn a lot from the Fennell report. Increasingly, concerns are being raised about the safety of the Channel tunnel, especially by the fire brigade and others. I would like to meet the Secretary of State to discuss the Channel tunnel, because of the decisions soon to be taken.
Special sections in the report challenge the whole ethos of management about safety. The report also changes the approach of management, employees and Government to safety. It raises an important issue that I am constantly raising—the public's right to know. The people who travel on our transport system have a right to know what is being done in the name of safety. They have a right to know about the stability of a ferry, about safety on the Underground and the age of an aircraft. People do not 926 believe that everything has to be done in secret and the events of the last few years convinces them that the right decisions are not being taken.
I am glad to see that Mr. Fennell supports the principle that the public have a right to know. That is spelled out in his report because paragraph 21 of chapter 19 says:The travelling public have a right to know about the safety arrangements made by transport operators and the safety of places in which they habitually gather.That principle needs to be spelled out more and more in our debates about transport.
The question, "Who is responsible and what circumstances led to the fire?" is still being asked. It is clear that the role of management was thoroughly examined by Mr. Fennell. It is also clear that under legislation management's responsibility is spelled out. As has often been said in the House, it has the responsibility for managing the London Underground economically, efficiently and safely. Those are management's obligations. However, greater attention has been paid to economy and efficiency than to safety and that is shown by correspondence between earlier Secretaries of State and London Regional Transport.
I note that the Secretary of State now says in his terms of reference to Mr. Newton, whom we wish well in his job of improving safety, that safety is now the top priority. That is written out specifically and disposes of the argument that a statutory obligation is sufficient. The Secretary of State has made it clear that safety in the operation of the system is fundamental. That poses the question how we are to achieve that and how it will come about.
It is clear that management failed to observe the many warnings about fires, believing that it could live with them rather than take preventive action. In the appendices to the report it is said that of 49 fires on escalators, 35 were due to smoking materials. If anybody reads the case history at the back of the report he will see that it predicts almost exactly what happened in this case. It was a different form of fire, the trench effect that we now know about, but the cause of the fire is made clear in all the reports that made recommendations, all of which were constantly ignored. Apparently they were ignored not only by London Regional Transport but by the inspectorate. I shall come to that matter later. Management failed to observe the warnings, to employ sufficient staff or to ensure that they had proper training.
It is right that the people responsible should pay the penalty, although I am not sure whether they were sacked or resigned. I was often sacked from shipping companies but I never got a year's or six month's pay. If I had, I would not have understood that to be a sacking. Thousands of workers would love to get the sack if it meant getting half a year's pay. People carried out the obligations placed on them by the Secretary of State and that is why they have not been sacked. If they had failed to carry out that obligation they would have been sacked. That is one of the issues that we must address.
Until that fateful night, on the criteria established by the Government, Dr. Bright and Mr. Ridley were major successes in the eyes of the Government. They were ahead of schedule in the plan to cut costs and reduce taxpayers' subsidies. They had achieved the objectives of section 16 of the Act of 1984 when London Regional Transport was taken over from the GLC. One of the primary aims was the reaching of financial targets. The terms of reference given 927 to London Regional Transport on 20 July 1984 placed much emphasis on efficiency and cutting costs. That was made clear by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewksbury (Mr. Ridley).
The then Secretary of State told Mr. Bright—I should call him Dr. Bright, although he is now Sir Keith Bright; the man even got knighted. He must have been reasonably successful to have got knighted by the Government. He must have carried out his obligations, and these are the tasks he was given:You have told me that you can achieve a reduction in unit costs of 2.5 per cent. per year in real terms. Over the next few years I look to you, if possible, to do better than that, and I shall want to review the target with you.He was set to cut the passenger revenue support level by half in two years. In the event, the revenue support level of £190 million inherited from the GLC was reduced to £90 million in one year. He was ahead of time, and no doubt that influenced the knighthood.
In those circumstances, while extra income came from passenger revenue—we can debate that later—the greater proportion had to be found in other ways. Taking the contribution of revenue and capital together, the amount of saving to the taxpayer and the ratepayer, or the Government, was about £200 million.
There is much talk about the way in which the Government have cut revenue support. This country has the only transport system in Europe that runs without revenue support. On average, the rate of support is 50 to 80 per cent. in most other European systems and, by common accord, they have safer and better quality services than we have. Clearly, it remains an issue of judgment between the two sides of the House as to how much revenue support should be given. We must bear in mind that we are attempting to run our transport system on far less than any other transport system in Europe.
As we require an extra £100 million to £200 million, what constraints are being put on the system? What cuts must be made and what is the quality of those cuts? Are they affecting the level of safety, administration and training? We are aware of the conclusion that Mr. Fennell reached about the overall level of subsidy available to LRT —the Secretary of State has quoted it often enough. In his view, there was no shortage of subsidy. To be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, I should quote Mr. Fennell's words, which appear in chapter 19, paragraph 3:In my judgement there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards.I note that those words appear in chapter 19 rather than in the analysis. Chapter 19 is headed, "Matters for further consideration". That issue should certainly receive further consideration because of the refusal to receive any evidence on the point. I have never witnessed such a startling conclusion, considering that it was not backed by evidence.
Indeed, on reading the report one comes across many examples of staff cuts and cuts in resources, all of which affected the level of safety. To be fair, it says that it is an issue for further consideration. The Secretary of State has ducked behind that conclusion, as if there had been a powerful examination of the case. There has not been such an examination, and his conclusion does not even appear 928 in the section of the report that would have dealt with such an examination. It is simply there "for further consideration"
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
If what the hon. Gentleman says is right, why did counsel for the National Union of Railwaymen accept that the fire was not as a result of inadequate investment in the Underground?
§ Mr. Prescott
I am not prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that that was accepted by the union. I am talking about the Fennell report and its conclusions. The evidence is examined and conclusions are reached. I am challenging the Secretary of State's conclusion when he ducked behind the argument that it was not due to a shortage of resources. He also said that he considered it to be ultra vires. As I have said in the past, we do not consider that to be an acceptable proposition. We disagree with it. It is a subject for debate.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend's response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot). It is not just a matter of capital but of the pressure on necessitous revenue in relation to safety matters.
Although Mr. Fennell heard from one of the parties that there was a case relating to the prevailing economic climate and Government directives, that was dismissed at the stage when it was put. Later, a witness said that, as a result of the economic climate, various schemes were not put forward. Does my hon. Friend feel that at that stage Mr. Fennell might have reconsidered his decision about taking more evidence after hearing that witness?
§ Mr. Prescott
I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point as that was the next point that I was coming to. It flows from chapter 19. If the Secretary of State had read further through chapter 19, but ignored what the managers were saying, he should at least have challenged the judgment of Mr. Fennell. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, the reduction in revenue support is very important.
If the Secretary of State had read on in chapter 19, he would have read about Mr. Sykes who had to make a judgment about escalator investment. Mr. Sykes was asked why the wooden cladding was not replaced, because many of the inquiry reports had pointed out that wooden cladding on an escalator made a fire much more difficult to handle once the rubbish underneath the escalator had been ignited. Report after report recommended that the cladding should be replaced, and escalators cleared. The obvious question then is why the cladding was not replaced. Mr. Sykes believed thatThere was a feeling among London Underground managers that the financial climate would rule out proposals to increase spending in certain areas.That was the judgment of Mr. Sykes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Mr. Styles."] I am sorry. I meant to say Mr. Styles.
Mr. Styles, the lift and escalator manager, said that the relocation of the water fog controls or the replacement of wooden escalators "stood a thin chance" of being implemented. Mr. Styles had to make requests to the board to replace the wooden panels. He had the backing of the inquiry reports. All the evidence was that the 929 number of fires was increasing, but he felt that he could not make his application even though it was clear what was necessary.
§ Mr. Prescott
I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's question. I am not sure whether it was offensive. Mr. Styles is still employed by London Regional Transport. He had read the reports and he felt that in the interests of passenger safety something should be done about the wooden cladding. Who can deny that something should have been done about that cladding after the accident? The fact that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) made such a silly comment shows that he does not understand the problems of safety on the Underground and he throws doubt on a man who was desperately trying to remove materials on our escalators which contributed to the fire and which played such a tragic role in the terrible loss of life at King's Cross. The hon. Member for Twickenham should re-think what he has said.
The wooden cladding was not replaced because of the financial climate and the budget for escalator cleaning was reduced. The Secretary of State would be aware of that if he has examined the figures. One third of the cleaning staff were sacked despite all the reports about dirty material in the escalators which caused fires. It was known that cigarettes and matches caused fires, so smoking was banned. However, the logic presumably was that as there were to be no matches, the dirty material did not matter. That assumption was fatally wrong.
The risers stopped discarded matches from reaching the dirt on the escalators. However, as people were denied the right to smoke on trains, they simply began smoking on the escalators. That is why there were more and more fires on the escalators. The inquiries highlighted the water fogging equipment. Why was that equipment not used to dampen the dirty material? When management was asked why the water fogging equipment was not used, the answer was that it caused corrosion and there were cost considerations.
I accept that those material factors should be taken into account. However, the management reduced staff by more than 3,000 because that is the traditional way to cut costs. It is important that we consider what kind of workers were lost. The man in the control room lost his job, and he was not there to handle the fire. From 1984, cleaners, inspectors and trainers lost their jobs. Those people are supposed to play a part in improving the safety ethos about which the Secretary of State is now convinced.
There was a crucial absence of adequately trained staff on the six tube line platforms at King's Cross. In 1984 the Oxford Circus fire report reached the same conclusions as those in the Fennell report. However, did that stop LRT reducing the number of staff at stations? No, it did not because there was a desire to reduce costs as there was not sufficient money.
The station inspector post was withdrawn from the operations room and that was left unmanned. Mr. Fennell criticised that. Those cuts are a consequence of cutting revenue support from £190 million in 1984–85 to £45 million in 1987–88.
I presume that LRT will face a demand that there must be a 7 per cent. return on investment. I believe that that 930 requirement applies even to the escalators. I wonder whether the Secretary of State, with his £260 million, can tell us whether all the escalators have been subjected to the Treasury rule of 7 per cent. rate of return—which I believe will be 8 per cent. after last week. I do not know how we can have a 7 per cent. return on capital investment on an escalator. That is a stupidity which affects the whole level of safety on London Underground. To add to that stupidity, the Treasury increased the 7 per cent. demand to 8 per cent. last week.
On 18 November, "Tubeline", an LRT publication., reported Mr. Jeff Allen, the LRT finance director, as sayingThe Directors consider it important that the company show its owners and paymasters it can keep proper control of spending.He then went on to boast of cuts in recruitment of a further £1.3 million, £800,000 on maintenance—which meant that more cleaners' jobs would be lost—cuts of £40,000 in training and even £400,000 on electricity, which presumably means that the trains went slower.
When was that report about cost savings published? It was published on 18 November, the day of the King's Cross fire. Mr. Fennell now claims that all the areas where LRT was saving money were contributory factors, which meant that people's efforts to deal with the tragedy were inadequate. That is the connection between costs and safety. That is what affects the ethos of safety. Money is what matters.
Have things really changed? That is the important question now. The Government have £260 million. Basically the Government are simply giving back the money which they have robbed from LRT in the form of public revenue support. I assume that the Secretary of State now believes that that money should have been spent before. That money will not be spent on new areas. Why was the money not spent on these areas before? LRT believed it could get away with it. The Government are providing money now to pay for something which could have been done a long time ago. However, the Treasury wanted to make it clear that it wanted to save money and get rid of revenue support. The Treasury is moving towards removing capital support because it wants to privatise LRT. As the Secretary of State so proudly proclaimed at his press conference, privatisation is the way forward for the railway system.
The subsidising policy is questionable. I join the Secretary of State in wishing Mr. Newton well. The managers are trying to change the whole ethos of safety and to introduce a safety audit. I wish Mr. Newton well in that. The progress report contains positive responses to the recommendations and I welcome that.
However, subsequent discussions that I have had with LRT have raised some concerns. It rejects recommendation 36 which recommended the replacement of wooden risers. I notice that the Secretary of State did not mention that point when he referred to escalators. The wooden risers contributed to the trench effect. The proposal was rejected because it would cost a lot more money to replace the wooden risers.
Why are cigarette kiosks still allowed to sell cigarettes and matches on platforms? The answer is that LRT will not find the money to buy them out. They continue to sell matches and cigarettes on the Underground despite this terrible tragedy.
931 What about the regular fire practices? Mr. Fennell made it clear that there should be a fire practice on the Underground every six months. I do not believe that there has been one so far. A request from the fire authority to conduct such a practice was met with the response from LRT that it did not want to hold one during busy times because it would inconvenience passengers.
That attitude is not acceptable, particularly after the report. Of course passengers should be involved in such exercises. They give them a sense of security. Instead, London Regional Transport is feeding the old-fashioned view that passengers should not be told in case they panic. That view must be pushed out of London Regional Transport. That is particularly important given the incidence of fires. Last year there were over 4,000—11 a day. There were 135—more than two a week—on escalators. Many of those fires required the fire brigade, and that is since the incident.
The railway inspectorate's role is crucial. The Secretary of State is directly responsible for that department. Mr. Fennell makes it clear that checking and monitoring is vital to enforce the law. In chapter 18 he says that the railway inspectorate was mistaken in its interpretation of the law and its responsibilities. There were insufficient resources, staff shortages and a lack of vigour. There was a cut from three quarters of one person in 1984 to one quarter of one person in 1987, and no proper liaison with the fire brigade. The railway inspectorate had to admit that, after 1984, it stopped receiving the fire brigade's reports. It did not even want to hear about fires on the Underground. Its relationship with the London Underground "lacked creative tension." That is another way of saying that it was too damn cosy.
The report refers to the registered application of fire certifications for the Underground. The inspectorate led the fight against certification for the Underground—now accepted—and lined up with London Underground against the GLC and the fire brigade's recommendation. That is made clear in chapter 18 which says:I believe their general relationship with London Underground lacked the creative tension necessary to instil discipline and produce prompt results within the organisation. A more vigorous use of enforcement powers would probably have alerted London Underground senior management to the unsatisfactory state of affairs in stations sooner, and produced general improvements in housekeeping standards. The degree of liaison and co-operation with the London Fire Brigade was insufficient and the decision to stop receiving copies of fire inspection reports was wrong.That is a long quotation but it is crucial to put it on the record. It is the most massive indictment that I have ever heard of a safety body which the Government claim is independent under their own legislation but is under the influence and shares the priorities of the Department of Transport, obsessed with saving money.
Who is the railway inspectorate responsible to? I have looked at the agency agreement—
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
I well recall the incident in relation to the GLC to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. I do not disagree with the thrust of what he is saying in terms of the necessity for fire safety certificates but, before we build the GLC's attitude on such matters into something that it was not, will he confirm that the discussion and the correspondence with the GLC related only to the Heathrow Underground station?
§ Mr. Prescott
That is a fair point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will refer later. The inspectorate was referring to the Heathrow station, which it called a hole in the ground, not a building. The report goes into all the arguments because Mr. Fennell asked for a report on that matter, but at the end of the day it was not applied to the rest of the Underground system which we are now considering. My hon. Friend will deal with that later.
I have looked at the agency agreement between the inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive. It is clear that the Health and Safety Executive paid the Secretary of State for his inspectors. If I were the Health and Safety Executive I would be asking for my money back because the Department did not carry out its responsibilities as identified by Mr. Fennell. The Secretary of State is directly responsible for the railway inspectorate. He often shuffles responsibilities on to other people in all sorts of areas, but he is directly responsible for the railway inspectorate's actions.
Mr. Fennell says that this terrible tragedy was foreseeable and that important warnings were ignored. Safety suffered because of the management's obsession with reducing taxpayers' costs to the detriment of all other considerations. The railway inspectorate lacked the staff, resources, motivation and independence to enforce the law and bring London Underground to account. The management has paid the price by resignation.
The Government are the only body who have not been brought to account for their role. Yet the Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament for the railway inspectorate and for London Regional Transport and London Underground. The Secretary of State set the financial climate in which the wooden escalators were not replaced and in which the cleaning of escalators was cut, along with the staff who should have raised the alarm.
The Government created London Regional Transport, set its priorities and its funding and drove senior management in its policy to eliminate subsidy. Indeed, they supported everything that London Regional Transport did until 7.30 pm on 18 November 1987.
The Government's responsibility in this matter is of paramount importance. They failed to fulfil their obligation to ensure that safety had the highest priority in London Regional Transport. That is why the Opposition's amendment will be supported tonight.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I am appalled by the speech that has just been made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). We are trying to debate a report on a major tragedy. There are real issues to be raised and we need a constructive debate. The Opposition have shown today that, apart from the old traditional Socialist view that with more money and more staff all will be all right, they are bankrupt of ideas for going forward.
We should return to basics and say, first, that we are fortunate in our capital city to have such a comprehensive and extensive underground railway network. That service is too often taken for granted. Little attention is paid to it until there is a failure, a disruption, or, as in this case, a major tragedy.
My constituency in south-east London does not have the direct benefit of an underground network, but many of 933 my constituents use the Underground in and around the city for many and varied purposes, either for getting to work, to visit their relatives or for entertainment. They have told me of the deterioration over the past 10 to 15 years in some aspects of the service. That did not happen in the past five years; it has been going on for 10 or 15 years. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, over the years there has been an inadequate investment in London Underground to meet the needs of a developing service.
The Fennell report has highlighted a number of areas that we need to debate in looking to the future in order to expand and improve the service on behalf of all. It has highlighted many of the complaints which the travelling public has raised as well as identifying a number of serious problems about the way in which the Underground network has been operated.
Conservative Members accept that real causes for concern have been expressed by the travelling public. We understand that and we want to do something to improve the service in our capital city. We should begin by congratulating the Government on their speedy and commendable response to the King's Cross fire and to the report's recommendations. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on his comprehensive speech this afternoon. It is imperative that we learn from this tragedy the lessons contained in the report to ensure that as far as possible such a tragedy does not happen again.
We must be constructive about the tragedy and the report. I deplore the sort of manufactured hysteria that we hear from Opposition Members such as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). Opposition Members have attempted to make party-political capital out of the tragedy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] That is, as I say, deplorable and will be deplored by everyone in the country. This is a serious issue that must be debated seriously, and not by means of sedentary interventions—
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman does his case less than justice by suggesting that we are making party-political capital out of the tragedy. He should realise that some of us have been arguing for more investment in safety measures on London Regional Transport for many years, and began to take an interest in the subject before this tragedy occurred.
§ Mr. Evennett
I shall come to that point later when we examine what the hon. Gentleman said about investment in transport when he served on the GLC.
This afternoon the Government have shown that they are determined to adopt a positive and effective approach. The changes that have been implemented or are being implemented are welcome, as is the vast sum of £266 million which will be spent on safety over the next three years. That is to be commended.
However, the travelling public are still worried about several matters—the frequent breakdown of trains, overcrowding and vandalism and the crime which has become commonplace on the Underground. These issues have not been raised by people who have jumped on the bandwagon: they are the realistic and long-term concerns that passengers have been expressing long before the King's Cross fire and the subsequent Fennell report—
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney and Stoke Newington)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the recent report on 934 crime on the London Underground pointed out that the self-same matters that Opposition Members have raised to do with safety—staffing and investment—are the key to crime, too? By dismissing what some of my hon. Friends have been saying about investment for years he shows that he neither cares about nor understands the issues.
§ Mr. Evennett
I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not wait for me to develop my argument. The increase in crime has taken place during the past decade, not only in the past couple of years, as she seemed to suggest. Unfortunately for the Underground, for part of the past 10 years it was run badly by the GLC.
Individual complaints may be of minor importance, but the combined views of the many naturally cause concern. Too frequently in the recent past the safety and the reliability of the service have been called into question. The major issues are crime, safety and investment. Robbery, assault and the other offences against the person which have regrettably increased in the past 10 or 15 years on the Underground have made many of my constituents and the travelling public afraid to travel on the tube late at night [Interruption.] I wish the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) would listen —she might learn something.
Crime denies people freedom of movement and access to many of the capital's attractions, because they cannot travel in safety on the trains. I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that he has increased the police establishment on the Underground to 350 officers. I also welcome the fact that the British Transport police is recruiting and training officers to fill the new posts. When they are in position their presence will make a noticeable difference. To date, this action has not produced significant results but I hope that there will be an improvement in time. We need to catch the people who are committing these offences while they are committing them and I am sure that more police in the service will he able to do just that—
§ Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)
While welcoming the extra commitment to police resources for the Underground, does my hon. Friend agree that the levels of violent crime on the Underground are statistically no different from those for crime above ground? Although both are too high, and although extra investment to try to combat violent crime is welcome, it is important not to get the problem out of perspective.
§ Mr. Evennett
That is a good point. We must not overstate the case. I was merely trying to discuss the fears of constituents in the Greater London area. We must carefully note such people's concerns and fears, of which one is crime, which we all agree is far too high throughout the capital.
§ Mr. Cohen
Of course we welcome the increased number of police, but 350 police to man the whole Underground system 24 hours a day are not many. The money spent on putting in automatic exit barriers could have been spent on police—on 550 of them for 10 years. Which would the hon. Gentleman prefer—police or barriers?
§ Mr. Evennett
We must not confuse the two. We welcome the increased number of police for the service; the barriers must be debated separately. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the increased police 935 establishment—such a welcome was noticeable by its absence from the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.
As for the barriers, we must recognise the real problem of fare evasion on the Underground. It has been said that £25 million has been lost through evasion—a fantastic sum. Something must be done to minimise such losses. Constituents have told me of barriers which have been out of operation or have swallowed tickets. They can present difficulties for the elderly or for young mothers with children and shopping or pushchairs. These are genuine concerns which we share. But we must not overstate the case.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for answering my question about the average number of gates that fail. He said that on average gates fail once for every 79,000 passengers, which represents about 16 gate failures a day. That puts the number in perspective. Although we share the concerns of those who are frightened about the safety implications of these barriers, we must bear in mind the money that is lost by people evading fares, and the true number of times when the gates fail. That is not to say that there is no problem; we await with interest the report of the independent inquiry which my right hon. Friend mentioned.
