HC Deb 16 June 1937 vol 325 cc458-68

8.0 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 35, line 4, to leave out "of which the construction is begun," and to insert, "constructed after."

This is a drafting Amendment to fit into the general scheme of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 35, line 12, at the end, to insert: (5) The chief inspector may by certificate grant, subject to any conditions specified in the certificate, exemption from compliance with any of the requirements of the last foregoing Sub-section in any case where he is satisfied that compliance with those requirements is inappropriate or undesirable. The Clause makes provisions for safety in case of fire, and Sub-section (4) provides that every hoistway or liftway inside a building shall be completely enclosed with fire-resisting materials, and that all means of access to the hoist or lift shall be fitted with doors of fire-resisting materials. The Home Office experts advise us that, strange as it may sound, there are types of factory where is is undesirable to have a hoistway or liftway completely enclosed. That applies in particular to factories using explosives. There are cases where the enclosure of the hoistway or liftway would prevent the installation of the necessary plant for removing poisonous gases which may have accumulated. There is the further type of case where the left shaft or hoist-way is not capable of complete enclosure, by reason of the nature of the structure and the use to which it is put; for instance, where the goods are raised merely from one level to another level on the same floor.

Having regard to those three examples—they are only examples—of the special cases, it has been found necessary, as in many other instances, to seek that measure of elasticity which is almost inevitable when you are attempting to cover so wide a field, and to ask for power to be given to the chief inspector to grant exemption in special conditions from the general requirements of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

8.4 p.m.

Mr. Short

I beg to move, in page 35, line 27, at the end, to insert: (8) Where in any room in which persons are employed in a factory explosives or inflammable material are stored or used or accumulate, effective provision for fire extinguishing, either by way of water sprinkler apparatus or portable chemical fire-extinguishers, shall be made to the satisfaction of the inspector. This Amendment is put forward to meet a very urgent and important problem, and is self-explanatory. It will not need many words of mine to show the Lord Advocate what we have in mind. We are of opinion that, in places where explosive or inflammable materials are stored, used or allowed to accumulate, effective provision for extinguishing fire ought to be provided in the way that we suggest. I do not think it will be denied that there is a great danger to operatives and others unless some provision of this character be made, and I hope that the Lord Advocate will see his way clear to accept the Amendment.

8.6 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

The Amendment applies to factories where explosives or inflammable materials are stored or used or accumulated, and is directed to a suitable method of preventing or stopping fire in such premises. The view which was expressed upstairs when this question came up for consideration—I should say provisionally expressed because it had not been fully investigated—was that the matter could be properly dealt with only after special investigation of the various cases. Examples were given of special requirements in connection with the cellulose solution industry and the cinematograph industry. The matter has been followed up by the technical experts of the Home Office, and the result of their examination has been to convince us not only that our view was a sound one but that there are positive dangers and difficulties associated with the acceptance of the Amendment.

It appears that a water sprinkler as a fire extinguisher would, in certain factories, be positively dangerous. I have no actual knowledge of the matter, but I am advised that in certain factories a chemical extinguisher could not be used without great danger. That fact adds point to my opening remarks that it is extraordinarily difficult, as we are constantly finding out during the passage of this Bill, to deal in general terms with these matters. Looking at the question from the opposite angle, I would point out that in many factories other methods of fire extinguishing have to be used, apart from those suggested by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short), and that they are at least equally appropriate, and probably more appropriate than those he mentions. For many purposes, sand is a very much better extinguisher. I mention these matters merely in order to justify the conclusion, which I ask the House to accept, that we cannot effectively deal with these matters by general requirements and that the appropriate course, and the perfectly safe course, is to leave this matter to be dealt with by special regulations properly adapted to the requirements of each case.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

It may be that the suggestion by the Lord Advocate will be a good way to deal with the matter, but I think my hon. Friend was justified in moving the Amendment and that some of the words in it should be inserted, even if it is necessary to put the word "sand" into the Bill. We know full well that for extinguishing oil and chemical fires sand is the best method. I hope that the Lord Advocate will not ask us to accept the method that the Home Office has adopted up to now, of issuing handbooks as to precautions against fire. Those books certainly need to be brought up to date. The matter has been raised in this House more than once. The books deal with factories, public buildings, hospitals, schools and so forth. I do not know those who are called the experts at the Home Office, but if it is to be left to them to prepare regulations which will be issued by the Home Secretary I hope they will prepare something that will make one feel safer than the precautions suggested in the handbook with regard to public buildings.

