HL Deb 10 November 1988 vol 501 cc734-7

Following is the statement by the Secretary of State for Transport (the right honourable Paul Channon) referred to:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement about the disastrous fire at King's Cross underground station on 18th November 1987. I am publishing today as a Command Paper the report by M r. Desmond Fennell QC on his investigation under the Reguation of Railway Act 1889 into the causes and circumstances of this terrible disaster.

"The House will join me in renewing on this occasion our expressions of condolence to the bereaved and sympathy and best wishes to the injured. The House will also join in paying tribute to the many people in the emergency services, the staff of London Underground, the public and the doctors and nurses who showed courage and dedication and gave help in this disaster. I repeat in particular Mr. Fennell's words that a large number of members of the London fire brigade behaved with conspicuous courage and devotion to duty. He particularly mentions Station Officer Townsley, who died a hero's death, and also the great courage shown by Police Constable Hanson of the British Transport police, which must have enabled many people to escape with their lives.

"Mr. Fennell has concluded that the fire was started by a discarded match falling into accumulated grease and debris on the track of the escalator and that it accelerated up the trench of the escalator until it burst into the booking hall, causing the deaths of 31 people.

"Mr. Fennell has made 157 recommendations. He regards 33 of these as most important, and a further 59 as important. Action is of course already under way on many of them. Many of the recommendations require specific action by London Underground Ltd. to prevent a recurrence. They do, of course, include the most urgent removal of wooden panelling from escalators. I have asked London Regional Transport to have all these recommendations dealt with promptly. Considerable amounts will have to be spent. The plans announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st November already provide in full for all the proposals already put to me for spending on underground safety totalling £266 million over the next three years.

"The investigation has shown major shortcomings, requiring a new approach to safety management and fire prevention in the underground and specific safety audits by London Regional Transport. I am calling on both bodies urgently to put into effect new arrangements recommended by Mr. Fennell.

"An enhanced approach is also required from the Railway Inspectorate and I have discussed Mr. Fennell's recommendations with the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission. I have every reason to expect that the present recruiting campaign will bring the inspectorate fully up to complement by the end of January. It will need to be further strengthened for the tasks that Mr. Fennell identifies, including the use of the powers of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 to enforce measures needed for the safety of passengers on the underground and, I must add, on other railways. The chief inspecting officer of railways is now organising a special investigation of London Underground with support from the Health and Safety Executive. It will examine the safety management systems and monitor the implementation of planned safety measures, and will be completed in March.

"The lessons of this report go wider than London Underground and London Regional Transport. I have today written to the chairman of the British Railways Board inviting the board to consider the lessons of Mr. Fennell's report for the management and audit of safety. Letters are also being sent to the chairmen of the passenger transport authorities in Tyne and Wear and in Strathclyde.

"My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will shortly bring forward regulations under Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 to require specific measures at underground stations. This is the speediest means to introduce enforceable standards without uncertainty. The railway operators and fire authorities will be consulted on them. My right honourable friend is commissioning special studies of the best methods to control spread of smoke. These present difficult technical problems.

"There are also lessons for the emergency services. Copies of the report are being sent to the London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service. I shall be considering its implications for the British Transport Police, and my right honourable friends concerned will be considering its implications for the emergency services for which they have responsibilities.

"I have to deal with two particular matters. As regards the costs of representation at the investigation, after taking into account the special circumstances of this case, I am accepting in full Mr. Fennell's recommendations.

"Secondly, the position of individuals. Following the fire, Sir Keith Bright offered to resign as chairman and chief executive of London Regional Transport. I asked him to stay during a difficult period, and he did. He has asked me again to accept his resignation, and I have now done so. Dr. Tony Ridley is a member of the board of London Regional Transport, and the chairman and chief executive of London Underground Ltd. He also has given me his resignation, which I have accepted. I shall make fresh appointments in due course, and meanwhile Sir Neil Shields, who is a member of the board of London Regional Transport, has at my request agreed to take on the chairmanship.

"I conclude by expressing to Mr. Fennell and his assessors my warm thanks for a very full and thorough investigation. We must all ensure that the lessons of this tragedy are fully learnt and fully applied. The Government will play their full part to ensure that they are followed up as quickly and as vigorously as possible."

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