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Column 938Transport responsible for the efficiency, economy and safety of its operations. It also required it to act in accordance with principles laid down by the Secretary of State for Transport.
In July 1984, the then Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), now the Secretary of State for the Environment, wrote to the chairman of London Regional Transport setting out the Government's objectives. His 838-word letter talked only of economy and efficiency, calling for reductions in costs and subsidies. It set a target for reducing unit costs and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made clear in his excellent, trenchant opening speech, the letter urged London Regional Transport to beat the target that had been laid down. That letter made no mention of the word safety. The Fennell report rightly says that people "must place safety first". The then Secretary of State placed it nowhere.
In case anyone thinks that only his letters were inadequate, I have been checking his answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in June and July 1985. After the fire at Oxford Circus, she asked the Secretary of State to have discussions with London Regional Transport about the problems of contractors' work and materials and to do something about station plans which fire brigades could use when they reached fires at Underground stations. In his usual way, the right hon. Gentleman dismissed her questions saying that they were nothing to do with him and that the hon. Lady should write to the chairman of London Regional Transport. We all know what his priorities were.
Ministers may seek to evade responsibility, but the cavalier attitude of LRT management towards safety sprang at least in part from Ministers' clear, cost-cutting priorities.
Before the King's Cross fire a report produced by the Department of Transport revealed that the Department's railway inspectorate had an establishment of 24 but that five posts were vacant. All the vacancies were for inspectors responsible for health and safety on railway premises. There was just one inspector in post to cover every station on London Underground and the Southern Region of British Rail--a total of 796 stations were to be inspected by that benighted individual. There was no possibility that he could make those inspections. The inspectorate was run within the Department of Transport and, not surprisingly, the report says :
"As a matter of policy, the Inspectorate have deliberately refrained from making any preventative checks on railway maintenance "
I bet they had. One inspector for 796 stations would be lucky to visit them all in a year just waving to the staff as he passed through. The report also reveals that the chief inspector and another inspector were spending between 20 and 30 per cent. of their time advising on the Channel tunnel and that agency advice for Hong Kong and Singapore was involving the inspectorate in more work than had been expected. The preposterous irony is that those same inspectors insisted upon higher standards of safety in Hong Kong and Singapore than they required on London Underground.
How did Ministers respond? According to the report, there had been criticism from Ministers that the
Column 939inspectorate was seeking too much information from London Underground. How could that one man reponsible for 796 stations ask for too much information?
Department of Transport officials had a cosy relationship with London Regional Transport. They ignored reports on earlier fires and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, they sided with London Underground when the fire brigade wanted to improve safety. They issued not a single statutory safety notice to London Underground in the 18 months before the King's Cross fire and only one in the year before that. They admit that they knew that the staff was being cut and less was being spent on cleaning and maintenance. They knew that staff were not trained to evacuate stations and that the fire brigade was not usually called when there was a fire and that fire fighters found it hard to master the layout of stations. Yet they did nothing. They did not even object when London Regional Transport stopped sending them the fire brigade annual reports. I suspect that they did not even notice when they stopped receiving them.
Some may ask what are the Minister's responsibilities for those officials. It is the basis of our constitution that Ministers are responsible to the House for what their officials do. The Prime Minister is fond of quoting Winston Churchill. This is what he said on ministerial responsibility after the fall of Singapore : "I ought to have known. My advisers ought to have known and I ought to have been told and I myself ought to have asked."
The Secretary of State had no need to ask. Most of the facts that I have cited were available in the report produced by his own Department that was published in April 1987, six months before the fire at King's Cross.
