HC Deb 06 September 1887 vol 320 cc1360-2

I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether he has any information whatever which has not been published, relating to the terrible catastrophe which took place at Exeter Theatre last night; and whether, also, considering that this was a new theatre, having been built but very recently, any official surrey was deemed necessary by the Home Office?


No official survey was held by the Home Office, because the Home Office has no authority to hold any survey in the Provinces. This jurisdiction rests entirely with the Justices in Special Session, who may require, as a condition of granting a licence, that a survey of the building shall be made, and certain structural conditions be complied with. With regard to the accident itself, I regret to say that I am informed by telegraph received a few minutes ago that as many as 119 persons are dead; but I am glad to say, as a set-off against that, I am also informed that those who are injured are progressing favourably.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State a Question of which I have given him private Notice, Whether, in consequence of the frequently-recurring disasters and loss of life in theatres, and other places of public meeting and amusement, steps will be immediately taken to appoint Inspectors by and under the Home Department, whose duty it shall be to inspect all such places of amusement and meeting in Great Britain and Ireland, and who might have immediate power to prevent any performance in such theatres and places as shall not be adequately provided with commodious exit for use in all cases of sudden emergency; and also, whether, bearing in mind the fact that most of the fires in theatres—and notably the calamitous fire which occurred last night in the City of Exeter— originate on the stage, an iron drop-screen shall in future be deemed a necessary appurtenance in every theatre?


I regret to say that it would not be possible to act on the suggestion of the hon. Member without legislation. Outside the Metropolitan area there is no power in any Government Department, or in any Local Authority, to inspect theatres, or to insist on structural alterations, except as a condition of licensing a theatre in the first instance, and possibly under local Acts of Parliament. Within the Metropolitan area the Metropolitan. Board of Works have sufficient powers to enforce the precautions which they may deem necessary; and they have largely acted on those powers. The dreadful calamity which has occurred at Exeter shows the necessity of legislation for Provincial theatres, and the Government will give their attention to the subject.