§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport about the fire at King's Cross Station last night. The Statement is as follows:
§ "At about 7.40 p.m. last night a fire broke out at King's Cross Underground Station on an escalator connecting the underground ticket hall to the Piccadilly Line platforms. Thirty people have lost their lives as a result of the fire. There has been extensive damage to the station ticket hall.
§ "The injured have been taken to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, University College Hospital, Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, and the Whittington Hospital. Ten people are still detained.
§ "I am sure the whole House would wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families of those who have died and to those who have been injured.
§ "I should like to pay tribute to all those involved in the rescue operations, especially the fire service, one of whose members lost his life in the fire, the Metropolitan and the British Transport Police, one of whose officers is seriously injured; and to the ambulance service, the hospitals involved and the staff of the London Underground. They all worked with the utmost bravery in apalling conditions to deal with the casualties and with the large numbers of members of the public who were trapped underground by the smoke and flames. Without their dedication, the numbers of casualties would undoubtedly have been even greater.312
§ "I have decided that a formal investigation should be held into the disaster, conducted under the provisions of the Railway Acts. The evidence will be heard in public. I hope to be able to announce very shortly, after discussion with my right honourable and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, the name of a senior lawyer to head the inquiry. The inquiry will be assisted by a member of the department's railway inspectorate and by an expert in fires and fire prevention. The detailed arrangements for the inquiry will be announced as soon as possible. It will be for the inquiry to establish the causes of the disaster and to make recommendations to ensure that all possible lessons are learnt. Its report will be published.
§ "London Regional Transport, in collaboration with the police and fire services, is already examining the causes of the accident and its findings will be made available to me and to the formal investigation.
§ "I understand from London Regional Transport that the Metropolitan and Circle lines through King's Cross are operating normally. Services on the Victoria, Piccadilly and Northern lines were suspended this morning but LRT hopes that they will be resumed later today, although initially trains will not stop at King's Cross station. It is too early to say when normal services will be resumed.
§ "Every year the London Underground carries over 750 million passengers. I deeply regret that its generally fine record of safety has been marred by this accident. I am sure the thoughts of all honourable Members of this House are with the injured, their families and those who have been bereaved".
§ My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating this Statement given by the Secretary of State. Although little of practical value can be said at this stage, it provides an opportunity for the whole House to join with the Secretary of State and the Government in expressing sympathy to the families of the 30 persons who have died and to the many who are injured, some of them critically.
It also provides an opportunity for every noble Lord to join in the tribute which has been rightly paid to all members of the emergency services which were listed in the Statement. It refers to their dedication. This is instanced by the fact that one member of the fire service has lost his life and a member of the police service has been critically injured. I was very impressed, as I am certain were other Members of the House, by the report made during the radio news this morning that all grades of members of the hospital services returned to duty without being recalled to their respective posts.
I am very pleased that there is to be a formal investigation in public and that it will not only establish the causes of the disaster but will also make recommendations. I am also pleased to note that the full report will be published. This will be a vital inquiry. I hope that not only will the causes be looked 313 into but that there will also be investigation into structural factors which may be involved.
I share the tribute paid to the London Transport staff. I hope the investigation will look into the kind of training which is given to the London Transport staff, because they are always the first people who have to be on site when a tragedy of this nature occurs.
The Statement also refers to the excellent record of the London Transport Underground service, and I am sure we all share that view. It also refers to the way in which various sections of the management have endeavoured to return services to as near normal as possible. I am grateful for the Statement and I share in both the tributes and the expressions of grief.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, from these Benches I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The whole House and the nation will have felt a deep shock at the tragedy which struck last night to people going innocently about their purposes through the mundane job of simply getting home from the office or going for a night out. It is terrible to think that people left their homes and families yesterday morning and that a number of them simply did not return. It is also tragic that a number of them did return but will never be the same again because of the awful injuries they sustained.
Not unnaturally, there is a sense of rage at the casual nature of this tragedy and a sense of impotence that we are unable to do very much about it today. There is a great danger in these circumstances of making instant comments and of coming to instant judgments. There has been a lot of wild speculation in the newspapers. I do not think the press has acquitted itself particularly well today.
We would all like to ask questions; we would like to know something about the adequacy of staffing levels and of training; we would like to know some of the reasons for the rapid transfer of the fire to other parts of the system and about the flammability of some of the materials. These are questions which will be put to the inquiry and will be dealt with by it.
The Government are to be congratulated on the speed with which they called this inquiry into being, on the fact that evidence is to be taken in public and also on the fact that the results of the inquiry will be made public.
I also join in the admiration which has been expressed for the fire, police and ambulance services and the Underground staff. There were undoubtedly many examples of great heroism shown last night. It is something of which those services can be proud. The nation mourns those people who have died. We want the inquiry to find out whether there was any real reason for this tragedy or whether it was a random lightning strike. We all wish to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. We thank the Minister for his Statement.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am most grateful to both noble Lords for their reception of the Statement. I join in the tribute to the marvellous 314 work done by the emergency services last night and I am sure that all noble Lords would wish to do that.
The inquiry will be a thorough one. It is required under the Act to investigate the cause of the accident and all the circumstances attending it and to report on these and any other relevant matters. Of course that will include any recommendations designed to prevent a recurrence. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that that will include the adequacy of training of LRT staff.
With regard to speculation in the press, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I am not going to speculate about what might have been the cause of the accident; that will be for the preliminary inquiry of the LRT, the fire services and the police themselves, which will then report to the main inquiry. However, if anything is found which needs urgent attention, I give an assurance that urgent attention will be given to it without waiting for the inquiry to report.