Now we are told that everything has changed and that everyone is conscious of safety, but are they? Last year, in the summer after the fire, I managed to obtain the fire brigade's secret reports on six Underground stations in my constituency. They reported 50 fire hazards at those six stations, one of which was King's Cross. By God, if London Regional Transport had not learned that there was a danger of fire at King's Cross, they would not learn it anywhere, but eight fire hazards were listed at King's Cross, including rubbish at the top of the escalators at King's Cross where people were working on the adjacent escalators to put right the damage caused by the fire. There were other fire hazards at escalators at Tottenham Court Road, Warren Street and Euston. That report also stated that the box containing the station plan for use by the fire brigade at Mornington Crescent was impossible to reach. That was the case even though we knew that it had been a problem at King's Cross and Oxford Circus. Anyone with a grain of sense knows that it is a problem to approach a rabbit warren and risk one's life trying to save people without a plan or a guide. Admittedly, Mornington Crescent is a small station but it is still a dangerous place for a fire fighter trying to do his duty.
I want to know why London Regional Transport and the Secretary of State are defying Desmond Fennell's recommendations. He said that they should publish all the fire brigade reports on the Underground stations. Why have they kept secret the 1988 reports? The people who travel on London Underground are entitled to know the
Column 940state of safety both last year and this year. We are told that we will see the reports for this year, but I want to know why we cannot see the reports for last year.
We are told that the new management will pay more attention to safety and that, as the Secretary of State describes it, a new culture prevails. If there is a new culture of safety and things have changed, how can we explain the amazing advertisement for London Underground engineers which appeared in The Daily Telegraph at the end of March? It said that the new management was looking for "natural risk-takers" who were "commercially aware." The people who travel on London Underground have had enough of such people and want to be rid of them. Yet London Underground with its new culture of safety is trying to recruit more.
Despite the claims of a new culture, London Regional Transport is still pushing on with the installation of the dangerous new ticket barriers, which Ministers have been forced to admit do not always fail-safe. The barriers are not the product of a management doing what Fennell suggested-- putting safety first. They are the product of a cash register mentality ; the same mentality that introduced into London doors on buses in which nine or 10 people have been killed over the past few years because they do not work properly.
Mr. Dobson : All I can say is that if I had been caught in those doors, I would not find them much safer. I do not want to die in that way. I understand that adjustments to the doors will make them safer. Why were they not safe in the first place? They were not safe because cheapness not safety was placed first.
I will not repeat all the excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East but I shall talk about the emergency services. They were rightly praised on the night of the fire. However, as the Fennell report reveals, their actions were poorly co-ordinated and, with the exception of the Metropolitan police, their contingency plans were inadequate. Poor communication and inadequacies in equipment also hampered the rescue efforts. Although the emergency services have now considered the Fennell report, I find it difficult to conclude that they are better placed now to deal with a major incident than they were in November 1987. For example, let us look at London's ambulance service. This evening it is likely that 10 per cent. of its emergency vehicles could not roll if they were called out because there are no crews for them. Tonight or this weekend, the proportion that could not roll may be as high as 25 per cent. Almost a quarter of the emergency vehicles have radios which are incompatible with the new computer-controlled radio communications system. Therefore, they cannot be properly contacted. At the recent Clapham rail crash, there was a 13 minute delay before the ambulance service called in the medical team. There are constant and justified complaints about delays in the 999 service and slow responses to calls.
The Fennell report rightly recommends that the emergency services should mount joint exercises to test their plans, procedures and personnel. The ambulance service had to withdraw at the last minute from one such
Column 941exercise organised at Hither Green because it was overstretched. Therefore, up to now, the ambulance service has not taken part in a joint exercise.
Ministers rightly paid tribute to the work of the fire brigade that night but that is all they have done. The number of front-line fire fighters in London has been reduced by 389 since the King's Cross fire. As a result, the management has arranged that certain special vehicles--not the pumps-- turn out with smaller crews than in the past. What are those special vehicles? Ironically, some of them are the vehicles that carry special smoke extraction and lighting units which are important in many fires but critical for underground fires. In future, they will be sent out with fewer fire fighters to look after them. That is absurd. A special unit has been created within London's fire brigade to deal with underground fires. However, it has been financed by making cuts elsewhere.
