HL Deb 12 December 1988 vol 502 cc770-812

3.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the investigation into the King's Cross Underground fire (Cmnd. 499).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a sad and solemn occasion for debate. On 18th November 1987 a fire broke out on the Piccadilly line escalator at King's Cross Underground station. It began beneath the escalator, but the flames spread up the escalator, and burst into the hooking hall. Tragically, 31 people died.

Before I speak further I should like to say that, as noble Lords will be aware, at 8.20 this morning a very serious train accident occurred approximately 300 yards west of Clapham Junction on the Southern Region. The 6.14 a.m. Poole to Waterloo train ran into the rear of the 7.18 a.m. Basingstoke to Waterloo train. Both those trains were full of passengers. An empty train from Waterloo then ran into the wreckage. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be making a Statement about the accident in another place. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the bereaved and the injured.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I now return to the King's Cross disaster. Clearly a full inquiry had to be set up into so shocking a disaster. Within a week of the fire the Government appointed Mr. Desmond Fennell, QC to make a formal investigation into the fire under the Regulation of Railways Act 1871. Public hearings were held, lasting no less than 91 days, in which evidence was heard from 150 witnesses, and scientific studies were carried out to explain how a small fire grew into something with such dreadful results. Mr. Fennell's report was published by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on 10th November this year. The report concluded that the immediate cause of the fire was a lighted match falling into grease and detritus which had built up beneath the escalator and which ignited, with the terrible results that we all know.

Those are the bare facts which provide the occasion for this debate. Before going on to say something about the lessons to be learnt from the fire, I know that your Lordships will want me to pause to offer again our condolences to all those who were bereaved by the fire and our sympathy to those who were injured.

Noble Lords

Hear, Hear.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, although it is more than a year since the disaster, and time is supposed to heal wounds, we all know that it will be a long time before those who suffered loss or injury will be able to come to terms with, let alone forget, the consequences of that terrible night. And we pay tribute to the courage and dedicatior displayed by the members of the emergency services on that night. We cannot forget that one brave fireman, Station Officer Townsley, lost his life trying to save another; and we recall also the courage shown by men like PC Hanson of the British Transport Police, in helping people to escape.

Mr. Fennell rightly said that his investigation had only one goal; to establish the cause of the tragedy and try to ensure that it never happens again. I am sure that your Lordships will wholly endorse that objective. Mr. Fennell found serious shortcomings in London Regional Transport and London Underground; and, as noble Lords will know, the chairmen of both organisations have since had their resignations accepted by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Mr. Fennell had lessons for many other organisations, including the emergency services and, I acknowledge, central government.

Mr. Fennell makes 157 specific recommendations, in four categories of importance. Many of these recommendations are of course directed to London Underground. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked London Regional Transport to institute prompt action on all of those and to inform him promptly of any that present serious difficulties. He has drawn attention particularly to Mr. Fennell's recommendations on safety audit by LRT and on safety management by LUL, on the specific steps necessary to prevent such a disaster happening again, and the review of the Underground ticketing system.

Noble Lords will know that, well before publication of the report, London Underground had instituted its own action programme, so that it was already pursuing many of Mr. Fennell's recommendations. For example, changes in safety organisation have been made. Partly this is reflected in new appointments; a LUL non-executive board member with particular interest in safety, a chief safety inspector and a fire officer.

We have been informed of other such organisational changes, including the setting up of a safety audit committee of the board of London Regional Transport, which meets every month and which is intended to help LRT to discharge its statutory safety duty to which Mr. Fennell drew particular attention. This committee reflects the safety audit system which has been established throughout London Underground with a view to ensuring that safety is checked and also that necessary information (for example, on accidents and the follow-up action necessary) is passed to senior management. This system supplements, but does not replace, the direct management responsibility for safety which is also reflected in a reorganisation whereby each Underground line has its own general manager responsible directly to the passenger services director.

I understand that London Underground has also instituted new training arrangements for all station staff and that its supervisors have had fresh training in fire and safety procedures, including the use of waterfog (the water sprays under escalators); and new, continuing, programmes have been established in the light of advice from outside consultants. As to physical measures, new automatic fire detection and alarm systems have been installed under all wooden escalators; new cleaning procedures have been introduced; and London Underground tell us that all wooden escalators are being inspected every two hours and that the waterfog is tested weekly.

Clearly much remains to be done under this action programme. Many noble Lords will have already seen the results of the programme of stripping wooden panelling from escalators, and will appreciate at first hand the balance that has to be struck between the needs of that programme, and the need to avoid congestion as far as possible. Less apparent is London Underground's programme of installing automatic sprinklers beneath escalators; and, organisationally, the joint working with London Fire Brigade of which London Underground has told us—for example, in reissuing all station plans and ensuring that they are kept in station locations agreed by the brigade, and in agreeing rendezvous points at stations with the brigade.

I know that a number of noble Lords take special interest in the new Underground ticketing system, with its automatic barriers, which is in the process of being introduced. Mr. Fennell recommended that that system be reviewed; but of course not only London Underground itself, but also the Railway Inspectorate and the London Fire Brigade have already been involved in that issue—as one would expect. Therefore, it would not start any review with a clean sheet of paper. Noble Lords may therefore be pleased to learn that London Regional Transport has agreed to a request from my honourable friend the Minister of State to appoint outside consultants to conduct this review.

I have spoken in a little detail (although still very selectively) about London Underground's actions, because I felt that noble Lords would wish to hear something of its response to Mr. Fennell's report. Nonetheless, it is clearly necessary for London Underground to press on unremittingly in following-up what Mr. Fennell had to say. I have felt it right to inform your Lordships' House of the Government's understanding of the steps London Regional Transport is taking in the light of the disaster; but I am sure that LRT recognises as clearly as your Lordships that much remains to be done and that safety depends on consistent effort, long after any particular action programme may have finished.

I also recognise of course that central government too have an important role to play. Many noble Lords will have the question of finance in mind. I do not think that your Lordships' House would want a debate on this serious topic to be reduced to party point scoring, but the question should clearly be addressed. Mr. Fennell himself said: In my judgment there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was indequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards". He then went on to say on what he based that statement: I accept the evidence of the most senior management in London Regional Transport and London Underground that if funds were needed funds were available", although he proceeds again to comment on the separate question of how the available resources were allocated and used by London Underground.

Quite apart from Mr. Fennell's conclusion, I can remind the House that London Underground's investment in the current financial year—£230 million—is over 60 per cent. more in real terms than its level in 1984–85, when central Government took over responsibility for London Regional Transport from the GLC. Indeed, capital spending by London Underground in each of the years since that transfer to central Government (including the plans for next year) has been or will be higher in real terms than in any of the last five years of GLC control.

I hope noble Lords would agree that safety need not be incompatible with proper and efficient use of resources—on the contrary indeed. Noble Lords may be aware that the 1984 letter setting out LRT's objective, which has been referred to elsewhere, did contain a clear reference in its very first paragraph to the statutory duties of LRT, which expressly include safety. The objectives which followed were included in that letter only after they had been discussed with, and agreed by, the Chairman of London Regional Transport.

However, noble Lords will want this to be a constructive debate, and in that spirit it is right to look to the future. I am glad to repeat the assurance given by my right honourable friend in another place that the Government have already provided in full for all the proposals already put to us for spending on Underground safety; these total £266 million over the next three years. I also gladly repeat the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when I say that finance will not be a barrier to any of the recommendations in the Fennell report being implemented. I do not think noble Lords would expect a government spokesman to say anything less.

There are other important issues for central Government, in addition to finance. Some of these concern the Railway Inspectorate, which has been below strength—a source of concern to Mr. Fennell. I am glad to say that since my right honourable friend made a statement in the other place last month, further good progress has been made with the recruitment exercise to bring the inspectorate up to complement, and we hope to have made a number of appointments by the end of January. This follows salary increases which have been implemented for the main inspector grade.

My right honourable friend also referred to the special investigation which the Railway Inspectorate is going to make, examining London Underground's safety management systems, and monitoring its implementation of LUL's action programme. I think many noble Lords would agree that alongside physical equipment, it is important to make sure that management systems work, and that decisions, once taken, are carried out. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that, with help from the Health and Safety Executive and the London Fire Brigade, the team for this study has now been established and has started work, with a view to completing its task, if all goes well, in March of next year.

One of the areas to which Mr. Fennell also drew attention was the uncertainty of law on fire certification, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary intends to make an order to resolve that uncertainty. Furthermore, my right honourable friend intends to make regulations under Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 to require specified fire precautions at all Underground stations. The Home Secretary takes the view that this is the most effective and quickest way to introduce uniform standards without uncertainty, and of addressing as many as possible of the fire precautions recommendations contained in Mr. Fennell's report. I can tell your Lordships' House that the Home Office has now started the consultation process required by the Act so that these regulations can be made soon.

The regulations themselves will be enforced by the local fire authority, thus giving them a clear and precise enforcement role in respect of fire alongside the wider-ranging role of the Railway Inspectorate. It is envisaged that they will cover matters such as cleaning arrangements (including escalators), fire detection and fire fighting arrangements, including automatic sprinkler systems where necessary, staff training on fire matters, arrangements for raising the alarm and advising the public in case of fire, and the internal construction of premises.

I should add that these regulations will apply to all railway operators with Underground stations; and indeed there are lessons in Mr. Fennell's report for all railway undertakings. I know, for example, that British Rail are already taking action in the light of Mr. Fennell's report.

I have sought to give noble Lords some indication of what is being done to follow up the report, but anybody who has read it—and doubtless many noble Lords have done so—will see that follow up is not a simple short-term matter. It will require great commitment from all concerned, over an extended period.

Your Lordships may feel that the general lesson is that it is not enough just to make the right decisions; there has to be vigilance to see that they are carried out. We all have to make sure, as I have suggested already, that management systems work. And there must be clear responsibilities, to avoid uncertainties both within management, and within external enforcement agencies. There can be no room for uncertainty. I am sure that people in many industries, not just railways, will want to "take note" of the Fennell report—in the words of the Motion before us today—and the wide-ranging lessons it has for safety management.

I must not sit down without saying, on behalf I am sure of all noble Lords, how grateful we are to Mr. Fennell and his assessors for the enormous amount of hard work they have put into the report. I must mention too the Health and Safety Executive and its fire research laboratory at Buxton for the detailed and original scientific work which they carried out. Mr. Fennell has conducted a complicated and difficult investigation with tremendous thoroughness, and I am sure all noble Lords will agree that his report is likely to have all the more influence because it is a model of clarity. It is now for others to ensure that it is followed up, and the Government for their part are determined to do all they can to ensure that the sad lessons of King's Cross are learnt and applied. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House takes note of the report of the investigation into the King's Cross Underground fire.—(Lord Brahazon of Tara.)

3.29 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, at the outset I should like to join the Minister in expressing shock and grief that on this very day when we are debating the terrible tragedy at King's Cross, we are met with another tragedy in which the death toll may be even higher than that experienced at King's Cross. Perhaps I may join in his expression of sympathy for the relatives of the bereaved and the suffering of those who are injured, many of whom, we understand, are still waiting to be released.

I am grateful also that, having decided not to take the Statement on King's Cross, we pressed for a debate through the usual channels. The fact that we are having the debate this afternoon is extremely valuable. It will not be a debate in the normal form but it has enabled us to hear from the Minister certain developments which he could not have told us on 10th November when the Statement was made.