I would ask the Home Office to take into account, in this matter of fire precaution, the material which is in use. I will give an illustration of the need for precautions. We had a fire in London at a place where rubber had been stored to an enormous extent, and when the rubber became liquid there was great difficulty in escaping from it. I hope that any regulations issued will pay regard to the material which is worked upon, so that, in the early stages of any fire, the people in the factories can safely escape.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Mander

There is a great deal to be said for the view which was put forward by the Lord Advocate, that it is better to deal with varying circumstances of fire precaution by means of regulations rather than by words in the Bill. In some of the industries with which I have been associated water certainly would not be of much use. Sand and other substances would be the proper things to use. I hope that we shall adopt the course suggested, but we are entitled to ask whether it is the intention of the Home Office to deal resolutely with this question in the form of regulations so that the protection that we ultimately receive will he as effective and complete as if the words were actually embodied in the Measure.

8.13 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

I have examined the Clause carefully, and I would ask the Lord Advocate not to persist in putting forward small legal points which could be put forward to practically every Amendment upon the Order Paper. He referred to the fact that sand was sometimes used to extinguish fires and that it was not mentioned in the Amendment. If there are some good things in the Amendment, the absence of one practical suggestion is not a good reason for refusing to accept the Amendment. We all know that the Amendment does not deal generally with factory conditions, and that it was put there by my hon. Friend to cover a certain type of work in which explosive or inflammable materials are used. Surely the House will agree that everything possible ought to be done in the way of providing the proper extinguishers in workrooms where conditions are such that fire must be extinguished as speedily as possible. My hon. Friend, in moving the Amendment, stated that it was self-explanatory. We ask that the lines of Sub-section (7) of the Clause should be followed. It states that: The contents of any room in which persons are employed shall he so arranged or disposed that there is a free passage-way for all persons employed in the room to a means of escape in case of fire. The legal mind could point out that on some occasions a free passage-way giving an easy exit would be a danger, since the workers might rush out all at once and there would be a danger of panic. But surely we have passed the stage of entering into these small legal points. I would ask the Lord Advocate to look upon this Amendment as one intended to deal with a particular dangerous phase of factory life. It suggests that water sprinklers and portable chemical fire extinguishers should be provided to the satisfaction of the inspector. We are not asking that they should be provided to the satisfaction of hon. Members opposite, or that our own special opinions should be regarded; we ask that the inspector appointed by the Government should be satisfied in this respect. I would urge the Lord Advocate to accept the Amendment, remembering that our great fire brigades in this country are not inadequate or unfit for their job because they do not carry tons of sand around with them on their fire engines. They have everything that is practicable. This Amendment is a practicable Amendment, and I ask the Lord Advocate to accept it.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Messer

I cannot understand, even accepting the view that adequate provision can be made in regulations, why the Bill should not embody an obligation on an employer to see that there are adequate facilities for protection against fire in workrooms or workshops where there are explosives or combustible materials. I do not see any particular reason for mentioning either water sprinklers or anything else; it seems to me that, if there were in the Bill a statement that there must be effective provision for fire extinguishing, it would meet the situation. I would like to get from the Home Secretary an undertaking that that will be put into the Bill, and not merely left to regulations. Regulations can be framed to meet special circumstances, but that does not lessen the importance of embodying in the Bill an obligation on the owner of a factory to see that there is proper provision for protection in workrooms or workshops where there is danger of fire, either from explosion or from the use of combustible materials.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Banfield

I think the Home Secretary will realise that we are trying to deal with a considerable danger which may arise in rooms in which explosives or inflammable materials are stored or accumulate. It must be common know- ledge that, when a fire breaks out in any such place, it feeds on the substances around it, and it is merely common sense to say that those who employ people in a place of that kind must have something there—it does not matter what it is called—which is suitable for stopping the progress of a fire should one break out. While it may be true that things can be done by regulation, this matter is so important, in view of the seriousness of an outbreak of fire and the danger to the lives of people employed in places of this description, that it seems to me that we should be lacking somewhat in our duty if we did not lay down in the Bill itself a compulsory measure that there shall be provision, to the satisfaction of the inspector, for fire extinguishing. I entirely agree with the Lord Advocate that the Amendment is not worded as well as it might be, but it would be a pity to allow a mere defect in drafting to be made an excuse for doing nothing. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see whether it is not possible to accept the Amendment.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