The Home Office is now conducting what is called a fire cover review. It is confidently expected that that will lead to the closure of fire stations and less cover.
What of the hospitals visited by the Prime Minister and the accompanying television crews on the day after the King's Cross fire? University College hospital is a famous and fine hospital in my constituency. It was rightly praised by the Prime Minister. However, since the King's Cross fire, and now that the television cameras are no longer around, Bloomsbury health authority has been forced to cut its budget by over £10 million. Therefore, it is less ready to play the part that it did on that terrible night. Now there is even a threat from the regional health authority to close University College hospital and the Middlesex hospital without replacing them. The consultant in charge of the accident and emergency unit at UCH, Howard Baderman, told me today that he is
"still very apprehensive about the firmness of the region's commitment to maintain hospital services in Bloomsbury."
Where would the injured go if another fire occurred at King's Cross, or if there was a fire at St. Pancras or Euston?
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : My hon. Friend is making a devastating speech. He will understand that as a Scot I am often asked by my constituents in good faith whether the London Underground is safe. What answer would my hon. Friend give?
Many of the people injured at King's Cross need plastic surgery. Anybody who has seen some of them will realise just how much plastic surgery they need. I hope that they do not need it in my health authority area because the local waiting list for plastic surgery alone now totals 1,143 and over 70 per cent. of them have to wait for more than a year. I am not talking about people waiting for face lifts. In the case of people injured at King's Cross, they may be waiting to have a new face constructed. Who would like to wait for more than a year for something like that?
So the greatly praised emergency services have been cut and their future is clouded with doubts and uncertainties. Lessons may have been learnt from King's Cross but the Government do not appear to be involved in that learning process.
I visited King's Cross Underground station after the fire. I saw what it was like and tried to envisage what people had put up with. Since then, I have met passengers, people from the fire service, ambulance staff and railway
Column 942staff who were there. I have met people who were burnt and severely injured and the relatives of people who died. I have been to one funeral service and one memorial service. I do not wish to go to a memorial service for someone who has died in my constituency ever again.
I have talked and listened to all those people and they are not satisfied with what has happened. They are not satisfied that those at the top have paid the proper price for their responsibilities. They do not believe that Secretaries of State, Ministers and senior civil servants have paid the price that some of the emergency services staff paid that night. They are not wholly satisfied with the Fennell inquiry because of that. They regarded the inquest as nothing more than a low and insulting farce and they are not satisfied that the system is now safe. It will be a long time before I do anything other than share their dissatisfaction.
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Close to the outset of this debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the heroism and sheer professionalism of the emergency services and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) later referred to the courage of the firemen, the police and others. Their bravery was of the highest order in the highest British tradition and I hope that they can be honoured, posthumously where appropriate, with even higher honours than they have received hitherto.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras went on to refer to a 1984 letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who was then Secretary of State for Transport, to London Regional Transport, setting out its objectives. The letter referred to the need for London Regional Transport to operate within the London Regional Transport Act 1984, which refers to safety. It cannot, therefore, be said that my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Transport ignored the question of safety.
Mr. Dobson : The hon. Gentleman should know that the primary obligations placed on London Regional Transport were to operate its system with economy, efficiency and safety. If the person who appoints London Regional Transport and who was its paymaster writes a letter which, admittedly, refers to the Act that set up London Regional Transport, but talks only of economy and efficiency, what is London Regional Transport to conclude about the priority that the Secretary of State wishes it to give to safety? If it was satisfactory to cover safety by referring to the Act, the Secretary of State needed only to write a one-line letter saying that London Regional Transport should carry out its obligations under the Act.