I was surprised that more public relations work for these gates was not done in advance. Fear of change and of what might happen is always the key—particularly after the tragedy of 16 months ago which highlighted some of the potential problems on the Underground. LRT has failed to communicate the importance of the installation of the gates. I am delighted, however, that my right hon. Friend has insisted on an independent inquiry into the operation of the barriers, and we await its report with interest. The fears may well be misplaced, and we should not judge the report until we see it.
In the past 10 to 15 years there have been many cycles of investment in the Underground network. As the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned earlier in a slightly different context, a few years ago the GLC operated a policy of using money to subsidise fares rather than for capital investment. That was a ludicrous policy—keeping fares down rather than considering the operation of the service. It was imperative to restore the right of management to manage without undue political interference, and that has been done since the removal of the GLC.[Interruption.] I am afraid that Opposition Members do not like to hear the truth. They prefer their own illusions. The fact remains that a management must have the right to manage, and London Underground has a duty to use that right to ensure that the system is managed in the best interests of the travelling public.
§ Mr. Spearing
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that when the GLC decides to subsidise fares that is political, but that when his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State decides to cut the subsidy, thus increasing fares, that is not Government interference and is non-political? He is saying, surely, that such action is political when taken by Labour, but non-political when taken by his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Evennett
The hon. Gentleman's view is not sustainable. The entire aim of the GLC's management of 936 the Underground system was to keep fares down rather than to invest in a better transport service for the people of London and all who wanted to use it.
No one could have foreseen or prevented a tragedy like that at King's Cross. It should never have happened—
§ Mr. Evennett
I have given way quite enough.
The Fennell report is comprehensive and highlights aspects that could and should have been improved; nevertheless, the scale of the tragedy could not have been predicted. Action has been taken, and I am sure that all Londoners and users of the Underground service will be pleased with that action. Too often we are quick to criticise. In this instance, praise is due not only to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to Fennell, but to new men at London Underground for their actions to date.
A debate such as this gives us the opportunity to highlight a few developments, particularly the vast investment in the London Underground of the past few years and the projected investment for the next three or four years. That investment will be used to upgrade, renew and generally improve aspects of the service. Together with implementation of the Fennell report recommendations, it should ensure a far better Underground system for the future, which will provide a more efficient and safer service in the interests of the entire travelling public.
Efficiency and safety must go together. Mere numbers of staff working at a station will not guarantee an efficient service, or a safer service. The Opposition suggest that more money and more staff will produce a better service, but surely its efficiency and safety depend on how money is spent and how staff are utilised to the best effect.
There is still much to be done to improve the service to the extent that Conservative Members would like, but at least we have started to tackle the problems and improve the service. The Government must be congratulated, and the motion should be supported. The general public will be delighted at the prospect of better investment in an important London service, rather than money being wasted on subsidising fares.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
I am grateful to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I have retreated to the Back Benches. Let me begin by declaring an interest—and I do so proudly. I am sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen, which has many members in my constituency.
My constituency is dominated by railways and railway stations, including three mainline termini and no fewer than 14 Underground stations. Underground stations in my constituency include the deepest—Holborn—and the busiest—King's Cross and St. Pancras. There have been major fires in recent years at both Goodge street and Holborn stations, but nothing to compare with the horrors of what happened at King's Cross on the night of 18 November 1987.
Although the Fennell report is written in clear, unemotional, official English, many of its pages are upsetting. To read the transcript of some of the evidence given to the inquiry is be filled with horror at what happened, pity for those who suffered and—in my case at any rate—-awe and admiration for the many people, 937 including passengers, railway staff, transport police and members of the emergency services, whose personal courage and common sense did so much to limit the extent of the catastrophe.
The inquiry, although absolutely necessary, was in itself an additional cruelty for many who had to give evidence. It forced them to relive the horrors of that night, and also subjected their every action throughout the crisis, minute by minute, to the harshest, most clinical public scrutiny —something to which few of us would like to be subjected even for an afternoon at the House of Commons, where nothing more than our reputation is at stake.
I found it a humbling experience to read how my ordinary fellow citizens reacted when faced with a fearful combination of fire, fumes, smoke, darkness, noise and panic—all of it below ground. In that heat and horror many ordinary people performed extraordinary deeds, saying afterwards that they were only doing their jobs. No words of praise or admiration from me, at least, can do justice to—for example—the fire fighter Station Officer Colin Townsley.
When Colin Townsley arrives on the scene he goes down to the booking hall, reconnoitres down the escalators and instructs other members of his watch to go back to the surface to order more pumps and bring breathing apparatus for themselves and for him. He himself stays down there, in that dangerous, horrible place, to urge passengers to get out. The flashover fire occurs. The booking hall is engulfed in flames—flames so hot that they melt aluminium. Colin Townsley gropes around in the dark, and picks up a woman who is badly injured and burned. He makes for an exit where light and air would represent life to both of them, but the fumes poison him before he reaches safety. The report says, in its prosaic way:his was a heroic actSt. John's Gospel says:Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.Colin Townsley laid down his life for a stranger.
Constable Hanson of the Transport police, although himself very badly burned and injured, risked his life to save more people—more strangers. We should remember that to the members of the emergency services the risk of injury and death is an ever-present part of their workaday world. When a catastrophe occurs, the rest of us run away, but the people in the emergency services run towards it.
The Fennell report rightly makes it clear that the fire and the shortcomings in the response to it were not the fault of the people working at King's Cross that night, nor were they the fault of those working in the emergency services that night. But the fire should not have occurred and, having occurred, it should have been dealt with more promptly and more effectively. The responsibility for any failure lies with the managements of London Regional Transport and the emergency services, with those who laid down the priorities to be followed by those managements and with those in Government whose job was and remains to secure the safe operation of all our railways. At the pinnacle of that pyramid of responsibility is the Secretary of State for Transport.
Almost all of us who enter national politics seek important offices of state which carry personal power and personal trappings of office. They also carry personal responsibility, particularly where Ministers have played a direct part in events. The law made London Regional 938 Transport responsible for the efficiency, economy and safety of its operations. It also required it to act in accordance with principles laid down by the Secretary of State for Transport.
In July 1984, the then Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), now the Secretary of State for the Environment, wrote to the chairman of London Regional Transport setting out the Government's objectives. His 838-word letter talked only of economy and efficiency, calling for reductions in costs and subsidies. It set a target for reducing unit costs and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made clear in his excellent, trenchant opening speech, the letter urged London Regional Transport to beat the target that had been laid down. That letter made no mention of the word safety. The Fennell report rightly says that people "must place safety first". The then Secretary of State placed it nowhere.
In case anyone thinks that only his letters were inadequate, I have been checking his answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in June and July 1985. After the fire at Oxford Circus, she asked the Secretary of State to have discussions with London Regional Transport about the problems of contractors' work and materials and to do something about station plans which fire brigades could use when they reached fires at Underground stations. In his usual way, the right hon. Gentleman dismissed her questions saying that they were nothing to do with him and that the hon. Lady should write to the chairman of London Regional Transport. We all know what his priorities were.
Ministers may seek to evade responsibility, but the cavalier attitude of LRT management towards safety sprang at least in part from Ministers' clear, cost-cutting priorities.
Before the King's Cross fire a report produced by the Department of Transport revealed that the Department's railway inspectorate had an establishment of 24 but that five posts were vacant. All the vacancies were for inspectors responsible for health and safety on railway premises. There was just one inspector in post to cover every station on London Underground and the Southern Region of British Rail—a total of 796 stations were to be inspected by that benighted individual. There was no possibility that he could make those inspections. The inspectorate was run within the Department of Transport and, not surprisingly, the report says:As a matter of policy, the Inspectorate have deliberately refrained from making any preventative checks on railway maintenance …I bet they had. One inspector for 796 stations would be lucky to visit them all in a year just waving to the staff as he passed through. The report also reveals that the chief inspector and another inspector were spending between 20 and 30 per cent. of their time advising on the Channel tunnel and that agency advice for Hong Kong and Singapore was involving the inspectorate in more work than had been expected. The preposterous irony is that those same inspectors insisted upon higher standards of safety in Hong Kong and Singapore than they required on London Underground.
How did Ministers respond? According to the report, there had been criticism from Ministers that the 939 inspectorate was seeking too much information from London Underground. How could that one man reponsible for 796 stations ask for too much information?
Department of Transport officials had a cosy relationship with London Regional Transport. They ignored reports on earlier fires and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, they sided with London Underground when the fire brigade wanted to improve safety. They issued not a single statutory safety notice to London Underground in the 18 months before the King's Cross fire and only one in the year before that. They admit that they knew that the staff was being cut and less was being spent on cleaning and maintenance. They knew that staff were not trained to evacuate stations and that the fire brigade was not usually called when there was a fire and that fire fighters found it hard to master the layout of stations. Yet they did nothing. They did not even object when London Regional Transport stopped sending them the fire brigade annual reports. I suspect that they did not even notice when they stopped receiving them.
Some may ask what are the Minister's responsibilities for those officials. It is the basis of our constitution that Ministers are responsible to the House for what their officials do. The Prime Minister is fond of quoting Winston Churchill. This is what he said on ministerial responsibility after the fall of Singapore:I ought to have known. My advisers ought to have known and I ought to have been told and I myself ought to have asked.The Secretary of State had no need to ask. Most of the facts that I have cited were available in the report produced by his own Department that was published in April 1987, six months before the fire at King's Cross.
Now we are told that everything has changed and that everyone is conscious of safety, but are they? Last year, in the summer after the fire, I managed to obtain the fire brigade's secret reports on six Underground stations in my constituency. They reported 50 fire hazards at those six stations, one of which was King's Cross. By God, if London Regional Transport had not learned that there was a danger of fire at King's Cross, they would not learn it anywhere, but eight fire hazards were listed at King's Cross, including rubbish at the top of the escalators at King's Cross where people were working on the adjacent escalators to put right the damage caused by the fire. There were other fire hazards at escalators at Tottenham Court Road, Warren Street and Euston. That report also stated that the box containing the station plan for use by the fire brigade at Mornington Crescent was impossible to reach. That was the case even though we knew that it had been a problem at King's Cross and Oxford Circus. Anyone with a grain of sense knows that it is a problem to approach a rabbit warren and risk one's life trying to save people without a plan or a guide. Admittedly, Mornington Crescent is a small station but it is still a dangerous place for a fire fighter trying to do his duty.
I want to know why London Regional Transport and the Secretary of State are defying Desmond Fennell's recommendations. He said that they should publish all the fire brigade reports on the Underground stations. Why have they kept secret the 1988 reports? The people who travel on London Underground are entitled to know the 940 state of safety both last year and this year. We are told that we will see the reports for this year, but I want to know why we cannot see the reports for last year.
We are told that the new management will pay more attention to safety and that, as the Secretary of State describes it, a new culture prevails. If there is a new culture of safety and things have changed, how can we explain the amazing advertisement for London Underground engineers which appeared in The Daily Telegraph at the end of March? It said that the new management was looking for "natural risk-takers" who were "commercially aware." The people who travel on London Underground have had enough of such people and want to be rid of them. Yet London Underground with its new culture of safety is trying to recruit more.
Despite the claims of a new culture, London Regional Transport is still pushing on with the installation of the dangerous new ticket barriers, which Ministers have been forced to admit do not always fail-safe. The barriers are not the product of a management doing what Fennell suggested—putting safety first. They are the product of a cash register mentality; the same mentality that introduced into London doors on buses in which nine or 10 people have been killed over the past few years because they do not work properly.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
They are much safer than they were.
§ Mr. Dobson
All I can say is that if I had been caught in those doors, I would not find them much safer. I do not want to die in that way. I understand that adjustments to the doors will make them safer. Why were they not safe in the first place? They were not safe because cheapness not safety was placed first.
I will not repeat all the excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East but I shall talk about the emergency services. They were rightly praised on the night of the fire. However, as the Fennell report reveals, their actions were poorly co-ordinated and, with the exception of the Metropolitan police, their contingency plans were inadequate. Poor communication and inadequacies in equipment also hampered the rescue efforts.
Although the emergency services have now considered the Fennell report, I find it difficult to conclude that they are better placed now to deal with a major incident than they were in November 1987. For example, let us look at London's ambulance service. This evening it is likely that 10 per cent. of its emergency vehicles could not roll if they were called out because there are no crews for them. Tonight or this weekend, the proportion that could not roll may be as high as 25 per cent. Almost a quarter of the emergency vehicles have radios which are incompatible with the new computer-controlled radio communications system. Therefore, they cannot be properly contacted. At the recent Clapham rail crash, there was a 13 minute delay before the ambulance service called in the medical team. There are constant and justified complaints about delays in the 999 service and slow responses to calls.
The Fennell report rightly recommends that the emergency services should mount joint exercises to test their plans, procedures and personnel. The ambulance service had to withdraw at the last minute from one such 941 exercise organised at Hither Green because it was overstretched. Therefore, up to now, the ambulance service has not taken part in a joint exercise.
Ministers rightly paid tribute to the work of the fire brigade that night but that is all they have done. The number of front-line fire fighters in London has been reduced by 389 since the King's Cross fire. As a result, the management has arranged that certain special vehicles—not the pumps—turn out with smaller crews than in the past. What are those special vehicles? Ironically, some of them are the vehicles that carry special smoke extraction and lighting units which are important in many fires but critical for underground fires. In future, they will be sent out with fewer fire fighters to look after them. That is absurd. A special unit has been created within London's fire brigade to deal with underground fires. However, it has been financed by making cuts elsewhere.
The Home Office is now conducting what is called a fire cover review. It is confidently expected that that will lead to the closure of fire stations and less cover.
What of the hospitals visited by the Prime Minister and the accompanying television crews on the day after the King's Cross fire? University College hospital is a famous and fine hospital in my constituency. It was rightly praised by the Prime Minister. However, since the King's Cross fire, and now that the television cameras are no longer around, Bloomsbury health authority has been forced to cut its budget by over £10 million. Therefore, it is less ready to play the part that it did on that terrible night. Now there is even a threat from the regional health authority to close University College hospital and the Middlesex hospital without replacing them.
The consultant in charge of the accident and emergency unit at UCH, Howard Baderman, told me today that he isstill very apprehensive about the firmness of the region's commitment to maintain hospital services in Bloomsbury.Where would the injured go if another fire occurred at King's Cross, or if there was a fire at St. Pancras or Euston?
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
My hon. Friend is making a devastating speech. He will understand that as a Scot I am often asked by my constituents in good faith whether the London Underground is safe. What answer would my hon. Friend give?
§ Mr. Dobson
I do not know. I do not like using the Underground, that is all I can say.
Many of the people injured at King's Cross need plastic surgery. Anybody who has seen some of them will realise just how much plastic surgery they need. I hope that they do not need it in my health authority area because the local waiting list for plastic surgery alone now totals 1,143 and over 70 per cent. of them have to wait for more than a year. I am not talking about people waiting for face lifts. In the case of people injured at King's Cross, they may be waiting to have a new face constructed. Who would like to wait for more than a year for something like that?
So the greatly praised emergency services have been cut and their future is clouded with doubts and uncertainties. Lessons may have been learnt from King's Cross but the Government do not appear to be involved in that learning process.
I visited King's Cross Underground station after the fire. I saw what it was like and tried to envisage what people had put up with. Since then, I have met passengers, people from the fire service, ambulance staff and railway 942 staff who were there. I have met people who were burnt and severely injured and the relatives of people who died. I have been to one funeral service and one memorial service. I do not wish to go to a memorial service for someone who has died in my constituency ever again.
I have talked and listened to all those people and they are not satisfied with what has happened. They are not satisfied that those at the top have paid the proper price for their responsibilities. They do not believe that Secretaries of State, Ministers and senior civil servants have paid the price that some of the emergency services staff paid that night. They are not wholly satisfied with the Fennell inquiry because of that. They regarded the inquest: as nothing more than a low and insulting farce and they are not satisfied that the system is now safe. It will he a long time before I do anything other than share their dissatisfaction.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
Close to the outset of this debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the heroism and sheer professionalism of the emergency services and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) later referred to the courage of the firemen, the police and others. Their bravery was of the highest order in the highest British tradition and I hope that they can be honoured, posthumously where appropriate, with even higher honours than they have received hitherto.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras went on to refer to a 1984 letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who was then Secretary of State for Transport, to London Regional Transport, setting out its objectives. The letter referred to the need for London Regional Transport to operate within the London Regional Transport Act 1984, which refers to safety. It cannot, therefore, be said that my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Transport ignored the question of safety.
§ Mr. Dobson
The hon. Gentleman should know that the primary obligations placed on London Regional Transport were to operate its system with economy, efficiency and safety. If the person who appoints London Regional Transport and who was its paymaster writes a letter which, admittedly, refers to the Act that set up London Regional Transport, but talks only of economy and efficiency, what is London Regional Transport to conclude about the priority that the Secretary of State wishes it to give to safety? If it was satisfactory to cover safety by referring to the Act, the Secretary of State needed only to write a one-line letter saying that London Regional Transport should carry out its obligations under the Act.
§ Mr. Jessel
The hon. Gentleman cannot have heard what I said. The letter in question referred to the requirement to operate within the London Regional Transport Act, which contains the very words referring to safety that the hon. Gentleman quoted. There was, therefore, a reference to safety. One cannot expect every major letter or communication to refer to every important consideration at equal length and with equal weight. One important letter may refer to economic objectives while referring to safety, whereas another might refer mainly to safety with a passing reference to economic considerations.
§ Mr. Jessel
We must live in the real world and that reference was made.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that there were 14 Underground stations in his constituency. There are none in mine; Twickenham is not served directly by the London Underground. However, my constituency has 16 British Rail stations, all of which lead towards central London and many of my constituents connect with the Underground in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is here now, at Vauxhall or at Waterloo. Many of them, especially central London commuters, use the Underground every day.
When the terrible and deeply tragic accident occurred in November 1987, I was surprised that out of my heavy postbag from an articulate constituency—which produces some 3,000 letters directly from constituents and which generates a total of some 10,000 letters a year—I received only six letters on the subject of the King's Cross disaster. I asked myself why. I believe that people in the face of that terrible disaster had the mature and sensible view, by and large, that they wanted to await the outcome of the inquiry that was announced by my right hon. Friend the day after the accident and to see what action was proposed to prevent any recurrence of such an event. Their attitude was not to cast blame on anyone in particular, although that would be natural for some people to want to do.
It is a most unhappy story. There were 31 deaths and it is no comfort to anyone to say that it is a unique event in the history of London Underground. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyel), who has now left the Chamber, asked the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to say whether London Underground was safe. It is inevitable that the media will tend to focus particular attention on accidents in which many people die at once, whether on a train, a ferry—which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) —or an aircraft. If a vehicle in which many people are travelling is in a crash, there is a risk of many people being killed at once and that will hit the headlines, whether in broadcasting or the printed media, and impinge on the public consciousness to a greater extent than accidents in which people are killed in ones and twos.
The statistics show that it is far safer to travel on London Underground or British Rail than to travel by road, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes mentioned in a question on the statement a few weeks ago. The number of deaths in road accidents is far greater, although it has fallen form 7,319 in 1967, to 6,614 in 1977 and to 5,125 in 1987. I understand that the figures for 1988 are likely to be announced tomorrow. Accidents in which people in ones or twos lose their lives, whether by fire, a smaller railway or Underground or a road accident, are just as tragic for the families of those involved as are accidents in which people are killed together in larger numbers, as I happen to know personally. If one considers the Government's safety record, and if one considers all transport accidents, it will be seen that there has been a decline in the level of mortality compared to five or 10 years ago.
I shall now consider some points arising out of the Fennell report and I hope that the Minister will have time to refer to them in his winding-up speech. The first is the effect of inevitable traffic jams in London streets upon the swift movement of fire engines and ambulances. We know that the King's Cross disaster took place after 7 o'clock in 944 the evening, but the tail end of the London rush hour has now become extended. Rush hour conditions continue to apply after 7 o'clock, and they did so in that case. It took fire engines seven minutes to go 1,420 yards at an average speed of 7 mph.
I ask the Minister to re-examine the Highway Code and whatever other measures the Government might be able to take to encourage a more flexible response on the part of drivers of other vehicles on the road. For example, will he consider whether in an emergency of this sort, when they hear fire brigade bells ringing, drivers can be allowed carefully to mount the pavement to let fire engines go by, or whether any other action can be taken to get emergency vehicles through more quickly?
That is part of a wider problem. The state of the British national economy has brought about an increase of about 8 per cent. a year in motor vehicle usage in conurbations, including London. There is no easy solution, and it is a waste of time for anyone to pretend to be able to produce a swift and easy solution. But it has a consequence upon the efficient operation of the emergency services. In the light of what Fennell wrote on that matter, I should like the Government to give it particular attention.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that Mr. Fennell concluded that the fire was caused by a lighted match. Of course, a naked flame remains a major potential cause of fire—it always has. I am as aware of that as any hon. Member, as the royal coroner found that either a lighted match or candle caused the fire at Hampton Court palace two years ago. Naked flames are a prime cause of fires.
In the papers before us, there is reference to a ban on smoking on the London Underground. It seems overwhelmingly probable that the naked flame was from a match that was presumably being used to light a cigarette, pipe or a cigar. There is no other particular reason why someone should light a match on an escalator leading to an Underground station. As it is almost certain that a smoker was involved, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to draw London Transport's attention to the need to step up the enforcement of its no-smoking policy.
