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Rutherglen (Explosion)

Volume 87: debated on Friday 29 November 1985

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11 am

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about an explosion and fire at a block of flats in Kingsbridge drive in the King's Park area of Glasgow earlier this morning. The blast, which took place shortly after 8 am, completely destroyed the flats and the remains of the building are still ablaze. A number of people, including a passer-by, have been taken to hospital. One adult and one child died and two adults and one child are still missing. Just before I entered the Chamber, I heard that one of those reported as missing is now confirmed dead.

A police major incident team and other emergency services are at the site. The cause of the explosion has not yet been determined. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our sympathy to those involved in this tragedy.

I thank the Minister for his quick response to the request for a statement from my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), in whose constituency this terrible tragedy occurred. All Opposition Members join the Minister in expressing deep sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives. We are also deeply concerned for those who sustained injuries. We know from experience of tragic events in Glasgow that the police and emergency services will do everything possible to help. If the gas industry is involved, we know its deep commitment to safety and we are confident that it will do everything to establish whether gas caused the explosion. Much was learnt from the gas accident at Clarkston some years ago, and I am sure that the industry is deeply conscious of the need to ensure that everything is done to create conditions whereby such tragedies are eliminated so far as that is humanly possible.

Will the Minister assure the House that everything will be done to help the bereaved families and those who have lost their homes, and that the cause of the accident will be established as soon as possible and reported to my right hon. Friend and the House?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that everything is being done by the emergency services, including the gas people, first, to try to find those missing and to bring the blaze under control and, secondly, to establish the cause of the blaze. All the authorities in Glasgow will do their best to ensure that those left without homes are properly housed before the day is out.

I thank the Minister sincerely for agreeing to make this statement. Obviously, this is a matter of great concern to me and to those whom I am privileged to represent in the House. I also thank my many colleagues from all parties who have come in to hear this important statement on the incident that occurred in my constituency. I am sure that I speak for all my constituents when I extend our deepest sympathy to those who were bereaved as a result of this unfortunate accident, and our best wishes to those who were injured. I trust that they will recover fully in time. It is our earnest hope and prayer that those missing will be found alive and well and capable of full recovery.

With my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), I take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks to the emergency services. One of my children, who is in the area now, tells me that the emergency services in Rutherglen are doing a splendid job. I wish to put on record my thanks and those of my constituents to the police, the fire brigade and the other authorities involved. Will the Minister ensure that the fullest inquiry is conducted into the causes of this unfortunate accident? Will he further ensure that those causes are rectified at the earliest opportunity?

Again, I thank the Minister for making this statement and my colleagues on both sides of the House for being kind enough to join us in expressing our anxiety on this matter.

I fully appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety for his constituents during the two hours since we both heard about the incident. I assure him again that the fullest investigation will be carried out. The police already have a major incident unit in place, and the results of any inquiries will be made known as quickly as possible.

As a Scottish Member, and out of my deep regard for the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), may I say how sad Conservative Members are for the families and neighbours of the victims of this dreadful accident at King's Park. I live very near the area, and anyone who does knows what a pleasant and happy area it is, and of the fine people that it contains. Like the Clarkston disaster several years ago, it will leave an indelible mark in the mind, but I hope that the comfort and assistance from the emergency services, which I am confident that the victims are receiving, and which they will receive from the city of Glasgow and town of Rutherglen, will help them to overcome their grief.

I thank my hon. Friend for those words, which I know will be some comfort, as will all the words of hon. Members, to those affected by the accident.

I associate myself and my colleagues with the expressions of sympathy for the relations of those who died and for those who have been injured. The terror that must be felt following such an unexpected explosion must be difficult for any of us to conceive and must, as the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) said, leave an indelible impression on the mind. Although the Minister has little information now, may I ask whether he is considering making a further statement next week when matters are clearer? Although he can say nothing now about the cause of the accident, one presumes that the building is supplied with gas, which must be the major consideration.

Obviously, the question of a further statement will have to await events. As to the cause, I do not wish to prejudge the issue, but I have no doubt that there are gas mains in the area. I am not sure whether gas was supplied to that building, but the possibility that the explosion was caused by gas is being carefully investigated.

At this stage, the House can do little more than to extend sincere sympathy to the bereaved and the injured, and I do so on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and myself. I spent my early years in Rutherglen and know the area extremely well. It is always a tragedy when such an incident occurs.

We do not yet know the cause of the incident, but all of us must be aware that gas is the most likely substance to cause such an explosion. Gas is extremely dangerous, and the House should do all that it can to tighten the safeguards on gas installations, if that was the cause of the explosion, to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

If gas is found to be the cause—as I say, there is no evidence to show that it was—any lessons will be taken on board by the gas authorities.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the emergency planning officers have been able to lend their valuable assistance in this regard? Does it not illustrate the important need for the practice of civil protection?

My hon. Friend can be assured that the emergency services in Glasgow are, unfortunately, well experienced in coping with such major incidents. The fact that a police major incident team is on site will no doubt give us all confidence that a proper investigation will be carried out.

I, too, live in Glasgow and I, too, am deeply saddened by the news. My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) expressed his intention to speak in the debate that I initiated on child abuse. I am deeply sorry that he has had to speak in this way first. May we have an assurance that the Scottish Office will give every assistance to the local housing authorities in the task of rehousing those affected by the incident?

As I said earlier, I am sure that the housing authorities will be working hard on this and I know that anything that we in the Scottish Office can do for any of the emergency services we shall be doing.