Home Page

Column 835

Clapham Junction Accident (Report)

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the results of the inquiry into the Clapham junction rail disaster of December 1988.

I am publishing today, as a Command Paper, the report by Sir Anthony Hidden on his investigation under the Regulation of Railways Act 1871 into the causes and circumstances of the accident. I know that I speak for the whole House in expressing my deepest sympathy for the relatives and friends of the 35 people who died as a result of the accident. Our sympathies go, too, to the many people who were injured, some of them seriously and some of whom are permanently disabled ; and to the many others, both passengers and rescuers, who bear the mental scars of that harrowing day. Equally, I speak for the whole House in paying tribute to the many people who gave unstintingly of their skills, courage and kindness that day ; policemen, ambulance men and firemen, doctors and nurses, railwaymen and local authority staff, and, not least, members of the public. As Sir Anthony Hidden comments, a deep debt of gratitude is owed to them all.

Sir Anthony Hidden concludes that the accident was caused by faulty wiring work carried out on Sunday 27 November 1988 during a major investment programme to modernise signalling on the lines into Waterloo. That faulty work could and should have been discovered through routine checks, but the wiring was not checked and the fault was not found.

During later resignalling work on Sunday 11 December a wire that should have been removed two weeks before was accidentally moved. That made an electrical connection into the Clapham junction signal box that passed false messages to one of the signals on the main line into Waterloo.

The investigation has revealed major defects in the way in which British Rail's southern region signalling and telecommunications department organised resignalling work and supervised and tested completed wiring. The report makes 93 recommendations. Some are directed towards preventing a recurrence of an accident of that type ; others are addressed to securing improvements in British Rail's management and organisational systems for safety. Others are directed to the emergency services, and some to the Government.

I am asking BR to deal promptly with all the recommendations addressed to it, and to report to me on their implementation within three months. Many of the recommendations are based on BR's suggestions or on the conclusions of BR's own internal inquiry. BR has already taken action to implement those, although in some cases Sir Anthony Hidden recommends faster implementation. In particular, BR is already committed to two important new developments--automatic train protection, and the installation of cab radios.

BR has anticipated some of the additional cost of implementing the report in its current spending plans. I have endorsed that provision in full. BR will need to consider what further expenditure will be required. I can assure the House that finance will not stand in the way of the implementation of the report.

Column 836

I have today written to the chairmen of London Regional Transport and the passenger transport executives asking them, where appropriate, to consider their own systems carefully in the light of the report, and to report to me on their proposals for implementing the relevant recommendations within three months.

While the inquiry was sitting, two further railway accidents took place--at Purley on 4 March 1989, and at Bellgrove two days later. Separate inquiries into those two accidents have been carried out by the railway inspectorate and the reports will be published in due course. At my predecessor's request, Sir Anthony Hidden and his team considered whether there were any common issues between the accidents. His report does not suggest that there was any single underlying cause. His wider recommendations were made in the light of all three accidents.

As I have said, some of Sir Anthony Hidden's recommendations are addressed to the Government. The report recommends that railway legislation should be reviewed, and the powers of the railway inspectorate widened and clarified. We shall introduce the necessary legislation as soon as an opportunity arises. Meanwhile, most of the changes can be implemented by administrative action. Where this has not already been done, I have asked that action should be taken urgently by both my Department and BR.

The report asks me to ensure that the railway inspectorate is adequately staffed to implement the report. Additional inspectors are being recruited and their numbers will be expanded as necessary. The report recommends a thorough study of appraisal procedures for the safety elements of investment proposals. All investment submissions which come to me for approval already include a specific section on safety issues. My Department will discuss with British Rail what further improvements can be made.

The report asks the Government to ensure that British Rail is allocated sufficient frequencies to operate cab radios effectively. We have now allocated five new frequencies to British Rail and given it access to two others. That fully meets its requirements. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health has considered the recommendations addressed to his Department. He has already introduced a review of the health services' response to major incidents with a view to preparing revised guidelines. His Department has accepted the remaining recommendations which affect it.

I have considered Sir Anthony Hidden's recommendations on the costs of representation at the investigation and have accepted them in full.