I desire to support the view of my colleagues on this matter, that there ought to be embodied in the Bill, particularly in regard to premises where persons are confronted daily with the danger of explosion, and consequential fire and loss of life, effective provision for dealing with that danger, and that it should not he left to regulations, which may or may not be entirely satisfactory in the circumstances of each case. I am the more jealous that the matter should be dealt with in the Bill itself when I reflect on the attitude of the Government in regard to the ventilation of premises where people are employed in the manufacture of armaments and explosives. The House will remember that, when we endeavoured to secure the laying down of an obligation to provide ventilating apparatus, of which there are unlimited types, the Under-Secretary stated that the probability was; that enough ventilation would he secured by the opening and shutting of the doors. I never heard a more futile statement, or one more out of harmony with modern practice. In my area, where there is a considerable manufacture of explosives, there is much discontent and jealousy, if I may use that term, on account of the neglect of this problem hitherto. Explosions and loss of life have occurred, to which, I venture to think, not sufficient publicity has been given. Unless some specific undertaking is given that the suggestion of the Lord Advocate is better than that of my hon. Friends, I hope they will carry the Amendment to a Division.

8.24 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

In declining to accept this Amendment, I did not pretend to suggest that I did so, as some hon. Members seem to think, because I did not like its drafting, or on any other narrow legal ground, but because I thought, and the Home Office think, that it is impossible, however much you try, to draft an Amendment capable of attaining the object which hon. Members opposite have in view. We are driven, as one hon. Member frankly recognised, to one or other of two alternatives—either that which the Home Office suggests, of being precise and, if I may so put it, intelligible as to the exact requirements in the case of particular industries; or, on the other hand, that of taking refuge in such vague generalities as the phrase suggested by one hon. Member about the making of effective provision for fire extinguishing. Such a phrase means literally nothing in a Statute of this kind. It involves, if it means anything, criminal prosecutions for the occupiers of those factories which are not kept in compliance with the Act.

I am now speaking on my own ground, and I can assure the House that it is impossible to get convictions for infringement of a Clause of an Act of Parliament framed in such vague and indefinite terms. This House, as the guardian of the liberties of the subject, should be particularly astute never to insert in a penal Clause vague generalities of that kind, but should rather insist that the subject, be he who he may, should know exactly what it is that he should do or refrain from doing, before he can be put in the dock and tried for a penal offence. For these reasons I must adhere to my position, but I should like to make it clear, with the authority of my right hon. Friend, that it is the intention of the Home Office to revise and bring up to date, when the Bill becomes an Act, the manuals and other instructions in regard to fire prevention, and to examine with a very careful eye the problem of making appropriate provision by means of regulation for the particular requirements of the various industries that are affected by this problem.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Short

I should like to express my dissatisfaction with the attitude of the Home Office. I make no complaint about the very lucid explanation of the Lord Advocate. It is always a pleasure to listen to him. I can only recall one Attorney who always seemed to speak with the same convincing power, and that is the present Lord Hewart. I am not tied to the words of my Amendment, and I should have liked the Lord Advocate to have found a way out for us, so that we could have had some definite phraseology in the Bill to meet the point. He has not denied the seriousness of the danger, which invariably arises. He said the Home Secretary could deal with it by way of regulation. I presume he was referring to Clause 59, but I see nothing in that Clause that refers to safety provision in case of fire, and I am by no means certain that the Home Secretary has powers wide and complete enough to deal with the point. It may be that he has those powers in some other connection, but, even if he has, we are not satisfied that these or similar words should not be in the Statute, and I am afraid we shall have to force the Amendment to a Division.

Mr. Davidson

If an inspector made certain recommendations with regard to a workroom in which were stored inflammables or explosives and the employer refused to have appliances, and a fire occurred with loss of life, would not the employer be liable for criminal proceedings?

Mr. Mander

Under what Clause would these regulations be made?

The Lord Advocate

It is Clause 59 which is the source of the Secretary of State's power in the matter, because a factory containing explosives or other inflammable material would be a factory entailing risk of bodily injury to persons employed in connection therewith, and arising out of that would come the special power to make regulations covering fire protection. As regards the point put to me by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), it is impossible to answer a question as to the effect of a hypothetical Amendment to a Clause which I have not before me, but, speaking without an opportunity for consideration, I should certainly have the greatest difficulty in framing an indictment which charged a person with non-compliance with a Statute, on the one hand, and, on the other, with some particular requirement of an inspector of factories.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 132; Noes, 187.

