Skip to main content

London Underground (Accident)

Volume 887: debated on Monday 3 March 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the train crash at Moorgate on Friday in which a number of people were killed.

Yes, Sir. At 08.48 on Friday 28th February a southbound train on the Highbury branch of the Northern Line of London Transport Railways overran the platform at Moorgate at speed and came into heavy collision with the buffer stops at the end of a short extension tunnel into which the first two-and-a-half cars of the six-car train became telescoped and impacted.

I much regret to have to inform the House that it is feared that altogether about 40 passengers and the driver of the train lost their lives. The bodies of 26 passengers have been identified and a further 16 persons are at present listed as missing. A further 76 passengers were admitted to hospital, and of these 42 have been discharged.

I am sure that the House will wish to join my colleagues in the Government and myself in expressing our sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives and best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

I would like, too, to pay a tribute, in which I am sure all hon. Members will wish to join, to the work of the emergency services—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—the police, the fire brigade, and the ambulance and medical services—and to London Transport's own staff who are carrying out the rescue and recovery operations with skill and devotion under extremely difficult conditions. The recovery of the bodies of the dead is not expected to be completed before Wednesday.

I have ordered a public inquiry into the circumstances of the accident. It will be conducted by the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways and will be opened as soon as possible.

On behalf of all those who live and work in the City of London and Westminster, may I associate myself and my constituents with the condolences which the Minister has expressed to the relatives of those who were killed, and extend our best wishes to those who were injured? May I say, too, how glad we all are to hear the right hon. Gentleman's praise for the emergency services. In this terrible disaster, their achievement is really beyond praise and should be a source of pride to everyone in London.

May I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his speedy announcement of the establishment of an inquiry. This, I am sure, is the best thing to do. Will he assure the House that this inquiry, as well as looking into the specific circumstances of this tragedy, will also inquire into the servicing procedures in London Transport? Has he any information to give the House about the servicing of the rolling stock involved on this occasion?

Can the right hon. Gentleman also assure us that the inquiry will look into the question of crowding on Underground trains? On London Transport buses there are regulations about the number of people who may stand in a bus at any given time. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this would be desirable on the Underground? Can he also say how long the inquiry's work is likely to take?

Finally, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, despite this great tragedy, London Transport has a safety record which is second to none, and that it would be most unfortunate if this terrible incident should cast doubt in the minds of people about the safety or the London Transport system?

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the emergency services. I certainly agree with him that they are beyond praise. What one may not fully realise—it is still going on—is the desperate job of clearing up the wreckage of this appalling accident. I am sure that the thoughts of the House go to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant), particularly because many of his constituents were involved, and to others whose constituents have been injured and killed in this appalling affair.

We shall set up an inquiry as soon as possible, when all relevant matters will be considered. It will, of course, be open to members of the public to appear and raise these questions. It is unwise and irresponsible to speculate on the causes of the accident, not least because the engine has not yet been recovered from the wreckage. Certainly we shall press ahead as fast as possible. I am sure that the House will want to know the conclusions following any recommendations which may be made.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the most important requirement now for the families concerned is skilled help and assistance, and skilled legal advice, on questions of compensation? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to confer with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that the families of all concerned receive assistance? Does he agree that this tragedy underlines the need for a disaster unit to be set up by the Government, not to duplicate the work of the rescue teams but to get this kind of instant skilled assistance to the families?

I think my hon. Friend's point about a disaster unit is rather wider than the scope of this Question, but certainly I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention to my hon. Friend's concern in this context.

I understand that already the Greater London Council and London Transport are giving thought to ensuring proper compensation, but it is too early yet to have a definitive statement. I will certainly see that this matter is pursued.

May I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the observations of the Minister and of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat)?

May I press the Minister on two matters? Will he accept that one of the most important aspects is to reassure the travelling public on the safety record of London Transport? It is 21 years since the last serious accident, and I believe that in 100 years there has been no failure of the braking system similar to that which may have caused this sort of accident.