Finally, I am very grateful to Sir Anthony Hidden and his assessors for their thorough investigation and their clear and constructive report. I know that Sir Robert Reid and his board are determined to make sure that the lessons of this tragedy are thoroughly learnt and properly implemented. The necessary action will have the Government's fullest support.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull) : Our thoughts today are with the relatives and friends of the 35 people who died and those who were seriously injured in this terrible tragedy who will be looking to the House to learn all the lessons of Sir Anthony Hidden's report and to take immediate action. Therefore, we support all that has been said by the Secretary of State on that matter.

Column 837

We welcome the Secretary of State's endorsement of the tributes to the work and courage of all those in the emergency services--the police, the fire and especially the ambulance services--who were on the scene within 10 minutes of the tragedy, and to the many others who were involved.

I am sure that the House will wish to share Sir Anthony Hidden's public condemnation of those few reporters who caused considerable distress by harassing relatives and their families, and support his call to those who have it in their power to prevent such practices in the future.

We congratulate Sir Anthony Hidden and his staff on their report, and on the professional and thorough way in which they carried out their task, producing a report which shows clearly that safety has suffered at the expense of financial and commercial considerations. Does the Secretary of State agree that the report reveals starkly the dangers of policies that led to the presence of overworked, exhausted staff, many of whom lacked proper training, and who suffered from low pay and poor morale? That was due to a management that strove so hard to achieve tough financial and commercial targets set by the Government that basic safety concerns were lost. The report is thus a powerful indictment of both inadequate management and the Government's policy.

Surely the report demands a rethink by both the Government and British Rail's senior management of the policies adopted over the past 10 years. Does the Secretary of State now accept the need for an independent railway inspectorate, outside the influence of his Department, with more staff and greater powers and involved in every aspect of safety?

Sir Anthony Hidden recommends the introduction of automatic train protection systems, cab radios and black boxes. As the Secretary of State received the report in September, can he now tell the House how much such measures will cost, and give us an assurance that he is ready to give the go-ahead immediately for that vital

investment--especially as British Rail's chairman told the inquiry that unless public funding was provided the Government must bear responsibility for the consequences?

Does the Secretary of State share my concern at the fact that one third of the signalling and telecommunications staff involved in the resignalling work had not had a day off for 13 weeks, and that another third had had only one in a fortnight? Does he also share Sir Anthony Hidden's concern about the cuts in staffing levels? Staff numbers in the permanent way, signals and telecommunications section have been cut by 18 per cent. in the past five years.

Is it not apparent to the Secretary of State that those cuts are a direct result of the 51 per cent. cut--a cut of more than £2 billion--in Government grants to British Rail over the same five-year period? Does he agree with Mr. Maurice Holmes, director of safety, who, in a letter to a colleague that is quoted in the report, expressed concern at the fact that a business-led approach to management was in danger of eroding safety standards in British Rail? Is it not clear from the report's recommendations that that is indeed the case?

When the Secretary of State issues a new set of objectives to the board, will he ensure--unlike his predecessors--that safety is seen as being as important as

Column 838

efficiency or cost-cutting? Will he comment on speculation that the report has been passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions? Does he agree that there has been a clear legal understanding that all transport operators, including British Rail, should have corporate responsibility for the safety of their operations?

Will the Secretary of State adopt a new approach to management, investment and revenue support so that never again do we see tired, overworked, demoralised staff make a fatal error on a dark, cold Sunday evening as they rush to finish the work before the Monday morning rush hour?

Mr. Parkinson : I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for the gracious way in which he acknowledged the work done by the emergency services and by Sir Anthony Hidden.

Let me deal first with a central point to which the hon. Gentleman returned throughout his remarks--the suggestion that safety had been put at risk because of shortage of funds. British Rail made it clear in its evidence to the inquiry that its spending on safety had never been constrained by the shortage of funds. The hon. Member consistently fails to understand that British Rail's revenue has increased more quickly than the grant has decreased. Therefore, the cash resources available to British Rail for investment have been growing. British Rail is pursuing the biggest investment programme for 25 years.

The report makes it clear that even if there were constraints on investment expenditure in the late 1970s, when the hon. Gentleman's party was in government, and the early 1980s, those constraints have been eased and that a full investment programme is now being carried through. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should read the report a little more carefully, but it is a big document and I know that he has not had it for long.

Mr. Prescott : Two hours.

Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Gentleman keeps on talking about management's contribution. Management does not shirk its responsibility, but I draw his attention to at least two occasions in the report when the unions' attitude is quoted by Sir Anthony. He says that unless the unions start to adopt a more flexible attitude and to negotiate more carefully with management, British Rail will continue to be short of the skilled staff that it needs. In other words, co-operation is needed between management and unions. That is spelt out very clearly in the report. It is mentioned twice as a constraint on the employment of skilled people.

As for investment in radios, the hon. Gentleman knows that the principal problem with the radios was to get the frequencies released. We have now released five frequencies, and have access to two others. For the first time the full range of frequencies is now available. British Rail, as I said in my statement, can spend whatever is necessary to inroduce radios into cabs.

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about Mr. Holmes. It is true that Mr. Holmes was becoming concerned. He said that at that time British Rail was still operating on the right side of the safety line but that he was becoming concerned. We have started to tackle the problem by a massive increase in the investment programme, which is now under way.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the report would be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Column 839

The police are conducting their own investigation and will be making their report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. If he wishes to use the report for further evidence or investigation, it is open to him.

I conclude as I began by saying that the Government are absolutely committed to safety as a top priority. Funds will be made available to meet the standards that British Rail and the Government agree. Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I endorse the sympathy that he expressed to all those affected and the tributes that he paid to the many people in and around my constituency who went to help on that occasion--not least the boys from Emanuel school who clambered down the bank to bring succour to those who were injured and, in many cases, dying and the police who both helped on the day and subsequently accompanied those who had been involved back to their homes to make sure that there were no long-term after effects.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on their swift response to the recommendations. Sir Anthony Hidden's report seems to be very thorough, and we should congratulate him on it. In the light of the comments by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), it is only right and fair to point out that Sir Anthony pays a considerable tribute to the chairman of British Rail for the emphasis he places on safety. I hope that the underlying message in the report is seen by the public as being that safety on British Rail is paramount. I hope that the travelling public will be reassured that safety on British Rail is of a very high quality and that the busiest stretch of rail in this country is also one of the safest.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the light of the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, it is ironic that the incident occurred not as a result of cuts but as a result of investment? The investment in new signalling tragically led to the incident. Will my right hon. Friend reiterate his pledge that as much money as is necessary to carry out the recommendations on safety will be forthcoming?

Will my right hon. Friend examine one point which may not be in the report- -overcrowding on trains--and consider whether any further measures need to be taken, not because of overcrowding on particular trains but because of the overcrowding that can occur on local commuter trains which are not subject to the same guidelines on overcrowding that apply to long-distance trains?

Mr. Parkinson : I join my hon. Friend in his tribute to the public, and especially to the boys at Emanuel school who did a tremendous job that horrific morning. I agree with him that the inspector mentions the chairman of British Rail in the report and compliments him on the sincerity of his commitment to total safety. He says that he had no doubt of Sir Robert Reid's absolute commitment to make safety the highest possible priority. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is ironic that such a terrible accident arose from the modernisation of the system. Investment in the modernisation of the signalling system produced that dreadful accident. I confirm that we have made it quite clear that money will be no obstacle to implementing the recommendations.

Column 840

The report addresses the question of overcrowding, and concludes that it played no part in the number of casualties. It says that there is no evidence that those who were standing suffered any greater injuries than those who were sitting. But I agree with my hon. Friend that overcrowding should be avoided. That is why we are in the process of a massive programme of modernisation of Network SouthEast, the improvement of the rolling stock and the lengthening of stations to produce a better, safer system for the travelling public.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I associate my colleagues and myself with the expressions of sympathy and with the tributes to those who carried out the inquiry and produced the report and to all those members of the emergency services who attended the accident. Surely the summary of the lessons of the report is that there must be increasing emphasis on the need for safety investment and inspection.

With inspection in mind, given that the accident has now been shown to have been preventable, and given that there is an annual litany of preventable accidents on British Rail, will the Secretary of State consider the need substantially to increase the size and the power of the inspectorate? Will he consider whether it should be given the authority to act independently and at all times decide whether it needs more resources? A strong and effective inspectorate might have ensured that what went wrong before the Clapham incident was corrected before the disaster occurred. Perhaps that is the best lesson and the best tribute that the House could give to those who died and the bereaved.