Thirdly, as the number of passengers on London Transport has increased by 70 per cent. in the past six years, which is a staggering increase, one must ask about safety implications—especially if the Government are considering measures in the short or medium term to deal with traffic congestion on the roads, which might result in an even greater number of people using the Underground —and about the capacity of Underground stations to cope with a further rise in the number of passengers.
When I have used the Underground and seen crowds of people on platforms, I have wondered whether a surge among the passengers standing there or any pressure resulting from adverse conditions might trigger off some kind of panic, resulting in some people falling off the platform, which they would not do in normal conditions. The authorities should be asked to look at the capacity of platform areas, whether in the context of fire or other risks.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
Perhaps London Regional Transport should consider banning the distribution of promotional or protest literature in leaflet form in tube stations. It tends to lead to many leaflets being discarded. When there is a mass leaflet drop, there can be many leaflets all the way down escalators and on platforms.
§ Mr. Jessel
That is an excellent idea. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider that suggestion. It is worthy of the most sympathetic and careful consideration.
My hon. Friend's suggestion leads me to consider buskers. One sometimes sees buskers singing or playing musical instruments at access points to the London Underground. I hope that they will not be banned. It is not necessary to do so, provided that they keep away from platforms and, preferably, from escalators. As long as they perform their songs or play musical instruments in the horizontal passages between escalators and platforms or are at ground level, I do not think that they are a danger or that they are objectionable. They lighten the tedium of people's journeys. I do not see any risk in that connection.
I do not see why I should not make my next point. I should take a very dim view if any hon. Member tried to stop me from saying it. Paragraph 3 of chapter 19 of Mr. Fennell's report states:In my judgement there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards. I accept the evidence of the most senior management in London Regional Transport and London Underground that if funds were needed, funds were available.That is what the most senior management said, not what Mr. Styles, a junior person, said. Mr. Fennell went on:There does, however, remain the question of how the available resources were allocated and used by London Underground.That is the important point. I am glad that the Government have decided to make £266 million available over the next three years. It is double the previous amount. Users of the London Underground, whether my constituents, people from any of the other 90-odd Greater London constituencies, or people from elsewhere will be grateful for the measures that are being taken. Things need to be done. and they are being done. I shall continue to press the Government to carry on with them faster.
§ Mr. Dobson
It would be better if the hon. Gentleman were consistent. If he is happy to rely on the Fennell conclusion that a shortage of money did not stop anything to do with safety being done, why is it suddenly necessary to spend £266 million to put right things that were not being done? He can either accept Fennell or praise the Government for putting in the extra money. It is a bit difficult to do both.
§ Mr. Jessel
Not at all. There is nothing sudden about it. The increase has been steady over several years. In the light of the recommendations of the Fennell report, still more is being spent. That is the right thing to do. I am glad that it is being done, and I support it.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I endorse what the Secretary of State said about the impact on the lives of the individuals concerned of what occurred in that awful disaster in November 1987. Those hon. Members whose constituents' lives were shattered by what took place on that night know that it will take many years for them to come to terms with what occurred or to get over the traumatic event. It is right that we should recognise that point at the outset.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the ability of London Regional Transport and London Underground to respond to emergencies. However good the operating performance 946 of London Underground, there are inherent risks in a system as congested as the London Underground undoubtedly is. Where large numbers of people are packed tightly into a confined space, any emergency inevitably puts lives at risk.
When the Secretary of State announced the inquiry, I thought it vital that it should examine the emergency procedures on the Underground, and the frequency with which they were reviewed and tested on a practical as well as a theoretical basis. I also felt that it was absolutely essential that the adequacy of training given to staff on the London Underground in handling emergencies be examined. I am very glad that the report goes into these issues in great depth and in considerable detail, and I welcome the clear, frank and readable way in which it presents its findings.
However, I am bound to say that the report presents a frightening picture of the almost total inadequacy of London Underground's state of preparedness to handle any emergency. Emergency procedures were almost non-existent, and where they did exist, in some cases they were positively harmful. For example, under the two-stage system of handling fires, the fire brigade was not to be called in immediately. Staff were expected to deal with minor fire incidents themselves. They were to call in the fire brigade only if a fire got out of hand—by which time, of course, precious time had been lost and lives were inevitably put in danger.
The report relates the fact that the London fire brigade objected vehemently to this two-stage system. Indeed, on 23 August 1985—the day after the Baker street fire—the brigade actually wrote to the operations director of railways, objecting very strongly to it. The brigade expressed grave concern about it and about the fact that its professional advice was being ignored. The brigade made it quite clear that it should be called immediately any fire occurred on the Underground system. I quote the letter exactly:I cannot urge too strongly that the two-stage procedure be withdrawn and instead clear instructions be given that on any suspicion of fire, the Fire Brigade be called without delay. This could save lives.Despite that clearest of warnings, London Underground stuck to its two-stage system and made it very clear to staff that they should not call the fire brigade in the first instance. I welcome very much the fact that that policy has been changed, but I am bound to say that if it had been changed a little earlier, lives could well have been saved.
I want to say a word or two about staff training. Chapter 10 of the report, which deals with the response of the London Underground staff who were on duty in King's Cross that night, makes it absolutely clear that in no way could the staff be blamed. As Mr. Fennell points out, the staff were not adequately trained, there was no plan for evacuation of the station, there was no supervision, and the communications equipment either was poor or was not used.
Perhaps the most chilling comment in the entire report is this one in paragraph 4 of chapter 10:it is apparent that the outbreak of fire was not regarded as something unusual; indeed it was regarded by senior management as inevitable with a system of this age.Yet, despite the inevitability of fire on the system, there was no policy to call the fire brigade at the onset of one. There were no evacuation procedures, and there was no 947 proper training of staff. It seems to me that that reveals extraordinary complacency on the part of the management concerned.
When one reads chapter 10 one is struck by the fact that Mr. Fennell uses the same phrases over and over again about the performance of the staff involved: they were doing the best they could; they were unprepared, by training and experience, for what occurred; they were simply doing the best they could in a totally unexpected situation, a situation of which they had no experience. Paragraph 34 sums it up:Those on duty did the best they could using their common sense in the absence of training and supervision.One pays tribute to their common sense, but surely it is appalling that they did not have the training and the supervision to enable them to do a rather better job.
The net result, says Mr. Fennell, was thatnot a drop of water was applied to the fire nor any fire extinguishers used by the London Underground staff.That is the most incredible indictment of a management that had the safety of millions of passengers in its hands, and it inevitably raises an issue that has been underlying this debate so far—the relative priority given to safety on the London Underground system.
I do not think any hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House would argue that the management of London Regional Transport or of London Underground Limited deliberately and cold bloodedly sacrificed safety standards in the search for profits. That is not the argument. Surely the argument is that safety was not given the level of priority that it ought to have been given. The management seems to have relied on a faith that concern for safety was part of the railway operating ethos. Clearly, one ought to have been able to look to London Regional Transport, as the supervisory body, to take responsibility for monitoring levels of safety on the Underground.
That inevitably brings us to the famous letter of 20 July 1984 from the then Secretary of State to the chairman of London Regional Transport. It was not just any old letter. It did not suddenly come into the Secretary of State's head to write to the chairman. The letter was written on the foundation of the organisation, a new body just established under the 1984 legislation. Here was the Secretary of State writing to the brand new chairman of London Regional Transport, setting out four tasks, none of which embraced safety.
The Secretary of State may argue—perfectly justifiably —that the legislation placed a duty on London Regional Transport to have due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation. That is absolutely right, but all the four prime tasks set out by the then Secretary of State related to efficiency and economy; not one of them related to safety.
In that sort of climate, that sort of environment, London Regional Transport and London Underground Limited, and indeed the Department of Transport, were clearly all more concerned about improving value for money and about reducing the burden on the ratepayers and the taxpayers—about economic efficiency—than about safety. If one wants the underlying proof of that, it is to be seen in the very different set of objectives that the current Secretary of State has given to the new chairman 948 of London Regional Transport—placing first, and giving the highest priority to, the issue of safety. To that extent, I welcome very much the change that has occurred.
Chapter 15 of the report quotes a very wide range of evidence, including that of ROSPA, suggesting that the level of staff training in safety issues on London Underground was totally unacceptable. The chapter goes into great detail about the inefficiency and the inadequacy of training. It says the staff really could not be expected to deal with a situation of this sort, because their levels of training were totally unacceptable. It is quite true that London Underground and London Regional Transport reacted quite swiftly to these indictments about staff training, but it is also clear from chapter 15 that Mr. Fennell was not very impressed with the first steps they had taken to improve the quality of staff training.
I accept that these were the initial, short-term reactions, and that totally different systems are planned in the longer term, and I welcome very much the fact that London Regional Transport has accepted the recommendations about the need for much more professional levels of staff training. I welcome particularly what the Secretary of State has said about joint exercises taking place at least twice a year. But surely it is important to monitor those joint exercises and the level of training to make sure that the standards that we are entitled to expect are reached.
This raises the issue of the level of monitoring safety activities generally on the London Underground. I am very glad that the concept of a safety audit system has been accepted, but we must be assured that those involved in the safety audit operation have the sort of clout within the management of London Regional Transport that they need if safety is to be given top priority. If there is to be any clash between profitability and safety, we need to be assured that safety will be given top priority.
I endorse what other hon. Members have said about information on safety improvements and safety activities being made available to the public regularly. It is quite true that passengers have a right to know about the safety systems that are in operation for their protection. Most important of all is the recommendation that the Secretary of State receive from London Regional Transport regular reports about the implementation of all recommendations in this report. I hope that the reports go further than that and do not deal only with the implementation of the recommendations. There should be regular progress and performance reports on London Regional Transport's general record of safety on the Underground and throughout its systems on London's public transport generally.
Welcome though the steps undoubtedly are that have already been taken by London Regional Transport and London Underground Limited, it is essential that this burst of activity is not allowed to run down. There must be the continuing process that the Secretary of State mentioned. We all recall that, after the Oxford Circus fire in 1985, a major report was produced by the London Passenger Transport Research Group and was taken seriously by London Underground. Several steps were taken on that report, but many of its recommendations had not been implemented by the time of the King's Cross fire. We must learn from that lesson.
In the light of the tragedy that took place on 18 November 1987, I believe that the travelling public will be 949 looking to the Secretary of State to ensure that never again will complacency about safety put lives at risk on the London Underground.
§ Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)
In November 1987 I had no idea of the impact that the King's Cross tragedy would have on my own life. I was not then a Member of the House, but shortly after the accident Des Wilson, whom I had met as a co-chairman of the admirable Campaign for Freedom of Information, telephoned me. Knowing that I was not engaged on business in the House, he asked me if I would run the Christmas King's Cross disaster appeal while the disaster was fresh in people's minds.
I spent the three weeks before Christmas 1987 in a Portakabin at King's Cross station. The support that we received from members of the public, every one of whom volunteered their services entirely free, was tremendously heart-warming. Hon. Members may know that on the station near the Portakabin people put a most wonderful tribute of flowers and notes and messages of one sort or another. I watched that spot for the entire three weeks up to Christmas eve 1987; it was extraordinary that, three weeks later, the flowers were being changed and fresh flowers brought.
We had no legal right to operate a collection other than on the days when the Metropolitan police gave us permission to do so. They exceptionally gave us, at very short notice, permission to mount a three-day collection for the King's Cross disaster fund. However, we literally had to start a collecting box because of the number of people who pushed open the door of the Portakabin and said, "There but for the grace of God go I." They made substantial donations, obviously at some cost to themselves. People helped who were unemployed and some people took holiday leave specifically to be able to work in the campaign. The effort that they put in was absolutely marvellous and made a great impact on me.
The only other point that I shall make in that regard is that I remember talking to one of the reporters who came to follow our progress. That reporter had been with a camera crew on the night of the fire at King's Cross. Following the moving remarks of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), I should add that the reporter told me that he had been in a lot of tough places with tough teams of people who had had to follow and to photograph disasters of one sort or another, but that he had never seen a group of people so moved as they were by the King's Cross disaster. The sheer horror aroused by it and the feeling, "There but for the grace of God go I", had a most powerful effect on a great many people.
By one of those strange ironies, since the by-election at Epping Forest in December, I now represent many constituents who use London Underground daily, and my interest in Mr. Fennell's excellent report and in the action taken by the Government as a result of it has therefore been heightened.
What do we make of London Underground Limited in the period leading up to the fire? What I make of it is that it was, and to some degree still is, an absolutely classic example of a public sector operation where, sadly, management accountability had been all too clearly lost, where there was a compartmentalisation of functions as 950 people went about their daily business—I do not wish to imply any individual imputation but make the point simply by way of illustration—and where one might have said that the business would have run terribly well if it were not for the customers.
Then we come to the events of that night. The most important question to ask ourselves is whether one can reconcile the statement that Mr. Fennell made in chapter 19, which I shall not repeat as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) read it to the House, which effectively said that finance was not the issue, with the £266 million that the Government have laudably pledged to put right the apparent under-funding. I believe that it is perfectly proper for the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to say, "How do you reconcile that? On the one hand you say that money was not the problem, whereas on the other hand £266 million is needed to bail us out.".
I do not believe that there is any inconsistency. If I may be forgiven for quoting briefly from the report, the answer lies in a chapter to which no hon. Member has yet referred, chapter 4, in which Mr. Fennell describes what he callsThe Ethos of London Underground",and states:An understanding of the way in which the actions of London Underground and its predecessors have been conditioned by the management style and nature of the organisation, and the way in which they are likely to be so in future, goes to the heart of this Investigation and the lessons to be learned.Management style and the management of LRT are crucial to the King's Cross disaster.
Listen to these damning words—damning in the sense that they could ever have been written about the staff of LRT at the time—that Mr. Fennell uses about the engineering directorate in paragraph 3 of chapter 4:There was a clear demarcation between each of the four disciplines within the Engineering Directorate, and Mr. Lawrence, the Engineering Director in post at the time of the Investigation, described his main task over nine years as that of breaking down the boundaries between the different engineering disciplines. Moreover there was little cross-fertilisation between Engineering and Operating Directorates and even at the highest level one director was unlikely to trespass on the territory of another. Thus, the Engineering Director did not concern himself with whether the operating staff were properly trained in fire safety and evacuation procedures because he considered those matters to be the province of the Operations Directorate. However such matters clearly had a bearing on the safety of passengers in stations for which he shared corporate responsibility, and the security and maintenance of the assets for which he was directly responsible.In describing the operations directorate, Mr. Fennell states:Mr. Clarke, the Operations Director in post at the time of the Investigation, for his part did not concern himself with the state of the escalator machinery and machine rooms, or decisions concerning the replacement of wooden components on escalators or re-siting of water fog controls. These were seen as being in the province of the Engineering Directorate.In paragraph 12, Mr. Fennell makes what I believe to be one of the most telling comments in the whole of the report:It was, therefore, a matter of some concern to me that the directors of London Underground should still subscribe to the received wisdom that fires were an occupational hazard on the Underground.The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) has referred to that telling indictment.
I shall not quote any further from the report, because it is there for all hon. Members to read, but I make no apology for having done so because those quotations 951 illustrate one of the most crucial truths about LUL in advance of the fire—that the necessity to spend £266 million now can be reconciled with the fact that money was not the issue, because nobody had the management accountability to consider safety and to take it on board so as to ensure that out of the many hundreds of millions of pounds of resources that circulate annually within LRT a suitable amount was devoted to safety.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) made a statement that produced some consternation among Opposition Members, when he said that nobody could have foreseen the fire. He later explained that what he had meant was that nobody could have foreseen the extent and the sheer horror of the fire. Of course, he was right, but hon. Members might have been right to pick him up on the point that the fire could have been foreseen. The report makes that clear.
Therefore, it is crucial to note that the management style of LUL was defective in that there was not a proper process of accountability which brought the seriousness of the issue sufficiently to the attention of senior management. Indeed, senior management itself was conditioned to working in boxes. There is a reference to Dr. Ridley's evidence in which he said that he took the operations director and the engineering director pretty much at their word on the issues because they were extremely experienced. In other words, he had enough problems of his own, and if he could not let the engineers get on with things, what else could he do?
It is not an easy job running an organisation like LUL; it never was and it never will be. Since 1982, when Dr. Bright undertook the first strategic management review of LUL, there has been a tremendous improvement in productivity and revenue. Productivity in terms of passenger usage is up by 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. Even with fares being held at the same level since 1983, overall revenue has gone up 15 per cent. in real terms. There is a tremendous management task, but it is clear that it may be necessary to accelerate the level of capital investment that is required to put right not only the safety problems but the fact that in my constituency the Central line still runs on rolling stock introduced in 1962, on signalling equipment manufactured in 1940 and on the original power supply equipment put into the line in the 1930s.
Before Opposition Members start to make a great issue of that—I am glad to see that they are not; I appreciate that that might have something to do with my speed of delivery—let me point out that successive Governments have in a sense under-estimated the importance of management in such a great transport operation. The issue of replacement of rolling stock and equipment, of renewal and of an accent on constructive reinvestment has been there for half a century. It is a tragedy that it has taken until the 1980s for us to take up seriously the challenge of regenerating London Underground Limited. I pay tribute to the management of London Underground Limited, past and present, for the tremendous efforts it has made to put right the lack of investment in our mass transit system in this great capital city.
I shall put down a marker which may not please my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In a debate on how to operate a mass transit system in a capital city, it is necessary for hon. Members on both sides to consider 952 common sense before dogma. Bearing in mind the fact that Underground travel has such a profound effect on congestion above ground—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred when he talked about the difficulty of getting emergency service vehicles through —and on pollution of the environment, the desirability of operating an attractive mass transit system is considerable.
That desirability should, if necessary, be enhanced by operating a service financed not just by the users but by central Government, so that there is a positive incentive for people to move to that system. For example, people in my constituency could take the Central line from Loughton and reach the House in about 45 minutes. At the moment they might not use the Underground for that journey because of the frequency with which it becomes a journey of one and a half hours. The most frequent comment I heard from the great number of hon. Friends who came to canvass for me during the election was, "I wish you had not told me to come on the tube. It has taken me all day to get here. I hate to think how long it will take me to get back." Thank goodness their efforts had such a welcome result.
I put down that marker. It is pivotal to the decision to inject £266 million into LUL. We ought seriously to consider at another time the overall impact of a mass transit system on a capital city and the way that it should be financed and used.
On publicity and safety, the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Holborn and St. Pancras raised an extremely important point—the public's right to know that dangers exist and that those dangers are being dealt with. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) has time to be with us. I know that she was detained elsewhere and could not be here for the earlier part of the debate. She has brought to the House a Bill of which I am proud to be a co-sponsor, the Public Safety Information Bill. Over 350 hon. Members from both sides of the House support that Bill and over 150 local authorities of all political complexions have also pledged support for it.
I draw the attention of hon. Members to page 156 of the Fennell report. In paragraph 21 on public safety information Mr. Fennell made the following statement:I view with dismay the suggestion that information gained by a statutory authority which has a bearing on the safety of the public using a system for mass transportation should not be made publicly available. The travelling public have a right to know about the safety arrangements made by transport operators and the safety of places in which they habitually gather.Later, he said:I attach considerable importance to this and would hope to see the principle followed more widely in areas where the safety of the travelling public may be at stake.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred is an excellent Bill, and he is right to draw the attention of the House to the enormous support that it has. Why does he think that the Government are blocking that Bill?
§ Mr. Norris
I prefer, for reasons that I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand, to leave that question hanging in the air for other hon. Members to contemplate. I have made my views clear, as the hon. Gentleman understands. I believe that it is a necessary measure. I recognise that there may be technical difficulties in its drafting. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has made it clear that he 953 supports the principle of the Bill but believes that there are drafting problems. The principle is sufficiently important for those difficulties to be considered in Committee. That point is known publicly, and I am pleased to restate it now.
I want to underline a point made by Mr. Fennell in paragraph 24 on page 157:My preference would be to have London Regional Transport publish an annual report, perhaps addressed to the London Regional Passengers' Committee, in which progress, achievements and proposals of the safety programme are set Out.That is vital. Among the most important recommendations of Mr. Fennell in chapter 13 on the management of safety is no. 46, in which he says:Copies of the reports shall be sent to the Chief Safety Inspector and Railway Inspectorate and arrangements shall be made by London Underground to publish the reports in consultation with the London Fire Brigade and the London Regional Passengers' Committee.We cannot afford to take lightly the public's right to know about safety dangers. The country took a great step forward when the Environment and Safety Information Act 1988 introduced by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) reached the statute book. That was a private Member's Bill, which regrettably had to be forced through tooth and nail. I am sorry that I was not in the House at that time to give it the support that it deserved.
The important issue is that Mr. Fennell is in no doubt that the public have a right to know. He says so quite unequivocally. I see that not as an invitation to know what disaster may befall one, but—referring back to the management accountability of London Underground Limited—how one would make that accountability work would be to ensure that public interest and indignation was raised by the clear indication of unsatisfactory safety practices, which would force the management of the day to take them on board and to do something about them.
It is sometimes said ex post facto that steps could have been taken that could have prevented the tragedy. I believe that, if UT, and other parts of our public transport service, had actually been faced with public pressure to do something about safety, because of the publication of reports on safety, there is a substantial chance that the sensible work on safety that the Fennell report tells us was carried out on the Underground would have received much more attention. That is a crucial absence and we should consider that as one of the cardinal lessons of the report.
It is directly relevant to the Fennell report on the King's Cross disaster that there are similar tragic parallels to be drawn in at least two cases—that of the Bradford City fire and that of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster—because those disasters, too, did not arise entirely without foreknowledge or without any evidence that they might occur. There was evidence that they might occur, but management, because of secrecy and privacy, was able to get away with doing nothing about it.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and other members of the Government to remember that issues of secrecy are not party political issues, but are about the citizen's right to know in a democracy. The healthiest part of an open society is that it improves the accountability of those who work in the public sector. It means that there is a discipline on 954 management to care about such issues as safety, which otherwise it would be all too easy to push to the bottom of the agenda.
