§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purpose of this Bill is to prevent the sale in shops of electric and gas fires and oil stoves unless they are fitted with an adequate fireguard. The aim of the Bill is to prevent the large number of accidents from burning which occur in the home.
The community generally has become accident-conscious. We hear a great deal about the number of accidents on the road and, rightly, there is in operation a campaign to reduce that number. But there are also many accidents in the home of which perhaps burning accidents 1796 are among the most serious and tragic. Fortunately, in recent years the treatment of burns has advanced very far. In cases which a few years ago would have proved fatal, it is now possible, if not to bring about a complete cure, at any rate to enable the person to live, though there may be severe disablement or disfigurement. The number of fatalities has been reduced as a result of modern treatment.
But even today, especially among old people and children, the number of serious and fatal accidents is far too high. It is easy to understand why these accidents are most liable to occur to these tottery sections of the community. Some of those who suffer fall directly into the fire, but more often their clothing—cotton material is especially inflammable—touches the flame or the electric element. In a few seconds the whole of the clothing is ablaze and the person may be burned from head to foot.
I should like to quote a few figures to put the matter into proper prospective. About 700 people die in England and Wales in a year from burning accidents. In Scotland there are about 100 such accidents a year. In 1948, the figure for England was 620 and for Scotland 111. It has been estimated by Dr. Colebrook that, in addition to the fatal accidents recorded in the return of the Registrar-General, there are about a further 15,000 to 20,000 people in England and Wales who are treated as in-patients in hospital and as many as 50,000 who are treated as out-patients. I should like to pay a sincere tribute to the work of Dr. Colebrook at Birmingham and since he retired in presenting the argument for some kind of legislation in this matter.
There are about 70,000 cases a year in England and Wales alone. In addition, there is some evidence that the incidence of these accidents in Scotland is rather higher than it is in England. Two-thirds of these accidents occur in the home. We are primarily concerned with domestic accidents. One-half of the home accidents are burns as against scalds. It is unfortunately true that it is in the category of domestic burns that most fatalities occur.
Of course, all these deaths in the home are not the sole responsibility of the gas and electric fires and the oil stoves 1797 covered by this Bill. Perhaps, again, I may give an indication of the figures so that the House may be able to judge how far these particular appliances are responsible for burn casualties. The deaths from coal fires in 1941 were 129 in England and Wales, and from gas and electric fires 112. In other words, it is true to say that the open grate is still the greatest cause of fatal burn accidents in the home.
But even these figures under-estimate the real number of fatal accidents, because the analysis in the Registrar-General's return does not permit of an exact break-up of the figures. There are some which are given as fires by clothing or by other means, many of which, in all probability, are the direct responsibility of electric or gas fires or of oil stoves. Therefore, I want to make it quite clear that the appliances mentioned in and covered by the Bill are by no means the only ones responsible for such accidents.
In passing, I would refer to the provisions of the Children's and Young Persons Act, 1908, which placed a penalty upon parents of children involved in fatal accidents from fires in the home, but I think it will be generally admitted that that provision is not an operative one. It is generally thought in such cases that the parents have already been sufficiently punished by their children being involved in these fatal accidents. In any case, to impose penalties afterwards is probably quite the wrong way to set about preventing this class of accident. The main thing must be, wherever possible, to prevent the accident occurring.
I submit that a new situation has been created by the vast development of electric and gas fires and oil stoves which differ from the coal grate in that many of them are portable. They stand about the room. Children will play round them and will not be aware of their presence. They will treat them more as articles of ordinary furniture and will not have the awe for them as for a coal fire. That is primarily the reason why we think these appliances should receive special consideration.
The number of accidents from coal fires is due to the great number of those fires, and it would be quite impossible to make any provision for their compulsory guard. Guards for those fires are being developed, and it is hoped, by an educa- 1798 tional process, that their use will be extended. But it would be quite impossible, as I am sure the House will agree, to provide for them in this kind of Bill.
During this week it was my privilege to make a tour of the wards of one of the most famous hospitals dealing with burn accidents in the country—the Birmingham Accident Hospital. I must speak of my very deep admiration for the work going on there in the treatment of burn accidents among all classes of the community, but particularly among the young people and the elderly. They are the most numerous cases.