I join with the Minister in congratulating and thanking Mr. Desmond Fennell for not only a comprehensive report but a readable report from which one can easily grasp the facts. I also thank the four assessors who obviously did not come into the report except that they were assessors of high standing who must have assisted Mr. Fennell in many aspects of his report.

At the outset, the Minister said that Mr. Fennell made absolutely clear that the purpose of the investigation was to ascertain the causes of the tragedy and to ensure that such a tragedy will never happen again. I learnt on the radio today, as I was travelling in this morning, that the Secretary of State has already determined that there will be a public inquiry into the Clapham Junction disaster. We shall await that inquiry because in all these matters—I agree with the Minister—we are not seeking any political debate or advantage but to ensure that so far as is humanly possible such tragedies do not happen again.

The noble Lord referred to the definitive statement made by Mr. Fennell early in the report, in paragraph 2 of Chapter 1: It is clear from the evidence that people continued to smoke in the Underground in spite of a ban in February 1985 following the fire at Oxford Circus station. They did so in particular by lighting up on the escalator as they prepared to leave the station". In my innocence, I have been heartily satisfied with the way people have generally accepted the no smoking ban on the Underground, and it is a great surprise to me to learn that there is so much disposal of smoking materials as people leave by the escalators.

In fact, the report continues: The court was provided with detailed information of 46 escalator fires between 1956 and 1988 and in 32 instances the cause was attributed to smokers' materials". One must ask the obvious question: what happened as a result of the reports on those 32 instances? That does not seem to be covered in Mr. Fennell's report.

Various chapters give detailed and graphic accounts of the night's tragedy, together with illustrations, some of which all noble Lords will agree are somewhat frightening. Chapter 9 gives a timetable and an outline of the events on the night. Chapters 10 and 11 give the responses of the London Underground staff and the emergency services. Like the noble Lord, in addition to extending our sympathy to those who have suffered either by death of relatives or as a result of injuries we pay tribute to the emergency services. From these Benches we echo the tribute which comes out so well in Mr. Fennell's report.

I do not propose to go into the actual details of incidents, but the report reveals shocking shortcomings. In particular, it reveals that there was no system of training staff in fire drill and evacuation. Communications were either poor or not used. The Statement made by the Minister in the other place and printed in the Official Report for this House (col. 735, 10th November 1988), stated: The investigation has shown major shortcomings, requiring a new approach to safety management and fire prevention in the Underground and specific safety audits by London Regional Transport". Paragraph 34, in Chapter 10 of the report, states that it is apparent that the Underground staff that night, were woefully ill-equipped to meet the emergency that arose. Those on duty did the best they could using their common sense in the absence of training and supervision". Those are serious words.

Like the Minister, I too was impressed by the work of the scientific committee as set out in Chapter 12, particularly the experimental work carried out by the Health and Safety Executive at Buxton. It has been questioned what investigations were carried out to ascertain the effect of paintwork in developing the fireball. That is a scientific matter so all I can ask is: have there been investigations on that aspect and, if so, what are the conclusions?

As I have already said, the keynote of this debate must be safety. Paragraph 6 of Chapter 3 states that the only specific reference to safety in either the Secretary of State's objectives for LRT or those set out by LRT for London Underground is, to provide consistent with safety, the best value for money rail services within the resources made available, by the pursuit of service quality, unit cost reduction and effective marketing". The words "within the resources made available" are important and I shall come back to that point before I conclude.

The management of safety is dealt with in Chapter 13. Paragraph 4 makes clear that the responsibility for safety in practice is left with the operating subsidiary. It is argued that that course has been followed ever since the days of the London Transport Executive, some years ago. However, paragraph 5 of that chapter states: Dr. Ridley recognised that London Underground at its highest levels may not have given as high a priority to passenger safety in stations as it should have done". That is an honest but extremely serious statement made by the managing director and chairman of London Underground.

Paragraph 6 of the same chapter emphasises that, no one person had overall charge of safety on London Underground. Paragraph 7 includes the somewhat amazing statement that the more senior managers, including the safety manager, central safety unit, and the personnel director, charged with health and safety responsibilities, categorically said that they did not see passenger safety as being part of their job". That surely will amaze noble Lords, as it did me.

Chapter 4, headed "The Ethos of London Underground", contains two other somewhat surprising statements. Paragraph 3 states: 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 to be the province of the Operations Directorate". Then paragraph 5 states: the Operations Director … did not concern himself with the state of the escalator machinery and . . . the replacement of wooden components … These were seen as being in the province of the Engineering Directorate". Therefore, one can see what happens when not one person is in control of such matters as safety arrangements. This chapter seems to argue that London Underground, because of its generally long safety record, had built up an ethos about the operations.

Paragraph 9 states: it undoubtedly led to the dangerous, blinkered self-sufficiency which included a general unwillingness to take advice or accept criticism from outside bodies". That is an attitude that Dr. Ridley said London Underground was struggling to shake off. This section refers to the lack of action on matters raised by the London Fire Brigade and the Health and Safety Executive. So far as I can see, the executive does not say what then happened. If advice was given by the London Fire Brigade and the Health and Safety Executive of which no notice was taken, what did either of those bodies do about it? It seems to me that to give advice of some importance and for it not to be adopted, required some kind of follow up. I may be wrong, but the report does not deal with it.

Chapter 19:13 refers to a statement made by Dr. Ridley, who, as I have said, was chairman and managing director of London Underground, that he considered the three principal dangers to passengers were congestion, crime and fire. The report continues: With the benefit of hindsight I believe we have given higher priority to safety problems arising from congestion and crime than to fire, and this was based on our experience of risk". He is really saying that because over the years there has not been a serious tragedy, and with this kind of self-satisfaction and sufficiency about the structure, this aspect has been given less importance than others. This attitude is reflected in Chapter 14 as regards the auditing of safety. I am delighted to receive from the Minister today confirmation that the LRT is now to have an auditing body that will report monthly to the board on safety issues throughout LRT and all its subsidiaries. I am certain that noble Lords everywhere will welcome that decision.

That matter is also mentioned in the document The Future of the Underground—the Plan for Action that was issued in September 1988 when Dr. Ridley was still in charge. In this document it is made quite clear that automatic sprinklers are to be fitted under all wooden escalators by 1990. Can the Minister say when that will take place in 1990? Shall we have to wait 15 or 18 months, or will that job be proceeded with very quickly?

The report further states that all wooden panels on escalators are to be removed by 1989. Again, when in 1989 can one expect that to be done? It is said that 23 stations are to have public emergency points by 1990. The question is: how late or soon in 1990? Special cabling is to be installed so that radio for police, the fire brigade, etc. can be used on deep level platforms. No indication is given as to the date by which that is intended to be completed.

I recognise that all these jobs to which I have referred must not interfere with rail travel. That must still proceed. I am certain there are ways in which the jobs can be done without interfering with daytime travel, bearing in mind the essential part that London Underground plays for the travelling public in London.

The Minister referred to finance. I hope that in all the measures to which I have referred money will not stand in the way, not only of the jobs being done but of their being done as soon as possible. I believe that the House must insist that we have that kind of assurance. In Chapter 19 Mr. Fennell affirms that in his judgment there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy . . . was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending". I bow to Mr. Fennell's knowledge, expertise and the way in which he conducted the inquiry. However, that is one man's opinion. What is the view of senior managers? Are they satisfied that finance played no part at all in inadequate safety arrangements? Also, what is the view of the Department of Transport? Is it satisfied that the expenditure of extra money may not have ensured a far better safety system and supervision than that which Mr. Fennell criticises in the report?

Mr. Fennell argues that it is not a question of the adequacy of staff for safety affecting the King's Cross tragedy. He regards it as more important that there should be a proper level of safety at each station. I believe that we would all agree with that view. Again, that requires expenditure. One cannot have adequate safety at each station without staff, plus training and supervision: three things that are so important in this matter.

I am sorry that I am taking so long but we asked for this debate and there are points that I wish to make. Chapter 18 deals with the role of the railway inspectorate. Paragraph 4 states that there is a misunderstanding of its responsibilities for the safety of passengers in the Underground. I am concerned that in paragraph 5 we find that, the proportion of time devoted by railway employment inspectors to London Underground varied from as little as three-quarters of one inspector's time in the early 1980s to only one-quarter of one inspector's time in 1987. I am delighted to learn from the Minister that the recommendation in paragraph 15 that the Railway Inspectorate be brought up to date is to be carried out.

There was a report in the Guardian as recently as 22nd November on this matter which drew attention to the danger that can arise unless the Government increase the Railway Inspectorate. I am also amazed at what the report states as regards what seems to be the lack of action by or co-operation with the Health and Safety Executive. Paragraph 25 expresses the hope that there will be closer co-operation between management and staff, and it refers to the constructive suggestions made at the inquiry by the National Union of Railwaymen and other trade unions. Paragraph 27 expresses particular concern at the lack of a comprehensive system of safety respresentatives and safety committees. Arising from the evidence, Mr. Fennell makes the amazing statement that until the end of 1987 there had been no health and safety representative at King's Cross Station for 2½ years.

I am delighted that the Statement made in the House affirmed that the chief inspecting officer of railways is now to organise a special investigation of London Underground with the full support of the Health and Safety Executive. I believe that the Minister referred to that fact in his opening remarks. I was very pleased to note the Minister's statement as regards fire certification. I had read the opinion of counsel set out in Appendix N. All that it meant to me as a layman, and I believe that my noble and learned friend will agree, was that there existed a problem which had to be dealt with. I am very pleased that the Government are going to tackle it and are to ensure that there will be fire certification; also that regulations will be issued under the 1971 Act ensuring that there are specific fire precautions at all London Underground stations. I believe we shall all welcome that provision.

In conclusion I am impressed with what I regard as the two most important recommendations. Recommendation (156) states that London Underground and London Regional Transport shall make regular reports to the Secretary of State for Transport upon their progress with the implementation of those recommendations directed at them. I am not certain whether the Minister said that that recommendation is accepted by the Government.

Recommendation (157) states that: Reports on the progress made by London Underground shall also be included in the annual reports of London Regional Transport, the London Regional Passengers' Committee and the Railway Inspectorate". If those recommendations and the others are carried out, Mr. Fennell's report and the action taken on it will have been thoroughly justified. Of the 157 recommendations, 33 were described as "most important" and 59 as "important". Will the Minister indicate whether all those 92 recommendations have been carried out?

3.50 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we too are grateful that the Government have found time for this debate. There was discussion through the usual channels when the statement relating to the report was issued, and we wisely agreed that it would be better to take a little more time and debate it properly. That is what we are doing this afternoon. It is sadly ironic that today there is a Statement in another place on the awful tragedy at Clapham Junction. It may be that we shall be saying the same things about that in a year's time as we were saying in November last year. I echo everything that has been said already. We are deeply sad to hear of so many dead and injured. Our sympathy goes out to all those who are bereaved and to those who are injured and may never recover from those injuries. We are glad that the Government have made it clear that there will be a public inquiry into the accident. I hope that the inquiry will get to the bottom of things as well as the Fennell inquiry has done in relation to the King's Cross tragedy.