If the House is so minded, it should not only pass the excellent private Member's Bill standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East, but should move to a comprehensive freedom of information Bill, which would have among its provisions the opportunity for us to ensure that the kind of absence of public information on safety that we saw at King's Cross does not recur, and that future tragedies of this sort are prevented.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
On behalf of those of my constituents who died in the fire at King's Cross and their families, and on behalf of those working in the emergency services based in my constituency who responded so magnificently on the night of the fire, I express appreciation for the detailed work contained in Mr. Fennell's report. I have, of course, criticisms about the remit that Mr. Fennell accepted and those aspects which were deliberately excluded from his sphere of investigation. However, the work that he and his officers carried out in ascertaining how the fire started, how it spread and how such an event could be prevented in the future was impeccable and deserves gratitude.
Because of the terrible and terrifying nature of the event, even through the clinical prose of the Fennell report comes a moving and tragic account of individual pain, of individual heroism and of human fragility in the face of unprecedented and uncontrollable forces. In Mr. Fennell's report, of course, there are many detailed, practical recommendations. A large number of those recommendations are, I am delighted to say, already in the process of implementation. A major question that we are, of course, entitled to ask is: will the funds that the Government say that they are making available—the £266 million spread over three years—be sufficient to enable all the recommendations of the Fennell report, in capital terms, to be carried out? If the answer is yes, I hope that the Minister can tell us so when he replies. If the answer is no, we are entitled to ask how else the recommendations and the work that is requested to be carried out will be financed. Will it once again be the travelling public, through their fares, who must pay for the long-overdue improvements to the Underground service?
The Government and Government Back Benchers have made much in the debate about the increases in capital funding that are now available to London Regional Transport and London Underground Limited. Of course, increases in capital funding, which many of us have been urging on the Government for many a long year, are welcome. However, how are those increases in capital funding being deployed? In some respects, expenditure is welcome. I have long been hammering at the doors of London Regional Transport and of the Government to ensure that Angel station in my constituency gets the desperately needed work that has now at long last been agreed. It took a long time coming but, nonetheless, it is welcome. I shudder to think what would happen to the island platform at Angel station if a major disaster were to occur at platform level.
Other aspects of London Underground Limited's capital expenditure, however, are not so welcome. The most obvious one that springs to mind, and to which 955 reference has already rightly been made, is the installation of the new ticket barriers. I believe that the total cost of the new Underground ticketing systems is some £165 million. That money is being spent on systems and barriers about which Mr. Fennell expressed considerable disquiet. Money is being spent on barriers that, universally among Londoners, are detested and feared, because they are well aware of the inconvenience that in day-to-day use those barriers represent, and the potential dangers to safety that they represent in the event of a fire or a major disaster underground.
The Government have admitted that there are circumstances in which the barriers will not automatically open in the event of a disaster. Until those problems are put right, we rely on the presence of staff to operate the barriers and to keep them open in an emergency. That is the key point. We need a guarantee from the Government and from London Regional Transport that there will always be the requisite number of staff on hand—adequately trained and aware of what to do—to ensure that those barriers can be opened immediately if they need to be. The story, however, that we read in the Fennell report is one of inadequate staffing in the running of a large number of aspects of the system.
Two large unanswered questions arise out of the Fennell report. The first of those questions relates to the level of staffing at stations on the Underground system. Here there is an inner contradiction within the Fennell report. In paragraph 6 on page 152 of the report Mr. Fennell says:I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster at King's Cross.No doubt the Government will quote that passage extensively in the months and years ahead.
We may pause at the word "directly" because in some other places in the report a contradictory impression appears to be given. On page 136 Mr. Fennell addresses the issue of station operations rooms. He says that the operations room was not manned by a London Underground supervisor. He says:I was disturbed to learn that this had been the position since 1984, when a station inspector's post had been withdrawn and the practice of manning the station operations room had ceased.Mr. Fennell was disturbed by that. In some ways paragraph 16 on page 141 is one of the most damning paragraphs of the entire report. Mr. Fennell says:London Underground set great store by the use of trains to evacuate passengers from the tube lines platforms in an emergency.We know that that was the way in which many passengers who were due to alight at King's Cross on the night of the fire managed to escape from the conflagration. He goes on:However, this procedure depended critically on the availability of staff to communicate with the train drivers, to stop passengers getting off and to ensure evacuation of passengers already on the platform.The crucial point of the paragraph is the part which says:In the event there was a crucial absence of adequately trained London Underground staff to cover the six tube lines' platforms prior to the flashover.On those two specific occasions in his report Mr. Fennell clearly lays a portion of the blame for the events that led to the disaster on the inadequacy of the staffing arrangements at King's Cross on the night in question. All 956 that ties into the crucial issue of the revenue subsidy available to London Transport. Of course the numbers and availability of staff for proper deployment in case of an emergency depends not on the capital subsidy available from the Government, but on the revenue that London Transport needs to run a full and safe Underground system. Over the last four or five years the Government have consistently cut the revenue subsidy.
§ Mr. Prescott
My hon. Friend has spoken about the importance of the reduction in staff and the importance attached to that by Mr. Fennell. Is he aware that while the Government cut the revenue support they gave £45 million to London Regional Transport to pay for staff redundancies?
§ Mr. Smith
My hon. Friend is right, and highlights not just the absurdity but the tragedy of Government policy. London Regional Transport did not fight against reductions in staff: it insisted on reducing staff even further.
The revenue subsidy figures speak for themselves. In 1984 the Government gave London Regional Transport nearly £200 million in revenue subsidy. In 1990 the amount will be £7 million which will be specifically directed at the running of the dial-a-service. That shows the scale of the reduction in revenue subsidy that the Government have imposed on London Regional Transport.
I am sick and tired of hearing Conservative Back Benchers say how wonderful the Government are because they are gradually—but belatedly—increasing the capital subsidies to London Regional Transport. However, at the same time they are drastically cutting the revenue subsidies. Safety does not rely on physical work alone. It resides also in the availability of staff to cope in an emergency. The availability of staff is also crucial to ensure the availability of alternative exits in the event of a disaster.
On 26 March at Finsbury Park Underground station in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) only one set of stairs was in use. Two alternative exits were blocked with gates that had been deliberately padlocked. No keys were available and in the event of an emergency all exiting passengers would have had to funnel through only one exit with a very narrow passageway. On the same day at Highbury and Islington tube station in my constituency the passageways between the Victoria line and the Great Northern electric line platform were gated and padlocked. In the event of fire only one exit would have been available for passengers trying to escape. The reason given for the blocking of those exits and the locking of the gates was lack of staff.
The inadequacy of staffing continues in London Regional Transport, and the Government, Mr. Fennell and all the lessons that should have been learned subsequent to the King's Cross fire seem to have taught London Regional Transport absolutely nothing about the need to ensure that stations are properly staffed.
The other principal question that seems to arise from the Fennell report is about the role of the railway inspectorate. Mr. Fennell is shocked, to say the least, in his criticism of the railway inspectorate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has said, it is almost unbelievable that throughout 1987 one quarter of one person in the railway inspectorate was detailed to supervise the conditions at London Regional 957 Transport Underground stations. A year after the fire the situation was precisely the same. Although the Secretary of State for Transport now tells us that the railway inspectorate is almost up to complement, he has offered no explanation in response to the questions that I asked him on 10 November about, why for a year following the King's Cross fire, the railway inspectorate was not as a matter of urgency brought up to complement even before the findings of the Fennell report were published.
We are now entitled to ask the Secretary of State to answer the two questions that I asked him then. Why was the inspectorate not brought up to strength during the year following the fire? Will he also tell us not about the entire complement of the railway inspectorate, because that is the figure we so often get. but about precisely what resources the inspectorate, now that it is almost up to full complement, is able specifically to devote to safety at London Underground stations? It would be extremely revealing to know the precise answer to that question.
Of course I accept and fully support what the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said about the need for greater openness and the public being able to know what the safety inspectorates are doing. The Bill that I introduced last year and to which the hon. Gentleman in his private capacity gave considerable support outside the House had to be carried through in the teeth of opposition from Government Whips who blocked it week after week until we finally shamed them into accepting that it should be placed on the statute book. It was a minor measure designed to give the public some degree of access to information about reports and notices issued by the safety authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) has a Bill now before the House which would go further. Again, it is a modest but important measure, and again the Government Whips, led by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), block its progress. May we have an assurance that my hon. Friend's Bill will at least have the chance of a Second Reading and a debate in Committee so that any detailed points can be sorted out? It is time that the Government gave that commitment, as a practical response to the points that Mr. Fennell makes about the need for openness, disclosure and public access.
Other important issues relating to the future of King's Cross are at stake. Dr. Ridley's comments at page 154 show that he regards congestion as one of the major problems for public safety. King's Cross, as Mr. Fennell reports, is the most congested set of Underground stations on the London tube network. About 250,000 passengers pass through that station on an average weekday.
It must therefore give pause for thought when BR, together with London Underground, present the King's Cross Railways Bill, a private measure which includes proposals designed to increase congestion at that station both below and above ground. It will shortly come before the House for Second Reading. I hope that hon. Members will take to heart the points Mr. Fennell makes about congestion and safety when they consider that that Bill would add yet another Underground station to the existing five clustered together below ground at King's Cross.
§ Mr. Dobson
Will my hon. Friend confirm the preposterous intention of BR to build a vast cavern underneath the existing tube station and main line station at King's Cross so that Britain's second Euro-station will 958 be the famous concrete hole in the ground to which the chief inspector referred when he was talking about a smaller cavern that BR is building at Heathrow?
§ Mr. Smith
That is precisely what BR is proposing. If I have anything to do with it, it will not proceed. King's Cross is already too congested above and below ground. It cannot cope with an additional international terminus located below ground such as BR and London Underground are proposing.
There are major lessons from Mr. Fennell's report yet to be learned—lessons about the level of revenue subsidy as well as capital subsidy that is available to the Underground system; about the level of staffing at stations; about the role and nature of inspection; and about the future of King's Cross. There is no sign that LRT or the Government have learned those lessons. For the sake of the travelling public, and the memory of my constituents in particular, we deserve a better response.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
It is important to consider the background to the Fennell report, and I am pleased that the two members of the shadow Cabinet who have spoken in the debate, the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), praised the report and welcomed Mr. Fennell's comments.
When Mr. Fennell was asked to chair the inquiry he was considerably rubbished by Opposition Members, who claimed that he would not do a fair and reasonable job but would merely report what the Government wanted. I hope that they will now accept that Mr. Fennell did a comprehensive job and that we have before us a fine report which, hopefully, will lead to improved safety on the Underground.
I regret that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said that the Opposition would force a vote at the conclusion of the debate. Labour Members seem to have found an excuse to vote against the report. That is a pity because it sends out the wrong signals about the way in which we should be approaching the report. We should be considering it constructively and ensuring that all its recommendations are implemented.
A paramount question is whether in recent years the underground system has improved or deteriorated. Oddly, perhaps, the answer must be yes to both parts of that quesion. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said that there had been a 70 per cents increase in six years in the number of passengers using the Underground. For LRT that has been a magnificent triumph. Those who were concerned with the Underground some years ago would have considered such a turnround in the situation to have been impossible. We recall how, whichever body was running London Underground, the rate of passenger use decreased by 1 or 2 per cent. a year. Since LRT took over—perhaps since political interference was removed from the system—there has been a tremendous increase in usage.
It is because of that increase that the system has deteriorated. People boarding Underground trains on the Metropolitan line at Pinner or the Piccadilly line at Rayners Lane suffer dirty and crowded trains in which they cannot get a seat when they manage to board, and the platforms are crowded.
959 Despite that—indeed in response to it—there has been a large increase in capital spending. The Government are now giving LRT, for capital spending on the Underground, double that allocated by the GLC in its last year of existence. The GLC's spending plans would have kept capital investment levels constant. That must be borne in mind when Labour Members complain about the sums that should be spent on London Underground. Their comments on that score are claptrap because it is clear from the spending plans approved by the GLC in the last year when it had responsibility for the Underground that spending levels would have remained constant.
It is no good the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) complaining that ail he hears from the Conservative Benches are comments about increases in capital investment. He will hear a lot more about that because those increases will bring about the safety measures that we all want.
The revenue subsidies which were poured into LRT by the GLC were largely a complete waste of money. The hon. Member for Finsbury, South and Islington and other Opposition Members will be aware that that money was used to keep fares artificially low. It is clear that increases in fares have not deterred passengers because of the increase in passenger usage. Fare levels are not a huge consideration.
Uncharacteristically, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury did not include any figures in his comments. I rather suspect that he has examined the figures already and is aware that the reduction in revenue support matches the amount of money which has not been used for subsidising fares. It has not been removed from revenue support for staff, safety or running the system.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why transport systems in other capital cities in Europe still receive about 80 per cent. in terms of revenue support to keep fares low? That is the big attraction of the Paris Metro. Why are they doing that in other countries?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) probably spends most of his time in his chauffeur-driven car. If he travelled on the Underground, he would be aware of the fact that it is sometimes impossible to get on a train. The hon. Gentleman can hardly claim that the level of fares acts as a deterrent to passengers. What is the point of pouring public money into subsidising fares if they do not act as a deterrent? The hon. Member for Newham, North-West and his colleagues on the GLC milked the capital investment which should have been invested in LRT and perhaps that caused some of the problems that we have now. They used that money to subsidise fares. I do not believe that that did Londoners or London Underground any good.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Since the Conservative Government abolished the GLC, I have not had a chauffer-driven car at my disposal, as the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) is well aware. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Yes, it is a shame.
I can assure the hon. Member for Harrow, West that I use the Underground and British Rail every day to get to the House. However, will he answer the question that I put to him? Why are the operating costs of systems in other 960 capital cities subsidised to a much higher level, in some cases at about 80 per cent., while in London there will soon be nil revenue subsidy?
§ Mr. Hughes
At last the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has provided me with a good reason why the GLC should have been abolished. It took him out of his chauffeur-driven car and put him on the Underground.
§ Mr. Dobson
If depriving my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) of a chauffeur-driven car is the sole justification that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) can think of for abolishing the GLC, that is hardly a proper justification for transforming the whole of local government in London.
§ Mr. Hughes
I would not disagree with that.
A comparison between our transport system and that of systems in other capital cities is not reasonable. As has been said, our system is much older and larger. If revenue subsidies are not needed—and I do not believe that large revenue subsidies are needed—I do not understand why the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is arguing for them. We need more capital expenditure.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) is now a London-ish Member and able to make a good contribution to our debate. I join him in saying that the Government should not be afraid of saying that if more capital subsidy is required, it must be provided. The need for extra subsidy is the major subject on which I receive letters from my constituents. The number of hours that my constituents have to spend on London Underground makes their lives a misery.
We should welcome the fact that the Autumn Statement provides £266 million over three years for the Fennell report to be implemented in full. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest that if that proves not to be sufficient, and if more money is needed, the Government should respond generously. The Government's record in that area suggests that they will consider the matter generously and be prepared to provide the necessary money.
No reference has been made in the debate so far to the exchanges between counsel on behalf of the National Union of Railwaymen and the inspector. Mr. Cooper, the counsel for the National Union of Railwaymen, admitted during the inquiry that the fire was not the result of inadequate investment in the Underground. The exchange went as follows. The inspector said:.
It is the allocation of resources that I at the moment am persuaded about. I do not believe that there was a shortage of money; it was a question of allocation of it.Mr. Cooper said:Quite so, sir, and the wider aspect that another party was pursuing on that.The inspector said:I do not think that the disaster is about costs, if I can use that phrase?Mr. Cooper said:It is the allocation, getting priorities right.To which the inspector agreed.
I believe that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was rather confused when he opened the debate for the Labour party. If the management structure was poor, it was simply not up to making safety the required priority. There is no doubt that good management and safety go hand in hand in industry, whether in the public sector or the private sector. If there is not good safety, we can 961 guarantee that there is not good management, and vice versa. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East understands that. He does not understand that simply because the money is available that does not mean that it will be spent on the right things if there is poor management.
As has already been mentioned, it came as a shock to all of us who have examined this matter to discover that it was not LRT's policy to call the fire brigade immediately in the event of a fire. Smoke was obvious earlier in the evening and had the fire brigade been called when the smoke was first spotted the tragedy would not have occurred.
I welcome the fact that the London fire brigade claims that it now has a good relationship with LRT. It is called out on every occasion and, more to the point, it wants to be called out on every occasion as it would rather attend a series of false alarms than not be there on the spot when it is needed.
Opposition Members have referred to fire safety certificates which relate to the Fire Precautions Act 1971. It was thought that King's Cross did not need a fire safety certificate and it did not have one. Apparently no one thought that an application needed to be made. According to the Fennell report:Broadly speaking, the fire certificate may impose requirements for securing that the means of escape are adequate to meet the circumstances of the case, and are properly maintained and kept free from obstruction; that firefighting equipment is sufficient and satisfactorily maintained, …that employees are appropriately trained to deal with fire and its consequences.That seems to be very sensible and it is welcome that fire safety certificates will be applied for by other stations. However, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East did not say that that applies only to the larger stations.
The Fennell report, on page 241, continues:It should be observed that a significant number of smaller underground stations would fall outside the ambit of section 1 of the FPA 1971, owing to the employment limits not being satisfied.I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that the Angel, a station that I use fairly frequently, may not fall within that Act because it is relatively small. My hon. Friend the Minister should consider whether all Underground stations should be required to have fire safety certificates.
Hon. Members have already covered the detailed specific recommendations in the report, but I want to make one point about the King's Cross management. On page 18, the report says:London Underground did not guard against the unpredictability of fire.That is strange. I have never run a large concern, but in doing so surely safety must come first. It is interesting to compare what I have read in the report and what I know about London Regional Transport as a result of being involved with it on the GLC with my experience over the past few months while doing an industry and parliamentary trust fellowship with a chemical company. It is noticeable that in that chemical company, engaged in dangerous processes where people could be hurt making highly flammable chemicals, safety is the first item on the agenda at every executive and local board meeting and at meetings between management and trade unions. Safety is a primary issue.
One question that I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider, the answer to which I cannot find in 962 the report, is whether London Regional Transport or London Underground Ltd. has a director not primarily, but solely responsible for safety. I genuinely believe that without that the safety audit that is talked about in the report will not do the job that we want done. We need a man on the board to be in charge of safety.
We welcome the new and experienced chairman, Mr. Newton, at London Regional Transport. We have to give him time to come up with the goods to provide the underground system that we need. He deserves a year before we judge whether he has done that job. His task will be to take a proper management grip on London Regional Transport. There are visible signs that we should look for. A tiny but important example which could cause a problem is the indicator board at Baker Street, a station which my constituents use when travelling on the Metropolitan line. That board is the only way in which in advance of announcement people know from which platform their train will leave. A light on that indicator board has not been working for three years. A management which had a grip would have replaced that bulb. My message to Mr. Newton is that I and my constituents will be looking closely to see whether that bulb is replaced. That may sound a light-hearted matter but, as the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) knows because his constituents use the same line, many people have to move a long distance and that could cause a considerable problem.
We shall want to see that rubbish is cleared away from the Underground system. Knowing that I would seek to catch your eye this afternoon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was looking at litter when I travelled to the House of Commons today. I was not very impressed with the rubbish and the lack of cleanliness in the various stations that I used. I have no objection to people using bicycles —how could I when at the general election I voted for my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) —but I found it rather surprising to see someone take a bicycle on to a District line train today. That is not very safe and I wonder whether that should be reconsidered.
We shall also look for visible signs of security and safety on the trains. New Metropolitan police have been allocated to the Underground. I do not want to go into this in detail as other hon. Members wish to speak, but the response of the management and the Metropolitan police to the Guardian Angels was that the assistance of citizens was not needed or wanted. Whether the Guardian Angels are a reasonable group of people, or whether they were right for the London Underground, is not relevant. Such a group, even if it had to go under a different name, could have been managed by the Metropolitan police as a new branch of the specials. Citizens want to improve physical safety on our trains and platforms and they should have been encouraged to do so, not snapped at. They would have been a great benefit to the community. London Regional Transport's management should see whether we can encourage people to help with security.
Overcrowding on platforms is also a problem. At the last meeting that I had with Dr. Ridley before he resigned I raised the problem of overcrowding, particularly on the Victoria line at Victoria station where it is dangerous day after day. I may have taken some time to find out about that, but Dr. Ridley clearly did not know about it. It is still going on and we look to London Regional Transport to do something about it.
963 London Regional Transport should give real decision-making power to lower management. That has been done in connection with buses and in my constituency the bus service has improved as a result. After some initial teething troubles, Harrow Buses now runs a more comprehensive and reliable system than at any time since I have been a Member of Parliament. I have not had one complaint about the buses for six months. I shall probably now receive a torrent of letters complaining about them. Nevertheless, I have not had one complaint and that is a tribute to Harrow Buses. Real power has been given to local management and that could work on London Underground.
This is a good report. It has not been allowed to gather dust as so many reports do. It is a blueprint for a safe and easy-to-use Underground system. I commend the report and I commend the Government's response to it so far.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made a moving spech, as he did at the time of this particularly unfortunate tragic event. He paid tribute to the emergency services in London and elsewhere. We should be far more mindful of those services, not just when there is a tragedy—I regret that there have been too many transport tragedies recently—but all the time.
