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Bombing Exercise (Scotland)

3.34 pm

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the proposed live bombing exercise to be conducted in the Moray firth on 13 March.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Michael Neubert) : There is no question of live bombs being dropped in the Moray firth. On 13 March, which is the day of delivery of the 1,000th Stingray torpedo to the Ministry of Defence, it is planned that three wholly inert practice Stingray torpedoes will be dropped in the Moray firth to demonstrate to the press the ability of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy to utilise this important weapon. All appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that shipping is not affected by this demonstration.

Mrs. Ewing : We welcome the fact that live bombs will not be used, but why did the Minister not take the opportunity that was offered on Thursday when I tabled a written question on the matter to deny that they would be used? When the Ministry of Defence was contacted by the press in Scotland during the weekend, it did not take the opportunity to deny that live bombs would be used. That has caused a great deal of worry to people involved in fishing, the oil industry and aviation in the north and north- east of Scotland. Why is it so important to drop even inert bombs in territorial waters rather than in international waters, as is usual?

Mr. Neubert : I learnt of the confusion only through the medium of the United States navy exercise called Exercise North Star 89 which is taking place from today until 15 March. During the exercise, aircraft from the US navy aircraft carrier USS America will undertake practice bombing missions. They will drop live ordnance on Garvie island and practice bombs on the training range at Tain. There is no question of live bombs being dropped in the Moray firth or anywhere else in United Kingdom territorial waters.

The concern has arisen as a result of a pamphlet, published by Mr. Malcolm Spaven, entitled "Scottish Defence News". He is an academic and adviser to several Opposition Members on aviation matters. He has confused the two events, and caused confusion and a great deal of unnecessary anxiety, for which I cannot be held responsible.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is irresponsible of Opposition Members to raise this matter and to criticise the Royal Air Force for carrying out its training obligations within all the rules and regulations? Does my hon. Friend further agree that the two RAF stations--Kinloss and

Lossiemouth--operate to the very highest standards in the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Neubert : That is undoubtedly true. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that this is, if anything, a mischievous attempt to confuse issues which would otherwise be entirely straightforward.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : When will Scotland stop being used as the playground of the Royal Air Force? Is the Minister aware that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) joined

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me, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) to protest strongly at the huge increase in low-level flying--down to 100 ft--over the whole of the south-west of Scotland?

Mr. Speaker : Order. The question is about bombing.

Mr. Foulkes : If they were doing it over Croydon you would understand, Mr. Speaker. It is all the same kind of thing. The Royal Air Force in Scotland and Cumbria does everything that it wants to. Does the Ministry of Defence ever say no to requests made by the RAF for such exercises and low flying?

Mr. Neubert : I must repeat for the benefit of the hon. Member that this request arises from a press facility arranged by Marconi Underwater Systems to demonstrate a very effective weapon. The use of ranges is entirely different and well established, and I am sure that the Scottish people want to contribute to the defence of the nation.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a bit rich for Opposition Members to complain about the RAF's activities when everybody knows that Scotland's location and the RAF bases there are essential to the well-being and safety of the United Kingdom? Does my hon. Friend agree further that the people who look after the servicing and supplies to those Royal Air Force bases would find it offensive if all such activities were stopped because they are the reason why those bases are there? If the Royal Air Force wants to continue low flying in my constituency, I am happy that it should do so.

Mr. Speaker : Order. Keep to the Moray Firth, please.

Mr. Neubert : It is always encouraging to have my hon. Friend with his long experience of the Royal Air Force behind me on these occasions.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Will the Minister explain why he did not take the opportunity to deny the story last week? Have not the fear and alarm been caused by a ridiculous public relations celebration to celebrate the 1,000th missile? If all reasonable steps have been taken to alert shipping, why has the Moray coastguard no knowledge of the exercise?

Mr. Neubert : It may be because the press facilities were arranged for a week from today--Monday 13 March. On the point about confusion and the timing of questions and answers, the "Scottish Defence News" pamphlet is dated February 1989. It has taken a long time for this scurillous rumour to surface.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the torpedo to be used in the test, Stingray is easily the best lightweight torpedo in the world and that this test will provide another opportunity to show that the decision made nine years ago to go ahead with it was right?