We are all extremely grateful to Mr. Desmond Fennell for what is a spectacularly good report. It is perhaps one of the best reports I have ever read, both in its clarity and in the way in which it exposes layer after layer of the problems which led to the tragedy at King's Cross. One is grateful not only to him and to his assessors but also to those who appeared as witnesses, many of them having to relive in front of Mr. Fennell the agonies of that night. That cannot have been easy and we must be extremely grateful to them. I echo our grateful thanks to the scientists who carried out all the work on what was essentially a new phenomenon. I refer to the fireball effect when the flashover came from the top of the escalator into the ticket hall. That was a nice piece of work in the true sense of that word and made a great contribution to understanding what had happened on that night and one hopes to what must be done to stop such things happening again.

One has enormous feelings of sadness when reading the report for the waste of innocent life and for the physical and mental agony of those who were bereaved and those who are still injured. One has tremendous admiration for the heroism that took place that night and for the genuine self-sacrifice of those who gave up their own lives for the benefit of others. One also cannot help feeling a sense of anger at the incompetence and complacency which the report reveals.

I should like to say a few words about risk. It is easy to ask that everything should be made absolutely safe. We all know that nothing in life is absolutely safe. Being born is the most dangerous thing that we ever do, because there is only one way out of that. However, risk has to be managed, and there has to be an acceptable level of risk. It seems that the tragedy at King's Cross fell short of the high standard that we ought to expect on our public transport systems.

It is easy to be critical with hindsight and it is difficult not to view the whole tragedy with the benefit of hindsight. However, it is fair to ask what safety the travelling public have the right to expect and whether the position on London Underground before this event reached that standard. How much priority was given to safety by the management of London Underground? One is not looking for scapegoats. Two people have already lost their jobs as a result of the tragedy. One is not looking for more scapegoats, but it is absolutely crucial to prevent the recurrence of such an event. To do that we must establish who should have been responsible and what their future responsibilities should be. What was the attitude of London Regional Transport and of London Underground? Was it adequate? The report says that it was not adequate.

Who then was responsible? One person was directly responsible. That was the person who struck a match on the escalator at about 7.25 on that night and. dropped it onto the 48th tread or thereabouts. That was the direct cause. In a sense I hope that that person never realises that it was his or her responsibility because the guilt associated with it would be almost too great for anyone to bear. Let us also hope that anyone tempted to do that will recognise the awful effect of that simple act of striking a match to light a cigarette and dropping the match onto an escalator.

Who was responsible for the consequences of that dropped match? In my view, safety in any organisation, industrial company or public institution starts at the very top. Unless the senior members of a company or organisation make safety a major priority things will go wrong. It must be a regular concern and an item for every board meeting. I speak as a non-executive director of a small chemical company. I see it as my role to ensure—I have the co-operation of my colleagues on this issue— that health and safety are always high on the agenda of any board meeting. In the case of London Underground I fear that that was not the case. A degree of sloppiness had crept in, and there is no doubt that the management come out of the report very badly because of that.

Should the management have been more aware? Of course they should have been, but it might be argued that the flashover which caused the devastation was a new phenomenon; and indeed it was. But it is not just the precise mechanism that is important. That does not absolve them from blame. They simply did not take adequate precautions on behalf of the passengers who were their responsibility. As we see from the report, there is a long history of fires on London Underground, dating back to 1939, when the escalators were first installed. Since then there has been a steady stream of fires on London Underground escalators. In December 1944 there was a particularly severe fire at Paddington on the Bakerloo line. The escalators were gutted. The report explains that a review stated that there had been 77 fires between 1939 and 1944. Therefore this is not a new phenomenon.

It was reported then that these escalators were especially prone to fire and that the fires, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, were mainly attributed to the ignition of smokers' materials. Appendix J to the report tells us that there were 46 fires between 1956 and 1967. It deals specifically with the serious fire at Oxford Circus in November 1984 which led to the setting up of a fire safety task force. In the light of that history the management of London Underground should not have been unaware of the dangers.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said in quoting from the report, it was quite clear that nobody took responsibility. The engineering director, Mr. Lawrence, said that it was not his responsibility; Mr. Clarke, the operations director, did not feel that it was his responsibility; and the safety and personnel manager—oddly enough, if he was the safety manager —did not think that it was his responsibility. There was a level of ignorance and complacency on matters of safety at the most senior level within London Underground. As a result of senior management not being seen to care, the standard of housekeeping down the line was deplorable. The report also states that: The lift and maintenance manager said that to the best of his knowledge the running tracks of the Piccadilly Line escalators at King's Cross had never been cleaned completely". So the scene was set for a tragedy.

Of course if the staff had been properly trained, the tragedy might well have been limited; but they clearly had not been trained to deal with emergencies. If there had been any proper liaison with the London Fire Brigade, the tragedy might have been limited. If the staff had known where the equipment was, and how to use it, the tragedy might have been limited. If there had been any fire practices at any time, then some of those weaknesses might have been found. It might have occurred to someone that in an emergency the relief inspector—whose home station was at Harrow-on-the-Hill—who was in charge of the station that night and who did not know his way around King's Cross, could hardly be expected to deal with that sort of an emergency if he had not been properly trained to do so. There were no tire practices and there was no staff training. Chapter 15, as has been said, is a devastating indictment of the lack of staff training in safety.

In Chapter 15 at paragraph 14 one reads that: The Court heard evidence that the staff on duty at King's Cross on the evening of 18th November 1987 were not adequately trained … Only four out of 21 staff on duty said that they had had any training in evacuation or fire drills". Therefore it is no wonder that we read Mr. Fennell's statement in paragraph 5 that: 'The single most important need is for better training of staff". That is an amazing situation in the light of the evidence given by Dr. Ridley who said, in reference to what London Underground persisted in calling "smoulderings", that they were part of the system and had to be expected. If London Underground really knew that, one has the right to ask why it did not take steps to train the staff to deal with the problem.

One is not surprised when one sees, again in a statement from Dr. Ridley at page 127, that there was a tendency to have "management by memo". One gets a clear feeling that the senior management of London Underground sat in 55 Broadway, communicated with people by means of pieces of paper and did not really understand, or know, what was going on down the line. Memos from junior staff were ignored, and warnings from outside bodies were discounted. We read that the chief fire officer found the same problems of poor housekeeping and electrical wiring in escalator machine rooms year after year. Recommendations from internal inquiries into accidents either did not reach the right people or were not acted upon.

Indeed the director general of RoSPA makes it quite clear that the management had learnt nothing from the evidence of their own inspections or from …outside bodies". Clearly the management carries a terrible responsibility. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, will comment later upon Appendix M.

Just as an aside, one of the most irritating matters to arise out of the report is the way in which the management of London Transport tried to shrug off responsibility onto a small paint firm by the name of Prodorite. I am very glad that Mr. Fennell saw it as his duty to conduct a separate investigation into the effect of the paint on the escalator. He produced an interim report which absolved the paint company from responsibility. I think that it was a despicable act by London Transport to try to shift the blame in such a way. Whoever started that really ought to be disciplined, even now.

The Government, through the Minister today, have accepted that they have some responsibility for the situation. I think that that fact is to be applauded. They have allowed two senior executives to go. I am sure that the Secretary of State has considered his position and I have no doubt that in pre-war, and immediately post-war days, he would have come to different conclusions about whether he should continue in office. However, I do not press that point.

Nevertheless one wonders why the Government did not follow up the results of inquiries into previous fires. Surely the Department of Transport must have known about them. If it did not, one wonders why it did not; and if it did, one wonders why it did not follow them up. Or, did it leave it all to that quarter of a man from the Railway Inspectorate?

I am glad to hear from the noble Lord that the Railway Inspectorate will be brought up to establishment. But can we have an assurance that when the interviews are over in January the Railway Inspectorate will actually be up to establishment by the end of that month and that perhaps a greater share of its establishment will go to the London Underground until it is convinced that matters have been put to rights?

Appendix N was to be dealt with by my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, but unfortunately he has been detained in one of your Lordships' Select Committees and therefore will not be able to wind up from these Benches today. That chapter raises the most amazing neo-theological disputes about the applicability of health and safety legislation and fire certification. Again, I am glad to hear from the Minister that the Government will clarify that point.

Not only is the Railway Inspectorate understaffed, but I understand that "L" division of the British Transport Police is also understaffed by at least 10 per cent. One would like to have some indication from the Government that they are also prepared to see that situation put right.

My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich tells me that he saw Dr. Ridley before he left London Underground and gained the impression from him that he was really only interested in getting the British Transport Police up to strength provided that the Home Office was prepared to pay for it. I should have thought that that was rather a dangerous attitude to take.

What about the question of government financing? The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has quoted Mr. Fennell in Chapter 19 where he says, that there was: no evidence that the overall level of subsidy … was inadequate to finance … and maintain safety standards". That is a very clear statement and I accept his judgment in that specific area. However, it seems to me that at no stage was it made clear to middle management of London Underground that safety was a great priority. It was within the context of a financial climate in which people expected any proposals they made to be turned down. They may have been wrong in that; I do not know. But there is no doubt that many projects were not put forward because people believed that the Government were trying to reduce the subsidy on London Underground and that money would not be available. Accordingly, at page 149 in paragraph 3(i) the lift and escalator manager is reported as not pressing for money to relocate the water fog controls or replace the wooden parts of the escalators with metal ones. In addition we are told of there being: evidence that . . . the budget for escalator cleaning had been reduced". Therefore is it not obvious that the statements and attitude of the Government to public sector spending had created a climate of opinion in which middle management and supervisory staff believed that they could not get the money they needed? Add to that the evidence of Dr. Ridley that the: criteria for evaluating investment proposals may have discriminated against investment in stations", and again we can see how the financial impact was felt. The money was there to improve safety, but Government pressure to reduce spending may well have caused an atmosphere in which the money was not spent. So the safety of passengers was really no one's concern and 30 or 32—we do not know exactly how manypeople died.

Let us then turn to the future, because that is most important. One is considerably reassured by what the Minister has said today. I do not want in any way to underemphasise what he said. Work is clearly being done and that is to be welcomed. But what confidence can one really have? There have been so many cases in the past where recommendations have been made and the management is largely unchanged. It is necessary to recognise the fact that the public needs reassuring. It needs reassurance that there will be trained, efficient staff available and on view.

I do not want to go into the whole question of other safety matters on the railway, but in the past few days we have had two cases of people being attacked. Someone was murdered at Waterloo. There is a general air of unease about the fact that there are not enough trained staff to look after people's welfare on the Underground. The Government must address themselves to the matter. It must be made clear that the London Underground management must treat safety as a high priority.

I shall say a word on ticketing machines. I have no doubt that ticketing machines, and the technology allied to them, will in the end save money; but I am not sure that they will increase safety. I understand from a contact that although it is alleged to take only two seconds from pressing a plunger for all the ticketing machine gates to spring open, in practice it takes rather longer. It may take only eight or 10 seconds, but that is after someone has found the plunger. The plunger is understandably behind a locked door. One does not want members of the public pressing the plungers at random. What assurances can we have that the people who are supposed to press the plunger know any more about its operation than the people who were supposed to turn on the water cocks to set the fogging machine working? We need reassurance on those points.

Finally, the Government would be wise to introduce some type of management consultancy to look at London Underground's whole management structure. It has become an ingrown organisation. Promotion is by seniority and not necessarily by ability. It is, as one sees in the report, very much a "Buggin's turn" organisation. That is the type of factor which in the long term, in a situation where competition is necessarily limited because it is difficult to have two competing Underground systems—although the Underground is of course competing with other forms of transport—leads to complacency. I should welcome it if the Government were to bring in a collection of competent outside management consultants to go through the whole organisation from top to bottom and to report fearlessly, without regard to the feelings of management or trade unions, because this was a tragedy of such enormous consequence that nothing less than absolute certainty in the minds of the public that things have changed will satisfy them. On the evidence that we have seen, this is no way to run a railway.