Words are cheap in this place. In some cases they are almost useless. We should not just wait for the occasion when the House unites in expressing profound regret at some calamitous event and then pays its normal orthodox tributes to the emergency services. Our capital city has superb emergency services. In many respects they are far better than we deserve, given the resources we make available to them. I hope that we shall return to provision for the ambulance service, the fire brigade and the police on an occasion other than after some tragedy that concentrates our mind. Then perhaps we can speak with a clear and easy conscience in the House. As far as I am aware, there are not many dangers in being a Member of Parliament. The only thing that we are likely to die of in this place is boredom. We do not face dangers such as those who serve the people of this country in the emergency services face daily.
I shall not go through the various points in the Fennell report in a forensic way—that has already been done for some time now. I want to draw some general conclusions about transport in London from the report. I was grateful recently when the Secretary of State found time, as they say, during his busy day to come to a meeting of the London group of Labour Members for a general discussion about transport facilities and provision in the capital. The right hon. Gentleman was helpful; there was no great meeting of minds, but we were grateful to him for listening to our points and trying to answer some of them.
The Secretary of State said one thing that shocked all our members. We had pointed out that there were so many reports and inquiries in London at present that we wondered who was taking a strategic overview of transport in London. From the chair, I asked him whether, since he had removed the strategic authority—the Greater London council—he was now effectively the strategic transport authority for London. He said that he was not.
964 My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) invited him to assume that responsibility. This is one of the gravest problems we face in London. No one is looking at the overall pattern of transport provision. That is a fatal weakness, and the Government must deal with it soon.
§ Mr. Spearing
I would not have intervened but for the fact that I tabled a question to that effect, to which I have just had a written answer. The Minister for Roads and Traffic said that legislation hadestablished London Regional Transport and charged them with the duty of planning and providing passenger transport services for Greater London.Apparently, the duty now devolves on LRT, which does not fill me with confidence.
§ Mr. Banks
That does not sound like what really happens. I cannot see how LRT can be responsible for the whole transportation system in London. Network SouthEast might have a few words to say about that.
I went to see British Rail board members about the siting of the second London terminal for the Channel tunnel, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I asked British Rail about the strategic implications of more and more people coming through King's Cross station area and the problems that that would cause for central London. British Rail board members said that they were sorry but that British Rail was a commercial transport undertaking, charged by the Government with being just that. They said that British Rail was not the strategic transport authority for London or the south-east—and that is correct.
All this is nonsense. The CBI has now decided to make some noises about the chaos that is beginning to overtake London transport. It is not good enough for the Government, the Secretary of State, Ministers or their apologists on the Back Benches to say that the market can somehow deal with all those matters and that there is no need for a strategic transport planning authority in London—there manifestly is. Such authorities exist in other capital cities in Europe; the Government must deal with this problem forthwith.
I should like to discuss capital and revenue subsidy for LRT and London Underground Limited in the context of what was done when the GLC was responsible. The Government have consistently pointed to high levels of capital investment on the Underground. I put it to the Minister that some of that capital expenditure makes the Underground system less safe. I refer immediately to the £165 million that is being spent on the Underground ticketing system and those infamous ticket barriers. They have been installed not for safety but to try to cut fare evasion. We join Conservative Members in saying that it is wrong for so many people to evade their fares. They make honest fare-paying passengers pay more. However, given the level of unemployment and social deprivation in London, it is not surprising that, with fare levels rising, people evade payment.
That answers the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), who said that no disincentive was caused by high fares. There is disincentive; it arises from people not paying the fares and still using the system. Then expensive capital investment is needed to cut the fare evasion that was created by sticking up fares in the first place. The hon. Gentleman needs to adopt a more sophisticated approach.
965 The other point about deterrence is that it begs the question: how does the hon. Member for Harrow, West know how many people who are not travelling on the system because of high fares have been deterred by them? If he claims that the answer shows up in the level of passenger usage, I put it to him that, because of the chaos on the roads, more and more people are using the transport system, not because they think it wonderful or comfortable but because it is the only way in which they can travel. Some people cannot exercise any choice. The hon. Member for Harrow, West should take other social factors into account before saying that higher fares do not constitute a disincentive.
We have heard about the failure of the gates. One does not need a Ph.D in transport management to work out, having used them, that the gates are highly inconvenient at the very least, particularly for people with luggage, children and pushchairs. They have made it more difficult and inconvenient to travel on the system. As was shown with the introduction of one-man operated buses, LRT could not give a monkey's toss for what the customer wants on the Underground or the buses. It receives plenty of complaints and just ignores them. Unless the Government are prepared to exercise their function as the transport authority to which London Regional Transport reports, customers of the Underground and bus system will complain into empty air.
One quarter of the capital investment for the Underground outlined in LRT's annual business plan for 1987–88 for the three years to 1989–90 was allotted to stations. In 1985–86, £34 million was spent on station modernisation.The refurbishment of stations has done little for passenger safety. At some stations refurbishment has meant covering up old wiring and asbestos panels with plastic, creating new fire risks.That is the opinion of the London Hazards Centre. The hon. Member for Harrow, West mentioned overcrowding on station platforms—yet much of the modernisation has had the effect of reducing platform areas. They may look prettier when passing through but for those standing on them they become less safe. This problem, too, needs attention.
The Government and Conservative Members have argued that they are spending more than the GLC did. I looked up the figures, because I guessed that the subject would come up in debate. The Government prevented the GLC from spending money on the Underground. I served on the Standing Committee considering the London Regional Transport Bill, in which the Government took responsibility for LRT from the GLC and vested it in themselves. That was done not because it was considered to be in the interests of the fare-paying public in London; it was done as a prelude to the abolition of the Greater London council.
The then Secretary of State for Transport—the present Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—was warned time and again. I have been reading the report of our proceedings, and recall that I was one of those who kept jumping up to say, "You are going to cut back on safety." The right hon. Gentleman pooh-poohed it—as he always does—saying, "Nonsense. I have complete confidence…" and so on.
We were saying all this long before the tragic disaster at King's Cross, and we need no lessons from Conservative 966 Members who say that we are trying to gain a party political advantage from that disaster. We are not doing that, but we certainly do not intend to say nothing and to allow the tragedy to cover up the real political battles that have taken place in Committee and on the Floor of the House. Unless we fight and win such battles there will be more King's Cross disasters, and no hon. Member wants that to happen.
The GLC wanted to spend £669 million on transport in 1983–84, its last year as the body responsible for LRT. The Government accepted expenditure of £461 million. At the time, the GLC said:These cuts have meant that the programmes devised by the council to maintain and modernise London's transport infrastructure have not been fulfilled. In particular London's 10-year programme to modernise the Underground"—we must remember that nearly all the central London system is more than 70 years old—had to be curtailed.That was the result of a decision made by the Government on purely party political, ideological grounds. They wanted to ensure that the GLC did not invest in the London Underground system, and they wanted to cut public expenditure.
Capital investment may well have increased under the present Government, but subsidy has virtually disappeared. That cannot be ignored by the hon. Member for Harrow, West or his hon. Friends. When the Government took over public transport in London in 1984, the last year of GLC control, operating subsidy stood at nearly £200 million. For 1988–89, subsidy is expected to be £39 million:, next year it will be down to £7 million—and the only reason for that £7 million is a Government grant to LRT to operate the grossly under-funded door-to-door service for the disabled, dial-a-ride. That too was originated and paid for by the GLC.
It should at least concern us that in the mid-1980s public transport in, for example, Turin covered 87 per cent. of operating costs. In Rome the figure is 81 per cent. In Amsterdam it is 80 per cent., in Paris 54 per cent., in Brussels 74 per cent., and even in that home of capitalism, the United States, Chicago and Washington have figures of 47 per cent. and 51 per cent. respectively. Why should the position be so different in London? The hon. Member for Harrow, West said that it was because we have the oldest and most extensive system, but that is an argument for funding it, and for funding it more generously than other capital cities fund theirs.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
No. That is an argument for spending more on capital, not for revenue subsidy. It was the hon. Gentleman and his friends on the GLC who did the opposite and caused so much damage.
§ Mr. Banks
I realise that the hon. Gentleman was chatting away when I read out the figures for capital and revenue, but he cannot keep repeating this one. It simply is not true. I thought I had explained at the beginning of my speech why I believe that it is possible through spending on the revenue side to avoid spending so much on the capital side—although I accept that capital investment is needed. The revenue side covers the number of uniformed staff who operate on the tranport system. That means that it is unnecessary to put capital investment into these ridiculous gates.
If we are serious about dealing with crime, safety problems and ticket evasion, we should consider the 967 revenue subsidies that would provide adequate staffing levels. Not only are they needed; they are what the public demand. We need not one or the other, but both. At least the hon. Member for Harrow, West has come halfway to agreeing with us that not enough is being spent on the capital side. I hope that eventually he will also see the sense of investing far more on the revenue side, for the two cannot be divorced in the simple way that he suggests.
If the Government are serious about Underground safety, why are they allowing LRT to get rid of all the guards? It makes no sense. I will say for the Minister that he is far more attuned to safety needs in the transport system than the former Secretary of State—the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury—would ever have been. He showed not the slightest interest in, or concern about, London's transport system. In the enormous letter that he sent to the chairman of LRT, he did not mention safety once. That was how much such priorities obsessed him: he could not care less. It is he who should be here in the dock today having to answer for what happened at King's Cross and elsewhere, but of course he has got out from under and is causing mayhem somewhere else in the body politic.
The Bakerloo line will be the next to lose all its guards. What will happen to passengers if there is a fire in a tunnel which incapacitates the driver? That is a serious possibility. There were 1,248 fires on the Underground in 1988, compared with 844 in 1987. A spokesperson for the London fire brigade tells me that there has been an increasing incidence of fires in tunnels. When the guards have gone, who will be responsible for safety if something happens to a driver?
According to a report in The Observer of 19 February 1989, there is still no automatic override to prevent driver operators from opening the doors on the wrong side. If the Government have really established the safety culture of which the Minister speaks, they must consider such matters, and I expect the Minister to do just that.
Let me conclude by asking the Minister a few specific questions. The Fennell report's verdict on the railway inspectorate is that it is mistaken in its interpretation of the law, which has been too relaxed, and that it has misunderstood its responsibilities. That is indeed an indictment. What progress has been made on Fennell's recommendation that consideration should be given to the establishment of a single passenger safety inspectorate, charged with monitoring and supervising standards in all passenger transport? If the Minister wants to prove his worth as one who subscribes to the idea of the safety culture, he should put it into effect. We do not want words; words are cheap in this place. What we want is a testament that there will be action.
Let me also ask the Minister why journalists and Members of Parliament still find it difficult to obtain information about safety from both LRT and London Underground Limited. Fennell says that the travelling public have a right to know about the safety arrangements made by transport operators, and the safety of the places in which they habitually gather.
The Minister knows, as I know, that the new ticket barriers are not safe. He gave assurances to the House in good faith, but then had to write letters to hon. Members saying that he had been misled. I hope that he kicked the 968 posteriors of those who inadvertently misled him into misleading us. If those new barriers are unsafe, why did not LRT employ an independent safety consultancy to look at them instead of Mott McDonald, a civil engineering consultancy that has worked with London Underground Limited many times before? Will the Mott McDonald report be made public when it eventually lands on the Secretary of State's desk?
What progress has been made in involving the unions more closely in safety matters? Fennell says:There must be more employee participation in the preparation and execution of London's underground safety programmes.The management of London Underground Limited is still mediaeval. There is to be another strike next week. If the Minister is interested in safety he must investigate the present industrial relations in London's transport system.
The Government have been monumentally complacent about the underground system and, as the Secretary of State admitted, they have denied any responsibility for the strategic overview. In the past, they have shown themselves unfit to run the Underground and bus system of the capital city. I remember the former Transport Minister telling the House:Ratepayers are well satisfied at finding less than half the sum which the GLC would have required in subsidy to mop up the industry. Neither I nor the management are complacent."—[Official Report, 23 February 1987; Vol. 111, c. 9.]I wish that Ministers would meet the travelling public in London more often. Then they would realise just how dissatisfied people are. The Fennell report reveals exactly how complacent the Government and London Regional Transport have been, and indicts the Government as derelict and unfit to be responsible for the running of a transportation system. That is the accusation I level at the Government tonight.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. There are still eight hon. Members, four from either side of the House, hoping to speak in the debate. Time is getting short, so I hope that hon. Members who are called will be fair to others by making brief speeches.
§ Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)
I shall honour your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be brief. I apologise for not having heard the two opening speeches, but a member of the royal family was opening a hospital in Ealing and that detained me.
I shall make two quick introductory points. First, quite rightly, smoking is banned on London Underground, but a number of stations, including Ealing Broadway, are joint British Rail and London Underground. Platform 4 of British Rail backs on to the Central line platform eastbound. Smoking is banned on London Underground but not on British Rail. There is a common booking hall and other common parts of the station. It would simplify matters if smoking were banned throughout joint British Rail and London Underground stations as it would avoid the present confusion. Secondly, 18 months after the tragedy at King's Cross one man who died is still unidentified. It is sad that we live in a society in which someone can die and no one notices—no friends, no family 969 and no employer. If it is tragic to die in circumstances such as the King's Cross tragedy, how does one describe a death that no one notices?
I wish to make three points about the Fennell report which is excellent. In particular, I pay tribute to the diagrams which are essential if one is to understand the three-dimensional nature of the problem. Although the Fennell report relates to King's Cross, much of it has a much broader application. Chapter 14 on "The Auditing of Safety" recommends a structural response to safety issues which is equally relevant to construction companies and the airline industry. The concepts of introducing safety audits paralleling the financial audits, setting standards of safety and monitoring progress towards them are extremely relevant. I hope that the recommendations will be read not only by people responsible for London Underground but by people who have broader responsibility for safety throughout commerce and industry.
The same is true of chapter 15 which deals specifically with "Station Staffing and Training." The approach that it recommends is equally applicable throughout British industry. The concept of proper training, proper fire prevention drills and the evaluation of job training and joint exercises with the emergency services have a much broader application than London Underground. One can well imagine the shambles described in chapter 10 being replicated in other parts of our society if there were a similar fire. Much in the report has general application and I hope that the coherent response on safety issues that is recommended will be taken up more broadly.
Secondly, I wish to raise some of the specific action taken by British Rail to deal with the recommendations. I declare an interest—sadly, not a financial one—as a sponsor of the British Rail (King's Cross) Bill. Much in that Bill will not be controversial. Part of the work suggested involved an escalator and a subway connection between the Circle line platforms and the three tube line platforms. That will allow passengers to change lines without passing through the ticket hall as they do at present. That work would reduce the pedestrian flow through the ticket hall by about 30 per cent. and release enough space to accommodate further growth in demand for several years to come. I hope that there will be no difficulty about that. There are also plans to enlarge the existing underground ticket hall on the north and west sides to provide additional circulating space to deal with further growth in demand.
An eastern ticket hall under the Bravington block on the corner of York way and Pentonville road is to be constructed to serve the three tube lines and the Thameslink platforms. That will replace the existing street entrance in Pentonville road, but it is in a far better position so is expected to take pressure off the existing entrances to the Underground and the ticket hall. The relocation of the Thameslink station, the expansion of the Thameslink services and the new subway connections between the Thameslink platforms and the main line platforms at King's Cross will segregate the British Rail traffic from that on the London Underground and avoid some of the congestion that has been referred to.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who is not in his place, said that if King's Cross were to be the international terminal the problem would be made worse. I hope that we will have the opportunity to debate the matter more fully, but one can 970 argue exactly the opposite with some force. If King's Cross were chosen as the second international terminal for London, it would reduce the number of passengers who would otherwise have to cross London from Waterloo, many using the Underground. If there were through trains to the north going through London it would reduce even further the number of people who would have to travel to King's Cross to change trains. Therefore, the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury are not all one-sided and one can argue the opposite. Doubtless we shall do so on a suitable occasion.
Thirdly, the problem at the heart of the Fennell report and our debate is congestion. Page 153 of the report states:We heard evidence about the greatly increased use of the Underground system in recent years and the effects of congestion on passenger safety at King's Cross station and more generally.Almost every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has mentioned congestion on the Underground. All the forecasts that I have seen suggest that it will get worse. So we are confronted with the problem of increasing capacity. We have squeezed almost all the capacity out of the existing system. We could create some marginal extra capacity by introducing new signalling systems, new rolling stock and perhaps some adjustments to platforms, but ultimately we need new tube lines in London to reduce pressure on the existing system.
Finally, given the understandable constraints on public expenditure to which all Conservative Members subscribe. will my hon. Friend the Minister explore to the full the opportunities for joint funding of new tube lines in London? Will he engage urgently in negotiations with the private sector to find some way of expanding the public transport network in London without relying wholly on public sector finance? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Department have done sterling work by getting the private sector to invest in transport. The Dartford crossing is a good example and the Heathrow express linking Paddington to the airport will be privately funded. There is an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to pursue even further the initiatives on which he has already embarked to get at the heart of the problem underlying our debate. There is simply not enough capacity on the public transport system to cope with London's booming economy. If we are not to bust the public expenditure constraints which we accept, and if we are not to put up with the congestion, we shall have to look urgently at the solutions that I have mentioned to see if, as Conservatives, we can get the private sector to invest in the improvement of the capital's infrastructure and resolve the problem at the heart of our debate this evening.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
The Secretary of State said that the lessons of Fennell go wider than London Underground. That is true. The lessons of the Fennell report go to the heart of the Government's attitude to public service and public spending and I shall return to that later in my speech.
Like thousands of my constituents in Hackney, I use King's Cross station and termini every day. Like thousands of people throughout London, when I heard the news of the King's Cross fire and heard about the dreadful way in which those people died, struggling to get to the surface, like millions of Londoners who are regular commuters, I thought, there but for the grace of God….
971 I remember—I doubt whether the Secretary of State or Ministers do because they do not use the tube regularly —travelling through King's Cross station the day after the fire and looking at the set expressions on commuters' faces. It will not avail Conservative Members to read from the Whips Office briefing. It will not avail the Secretary of State to talk about more money being spent and more capital investment. I have used London Underground since I was a schoolgirl travelling to Harrow County school for girls on the Metropolitan line. I, like millions of lifelong London commuters, have seen its decline in the past decade under this Government. I have seen an increase in squalor, overcrowding and crime and I have seen the extent to which people, particularly women, are frightened to travel at night.
There is no doubt that, whatever their political persuasion, Londoners have seen a public transport system which was the envy of the world decline to a state of sad and seedy squalor. As this is now the triumphant 10th anniversary of Thatcherism and as the decline has occurred in the decade of Thatcherism, one does not need to be a political scientist or an expert on the politics of transport to know where to point the finger of blame. The finger of blame for the squalor, decline and seediness of the underground system points squarely at the Government. Every London commuter knows that.
I want to raise three main points. I have been approached by some of my constituents and by members of the unions concerned to raise with the Minister the fact that on the very day of the King's Cross fire employees of London Regional Transport who tried to hand out leaflets to passengers explaining the safety problems on the London transport system—problems which have been fully justified and supported by the Fennell report—were disciplined for their pains. I also understand that in the aftermath of the Clapham accident employees were disciplined or threatened with disciplinary action for trying to raise those important safety issues.
I ask the Minister to respond to that claim, which was widely aired in the newspapers at the time, and to give the House an assurance that in the future no employee of LRT or British Rail will be disciplined for trying to bring to the public's attention the very real safety problems. There is nothing that members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen or the National Union of Railwaymen have said about safety on London's transport system that is not amply borne out by the Fennell report.
We have listened to speeches from some Conservative Members claiming that the problem was not a lack of investment. However, as has been pointed out, even by some Conservative Members, the Government are boasting that their main response to the Fennell report is an investment of £266 million. One cannot square the fact that their response to the report is that much-needed shot of extra investment with the claim that investment was not the problem. If it was not a problem, why is there to be new investment? It is obvious to every traveller on the Underground that it is suffering from a lack of capital investment and revenue expenditure.
Only a Government with a fixed and dogmatic opposition to public expenditure and the public sector in general could deny that public expenditure and investment 972 in public transport in the capital city ought to be the highest priority. The Government should be ashamed that public investment and public subsidy for our transport system in London have fallen so low. I should like the Minister at the Dispatch Box to defend that position. The level of investment and subsidy for London Transport is among the lowest in Europe.
The Secretary of State has made great claims about the new safety culture. That is not before time. I was horrified, in the same way as anybody who read the Fennell report must have been, to read that there was nothing explicitly about safety in the standing orders of either LRT or London Underground. That has now been rectified, but it was clear that until the tragedy which took so many lives the priority of the managements of LRT and London Underground was profit.
As the Secretary of State said, the lessons of the Fennell report go wider than London Underground. For a decade we have had a Government who say that the market and profit are all-important. They believe that the public sector, those who work in it and anything it does should be denigrated. Therefore, it is no surprise that we end up with public sector services in the poor state of London Underground today. The Government put mammon before everything and their motto, as J. Galbraith said, is public squalor and private riches. Therefore, it is no surprise that we had a terrible disaster such as that we saw at King's Cross.
Opposition Members hope, speaking for the millions of people in London who depend on public transport, that the terrible disaster has changed the Government's mind and forced them to focus on the importance of investment in the public sector together with the importance of public transport to London and a high level of subsidy. At the Dispatch Box today we have seen a Secretary of State who is perhaps, unfortunately, on his way out. Let us hope that the debate will encourage a new culture among the Government in which there is pride in public transport and the public sector. Let us hope that money for public transport is on its way.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)
What the debate ought to be about and what it is about are two different things. It should be about the points made in chapter 2, paragraph 14, of the Fennell report. It should be about finding the cause of the disaster. I stress the word "cause" rather than "blame" because those two words are also different. It should be about ensuring that such a tragedy never happens again. In fact, the debate has been about who is to blame and what produced the causes rather than about the causes themselves. That amounts simply to raking over the past for cheap party-political gain.
We should have been debating the importance of improving the future of our transport system and reassuring the travelling public. We should have been asking constructive questions such as whether the Fennell recommendations are the right recommendations to which we may wish to add—[Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has come back to listen because I listened to his speech. I did not try to interrupt him, so I hope that he will listen to what I have to say in the same spirit.