Division No. 222.] AYES. [8.31 p. m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Ede, J. C. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Adamson, W. M. Edwards, Sir C. (Badwellty) Kelly, W. T.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.
Ammon, C. G. Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H Kirby, B. V.
Banfield, J. W. Gardner, B. W. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.
Barr, J. Garro Jones, G. M. Lathan, G.
Batey, J. George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Lawson, J. J.
Bellenger, F. J. Gibbins, J. Leach, W.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Lee, F.
Bevan, A. Green, W. H. (Deptford) Leonard, W.
Broad, F. A. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Leslie, J. R.
Bromfield, W. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Logan, D. G.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire) Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Lunn, W.
Buchanan, G. Groves, T. E. Macdonald, G. (Ince)
Burke, W. A. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) McEntee, V. La T.
Cape, T. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) McGhee, H. G.
Cluse, W. S. Harris, Sir P. A. McGovern, J.
Cocks, F. S. Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) MacLaren, A.
Cove, W. G. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Mainwaring, W. H.
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Mander, G. le M.
Daggar, G. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Marshall, F.
Dalton, H. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Maxton, J.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Hollins, A. Messer, F.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Hopkin, D. Milner, Major J.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Jagger, J. Montague, F.
Day, H. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)
Dobbie, W. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Naylor, T. E. Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey) Tinker, J. J.
Oliver, G. H. Sanders, W. S. Viant, S. P.
Owen, Major G. Seely, Sir H. M. Walkden, A. G.
Paling, W. Sexton, T. M. Walker, J.
Parker, J. Shinwell, E. Watkins, F. C.
Parkinson, J. A. Short, A. Watson, W. McL.
Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. Silkin, L. Welsh, J. C.
Pritt, D. N. Silverman, S. S. Westwood, J.
Quibell, D. J. K. Simpson, F. B. White, H. Graham
Richards, R. (Wrexham) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Ridley, G. Smith, E. (Stoke) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Riley, S. Smith, T. (Normanton) Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Ritson, J. Sorensen, R. W. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Roberts, Rt. Hon. F O. (W. Brom.) Stephen, C. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Rowson, G. Thorne, W. Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Entwistle, Sir C. F. Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Everard, W. L. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh
Apsley, Lord Fildes, Sir H. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Aske, Sir R. W. Fremantle, Sir F. E. Palmer, G. E. H.
Assheton, R. Fyfe, D. P. M. Peake, O.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Ganzoni, Sir J. Perkins, W. R. D.
Atholl, Duchess of Gower, Sir R. V. Peters, Dr. S. J.
Baillie, Sir A. W. M. Grant-Ferris, R. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Gridley, Sir A. B. Porritt, R. W.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Grimston, R. V. Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton
Balniel, Lord Gritten, W. G. Howard Procter, Major H. A.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.) Radford, E. A.
Beit, Sir A. L. Guinness, T. L. E. B. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Birchall, Sir J. D. Gunston, Capt. D. W. Ramsden, Sir E.
Blair, Sir R. Guy, J. C. M. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Blaker, Sir R. Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle) Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)
Boulton, W. W. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Remer, J. R.
Boyce, H. Leslie Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Hepworth, J. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Brass, Sir W. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Ropnor, Colonel L.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Higgs, W. F. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Brown, Col, D. C. (Hexham) Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Rowlands, G.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Russell, Sir Alexander
Bull, B. B. Horsbrugh, Florence Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Campbell, Sir E, T. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Cartland, J. R. H. Hudson, R. S. (Southport) Salmon, Sir I.
Carver, Major W. H. Hunter, T. Salt, E. W.
Cary, R. A. Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H. Selley, H. R.
Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.) Joel, D. J. B. Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Channon, H. Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n) Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Christie, J. A. Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Simmonds, O. E.
Clarke, F. E. (Dartford) Keeling, E. H. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Clarry, Sir Reginald Lamb, Sir J. Q. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Latham, Sir P. Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs) Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Spens, W. P.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Leckie, J. A. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'ld)
Cox, H. B. T. Lewis, O. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark N.)
Critchley, A. Little, Sir E. Graham Tasker, Sir R. I.
Crooke, J. S. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Tate, Mavis C.
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Lloyd, G. W. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Loftus, P. C. Titchfield, Marquess of
Cross, R. H. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Touche, G. C.
Crossley, A. C. Lyons, A. M. Train, Sir J.
Crowder, J. F. E. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Cruddas, Col. B. McCorquodale, M. S. Turton, R. H.
Culverwell, C. T. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Davies, C. (Montgomery) McKie, J. H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Dawson, Sir P. Maitland, A. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Denville, Alfred Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Doland, G. F. Markham, S. F. Wells, S. R.
Dorman-Smith, Major Sir R. H. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Dower, Major A. V. G. Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham) Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Drewe, C. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.) Withers, Sir J. J.
Duggan, H. J. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Womersley, Sir W. J.
Duncan, J. A. L. Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick) Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.
Dunglass, Lord Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.) Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Ellis, Sir G. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Elliston, Capt. G. S. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Mr. James Stuart and Major Sir
Emery, S. F. Nall, Sir J. George Davies.