Mr. Parkinson : I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone and the content of his remarks. I entirely agree with him, and so does the entire board of British Rail, that there must be increasing emphasis on the need for safety and investment in safety. Bringing the thought and culture of safety into the minds of all British Rail employees is a prime objective. Ironically, a director of safety had been appointed one month before the accident, and his duty is to promote thinking about safety at all levels and at all stages of investment. I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the inspectorate, but supervision of the day-to-day work of those carrying out difficult jobs is the key. Safety is not determined by the number of inspectors. It is important that they are available, but the main issue is the quality of the supervision on a day-to-day basis of the men doing the job. That is what failed in this instance. We have the highest number of inspectors that we have ever had. We are in the process of increasing their number by eight following the recommendation of the Fennell report and we will be increasing it by another four following this report. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that increased numbers are necessary.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) : Thousands of my constituents are among those using the Waterloo line every working day. They and everyone else will welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said about safety and the emphasis he placed upon it. Can he say anything specific about the steps to be taken in the future to monitor signalling performance? That seems to have been the flaw in this case.

Column 841

Mr. Parkinson : Following the accident, the board has taken a number of specific steps already. I mentioned earlier the appointment of a director of safety. It took the decision one month before the incident to introduce automatic train protection and it is pursuing it with vigour now. It has gone out to tender on a pilot project. However, the technology necessary to introduce it is not available off the shelf and, as Sir Anthony recognises, British Rail will have to develop it. He says that, when the technology has been evolved, it should be introduced over a shorter time scale than British Rail was planning ; it was thinking of 10 years and he says that it should be five.

British Rail commissioned a major safety audit and every comparable piece of technology has been inspected. It has decided to invest in cab radios. It suggested many of the recommendations included in the report and is pursuing them now.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Will the Secretary of State concede that the pressures placed by the Government on top management for performance and their subsequent pressures on middle management place impossible pressures on those on the job? Does Sir Anthony Hidden's report refer to competition from privatised British Telecom for telecommunications engineers? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that some of us do not believe what the Government say about rail safety when he and the Minister of State are specifically permitting London Underground Ltd. to extend one- person operation to its deeper tubes which will deliberately and measurably reduce standards of safety which are already unsatisfactory?

Mr. Parkinson : I have made the point--the hon. Gentleman can look at the figures--that there is now record investment in British Rail, and a substantial sum will be spent to implement the recommendations made in the report. I realise that the hon. Gentleman has not had the chance that I have had to study the report, but he should study it carefully. In the report, Sir Anthony says two things. First, he says that it would be pointless for British Rail to start creating a wage spiral by competing with other people for the skilled men available, and the report mentions British Telecom. Secondly, he says that, unless there is more flexibility and co-operation between management and unions in finding ways of solving these problems, there will continue to be a shortage of labour. It will need co-operation from all men of good will in the system and not just management.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : Those of us who have constituents who were bereaved in the accident will be grateful to Sir Anthony Hidden for the thoroughness of his report, which can be judged by what has been said today, and to my right hon. Friend for the speed with which he has accepted its recommendations.

My right hon. Friend referred to false messages coming from the signals. Is it not true that for the past 150 years of railway history, when we have had tragic accidents due to signalling failures, they have invariably led to further safety measures being introduced? Although that is no consolation to the bereaved, is it not a reassurance to the travelling public?

I want to ask my right hon. Friend a specific question relating to blame. Does he accept that there is a fundamental difference between a private sector ferry operator operating in competition with other operators

Column 842

and a nationalised industry trying to provide a public service--part funded by the taxpayer--for social reasons? Bearing in mind the discussion about the DPP, where do the sponsoring Departments stand? My right hon. Friend cannot answer that serious question now, but he must consider it in future.

Mr. Parkinson : My hon. Friend says that we must learn from this accident, and that that has been the pattern in the past. That is why Sir Anthony was appointed and has done such a thorough job and made his 93 recommendations. He twice referred to the danger of relying totally on hindsight. He said that men of good will carrying out their work, as the people on that occasion were, can make mistakes and that it is very easy for other people, with the benefit of hindsight, to point to the mistakes. My hon. Friend is not arguing for that spirit of acrimony. He is saying, "Let us learn lessons", and I hope that we are doing that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I associate the London group of London hon. Members with the Secretary of State's tribute to the emergency services. Would it not be a more fitting tribute to the ambulance workers, who did such a valuable job, if the Government were prepared to concede their case for a reasonable wage increase? Is the Secretary of State prepared to speak to other Ministers so that the rightful demands of that hard-working group of emergency workers--the ambulance workers--is met in full? If he does not do so, Government statements on and tributes to the emergency services simply appear to be hypocrisy and cant.