When I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, I did not hear a single constructive comment.
973 It was a knocking job from start to finish and his message boiled down to an assertion that the Government were to blame for the tragedy and that cuts caused the fire. He is wrong on both counts but, as we have seen in the past, being wrong does not bother him a bit. Facts must not be allowed to stand in his way when he wants to kick about. The needs of the public must not be allowed to stand in his way when he is searching for a scapegoat.
§ Ms. Abbott
Will the hon. Gentleman cease his personal attacks on my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and turn to the issues raised by the Fennell report?
§ Mr. Wilshire
I am most grateful for that intervention. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) could have seen my notes here.
So far, we have heard nothing constructive from the Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] If Labour Members are prepared to press their case, I am prepared to examine it in exchange. Labour's case is founded on the concept of the Government being to blame for everything—any Government, not necessarily the present one. Apart from naked self-interest, why do Labour Members say that? The reason is simply that they are still hooked on a Socialist ideology. To a Socialist, when discussing matters such as the King's Cross fire, every problem is the fault of somebody else. To a Socialist, every solution must come from the nanny state. Socialists need to be able to blame the Government to justify the Government taking over and running our lives in future.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman cease his strictures on the nature of Socialism today and get back to the Fennell report? It is far from him to accuse us of not being constructive when all he has done is to attack my hon. Friends and Socialism. Let us hear about the Fennell report and safety for the people who use the London Underground.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I find such interventions fascinating. The Opposition are prepared to hand it out, but if someone tries to repay them in kind, they cannot take it.
Building on false foundations, the Labour party's detailed case on the report is equally flawed. Throughout the debate, Labour Members have been citing a lack of money. They have tried to ignore paragraph 3 in chapter 19. I shall quote it once again. It says:In my judgment there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards. I accept the evidence…that if funds were needed, funds were available.Throughout the debate, Labour Members have ignored the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). When the inspector said:I do not believe there was a shortage of money",counsel for the National Union of Railwaymen said,Quite so, Sir.Labour Members have also ignored the huge boost in investment by the Government in the Underground system since the Greater London council lost control of it. The best they have been able to do is to try to muddy the water by pointing to subsidised fares in other European countries. Yet subsidised fares simply mean cheaper, not necessarily safer, journeys.
There are some issues in the report that arise out of the question of money. The report refers to the state of mind 974 within London Regional Transport. If those managers began to take the view that there was no more money available, the Labour party should be feeling guilty, because it has been saying over and over again that there is no more money. Labour Members can hardly be surprised when people start to believe them.
The second issue raised in the report is that of under-spending. It is made clear that money was available for spending, but was not spent. That gives the lie to the claim that money was not available and also highlights, yet again, one of the classic weaknesses of public bureaucracies the world over, which is that they find it difficult to meet their spending targets.
§ Mr. Prescott
Of late, I have heard the hon. Gentleman saying that a privatised airport at Heathrow was not up to dealing with safety. His point about whether money could be saved was addressed by Dr. Ridley himself, who said that he did not spend the full amount of £5 million because of pressures from the board to save and contribute towards cutting costs. The hon. Gentleman would have seen that in the Fennell report if he had read it, instead of taking selected bits and speaking on them.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I have done my level best to digest all the facts and to listen to the nonsense spoken by the Opposition. The truth is in the report. There are ample instances of under-spending against allocations and a higher level of safety could have been achieved if the money had been spent. That is a classic case of what happens in a bureacracy.
The third lesson that I draw about money is the issue of management criteria. One telling example in the report is the comment made about using train miles as a measure of expenditure when passenger miles might have been a better yardstick. If we are to go down such an avenue and if we, as politicians, are to allow ourselves to be drawn into management details at that level, heaven help the travelling public. It is the worst possible action for politicians to meddle in detailed management.
. The second plank in Labour's case is the lack of staff. Labour Members ignore another section of the Fennell report, paragraph 6 of Chapter 19, which says:I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster".If there are any issues about staff numbers arising from the report, they concern staff attitudes, skills and training—in other words, they concern quality rather than quantity. Those are the areas covered by some of the most fundamental recommendations in the report.
The only response from the Labour party to such issues is that we should be spending more and that we should be employing more people. It just goes to show how little they have learnt in 10 years of opposition. I also find it interesting to notice what has not been said by the Opposition. What about the thrower of the match? We have heard nothing about him or her from Labour Members because it would not suit them to mention that point. If we start talking about individual responsibility or if we say that individual members of the public should show some initiative, we are doing the opposite of what the Labour party wants in this country. It is equally fascinating that Labour Members have said nothing about the staff who ignored the debris.
§ Mr. Dobson
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had read the report rather than the extracts supplied by the Government Front Bench. He would note that Mr. Fennell made it clear that no responsibility lay with what he regarded as the humble members of staff for the cause of the fire or anyone's response to it. Before the hon. Gentleman directs his attention to the weakest, the poorest and the most over-worked in his nasty, slanderous and unpleasant way, can he turn a little attention to his hon. Friends on the Front Bench? He should remember that they run a Department and are responsible for a railway inspectorate, which either ought to have known or did know about everything that was wrong with safety on London Regional Transport and which did nothing. That is confirmed in the report.
§ Mr. Wilshire
The great difficulty with an issue of this sort is that, to try to give it comprehensive coverage, we must tackle difficult and emotive subjects such as individual people and members of staff. Far be it for me to repeat what Labour Members have been saying all day. They are only points about the role of the Government, and they have been made time and again. It must fall to somebody to tackle the issues which, for whatever reason, Labour Members do not wish to be tackled. We must ask questions about individuals who throw matches and ignore smoking rules, and about individual people at work. Individual people at work are capable of showing initiative and of taking responsibility. Again, if people at their workplace do things of that sort, it is the exact opposite of what the Labour party wishes to see.
§ Mr. Dobson
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that, with omniscience denied to the Fennell panel, the thrower of the match has been identified as a member of staff? That is the logic of his argument.
§ Mr. Wilshire
All I am suggesting is that the Labour party would have us believe that the Government must do something and that no one else need take any responsibility for what happens in this country. That is crazy.
Sixteen months ago, an awful tragedy took place in this country. The whole nation—every single one of us—shares the grief of all those who were bereaved. The whole nation shares the admiration for the rescue services that took part in dealing with the tragedy. The whole nation shares appreciation and respect for Desmond Fennell and the recommendations in his report. But the whole nation also shares my disgust at the Labour party's response to recent transport tragedies. Time and again, we have heard the same response. On transport matters, Labour Members increasingly appear like a flock of vultures, wheeling overhead waiting to swoop, and trying yet again to score cheap party political points. They are almost willing some other tragedy to happen so that they can blame the Government and, if possible, berate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. They should be ashamed of themselves.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) spoke about individual responsibility. I disagree with the tone and content of his speech. For the first time in the House, I publicly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He rightly praised 976 ambulance men and women, but he talked about the magnificent emergency services. Magnificent they could be, but, alas, the London ambulance service is far from magnificent. As a London Member, irrespective of his party, the hon. Member for Spelthorne has a public responsibility to do something about it.
I have had three Adjournment debates on the chaos that now exists in the London ambulance service. That chaos is caused by a lack of funding and the lack of the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health. This debate is not about health; it is about the problems that arise from disasters. Individual ambulance men and firemen perform magnificently, but, in terms of back-up to the London ambulance service, for which he has a personal responsibility to the public and to the House, the hon. Gentleman should do something about the chaos. If he does not know about the chaos, I will tell him about it.
That brings me to the subject of the debate. On the terrible day after the King's Cross disaster I had the good or bad luck to put a written question to the Secretary of State for Transport, asking him to list the incidents on London underground railways which had caused risk to human life from electrical, mechanical or human failure. For too long before the King's Cross inquiry, London Members were concerned about the issue and were exercising their individual responsibilities to try to do something about it. I now put to the hon. Member for Spelthorne something which I hope that he will accept as wholly constructive. I also put an oral question to the Secretary that day. At the opening of the Liverpool-Manchester railway, a well-known Member of the House, the then Secretary of State for Trade, was killed. Since that day the House has properly been concerned with railway safety.
During the 19th century, a series of regulations were adopted, first by the then Board of Trade and then by the Department of Transport and its inspectorate, which established a threshold to protect human life. If one did that on the basis of free market economics, it would probably be worthwhile for aircraft operators or London Transport to pay out large sums of money for compensation to balance the additional safety costs. Hon. Members rightly believe that market forces should not operate in such matters. I hope that I take the hon. Member for Spelthorne with me in that respect. I wish to operate in the spirit of cross-party accord. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me when it comes to aeroplanes or other forms of mechanical transport.
We are told that safety should have been uppermost in the minds of the operators. It is in the Act, even if it was not in the long, additional and unnecessary instruments which the then Secretary of State, the present Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), brought forward. As we know from the Fennell report, there was no item on the agenda of any board meeting in which safety was mentioned. That is remarkable. Underground railways are endemically liable to fire. They are full of high tension and low tension electric currents, and insulation can break down. There are accumulations of rubbish and building adjustments—such as those at Tottenham Court road—where fire originates. There are false draughts, chimney effects and the damaging effect of smoke underground. All that has been known for 70 or 80 years, yet, for reasons which I cannot understand, safety was not a regular item of report at board meetings.
977 That is rather surprising, in view of the number of underground fires. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) said that there were 1,000, particularly on escalators. From the Fennell report we learnt that, in 1944, an escalator at Paddington was gutted by fire. It was known that escalators, particularly the type at King's Cross, were an endemic risk, and sprinklers were fitted to try to minimise it. The Fennell report tells us that sprinklers were originally switched on every day to keep things damp. It was then found that they corroded the mechanism, so the practice was changed to once every fortnight. Paragraph 15 of chapter 7 of the report states:As a compromise it became the practice to apply the water fog about once a fortnight. In recent years however the water fog equipment has not been operated regularly.I was sorry that Fennell did not investigate that matter and ask why it was not operated regularly. I will not say that, if the supervisors at King's Cross knew where the valves were and that if the valves had been operated regularly, it might have been enough to dampen the fire. It was certainly an important link in the chain of the cause and events of the fire. It is a chain of events with about 14 sequences. If any one of them had been broken, the fire would not have occurred. Therefore, I am sorry that the Fennell report does not examine that matter to the degree that it might, particularly as it was recognised after the Tottenham Court road and Oxford Circus fires that passenger safety was at risk.
A report from the London Passenger Transport Research Group—"Passenger Safety and Protection from Fire on London's Tube Railways"—which was published on 15 February 1985, said:By definition, inadequate precautions against fire and smoke is unsafe practice. Since Oxford Circus there have been other instances where deep-level LRT tube stations have been temporarily closed because of fires, one of which was in the escalator shaft at Green Park, another busy central London station. This incident blocked the final means of exit from the Piccadilly Line platforms precisely the danger that the London fire regulations seek to avoid by insisting on two means of exit. An alternative way out was fortunately available at Green Park, through a lengthy passageway from the Victoria Line. But if the fire had broken out in the combined Piccadilly and Bakerloo escalator shaft at Piccadilly Circus…In recent years, London Transport, now London Regional Transport, have been extremely fortunate that no lives have been lost in fires on the Underground. There is little doubt that a major catastrophe was averted at Oxford Circus owing to the initiative and quick actions of the Underground's staff.Luck has a habit of running out.Well, two years later luck did run out. We have to acknowledge that that was due partly to lax management, for the reasons that I have outlined.
But I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that there was another factor. He may have knowledge of business and may agree that in business—certainly any business that I have known—the people who are listened to and the people who are promoted are the ones who go with the current trend. They may be concerned with installing computers, with a new type of marketing, with some new idea that has come out from some college, or with some technique that has only just been discovered. At any rate, these specialists suddenly shoot to the top. For good reasons or bad, London Regional Transport was being asked to cut costs.
I put it to the hon. Member for Spelthorne that the atmosphere at that time will have been helpful to those with bright ideas about how to reduce costs. Such people 978 will perhaps have been promoted, having been investigating that particular frontier of activity. Those who could produce ideas for cutting costs will have been listened to, and promoted above others, because that was the aim of the organisation at that time. Indeed, the preoccupation of the board was probably not at all with running the railway as it was; the board was looking ahead at financial matters and all sorts of things. I suggest that that is the psychology of the situation that we all experience in one way or another, and I challenge the Minister to deny it.
§ Mr. Dobson
Does my hon. Friend not agree that information that came to me by way of a leaked early draft of the London Regional Transport business plan made this clear by saying that there was no scope for efficiency savings last year because the money had to be spent on safety?
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the point. This is where I hope I can take both sides of the House with me.
The Minister will agree that this House, on advice from the railway inspectorate, must set the standards below which public safety cannot be allowed to go. We all agree with the fire regulations in regard to cinemas and shops. A t one time there were no such regulations, but we insisted on them. I challenge the Minister to say that the railway inspectorate, or any equivalent, is part of the nanny state. It is not; it is part of the way in which the public protects itself. The public protects itself with an ambulance service and a fire service, as well as sound standards of operation on the railways. I am not sure that at present we have got all three right. In any case, that is not the nanny state; it is just public protection of life. I hope that the Minister is with me on that point.
We now have to ask ourselves whether the lessons of King's Cross have been learned. I am afraid that they have not. On 13 March I pointed out to the Minister for Public Transport the number of shortcomings still existing in London Regional Transport. Indeed, I have heard of some more. I understand—this is subject to checking—that the covering of footbridges, to prevent people from chucking stuff over the top, has been postponed. I understand that walking of the track has been reduced, even in the last few months. Certainly there are threats of still lower manning levels in the central London stations—something that is surely quite wrong. In a detailed letter to the Minister, I referred to the one-person operation of deep tube railways in London. I believe that that is inherently dangerous. increases risk. It puts another weak link in the chain of the protection of life, and that is something on which Members on both sides of the House can agree.
On 19 November 1987 I asked the then Secretary of State for Transport, who, I am sorry to note, has just gone, a question following his statement on the King's Cross tragedy of the previous day. I said:Does he agree that in striking a balance that is always present between efficiency and safety, the regulations and management decisions inherent in that balance should receive the widest possible consent and agreement between those employed on the underground and those who travel on it?",the people who travel on it being us. To his great credit, the Secretary of State immediately said:I am sure that as a general statement that must be right." —[Official Report, 19 November 1987; Vol. 122, c.1207]But we have not got that. There is not that general consent about the balance between efficiency and safety that any Government, of any party, of any Parliament in the world, 979 surely requires of its public services, whether publicly owned or privately owned. That is one of the problems that the Government have got themselves into.
Until recently the referees were the railway inspectorate, somewhat at arm's length from the Board of Trade or the Department of Transport. It could say to the LNER, or to the Midland Railway, or to London Transport, or to the old Metropolitan Railway, that it must do this, this and this. But now we have people determining the running of the railways on the basis of commercial objectives, as is illustrated by that infamous letter from the then Secretary of State, who was also responsible for setting the standards. I believe that in a democracy that is an unacceptable conflict of interests. It has been suggested that the railway inspectorate might be transferred to the Health and Safety Executive, or at least away from the Secretary of State for Transport. There is an argument for that. It must be possible to demonstrate independence, but I believe that that lesson has not yet been learned. If it had been, there would at least have been a halt in the extension of one-person operation on the deep-level tubes in London, and there would be a better staff relationship.
It must be pointed out that the industrial problems that may emerge yet again on the London Underground are not a matter of pay and conditions, but have to do with the very thing that the Secretary of State left out—investment in human quality. He is right to say that the system is dependent on human beings, but I do not think that the relationship between the management and the workers of London Underground is as it should be. It has declined disastrously, even since King's Cross.
In conclusion, irrespective of our view about management, about funding or about ownership, the standards that we want to see inserted by law, by a technically competent body, in this mode of transport have not been inserted. They must be seen to be inserted and supervised, and they must have the confidence of those employees who operate the service and, above all, of those who represent the travelling public. It is quite clear that, despite what has happened since King's Cross, that confidence does not exist on either side of this House.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
At this stage in the debate there is a danger of repetition, which I shall try to avoid, especially because at least two other hon. Members wish to speak and I do not want to crowd them out.
One of the measures of a civilised city is that it has a good public transport network—I take that phrase to include a safe public transport network. Like most other hon. Members who have spoken, I have Underground stations in my constituency. In fact, I have three and the Underground is therefore a main means of travel for my constituents. They have a natural concern about safety issues, over and above the normal human feeling that we all felt on the night of that dreadful tragedy.
I join virtually every hon. Member who has spoken in congratulating those who produced the Fennell report. This must be one of the rare occasions when we have produced an unusual animal—a popular barrister. However, the praise that has been heaped on Mr. Fennell has been well deserved.
980 My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has rightly instructed the new chairman of LRT to give top priority to implementing the new safety measures and again that will be welcomed by all hon. Members. The sum of £266 million may trip off the tongue and has been much quoted, but it is a big sum to be given over the next three years and is ample evidence that safety is a top priority.
First, I want to put a small point to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport. Although I have put it to him previously, this is a good opportunity to repeat it. Several hon. Members who have spoken today—and many others—represent areas that are not in Greater London. Hon. Members who represent Greater London know that rates bills have recently leapt up considerably as a result of the LRT charge, the main element of which related to the improved safety measures. I have no complaint about the improved safety measures nor, I judge, has a single one of my constituents. However, it seems a little perverse to expect the full cost to fall on the residents of the London boroughs and none of it on, say, the people of Epping Forest, Chelmsford or many parts of Hertfordshire, or those who are just visiting London. In addition, as many tourists visit London, the Underground must be regarded as a national rather than a uniquely local system. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend again to review the spread of the percentages.
The second thing that I want to stress is the whole question of public safety information. Hon. Members will know of my long attachment to the need of promoting access to information both in local government—I refer to the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985, which I introduced—and in a whole range of areas, relating especially to safety. Paragraph 21 of chapter 19 of the Fennell report is worth quoting. It states:I view with dismay the suggestion that information gained by a statutory authority which has a bearing on the safety of the public using a system for mass transportation should not be made publicly available. The travelling public have a right to know about the safety arrangements made by transport operators and the safety of places in which they habitually gather.I emphasise those points because over the years when I have pressed for greater access to information, I have been told, "The public won't know", or "The public won't care", or even, "If you give them that information, they may be alarmed." However, if we want the public to be better educated and to have, for example, a better means of measuring risk, we cannot deny them the means by which they will be better educated. We cannot cosset them and say at the same time that we expect them to be answerable for their decisions because they have no way of being able to know the facts if the facts are suppressed and kept from them.
I take issue briefly with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. On more than one occasion recently he has said—this was echoed by his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—that there is an exact equation between becoming more efficient and cost effective on the one hand, and cutting safety on the other. There must be no such equation, and in a well-run organisation there will not be one. It is akin to saying that it is impossible to run a profitable manufacturing company if one has to take account of environmental controls. One must take account of environmental controls and doing so is an essential payment for that business, just like heat and light, or 981 wages. It would be extraordinary if we became hooked on the belief that it is wrong to be cost-effective and to seek to make large undertakings more efficient because along the way they would ditch safety because, particularly in a transport undertaking, safety is a sine qua non of the operation.
I have two main concerns for my constituents and both impinge on safety issues. The first has already been touched on—the existing congestion. We must increase the number of trains and carriages and lengthen the platforms. Perhaps there could be new lines, but above all we need cleaner trains and stations. We want an Underground system to be proud of. We want one that attracts people to travel on it rather than making them feel that they are going through some sort of mangle twice a day just to go about their ordinary work.
My second concern relates to the safety of the individual. Because of its length it is difficult to read the report in detail, but I am appalled when I hear that surveys of travellers have shown a high fear of travelling on trains and on the Underground, especially at night and especially among women. I am not surprised by that, but I find it appalling. It is an unacceptable fear and, in passing, I should add that, financially, it is a silly position to be in. It may well be that people's perceptions do not represent the true position. People tend to exaggerate fear and the true danger that they face may be less, but it is the perception that matters because that is the factor that determines the way in which people do or do not travel. I should like the Underground to do much more in the next few years to increase protection for the traveller. I welcome unreservedly the investment in machinery and in mechanical means, such as personal radios, which have been mentioned. However, we must tackle the ghastly situation which deters women in particular from travelling on our great rail network late at night.
In conclusion—I promised to be brief—I believe that safety was not given sufficient prominence under the previous London Underground management and that that clearly contributed to the King's Cross tragedy. Most of the Fennell report recommendations have already been accepted and are already being implemented to the broad approval of hon. Members of all parties. However, as the report makes clear, it is a gross calumny to suggest that the accident was caused by a shortage of Government funds. It was caused by an excess of bad management.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
The fact that the debate has been dominated so far by hon. Members representing London constituencies should not be allowed to obscure the importance of the accident at King's Cross as being of national rather than simply metropolitan significance. The transport system of the capital city must be safe, not only for its residents but for citizens of the whole kingdom. That is especially the case for a main line railway station that serves the whole of the north and the east of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is possible to travel direct to King's Cross from my constituency.
In this most lucid report, Mr. Fennell, who does not seem to have been regarded with the same enthusiasm for his remarks as leader of the Bar in response to the Lord Chancellor's Green Paper, expressly said that he was not engaged in a prosecution. However, in effect, he handed 982 down an indictment and had I been prosecuting on that indictment I would not have expected the jury to leave the court before returning a verdict.