4.12 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, it is right that the House should be debating this report, but it is sad that we are doing so in the shadow of another tragic major accident to travellers involving the loss of life and terrible injuries. I should like to repeat what other noble Lords have said and say how grateful we are to Mr. Fennell for such an excellent, detailed report and carefully considered conclusion. We should also congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the rapidity with which they commissioned the report and the speed with which it has been published.

It is important to be clear about objectives. In Chapter 2, paragraph 14, Mr. Fennell states: This Investigation had only one goal: to ascertain the cause of the tragedy and to try and ensure that it will never happen again". Those are well chosen words. As other noble Lords have said, risk cannot be completely eliminated from our lives; but we have to seek to reduce it to the minimum that is practical and it is clear from the report that the management concerned did not do that.

I do not believe that we need spend any time debating physical causes—the start and spread of the fire. That was well documented and carefully explained in the report. The report had the benefit of expert opinion and it came to clear, well supported conclusions. Better to spend time on the effectiveness of the emergency services dealing with the disaster. The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff, have already dealt with that. I wish to concentrate mainly on the organisation and management factors which created such a hazardous situation so as to make a contribution to preventing such a thing happening again.

There is no doubt that the biggest factor was the attitude of mind and climate of opinion on safety matters. At the top, London Regional Transport, we are told, strictly monitored financial matters but not safety (page 17, paragraph 11). At the next level, London Underground management took the view that some fires were inevitable. No one person was responsible for the overall safety of the travelling public. There were too many authorities involved. Responsibility and authority were fragmented. That is a situation which is never effective.

Specialist safety staff were mainly in junior positions. We are told that they were concerned solely with the safety of staff, not that of the travelling public. It is surprising that the railway inspectorate did not detect and report upon those shortcomings, as Chapter 18 makes clear. All the emphasis was on staff safety and not on passenger safety. As Mr. Fennell said, that was a misunderstanding of responsibility.

It is a well established principle, and a wise one, in manufacturing industry that one cannot inspect quality into a product. The same goes for safety. It is mainly a matter of ethos and example. In banking too, one cannot inspect honesty into transactions; but inspection systems and trained inspectors are a backstop. They can detect and forewarn of softness in regulations and in their application. They can detect bad practices and avoidable risks before they create disaster. They can do that only if they are independent of line management and if inspectors have the full confidence and support of the top management to whom they must report. That top management must accept the ultimate responsibility and concern for safety, especially where human life is a stake.

Chapter 18, paragraph 10, makes it clear how unsatisfactory the situation was. The Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways is reported on page 147 as having stated that: The amount of information on safety measures which a railway is legally required to give to the Inspectorate is extremely limited, and it is mainly by a system of liaison and relatively informal exchanges with the operators that the Inspectorate is able to exert a positive influence on the development of railway safety". I have some experience as a non-executive director on the board of British Rail. My experience there bears out that point. The difference in British Rail was that the Chief Inspector of Railways made an annual report to the board which was discussed by the board. Any difficulties, problems or matters that were unsatisfactory were referred to a sub-committee of the board for action upon which we subsequently had a report.

There was pressure at that time on money for investment. I was critical of the Department of Transport's policy in that respect, but I never had reason, and I do not think that any of my colleagues did, to be concerned that safety was jeopardised by pressure on finances. Safety was always treated as a top priority. That was the climate, the ethos, of British Rail. I believe that it extends right down the system. I am confident that that will prove the case when today's tragic accident is investigated.

It was apparently not so on London Underground. Chapter 19, paragraph 3(i), comments that the lift and escalator manager made some extraordinary remarks. These have already been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, so I shall not repeat them, but they were to the effect that he did not put forward proposals on investment in improved safety measures because he thought that they had no chance of being accepted. Although that is only a perception by a manager of the reaction at higher level, it has a nasty similarity to the reaction of senior directors and managers who were responsible for the ro-ro ship "Herald of Free Enterprise" to the proposals by operating staff for investment to improve safety. I do not believe that there is any suggestion—and Mr. Fennell confirms this—that the overall shortage of money was a cause of this accident in any way. But there was certainly an error of management in the allocation of priorities and how the available money should be used. I think I have said enough— perhaps too much—to make the point about the fatal flaws in the attitude to safety.

I wish to ask a question before turning to actions to prevent (so far as we possibly can) a recurrence of any such disaster. I should like to ask my noble friend who is to reply: what was the position of the Department of Transport in all this? How did it view its responsibility for safety? Who was responsible, who is responsible in the Department of Transport for the safety of the travelling public? Is it an official or a Minister? At what level of officialdom is there someone who is solely responsible for the safety of the travelling public, and to whom does he report? Does the Department of Transport accept that it must be satisfied that transport organisations of any kind which carry the public, whether in the public or the private sector, have adequate systems for monitoring and maintaining safety standards on behalf of the travelling public? Does the Department of Transport accept that responsibility?

During my time on the board of British Rail there was intense monitoring of financial affairs by the Department of Transport, as I said. There was endless second guessing of investment proposals, but never to my recollection were any queries on safety from the Department of Transport put to the board. Perhaps that was because the department was perfectly satisfied with what British Rail did and its organisation.

I ask my noble friend who is to reply whether the Department of Transport was satisfied with the arrangements of London Underground and London Regional Transport for safety. Did it know about the arrangements? If it did, was it satisfied? If it was not, why was no action taken?

I must turn now to the action for the future, in the words of the report: to try to ensure that it will never happen again". I would add to that any disaster, not just this type of disaster, where the travelling public might be involved. The recommendations are clearly set out in Chapter 20 and I shall not repeat them or refer to them, except for Recommendations (78) and (79). Those recommendations were referred to by my noble friend Lord Brabazon. It is good to know that action has already been taken, is being taken and will be taken by Her Majesty's Government to press on with implementing those recommendations and that the money will be available in full to enable them to be carried through. Can my noble friend also assure us that their progress will be monitored by the Department of Transport and that adequate powers exist to insist that necessary action is taken on those recommendations, if that does not seem to be happening?

Of all the recommendations, perhaps the most fundamental are Recommendations (78) and (79), on page 170 of the report. They are: (78) A non-executive director with special responsibility for safety shall be appointed to the Board of London Underground. He shall have direct access to the Chairman of London Regional Transport. (79) London Regional Transport shall establish a system whereby the safety of operation of London Underground can be the subject of audit. The Board of London Regional Transport shall receive reports on such audit". I very much welcome the assurances regarding audits given by my noble friend Lord Brabazon. It is relevant that financial audits of public limited companies are made public by statute. Why should not the safety audit of public transport organisations also be made public? They should be made public, I believe, with a report on the action taken or reasons for not taking the action recommended in the safety audit. Those reasons should also he made public, in my view. That would be a good principle in all such organisations where large numbers of the public are transported by sea, land or air.

I wish to ask my noble friend whether he will give an assurance that something along these lines will be done. There is too much secrecy and special pleading at present. Examples of avoidable risks arise all too often. Here we have had one in the Underground, and not long ago there was one at sea with a ro-ro ferry. Hardly a month goes by without reports of inadequacy of air traffic control facilities, only made public when incidents occur.

Just as it is the task of inspectors and non-executive directors in public limited companies to alert managers to the need to maintain standards, whether in quality, safety, or in other ways, and to insist on action being taken in the interests of customers— using that word in its widest sense—so I believe it is Parliament's task, especially in your Lordships' House where we can speak without fear or favour, and our duty to monitor the executive arm of government and to ensure so far as we can that in carrying out their very onerous duties the Government should maintain the optimum balance on priorities. For instance, it was wrong, as presumably was known, to allow the Railway Inspectorate to fall below full strength. But it is good to know that action is now being taken to put that right. Will the situation he fully monitored by the Department of Transport in future?

Nowhere is this balance of priorities more important than where the safety of people is involved, where wrong priorities or negligence may result in avoidable death or grievous injury. That is why I believe that this debate is of real importance, not only in relation to this disaster —that is history, tragic though it be—but also as a reminder that the price of safety, as with freedom, is constant vigilance.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron

My Lords, I too see the horrible irony that this debate should take place on a day when we have another disaster in the shape of the Clapham rail crash. I add my voice to those of speakers who feel the poignancy of that irony.

Mr. Fennell's report was concerned with the King's Cross fire disaster and with the considerations of safety that arose out of that disaster. I wish to make some comments of a wider nature on the present state of affairs in the Underground system, as highlighted by Mr. Fennell's excellent report. As the noble Viscount who spoke previously said, it often seems as if there is a disaster waiting to happen, particularly concerning some of our transport industries. I am afraid that, arising out of the disaster, I see this as a situation waiting to happen.

I speak as someone with a personal interest. Like other noble Lords, I use the Underground from time to time. From what I see and from my personal experience, the fact that a disaster has not happened earlier or in a different form does not surprise me at all. In my view, the Underground system remains horribly and worryingly defective. I hope that some good will come out of this tragedy and that Mr. Fennell's report will be a catalyst for radical improvement on the Underground and its systems.

As I have said, I declare an interest as an intermittent but fairly regular user of the Underground, and in particular of the Northern line, which is the most infamous line of all. Therefore I speak with considerable feeling, borne out by practical experience. The conditions on the Northern line are no doubt applicable on the Underground system generally. They are not acceptable.

Other noble Lords have spoken about congestion. In my view the Underground system is grossly overcrowded, a factor which brings with it a very serious safety and fire risk. I dread to think what would have happened if there had been a fire on some of the trains that I have travelled on during the rush hour. I speak as someone who does not use the Underground every day but the conditions, frankly, would almost be unacceptable to animals. Equipment, particularly escalators and lifts, are frequently defective. Only the other day, three escalators and one lift were all out of order on the same journey and I was not allowed to use any of them.

There is an even more serious and worrying aspect for passengers who experience this type of environment daily, and that is the almost total lack of adequate information provided to passengers. There is nothing more distrubing than to be in a worrying situation, for example where there are too many people about or a train stops in a tunnel, and no information whatsoever is provided by the London Transport staff. Reference has been made to lack of systems. This is not the fault of the individual staff but it demonstrates defective mnagement systems. I hope that that situation will be rectified.

Trains and stations are hot, overcrowded and filthy. Reference has been made to crime. The Underground, in my view, is a mugger's paradise. There were two stabbings on the Underground this last week-end. I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but I see reference in the paper today that there are approximately 320 London Transport police on duty, an average of one per station. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the American vigilante group the Guardian Angels, find a fertile market here for their services.

The considerations that I have referred to concern safety in its widest sense and portray an unacceptable state of affairs. I refuse to believe that congestion and the resulting overcrowding are conditions that are consistent with adequate safety standards on the Underground. If the Underground was in the private sector, these conditions would be a recipe for immediate bankruptcy. No one, had they the choice, would use the London Underground system in its present condition. It has a monopoly. It is in the public sector and therefore the Government have an obligation to improve its condition.

I travel on business to the Soviet Union and have done so for some time. As a general comment, our system, state of affairs and attitude to the users of the system is the sort of system that used to prevail—and I emphasise "used to prevail"—in the Soviet Union. It is a system that shows no, or very little, regard for the users of the system itself. It is the opposite of the consumer economy in the United States where every company puts the customer first. For whatever reasons, I fear that the London Underground puts the customer last. I hope that this situation will be remedied. In my view the present state of affairs is nothing short of a disgrace.