Mr. Parkinson : I cannot get involved in the present industrial dispute. It has never been questioned that the Government put great value on the work of the emergency services. Sir Anthony underlines that point in his report. I acknowledge publicly, as the report does, the great debt that we owed to the London ambulance service on that occasion and on many others.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) : Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the recommendations on the response of the health services, particularly counselling services, for the bereaved? Does he agree that, with hindsight, one of the lessons to be learnt from the Clapham tragedy, as from others, is that the services should be maintained far longer than has been the case to date?

Mr. Parkinson : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health is taking the recommendations extremely seriously. My hon. Friend draws attention to one of them. My right hon. and learned Friend has accepted the recommendations in full and will be implementing them.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : Does the Secretary of State accept that it would do much for public confidence if the safety inspectorate were not within a sponsoring Department but were entirely separate and independent? That is true about the North sea and transport.

Mr. Parkinson : There is no criticism whatsoever of the railway inspectorate in the report. The report endorses its work by making recommendations that its powers should be extended. For instance, it states that it should have the power to study the safety and manufacture of rolling

Column 843

stock. That is an oversight and it will be corrected. The inspectorate is not criticised. It is not exactly praised, but the fact that it should be given extra duties is evidence of the report's view of its importance. There has been a long argument about the location of the safety inspectorate. I am interested only in its contribution to safety. I am examining its location, and I will report to the House as soon as I can.

Mr. John Ward (Poole) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful if we had time to study the report and to reflect on it before making too many off-the-cuff comments? Nevertheless, I hope that he will encourage British Rail to deal sympathetically and speedily with any financial problems that the victims may still have, because no word spoken in this House by hon. Members of any party will alter the position of those people who will suffer for a long time to come and to whom we have all expressed our sympathy.

Mr. Parkinson : One of the satisfactory features of this sad incident was the prompt way in which the chairman of British Rail went to the scene and accepted full responsibility to the relatives on behalf of the board. I shall bring my hon. Friend's comments to his attention. However, if my hon. Friend has any evidence that that is not happening, I should be only too happy to follow it up as a matter of great urgency. I know that British Rail is anxious to do the right thing by those who have suffered from the tragedy.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall) : I am a former railway worker and I believe that the Secretary of State has relations in the railways. Does he agree that, in view of the long hours worked by railway workers, there should be a substantial increase in their wages and in the number of staff? When such demands are made, is the Secretary of State prepared to be sympathetic to them and to encourage his right hon. Friends in the Cabinet to be sympathetic also?

Mr. Parkinson : The inspector states that the electrician concerned had worked long hours but that he was not physically tired. However, the inspector went on to say that he felt that those long hours could have blunted the edge of the electrician's concentration and might thus have affected the way in which he did his job.

I agree that there is a real problem--indeed, Sir Anthony touches on it in the report--in attracting to this skilled work the skilled people that we need. I do not say this in any spirit of acrimony, but Sir Anthony states that, to find a way round that problem, both management and unions will have to show a greater sense of flexibility than they have been prepared to do to date.

The promotion structure for electricians, for example, prevents skilled people from coming in at anything other than the bottom grade, which means that skilled people do not want to join the service. Sir Anthony has said that that is the result of an agreement between British Rail and the National Union of Railwaymen and that it is one of the things that needs to be examined. We are not talking acrimoniously, but to find a way round what is clearly a problem, unions and management will have to talk seriously together about ways of changing some of the old practices.

Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the comprehensive nature of the

Column 844

report will be widely welcomed by my constituents who use the railway line in question daily, and especially by those families that were so tragically affected by this serious accident?

May I press my right hon. Friend on the question of two-way radios? Is he aware that the Wessex electric rolling stock is the most modern on Network SouthEast and enables passengers to make telephone calls from the train? When will two-way radios be installed? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there is no truth in the rumour that the delay in allocating frequencies was a result of resistance from the Department of Trade and Industry?

