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Column 951illustrate one of the most crucial truths about LUL in advance of the fire--that the necessity to spend £266 million now can be reconciled with the fact that money was not the issue, because nobody had the management accountability to consider safety and to take it on board so as to ensure that out of the many hundreds of millions of pounds of resources that circulate annually within LRT a suitable amount was devoted to safety.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) made a statement that produced some consternation among Opposition Members, when he said that nobody could have foreseen the fire. He later explained that what he had meant was that nobody could have foreseen the extent and the sheer horror of the fire. Of course, he was right, but hon. Members might have been right to pick him up on the point that the fire could have been foreseen. The report makes that clear.
Therefore, it is crucial to note that the management style of LUL was defective in that there was not a proper process of accountability which brought the seriousness of the issue sufficiently to the attention of senior management. Indeed, senior management itself was conditioned to working in boxes. There is a reference to Dr. Ridley's evidence in which he said that he took the operations director and the engineering director pretty much at their word on the issues because they were extremely experienced. In other words, he had enough problems of his own, and if he could not let the engineers get on with things, what else could he do?
It is not an easy job running an organisation like LUL ; it never was and it never will be. Since 1982, when Dr. Bright undertook the first strategic management review of LUL, there has been a tremendous improvement in productivity and revenue. Productivity in terms of passenger usage is up by 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. Even with fares being held at the same level since 1983, overall revenue has gone up 15 per cent. in real terms. There is a tremendous management task, but it is clear that it may be necessary to accelerate the level of capital investment that is required to put right not only the safety problems but the fact that in my constituency the Central line still runs on rolling stock introduced in 1962, on signalling equipment manufactured in 1940 and on the original power supply equipment put into the line in the 1930s.
Before Opposition Members start to make a great issue of that--I am glad to see that they are not ; I appreciate that that might have something to do with my speed of delivery--let me point out that successive Governments have in a sense under-estimated the importance of management in such a great transport operation. The issue of replacement of rolling stock and equipment, of renewal and of an accent on constructive reinvestment has been there for half a century. It is a tragedy that it has taken until the 1980s for us to take up seriously the challenge of regenerating London Underground Limited. I pay tribute to the management of London Underground Limited, past and present, for the tremendous efforts it has made to put right the lack of investment in our mass transit system in this great capital city.
I shall put down a marker which may not please my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In a debate on how to operate a mass transit system in a capital city, it is necessary for hon. Members on both sides to consider
Column 952common sense before dogma. Bearing in mind the fact that Underground travel has such a profound effect on congestion above ground--to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred when he talked about the difficulty of getting emergency service vehicles through--and on pollution of the environment, the desirability of operating an attractive mass transit system is considerable.
That desirability should, if necessary, be enhanced by operating a service financed not just by the users but by central Government, so that there is a positive incentive for people to move to that system. For example, people in my constituency could take the Central line from Loughton and reach the House in about 45 minutes. At the moment they might not use the Underground for that journey because of the frequency with which it becomes a journey of one and a half hours. The most frequent comment I heard from the great number of hon. Friends who came to canvass for me during the election was, "I wish you had not told me to come on the tube. It has taken me all day to get here. I hate to think how long it will take me to get back." Thank goodness their efforts had such a welcome result.
I put down that marker. It is pivotal to the decision to inject £266 million into LUL. We ought seriously to consider at another time the overall impact of a mass transit system on a capital city and the way that it should be financed and used.
On publicity and safety, the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Holborn and St. Pancras raised an extremely important point--the public's right to know that dangers exist and that those dangers are being dealt with. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) has time to be with us. I know that she was detained elsewhere and could not be here for the earlier part of the debate. She has brought to the House a Bill of which I am proud to be a co-sponsor, the Public Safety Information Bill. Over 350 hon. Members from both sides of the House support that Bill and over 150 local authorities of all political complexions have also pledged support for it.
I draw the attention of hon. Members to page 156 of the Fennell report. In paragraph 21 on public safety information Mr. Fennell made the following statement :
"I view with dismay the suggestion that information gained by a statutory authority which has a bearing on the safety of the public using a system for mass transportation should not be made publicly available. The travelling public have a right to know about the safety arrangements made by transport operators and the safety of places in which they habitually gather."