Mr. Jessel : The hon. Gentleman cannot have heard what I said. The letter in question referred to the requirement to operate within the London Regional Transport Act, which contains the very words referring to safety that the hon. Gentleman quoted. There was, therefore, a reference to safety. One cannot expect every major letter or communication to refer to every important consideration at equal length and with equal weight. One important letter may refer to economic objectives while referring to safety, whereas another might refer mainly to safety with a passing reference to economic considerations.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that there were 14 Underground stations in his constituency. There are none in mine ; Twickenham is not served directly by the London Underground. However, my constituency has 16 British Rail stations, all of which lead towards central London and many of my constituents connect with the Underground in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is here now, at Vauxhall or at Waterloo. Many of them, especially central London commuters, use the Underground every day.
When the terrible and deeply tragic accident occurred in November 1987, I was surprised that out of my heavy postbag from an articulate constituency- -which produces some 3,000 letters directly from constituents and which generates a total of some 10,000 letters a year--I received only six letters on the subject of the King's Cross disaster. I asked myself why. I believe that people in the face of that terrible disaster had the mature and sensible view, by and large, that they wanted to await the outcome of the inquiry that was announced by my right hon. Friend the day after the accident and to see what action was proposed to prevent any recurrence of such an event. Their attitude was not to cast blame on anyone in particular, although that would be natural for some people to want to do. It is a most unhappy story. There were 31 deaths and it is no comfort to anyone to say that it is a unique event in the history of London Underground. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyel), who has now left the Chamber, asked the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to say whether London Underground was safe. It is inevitable that the media will tend to focus particular attention on accidents in which many people die at once, whether on a train, a ferry--which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)--or an aircraft. If a vehicle in which many people are travelling is in a crash, there is a risk of many people being killed at once and that will hit the headlines, whether in broadcasting or the printed media, and impinge on the public consciousness to a greater extent than accidents in which people are killed in ones and twos.
The statistics show that it is far safer to travel on London Underground or British Rail than to travel by road, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes mentioned in a question on the statement a few weeks ago. The number of deaths in road accidents is far greater, although it has fallen fom 7,319 in 1967, to 6,614 in 1977 and to 5,125 in 1987. I understand that the figures for 1988 are likely to be announced tomorrow. Accidents in which people in ones or twos lose their lives, whether by fire, a smaller railway or Underground or a road accident, are just as tragic for the families of those involved as are accidents in which people are killed together in larger numbers, as I happen to know personally. If one considers the Government's safety record, and if one considers all transport accidents, it will be seen that there has been a decline in the level of mortality compared to five or 10 years ago.
I shall now consider some points arising out of the Fennell report and I hope that the Minister will have time to refer to them in his winding-up speech. The first is the effect of inevitable traffic jams in London streets upon the swift movement of fire engines and ambulances. We know that the King's Cross disaster took place after 7 o'clock in
Column 944the evening, but the tail end of the London rush hour has now become extended. Rush hour conditions continue to apply after 7 o'clock, and they did so in that case. It took fire engines seven minutes to go 1,420 yards at an average speed of 7 mph.
I ask the Minister to re-examine the Highway Code and whatever other measures the Government might be able to take to encourage a more flexible response on the part of drivers of other vehicles on the road. For example, will he consider whether in an emergency of this sort, when they hear fire brigade bells ringing, drivers can be allowed carefully to mount the pavement to let fire engines go by, or whether any other action can be taken to get emergency vehicles through more quickly?
That is part of a wider problem. The state of the British national economy has brought about an increase of about 8 per cent. a year in motor vehicle usage in conurbations, including London. There is no easy solution, and it is a waste of time for anyone to pretend to be able to produce a swift and easy solution. But it has a consequence upon the efficient operation of the emergency services. In the light of what Fennell wrote on that matter, I should like the Government to give it particular attention.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that Mr. Fennell concluded that the fire was caused by a lighted match. Of course, a naked flame remains a major potential cause of fire--it always has. I am as aware of that as any hon. Member, as the royal coroner found that either a lighted match or candle caused the fire at Hampton Court palace two years ago. Naked flames are a prime cause of fires.