Having been very negative, I should like to isolate some of the areas in which I should like to see some improvement. First, may we please have improved reliability of equipment and of the trains themselves? Secondly, may we have improved security for prevention of crime? I told my secretary this morning that I was going to speak in this debate and asked her what she thought about the London Underground. Her first comments concerned crime. She said that no woman would think of going in the Tube after 10 o'clock in the evening. Is that an acceptable state of affairs? In my view it is not.

Improved information systems is an important area. I have already referred to improved supervision, and this goes to effective management training systems.

Finally, may we have an improved environment in the Underground? I say that because I would hate the Undeground authorities to divert too much of their budget to the sort of cosmetic improvements which some people find infuriating and laughable. I am referring particularly to the recent painting of the trains on Network SouthEast. (I am now referring to British Rail and not the Underground.) This was a huge PR exercise to change the name. Heaven knows how much it cost to paint all those trains! People who travel in trains do not look at the outside. Let us spend this money efficiently.

I conclude from my own personal experience that the state of the London Underground is nothing short of deplorable, at a time when the overground transport system in London is fit to bust. That this is so is accepted. Occasionally the system overground almost reaches gridlock. Therefore the Government should be doing what they can to improve the Underground, to make it a more attractive service to those who can opt whether to use it or not, thus relieving the conditions overground.

I trust that it is not too hysterical a remark to say that I hope that those who died or were injured in the London Underground King's Cross disaster did not suffer in vain. Unfortunately, as I have said, it often seems that it requires a disaster to focus the spotlight on an unacceptable state of affairs, which is then hopefully remedied. I am encouraged by what I have heard from the Front Bench on my side of the House. I hope that the Government will take steps not only to implement the recommendations in Mr. Fennell's excellent report, but also to look at some of the wider considerations which I have tried to highlight, so that the underground may in future become a safer and more acceptable environment for the travelling public.

4.38 p.m.

Lord Jay

My Lords, what the Minister said today did only a little to modify my belief, in the light of the Fennell Report and of one's own experience in the Underground since the Govrenment took it over from the GLC three years ago, that the financial targets set by the Government have led to an obsession with cost cutting and cutting staff, resulting in disregard of safety and the final disaster in recent months.

The Minister said nothing about the Government's financial targets or about staff levels on London Transport. As soon as the Government took control of London Underground after 1984, a programme was imposed progressively to cut the financial subsidy towards zero, at a time when other Underground systems such as that in Paris receive subsidies of many hundreds of millions of pounds a year. After the enterprise was taken over the then Secretary of State, Mr. Ridley, wrote a letter of guidance to London Underground calling upon it to reduce costs and laying down efficiency and economy as its aims. There was no mention of safety in the Government's formal statement of aims for London Regional Transport and none in LRT's annual reports since then, except in the special case of crime.

The managers evidently accepted that as a mandate to cut costs without too much regard to the service to customers or anything else. Indeed, in its Annual Business Plan 1988–89 London Regional Transport state: The objectives for London Transport set in 1984 have been more than achieved, with revenue grant needs being about half the target level set by the Secretary of State in 1984, and real unit costs falling faster than target". The fall in real unit costs, in plainer English, meant a huge cut in staff—which no speaker has so far mentioned today—from 56,000 in December 1984 to 41,170 in 1988. Of course a cut in staff of nearly 30 per cent. in three or four years when the number of passengers was growing extremely rapidly seriously damaged the service. A lack of maintenance and other staff caused the delays, train cancellations and congestion which we have all suffered, and finally created a situation in which the worst accident was almost bound to occur.

As has been said today, the Fennell Report makes quite clear that the fire started in a mass of rubbish which had accumulated under the escalator. The report states that the lift and escalator engineer said that he did not succeed in monitoring escalator cleaning standards to his satisfaction or have enough staff to do so". The escalator manager also said: The effect of the organisational changes had been to delay improvements in the arrangements for escalator cleaning …The running tracks of the Piccadilly Line escalators at King's Cross had never been cleaned completely". The lift and escalator department's budget was cut from £11 million to £6 million in three years and staffing for escalator maintenance was reduced from 350 to 250. The cuts included 50 machine room attendants whose job was cleaning and maintenance of escalators.

As a result of staff shortage, no member of London Underground staff was in the control room when the fire started; only two Underground employees were on barrier duty; and no single drop of water was applied to the fire until the fire brigade arrived, because there was no one there who knew how to do it. It was the police and not London Underground staff who summoned the fire brigade. Mr. Fennell's words have already been quoted: those few who were on duty were woefully ill-equipped to meet the emergency that arose.

In addition, the Railway Safety Inspectorate itself was short of staff. Mr. Fennell emphatically recommended that that should be remedied. The inspectorate's chief officer in his own report said that his organisation was undermanned by more than a third last year and that certain aspects of its work had to be curtailed because of the staff shortage. I do not think that the Minister gave an entirely fair picture in not mentioning the staff shortage.

Such is the plight to which a once highly efficient enterprise—as most of us believe London Underground was in the past—is reduced if it is treated as though it were no more than a grocer's shop and instructed to cut costs without regard to the interests or even the safety of the public.

There were of course other reasons for the disaster besides cost cutting. But Mr. Fennell himself makes his considered view clear that the priority given to economy over safety was a major contributory cause. He said that it was apparent from the evidence given by the chairman that whereas financial matters—namely, productivity and budgeting—were strictly monitored, safety was not strictly monitored. He added: There was a feeling among London Underground managers that the financial climate would rule out proposals to increase spending in certain areas". He also said: If the financial state of a company can be gauged by a financial audit then the safety of it can be established by a safety audit". There at least it seems we are at last to have some progress.

On the main issue of responsibility for the disaster, I think that the Financial Times was right, if restrained, in its judgment that, An emphasis on cost cutting and low overall investment may have helped create a climate in which corners were cut". I agree with other noble Lords that what matters now is what is done in the future. Are the cost cutting and destaffing (London Transport's own phrase) policies enjoined on London Regional Transport to stop or be moderated? The Minister did not say that they were. If they do not stop, I believe that the public will go on suffering and further disasters may occur.

As we have heard, in his excellent report Mr. Fennell makes 157 recommendations to avert such a disaster in the future, including that concerning the Railway Inspectorate. But will money and manpower be provided to implement them? The Minister did not convince me that it would. If so, new financial targets must be set for the organisation. Otherwise, where is the money to come from, and at the expense of what else? The policy of destaffing has to be reversed if it is seriously intended that those recommendations are to be applied.

London Regional Transport itself claims that some at least of the recommendations are now being carried out. It will take a lot to convince people, if there are no financial targets and no reversal of the cuts in staff, that they are really to be effective. If there are not financial adjustments the Government will bear a very heavy responsibility for any further accident that occurs. The only improvement that is visible to the ordinary traveller on the Underground at the moment is the installation of ticket machines and ticket barriers which to the layman appear to be designed more to save staff and to make escape in case of fire more difficult rather than less. Are the Government convinced that those barriers will not make escape more difficult? How can we be certain that the one individual required will be present in the case of an emergency? I cannot imagine what the situation will be for less athletic travellers if he is not.

Mr. Fennell rightly concludes that the few humble staff available at King's Cross that night were in no way to blame. I also wonder whether it is fair for Ministers by implication to load all the blame on the two chairmen of the organisation. From the evidence it looks very much as though the management thought that they were only obeying orders in putting economy above everything else. Perhaps the Secretary of State himself thought that he was just obeying orders. The whole story bears all the marks of the narrow dogmatism of the present Government, and indeed the present Prime Minister, about cost cutting and obsession with the profit and loss account as the measure and master of all human activities.

London Underground is not the only public service now being damaged by false economies and undermanning. Unless, therefore, the Government ensure, rather than merely predicting, that Mr. Fennell's recommendations are carried out in the spirit in which he made them and that the money and manpower required are made available, it is the Government who will be blamed next time something like this happens.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I should first like to apologise to my noble friend the Minister. Owing to a longstanding previous engagement I may not be present to hear him wind up the debate. I am grateful to him for having introduced this matter in such a clear way. I should also like to thank Mr. Desmond Fennell, Q.C., and the other assessors, for their excellent report. Perhaps I too may join in the tributes paid to the different services.

As the noble Lords will have seen in the report, the director general of RoSPA, Mr. Warburton, was a key witness at the inquiry. He spent many days there, read all the reports and documents that were submitted to the inquiry and gave lengthy evidence under cross-examination by counsel, the court and LRT. Had it not been for the hares that were introduced, the report could have been out earlier and would have cost somewhat less. To test paint for flammability takes time and costs a lot of money; likewise, so does trying to find a flasher or a man in blue overalls.

I shall resist the temptation to talk about the new ticket barriers. I believe that they are not safe. However, as they and other matters are being closely examined, we must wait for the report before commenting further. I find it quite amazing that, although Sir Keith Bright and his board had proper regard to efficiency and economy on the one hand, they did not on the other hand consider safety of operation in the same light. Yet, as has already been said, the corporate aims of London Underground are laid down in the standing orders and directives issued by LRT. The first aim is: to provide, consistent with safety, the best value for money rail services within the resources made available". It is quite evident that no lessons were learnt from all the other smaller fires that occurred before the King's Cross disaster. As the director general puts it, at paragraph 19, page 120 of the report: he had looked in vain for evidence of someone within the organisation questioning what the worst possible consequences of fire could be. Nobody had asked, 'what if …?'". All the reports from internal inquiries and fire hazard surveys had not been collected and analysed to permit a true assessment to be made of the risk. Safety was not strictly monitored. The board felt that safety in the subsidiaries was something that was special to those subsidiary companies. Those comments were made by Sir Keith Bright and are found in Chapter 3 of the report.

It is not for me to start another witchhunt. That has been done. The inquiry heard all the evidence that was to be heard and the director general put his views forcefully and clearly. The report is welcomed wholeheartedly. It is fair and very comprehensive. In the report there is a positive framework of action to minimise the number of fires and thus reduce the possibility of one of them turning into a major incident. The report goes even further. With auditing and management of safety the ultimate objective, which is the elimination of all fires, could be obtained.

With the recommendations of high standards of cleanliness and training, together with an awareness of the probem, it is to be hoped that that ultimate objective can be reached. After all, the cause has been identified, and the issue resolved. Let us now see the management fulfil the recommendations.

4.54 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for a very interesting speech in which he underlined the main points at issue. I shall not repeat them. He has brought out very clearly the points which were so forcefully raised by the report. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, but I cannot endorse his remark that although safety is never absolute, it can remain the objective. I think that absolute safety must be the objective. Certainly we do not achieve all our objectives in life, but they must remain absolute.

That is why I do not like the word "auditing" in regard to safety. How does one audit safety? Can one put down a series of numbers and add them up at the bottom? I do not like that word. It is the only word to which I really take exception in Mr. Fennell's remarkable and admirable report.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, put a great deal of emphasis on money. Money, or the absence of it, did not cause this disaster. However, I agree with him that London's economy depends on the underground railway. We may— indeed, I think we shall—have to spend a lot more money to ensure that it meets the requirements. Reference was made to congestion and, heaven knows, the evening trains are to be avoided if one can possibly do so.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, who is not in his place at the moment, referred to the fact that in this country we have had a series of the most appalling disasters. I believe that they should be viewed as a whole. There was the Zeebrugge affair, the Piper Alpha disaster, the Bradford Football Club fire, and the Manchester airport tragedy. If one looks abroad one sees the rocket failure in the United States and of course Chernobyl in Russia.