Mr. Neubert : My hon. Friend speaks well of the weapon and I hope that the 30 press people leaving from London and going to Scotland to see it demonstrated in complete safety off the Scottish coast will be equally impressed by its effectiveness.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Will the Minister give an assurance that the disruption to

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the activities of our fishermen will be kept to a minimum? Will he also give an assurance that any debris left on the seabed will be cleaned up in the interests of our fishermen and their expensive gear?

Mr. Neubert : I shall certainly take note of the hon. Gentleman's point on the latter question. On the former, I assure him that every care will be taken not to disrupt local fishermen.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Does the Minister accept that the practice of dropping live bombs on Garvie island, which has been properly regulated for many years, has met with complete acceptance locally because of the way in which it has been conducted and that there is no question of opposing in principle the use of live weapons on those ranges? However, can he tell us when he learnt about what he has described as mischievous rumours and how quickly he moved to quell them?

Mr. Neubert : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. On his second point, I learnt about the confusion from the Sunday Mail, the source of all this anxiety.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : The Minister has been extremely dismissive in his answers. Is it not true that a notification about live bombing was issued by the Civil Aviation Authority in relation to the Moray firth? Is that not another example of the complete lack of liaison between the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Defence, which we see in other spheres?

Mr. Neubert : The original premise of that question is wrong. What follows, therefore, is equally wrong.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : Will the Minister answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)? Why was the Moray coastguard not informed?

Mr. Neubert : I have already replied to that question. I pointed out that this press demonstration is taking place a week from now and that arrangements for it are made by Marconi. All who need to know will be notified.

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Train Accident (Purley)

3.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : With permission, I wish to make a statement about the serious railway accident that occurred at Purley at the weekend. The House will also wish to be aware of a further railway accident between two passenger trains which, I understand, occurred at 12.50 pm today in Scotland. Reports of that accident are still coming in.

At about 1.40 on Saturday afternoon the 12.17 Littlehampton to Victoria train ran into the back of the 12.50 Horsham to Victoria train as it was crossing from the up slow line to the up fast line just to the London side of Purley station. The collision derailed both trains and six of the carriages of the Littlehampton train fell down a high embankment. Five passengers were killed and some 80 people were admitted to hospital.

The House will, I know, want to join with me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the injured and the bereaved ; and our thanks to the rescue and hospital services and the local people, who responded so magnificently to the emergency. British Rail is carrying out its own internal inquiry into the circumstances and the causes of the accident and has announced some preliminary indications.

Officers from the railway inspectorate, including the deputy chief inspecting officer of railways, attended the scene of the accident and have already started their investigations. I have today appointed the deputy chief inspecting officer to carry out an inquiry into the accident. His inquiry will be wholly independent and will be held in public. The report will be published. I have asked him to report to me as quickly as possible.

The fact that there have been two serious accidents on British Rail, and now a third, within three months is naturally a cause for concern. Mr. Anthony Hidden is already conducting an inquiry into the Clapham rail accident. As part of his inquiry he will be considering whether any broader management lessons need to be learned. On the evidence we have so far about the Purley accident, it is perhaps unlikely that there will be any common features with the accident at Clapham. But if in the course of the investigations any such issues were to emerge I have agreed with Mr. Hidden that they will be brought to his attention so that they can be taken into account in formulating any recommendations he wishes to make on management of safety on Southern region or generally in British Rail. My immediate priority is that both inquiries should be completed quickly so that immediate action can be taken without any delay.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a most unfortunate occurrence, especially since there have now been three such incidents? Yesterday I visited the scene of the accident and it was a sickening sight. I should like to add my expression of sympathy to the families of the bereaved and those who have been injured, and to add my congratulations to the ambulance, fire and police services and the hospitals. Many of my constituents should be thanked for the free help they gave immediately while waiting for the ambulances, including the supply of blankets, sheets and

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so on. Many young people--teenagers--helped by climbing ladders up the steep embankment and smashing windows in order to get out passengers.

I must tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of the concern of the general public. We welcome the independent inquiries, but they seem to take so long. The accident at Clapham occurred three months ago and the inquiry is still taking place. If any extra safety measures are needed, they should be implemented immediately, that should be done. Waiting for a report simply delays matters. We have a worried public and they must be reassured as soon as possible. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that any necessary safety measures are introduced at once and that we will not have to wait months and months.