I was amazed to think that it was possible that some of the cases I saw there could ever come out of hospital again. But mingled with my amazement was the thought of how much better it would be if some of these cases could be prevented from ever reaching the hospital at all. I saw a little girl aged six. She had been playing in a room where the parents had taken the precaution of standing in front of an electric fire an ordinary fire guard such as one would use in front of a coal fire, one of those wire mesh devices. The little girl had taken away the guard from the fire and had walked in between the guard and the fire itself. Her nightdress had caught fire and within a few seconds, as happens in these cases, all her clothing was ablaze. She has been in hospital for two weeks. In due course her skin will be grafted, and, with good luck, she will make a reasonable recovery, though there will be disfigurement, and perhaps still more serious consequences. In any case, she will be three months in hospital and the treatment will go on for many years before she is reasonably restored to health.
I saw another case of a boy aged five who had wandered from his bedroom into his parents' room where there was an unguarded gas fire burning. His night attire, too, caught light and in his case there was a 20 per cent, injury, burns on the trunk and on the arms. In his case, also, there will have to be grafting operations and hospital treatment lasting many months, and here again it will be two or three years before the treatment is completed. Though the final result will be wonderful and amazing from all points of view, there will be permanent disfigurement.
I will now turn to consideration of the guards themselves proposed under this 1799 Bill. It will be difficult to fit to fires guards of such strength as to prevent old people from falling directly on to the fire suffering injury. That would clearly need a strong and expensive guard. But it is easily possible to fix to these fires a light steel wire meshwork which prevents clothing from drifting on to the element which is, as I have tried to show, one of the most common causes of burn accidents.
The guards can be so arranged that children cannot put their fingers through them on to the element or into the flame. This is the type of guard proposed. Many makers already fix these guards to their products, and the proportion of fires sold with guards today is steadily rising. The British Standards Institution has issued sets of standards for guards for both electric and gas fires. I am sure it is the wish of most manufacturers to comply with these standards, and their issue marks a great step forward in safety measures.
I know that these guards involve adding to the cost of the fire. That extra cost, however, is not very great—it may be anything from a few shillings up to £1 in the case of electric fires. The amount of metal required is very small—anything from ¼lb. to 1 lb. in the case of electric fires. In some cases, of course, where very elaborate guards are fitted, it may be more, but, roughly speaking, it can be done with that quantity of metal. It is sometimes objected that these guards reduce the efficiency of the fire itself. To some small extent they do, but it is my belief that the good results achieved by the reduction of accident and risk fully outweigh the small extra cost or the slight reduction in efficiency which might occur.
I will now refer to the method to be employed as suggested in this Bill. The Bill would give power to the Home Secretary and to the Secretary of State for Scotland to make Regulations laying down the standards for the construction and fitting of guards to electric and gas fires and oil stoves. It would then become an offence, after some date to be fixed, to sell any of the heating appliances covered by the Regulations unless they were properly and adequately guarded according to the standards laid down in the Regulations.
I want the House to appreciate that it is at the point of sale that this Bill is intended to apply and, of course, ample 1800 time would have to be allowed for the clearance of stocks in the hands of manufacturers and in the shops. That would be a matter to be worked out between the Department and the industry. I should like to emphasise that the electricity and gas industries are most anxious to co-operate in this matter at all times, and I do not think that the fixing of standards or the making of the date on which the Regulations should come into force would be matters of great difficulty between the Department and the trade.
I am anxious, as I know all hon. Members are, not to add to the number of Regulations in force; and very careful consideration has been given to the question whether this is the best method of fulfilling the intentions of the Bill. However, I think hon. Members will agree that it would have been clearly impossible to have written into the Bill itself the detailed specifications of standards required for a diversity of fires.
The only alternative apart from that selected in the Bill would have been to have adopted the standards laid down from time to time by the British Standards Institution. I think the House would agree that that would have been a method more open to objection from the point of view of Parliamentary control than the method chosen, because it would have given power to an outside body, namely, the British Standards Institution, to lay down regulations and change them from time to time without any recourse to discussion in or decision by this House. At the same time, I am sure that the British Standards Institution would have used that power with great wisdom and discretion.
But we have used the method of the Statutory Instrument and the date at which that Instrument will come into force will be a matter for negotiation between the Department and the industry. I have no doubt that in fixing the standards for these fireguards the Department will be guided very much by the standards of the British Standards Institution, and in some cases it may be necessary—
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
The British Standards Institution never act on their own initiative. Unless there were a request from the industry, they would take no action. That must be borne in mind by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Bullard
In reply to that point, it is the industry which has been the prime mover in fixing the standards laid down already by the British Standards Institution. I think I have made it clear that I recognise very fully the wish of manufacturers to comply with those standards.