We are coming to the end of the 20th century. This is a highly technical century, dealing with matters of immense power and requiring people of great ability. That is at the bottom of our problems today. Those who are running the railway did not have the training or the ability to do it properly. We have to ensure that there are people of ability available to operate over a very wide sphere.

Last week it fell to me to be told that there is such a body of very able men and women among our young people. It seems to me that our young people have a grasp of what is required. There is a body called the International Rescue Corps, and two rescue teams have already been flown out to Spitak. These young people are not only trained but are very highly kitted out with such things as laser beam equipment for cutting, vibration cameras and heat detectors. In other words, they are going equipped to meet the needs that there exist. I think that they deserve very strong commendation. This is a voluntary organisation that receives no government money and its members work for no pay. They will have to face, as best they can, what may be a very cold winter. We should encourage these young men who, I believe, will show a lead.

I should like to congratulate Mr. Fennell on his very valuable report. I shall not go through the many points that have been raised, although there are one or two on which I should like to comment. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the fire brigade. Apparently some remote passage in something that this House approved gave a definition of a building and a structure. Mr. Fennell had to go to the late Lord Goddard to find out the meaning of "structure". That is absurd, but it shows how careful one has to be in drafting.

So far as I can see, the real trouble is staff. Of the 58 staff at King's Cross not one had any recognised public qualification. That is extraordinary today when, if one wants to enter any sphere, one must be qualified. One has to be trained. No doubt the situation is improving and training will take place in due course. However, the muddle of the fire certificate is, I think, the most tremendous nonsense.

If I may, I shall repeat that safety is not absolute and will always be a difficult matter to achieve. However, it is not a specialised subject; it is one which should form part of everyone's duty from the beginning. I find it rather difficult to understand why the number of different bodies dealing with safety is shown at the end of the report.

I do not want to take this matter any further. I simply want to say that fire is a natural hazard. Fire was not invented by man. It is dreadful that fire should break out in any area through which one-quarter of a million people—that is equivalent to three times the capacity of Wembley Stadium—walk every day. It is almost impossible to believe that they will not leave a mess behind. It is impossible to believe that the mess will not very easily inflame, and that some form of fire will not inevitably take place. What matters is the immediate ability to quell and to stop those fires.

One thing about the report that I greatly enjoyed was this. I understand that at King's Cross it was Boudicca who defeated the Roman legions. If Boudicca could defeat the Romans then we can conquer any problems on the underground railway.

5 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, it is very difficult to follow my noble friend, especially after his last remark. However, like other noble Lords, I commend the excellent report which addresses all major issues in a very fair and frank way. Mr. Fennell has provided the first comprehensive report since the last national review by government bodies as long ago as 1904 by the then Board of Trade, following the Paris Metro disaster when 84 people were killed. However, rail and Tube are still the safest methods of transport in London. Thirty-one deaths at King's Cross compare with 571 deaths in Greater London on the roads. It is too early to talk about the rather nasty figures as a result of this morning's disaster.

The report addresses the tasks and safety responsibilities of Underground managers and the great exent to which the public rely on their managerial skills to guarantee safety. If there had been such an inquiry after the Oxford Circus fire in 1984, when 14 people were taken to hospital, with £5 million worth of damage caused including loss of fares, safety procedures would have improved. A very thorough report by Mr. Jonathan Roberts was sent to the Department of Transport Railway Inspectorate. It raised important issues on mismanagement and safety priorities. Like my noble friend Lord Caldecote, I am concerned that the department apparently failed to act on this report in 1985. I should like to ask my noble friend why, and what its role is in safety management.

Since the King's Cross tragedy there have been strenuous efforts to improve management and enforce stricter safety on the Underground. However, despite those very best efforts, the London Fire Brigade was called out to 521 incidents—either fires or smoulderings—from the day of the disaster, 18th November 1987. I have figures to 1st August this year. Few of those incidents were escalator fires. The Government must insist on the fullest co-operation with London Regional Transport, London Underground Company, the safety and emergency bodies, and the representative passenger bodies that rules procedure, equipment and staff training must be geared not simply to prevent outbreaks of fire but to contain such outbreaks when they occur, and to assist the safety and speedy evacuation of passengers and staff.

So far I have discussed the problem only in general terms to meet the requirements. I have already indicated that we need a definition of safety standards, assessment of the capital and revenue costs in improving train and station safety, towards what safety standards are adopted. On the time-scale and priorities given to those tasks, the public and passengers must be informed and reassured that better standards are maintained. It means that there must be external monitoring by appropriate agencies such as the London Fire Brigade and the Health and Safety Executive.

The report sets out many of the detailed requirements. We must comment on important subjects such as fire certification. Mr. Fennell has set aside an entire chapter on it. It sets out only a standard for public safety in buildings and structures where people congregate. It provides for an external audit, and the safety standards required could provide a target to aim for in terms of future investment and staff training. This may seem cumbersome but it is nevertheless essential. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend how soon legislation will be brought in to make sure that Underground stations are covered by the Fire Precautions Act 1971.

We need to recognise that all Underground stations will not at present meet the standards set in fire certification. For example, London Underground has indicated that it could still take 12 minutes to evacuate King's Cross station. This compares with the normal target of three minutes for public buildings. Clearly, therefore, a safety audit of each Underground station is required, including the means of escape, fire precuations, control of smoke, ventilation and signing of passageways.

I am afraid that I am making my noble friend terribly busy, but again I should like to ask him the time-scale that he and his colleagues have given for the likely outcome of such audits that have been recommended by Mr. Fennell and whether the Government have agreed to meet fully the costs involved, which could be substantially higher than indicated by the Secretary of State if secondary exits had to be provided. There are also other recommendations. Will the Government meet the costs of the said safety improvement standards in provincial underground railways such as Tyne and Wear Metro, Glasgow Underground, Liverpool Underground, and others?

I now wish to move on to other key priorities which have been mentioned. These are staff qualities and training. One comes here to the cardinal point. The outcome of a fire is very often determined by the actions taken in the first few minutes. This inevitably places a heavy reliance on staff of all grades who first become aware that there is a fire. Clearly their role and responsibility is an urgent matter for discussion, in which the trade union which represents them must also play a part.

Here I depart from my brief. A long time ago I was a transport worker, though not on the Underground. However, many remarks have been made about staff and staff training. This has to be considered very carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, spoke of management consultants. Here I must mention the fact that Dr. Tony Ridley, who has been criticised, and has now left, had the great respect of many people in the railways. He was trying, with limited resources, to turn the situation round after this terrible fire. I must mention former colleagues, people such as ticket collectors who check to see that people have paid the right fare—which is absolutely right. I had no personal contact—as I might have had as a bus conductor—with the public, which, to use a trite term, might be described as a lot faceless old "offal".

Nevertheless, the training has to be done. It has to be absolutely right. If new staff are to be introduced, they must be trained. It has to be well thought out. One improvement might be a special constable standing in a passageway. But one cannot get away with simply saying, "The situation must be improved". That statement by itself is impersonal and has to be considered very carefully. That is underlined again in the report. The trade unions, as well as management, have to get their heads together to find a ready solution.

My noble friend will be aware that safety underground is not just a matter of fire protection but of general security of passengers, in particular their protection from congestion and overcrowding, which matters have been touched on by various noble Lords. We are all now aware that the central London rail study is addressing these very issues. I am sure that it is a matter of concern to all noble Lords that investment to deal with all these problems should not merely revolve round congestion or fire, but should consider the two programmes jointly.

Finally, the Government have rules which are generally set out on a financial basis and therefore cannot easily take explicit account of the wider benefits of investment to improve safety and to reduce congestion. I should like my noble friend to consider these two matters together on their own account.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, ours is a caring House, as I believe has been shown this afternoon by the many sentiments that have been expressed in the context of this morning's disaster at Clapham. It is also an expert House, as has been shown by all the contributions to the debate this afternoon.

Speaking last before the "gap" in a debate embracing this expertise is always difficult, because it requires one to seek to outguess all those who speak before and to address oneself to a topic which has not been covered earlier in the proceedings. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I go along a path which I believe has not truly been covered in depth in the Fennell Report or in the debate this afternoon, although its was recognised in that expert and brilliant report—the role of the Railway Inspectorate.

The Railway Inspectorate is a body which has been dedicated since the inception of railways to the management and better regulation of railways. One may quote George Stephenson writing to the then president of the Board of Trade in 1841. Elsewhere in that letter Stephenson made clear that when he was talking about the regulation and management of railways he did not mean the boards, but the operational safety matters such as construction, the speed of trains, signalling and other matters such as rolling stock. The health and safety requirements which recur throughout the Fennell Report never seemed to have crossed Stephenson's mind. In fact they did not really appear in the 1858 directive issued by the Board of Trade—regarded as the first such document issued to the inspecting officers of railways.

Since then the inspectorate has gone about its business largely outside the public gaze, save in the case of great disasters such as that at Lewisham or today's tragedy at Clapham Junction. The traditional role has been to approve the safety of railways when they were opened and to conduct inquiries into operational accidents. I think one must underline "operational accidents" because King's Cross, although one can look on it as a railway accident, was an accident where trains were peripheral. It has always successfully sought to establish the causes of accidents and then to establish preventative measures which would stop such accidents from occurring again. The inspectorate has sought to turn such measures into practice, acting more by persuasion, discussion or by consultation, as has been brought out by several noble Lords this evening, than by sanction. The infinitely greater safety that I feel on a railway train than I do when I travel by road is a testimony to the inspectorate's competence over the years.

It seems to me that traditionally the inspectorate has been dominated by its operational role in the railways system. Health and safety were not in its original remit and they do not appear to be featured very much until the Health and Safety Act 1974 which is highlighted in the Fennell Report. In Section 4 of Chapter 18 of the report Mr. Fennell concludes that the inspectorate had misunderstood the health and safety aspects of its duties and hence it failed to allocate sufficient resource—and resource in relation to the inspectorate is really the keyword of my speech—to that aspect.

Earlier I drew a distinction between persuasion and sanction when talking about the inspectorate's role as historically practised. It is alarming to me that by the time of the King's Cross tragedy the inspectorate, to quote the report, did not have the staff resources to undertake time-consuming preparatory work on prosecutions", where it felt that things were not as they should be. Although I have not identified any manpower factors in the Fennell Report, it seemed to me to be symptomatic of cheese-paring. Parenthetically I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in introducing the debate said that he hoped and felt that we all wished for a non-political debate. He deserves a slight slap on the wrist for making a political point about the growth of investment in LRT since it was denationalised. However, it seems to me to have been cheeseparing that between 1985 and 1987 the strength of the inspectorate fell by some 16 per cent., from 36 staff to 31.

Three factors seem to shout for this trend to be reversed urgently. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, told us, London Underground has preempted the Fennell inquiry in setting up its own ongoing safety audit which will be checked by London Regional Transport. But who, and several noble Lords have touched on this this evening, is to check LRT? It seems to me that it can only be the inspectorate, because they have the people with the expertise. But I have to ask myself whether, given the expertise, they have the resource.