Mr. Parkinson : As my hon. Friend knows, there has been great pressure on wave lengths and it has been difficult to obtain the necessary frequencies. That has been a big obstacle, but those problems have now been resolved, as I have said. The exclusive use of five frequencies and access to two others should now ensure that swift progress can be made on going ahead with cab radios. I do not think that British Rail needs any prompting from me about this, but if it does, I should be happy to give that prompting.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham) : It is a pity that the Secretary of State has said only today that there is enough finance available for safety on the railways. That statement should have been made 10 years ago. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to blame everybody except the Government. Is he aware that there has been a prolific growth in the number of unmanned level crossings in the past 10 years and that there were countless deaths until Professor Stott made a report which put things right? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the accident at Bellgrove would not have happened--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that time is short this afternoon. Will he please confine his remarks to the report under discussion?

Dr. Marek : The Bellgrove accident was mentioned, Mr. Speaker ; British Rail was trying to save money, and that accident would not have happened had British Rail not been trying to save money. Is the Minister aware that the Clapham accident occurred simply because British Rail was strapped for cash in trying to modernise an outdated system? There is a charge of corporate murder which should be addressed, but it should be addressed not by British Rail management, who were accomplices, but by the Government.

Mr. Parkinson : It took Sir Anthony Hidden and his assessors more than 50 days, listening to evidence, to arrive at their conclusions. The hon. Gentleman has dismissed their work, dismissed their report, drawn on his prejudices and talked nonsense.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Will my right hon. Friend continue to refute, as he has done effectively this afternoon, the allegation made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that this accident occurred through lack of investment? It is fair game for the Opposition to attack the Government on almost any issue, but not on a matter where lives have been lost. The Opposition should not try to turn that to party

Column 845

political advantage. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, there is, in any case, no evidence to show that what the Opposition allege is true.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that there is no evidence anywhere in the world to show that efficient, profitable and well-run industries are any less safe than old-fashioned nationalised industries? Is it not a fact that the record of privatised companies has been superb? In other words, nothing can be blamed on anything to do with the move to make British Rail more efficient, a move which, in the end, will lead to greater safety through greater investment.

Mr. Parkinson : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the fact that the report shows that British Rail said in its evidence to the inquiry that at no time has it been constrained by a shortage of financial resources in making safety a high priority. British Rail now has the biggest investment programme it has ever had. Opposition Members and I disagree because they believe that one shows one's commitment to a system by the size of the subsidy. We believe that it is important to modernise and improve the system. As the subsidy has been reduced, the investment has gone up, and we think that that is the right way to proceed.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, wherever the investment goes, it is not available to provide enough trained men and women, kneeling in the dark trying to rush to finish a job when they are exhausted because they have been working compulsory overtime? Will he accept that all the oleaginous expressions of regret about safety will not do anything to protect the passengers if the men and women who work on our railways, who are forbidden now by their masters from making any public statement about their fears of what is going wrong, are not given proper wages, proper support and investment in time and money rather than the abstruse arguments that the Minister has used this afternoon?

Mr. Parkinson : I am aware that the hon. Lady has taken an interest in this subject for a long time and that she represents a major railway town, but on this occasion I totally disagree with her. The problems of British Rail are clear and they are analysed carefully. Sir Anthony says that British Rail is having trouble in attracting sufficient numbers of skilled people. He outlines some of the causes, and I am telling the hon. Lady that the problem is infinitely more complex than she made it sound in her intervention.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Will my right hon. Friend accept that an important part of his statement for many people has been the refutation that there is any linkage between this accident and those which, sadly, followed at Purley and in Glasgow? In regard to those who are particularly concerned with Purley, he will recall that it was agreed that the inquiry should be held in public and that the findings should be published. He said that he hoped that they would be published in due course. He will appreciate that we are anxious to determine what the separate causes of the other accidents were.

Mr. Parkinson : I must tell my hon. Friend that publication of those reports has been delayed at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Column 846

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On money, what does the Secretary of State quietly say to Jimmy Knapp when he complains about skilled men leaving British Rail to do maintenance on local authority car park barriers? What exactly is meant in the eighth paragraph of the right hon. Gentleman's statement when it says that finance will not stand in the way? What is the agreement with the Treasury about extra money? What sum has been talked about between the Department of Transport and the Treasury as a result of the Clapham accident which will be made available as a result of Sir Anthony Hidden's report? What figures, in pounds, have been discussed?