We have a saying that accidents will happen, and that is very true even in the best regulated household. I also think it is true that the word "safety "—and this is a safety Measure—is rather disreputable in the minds of some hon. Members, and perhaps rightly. Perhaps it is a survival of the day when Mr. Chamberlain arriving from Munich made that notable quotation:From this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.Safety is not always regarded as such a desirable flower. But I submit it is a matter of the degree to which the desire for safety is carried.
I should like to emphasise that this Bill does not involve excessive "snooping." Apart from the right of the local authority to carry out inspection and testing it does not involve that undesirable checking-up in the home which hon. Members are always so anxious to avoid. We have tried to keep the Bill simple; and it has the blessing of the manufacturers. I hope that the evidence I have given of the number of accidents and their seriousness and expense to the community will help to commend the Bill to the House.
I should like to acknowledge the very great assistance which has been given by the Home Office in the preparation of the Bill. I hope that when we come to have a word from the Government, their spokesman will be able to say that the Government will help the passage of the Bill into law. I commend the Bill to the House and hope it will be given a Second Reading.
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
beg to second the Motion.
I hope this Measure will be considered commendable in every part of the House, and an important milestone in social progress in so far as it promotes the prevention of accidents in our homes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), has 1802 emphasised the fact that there is now, and has been in the past few years, a developing danger due to the increase in the number of electric and gas fires in our homes. That is not surprising, because when one compares the amount of domestic coal and coke which is available today to the domestic consumer with what was available in pre-war years, it will readily become evident that the domestic consumer has to find an alternative to coke and coal to warm his home. That alternative is invariably an electric fire or gas fire.
As we heard last Friday, that is not particularly desirable from the point of view of coal conservation. But the fact remains that shortage of solid fuel since 1945 has led to a considerable increase in the number of electric and gas fires, with what I consider to be a commensurate increase in the rate of accidents.
It is very difficult to estimate how many gas and electric fires are installed in this country at present. I put the figure as something of the order of 5 million. I put the number of coal fires of one form or another installed in our homes at approximately 12 million. But what is evidently clear from any examination of the facts with regard to burns and scalds from domestic fires is that the incidence of accidents arising from gas and electric fires is substantially higher in relation to the numbers installed, than is the incidence of accidents from solid fuel fires in relation to their numbers.
Therefore, this Measure, although modest in scope and restricted in application to gas, electric and oil-burning domestic fires only, is nevertheless important because it should be regarded as the precursor of similar Measures which, in the next few years, I hope will extend similar safety regulations and provisions to all fires, of whatever character, that are installed in our homes.
I do not wish to weary the House by reciting statistics or figures similar to those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West. Suffice it to say, that we have made very little progress in home safety arrangements, so far as burns and scalds are concerned, since the First World War. I have been looking up the figures for 1914 and I find that there were approximately 2,000 accidents of a fatal character and 1803 something of the order of 60,000 accidents of a non-fatal character arising from burns and scalds. Those figures do not differ very markedly from the figures for burning and scalding accidents during any one of the last few years, especially if one takes account of the increase in population since 1914.
Many people who have discussed this Bill with me have said that, even if it makes its passage through both Houses of Parliament and on to the Statute Book, it cannot really lead to any serious diminution in the number of accidents, because it is not sufficiently comprehensive. My reply to that comment is that it is impossible for Parliament to legislate against every conceivable type of burning or scalding accident that can occur in the home.
The sort of accident that springs to mind is one reported only a few months ago, involving an oil-burning stove. The oil stove was set in the middle of a small room; an old lady was seated near it, in an armchair; a cat strayed into the room, jumped up on to the top of the oil stove, found that that part of it was red-hot, jumped off again very quickly, and in so doing turned the oil stove over, setting fire to the carpet and furnishings—and the old lady was burned to death. One can hardly legislate to prevent that sort of accident.