Later, he said :
"I attach considerable importance to this and would hope to see the principle followed more widely in areas where the safety of the travelling public may be at stake."
Mr. Tony Banks : The Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred is an excellent Bill, and he is right to draw the attention of the House to the enormous support that it has. Why does he think that the Government are blocking that Bill?
Mr. Norris : I prefer, for reasons that I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand, to leave that question hanging in the air for other hon. Members to contemplate. I have made my views clear, as the hon. Gentleman understands. I believe that it is a necessary measure. I recognise that there may be technical difficulties in its drafting. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has made it clear that he
Column 953supports the principle of the Bill but believes that there are drafting problems. The principle is sufficiently important for those difficulties to be considered in Committee. That point is known publicly, and I am pleased to restate it now.
I want to underline a point made by Mr. Fennell in paragraph 24 on page 157 :
"My preference would be to have London Regional Transport publish an annual report, perhaps addressed to the London Regional Passengers' Committee, in which progress, achievements and proposals of the safety programme are set out."
That is vital. Among the most important recommendations of Mr. Fennell in chapter 13 on the management of safety is no. 46, in which he says :
"Copies of the reports shall be sent to the Chief Safety Inspector and Railway Inspectorate and arrangements shall be made by London Underground to publish the reports in consultation with the London Fire Brigade and the London Regional Passengers' Committee." We cannot afford to take lightly the public's right to know about safety dangers. The country took a great step forward when the Environment and Safety Information Act 1988 introduced by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) reached the statute book. That was a private Member's Bill, which regrettably had to be forced through tooth and nail. I am sorry that I was not in the House at that time to give it the support that it deserved. The important issue is that Mr. Fennell is in no doubt that the public have a right to know. He says so quite unequivocally. I see that not as an invitation to know what disaster may befall one, but--referring back to the management accountability of London Underground Limited--how one would make that accountability work would be to ensure that public interest and indignation was raised by the clear indication of unsatisfactory safety practices, which would force the management of the day to take them on board and to do something about them.
It is sometimes said ex post facto that steps could have been taken that could have prevented the tragedy. I believe that, if LUL, and other parts of our public transport service, had actually been faced with public pressure to do something about safety, because of the publication of reports on safety, there is a substantial chance that the sensible work on safety that the Fennell report tells us was carried out on the Underground would have received much more attention. That is a crucial absence and we should consider that as one of the cardinal lessons of the report.
It is directly relevant to the Fennell report on the King's Cross disaster that there are similar tragic parallels to be drawn in at least two cases-- that of the Bradford City fire and that of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster-- because those disasters, too, did not arise entirely without foreknowledge or without any evidence that they might occur. There was evidence that they might occur, but management, because of secrecy and privacy, was able to get away with doing nothing about it.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and other members of the Government to remember that issues of secrecy are not party political issues, but are about the citizen's right to know in a democracy. The healthiest part of an open society is that it improves the accountability of those who work in the public sector. It means that there is a discipline on
Column 954management to care about such issues as safety, which otherwise it would be all too easy to push to the bottom of the agenda. If the House is so minded, it should not only pass the excellent private Member's Bill standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East, but should move to a comprehensive freedom of information Bill, which would have among its provisions the opportunity for us to ensure that the kind of absence of public information on safety that we saw at King's Cross does not recur, and that future tragedies of this sort are prevented.
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) : On behalf of those of my constituents who died in the fire at King's Cross and their families, and on behalf of those working in the emergency services based in my constituency who responded so magnificently on the night of the fire, I express appreciation for the detailed work contained in Mr. Fennell's report. I have, of course, criticisms about the remit that Mr. Fennell accepted and those aspects which were deliberately excluded from his sphere of investigation. However, the work that he and his officers carried out in ascertaining how the fire started, how it spread and how such an event could be prevented in the future was impeccable and deserves gratitude.