In the papers before us, there is reference to a ban on smoking on the London Underground. It seems overwhelmingly probable that the naked flame was from a match that was presumably being used to light a cigarette, pipe or a cigar. There is no other particular reason why someone should light a match on an escalator leading to an Underground station. As it is almost certain that a smoker was involved, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to draw London Transport's attention to the need to step up the enforcement of its no-smoking policy.
Thirdly, as the number of passengers on London Transport has increased by 70 per cent. in the past six years, which is a staggering increase, one must ask about safety
implications--especially if the Government are considering measures in the short or medium term to deal with traffic congestion on the roads, which might result in an even greater number of people using the Underground--and about the capacity of Underground stations to cope with a further rise in the number of passengers.
When I have used the Underground and seen crowds of people on platforms, I have wondered whether a surge among the passengers standing there or any pressure resulting from adverse conditions might trigger off some kind of panic, resulting in some people falling off the platform, which they would not do in normal conditions. The authorities should be asked to look at the capacity of platform areas, whether in the context of fire or other risks.
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : Perhaps London Regional Transport should consider banning the distribution of promotional or protest literature in leaflet form in tube stations. It tends to lead to many leaflets being discarded. When there is a mass leaflet drop, there can be many leaflets all the way down escalators and on platforms.
My hon. Friend's suggestion leads me to consider buskers. One sometimes sees buskers singing or playing musical instruments at access points to the London Underground. I hope that they will not be banned. It is not necessary to do so, provided that they keep away from platforms and, preferably, from escalators. As long as they perform their songs or play musical instruments in the horizontal passages between escalators and platforms or are at ground level, I do not think that they are a danger or that they are objectionable. They lighten the tedium of people's journeys. I do not see any risk in that connection.
I do not see why I should not make my next point. I should take a very dim view if any hon. Member tried to stop me from saying it. Paragraph 3 of chapter 19 of Mr. Fennell's report states : "In my judgement there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards. I accept the evidence of the most senior management in London Regional Transport and London Underground that if funds were needed, funds were available."
That is what the most senior management said, not what Mr. Styles, a junior person, said. Mr. Fennell went on :
"There does, however, remain the question of how the available resources were allocated and used by London Underground." That is the important point. I am glad that the Government have decided to make £266 million available over the next three years. It is double the previous amount. Users of the London Underground, whether my constituents, people from any of the other 90-odd Greater London constituencies, or people from elsewhere will be grateful for the measures that are being taken. Things need to be done, and they are being done. I shall continue to press the Government to carry on with them faster.
Mr. Dobson : It would be better if the hon. Gentleman were consistent. If he is happy to rely on the Fennell conclusion that a shortage of money did not stop anything to do with safety being done, why is it suddenly necessary to spend £266 million to put right things that were not being done? He can either accept Fennell or praise the Government for putting in the extra money. It is a bit difficult to do both.
Mr. Jessel : Not at all. There is nothing sudden about it. The increase has been steady over several years. In the light of the recommendations of the Fennell report, still more is being spent. That is the right thing to do. I am glad that it is being done, and I support it.
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich) : I endorse what the Secretary of State said about the impact on the lives of the individuals concerned of what occurred in that awful disaster in November 1987. Those hon. Members whose constituents' lives were shattered by what took place on that night know that it will take many years for them to come to terms with what occurred or to get over the traumatic event. It is right that we should recognise that point at the outset.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the ability of London Regional Transport and London Underground to respond to emergencies. However good the operating performance
Column 946of London Underground, there are inherent risks in a system as congested as the London Underground undoubtedly is. Where large numbers of people are packed tightly into a confined space, any emergency inevitably puts lives at risk.