Mr. Channon : I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said, especially about the help received from local people. All the reports I have heard have referred to the magnificent help given by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) and others in the locality. They helped enormously in a difficult and sad task.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's comments about the time taken by inquiries. That is why I have chosen this particular form of inquiry and why I want both this and the Hidden inquiry to be completed as quickly as possible. I can give a further assurance to my hon. Friend that there is no need to wait for the conclusion of the inquiries for measures to be taken. Should it emerge during the course of the inquiries that any measures are necessary, I shall ensure that they are acted upon immediately.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : On behalf of the Opposition, I offer our deepest sympathy to the relatives and friends of those killed or injured in Saturday's terrible accident. We also extend our sympathies to those killed or injured in Glasgow this lunchtime, the first details of which we have just heard from the Secretary of State.

We express our great admiration to the emergency services who were, yet again, called upon to respond swiftly and with skill and courage. For the fourth time in three months our emergency services have responded to a major transport tragedy with unfailing professionalism and dedication. We also pay tribute to the way in which people in nearby houses reacted with such speed and compassion, whether it was running to get a ladder from the garden shed to help with the rescue or making a cup of tea to comfort the injured. Their natural human reaction was to do what they could to help. They must have been a great comfort to the injured, especially in those terrible moments before the emergency services arrived.

We welcome the fact that British Rail has acted so swiftly to accept full responsibility for the accident. When the news came through early on Saturday afternoon, I am sure that, like the Prime Minister, we all had the same dreadful feeling of,"Oh no, not again" as we were faced with yet another transport tragedy.

It is two years today since the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise. Since then we have witnessed a major loss of life at King's Cross, Piper Alpha, Clapham junction, Lockerbie, the M1 air disaster, Purley, and now Glasgow. The regularity with which such tragedies have occurred only heightens our sense of shock and the desire to do all that is possible to improve passenger safety. I ask the

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Secretary of State to ensure that, on this occasion, he gives the House all the relevant information that is available, which he has not always done in the past, as we saw with the Lockerbie statement.

Does the Secretary of State share my concern at the speed with which some sections of the media have sought to blame the driver of the Littlehampton train, Mr. Morgan, even as he lay seriously ill in hospital over the weekend? Will he review the practice by which such interviews are conducted?

How many incidents have there been in the past year of trains passing signals at danger? Will the Secretary of State consider some of the issues that have been brought to my attention and to which the inquiry should address itself? Does he accept that it would be much easier to determine the circumstances that lead to such accidents if trains were fitted with black boxes similar to those on aeroplanes? Would that not help to remove a lot of the speculation and controversy that follow such tragic accidents? Will he ensure that the inquiry studies the nature of injuries sustained at Purley, Clapham and Glasgow so that we can learn appropriate lessons about the design of coaches, seating and internal layouts?

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is growing concern among the travelling public about safety and a lack of confidence in the policies presently being pursued by British Rail? Does he accept the view of the former head of signalling and safety at British Rail, Mr. Stanley Hall, an acknowledged authority on these matters? In this morning's Dail Mail, he wrote :

"Over the years, railways gradually became safer until they reached a very high standard. But during the 1980s, the trend has not continued. BR seem to have reached a worrying plateau of safety." Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that, if Mr. Hall had still been employed by British Rail, under the new British Rail rule changes he would have been dismissed for writing such an article of criticism? Does he share my concern that British Rail is looking to disband local safety committees? What does that tell him about British Rail's management's approach to safety? According to the Secretary of State's railway inspector's report, since the early 1980s, accidents and injuries have increased by 30 per cent. and collisions have increased by 20 per cent. Does he accept that there is now cause for concern about British Rail's safety record? Is it not true that, in the past five years, excluding the King's Cross fire, 73 people have been killed in rail accidents? That is not including the tragedy in Glasgow today. In the five years before that, no one died or suffered a major injury in a train crash. We welcome the fact that there will be a full inquiry into the Purley accident, but, in the light of the spate of recent tragedies, will the Secretary of State also consider a broader independent public inquiry into pasenger safety to ensure that standards are not being compromised to meet financial targets that are too tight and demanding? Does he acknowledge that the increased capital investment in British Rail has been provided not by greater Government resources but by the payment of higher fares? Does he accept also that the level of current financial support, in the form of the public service obligation grant paid by the Government, has been cut by over 35 per cent. in five years, a saving of over £2 billion at current prices? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with Mr. Stanley Hall, who said that safety is being compromised because

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the Government are tight-fisted with their current financial support? Does he accept that the financial climate-- [Interruption.] I am reporting to the House what has been said by an authority on safety who made accusations about the level of financial support affecting safety, and I ask the Secretary of State to listen carefully. Does he accept that the financial climate set by himself and in which British Rail operates means that new safety measures such as the implementation of a new advanced warning system, which is being installed elsewhere in Europe, has not been adopted? The House needs to reassert the paramount importance of safety on the railways. Does not the Secretary of State think that an important step in that direction would be for the Government to find time for a debate on the Fennell report into the King's Cross fire which was published three months ago and has not yet been debated in the House?