Because of the terrible and terrifying nature of the event, even through the clinical prose of the Fennell report comes a moving and tragic account of individual pain, of individual heroism and of human fragility in the face of unprecedented and uncontrollable forces. In Mr. Fennell's report, of course, there are many detailed, practical recommendations. A large number of those recommendations are, I am delighted to say, already in the process of implementation. A major question that we are, of course, entitled to ask is : will the funds that the Government say that they are making available--the £266 million spread over three years--be sufficient to enable all the recommendations of the Fennell report, in capital terms, to be carried out? If the answer is yes, I hope that the Minister can tell us so when he replies. If the answer is no, we are entitled to ask how else the recommendations and the work that is requested to be carried out will be financed. Will it once again be the travelling public, through their fares, who must pay for the long-overdue improvements to the Underground service?
The Government and Government Back Benchers have made much in the debate about the increases in capital funding that are now available to London Regional Transport and London Underground Limited. Of course, increases in capital funding, which many of us have been urging on the Government for many a long year, are welcome. However, how are those increases in capital funding being deployed? In some respects, expenditure is welcome. I have long been hammering at the doors of London Regional Transport and of the Government to ensure that Angel station in my constituency gets the desperately needed work that has now at long last been agreed. It took a long time coming but, nonetheless, it is welcome. I shudder to think what would happen to the island platform at Angel station if a major disaster were to occur at platform level.
Other aspects of London Underground Limited's capital expenditure, however, are not so welcome. The most obvious one that springs to mind, and to which
Column 955reference has already rightly been made, is the installation of the new ticket barriers. I believe that the total cost of the new Underground ticketing systems is some £165 million. That money is being spent on systems and barriers about which Mr. Fennell expressed considerable disquiet. Money is being spent on barriers that, universally among Londoners, are detested and feared, because they are well aware of the inconvenience that in day-to-day use those barriers represent, and the potential dangers to safety that they represent in the event of a fire or a major disaster underground. The Government have admitted that there are circumstances in which the barriers will not automatically open in the event of a disaster. Until those problems are put right, we rely on the presence of staff to operate the barriers and to keep them open in an emergency. That is the key point. We need a guarantee from the Government and from London Regional Transport that there will always be the requisite number of staff on hand--adequately trained and aware of what to do--to ensure that those barriers can be opened immediately if they need to be. The story, however, that we read in the Fennell report is one of inadequate staffing in the running of a large number of aspects of the system.
Two large unanswered questions arise out of the Fennell report. The first of those questions relates to the level of staffing at stations on the Underground system. Here there is an inner contradiction within the Fennell report. In paragraph 6 on page 152 of the report Mr. Fennell says :
"I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster at King's Cross."
No doubt the Government will quote that passage extensively in the months and years ahead.
We may pause at the word "directly" because in some other places in the report a contradictory impression appears to be given. On page 136 Mr. Fennell addresses the issue of station operations rooms. He says that the operations room was not manned by a London Underground supervisor. He says :
"I was disturbed to learn that this had been the position since 1984, when a station inspector's post had been withdrawn and the practice of manning the station operations room had ceased." Mr. Fennell was disturbed by that. In some ways paragraph 16 on page 141 is one of the most damning paragraphs of the entire report. Mr. Fennell says :
"London Underground set great store by the use of trains to evacuate passengers from the tube lines platforms in an emergency." We know that that was the way in which many passengers who were due to alight at King's Cross on the night of the fire managed to escape from the conflagration. He goes on :
"However, this procedure depended critically on the availability of staff to communicate with the train drivers, to stop passengers getting off and to ensure evacuation of passengers already on the platform."
The crucial point of the paragraph is the part which says : "In the event there was a crucial absence of adequately trained London Underground staff to cover the six tube lines' platforms prior to the flashover."
On those two specific occasions in his report Mr. Fennell clearly lays a portion of the blame for the events that led to the disaster on the inadequacy of the staffing arrangements at King's Cross on the night in question. All
Column 956that ties into the crucial issue of the revenue subsidy available to London Transport. Of course the numbers and availability of staff for proper deployment in case of an emergency depends not on the capital subsidy available from the Government, but on the revenue that London Transport needs to run a full and safe Underground system. Over the last four or five years the Government have consistently cut the revenue subsidy.