One can say that the base of the stove could be made stouter, or bigger or safer, so that the stove stands more firmly on its legs; but it is impossible to legislate comprehensively to prevent that sort of accident. The most common form of burning and scalding accidents, particularly to children, results from the hem of clothing catching fire.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)
The hon. Member says it is impossible to legislate against that kind of accident; but I think he would probably agree that it is possible to put a provision in a Bill of this character to make it less likely that heating devices should overturn.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Yes, but this Bill—if it finds its way on to the Statute Book—will designate the requirements and specifications for guards to the British Standards Institution, and I think it will be up to them in conjunction with the manufacturers, to evolve types of portable fires which are not easily overturned. 1804 In general, I think it is fair to say—at all events from my own experience—that most of the burning and scalding accidents in our homes arise from the hem of clothing catching fire. That kind of accident involves not only young children. In a moment of complete preoccupation a few weeks ago, when I was dictating a particularly warm note to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, I stood with my jacket raised, warming my rear portions in front of an electric fire in my office. The back of my jacket caught fire and it was badly burned. I put it on this morning to demonstrate to the hon. Member seated behind me how costly it may be to stray too near to an unguarded electric fire. As a grown-up I was easily able to cope with that anxious moment, but a child would not have been similarly placed and it may well be that in the case of a child's lighter cotton or flannel clothing serious burning or scalding, or a fatal accident, might have resulted.
§ Mr. Nabarro
As I think I have said two or three times, we are principally concerned with children. I think that a guard in front of an electric fire of that sort would abate that danger.
I want to turn for a moment to the criticism that has been made to me on so many occasions about this Measure, that it is not sufficiently comprehensive and that something should be done about trying to guard solid fuel fires, such as coal and coke fires. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, explained that, due to the enormous diversity in types of such fires and the great variation in the circumstances of their setting and installation, it would be nearly impossible to legislate for guarding them.
I agree, but there is an important development which is taking place in the United Kingdom today which we should consider. A few moments ago I said that I regard this Bill as a precursor and that I hope there will be similar measures in 1805 relation to other types of fire in the future. Last Friday, in this Chamber we were concerned with discussing fuel efficiency, and emphasis was laid upon the need for all households in the United Kingdom to install a modern approved solid fuel burning appliance instead of the old type of grate. That is being done rapidly.
It came out at Question time the other day that a million such modern appliances were installed last year, and it may well be—I hope it will—that in the course of a few years the majority of our old-fashioned grates will be replaced by modern appliances. But these modern appliances should be standardised appliances. Today there are 324 types of modern solid fuel burning appliances. Within a year or two I hope to see those 324 types reduced to about 24.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My hon. Friend says I am an optimist. I am referring to types. There will, of course, be different sizes for each type; but at present there are 324 types, which is far too many. A reduction in the number of types, and increasing standardisation of modern solid fuel burning appliances, will lead logically to the evolution of suitable guards in exactly the same way as we are seeking to evolve, in the next few months, suitable guards for electric and gas fires. I think it would not be unreasonable to say that in two or three years we can expect to see the introduction of measures to provide guards for solid fuel burning appliances in addition to electric and gas fires.
It is extraordinary that in this country, during the last 30 or 40 years, there has been a good deal of legislation dealing with the prevention of accidents in mines and factories, but very little legislation dealing with the prevention of accidents in the home. The result is that the whole position as between the three considerations—mines, factories and homes—has now become completely unbalanced. The legislation affecting home safety is thoroughly inadequate.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
Does not the hon. Member realise that in a factory one is employing men and one is responsible for their safety? Does he not remember that an Englishman's 1806 home is his castle, and he should be free to look after himself there.
§ Mr. Nabarro
He has three children. I have three children. I regard myself responsible, as a parent, for safeguarding the welfare and the safety of my children. I do not suggest for one moment that one can do it entirely satisfactorily by legislation; but neither can one safeguard against every hazard in a factory by legislation.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Would the hon Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) consider what good a castle is if it is burnt down?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Let me pursue the point I was making about factory safety legislation. A few years ago, it was a very common type of accident in a factory, arising from moving shafting, for women to catch their hair in the revolving shaft and to be scalped in a matter of a few seconds. A few years ago, it was a very common type of accident for men or women operating a power press which was inadequately guarded to get two or three fingers beneath the descending die and have them crushed. A few years ago, it was a very common type of accident, for instance, for a man machining wood on a circular saw to slip, or not using a "push-stick" or a riving knife and so to find that in the twinkling of an eye he had lost three or four fingers.
These accidents have been very substantially abated in the course of the last quarter of a century by two important factors—first, the legislation under the various Factories Acts, notably the Act of 1937; and secondly, the work of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories, which has led, through inspection and regulation and, in particular, through advising factory owners on the best means of guarding machinery, to prevention of accidents of this sort.
