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Mr. John Grogan (Selby): This is the second time in recent weeks that my right hon. Friend has had to come to Selby in difficult circumstances. The first time, of course, was during the floods. As we sit here tonight on
Mr. Prescott: My hon. Friend, as the constituency Member for the area, knows only too well that the same people--the emergency services, voluntary organisations and ordinary members of the public--who were involved in this incident came forward to deal with the terrible floods. The House greatly admires the speed with which people come forward to help. It is a source of comfort in the most difficult circumstances that we can rely on those people who do a wonderful job. I recognise that with the floods and this collision, the people of Selby and the surrounding area have suffered great pressures on them, but one is always amazed by the resilience of people who, when there is a problem, get together and deal with it. That spirit shone through yet again in this tragedy.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his statement, and I join him and the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) in offering our condolences to the friends and relatives of those who tragically died and our best wishes to those who were injured in the accident. On behalf of the House, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the praise that he gave to the emergency services and the local people who so rapidly came to the aid of those injured in the tragedy.
I thank the Deputy Prime Minister also for making it absolutely clear that the interim report will be made public as quickly as possible. Will he give us an assurance that the full report that will be published in due course will also be made public? Will he ask for consideration to be given in that report to the length of crash barriers on either side of bridges? As there has been confusion in the reporting of the incident, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, as I believe he has done, that the Land Rover and trailer were the cause of the accident, and not, as some newspapers have reported, the vehicle that was on the trailer?
I am delighted above all by what the Deputy Prime Minister said about the people who work on the railways. He can be assured of our full support in all his work to try to achieve a safe, reliable railway.
Mr. Prescott: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. Members on both sides of the House have offered support to the emergency workers and the relatives who are suffering at this very moment because of this terrible tragedy.
I shall certainly make the interim report public. I am all for transparency and my general approach is to make reports public where possible. The hon. Gentleman must bear it in mind that although the site is not being investigated as a crime scene at the moment, I cannot give full details until the officials concerned have conducted their investigations and taken statements. I must await their report, but I am committed to making available as much information as possible.
The Transport Research Laboratory has been commissioned to consider the length of crash barriers. It has done some work, and it will now be asked to do more. When that information is published, it will be made available to the House. I hesitate to say exactly what happened, but the visual evidence of the state of the Land Rover and the trailer carrying the car makes it clear that the Land Rover was hit by the train and, judging by its front part, almost completely demolished. It would be unwise of me to enter into any other speculation at the moment--I shall await the report.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that the whole railway community will be shocked and saddened by this latest incident? It appears to merit the description of "accident" more than the other tragedies that have occurred in our railway industry in the past year or so. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, from what we know of the circumstances, no railway safety device in the world could have prevented that accident from happening?
In view of the welcome remarks of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), would it be appropriate for my right hon. Friend to write to Mr. Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of GNER, to tell him that as far as regular rail travellers are concerned, he and his staff run a fine train operating company? This incident and the Hatfield crash are not the company's responsibility, and we ought to say so.
Mr. Prescott: I agree with my hon. Friend that the railway community will be shocked and saddened. The sequence of events is a remarkable set of coincidences: a car came off a motorway, travelled some distance on to the railway track and was then hit by a passenger train, which came off the track into the path of a freight train, all within seconds. As he said, it certainly seems as if that could be properly called an accident, but I must await the report.
I have talked to Mr. Garnett. Anyone who knows him will know that he certainly cares about the railway system and about GNER. He was very shocked by the incident, as he was by Hatfield, and he was on the scene making sure that everything possible was being done, including having passengers allocated to hotels and ensuring that counselling was available. It was easy to see in his face his shock and concern about the fact that there had been yet another railway tragedy. Considerations of what happened and who is to blame provide no comfort at these moments; one must deal with the circumstances. He was in the thick of it, and I am sure that the House was glad to see a man playing that part.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): As one of North Yorkshire's Members, I thank the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) for their tribute to the North Yorkshire emergency services. We do not have the strength of personnel that other parts of the country have, and the way in which they responded today was absolutely magnificent. This is arguably the worst tragedy that I can recall happening in our county in my 14 years in the House. Many of us have friends and constituents who use that train to travel to London at 6 o'clock every morning, and we are waiting desperately and anxiously for news of who, precisely, the victims are.
The right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that at this juncture our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the injured victims. I endorse what he has said about the emergency services and the staff of GNER. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, the accident does not appear to be any fault of the railway. I urge the Deputy Prime Minister to try to get the line reopened as quickly as possible. We do not want to suffer the great delays that occurred because of the Hatfield accident.
Mr. Prescott: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of warm support and for giving me the opportunity to thank the North Yorkshire police and the chief constable, who accompanied me when I visited the site of the accident. It is always difficult when politicians visit such sites, because we wonder whether we are getting in the way. However, it is necessary for a representative of the House to attend such sites and to report back. We have great hesitation about doing so, but I received tremendous co-operation from everyone involved, who wanted to say what was going on, and felt that Parliament needed to know. That is why I asked for the statement to be made later in the day.
A hotline has been opened by the company for relatives who may be concerned about anyone who was travelling on the train. No official information will be given about those who may have died until the relatives have been informed. That is the normal custom, and I think that it is what the House would expect.
Of course, we want to see the line reopened. It is the line that I use, and the same route. There was a speed restriction on the line after the Hatfield accident and the evidence of gauge corner cracking. Improvements were made and the speed restriction was removed only last week. A horrible thought is whether it would have been better if the restriction had still been in place, but it is one that really cannot be entertained. It is one of the terrible circumstances that surround the tragedy. However, the service had benefited from an improvement as a result of the lessons that we learned from the Hatfield accident. We were getting back to a normal service, and I think that the company was to launch a campaign next week to encourage people to return to the railways.
These are difficult and terrible circumstances. Everyone wants to see the line reopened as soon as possible, but obviously in a safe manner. Everything must be done that should be done to improve the line.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I thank my right hon. Friend for the steps that he took, in conjunction with the Opposition, to ensure that we had an early and proper statement. I am aware that he has had the harrowing experience of visiting the site. I join him in his compliments to GNER and its executive director for the work that he has undertaken.
In replying to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), my right hon. Friend obviously could not say precisely when we shall see the line reopened. However, can he guess or make a guesstimate of when that might be? As the hon. Gentleman said, there have been great troubles on the line. It is our line, and we all want to see it get back to normal. That includes the