Mr. Prescott : My hon. Friend has spoken about the importance of the reduction in staff and the importance attached to that by Mr. Fennell. Is he aware that while the Government cut the revenue support they gave £45 million to London Regional Transport to pay for staff redundancies?
Mr. Smith : My hon. Friend is right, and highlights not just the absurdity but the tragedy of Government policy. London Regional Transport did not fight against reductions in staff : it insisted on reducing staff even further.
The revenue subsidy figures speak for themselves. In 1984 the Government gave London Regional Transport nearly £200 million in revenue subsidy. In 1990 the amount will be £7 million which will be specifically directed at the running of the dial-a-service. That shows the scale of the reduction in revenue subsidy that the Government have imposed on London Regional Transport.
I am sick and tired of hearing Conservative Back Benchers say how wonderful the Government are because they are gradually--but belatedly--increasing the capital subsidies to London Regional Transport. However, at the same time they are drastically cutting the revenue subsidies. Safety does not rely on physical work alone. It resides also in the availability of staff to cope in an emergency. The availability of staff is also crucial to ensure the availability of alternative exits in the event of a disaster.
On 26 March at Finsbury Park Underground station in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) only one set of stairs was in use. Two alternative exits were blocked with gates that had been deliberately padlocked. No keys were available and in the event of an emergency all exiting passengers would have had to funnel through only one exit with a very narrow passageway. On the same day at Highbury and Islington tube station in my constituency the passageways between the Victoria line and the Great Northern electric line platform were gated and padlocked. In the event of fire only one exit would have been available for passengers trying to escape. The reason given for the blocking of those exits and the locking of the gates was lack of staff. The inadequacy of staffing continues in London Regional Transport, and the Government, Mr. Fennell and all the lessons that should have been learned subsequent to the King's Cross fire seem to have taught London Regional Transport absolutely nothing about the need to ensure that stations are properly staffed.
The other principal question that seems to arise from the Fennell report is about the role of the railway inspectorate. Mr. Fennell is shocked, to say the least, in his criticism of the railway inspectorate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has said, it is almost unbelievable that throughout 1987 one quarter of one person in the railway inspectorate was detailed to supervise the conditions at London Regional
Column 957Transport Underground stations. A year after the fire the situation was precisely the same. Although the Secretary of State for Transport now tells us that the railway inspectorate is almost up to complement, he has offered no explanation in response to the questions that I asked him on 10 November about, why for a year following the King's Cross fire, the railway inspectorate was not as a matter of urgency brought up to complement even before the findings of the Fennell report were published.
We are now entitled to ask the Secretary of State to answer the two questions that I asked him then. Why was the inspectorate not brought up to strength during the year following the fire? Will he also tell us not about the entire complement of the railway inspectorate, because that is the figure we so often get, but about precisely what resources the inspectorate, now that it is almost up to full complement, is able specifically to devote to safety at London Underground stations? It would be extremely revealing to know the precise answer to that question.
Of course I accept and fully support what the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said about the need for greater openness and the public being able to know what the safety inspectorates are doing. The Bill that I introduced last year and to which the hon. Gentleman in his private capacity gave considerable support outside the House had to be carried through in the teeth of opposition from Government Whips who blocked it week after week until we finally shamed them into accepting that it should be placed on the statute book. It was a minor measure designed to give the public some degree of access to information about reports and notices issued by the safety authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) has a Bill now before the House which would go further. Again, it is a modest but important measure, and again the Government Whips, led by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), block its progress. May we have an assurance that my hon. Friend's Bill will at least have the chance of a Second Reading and a debate in Committee so that any detailed points can be sorted out? It is time that the Government gave that commitment, as a practical response to the points that Mr. Fennell makes about the need for openness, disclosure and public access.