In my judgment, the single most important sentence of the report is in paragraph 14 of chapter 1, where Mr. Fennell states:it is my view that a disaster was foreseeable.Foreseeability is a test of negligence and if the events were foreseeable, the absence of steps to prevent them was clearly negligent. When the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that, although a disaster was foreseeable, the scale of the disaster was not foreseeable, he seemed unconsciously perhaps to make precisely the point that ought to be made about the report and about t he attitude of London Underground. If the scale of a disaster is not foreseeable, that is all the more reason for taking steps to prevent any accident occurring. The notable feature of what Mr. Fennell found was that London Underground took precautions about outbreaks of fire but did not seem to have a philosophy that compelled it to take steps to prevent fire.
The truth is that the accident could have occurred on many previous occasions and could have caused the deaths of many more people. Why is that? Because London Underground took the view that fires were inevitable and did not take steps to prevent them. As Mr. Fennell found, London Underground had a blind spot about the hazard of fire on escalators. He also found that no one person was charged with overall responsibility for safety. For example, the director of operations and the director of engineering each thought that he was responsible for safety in his own division, but principally for the safety of his own staff.
The accident could have occurred before because specialist safety staff were in junior positions and were concerned with the safety of staff and not passengers. It could have occurred before because there was no system to train staff in fire drill or evacuation procedures. Of course, in London Underground, prior to the events with which the report is concerned, fires were described by the somewhat disingenuous euphemism of "smouldering". It was accepted that describing them in that way inevitably created a false sense of security. All of those defects were exhibited on the occasion of the tragic fire with which we have been concerned, when the response of the staff was described by Mr. Fennell as unco-ordinated, haphazard and untrained.
The purpose of the debate is to consider wherein lay the responsibility for those matters. If money was not a bar to putting into effect appropriate safety procedures, it makes all the more acute the negligence that gave rise to the accident that caused the deaths. Under the London Regional Transport Act 1984 responsibility for safety was laid on LRT. It believed that it could discharge that responsibility by delegating it to London Underground—an action of which Mr. Fennell expressly disapproved.
We are also entitled to ask, what of the Department of Transport and its Ministers? In the letter of 20 July 1984, to which reference has been made several times in the debate, four tasks were laid upon LRT in relation to Underground services—to improve the services, to reduce costs, to involve the private sector and to promote better management—but no mention was made of safety anywhere within the four corners of that letter. If safety is paramount now, why was it not paramount then?
983 The performance of those tasks must have been monitored by officials of the Department of Transport and also by Ministers. Why did no one ask about safety? Why did no one ask whether those tasks could be accomplished without prejudicing safety? One is entitled to ask what consideration the Department of Transport, through its Ministers or its officials, gave to the safety of the oldest Underground system in the world. If they gave none, in the light of the palpable and obvious defects which Mr. Fennell recites in his report, why did they not give consideration to those issues? If the negligence is as obvious as has been rehearsed in the report, why was it not brought to the attention of Ministers? Why did Ministers not seek out information of that kind for themselves?
It would be churlish to do other than welcome all the improvements that have taken place and that are proposed. But I ask myself again, if these improvements are now so obvious, why were they not obvious before the accident? Mr. Fennell has provided the answer to that question. He said that the accident was foreseeable. The disaster was foreseeable by London Underground, by London Regional Transport, by the Department of Transport and also by Ministers. On the occasion of this solemn debate the House is entitled to ask itself whether Ministers truly discharged the duties which their office laid upon them.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
I must first apologise to the House for not being here at the beginning of the debate. Two constituents had appointments to see me.
I want to concentrate on the workings of the Victoria line, which runs through King's Cross and also serves my constituency. Indeed, the last two stations at the northern end of the line—Blackhorse Road and Walthamstow Central— lie in my constituency. When the line was built 20 years ago, it was supposed to be fully automatic, fast and efficient, giving an excellent service from one end to the other. I am sorry to have to say that it no longer provides that fast and efficient service. A sizeable proportion of my postbag from constituents is composed of complaints about the Victoria line.
London Regional Transport is doing its best to maintain the escalators. However, the escalators at both stations in my constituency have been out of action for a considerable time. When I visited the constituency the other day, I was horrified to find that both escalators at Walthamstow Central were out of action. One was even denied the pleasure of trying to run up the downward escalator. If escalators are not working, it has implications for safety. When people have to carry heavy shopping, children and pushchairs down the stairs, there is obviously capacity for trouble. It only needs a toddler to trip on the top step and there may be disaster.
I have had several meetings with officials from London Underground. I have said to them, "Why not be sensible? If an escalator is out of action, you should put up a notice to say why it is out of action and how long it will be before it is fixed." They said, "What a good idea." The next time I went to my constituency they had indeed erected a sign. It said, "This escalator will be back in action on 28 January." It was not. They put up another sign saying, 984 "This escalator will be back in action on 3 February." It was not. The following day the notice disappeared completely. I wish that someone would drive the lesson home to London Underground that if it is going to go through exercises in public relations, it has to get them right; otherwise the public will be cynical, and say, "All their efforts are in vain. Why don't they get on and fix the escalator"?
Overcrowding has been mentioned several times. Overcrowding is highly dangerous. Anyone who uses the tube as much as I do for my journeys to and from Walthamstow Central has to use Victoria station. There is no option; one has to change there to get on to the Victoria line. On one occasion both escalators were out of action and the overcrowding had to be seen to be believed. With the press of people on the platform and trains discharging more all the time, the passengers could not get out of the station. Overcrowding is mentioned in the report. The management of London Underground has not addressed that problem sufficiently.
One more thing about the Victoria line got my goat the other day. I received a press release saying that London Underground was putting one more train on the Victoria line. I read it and said to myself, "Wow, one more train on the Victoria line, great stuff." It also said, "We will no longer be stopping at King's Cross." The usual euphemism is "change" or something similar. In other words, it kicks the passengers off and makes them wait for the next northbound train. It said that that would no longer happen and I thought to myself, "What a good thing." However— the House will not believe it— on my next southbound journey, the driver came on the intercom and said, "Everybody out at Warren Street". I have lived in London for 10 years and never in my experience has a train going southbound on the Victoria line stopped and kicked out the passengers at Warren Street. Clearly, LRT has said, "We will not kick them out at King's Cross, but we will get our own back and kick them out at Warren Street instead".
The state of the Central line is a disgrace. It is the most appalling line. I always try to avoid it if I can. I would much rather use the District line. Sometimes, however, I must use the Central line. I hear the trains arrive with that characteristic iron rattle. They are covered with graffiti on the outside and on the inside. All the people on the inside seem to look revolting as well. I am not sure whether they take on the characteristics of the train in which they are travelling. On one occasion I saw a couple of yobs smoking in the carriage. I thought of saying to them, "You should not be smoking. It is dangerous." Then I had another look at them and thought to myself that I still have all my own teeth so I would not take the chance.
What we need is more staff on the trains to look after the passengers. We do not need the staff sitting in those little boxes collecting tickets, looking thoroughly bored and not caring a damn if someone puts down 20p and makes a bolt for the exit. Staff should be on the trains looking after the passengers, and that, I fear, is where London Underground management is going wrong.
I know that one more hon. Member wishes to speak. I believe that he has been in his place since the start of the debate, so I will sit down at this point and give the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) the opportunity to play his Brent harp.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) missed the opening remarks of the Secretary of State. We have heard the hon. Gentleman's explanation as to why he was not here, and, of course, one accepts them wholeheartedly. I assure him, however, that he did not miss much, because there was nothing new in what the Secretary of State said and still less anything memorable. However, there were some new buzz words, which will last in our memories, if not in fact, for some time. Those words were "safety culture". Of course, the old buzz words were also about culture, about the "enterprise culture". We are debating a report that came out of events which took place sadly and tragically when the enterprise culture had the Underground system in its grip. Of course, in the enterprise culture public ownership is bad, and, if possible, public investment is to be avoided, and public regulation is to be minimised. Those are the characteristics of the enterprise culture.
Second to the enterprise culture— an afterthought coming out of this tragic incident— we have the concept of the safety culture. Our concern is that the safety culture should not be subordinated to the enterprise culture. If there is one thing that we have learnt from these tragic events, it is the deadly danger of subordinating safety to enterprise. In a Socialist definition of enterprise, safety and concern for the environment go hand in hand with efficiency and growth. I say to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that the Opposition make no apology for talking about the importance of safety and putting that first, because without safety there is nothing.
If the new buzz words "safety culture" are to mean anything, we would say that they must be based on two critical matters, both of which were highlighted in Mr. Fennell's laudable report. The first, importantly, is the encouragement of workers and management at every level to be involved in and committed to the safety process. The second is information. Information should be made available to the workers, to middle and lower management and to staff at every level within the enterprise of London Underground, but, above all and importantly, information should be made available to the general public. Without that information, there is no way in which safety can be monitored and preserved in the interests of safety first.
We want from Ministers tonight a clear indication that they accept those two basic principles. If they do not, and if they hedge around, those words "safety culture" will be no more than words in the mouth of a Minister under attack and fighting for his political career. We want more than that.
I am afraid that there are indications at this time that the lessons have not been learnt by London Underground. I want to raise one specific matter that is vital not only to the Underground system but, I believe, to the welfare of my constituents. It relates to a matter that is directly of concern to them and to me as users of Alperton station. We are reminded of what Mr. Fennell said about the travelling public's right to know about safety arrangements made by transport operators and of the importance of them knowing about the safety of places in which they habitually gather. One would have thought that that lesson would have been learnt. However, lo and behold, there is now in existence traffic circular No. 11, which was published by London Underground on 20 March. That is 986 London Underground under new management which we have been told has been cleansed and adheres to the lessons of Fennell.
What does that traffic circular say and how, more importantly, is it prefaced? It is prefaced with these words: "PRIVATE: not for publication". No safety document produced by London Regional Transport should ever again be prefaced by those words. Nothing about safety in the Underground should ever be outside the public domain. Unless the Ministers can assure us that there never will be again anything about safety in London's Underground that is outside the public domain, all they have said counts for nothing.
The circular gives details of the arrangements for the inspection of escalators for fire and smoke. Paragraph El2 says:The escalators shown below must be inspected every two hours for signs of fire or smoke. This is because they do not meet a necessary standard of cleanliness.I see that the Minister is looking perturbed, as well he might. He should give us an undertaking that he will publish that traffic circular and lay it in the Library of the House, because we are entitled to know what it says.
Having listed those escalators that have to be inspected every two hours because they do not meet the necessary standard of cleanliness, the circular gives an even longer list of other Underground stations where the escalators or lifts are either completely out of operation or have had to be reduced because of safety and because of the failure of those stations to comply with the necessary safety standards. After the publication of the Fennell report and these tragic events, why are such circulars still published?
The circular gives another list of stations that have no escalators at all, and that list contains Alperton station on the Piccadilly line in my constituency. I used the escalator in the station just a few days ago, and on numerous occasions I have raised safety issues about its operation. But apparently Alperton station does not have an escalator. For years I and tens of thousands of my constituents have been travelling steadily up towards the platform on something that does not exist. According to traffic circular No. 11 of 20 March, which is private and not for publication, that escalator has no substance. We want answers about why such a document was produced. Either I and thousands of my constituents have been under an illusion about that escalator all these years, or Ministers are under an illusion tonight.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
With a few notable exceptions, the debate has been conducted in the serious and responsible manner that the House expects for a matter of such personal tragedy and public importance as the fire at the King's Cross Underground station. In winding up for the Opposition, I join the many hon. Members who have expressed sympathy to the bereaved and injured and admiration for the emergency services. We especially commend the bravery of Police Constable Hanson and the bravery and sacrifice of Station Officer Colin Townsley whose family live in my borough of Lewisham. Despite the passage of time, I am conscious of the fact that for survivors and the bereaved alike, life can never be quite the same again. Tragically, many may still relive their torment through having to pursue wholly unnecessary court actions in order to gain the compensation to which they are entitled.
987 As hon. Members have said, in comparison with other modes of transport London Underground is a very safe system. I concede that that is true, especially when compared with the appalling daily loss of life on our roads. At the heart of our debate is the consciousness, perhaps the consensus, that the tragic loss of life and injury in the King's Cross fire could probably have been prevented. As Mr. Fennell said on page 17 of his report:it is important to note that the circumstances in which the fire could develop all arose from the condition of the escalator on that night. Thus it is my view that a disaster was foreseeable.By delaying the debate on the Fennell report, the Government put themselves in a position whereby the Secretary of State was able to come to the House today with a list of the many positive steps taken by London Regional Transport and London Underground Ltd. We do not complain about that. We are delighted that progress has been made, but it would have been quite wrong for that satisfaction to deflect us from a critical evaluation of the report's findings and from the wider issues arising from the tragedy itself.
Anyone who has read the report cannot but be appalled at the complacency of management about the occurrence of fires in the Underground system and the unprepared-ness of staff at all levels in the face of an emergency such as that which occurred on 18 November 1987. Today the Secretary of State reminded us of the age and complexity of the London Underground system, 80 per cent. of which is more than 70 years old. It has 260 miles of track and 130 underground stations. Of course those facts are not new. They were well known to the Government when they decided to assume responsibility for the underground system through the creation in 1984 of London Regional Transport.
The Secretary of State's letter of 20 July to the chairman of London Regional Transport, to which a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who made an outstanding contribution, referred, shows a total lack of concern for the safety problems that might arise in a system of that age and complexity and in which passenger demand was already growing. I shall re-emphasise what my colleagues said about the contents of the letter. Improvements were to be made within the resources available. Costs and the call on ratepayers' and taxpayers' money were to be reduced and services were to be privatised. It is quite clear from the Fennell report that at the highest level in London Regional Transport and London Underground Ltd. those objectives were vigorously pursued.
At that highest level was Dr. Tony Ridley, the chairman and chief executive of London Underground. In evidence to the inquiry he described how he set about changing not just the structure but the culture of London Underground when he took over in 1980. Whatever Dr. Ridley's laudable aims might have been at the outset, it seems highly improbable that his objectives were not influenced by Government attitudes from 1984 onwards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was right to talk about a financial climate influencing decision-making relevant to safety. Ministers' attitudes to the financing of London Underground have been paraded annually in the House 988 during debates on London ratepayers' contributions. I remind the House that two thirds of the £286.6 million grant to LRT this year will come from London's ratepayers. In the debates on the ratepayers' levy in 1985, 1986 and 1987 the matter of safety did not once pass the lips of Ministers. They were preoccupied with efficiency, unit costs and savings. In 1986 the hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) said that LRT's aim wasto secure better services and an improved passenger environment …by reducing costs in all areas. Cost-cutting is the key to LRT's success."— [Official Report, 28 January, 1986; Vol. 90, c. 902.]Even more astonishing is the letter sent to London Members just two weeks after the King's Cross fire. In that letter the Minister of State boasted again of the reducing burden on London's ratepayers brought about by cost reduction. He produced figures to show that public subsidy was to be reduced year by year. The significance of all that lies in the style and priorities of management that were created by that financial climate. Nothing in the Fennell report contradicts that hypothesis.
I shall now deal with the escalator evidence about which my hon. Friends have spoken. Mr. Styles, the lift and escalator engineer, told the inquiry that staff were much occupied between 1985 and 1986 in getting the new management system running in preparation for competitive tendering. He acknowledged that he did not succeed in monitoring escalator cleaning standards to his satisfaction and that he did not have enough staff to do so. The maintenance manager said that the organisational changes had the effect of delaying improvements in the arrangements for escalator cleaning. We cannot dismiss, as Conservative Members would have us do, the importance of those statements, because Mr. Fennell found that the condition of the escalators made the tragedy possible. Even so, to anyone who has not read appendix J of the report or heard the speeches of my hon. Friends, it might appear that only through the tragedy of the King's Cross fire have we been able to learn lessons about the escalators. As the Secretary of State knows all too well, that is not so.
Mr. Fennell refers to 46 serious escalator fires on the Underground, and in 32 of them the cause was established or attributed to smokers' materials. But did LRT learn the lesson? Unhappily, it did not. Appendix J shows how devastating its complacency was and how ineffective the inspectorate was in changing London Underground's priorities. The Minister will need to be extremely determined if he is to ensure that there is, as he promises, a lasting change in attitudes in London Underground.
The House should take note of the analysis of six escalator fires which occurred between the major Oxford Circus fire of November 1984 and the King's Cross fire of November 1987. In one case after another, smokers' materials and accumulated rubbish and/or wooden panels were implicated. Time and again, similar recommendations were made about better cleaning of escalators, replacing wood, use of water fog and alerting the fire brigade.
What does the Minister think were the preoccupations of management that they failed to heed those findings? How does he explain the fact that the internal inquiry which followed a serious escalator fire at Green Park in June 1987 found the same probable causes— a discarded 989 cigarette end or match— and made the same recommendations as were made when fire broke out on the same escalator two years previously?
Mr. Fennell said, and Conservative Members have repeated today, that he found no evidence that reduction in operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster. Furthermore, he judged, there was no evidence that the overall level of subsidy was inadequate. As we know, he chose not to take all that evidence. But he questioned the priorities of how the available resources were allocated, and it remains our contention that the cost-cutting priorities of the Government conditioned the management ethos of London Underground Ltd.
How else can anyone explain why, when serious escalator fires occurred year after year since LRT's inception, and internal inquiries recommended obvious but costly changes, the escalator manager should say that he did not press for changes because he felt that there was only "a thin chance" of them being authorised? Why, when one inquiry after another implicated smoking materials and waste in escalator fires and recommended better cleaning, does the Minister think the cleaning establishment was reduced? Was it not just to save money, regardless of the consequences? And why, within an aging system carrying unprecedented numbers of passengers, should there have been an underspend of £1.4 million in the lift and escalator department in 1987–88?
Mr. Fennell's report concludes that management complacency towards fires resulted in lack of action. We cannot contest that, but neither can the Secretary of State escape his responsibilities. Why did he not ask just how was so much money being saved?
That brings me to further consideration of the balance of responsibilities between the chairman of LRT, Sir Keith Bright, and the chairman and chief executive of London Underground, Dr. Tony Ridley. As the House will recall, both men resigned on the eve of the publication of the Fennell report. It later transpired, however, that Dr. Ridley for some months after his resignation—until he took up his new post at Eurotunnel— continued to use his executive facilities at London Underground Ltd. Furthermore, in a recent settlement, he received £30,000 and protected pension rights.
I can only deduce from those facts that Dr. Ridley's contract with London Underground Ltd., which provided for such perks, was honoured. That begs the question whether the Secretary of State considered Dr. Ridley to be in breach of his contract. It strongly suggests that he did not. Will the Minister now say whether he accepts that his Department's cost-cutting priorities affected Dr. Ridley's prime duty to run a safe railway? That question must be answered. Who was really responsible?
I come to the question of the implementation of the recommendations of the Fennell report. The Secretary of State welcomed the setting up by London Underground of the safety audit, and we join wholeheartedly with him in that welcome. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, Mr. Fennell called for more. He suggested that further consideration should be given to a review of the railway inspectorate. He suggested that perhaps it should become part of a passenger safety inspectorate.
What is the Minister's attitude to that? Does he favour such a proposal, or is it still his view that, despite all that has happened, his Department should continue to be responsible for the railway inspectorate? If it is, what 990 changes does he expect to bring about in the inspectorate to ensure that there is a change of attitude and that never again will that cosy relationship exist between the inspectorate and part of the service that it is supposed to inspect?
Nobody will be satisfied by the attitude that was expressed in the letter, so much quoted today, of the chief inspector to the chief officer of London fire brigade. As that letter has not been read in full, I will quote from it. In the letter, which was with reference to Heathrow central station and its pedestrian subways, the chief inspector wrote:You may or may not be correct in your legal assertions"—dealing with the question of certification for the station—and certainly, not to put too fine a point on it, there are those who believe that your definition of 'building structure' etcetera is hardly applicable to a concrete hole in the ground.That is the kind of attitude that we cannot accept from an inspectorate that is responsible for public safety within the Underground system.
It will be clear to the Minister from the contributions of my hon. Friends that there is still much cause for concern. In the financial year just ended— the figures have been provided by London Underground— there were 4,038 reported fires on London Underground. Of those, 135, or more than two a week, were on escalators, and 36 of those escalator fires were serious enough to have to be put out by the London fire brigade.
The travelling public rightly considers that this is a situation in which real hazards exist. Many feel a deep sense of unease, if not fear, whenever trains stop inexplicably in tunnels or smoke can be smelled at stations. Opposition Members remain deeply concerned about the many changes being brought about by London Underground against this background of perceived and real risk.
A number of my hon. Friends have referred to the Underground ticketing system and the intense level of public concern about safety in relation to the gates. Our confidence was not much boosted when we received the Minister's letter telling us about the possible failure of the emergency system about which previously he had given us much reassurance.
The Minister had been asked repeatedly if all the ticket gates would automatically be opened in the event of a power failure. He said in good faith that that was his understanding. We were reassured then, although we still had objections about the gates. However, in another letter he wrote:LUL tell me that a circumstance has come to light in which this might not happen.On receiving that letter I assumed that someone who was currently reviewing the system had worked out from some first principles of physics that that might occur. It was extraordinary therefore to find that the Minister was not telling us about a theoretical possibility, but about something that really happened
§ Mr. Hanley
In the circumstances that the hon. Lady has just described about the gates not being opened, will she admit that one in three of the gates at most might not be able to be opened? Does she accept that there is a full implementation programme to ensure that those gates are fully repaired over the next three months and that there are numerous safety devices to ensure that all gates can be opened by alternative means should the need arise?.
§ Ms. Ruddock
The public will not be reassured by the hon. Gentleman's comments. The prospect of three out of every 10 gates not opening in an emergency is horrifying. Although the hon. Gentleman referred to alternative provisions, he must be reminded that the only alternative is for a human being to be present to observe the situation and to deal with it. Much of our criticism has been aimed at staff cuts and the lack of transport staff eyes and ears to identify a difficult situation
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)
To reinforce my hon. Friend's point, is she aware that this morning at the Barbican station— a station at which the gates have been in operation for only three weeks— three of the gates were inoperable? The staff were busily trying to direct passengers who were arriving from trains through one gate and passengers arriving to catch trains through another. That caused absolute chaos. Those gates are simply very dangerous in an emergency.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Many passengers travelling on LRT today will have experienced similar difficulties.