Similarly, in the mines, although there has not been a coal mining safety Act put on the Statute Book since 1911, none will deny that the constant attention to the application of the provisions of the Act and the safety supervision provided by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, and all the safety and welfare measures which 1807 have been developed during the last 20 or 30 years—have led to a great decline in pneumoconiosis, silicosis and byssinosis and various other forms of mining ailments and accidents. But what have we done in the home? Virtually nothing.
There are two major causes of accidents in the home. This Bill deals with only one of them, and in a moment I shall be very critical of the Home Office for not taking steps to deal with the other major cause of accidents—and I am glad to see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place. This Bill seeks to prevent burning or scalding accidents in the home, but the complementary cause of accidents in the home—electric shocks from faulty earthing or inadequate or incorrect wiring in the home—was last dealt with 15 years ago under the Electricity Supply Regulations, 1937.
As hon. Members know, at regular intervals in the last two years I have asked the Minister of Fuel and Power when he intends to bring those Regulations up to date, to amend them and to present them to the country in a form which is approximately related to the enormous development which has taken place since 1937, in the installation of domestic electrical appliances. That complementary feature on safety in the homes will, I hope, be dealt with in the next few months by the revision of those Regulations.
It has been said by many people with whom I have discussed the Bill that certain bodies in the country will oppose it and that householders, and notably women, may not give it their full support. I do not believe that is wholly true. I was interested to receive a report on a survey carried out by that admirable body, the Women's Advisory Council for Solid Fuel, who sent a team of questioners to a mining area on the North-East coast. They selected that area in which to visit the homes and question the householders because miners and miners' families are notoriously safety conscious and it was thought that they would provide the most reliable evidence for a survey of this sort.
The report is extremely interesting, and perhaps I may read an extract from it. It says:In these 33 households, eleven mothers were seriously worried by the inset gas fires, in two cases the fathers had put home-made 1808 guards over the fires, and in one case, for reasons of economy, the dining room fire was hardly ever used. Four households were anxious about the electric fires, and in eight cases the parents had dealt with the danger by keeping the electric power turned off at the main all the time, and in most cases said they could not afford to use it anyway. At the time when they were visited these houses were bitterly cold. Of the eight tenants who were not conscious of any danger in these fires, one was an elderly woman crippled with arthritis, who walked with a stick, and another was a blind man of 70. Both these people clearly needed fireguards but did not recognise the fact. Out of 33 houses, therefore, there were 24 tenants who found the gas and electric fires which were meant to be a source of comfort were in fact nothing of the sort, but were a cause of anxiety and expense. Only two had attempted to fix up some sort of guard themselves.I think this is an extremely valuable extract from an authoritative survey which shows that the use of electric and gas fires was in a measure being invalidated by fear of the consequences of accident through bums or though other causes. Of one thing I am certain, that the provision of guards for electric and gas fires over a period of years, not only in that area but elsewhere, would lead to fewer accidents, greater efficiency, and more continuity in the use of these household appliances.
In addition, I have made a number of local inquiries about support for this Bill and I find, quite contrary to the opinion expressed by some of my hon. Friends, that the overwhelming majority of women in the country appear to be strongly in support of the Bill. For instance, I hope I shall not be considered parochial if I refer to a part of my constituency, the borough of Kidderminster, which is not a very large town and which has a population of only 35,000. One petition sent to me by the Home Safety Committee carried 1,250 signatures, all collected from one small town. The Worcestershire Federation of Women's Institutes, representing dozens of branches in the whole county, are unanimously to support of this Measure.