Other important issues relating to the future of King's Cross are at stake. Dr. Ridley's comments at page 154 show that he regards congestion as one of the major problems for public safety. King's Cross, as Mr. Fennell reports, is the most congested set of Underground stations on the London tube network. About 250,000 passengers pass through that station on an average weekday. It must therefore give pause for thought when BR, together with London Underground, present the King's Cross Railways Bill, a private measure which includes proposals designed to increase congestion at that station both below and above ground. It will shortly come before the House for Second Reading. I hope that hon. Members will take to heart the points Mr. Fennell makes about congestion and safety when they consider that that Bill would add yet another Underground station to the existing five clustered together below ground at King's Cross.
Mr. Dobson : Will my hon. Friend confirm the preposterous intention of BR to build a vast cavern underneath the existing tube station and main line station at King's Cross so that Britain's second Euro-station will
Column 958be the famous concrete hole in the ground to which the chief inspector referred when he was talking about a smaller cavern that BR is building at Heathrow?
Mr. Smith : That is precisely what BR is proposing. If I have anything to do with it, it will not proceed. King's Cross is already too congested above and below ground. It cannot cope with an additional international terminus located below ground such as BR and London Underground are proposing.
There are major lessons from Mr. Fennell's report yet to be learned-- lessons about the level of revenue subsidy as well as capital subsidy that is available to the Underground system ; about the level of staffing at stations ; about the role and nature of inspection ; and about the future of King's Cross. There is no sign that LRT or the Government have learned those lessons. For the sake of the travelling public, and the memory of my constituents in particular, we deserve a better response.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : It is important to consider the background to the Fennell report, and I am pleased that the two members of the shadow Cabinet who have spoken in the debate, the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), praised the report and welcomed Mr. Fennell's comments.
When Mr. Fennell was asked to chair the inquiry he was considerably rubbished by Opposition Members, who claimed that he would not do a fair and reasonable job but would merely report what the Government wanted. I hope that they will now accept that Mr. Fennell did a comprehensive job and that we have before us a fine report which, hopefully, will lead to improved safety on the Underground. I regret that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said that the Opposition would force a vote at the conclusion of the debate. Labour Members seem to have found an excuse to vote against the report. That is a pity because it sends out the wrong signals about the way in which we should be approaching the report. We should be considering it constructively and ensuring that all its recommendations are implemented.
A paramount question is whether in recent years the underground system has improved or deteriorated. Oddly, perhaps, the answer must be yes to both parts of that quesion. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said that there had been a 70 per cent. increase in six years in the number of passengers using the Underground. For LRT that has been a magnificent triumph. Those who were concerned with the Underground some years ago would have considered such a turnround in the situation to have been impossible. We recall how, whichever body was running London Underground, the rate of passenger use decreased by 1 or 2 per cent. a year. Since LRT took over--perhaps since political interference was removed from the system--there has been a tremendous increase in usage.
It is because of that increase that the system has deteriorated. People boarding Underground trains on the Metropolitan line at Pinner or the Piccadilly line at Rayners Lane suffer dirty and crowded trains in which they cannot get a seat when they manage to board, and the platforms are crowded.
Column 959Despite that--indeed in response to it-- there has been a large increase in capital spending. The Government are now giving LRT, for capital spending on the Underground, double that allocated by the GLC in its last year of existence. The GLC's spending plans would have kept capital investment levels constant. That must be borne in mind when Labour Members complain about the sums that should be spent on London Underground. Their comments on that score are claptrap because it is clear from the spending plans approved by the GLC in the last year when it had responsibility for the Underground that spending levels would have remained constant.
It is no good the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) complaining that all he hears from the Conservative Benches are comments about increases in capital investment. He will hear a lot more about that because those increases will bring about the safety measures that we all want.
The revenue subsidies which were poured into LRT by the GLC were largely a complete waste of money. The hon. Member for Finsbury, South and Islington and other Opposition Members will be aware that that money was used to keep fares artificially low. It is clear that increases in fares have not deterred passengers because of the increase in passenger usage. Fare levels are not a huge consideration.
Uncharacteristically, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury did not include any figures in his comments. I rather suspect that he has examined the figures already and is aware that the reduction in revenue support matches the amount of money which has not been used for subsidising fares. It has not been removed from revenue support for staff, safety or running the system.