British Rail meanwhile has set in train its own enhanced safety programme and has recently appointed a director of safety. Some £8 million is immediately to be spent on improvements. So far, but, can one say, not so good? Some noble Lords will know that despite the chain of disasters which the noble Lord opposite mentioned, this year French railways has had a year of so many disasters in such a short period as to make the list he mentioned—I will not say trivial. French railways has seen the resignation of its chairman. It now has proposals to spend no less than £400 million, 50 times more than the British Rail figure I have just mentioned. It is getting on for twice the combination of the British Rail figure and the London Underground figure that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, mentioned. French railways has plans to spend £400 million on safety improvements.

All this inevitably makes one ask whether the resources available to London Transport or to British Rail are sufficient. Again I return to this word "resource". I wonder whether we have not been lulled—I mentioned my feeling of safety on a train as opposed to my feeling when riding in a car—into a false sense of security, because British Rail, taking one year with another, is so very safe by comparison with what one might call British road. Not only is it safer, but its safety is much more economic. I cannot gather a total social cost of the price of road accidents in this country. While my calculator does not go that far, I gather that the individual cost—I am indebted to the Minister for this—is nowadays calculated at about half a million pounds per person. If one is talking of that kind of cost, together with the number or road accidents, particularly fatal road accidents, it seems that someone—I do not necessarily say that it should be the Government—should find the money to fund such safety improvements as are immediately necessary. Not only that, but having funded or resourced those improvements, we must make sure that the resource is properly matched.

I turn now from the resource available to rail operators. I should like briefly to touch on the inspectorate. I feel that the inspectorate too is underresourced in a number of ways, not just in pounds, shillings and pence. There is the cutback in staff, which I have already mentioned. There is its inability to cope with its workload, which I have also mentioned.

Finally, there is another dimension; that of the skill and competence of those employed by the Railway Inspectorate. Today's debate has shown that the demands upon it are growing as a result of the Fennell Report. However, additional demands are generated simply by the growth in traffic on British Rail, the London Underground and other railway sectors. Train mileage is increasing and with that one must face the possibility of things going wrong. The scope and opportunity for that possibility also increases.

A growing number of light railway Bills are going through the House. The provincial sectors were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. Those existing provincial railway operators—such as Tyne and Wear Metro and others—and those who are proposing to run metropolitan railways of one kind or another will impose an increased demand on the talents and skills of the Railway Inspectorate. There are the demands posed by the Joint Safety Commission as enshrined in the Channel Tunnel Act. There are also the health and safety aspects as enshrined in the Fennell Report.

As regards the health and safety aspects, there are a number of satisfactory channels through which people can train and qualify before joining the inspectorate. However, I am not so sure that that holds true in respect of the operational side of British Rail. Throughout history the inspectorate has drawn on the Royal Engineers for its junior staff, many of whom went on to become senior staff. Until recently it would have been difficult to think of an accident inquiry which had not been conducted by an inspector with a military background. However, I understand that that training ground has dried up.

I welcome the strengthening of the inspectorate and hope that the Minister will have more to say about it when winding up the debate. However, I envisage a scenario in which the inspecting officers of the future are drawn not least from railway operating companies because the traditional source has dried up. Using the military connection that I have mentioned as an analogy, I fear that the railways inspectorate may find that on the operational side it is employing passed-over majors of the operating companies; those who do not see themselves making it to the top. After all, one can be at the top of British Rail at the age of 42. They may be those who will not make the top grade and who take another option. That poses two problems. The first is that of ability. Is a passed-over major in such a position because he cannot prove his ability? The second is the more personal problem of people being put in charge of, and being in an almost judge-and-jury relationship with, their erstwhile colleagues in the operating organisations from which they came.

I am concerned about resources for safety but particularly for the inspectorate. I hope that when winding up the noble Lord will confirm my sentiments about resources for the inspectorate and that its enhancement and any strengthening will not be at the expense of quality.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the debate has shown that its purpose, and that of the inquiry and the report, is to examine the cause or causes of the fire. It is also to discover how it may be possible to ensure that there is no repetition of such a tragedy. It is tragic that on the day chosen to debate this subject in your Lordships' House we are told of the tragedy at Clapham Junction. The Minister may be able to update the House on the details of the accident. I understand that the death toll may be close to that at King's Cross. I am sure that the condolences of all noble Lords go to relatives of the injured and deceased not only at King's Cross but also Clapham Junction.

In a system as vast and complicated as that of the London Underground, with so much interdependence between thousands of employees from the chairman downwards, and the continuing sophistication of the hardware required to run a railway, special and specific safety disciplines must be developed and continually updated. In addition to the interconnection between the staff running the Underground railway and the machinery, another problem has arisen during the past few years. It is that there has been a large increase in the number of passengers. Anyone who uses the Underground regularly will have noticed that the number of passengers increases every month.

I am at one with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in saying that the London economy is totally bound up with the importance and safe running of the Underground railway. The noble Earl made an important point in saying that total safety must be our aim, however unattainable it may be. As I read it, the burden of the report is that, tragically there was a conspicuous lack of any network-wide safety disciplines in London Underground Transport. It would appear that the management structure was almost an obstacle to any overall safety approach.

Everyone has paid tribute to Mr. Desmond Fennell, QC, for the report's lucidity and the masterly way in which he compiled it. Many noble Lords who have read reports will put this report high on their scale of readability and will praise the probing and brilliant way in which it has been laid out. We are all able to understand it and to gain a great deal from it. I hope that an attempt will be made by London Underground Transport to have an abridged version of the report issued to its staff. It would be a good introduction to safety and to its importance. Most people have paid respect to the importance and quality of the report.

Smoking was banned on the London Underground in 1985 following the Oxford Circus fire. One believes that in that case there must previously have been a complacent attitude on the part of the board. It must have had incredible luck considering the fact that millions of people must have smoked on escalators—most of them wooden—until approximately 10 years ago. The fire record was then nothing like so bad as it appears to have been since the reduction in smoking. I believe that the fire at Oxford Circus occurred when there was a considerable restriction on smoking in the Underground but not the complete ban which now exists.

I should like to ask—and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned this—what is this subtle difference between "smouldering" and a fire? Instructions seem to have been given to members of the Undergound staff that they should not refer to a fire but should always refer to smouldering. That seems to be a very serious matter indeed. Sir Keith Bright has already been quoted as saying that financial matters were strictly monitored by London Regional Transport but safety was not.

Chapter 4 of the report, with which it is very difficult to deal, is a most important chapter. Mr. Fennell has entitled it, The Ethos of London Underground". That is what we are trying to get at. He obviously got that from, if I may so call it, the canteen talk of London Transport. He spoke of the four barons who run London Transport—the chief civil engineer, the chief signal engineer, the chief electrical engineer and the chief mechanical engineer. The engineering director, Mr. Lawrence, said that his main task over nine years was the breaking down of the boundaries between the different engineering disciplines. I believe we are entitled to ask whether the department was aware of this regime of the four barons. That probably goes back to fairly early on in the history of the London Underground when they became entrenched in their offices and it became almost impossible to change general attitudes. That is why it is so apt to speak of the ethos of London Underground.

Mr. Lawrence suggested that senior management had been satisfied with the processes in place. As I tried to say earlier, when smoking was allowed on the Underground, luck seemed to be with it because there was nothing like the history of fires which we seem to have now—and nothing as bad as King's Cross.

However, there was a series of reports from within London Underground and from outside bodies which spoke of the lack of training for staff to cope with emergencies, and particularly of fire hazards in the system. Therefore, I should like to speak briefly—because again the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned this—on where the buck stops. That is what we are really concerned about. I believe that my noble friend Lord Jay made the point most succinctly when he said that one cannot get away from the fact that part of the ethos of running London Transport came from the Government and the cutting of costs and staff. If numbers of staff are cut, obviously there is a situation such as obtained at King's Cross where there were not enough people or the people required were in the wrong places. Also, if there is a reduced staff—just enough with no extra staff—it is impossible to send staff on training courses. They cannot be trained for the job.

I repeat what has been said before; namely, that that is a false economy. One can discern the grip of the false economies and the superficiality of being able to make economies when it ends with a tragedy such as there was at King's Cross. I should like to ask the Minister whether new money will be provided for the new safety measures. Of course that would necessitate a considerable increase not only in staff at headquarters but staff at Underground stations and staff able to move around who understand what is happening on the ground. We are continually told that one difficulty in the police force is that there are not enough people moving among the public to know what is happening. It would certainly appear to be true as regards London Underground because frequently there is a great dearth of staff in the stations, particularly the stations away from the centre of London and the West End.

It is shocking to discover that the Department of Transport did not seem to be aware of many of the things happening on London Transport, particularly as regards safety. I believe that the report makes a very important point, which I am sure other noble Lords have seen. Chapter 5, paragraph 4 states that there were no organisation charts of management available, that in fact it is worthy to note that the charts which were produced had to be expressly prepared for the investigation, and that witnesses from London Underground generally only knew about the organisation of their own department or division. It also states that that may be indicative of the compartmentalised approach to management.

I should like to know whether the Ministry had any charts or any indication of the management structure of London Transport. I should also like to know whether they are aware that there was such a dearth of training as regards fire fighting, that the hydrants of London Transport were not compatible with the hydrants of the London Fire Brigade, and many other points. I suggest to the Minister that at the end of the day London Tranport's management was responsible, as were the individuals who were not doing all that they could have done at the site of the fire before it took a grip. However, some responsibility should be on the Government and the Ministry for not having sufficiently monitored the system, which is so important to London, to ensure that it was being properly looked after.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we have had this afternoon a constructive debate, on a matter which is as serious as it is important. I acknowledge the firmly held and positive points of view which have been put forward, from all parts of your Lordships' House.

The King's Cross fire shocked everybody in this country; indeed it was widely reported throughout the world. However, it was of especial concern to Londoners. The Underground is after all part of the fabric of daily life in this city. I spoke earlier—and anybody who has read the report will have seen the criticisms for themselves—of the shortcomings in London Underground which that report revealed. Those shortcomings must not be glossed over. But I think it also right and responsible to remind noble Lords that overall the Underground has had a good safety record. In the 12 years before King's Cross only one passenger was killed in a train accident, and yet 2½ million journeys are made on the system every working day. We cannot allow ourselves complacency, after so dreadful an event; but we are entitled to look at the picture in the round.

I have spoken of London, but I also said earlier that Mr. Fennell's report warrants study by all railway operators, and that British Rail were taking action. Noble Lords may wish to know that the Chairman of the British Railways Board has told my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that he is using the report as a basis for management action within his own organisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, pointed out, he has created a new post of director, safety, and has also appointed a special fire adviser. The chairman has already ensured that in response to Mr. Fennell's recommendations a safety audit has been carried out of all BR's Underground stations—there are a number of them, not only in London—followed up by a programme of new works. Further management action is being taken to ensure good fire safety practice throughout British Rail, not just in Underground stations.

My noble friend Lord Teviot mentioned other underground or metro systems. I agree that the Fennell Report has lessons for such systems as the Tyne and Wear Metro and the Glasgow Underground. Those railways are the responsibility of the relevant passenger transport authorities but my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Scotland have written to these authorities drawing attention to the Fennell Report.

Returning to London, there was obviously a lack of clear responsibility for safety in the London Underground system. I agree that there are very serious criticisms in the report. However, I can tell the House that LRT and LUL have told us that this is a point which they have been keen to act upon. They sought to set up clear lines of responsibility; for example, 10 new general managers—one for each Underground line—but with the safety audit system alongside.

As regards finance, noble Lords may like to be reminded of the many very large investment projects either in progress or approved, many of which will help to relieve congestion. I know that that is of concern to many noble Lords, understandably in view of the almost 80 per cent. increase in passenger miles in the past six years.