Mr. Channon : I agree with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman said and join in his tributes to those who helped in the appalling disaster.

House wishes, I can bandy about party political points on the level of investment, although I had rather hoped that I would not have to do so. However, as I have been challenged on specific pointslet me tell the House that current investment in British Rail is £56million, which is an incredibly high level--one of the highest levelsin real terms in the history of this country. Mr. Peter Snape (WesBromwich, East) : Self- generated. Mr Channon : Whether it is self-generated or not is not the point that Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) had in mind. He asked whether the British Rail network was starved of investment. It is not. The hon. Gentleman also asked about rail working expenses. Rail working expenses and revenue investment in Network SouthEast have risen by 9 per cent. in real terms during the past three years. Therefore, his points on those matters amounted to nothing.

I accept that the House and the public have a right to be reassured about the safety record of this country's railway systems. That is far more important than scoring party political points in the Chamber. As a result of the Hidden inquiry and other inquiries, I am determined that hon. Members should be in possession of all the facts and, therefore, see that safety remains one of British Rail's top priorities for the future. I have reinforced that extremely important point with its chairman.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West) : The majority of those who were injured in the Purley accident were admitted to the Mayday hospital in Croydon, in my constituency. I am sure that the House would want to know that, on Saturday, everyone associated with the Mayday responded magnificently to the challenge. Doctors, nurses, auxiliaries, secretaries, porters--literally everyone--rallied to the call and worked selflessly to care for the patients. I express sympathy for the bereaved and injured, and I repeat that everyone connected with the Mayday responded wonderfully to this awful accident and deserves our heartfelt thanks.

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Mr. Channon : I agree with my hon. Friend. I have heard many reports about the magnificent work done in the Mayday hospital.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : May I and my colleagues be associated with the expressions of sympathy about the accident at Purley? Will the Secretary of State provide us with further details on the accident in Glasgow? His statement was rather light on that matter.

I think that the Secretary of State will regret saying that the questions asked by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) were purely party political. People are lying dead in various parts of the country and the general public is now deeply concerned that, perhaps, the Government have subordinated the ethic of public service to their ideological anxieties about financial restraint. Is it not time to have not just individual inquiries into such accidents but a comprehensive review of British Rail's standing in relation to Government policy on safety?

Mr. Channon : I note the hon. Gentleman's initial remarks and accept his views and those of his party.

As for the Scottish railway accident, it is difficult for me to give the House accurate information. It occurred only a few hours ago, just before one o'clock this afternoon, outside or near Glasgow at Milngavie-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members' disagreement with that shows the unwisdom of my trying to give detailed information. Messages are coming through all the time. I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) will be kept in touch--indeed, I shall ensure that he is.

I agree that there is public concern about British Rail and about safety on the railways. It is important that it should be allayed. It is a pity when hon. Members start throwing partisan statistics around. There should be a general view throughout the House that we want a better safety record for British Rail. Historically speaking, it has been good, and I am determined that it should be further improved as a result of the inquiries.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : I want to express my sympathy for the bereaved and injured and my appreciation of the voluntary help and the work of the hospitals, including Mayday, which I visited yesterday. I am also taking this opportunity to speak on behalf of my right hon. Friends the Members for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) and for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), who, for reasons known to the House, cannot be present this afternoon.

May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions? First, will he accept that comparisons with European safety practices should be made as part of this and other inquiries? My second question relates to a matter that caused me and many of my constituents grave problems over the weekend. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to end the absurd practice of giving out one emergency telephone number which then becomes clogged up, thereby causing unnecessary anguish and suffering to many of the families concerned?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I realise that he speaks for our colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who are concerned about the situation.

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It is fair to say that British Rail's safety record bears comparison with that of the other major rail networks in Europe--but I want it to be improved.