Mr. Tony Banks : Will the hon. Gentleman explain why transport systems in other capital cities in Europe still receive about 80 per cent. in terms of revenue support to keep fares low? That is the big attraction of the Paris Metro. Why are they doing that in other countries?
Mr. Hughes : The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) probably spends most of his time in his chauffeur-driven car. If he travelled on the Underground, he would be aware of the fact that it is sometimes impossible to get on a train. The hon. Gentleman can hardly claim that the level of fares acts as a deterrent to passengers. What is the point of pouring public money into subsidising fares if they do not act as a deterrent? The hon. Member for Newham, North-West and his colleagues on the GLC milked the capital investment which should have been invested in LRT and perhaps that caused some of the problems that we have now. They used that money to subsidise fares. I do not believe that that did Londoners or London Underground any good.
Mr. Tony Banks : Since the Conservative Government abolished the GLC, I have not had a chauffer-driven car at my disposal, as the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) is well aware. [ Hon. Members :-- "Shame."] Yes, it is a shame.
I can assure the hon. Member for Harrow, West that I use the Underground and British Rail every day to get to the House. However, will he answer the question that I put to him? Why are the operating costs of systems in other
Column 960capital cities subsidised to a much higher level, in some cases at about 80 per cent., while in London there will soon be nil revenue subsidy?
Mr. Hughes : At last the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has provided me with a good reason why the GLC should have been abolished. It took him out of his chauffeur-driven car and put him on the Underground.
Mr. Dobson : If depriving my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) of a chauffeur-driven car is the sole justification that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) can think of for abolishing the GLC, that is hardly a proper justification for transforming the whole of local government in London.
A comparison between our transport system and that of systems in other capital cities is not reasonable. As has been said, our system is much older and larger. If revenue subsidies are not needed--and I do not believe that large revenue subsidies are needed--I do not understand why the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is arguing for them. We need more capital expenditure.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) is now a London-ish Member and able to make a good contribution to our debate. I join him in saying that the Government should not be afraid of saying that if more capital subsidy is required, it must be provided. The need for extra subsidy is the major subject on which I receive letters from my constituents. The number of hours that my constituents have to spend on London Underground makes their lives a misery.
We should welcome the fact that the Autumn Statement provides £266 million over three years for the Fennell report to be implemented in full. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest that if that proves not to be sufficient, and if more money is needed, the Government should respond generously. The Government's record in that area suggests that they will consider the matter generously and be prepared to provide the necessary money.
No reference has been made in the debate so far to the exchanges between counsel on behalf of the National Union of Railwaymen and the inspector. Mr. Cooper, the counsel for the National Union of Railwaymen, admitted during the inquiry that the fire was not the result of inadequate investment in the Underground. The exchange went as follows. The inspector said :
"It is the allocation of resources that I at the moment am persuaded about. I do not believe that there was a shortage of money ; it was a question of allocation of it."
Mr. Cooper said :
"Quite so, sir, and the wider aspect that another party was pursuing on that."
The inspector said :
"I do not think that the disaster is about costs, if I can use that phrase?"
Mr. Cooper said :
"It is the allocation, getting priorities right."
To which the inspector agreed.
I believe that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was rather confused when he opened the debate for the Labour party. If the management structure was poor, it was simply not up to making safety the required priority. There is no doubt that good management and safety go hand in hand in industry, whether in the public sector or the private sector. If there is not good safety, we can
Column 961guarantee that there is not good management, and vice versa. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East understands that. He does not understand that simply because the money is available that does not mean that it will be spent on the right things if there is poor management.
As has already been mentioned, it came as a shock to all of us who have examined this matter to discover that it was not LRT's policy to call the fire brigade immediately in the event of a fire. Smoke was obvious earlier in the evening and had the fire brigade been called when the smoke was first spotted the tragedy would not have occurred.
I welcome the fact that the London fire brigade claims that it now has a good relationship with LRT. It is called out on every occasion and, more to the point, it wants to be called out on every occasion as it would rather attend a series of false alarms than not be there on the spot when it is needed.