When the Secretary of State announced the inquiry, I thought it vital that it should examine the emergency procedures on the Underground, and the frequency with which they were reviewed and tested on a practical as well as a theoretical basis. I also felt that it was absolutely essential that the adequacy of training given to staff on the London Underground in handling emergencies be examined. I am very glad that the report goes into these issues in great depth and in considerable detail, and I welcome the clear, frank and readable way in which it presents its findings. However, I am bound to say that the report presents a frightening picture of the almost total inadequacy of London Underground's state of preparedness to handle any emergency. Emergency procedures were almost non-existent, and where they did exist, in some cases they were positively harmful. For example, under the two-stage system of handling fires, the fire brigade was not to be called in immediately. Staff were expected to deal with minor fire incidents themselves. They were to call in the fire brigade only if a fire got out of hand--by which time, of course, precious time had been lost and lives were inevitably put in danger.
The report relates the fact that the London fire brigade objected vehemently to this two-stage system. Indeed, on 23 August 1985--the day after the Baker street fire--the brigade actually wrote to the operations director of railways, objecting very strongly to it. The brigade expressed grave concern about it and about the fact that its professional advice was being ignored. The brigade made it quite clear that it should be called immediately any fire occurred on the Underground system. I quote the letter exactly :
"I cannot urge too strongly that the two-stage procedure be withdrawn and instead clear instructions be given that on any suspicion of fire, the Fire Brigade be called without delay. This could save lives."
Despite that clearest of warnings, London Underground stuck to its two- stage system and made it very clear to staff that they should not call the fire brigade in the first instance. I welcome very much the fact that that policy has been changed, but I am bound to say that if it had been changed a little earlier, lives could well have been saved.
I want to say a word or two about staff training. Chapter 10 of the report, which deals with the response of the London Underground staff who were on duty in King's Cross that night, makes it absolutely clear that in no way could the staff be blamed. As Mr. Fennell points out, the staff were not adequately trained, there was no plan for evacuation of the station, there was no supervision, and the communications equipment either was poor or was not used. Perhaps the most chilling comment in the entire report is this one in paragraph 4 of chapter 10 :
"it is apparent that the outbreak of fire was not regarded as something unusual ; indeed it was regarded by senior management as inevitable with a system of this age."
Yet, despite the inevitability of fire on the system, there was no policy to call the fire brigade at the onset of one. There were no evacuation procedures, and there was no
Column 947proper training of staff. It seems to me that that reveals extraordinary complacency on the part of the management concerned. When one reads chapter 10 one is struck by the fact that Mr. Fennell uses the same phrases over and over again about the performance of the staff involved : they were doing the best they could ; they were unprepared, by training and experience, for what occurred ; they were simply doing the best they could in a totally unexpected situation, a situation of which they had no experience. Paragraph 34 sums it up :
"Those on duty did the best they could using their common sense in the absence of training and supervision."
One pays tribute to their common sense, but surely it is appalling that they did not have the training and the supervision to enable them to do a rather better job.
The net result, says Mr. Fennell, was that
"not a drop of water was applied to the fire nor any fire extinguishers used by the London Underground staff."
That is the most incredible indictment of a management that had the safety of millions of passengers in its hands, and it inevitably raises an issue that has been underlying this debate so far--the relative priority given to safety on the London Underground system. I do not think any hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House would argue that the management of London Regional Transport or of London Underground Limited deliberately and cold bloodedly sacrificed safety standards in the search for profits. That is not the argument. Surely the argument is that safety was not given the level of priority that it ought to have been given. The management seems to have relied on a faith that concern for safety was part of the railway operating ethos. Clearly, one ought to have been able to look to London Regional Transport, as the supervisory body, to take responsibility for monitoring levels of safety on the Underground. That inevitably brings us to the famous letter of 20 July 1984 from the then Secretary of State to the chairman of London Regional Transport. It was not just any old letter. It did not suddenly come into the Secretary of State's head to write to the chairman. The letter was written on the foundation of the organisation, a new body just established under the 1984 legislation. Here was the Secretary of State writing to the brand new chairman of London Regional Transport, setting out four tasks, none of which embraced safety. The Secretary of State may argue--perfectly justifiably--that the legislation placed a duty on London Regional Transport to have due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation. That is absolutely right, but all the four prime tasks set out by the then Secretary of State related to efficiency and economy ; not one of them related to safety.