I agree with my hon. Friend's point about difficulties with telephone numbers. The problem has been examined on a number of occasions. It is not my direct responsibility, but I have already asked for it to be looked into.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : I wish to join in the expressions of sympathy to all who have been bereaved or injured in the one accident--we do not yet know what may have happened in the other accident at Glasgow.

The public's view was that one accident could be excused as misfortune, but their concern that the Government were being careless grew with the second. Now, after three, people will say that there must have been underinvestment, certainly of time and effort, in safety. They may also say that there has been too little financial investment.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the inquiry extends to the general issue of investment specifically in safety measures by British Rail? Will he further ensure that decisions on the Channel tunnel high-speed link are taken with reference to the conclusions of the committees of inquiry into safety?

Mr. Channon : I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about his party's expression of regret, which I welcome.

Railway investment is now at its highest level for 20 years--£560 million this year, and an average of £755 million over each of the next four years. That is a prima facie case for saying that what the hon. Gentleman suggested was improbable-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) does not understand the difference between the public service obligation and investment levels. Investment is high by historical standards, and it is growing.

British Rail's top priority is safety. I have never turned down an investment proposal from British Rail. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) can rest assured that the Hidden report will cover any points relevant to this.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. May I say to hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies that, in view of what the Secretary of State has said, there is not much point in calling them today? I shall look with sympathy on this matter tomorrow.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester) : As one who had constituents travelling on the train and whose constituents regularly use the route in large numbers, may I take this opportunity of expressing appreciation on their behalf to the relief services, the hospitals and everyone else who helped them so readily and selflessly in their plight?

My right hon. Friend will know that there is heightened concern in the south and south-east about the incidence of these accidents and the extent to which overcrowding on trains and congestion of trains in the area may lead to more such incidents. To what extent is consideration being given to additional safeguards that may prevent the overriding of automatic stopping systems? I do not of course refer to the cause of this accident.

Despite the generosity and immediacy of compensation by British Rail, to what extent does my right hon. Friend

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think that £3,000 for a death or a voluntary sum of £10,000 are adequate? The families concerned consider such sums grossly inadequate.

Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of compensation, which is a matter for British Rail, which has accepted full responsibility. Generally it has a good record of dealing with compensation claims and I am sure that it will consider such claims sympathetically.

My hon. Friend rightly does not want me to prejudge the inquiry's outcome, and I do not want to comment on anything that may be relevant to the cause of the accident. I should have joined the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) in saying how much I regret it when people speculate or come out firmly about accidents' causes before they have the facts. They should not blame persons or causes until they have the facts.

Anything relevant to these disasters will have to be considered. The Hidden inquiry can take everything into account when formulating any recommendations that it wants to make about the management of safety on Southern region, or more generally in British Rail.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : The Minister must recognise that there will be vastly increased traffic on Southern region as a result of the building of the Channel tunnel. Is he saying that the inquiry will be specifically instructed to consider a higher level of safety which will eliminate human and mechanical error as far as possible in the light not only of the accidents but of the future increased traffic that Southern region will have to bear?

Mr. Channon : Of course, our objective is to improve the safety record on Southern region and throughout British Rail--that is one of British Rail's top priorities. The House will want to be satisfied about that and will ask me to report back about it from time to time.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that all forms of travel inevitably involve a degree of risk? Is it not highly irresponsible to exaggerate that risk for party political purposes? On the journey from Brighton today I spoke to 22 of my constituents on the train, only one of whom had any serious doubts about British Rail's ability to maintain the highest safety standards. It is disgraceful that that confidence should be undermined for sordid party political purposes.

Mr. Channon : I note what my hon. Friend says. The important consideration which should unite both sides of the House is that we should work together to improve safety standards. I shall certainly try to.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Although the figures may back up some of the statistics--I believe that only six people were killed in collisions between 1980 and Clapham--does the Secretary of State agree that there is another side to this which he has not mentioned? Will he look at a letter published in the September issue of Modern Railways, written by an anonymous driver out of Waterloo, who pointed out the low morale of train drivers, the fact that they have sometimes been asked to be on duty for 12 hours, and the fact that for the first time ever train drivers are leaving Southern region to take up alternative occupations? Is the Minister aware that, in correspondence that I have had with it, Southern region management does not deny those allegations?