It became evident from the letters published in "The Times" on 16th January, following the admirable article in that newspaper by Dr. Colebrook, that such organisations as the Gas Council, representing the whole of the nationalised gas industry, and the Coal Utilisation Council—which, as hon. Members know, is concerned with efficiency in coal burning and 1809 various other important matters—also express wholehearted support. The medical profession has come out strongly in support of the Bill, as witness an article published in the "Lancet" on 8th March, 1952. Perhaps I may be permitted to quote one paragraph from this article, which supports the point I am making:On March 14th, a Private Member's Bill to forbid the sale of such fires without an effective guard is coming up for a second reading. Dr. Colebrook has, of course, taken great interest in the launching of the Bill, which certainly deserves a favourable hearing. Should it be passed, compulsory guards, it is hoped, will be an integral part of these fires, and penalties will be imposed for offering unguarded fires for sale. The present shortage of metal may, it is feared, at first hinder the production of guarded fires and so lead to a fall in the numbers produced. But if national defence is to be the criterion, here is a form of defence on which we ought to have been spending money for years.I think that is a representative quotation of medical opinion in the country today, but the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton), who is a member of the medical profession, will doubtless comment on the matter later. We are one of the only countries in the world—the civilised world, at all events—which does not make a provision of the sort contained in the Bill. The guarding of electric and gas fires is compulsory in the United States of America; it is compulsory in Canada; it is compulsory in Sweden; it is compulsory in Denmark, Australia, France, Iceland and many more countries.
§ Mr. G. Williams
Can my hon. Friend give the number of deaths from this cause in America as compared with this country?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sorry that I did not take the trouble to try to obtain that figure, but I will do so at an early opportunity and send it to my hon. Friend—I hope, before the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Williams
I have it with me. This is from the article by Dr. Leonard Colebrook, which my hon. Friend has quoted. He says that in the United States during 1948, 55 people in every million died from accidents of this kind as compared with 14 in this country.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am not sure that one can draw a direct deduction from those figures. I should prefer to sit down and think about it.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Were those figures for the whole population of America or for electric fire users only?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Perhaps I can settle the point by going into the figures before the Committee stage and trying to form proper deductions from them.
I was going to refer to the paradox that recently a British electric appliances manufacturer was called upon to make a substantial number of electrical space-heating appliances for export to Iceland. A requirement of the contract was that guards should be fitted to them before they were exported yet we are not compelled to have such safety devices here.
The article from which I quoted in the "Lancet" refers to a possible shortage of metal for the purposes provided in the Bill because of the re-armament programme. I should, therefore, like to meet that comment and some criticism that has been made about using metal for guarding purposes by giving figures, which I have obtained specially for this debate, from the British Gas Industries' Association and the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers' Association. They show that in relation to the total output of steel and cast-iron in the United Kingdom, the amount of metal that would be needed for electric and gas fireguards is infinitesimal.
It is estimated that in 1953, which would probably be the first full year of operation of the Bill, 450,000 electric fires and about 160,000 gas fires might be put into circulation, making a total of 610,000 new gas and electric fires going into circulation during the whole of next year.
One ton of metal would make approximately 5,000 guards. It follows, therefore, that only approximately 102 tons of metal would be required in a full year to provide for all the gas and electric fires that go into circulation. That is an infinitesimal amount when compared with the national production of 16 million tons.
There is, however, another point to be borne in mind. When a metal guard for 1811 a gas or electric fire is made, it is generally pressed. It generally yields a large amount of scrap, because the character of the guard is lattice and a high percentage of the metal contained in the original sheet or bar steel is afterwards collected as scrap metal and goes back to be re-used. Therefore, out of the 102 tons that I calculate would be needed for providing 610,000 guards, certainly a high percentage would be recovered.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Not at all. I am merely seeking to demonstrate that 102 tons of steel might be consumed in the first instance for making the guards, but that a large part of it would ultimately be recovered.
I do not believe that there is any material, moral or social consideration which should prevent us from giving a Second Reading to the Bill today. I hope that the Bill will presage and be a precursor of other similar home safety measures: first, to extend guarding to all types of fires, including solid fuel burning fires when they become sufficiently standardised for that to be done; and at a later date to be made the complementary Measure for abating the other serious type of accident in the home to which I have referred—that is, accidents arising from electrical current such as "shorts," faulty earthing, faulty wiring and things of that kind. I enjoin the House to give undivided support to this Bill.
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am very glad to have the opportunity today to support the Bill. The House will agree that the tragedies which have occurred from burning have been deplorable. Quite recently, not far from where I live, a spark from a fire had presumably come out on to the floor and set the house ablaze while the mother of the family was out making her purchases. She came back to find the house burning and her two children burnt to death. I agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), who 1812 introduced the Bill, that it is not only from electric fires that these accidents occur and it is necessary for something to be done to try to prevent the tragic results of burning.