Mr. Parkinson : On the second point, provision was made before the report was received, in anticipation of the sort of expenditure that might be necessary, and it is already built into the public expenditure arrangements which I agreed with the Treasury. If further resources are necessary, and they will be, I give the hon. Gentleman an absolutely unqualified assurance that they will be made available.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : It is clear from the terrible accident at Clapham and also from the serious and shocking accident that occurred at Huddersfield station last night that the possibility of accidents is greatly heightened when modernisation of the line or of signalling--in the case of Huddersfield, the modernisation of the station itself--is taking place. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that British Rail has taken steps to ensure that its employees are particularly vigilant and safety conscious at such times? Will he take this opportunity to confirm that a full inquiry will take place into the events at Huddersfield station last night? Will he also take this opportunity to join me in expressing gratitude to the emergency services at Huddersfield and also in sending best wishes to those who were injured in that accident?

Mr. Parkinson : I have had a preliminary report on the Huddersfield accident, but I cannot comment further because the investigation will be under way. As soon as I can tell the House anything else, I will, but at the moment I believe that it would be unfair to those concerned to prejudge the inquiry. My hon. Friend is right in intimating that both accidents arose from investment in modernisation. If he reads the report, he will find that the inspector says that it was because the modernisation was not properly planned and supervised that the dreadful accident happened. British Rail has tried very hard to learn from that and, as I have already said, it has accepted and will implement the recommendations. We shall look at the Huddersfield accident to see whether there is more to be done or whether mistakes were made. I cannot prejudge that issue now, but the arrival of the ambulance men on the scene within four minutes was very impressive and I pay tribute to that.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : The Secretary of State has made many references this afternoon to the inflexibility of the trade unions in the railway industry. If by that he means that he wants more multi-skilled people on the railway, I advise him to read the very good health and safety report, which shows that in industries where there is multi-skilling the accident rate is much higher than it is in other industries where single- skilled tradesmen are employed.

Column 847

I divert the Secretary of State's attention to his reference to the Glasgow Bellgrove accident report. The report on that accident cannot possibly be delayed at the request of the DPP, whose remit does not run to Scotland. There has already been an inquiry into the Glasgow Bellgrove accident under the fatal accident inquiry legislation in Scotland. That kind of bad briefing, slipshod approach does not give us the confidence to believe that Ministers have learnt the lessons of those accidents and that they will not happen again.

Mr. Parkinson : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to correct the record. The Purley report has been delayed at the request of the DPP. The Bellgrove report has been delayed because, as he knows, one of the key witnesses was too ill to give evidence. I apologise to the House for bracketing the two, but I did not wish to mislead the House. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to put that right.

Paragraph 16.77 of the report states :

"The internal promotion system which is an inevitable handicap to BR in satisfactorily filling the higher posts in its wages grade staff in the S and T Department, is the result of a formal agreement between BR and the NUR. It is a fetter on the acquisition of skilled staff and it is long overdue for reconsideration."

That is the spirit in which I have been referring to the unions today. Management and unions must get together to develop modern working practices for a modern railway system. That will need an effort on both their parts.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : May I draw the Secretary of State's attention to paragraph 14.36 of Sir Anthony Hidden's report in which he makes specific reference to the need for safety to be included in the objectives of the British Railways Board. Does the Secretary of State recall a letter sent by one of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), to the chairman of British Rail on 21 October 1986 setting out the objectives which the Government wanted British Rail to pursue over the next three years? The letter was more than 1,000 words in length, but there was no mention of passenger safety, although there are plenty of references to the need to cut costs, to improve efficiency, to increase the rate of return on investment, to reduce the public service obligation grant requirement, and to increase the role of the private sector. There is no mention of safety. Does the Secretary of State share Sir Anthony Hidden's concern about that?

Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that staffing levels in the permanent way, signal and telecommunications section, have been cut by 18 per cent. in the past five years? Were the staffing cuts the direct result of the cut of 51 per cent. in Government grants to British Rail over the same five-year period? Paragraph 14.40 of the report states :

"It is clear that if sensible decisions are to be made by BR and by Government on the most effective use of funds for saving the lives and reducing the injuries of staff and passengers, then it must establish a way of assessing in financial terms the effect on safety of investment schemes. Both the Government and BR need to conduct a thorough review of its investment appraisal procedures so that a financial value can be put on safety."

The Secretary of State makes great play of the fact that the accident took place at a time of considerable investment in the signalling system. Is he aware that the Waterloo area resignalling scheme was approved in 1978 and that, despite that approval, Clapham junction A signal box, which

Next Section

  Home Page