In that sort of climate, that sort of environment, London Regional Transport and London Underground Limited, and indeed the Department of Transport, were clearly all more concerned about improving value for money and about reducing the burden on the ratepayers and the taxpayers--about economic efficiency--than about safety. If one wants the underlying proof of that, it is to be seen in the very different set of objectives that the current Secretary of State has given to the new chairman
Column 948of London Regional Transport--placing first, and giving the highest priority to, the issue of safety. To that extent, I welcome very much the change that has occurred.
Chapter 15 of the report quotes a very wide range of evidence, including that of ROSPA, suggesting that the level of staff training in safety issues on London Underground was totally unacceptable. The chapter goes into great detail about the inefficiency and the inadequacy of training. It says the staff really could not be expected to deal with a situation of this sort, because their levels of training were totally unacceptable. It is quite true that London Underground and London Regional Transport reacted quite swiftly to these indictments about staff training, but it is also clear from chapter 15 that Mr. Fennell was not very impressed with the first steps they had taken to improve the quality of staff training. I accept that these were the initial, short-term reactions, and that totally different systems are planned in the longer term, and I welcome very much the fact that London Regional Transport has accepted the recommendations about the need for much more professional levels of staff training. I welcome particularly what the Secretary of State has said about joint exercises taking place at least twice a year. But surely it is important to monitor those joint exercises and the level of training to make sure that the standards that we are entitled to expect are reached.
This raises the issue of the level of monitoring safety activities generally on the London Underground. I am very glad that the concept of a safety audit system has been accepted, but we must be assured that those involved in the safety audit operation have the sort of clout within the management of London Regional Transport that they need if safety is to be given top priority. If there is to be any clash between profitability and safety, we need to be assured that safety will be given top priority.
I endorse what other hon. Members have said about information on safety improvements and safety activities being made available to the public regularly. It is quite true that passengers have a right to know about the safety systems that are in operation for their protection. Most important of all is the recommendation that the Secretary of State receive from London Regional Transport regular reports about the implementation of all recommendations in this report. I hope that the reports go further than that and do not deal only with the implementation of the recommendations. There should be regular progress and performance reports on London Regional Transport's general record of safety on the Underground and throughout its systems on London's public transport generally. Welcome though the steps undoubtedly are that have already been taken by London Regional Transport and London Underground Limited, it is essential that this burst of activity is not allowed to run down. There must be the continuing process that the Secretary of State mentioned. We all recall that, after the Oxford Circus fire in 1985, a major report was produced by the London Passenger Transport Research Group and was taken seriously by London Underground. Several steps were taken on that report, but many of its recommendations had not been implemented by the time of the King's Cross fire. We must learn from that lesson.
In the light of the tragedy that took place on 18 November 1987, I believe that the travelling public will be
Column 949looking to the Secretary of State to ensure that never again will complacency about safety put lives at risk on the London Underground.
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : In November 1987 I had no idea of the impact that the King's Cross tragedy would have on my own life. I was not then a Member of the House, but shortly after the accident Des Wilson, whom I had met as a co-chairman of the admirable Campaign for Freedom of Information, telephoned me. Knowing that I was not engaged on business in the House, he asked me if I would run the Christmas King's Cross disaster appeal while the disaster was fresh in people's minds.
I spent the three weeks before Christmas 1987 in a Portakabin at King's Cross station. The support that we received from members of the public, every one of whom volunteered their services entirely free, was tremendously heart-warming. Hon. Members may know that on the station near the Portakabin people put a most wonderful tribute of flowers and notes and messages of one sort or another. I watched that spot for the entire three weeks up to Christmas eve 1987 ; it was extraordinary that, three weeks later, the flowers were being changed and fresh flowers brought.