Opposition Members have referred to fire safety certificates which relate to the Fire Precautions Act 1971. It was thought that King's Cross did not need a fire safety certificate and it did not have one. Apparently no one thought that an application needed to be made. According to the Fennell report :
"Broadly speaking, the fire certificate may impose requirements for securing that the means of escape are adequate to meet the circumstances of the case, and are properly maintained and kept free from obstruction ; that firefighting equipment is sufficient and satisfactorily maintained, that employees are appropriately trained to deal with fire and its consequences."
That seems to be very sensible and it is welcome that fire safety certificates will be applied for by other stations. However, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East did not say that that applies only to the larger stations.
The Fennell report, on page 241, continues :
"It should be observed that a significant number of smaller underground stations would fall outside the ambit of section 1 of the FPA 1971, owing to the employment limits not being satisfied." I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that the Angel, a station that I use fairly frequently, may not fall within that Act because it is relatively small. My hon. Friend the Minister should consider whether all Underground stations should be required to have fire safety certificates.
Hon. Members have already covered the detailed specific recommendations in the report, but I want to make one point about the King's Cross management. On page 18, the report says :
"London Underground did not guard against the unpredictability of fire."
That is strange. I have never run a large concern, but in doing so surely safety must come first. It is interesting to compare what I have read in the report and what I know about London Regional Transport as a result of being involved with it on the GLC with my experience over the past few months while doing an industry and parliamentary trust fellowship with a chemical company. It is noticeable that in that chemical company, engaged in dangerous processes where people could be hurt making highly flammable chemicals, safety is the first item on the agenda at every executive and local board meeting and at meetings between management and trade unions. Safety is a primary issue.
One question that I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider, the answer to which I cannot find in
Column 962the report, is whether London Regional Transport or London Underground Ltd. has a director not primarily, but solely responsible for safety. I genuinely believe that without that the safety audit that is talked about in the report will not do the job that we want done. We need a man on the board to be in charge of safety. We welcome the new and experienced chairman, Mr. Newton, at London Regional Transport. We have to give him time to come up with the goods to provide the underground system that we need. He deserves a year before we judge whether he has done that job. His task will be to take a proper management grip on London Regional Transport. There are visible signs that we should look for. A tiny but important example which could cause a problem is the indicator board at Baker street, a station which my constituents use when travelling on the Metropolitan line. That board is the only way in which in advance of announcement people know from which platform their train will leave. A light on that indicator board has not been working for three years. A management which had a grip would have replaced that bulb. My message to Mr. Newton is that I and my constituents will be looking closely to see whether that bulb is replaced. That may sound a light-hearted matter but, as the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) knows because his constituents use the same line, many people have to move a long distance and that could cause a considerable problem.
We shall want to see that rubbish is cleared away from the Underground system. Knowing that I would seek to catch your eye this afternoon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was looking at litter when I travelled to the House of Commons today. I was not very impressed with the rubbish and the lack of cleanliness in the various stations that I used. I have no objection to people using bicycles--how could I when at the general election I voted for my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young)--but I found it rather surprising to see someone take a bicycle on to a District line train today. That is not very safe and I wonder whether that should be reconsidered. We shall also look for visible signs of security and safety on the trains. New Metropolitan police have been allocated to the Underground. I do not want to go into this in detail as other hon. Members wish to speak, but the response of the management and the Metropolitan police to the Guardian Angels was that the assistance of citizens was not needed or wanted. Whether the Guardian Angels are a reasonable group of people, or whether they were right for the London Underground, is not relevant. Such a group, even if it had to go under a different name, could have been managed by the Metropolitan police as a new branch of the specials. Citizens want to improve physical safety on our trains and platforms and they should have been encouraged to do so, not snapped at. They would have been a great benefit to the community. London Regional Transport's management should see whether we can encourage people to help with security. Overcrowding on platforms is also a problem. At the last meeting that I had with Dr. Ridley before he resigned I raised the problem of overcrowding, particularly on the Victoria line at Victoria station where it is dangerous day after day. I may have taken some time to find out about that, but Dr. Ridley clearly did not know about it. It is still going on and we look to London Regional Transport to do something about it.