I am sure that the Minister is as aware as I am that the fire brigade believes that section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 is but a stop-gap measure. The fire brigade is looking forward to full certification. Will there be full certification? Will it cover all the stations in the London Underground system? If that means that there will be greater costs for any changes which must be made, will the Government guarantee that the money will be available?
The Minister must acknowledge that urgent action is required because of the way in which the fire brigade could predict these tragic events. Is the Minister satisfied about co-operation and progress with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, given that a special working party set up in 1985 to consider fires underground did not meet until a few weeks before the 1987 tragedy? Can he assure us that no fire fighter will now be sent to an underground fire with plastic over-trousers or the PVC gloves which melted so horribly at King's Cross? What progress is being made with the provision of new breathing sets, given that the heat and stress at King's Cross caused fire fighters to exhaust their air supplies in 17 minutes instead of the planned 36 to 40 minutes? Will he now instruct London Underground to hold exercises involving the public, the fire brigade and London Underground itself so that we can be certain that if another emergency. occurs the public is fully aware of how best to behave?
It is a measure of both the previous extraordinary state of neglect and complacency about safety within the Underground system and the thoroughness of Mr. Fennell's report that so many recommendations for action should have been placed before the Secretary of State. There will be relief in many quarters that much is being done. However, there will also be horror and anger that repeated warnings, inquiries and recommendations of the kind which have now been accepted were so blatantly ignored for so many years.
The London Underground system is a vital and intrinsic part of the life of this capital city. It is crucial to our economic life and for the social and recreational lives of millions of our citizens. Despite the additional Government and ratepayers' money being applied to implement the recommendations, the Government are still intent upon imposing their reckless ideology on LRT.
992 My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) showed how passenger revenues have not made up for the loss of subsidy. The cost is there to be seen by all. Staff cuts are taking guards off trains and people off stations. Those changes will continue to have safety implications, especially given the alarming number of reported fires still occurring in the system. The public have the right to know, and the Secretary of State must ensure from now on that there is no limit on the freedom of information in matters of public safety.
The lessons of the Fennell inquiry are far-reaching for London Underground, but they have wider implications too. We have 38 km of rail tunnel currently being dug under the Channel and British Rail plans to tunnel 19 km under London to secure a new rail link to the coast. Tens of millions more people are to entrust their lives to such systems, and, if British Rail has its way, millions more will be delivered to King's Cross.
The public demand and have the right to expect that safety is the priority of those who provide our public transportation systems now and in the future, and that financial considerations do not stand in their way. I commend the Opposition's amendment to the House.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I begin by picking up a point made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) whose constituency interest was most closely touched by what happened on that night. He referred to reading the Fennell report and finding it a moving document. I concur with him fully in that. He talked about the heroism of the people whose acts that night are depicted in the report and he referred to the number of people who said that they were merely doing their job.
The only matter on which I would go one stage further than the hon. Gentleman is in mentioning also those members of the public who were not doing their job that night but who simply came to the aid of the victims— their fellow citizens. I think of one in particular whom I had the honour to meet, Mr. Palmer, who played a heroic role that night. I felt privileged and humbled to meet those people who conducted themselves so bravely that night.
There have been many interventions during the debate from hon. Members from the south-east, and London in particular, who felt on that evening the chill that was so well expressed by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) when she said that there but for the grace of God could have gone any of us.
We have heard many interventions, best put by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), welcoming Mr. Fennell's report as being so comprehensive. It is in no way sparing in its analysis of the events of that night. Nor is it sparing of criticism where Mr. Fennell believes that to be deserved.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), speaking for the Opposition, to some extent began to struggle with what the Fennell report did not say. In much of what he said, and in the Opposition's amendment to the Government's motion, he was concerned with what he says Mr. Fennell found to be ultra vires. My understanding of the report is that Mr. Fennell did not want his investigation to be side-tracked into a full-blown inquiry into London Underground finance.
993 That he ruled to be ultra vires. But he was interested in everything that he thought was relevant to the fire. He said:I went on to make it clear that I would allow proper questions directed to the underlying philosophy of the management towards safety and how decisions were made, together with the basis upon which they were made, insofar as they related to what happened in the disaster.I take this to include the financial basis; and indeed that is implicit in the fact that Mr. Fennell considered evidence on finance from LRT and LUL, indeed reproduced much of it in the report, and felt able to conclude that there was no evidence that subsidy was too low, and that there had been a tendency for London Underground to underspend its budget. On that basis, Mr. Fennell heard evidence on financing which is presented in his report in chapter 19 on page 149. That evidence showed that from 1984–85 to 1987–88 the Underground had more subsidy available to it than it spent, and that over the same period investment expenditure increased by about half in real terms.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was also at pains to talk about the culture within London Underground that militated, as he thought, against requests for further investment. I refer him to page 149 of the report, where Mr. Fennell says:I accept the evidence of the most senior management in London Regional Transport and London Underground that if funds were needed, funds were available.The hon. Gentleman was also concerned about cuts in staff. Again, I refer to what Mr. Fennell said, as opposed to what he did not say, on page 152:I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster at King's Cross …In my view the issue is not purely the number of staff in stations but rather the need to establish a proper level of safety at each station which can then be met by the provision of either automated aids or the proper disposition of staff.That is an important point.
The hon. Gentleman and several others have referred to the important issue of fire certification. Mr. Fennell found that there was ambiguity about this and that it should be cleared up. The Government will clear it up by applying regulations under section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 to Underground railway stations. It is quite clear from the clarification that we have made that an Underground railway station would be required to be certified unless section 12 regulations applied to it. The section 12 regulations will specify the facilities, precautions and practices that are necessary at Underground railway stations.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) asked me whether we envisage certification in the longer term. That is a possibility. Important research should be conducted to determine whether it is appropriate. It will hinge particularly on the control of smoke in Underground stations, which is a complex matter and different from the control of smoke in buildings above ground, for instance. Depending on the outcome of that research we may decide to continue section 12 regulations, or conclude that certification is required in the longer term. In either case, matters to do with the control of fire in Underground railway stations which may have been ambiguous until now will be put beyond any shadow of doubt.
A number of points were made about the criticisms which have been made of the railway inspectorate. I know that every hon. Member has read the Fennell report, in 994 which the criticisms of the railway inspectorate are plain to see. It stands accused of too cosy a relationship with London Underground. There were too few inspectors. It is pointed out that they misunderstood the breadth of their responsibilities under the health and safety at work legislation, which was held by Mr. Fennell to extend to passenger safety. All those points have been accepted and my right hon. Friend has described the means by which the railway inspectorate is being brought up to strength.
Let us be clear that none of these things removes the central point that the responsibility for the safety of an operation must lie with the operator. No matter how active or commendable the railway inspectorate may be, that will always remain the case.
A number of hon. Members wanted to know how the Government will respond to the recommendation about the future of the railway inspectorate that Fennell put forward for consideration. I accept that there is a need for a fresh look at the arrangements for the railway inspectorate. The Government are undertaking a review to determine whether further changes are necessary in the interests of effectiveness across all the functions performed by the inspectorate, and we shall announce our conclusions in due course
§ Mr. Prescott
I have read the latest review, established, I think, in 1987. The Minister makes it clear in recommendations to the House that he is not prepared to consider the separation of the inspectorate from the Department, although I believe that there is a conflict of interests. Is that ruled out in the review that the Minister has just mentioned?.
§ Mr. Portillo
No. Nothing is ruled out. We approach the matter with an entirely open mind.
There has been considerable debate about the words that appeared in the London Regional Transport Act 1984, which required the management to be responsible and tohave regard to … economy, efficiency and safetyThose words have a long pedigree. The Transport Act 1947 imposed a duty on the British Transport Commission in similar terms, although the wording was not precisely the same, and the Transport Act 1962 and the London Transport Act 1969 contain the same words in the same order.
I do not believe that at any time the order of those three words was considered to imply that safety should come last. I think that the way in which the words were put together derived from the understanding that an efficiently organised railway would be run economically, efficiently and safely. It is difficult to imagine a railway being run safely without also being well managed. The dichotomy proposed by Opposition Members between efficiency and safety strikes me as false: it has been recognised by legislators and parliamentary draftsmen for many years that safety, economy and efficiency go hand in hand
§ Mr. Spearing
Surely economy and safety do not necessarily go together. Costs could be cut in various ways, which I shall not explain to the Minister, and many measures that were more economical could well be less safe. Safety might be prejudiced by a combination of events hitherto unforeseen. That, surely, is the essence of today's debate
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman is a thoughful person; he must not try to parody my argument. I am 995 saying that a management that does not have systems to enable it to control its finances is not a management that I would greatly trust to control its safety. Management systems are required for both functions, and legislation has put them together over the years
§ Mr. Dobson
I think that we all accept that a management that was generally efficient would be likely to be efficient in discharging its safety functions, but is not one of the problems that, under pressure from Ministers, LRT experienced a conflict between efficiency and safety? That is why the draft of the business plan for LRT last year, after the King's Cross fire— which came into my possession— contained words to the effect that LRT would not be able to make as many efficient savings because it was having to spend money on safety
§ Mr. Portillo
Hon. Members must read the Fennell report and reach their own conclusions, but I believe that many of the advances made in efficiency did not compromise safety. Increased revenue, achieved through the elimination of inefficiency practices, enabled the railway— at a time when it was running many more passenger miles than ever before— to make substantial advances which did not prejudice safety.
Hon. Members have often referred to the letter from my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Transport to Dr. Bright in 1984. It refers to the 1984 Act, which contains those three ingredients. My right hon. Friend was also at considerable pains to refer toa programme of investment to modernise the public transport systems",toa steady programme to improve facilities for passengers, including interchangesand to better management— which, as I have said, is intimately related to safety.
Since the Fennell report has been published, London Underground has responded to it and has been reporting to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, on some occasions through me, on its progress in implementing the Fennell recommendations. The document produced by London Underground in response to the 157 recommendations is remarkable and on the whole has been extremely well received. It is a painstaking review of procedures, structures, organisation and training to which the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) referred.
London Underground has accepted the vast majority of the recommendations and is close to schedule on the major projects, although it admits to some slippage on some of its response to the 157 recommendations. The management of London Underground has a tremendous task before it in terms of the capital re-equipment of stations — for example, to strip down the escalators and remove the wooden parts. The public in London sees that happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) painted a graphic picture of the discomfort and disruption that that is causing to passengers. He is right to say that that in itself has safety implications. That is why there is a certain speed at which London Underground can proceed with that vital work. The public in London recognises that the work is being carried out to improve safety.
The £266 million that the Government have allocated for the implementation of the Fennell recommendations 996 has been provided by the Government in accordance with a promise that my right hon. Friend gave that finance would be no barrier to implementation. It was made perfectly clear to the House during the debate on the London Regional Transport. (Levy) Order 1989 that the moneys that were necessary were being raised from the ratepayers of London and the taxpayers of the country. I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) that it is being provided from both sources. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) was right to say that there was no inconsistency at all between providing the £266 million and the Fennell finding that subsidy had not been the problem underlying the King's Cross fire.
There was a tragic blind spot in London Underground in the matter of fire safety. That ignorance was universal, not simply within London Underground. As the Fennell report says, the disaster was foreseeable but the extent of it was unimaginable and the trench effect which we now know about was unknown. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was right to say that it was remarkable that the management had that blind spot, given the dangers of fire underground. But he will appreciate that we all know with 20–20 hindsight very much more than was known at the time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) was right to say that the lessons of Fennell apply generally to employers throughout the country in various enterprises, and if they were put under the microscope in the way that London Underground has been scrutinised we should not be pleased at what we found.
I understand hon. Members' concern about the Underground ticketing system because its introduction coincides with our new awareness of the risk of fire in Underground stations. We must rely on expert advice and hon. Members are unwise to pick and choose between the expert advice that they like and that which does not fit in with their views. The London fire brigade and the railway inspectorate have repeatedly taken the view that the Underground ticketing system could be installed. Consultants are now considering the operation of that system. My right hon. Friend and I asked London Underground to take that fourth opinion on whether the Underground ticketing system was safe, and London Underground happily accepted our recommendation.
In his amendment to the early-day motion on the Order Paper my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) made a series of very good points referring to the fact that the Underground ticketing system replaces fenced areas and small exits in small numbers in railway stations. Certainly in larger stations the Underground ticketing system offers a considerably larger number of places through which people can pass in an emergency than the fabric which preceded the system
§ Mr. Dobson
Will the Minister confirm the statement that the Underground ticketing system was safe or the advice received from the fire brigade, London Regional Transport and the railway inspectorate was received before it was discovered that the system was not failsafe and in certain circumstances failed to danger point? That invalidates any confirmation that has been received from any of the authorities that the Minister has quoted
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman may think that he is on to a good point, but he is not. The railway inspectorate 997 has been back to consider the matter since it was pointed out to me that there was a single phase power failure. The inspectorate noted that not all the gates remain shut but that the majority of them fly open if there is a single phase failure— [Interruption.] Hon. Members wish only to knock the inspectorate. The members of the inspectorate are the expert advisers to the Secretary of State. I have no doubt about its expertise in this matter.
In some stations the Underground—
§ Mr. Portillo
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman twice already.
In some stations the Underground ticketing system will release ticket collectors who can give advice and assistance to passengers and look out for problems. After all, a ticket collector has little opportunity to look up from his job of taking tickets to see whether he can give assistance. I am amazed that the Opposition do not want staff to be released from ticket collecting to more interesting and worthwhile jobs where they can give more direct help to passengers. That is what they are enabled to do by the Underground ticketing system Mr. Fennell said:In my view, the issue is not purely the number of staff in stations but rather the need to establish a proper level of safety at each station which can then he met by the provision of either automated aids or the proper disposition of staff.LRT staff numbers are now increasing. If the House doubts that, it is reported in the journal of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association for everybody to see. With the Underground ticketing system and aids such as close circuit television, their effectiveness is increasing. Many of the overseas metro systems which are held up for our admiration by hon. Members use Underground ticketing-system style gates. For example, they are in use in Hong Kong, Singapore, Washington and on the Paris RER
§ Mr. Boateng
I asked the Minister specifically whether he would authorise and instruct LRT to publish traffic circulars that related to the issue of safety. Will he do that or will he continue to allow his Department to preside over a situation in which London Transport inspectors are riding up escalators once every two hours because of defective cleaning when, at the same time, cleaners are being laid off? It does not make sense
§ Mr. Portillo
I was afraid that when the hon. Gentleman made his speech he was ignorant of LRT's response to the Fennell report. If he looks at the response to recommendation No. 38 he will see set out the position on escalator cleaning which covers the hon. Gentleman's point
§ Mr. Cohen
Did not the Minister admit in an answer to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) that on any day 18 barrier gates do not open? If the barriers were in every station, 30 gates a day would not open. That is the position while the barriers are new. What will happen when they are old? A much higher number will not open. What confidence can we place on assurances that they will always open in an emergency?.
§ Mr. Portillo
That has been investigated by the London fire brigade and the railway inspectorate. We will shortly have the consultants' report on that. I hope that the report will reassure the hon. Gentleman, but if it does not, action will have to be taken.
998 The fire on 18 November 1987 was a terrible event and 31 lives were lost. Many others were injured and many hon. Members have referred to the scars that remain for all those who were in any way affected by that event. It was a night of heroic actions and I again pay tribute to Mr. Fennell for the report which enables us to make improvements to safety in the future. He has made a series of recommendations—157 of them—and they have nearly all been accepted. Many of them are now well on the way to being implemented.
The response of London Regional Transport has been remarkable. It was accused of having an unco-ordinated, haphazard and untrained response and it is reacting to that by a series of most important management changes. I am impressed by the determination of the new management to see through the changes necessary. Every person must understand the importance of safety and his or her role within London Underground in fulfilling that. The staff at London Underground are better trained now and more certain of their responsibilities. The priority of safety has been reasserted. Management is giving a clearer lead—
§ Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to
§ Question put, That the amendment be made—
§ The House divided: Ayes 194, Noes 2651001
|Division No. 157]||[10 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cousins, Jim|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Cox, Tom|
|Allen, Graham||Crowther, Stan|
|Alton, David||Cummings, John|
|Anderson, Donald||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Dalyell, Tam|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Darling, Alistair|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Dewar, Donald|
|Barron, Kevin||Dixon, Don|
|Battle, John||Dobson, Frank|
|Beckett, Margaret||Doran, Frank|
|Beith, A. J.||Douglas, Dick|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Eastham, Ken|
|Blair, Tony||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Boateng, Paul||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Bradley, Keith||Fatchett, Derek|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Faulds, Andrew|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Fearn, Ronald|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G' n)|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Fisher, Mark|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Flannery, Martin|
|Buckley, George J.||Flynn, Paul|
|Caborn, Richard||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Callaghan, Jim||Foster, Derek|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Foulkes, George|
|Campbell;Ron (Blyth Valley)||Fraser, John|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Fyfe, Maria|
|Cartwright, John||Galbraith, Sam|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Clay, Bob||George, Bruce|
|Clelland, David||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Cohen, Harry||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Gordon, Mildred|
|Corbett, Robin||Gould, Bryan|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Graham, Thomas|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||O'Brien, William|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Parry, Robert|
|Grocott, Bruce||Pike, Peter L.|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Henderson, Doug||Prescott, John|
|Hinchliffe, David||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Holland, Stuart||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Home Robertson, John||Radice, Giles|
|Howells, Geraint||Randall, Stuart|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Redmond, Martin|
|Hoyle, Doug||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Reid, Dr John|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Richardson, Jo|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Robertson, George|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Rogers, Allan|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Illsley, Eric||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Ingram, Adam||Rowlands, Ted|
|Janner, Greville||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Salmond, Alex|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Lewis, Terry||Snape, Peter|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Soley, Clive|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Spearing, Nigel|
|Loyden, Eddie||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McAllion, John||Stott, Roger|
|McFall, John||Strang, Gavin|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Straw, Jack|
|McKelvey, William||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|McLeish, Henry||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|McWilliam, John||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Madden, Max||Turner, Dennis|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Vaz, Keith|
|Marek, Dr John||Wall, Pat|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Wallace, James|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Walley, Joan|
|Martlew, Eric||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Maxton, John||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Meacher, Michael||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Meale, Alan||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Michie, Bill (Sheiffield Heeley)||Wilson, Brian|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Winnick, David|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Worthington, Tony|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Mullin, Chris||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Nellist, Dave||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Mr. Robert Wareing.|
|Adley, Robert||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Alexander, Richard||Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Body, Sir Richard|
|Amess, David||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Amos, Alan||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Arbuthnot, James||Boswell, Tim|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Bottomley, Peter|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Bottomley, Mrs Virginia|
|Ashby, David||Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Atkins, Robert||Bowis, John|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Baldry, Tony||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Brazier, Julian|
|Batiste, Spencer||Bright, Graham|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)|
|Beliingham, Henry||Browne, John (Winchester)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Bruce, lan (Dorset South)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick|
|Benyon, W.||Burns, Simon|
|Burt, Alistair||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Butcher, John||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Butterfill, John||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hunter, Andrew|
|Cash, William||Irvine, Michael|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Jack, Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Jackson, Robert|
|Chope, Christopher||Janman, Tim|
|Churchill, Mr||Jessel, Toby|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Conway, Derek||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Key, Robert|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Kilfedder, James|
|Couchman, James||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Cran, James||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Critchley, Julian||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Knapman, Roger|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Day, Stephen||Knowles, Michael|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Knox, David|
|Dover, Den||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Durant, Tony||Latham, Michael|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Eggar, Tim||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Evennett, David||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Fallon, Michael||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Favell, Tony||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lightbown, David|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Lilley, Peter|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Lloyd, Sir lan (Havant)|
|Forman, Nigel||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lord, Michael|
|Forth, Eric||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Franks, Cecil||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Freeman, Roger||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire).|
|Fry, Peter||Maclean, David|
|Gale, Roger||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Gardiner, George||McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Gill, Christopher||Madel, David|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Malins, Humfrey|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Mans, Keith|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Maples, John|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Marlow, Tony|
|Gow, lan||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gregory, Conal||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Ground, Patrick||Mills, lain|
|Grylls, Michael||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hague, William||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Moss, Malcolm|
|Hannam, John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Norris, Steve|
|Harris, David||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hayes, Jerry||Portillo, Michael|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hayward, Robert||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Riddick, Graham|
|Heddle, John||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Rost, Peter|
|Howard, Michael||Rowe, Andrew|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Ryder, Richard|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Sainsbury, Hon Tim||Tracey, Richard|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Tredinnick, David|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Trippier, David|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Twinn, Dr lan|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Viggers, Peter|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Shersby, Michael||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Sims, Roger||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Walden, George|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)||Waller, Gary|
|Squire, Robin||Ward, John|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Warren, Kenneth|
|Stern, Michael||Watts, John|
|Stevens, Lewis||Wells, Bowen|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Wheeler, John|
|Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)||Whitney, Ray|
|Stradling Thomas, Sir John||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Summerson, Hugo||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Wilshire, David|
|Taylor, lan (Esher)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Wolfson, Mark|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Wood, Timothy|
|Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)||Woodcock, Mike|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Thurnham, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Mr. Stephen Dorrell and|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Mr. Sydney Chapman.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the thorough and comprehensive report by Mr. Desmond Fennell QC on the investigation into the King's Cross Underground fire; endorses the Government's commitment to invest in the improvement and modernisation of the Underground and its decision to provide £266 m over the next three years for the implementation of the report's recommendations; notes London Regional Transport's constructive response to the report; and looks forward to continuing vigorous action by London Underground to implement its recommendations