HC Deb 05 March 1891 vol 351 cc240-2
MR. JOHN KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that the present price of mineral spirit being some 50 per cent. above that of mineral oil, any practice of mixing the former with the latter is now impossible; and whether he is aware that the regulation as to tank depôts in Clause 6 of the Inflammable Liquids Bill would, in the cases of small shops, be found quite impracticable, as also that in Clause 10 (d) with respect to the isolation of such depôts?


I am advised that the price of mineral spirit is in excess of that of mineral oil, though I cannot say whether it is so to the extent mentioned in the question. There is no provision in the Bill specially directed against the practice of mixing the spirit with the oil. My hon. Friend appears not to have read Clause 3 of the Bill, which contains no provision as to "tank depôts," as stated in the question. Clauses 2 and 3 are specially intended to protect small shops by enabling them to keep the stock usually stored in such shops without registration or license, and subject only to the restriction that the oil shall be kept in substantial closed metal vessels, a method of storage now largely employed and therefore not impracticable. Clause 10 (d) deals with licensed premises only, and lays down no fixed limits as to isolation of depôts. It merely expresses a power already-possessed under the existing law by Local Authorities of prescribing in their licences conditions as to the situation of the premises.


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he is aware that it is stated, at page 248 of the Year Book of Commerce for 1890–91, that, out of the total average annual numbers of fires in London during the four years ending 1889, namely, 2,209, only about two per cent., namely, 43, occurred in the shops of oil or colourmen; whether he is aware that the few fires which have occurred on the premises of wholesale dealers in petroleum oil have not been occasioned by petroleum oil, and that, in more than half the cases of such fires, although the premises and a large proportion of the stocks have been destroyed, the petroleum oil has not taken fire; and whether he has any, and, if so, what reason for doubting the accuracy of the figures given in the Year Book of Commerce?


Yes, Sir; I believe the figures quoted are substantially accurate. They appear to be based upon the Annual Reports of the Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Eire Brigade. I cannot admit the correctness of the statement in the second paragraph of the question. On the contrary, I am advised that some of the fires have been largely due to petroleum oil in their consequences and effects, and in some instances in their inception. I am further advised that it is not the fact that in such cases the oil has not taken fire, although in some instances there has been salvage of portions of the stock. It is the fact that petroleum oil has hitherto been generally supplied in substantially constructed barrels, but the practice of supplying it in tank wagons, from which the oil is conveyed into metal storage tanks, has rapidly increased, and already largely prevails in some districts. The storage in barrels is not a perfectly safe method, because the storage vessel has to be tapped for delivery. It is itself inflammable, it is liable to leak, and is much less safe than the metal tanks. I cannot express an opinion as to the relative danger arising from mineral oil as compared with turpentine, spirits of wine, and whisky, which must depend to a great extent on the conditions of storage, but the two latter articles can be mixed with and extinguished by water. The peculiar danger of mineral oil is that water does not extinguish it, and only helps to spread its devastating effects. Turpentine is not stored to anything like the same extent as mineral oil, and its much greater cost tends to secure more careful storage.