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Good financial structures and good industrial relationships are surely a sine qua non of safety. Is it not now clear that by the Government's various actions in this and other public services they have been through some double yellows, other single yellows and have now passed two reds? When will the driver put on the brakes?

Mr. Channon : I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's partial support on the accident figures in the first part of his question. I shall have to examine exactly what he said. I am not sure whether my figures are exactly the same as his, but they are not dissimilar. The hon. Gentleman asked about the morale of drivers and the hours that they spend on duty. If those factors are relevant, they will be considered by the inquiry into this accident. I shall read the letter to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the travelling public are entitled to expect three things from British Rail : first, that trains should leave and arrive on time ; secondly, that passengers should travel in comfort and have access to seats ; and, thirdly, and more important, that they should be able to travel and arrive safely. As my right hon. Friend has said, British Rail needs to restore confidence in those aspects. Will he therefore take steps today to summon Sir Robert Reid to a meeting so that my right hon. Friend can be satisfied that there is sufficient safety built into the fast rail link from the Channel tunnel to the London termini? None of us wishes to contemplate being in the House to listen to a Secretary of State for Transport giving an account of the massive death toll caused by trains with a frequency of one every eight minutes colliding while travelling at 160 mph across Kent. Safety applies no more and no less to the county of Kent.

Mr. Channon : I share my hon. Friend's concerns. British Rail's first duty is to ensure safety. The other two duties about which my hon. Friend spoke are important, but they are not as important as safety, which is the top priority. British Rail agrees with me about that. I have already discussed this sad situation with Sir Robert Reid.

My hon. Friend spoke about the fast rail link in Kent. Should proposals come forward from British Rail for that, I am sure that, among other matters, British Rail will have to satisfy the House that it is proposing a safe solution.

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) : The accident in Scotland happened just outside Bellgrove station, in Glasgow. Once again, on behalf of my hon. Friends I extend deepest sympathy to those who were involved in the accident and to the relatives of those who were killed or injured. Will the Secretary of State ensure that this accident will also be the subject of a full public inquiry?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. I am sure that he speaks for all Scottish Members, at this early stage. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport has gone to Scotland to examine the situation, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas- Hamilton), is also at the site. I shall certainly consider what the hon. Gentleman says to see whether an inquiry is necessary or appropriate. I would

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not rule that out. May we have a few more hours to find out the exact situation? I shall make sure that the hon. Gentleman is kept informed.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar) : Given the immense pressure on Network SouthEast as thousands of commuters, including my right hon. Friend's constituents and mine, insist on being carried to London at peak hours, is it surprising that there is perhaps anxiety emerging that the increasing density of traffic that is necessary to meet the demand can continue to be met against a background of continuing safety? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the extension of the Hidden investigation into the Clapham accident is adequate to deal with the specific point of reassuring commuters that safety and increasing density of traffic go hand in hand?

Mr. Channon : I hope that it will. The measures that I have announced are the inquiry by the railway inspectorate and the need, if necessary, for Mr. Hidden to take further steps. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend. I entirely agree that his constituents and mine want reassurances about safety and they are entitled to have them. I shall do my best to ensure that they have such assurances. I hope that my hon. Friend and I can work together in this regard. It is worth bearing in mind that, in spite of these appalling disasters in the past few weeks, British Rail's general safety record is extremely good. Every day it safely carries millions of passengers, and our investment and other measures should make it possible for British Rail to give an even safer service than it does at present.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : May I ask the Secretary of State to give the House details of the Glasgow accident when they become available? Will he accept that we are not playing party politics by quoting the former British Rail head of signalling and safety who, writing in this morning's Daily Mail, said : "the Government which is very generous with capital investment is also very tight-fisted with current support.".

Does the Minister accept that that tight-fistedness has an enormous impact on the day-to-day running of British Rail and on the safety measures to be taken in the industry?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that any inquiry into these latest accidents looks not only at finance but at safety, and at questions of staffing, salaries and overtime working, especially in the south of England? Does he agree that having people in responsible positions, such as drivers, signalmen and signal technicians, working 12 hours a day for seven days a week is not conducive to safety? Will the Department provide the money to allow British Rail to develop a new automatic warning system capable of differentiating between caution and danger signals as an additional aid to the driver? Are there no deaths or tragedies and, based on his performance today at the Dispatch Box, are there no circumstances in which the right hon. Gentleman would review his own situation?

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