Nearly every motorcar and every mechanical instrument nowadays is developed with the idea of being foolproof, which shows, therefore, that we cannot rely, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) suggests, on common sense. People are careless—we all are at times—and therefore it is better to safeguard ourselves even against our own carelessness.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I was not trying to limit common sense to things of that kind. I was referring to an adult who had burnt himself in front of a fire in a way that looked to have been quite unavoidable. I am not suggesting that common sense can prevent every accident.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That illustrates that even the best of us, including people who know the danger from fires, can get burned. Therefore, how can we blame the helpless child who does not have even our knowledge and understanding of the dangers of fire?
I do not wish to repeat the excellent arguments which have been put forward by the mover and seconder of the Motion. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Kidderminster especially for the marvellous array of statistics and figures which he has produced, as he usually does, in support of the Bill.
My own feeling is that the Bill does not go far enough. It deals only with one very small category of accidents that arise from electric and gas fires which are not provided with guards. If it were possible for the Bill to demand that electric fires and similar apparatus should be certified as being relatively free from danger, that they had at least been subjected to some sort of standard and manufacturers could offer them as being relatively safe for people to use, this would give to householders an idea of the type of fire to choose when making their purchases.
I am not sure that legislation is altogether necessary to do that. Even under the Bill I see no reason why manufacturers, when displaying fires for sale, 1813 should not attach, say, a green label stating: "We have submitted this type of fire to the appropriate authorities, who certify that so far as possible it is free from danger or risk in its construction."
§ Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
I should have thought it was quite clear that if a fire was to meet the needs of the Bill, it would not be necessary to put a marking on it. It would be obvious to the purchaser that it would meet requirements and would be perfectly safe.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is obvious that there is a guard on it, but it is not obvious that the construction of the fire renders it free from other dangers which were indicated by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, by which the wiring itself or the internal construction might cause shorts producing sparks which set the carpets and furniture ablaze. Therefore, the construction of the fire is an important factor, and the type of fire should be certified as being free from that danger.
When I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, I paid a great deal of attention to research and inspection establishments, and I was interested to discover that the chief mechanical engineer's department of inspection carried out quite a lot of work for the manufacturers of gas fires, gas cookers and electric fires. The manufacturers send their products in and the department are prepared to carry out an examination and give their opinion on whether or not they are free from danger.
These people do this work voluntarily, so that there is already a State Department with all the equipment for making these technical tests, and I think that could be carried to the point of having gas fires, gas cookers and other similar apparatus bear some indication that a reputable authority has examined them and certifies them as being relatively safe. I realise that the manufacturer cannot give a guarantee that his article is absolutely safe, otherwise he risks incurring great liability in the courts. Nevertheless, I think that could be got over, and I should be relieved if some such guarantee could be given.
During my early days in the House I carried on a campaign for a long time about the multitude of plugs and fittings 1814 for electric fires, which I am sure are frequently the cause of accidents. I myself have frequently tried to get plugs adjusted. Where there are half a dozen different plugs in the house they are often of different sizes; plugs do not fit exactly, and an ordinary family is involved in enormous expense in buying plugs when they move into an old house and find different fittings. I am glad to say that since then steps have been taken in securing standardisation, and there has been commendable progress in achieving the standardisation of the size of plugs and sockets.
§ Mr. Nabarro
There may have been commendable progress in standardising the specifications of electrical fittings, but what have fallen into desuetude are the requirements of the installation and maintenance of such fittings, which have not been attended to for 15 years. It is the maintenance and installation factors which are the principal causes of many accidents.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am only dealing with the very simple case of people who in their own homes have to take the wires off old plugs and put them on new plugs to try to fit them into the old sockets. The situation is sometimes fantastic. The slightest spark might set alight inflammable material nearby, and set fire to the house itself. I think that progress has been made. At least my own experience is that it is now easier to get the same plugs as I may have bought yesterday than it was many years ago, when it depended upon the shop one went to whether or not the plug would fit the socket.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That is true. In addition, there is the other danger that, in adopting a standard, electrical engineers look for perfection, and when there is perfection the plug becomes such a price that nobody can afford to buy it, and because nobody can afford to buy it people must improvise and do all sorts of things in the house that they would not otherwise do.
For instance, I was very attracted by a plug which had a fuse in it; but in many cases even a three-pin plug, while 1815 extremely safe, is sold at a price beyond the reach of many house-holders who want a plug for a small fire. In the consideration that is given to these matters, both by those concerned with the Bill and by the manufacturers, I hope that, in addition to looking for the perfect instrument for safety, they will also look for an instrument for safety which can be made available to the majority of the people, and not one which can be bought only by people with very large incomes.