There is one other matter which necessitates a speedy report from this inquiry. I refer to the sort of Press speculation that we are already reading about as to the cause of the accident. Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Government financial assistance will be made available if it is required in connection with safety regulations? I appreciate that nobody would advocate that overnight we could fully automate every line in London like the Victoria Line, but there must be a case for looking carefully at the trip wire automatic braking system being installed at every station.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the absolutely unparalleled safety record of London Transport. I believe there have been only three accidents involving death to passengers since 1945, and nothing in the history of London Transport on the appalling scale of the present disaster. London Transport can rest on a very fine record.

The hon. Gentleman himself was a little guilty of speculation when he referred to an accident due to a braking fault. We still do not know, and we shall not know for some considerable time, what was the cause of the accident, not least because the wreckage of the front of the train, as I said, may not be recovered until Wednesday.

We shall certainly examine any recommendations or lessons which appear to be right following the inquiry, but it would be too early to talk about particular automatic or other safety devices. Arising from what the hon. Member said, there was an accident at Tooting about four or five years ago when a train driver was killed in an empty train because he went into a reversing tunnel, but that was a totally different situation from the situation which we are now discussing.

May I associate myself with the sympathy expressed by the Minister to the relatives of those killed and injured in this terrible tragedy?

May I press my right hon. Friend a little further on the question of compensation? There is already some concern in the Wood Green constituency, from which many of the killed and injured came, about the problems of those who lost relatives who were the main financial support of their families. London Transport has said that it will consider all legitimate claims, but there is likely to be considerable financial hardship beyond that. Has my right hon. Friend any means of launching a disaster fund to provide financial help to supplement whatever London Transport can do?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. We shall consider what she has said. I think that some discussion has already taken place about the possibility of a disaster fund. London Transport has undertaken to pay compensation on all legitimate claims, and I am not sure how much further one can go beyond that. As I say, it is too early yet to get down to precise details, but I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

I, too, associate myself with the Minister's expressions of sympathy to the victims of this terrible accident and to the relatives of those who lost their lives, and I add my thanks to the emergency services, especially since between a quarter and a fifth of the named victims come from my constituency.

I urge the Minister to bear in mind that we want the matter of compensation to be dealt with speedily and not to be bogged down in legalistic argument on questions of negligence. Further, while the inquiry is in progress, will the Minister ensure that particular regard is had to a fact which I have been pressing on London Transport for some time; namely, that the equipment on the Northern Line is now some 40 years old, and the fiscal policies of the Greater London Council have not been conducive towards replacement of that stock?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that that was possibly a cause of the accident.

I think that the House would be wise to await the inquiry, not least because some important evidence which will have to be examined has not yet been extracted from the tunnel. On the question of compensation, I appreciate the concern on both sides of the House that this matter should be dealt with generously and as humanely and speedily as possible. While the prime responsibility lies with the Greater London Council and London Transport, we shall certainly do all we can to try to achieve those objectives.

As one who spent many years on British Rail before becoming a Member of the House, and whose job it was on occasion to find out all the facts regarding faults, derailments and so on, I should like my right hon. Friend's assurance that the inquiry will be far-reaching and will ascertain all the facts that it is possible to find or that any hon. Member could wish to have found. Further, will my right hon. Friend agree that some of the unskilled speculation about the causes of the crash does nothing but harm? Moreover, was it not rather distressing to see the young guard on the train being interviewed on television at a time when, quite frankly, that ought not to have been allowed, and it was dangerous and undesirable in its possible effect on any future inquiry?

I am sure that there is great support for what my hon. Friend says, but neither my right hon. Friends nor I have any control over the media in these matters. All I could do was what I did, which was to refuse to participate in the exercise.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House wishes him to get the inquiry completed as soon as possible, because a lot of reassurance is needed, and, further, that a statement such as that attributed to London Transport—that the rolling stock, while being unreliable, was not unsafe—is the sort of statement which, if genuinely made by London Transport, is not at all helpful and London Transport ought to be told not to make it?

I think that we all agree that in these desperately difficult circumstances it would have been wiser if many people had said less than they did. I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's observation to the attention of those concerned. As to the timing of the inquiry, I think that the public hearing should be relatively short, but I am sure that the House will want it to be thorough, and it may well involve considerable testing of equipment, brakes and the rest. I am sure that the House will want a thorough job done as well as one done as speedily as possible.