Thus, at King's Cross itself, London Underground intend to build a new passenger subway. The Central Line is being modernised, with extra capacity, at a cost of £720 million. At Angel station the narrow island platform is being eliminated, escalators are replacing lifts and a new ticket hall will be built at a cost of £45 million. Sixteen extra trains are being provided, costing £45 million. An enlarged ticket hall is being built at Liverpool Street, with more escalators, at a cost of £7 million. Recognising the need for longer term solutions, the Central London Rail Study has been set up to develop a strategy for meeting forecast demand. I hope noble Lords—in particular my noble friends Lord Fairfax of Cameron and Lord Selkirk—who have suffered from the undoubted pressures and discomfort caused by growing numbers of people wanting to travel, after a long period of declining numbers, will take some comfort from this.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the plans for expansion and improvement in the Underground system include more rolling stock so that those of us who travel in the rush hour can avoid being squashed like sardines?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I have already mentioned that 16 extra trains will be provided. There are other examples, and that is not the end of the matter.

As regards finance for safety measures, I remind the House of what was in the report and which I quoted in my opening remarks. I emphasise one vital point. That statutory duty for safety is clearly with the railway operators and not with the Government. This is a long-standing principle and no one is questioning that now. It is for LRT to make the case for the finance needed for safety. The Government have refused no cases for investment since taking over LRT in 1984 and we have agreed to all the spending proposals on safety since Fennell, which is £266 million over the next three years. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that that is, indeed, new money. Therefore, finance is not a problem. I have already said that finance will not be a barrier to the implementation of any of the Fennell recommendations.

Lord Jay

My Lords, before the Minister leaves finance, arc the Government making any change to the general revenue target which has been imposed on London Transport and which has led to the reduction in staff and, therefore, to a great many of these difficulties? Is not that being adjusted?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Jay, will allow me to go further in my speech he might find that I will answer these questions. I shall, of course, attempt to answer all questions put to me by noble Lords and if I am not interrupted too often I shall be able to continue with that task.

London Regional Transport has been accused of monitoring finance but not safey. Of course we must now look forward and LRT have made changes, which I have already described, including the setting up of a safety audit committee of the LRT board. LRT has assured my honourable friend the Minister of State that there are no misunderstandings on LRT's statutory safety duty.

As well as crowding, the attention of the public, and indeed your Lordships' House, is understandably often directed to London Underground staffing. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, made particular reference to that aspect. One always hesitates to deploy quotations but it is right to remind your Lordships that in paragraph 6 of Chapter 19 of this report Mr. Fennell says: I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster at King's Cross". It is equally right to remind your Lordships that Mr. Fennell then goes on to say that, in his 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. I am sure that Mr. Fennell is right.

Of course, when it comes to automation many noble Lords will have in mind the automatic ticketing system which London Underground has been introducing. Several noble Lords—notably the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Jay—referred to that system. I think I can most usefully repeat the fact that there is to be a review of that system and that London Underground is similarly reviewing all its station staffing plans. For example, I am told that the recent press reports about 1,000 job cuts were based on out-of-date figures. Again, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in particular, will find that reassuring.

I think noble Lords agree that it is not enough for London Underground, or any operator, to make improvements; they must also keep their customers informed. In that context, Mr. Fennell recommended that London Underground should arrange for publication, through the London Regional Passengers Committee, of reports following the regular Fire Brigade inspections of underground stations. He also recommended publication of the regular progress reports which London Underground is to make to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I can tell the House that London Underground says that it intends to fulfill both those recommendations. I hope that that will give some encouragement to my noble friend Lord Caldecote who raised that point.

I have spoken of regular progress reports to the Secretary of State. I think it also right to reaffirm the very long-standing principle that the railway operator has the direct responsibility for railway safety. I am clear that there must be no ambiguity on that point; the interest of passengers would not be served by the railway operator leaning on a man from the Ministry coming to tell him what to do.

My noble friend Lord Caldecote asked whether anyone in the Department of Transport was responsible for passenger safety. As I have said, it is a long-standing principle, established over a century ago by our Victorian predecessors, that there must be operator responsibility for safety. I am sure that is right. We cannot have ambiguity. Equally, there is a long-standing principle of external agencies—in this case, the Railway Inspectorate—enforcing safety duty. It is in recognition of the importance of this role that we have taken steps to increase the resources available to the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways in fulfilling his enforcement responsibilities to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport and the Health and Safety Commission.

Turning to the role of the Railway Inspectorate, mentioned by a number of noble Lords in this debate, it is true to say, as I said in my opening remarks, that at the time of the accident it was understaffed. We have had an extensive recruitment exercise and we expect to fill seven out of the eight vacancies early in the new year. We accept that the equivalent of at least one man, full time, is needed on LUL safety checks; plus other special one-off checks or whatever is needed to ensure adequate coverage. I also draw the attention of noble Lords to the special team set up by the Railway Inspectorate with the help of the Health and Safety Executive and the London Fire Brigade to examine underground safety management systems, including their systems for monitoring the implementation of necessary actions. The team's work should be completed in March.

As regards working with the fire brigade, a matter to which my noble friend Lord Teviot referred, I assure him that the Railway Inspectorate is redoubling its efforts already made in close working with the fire brigade. I understand that London Underground is doing the same. A figure for call-outs of the fire brigade to the Underground has been mentioned and it has gone up considerably recently. Perhaps noble Lords will be reassured that London Underground is appearing very properly to take care to call the brigade out whenever there is any suspicion of fire. This increases the statistics, but it means that the point is being taken care of.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord any more than is necessary. Is he aware of a press report that a member of the British Transport Police said that the public was now getting too sensitive and was reporting too many smoulderings? This has occurred in recent weeks. I do not expect the Minister to answer me now, but does he not agree that it is deplorable that someone in that situation is not actually encouraging London Underground to contact the fire brigade as often as Mr. Fennell suggests that they should?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very interesting point. It is now the policy that the London Fire Brigade should be called in the case of any kind of a fire. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who referred to the use of the word "smouldering". I gather that that terminology has been dropped and they are now referred to as fires. So there should be no misunderstanding at all. If what the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has said is correct, then it is very wrong.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about the quality of applicants for jobs with the Railway Inspectorate. All applicants for posts are considered carefully and only those with the appropriate qualifications, experience and personal qualities are offered posts. Standards are certainly not being lowered. We are successfully recruiting some people from British Rail. It is not so much a question of being judge and jury concerning former colleagues as the necessity for proper experience. It is rather less of judge and jury than perhaps poacher turned gamekeeper; and who better than a former employee to do that?

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about the paint called Prodorite. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, more or less answered that point. During the investigation Mr. Fennell gave an interim judgment that exonerated the product.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I was not referring so much to the paintwork on the escalator itself. It has been suggested that there has been no comment on the general paintwork in the concourse and elsewhere.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that is the paintwork on the ceilings to which I was referring and this product has been exonerated. As regards the target dates for these safety measures about which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me to be more specific, I understand that the removal of the wooden panelling on the escalators should be completed by July to August of next year. Automatic sprinklers under all escalators should be installed by December 1990. As regards underground radio communications, known as the leaky feeder system, which permit the use of radios underground, these should be installed at 42 deep Tube stations by the end of February 1989. There is also a pilot scheme involving trained staff with radio and help point booths. That is already in operation at 13 stations.

As regards the smoking ban on the Underground, immediately after the fire the ban already in force below the surface was extended to all LUL operational property wherever situated. Fresh and repeated reminders to all LUL staff and British Transport Police on the need to enforce this law have been made. The ban is reinforced by more litter bins and cigarette stubbing bins and more "No smoking" signs and posters, especially on the escalators. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also referred to the response to previous fires on the Underground system. Mr. Fennell felt obliged to make criticism of LUL's arrangements to follow up these fires. I understand that one of the aims of the LUL's new safety audit system is to ensure that lessons from fires are learned and followed up.

Turning to the question of the British Transport Police and crime on the Underground referred to by my noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I agree that the incidence of crime is unacceptably high. It must be seen in the perspective of 800 million passenger journeys; that is, one assault for every 500,000 journeys. The Government's concern is reflected in the crime report and £15 million is being made available for improved communications underground at 42 stations, to which I have already referred in a different context. There will be more help points at stations, passenger talkback alarms, closed circuit television, safe waiting areas and other items such as improved lighting in subways.

The establishment of the Underground division of the British Transport Police has been increased since 1986 from 280 to 350 police officers, which is a 25 per cent. increase, following the publication of the department's report on crime on the London Underground. Recruitment is proceeding as fast as possible and 329 officers are now in post. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that an outside consultancy should look at LUL's management. This may be appropriate in the longer term. The first priority must be to follow up the specific Fennell recommendations on the management of safety. There is to be a new top management in the Undergound; an LRT board member responsible for safety audit; a special review by the Railway Inspectorate of management systems for safety; a chief safety inspector; a chief fire officer and a safety auditor, all of London Underground.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that London Underground was too introverted in some of its appointments, and I believe that is correct. Mr. Fennell had harsh words on the subject. The noble Lord will therefore be pleased to know that the new managing director comes from outside and that the three new safety appointments that I have just mentioned are all from outside either the Underground or the LRT in general. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, criticised the financial objectives of the Underground which were set down in the Secretary of State's letter of 1984. I cannot accept that those objectives ignored safety. In the very first paragraph it refers to the statutory duties of the board and it accepts the framework of duties. Section 2(2)(b) of the London Regional Transport Act 1984 referred expressly to the duty of the LRT to have due regard to economy, efficiency and safety. I have already commented upon the staffing issues.

As I said in my opening remarks, we really see nothing incompatible between the efficient use of resources and safety. I must point out that the cost objectives were not only agreed by LRT but exceeded by them. I feel obliged to remind the noble Lord, Lord Jay, that the growth in traffic has also meant a growth in revenue, which is up by over 30 per cent. between 1984–85 and 1987–88. Therefore it is not unreasonable to reduce the burden on the taxpayer and the ratepayer. But we must be constructive, and the Government will be taking account of the cost of implementing the Fennell recommendations alongside other factors in setting LRT new objectives to replace those of 1984.

My noble friend Lord Teviot asked about the timescale for bringing in regulations under the Fire Precautions Act. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary intends to make the regulations early next year. The wide consultation necessary as a preliminary is now in hand. The implementation dates will be different for different safety measures. For instance, staff training will have an early date because the Underground has essentially made the necessary changes, but larger physical measures such as automatic sprinklers will have a rather later date.

After a disaster like King's Cross the Government must inevitably keep in close touch with London Regional Transport and London Underground to be clear about progress on the follow-up to Mr. Fennell's recommendations. There are therefore regular meetings and reports, at ministerial and official level, with action where necessary. I am sure that noble Lords would expect no less. I repeat that we have had a useful debate this afternoon. I can assure your Lordships that not only will I read again tomorrow what has been said but I shall be careful to draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my honourable friend the Minister of State with responsibility for London Regional Transport. I end this closing speech as I ended my opening one, by stressing the Government's recognition that all concerned, including Ministers, must pursue vigorously the lessons from Mr. Fennell's thorough and wise report on the tragic events of 18th November last year.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he answer one factual point? In the report Mr. Fennell recommended that Prodorite should have its costs paid. Does the noble Lord know whether that has been done. If he does not, perhaps he will write to me.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that point.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at three minutes past six o'clock.