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Coach Accident (Scotland)

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (by Private Notice) if he will make a statement on the coach crash which occurred yesterday near Moffat, Dumfriesshire, with loss of life and many seriously injured.

At about 11.10 a.m. yesterday, on the Glasgow-Carlisle road, at Beattock, in Dumfriesshire, a southbound articulated lorry, which was unloaded, collided with a north-bound motor coach.

Of the 44 occupants of the coach, 10, including the driver, were killed or later died from injuries. Thirty-four were injured, of whom the 20 more seriously injured are detained at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and the 14 less serious cases at Law Hospital, Carluke. The lorry driver, who was unaccompanied, was injured and is also detained in Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary.

The accident took place on a straight stretch of the A74 dual carriageway. There had been very heavy rain before the accident. Both vehicles were extensively damaged and are now being examined by regional vehicle examiners of the Department of the Environment.

The coach and most of the passengers, many of whom were elderly, came from the Brighton area of Sussex. They were on a tour of Scotland.

I would like to pay tribute to the members of the police, ambulance and fire services at the scene of the accident, to the medical and nursing staff both at the scene of the accident and at the hospitals to which the injured were taken, and to all members of the public who gave assistance.

I am sure that the House will wish to join with me and my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in expressing our sympathy with all who were bereaved or injured as a result of this dreadful accident.

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and join him in expressing sympathy to the relatives of those who died? May I also express the hope that the injured will soon be leaving hospital? I join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing the thanks of the House to all those involved in the rescue—doctors, nurses, ambulance men, police, firemen and the general public—who were so courageous and so efficient in getting the injured to hospital.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there will be a fatal accident inquiry? While I appreciate the difficulty about upgrading this dual carriageway to motorway standards at once, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure the House that he will give urgent consideration to the erection of central barriers along the length of the A74? Does he agree that such barriers might have prevented this tragedy yesterday?

The House should know that under the Scottish system fatal accident inquiries are in the first instance a matter for the Procurator Fiscal, who advises my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. If, as seems to be the case in this accident, an employee has been killed in the course of his employment, a fatal accident inquiry is mandatory. We will get more information about that from the Lord Advocate.

The hon. Gentleman will know that this road has been the subject of considerable concern and inquiry on the part of himself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). The road is under constant surveillance by the road safety unit. We looked at the question of barriers fairly recently but came to the conclusion that the money involved—about £1½ million—would be better spent on increasing safety at road junctions, improving the hard standing on verges and the like. Naturally, in the light of this accident and what comes out of it, I will look at this question again.

is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the people of Brighton have been stunned and shocked by this terrible tragedy? I am sure that the whole House would wish to express deep sympathy to every one in Brighton who has suffered grievous loss in this terrible accident. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the people involved were known personally to me and my wife? May I pay tribute to those involved in the rescue operation for the efficient and effective way in which they carried it out? May I also pay tribute to the great courage of those who were involved in the accident? Is the Minister aware that they were nearly all elderly and that many were trapped for a time in the greatest possible pain? In thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, may I ask him to convey to the people of Scotland the gratitude of the people of Brighton for the way in which this tragedy has been handled?

The House will be appreciative of what the hon. Member has said. I know how a tragedy like this can affect a town. These elderly people set out on what was to have been an enjoyable tour. One of the features that have been reported to me was the lack of panic and the courage of the people on the coach. I will readily convey to all those involved in the rescue services what the hon. Gentleman has said.

May I join in the tributes that have been paid to those who assisted so ably at this accident? May I also express my sympathy to those who are suffering anguish and pain because of it? May I ask my right hon. Friend to convey to the Minister for Transport the grave apprehension that there seems to be in the country at large about such accidents? Would not now be a proper time to examine whether there should be a review of all the technical safety facilities used on such coaches? Should we not also review the kind of roads upon which such vehicles are permitted?

We must be careful not to jump to conclusions about the cause of the accident. The question of the safety of coaches is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. From all the facts that we know about this accident there does not seem to be any question here peculiar to the safety of coaches.

While we are awaiting the results of the mandatory inquiry to which the right hon. Gentleman referred may I fully endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) has said about the regret the House will feel concerning the casualties involving some of my constituents as well as his? May I also join in the congratulations that certainly deserve to be paid to the people in Scotland who looked after the accident victims?

While joining in the expressions of sympathy offered to those who were injured and bereaved and in the praise to the public services, which did a wonderful job at the scene of the accident, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that there have been 800 accidents on this road over four years? Is he further aware that we are waiting for the upgrading of the road and for a barrier to be erected in the central reservation? May we have a guarantee that extra police provision will be made for this road because it is so dangerous?

This is one of the questions that have already arisen. We are looking, with the police, into the whole question of traffic management of this road. It should be appreciated that this is not an accident black spot. No other accidents appear to have taken place at this location. From 1971 to 1973 only three single-vehicle accidents took place anywhere near it. We are dealing with one of the busiest roads of its type in the country. About 17,000 vehicles per day use the road, 25 per cent. of them being goods vehicles. Let us not jump too hastily to conclusions in respect of this accident.

May I associate myself with hon. Members' expressions of sympathy for the relatives of the bereaved and for the injured, and their tributes to the rescue services.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), and his promise to review the safety factors in relation to the road, although this is something to which he and his Department have given very considerable thought in the past. Could he bear in mind, in relation to previous examinations of the safety factor of the road, that since the examinations have taken place the road network at both ends of the road has improved vastly? It is now up to motorway standards at each end. This perhaps introduces a dangerous element for those who are using the road, in that they may not realise that it is just a dual carriageway road and not a motorway. Could this factor be taken into account in any future examination of safety measures or safety barriers? This would be of great reassurance to those who use the road and live along it.

I do not doubt at all that there is the factor of coming off the motorway on to a trunk road. Whether or not this was a factor in the accident I am not sure. On all roads we have to take care to drive according to the conditions of the road.