HC Deb 23 April 1913 vol 52 cc390-2

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to prevent the misdescription of fabrics."

The sole object of this Bill is to prevent the sellers of textile fabrics from describing as non-inflammable articles which are not so. The case for the Bill is that a considerable number of people, particularly children, have been and are continually being burnt to death through their clothing catching fire, and that this Bill will do something to lessen the number of these fatalities. Though flannelette is not the only easily inflammable fabric which is worn, its cheapness and comfort cause it to be largely used by the poor, and undoubtedly the wearing of it has been a cause contributory to a large number of accidents and deaths from burning. The practical question naturally arises: Cannot some method of treatment be found by which flannelette and other fabrics can be made practically safe against fire? The answer is that there is such a process, it has been many years on the market, but it is patented and therefore not available to the trade generally, except upon such terms as the owners of the patent rights may prescribe. Naturally, the makers and dealers in ordinary flannelette are, to say the least, not prejudiced in favour of the patented treatment, and, as the fire-proofing costs about one penny per yard extra wholesale and three halfpence or twopence extra retail, it is not surprising that the sale of Dr. Perkin's patent "Non-Flam" has been limited by these circumstances.

These deplorable burning fatalities still go on. What can be done? A special Departmental Committee, known as the "Coroners Committee," inquired into the matter two or three years ago and took evidence. They reported in August, 1910, recommending legislation to make it penal to describe as "safe" flannelette or other textile fabrics which are highly inflammable. That is all that this Bill does. It does not prohibit the sale of anything; it does not require inflammable articles to be marked "dangerous"; it is merely a Bill to prevent inflammable fabrics being marked or represented as "safe against fire." When a similar Bill was introduced last Session the flannelette manufacturers, while agreeing to the desirability of legislation against misdescriptions, objected to the mention of the word "flannelette" in the Bill as unfair to that material. We are now taking the word "flannelette" out of the Bill. It will apply, however, exactly as before, equally to all the textile fabrics. There are other little points in which we have, I hope, successfully tried to meet their objections, and I hope this modest little measure may now go through with everyone's consent. If it does not, it will not be for want of wish and endeavour to meet every possible reasonable objection.

I have a communication to make to the House which I regard as of the utmost importance. It is generally agreed that the "non-flam" process is the only one which renders cotton fabrics permanently uninflammable, or nearly uninflammable. In an interview which the promoters of the former Bill had with its keenest critics three weeks ago, it was alleged that the owners of the "Non-Flam" patents had in these patents covered every known efficient fire-proofing substance, and that this gave them an unfair advantage. I may say that six months ago I suggested to the owners of these patents that if they could see their way to present the British Patent Rights to the nation they would be doing a fine service to humanity, and would make it easier to secure legislation to protect the lives of many children and old people from the risk of a terrible death. They told me of the great expense to which they had been put in their research work, amounting certainly to many thousands of pounds. In addition to the services of that eminent chemist, Dr. Perkin, they have for over ten years, with the consent of the Manchester University authorities, had an able chemist exclusively employed at that University on experiments to improve and, if possible, to cheapen their patent process. But on full consideration of the case I am glad to say that they have accepted my advice. May I quote from a letter of their's? They say they have come— to the decision to accede to your request that we should present to the Government for the public advantage all the rights we hold under the patents …. so far as Great Britain is concerned, for the process known in the flannelette trade by the name 'Non-Flam.' It is a very great happiness to me to be able to make this announcement. It takes away, it seems to me, the last rag of objection to a Bill the only object of which is to prevent the mothers of little children buying articles for their clothing which are more or less dangerous—I do not wish to exaggerate the point—under a false assurance. The real point, as the Departmental Committee say in their Report, is that people are induced to buy a more or less inflammable article under the false pretence that it will not flame and burn.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Theodore Taylor, Dr. Addison, Mr. Boland, Colonel Brocklehurst, Sir F. Cawley, Sir H. Craik, Mr. Ferens, Mr. Hills, Mr. Joynson-Hicks, Sir John McCallum, Mr. Nuttall, and Mr. Albert Smith. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Tuesday next, and to be printed. [Bill 123.]