We had no legal right to operate a collection other than on the days when the Metropolitan police gave us permission to do so. They exceptionally gave us, at very short notice, permission to mount a three-day collection for the King's Cross disaster fund. However, we literally had to start a collecting box because of the number of people who pushed open the door of the Portakabin and said, "There but for the grace of God go I." They made substantial donations, obviously at some cost to themselves. People helped who were unemployed and some people took holiday leave specifically to be able to work in the campaign. The effort that they put in was absolutely marvellous and made a great impact on me.
The only other point that I shall make in that regard is that I remember talking to one of the reporters who came to follow our progress. That reporter had been with a camera crew on the night of the fire at King's Cross. Following the moving remarks of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), I should add that the reporter told me that he had been in a lot of tough places with tough teams of people who had had to follow and to photograph disasters of one sort or another, but that he had never seen a group of people so moved as they were by the King's Cross disaster. The sheer horror aroused by it and the feeling, "There but for the grace of God go I", had a most powerful effect on a great many people. By one of those strange ironies, since the by-election at Epping Forest in December, I now represent many constituents who use London Underground daily, and my interest in Mr. Fennell's excellent report and in the action taken by the Government as a result of it has therefore been heightened.
What do we make of London Underground Limited in the period leading up to the fire? What I make of it is that it was, and to some degree still is, an absolutely classic example of a public sector operation where, sadly, management accountability had been all too clearly lost, where there was a compartmentalisation of functions as
Column 950people went about their daily business--I do not wish to imply any individual imputation but make the point simply by way of illustration--and where one might have said that the business would have run terribly well if it were not for the customers.
Then we come to the events of that night. The most important question to ask ourselves is whether one can reconcile the statement that Mr. Fennell made in chapter 19, which I shall not repeat as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) read it to the House, which effectively said that finance was not the issue, with the £266 million that the Government have laudably pledged to put right the apparent under-funding. I believe that it is perfectly proper for the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to say, "How do you reconcile that? On the one hand you say that money was not the problem, whereas on the other hand £266 million is needed to bail us out."
I do not believe that there is any inconsistency. If I may be forgiven for quoting briefly from the report, the answer lies in a chapter to which no hon. Member has yet referred, chapter 4, in which Mr. Fennell describes what he calls
"The Ethos of London Underground",
and states :
"An understanding of the way in which the actions of London Underground and its predecessors have been conditioned by the management style and nature of the organisation, and the way in which they are likely to be so in future, goes to the heart of this Investigation and the lessons to be learned."
Management style and the management of LRT are crucial to the King's Cross disaster.
Listen to these damning words--damning in the sense that they could ever have been written about the staff of LRT at the time--that Mr. Fennell uses about the engineering directorate in paragraph 3 of chapter 4 :
"There was a clear demarcation between each of the four disciplines within the Engineering Directorate, and Mr. Lawrence, the Engineering Director in post at the time of the Investigation, described his main task over nine years as that of breaking down the boundaries between the different engineering disciplines. Moreover there was little cross-fertilisation between Engineering and Operating Directorates and even at the highest level one director was unlikely to trespass on the territory of another. Thus, the Engineering Director did not concern himself with whether the operating staff were properly trained in fire safety and evacuation procedures because he considered those matters to be the province of the Operations Directorate. However such matters clearly had a bearing on the safety of passengers in stations for which he shared corporate responsibility, and the security and maintenance of the assets for which he was directly responsible."
In describing the operations directorate, Mr. Fennell states : "Mr. Clarke, the Operations Director in post at the time of the Investigation, for his part did not concern himself with the state of the escalator machinery and machine rooms, or decisions concerning the replacement of wooden components on escalators or re-siting of water fog controls. These were seen as being in the province of the Engineering Directorate."
In paragraph 12, Mr. Fennell makes what I believe to be one of the most telling comments in the whole of the report :
"It was, therefore, a matter of some concern to me that the directors of London Underground should still subscribe to the received wisdom that fires were an occupational hazard on the Underground."
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) has referred to that telling indictment.
I shall not quote any further from the report, because it is there for all hon. Members to read, but I make no apology for having done so because those quotations