There is a great variety of guards, but some of them are almost useless. Many guards for open fires are designed to prevent children touching the fires, but what they do not do is prevent sparks coming through, because the mesh is so wide that sparks come through them, as in the case I described earlier, and set fire to the house when perhaps the mother is out. Sometimes these guards are a snare and an illusion, because people think they are safe when they are not safe. Guards should be designed so that they not only prevent children touching the fire but also prevent sparks from some of the lively coal we occasionally buy coming out and setting fire to carpets, and thereby to the house.
There are three contributory factors to the danger from fires in the home. First, there is the construction of the fire itself, and I hope that something can be done under this Bill to bring home to manufacturers the necessity to have approval of the construction of their fires. Secondly, there is the wiring of fires, and connected with that is the third factor, the plugs themselves.
Another thing which I suggest is that the Home Office might bring to the attention of the Ministry of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland the necessity to have tuition in the schools on how to deal with these mechanical appliances. Many girls who become mothers and have to look after a home buy these things without the slightest idea of their construction or how they work. While the working of electricity is in its application very complicated, the principles of a current flowing are relatively simple. I was probably fortunate in my own school in being taught electricity, but although that is a long time ago I have never forgotten those principles, and they 1816 carried me through my experience in industry, and later on in the science room.
I think that girls and young boys ought to have the opportunity of obtaining some knowledge of how to deal with these things in the home. If they are taught that at school, at a young age, when they go into their homes later in life they will have an idea of how to safeguard their own lives and the lives of their children in the working of electrical appliances.
I suggest that the Home Office should also get in touch with the Ministry of Supply to ascertain their views on the possibility of linking up the existing facilities—because we do not want to waste money by duplicating facilities—in inspection departments for approving the relative safety of fires. I suggest to manufacturers that they do not wait until there is legislation before making quite clear to the public which of the fires they are putting on the market they consider safe.
A housewife who has to choose between an electric fire which is marked "This appliance is relatively safe" and a cheaper article which has no mark will spend a few extra shillings buying the one that she knows is certified as relatively safe. During the campaign for pure milk I was of opinion that the best way to drive bad milk off the market was to have first-class milk, second-class milk and third-class milk, because the general tendency of our people to want the best would soon ensure that only first-class milk was brought, and thus eventually eliminate tuberculosis from our cattle and get all pure milk on the market. If that is done with these appliances, if they can be marked as first-class fires, second-class fires, and so on, down to those which do not earn a certificate, we shall find that by people buying only the best we shall eliminate these dangers.
I am very glad to have this opportunity of adding my support to the Bill. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading and make such improvements in Committee as seem desirable.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I am indeed glad to have this opportunity of supporting this very important Bill. It is important because it focuses attention upon home accidents, 1817 which we have hitherto failed to do to any great extent in this country. I took up this matter early last year, when I enquired what could be done about it, and at that time we were awaiting the results of the British Standards Institution. My interest in this subject was aroused because I happen to have the burns unit for the north-west region within the hospital group of which I am chairman, and because of that I am very familiar with the type of case which we get in that unit.
It is true that quite 67 per cent. of home accidents are associated with heating appliances, but what we must realise—and I am afraid that a little reiteration cannot be helped—is the fact that we are for many reasons using many more of these appliances than we used to do. Therefore, it is surely logical that we should make an attempt to have these appliances made in such a way as to cause the least harm to the users. It is quite true that those we export must carry a guard of good construction.
§ Mrs. Hill
I was talking about exports, and I was coming to the point, mentioned by an hon. Member opposite, regarding the marking of these fires, as is done in Sweden. There these fires must carry a mark to show that they have been approved.
It is perfectly true that in these days our doctors and surgeons are wonderfully skilled in saving the lives of patients who have been burned. A few years ago many more of the severely burned died than is the case today, owing to the skill of modern science, but while our plastic surgeons can do wonderful things, it is not always possible for them wholly to repair a person who has been severely burned.
I have here a photograph of a child who was in the unit to which I have referred only a short time ago. It is the photograph of a young child, who, thinking that the bar of the electric fire looked very pretty because it was a nice bright red, touched it. As a result, that young child will go through life, despite all the surgeon's skill, with two stumps instead of two hands, because there was no guard on that fire.
1818 We are asking today that guards should be provided as a result of which such incidents could be avoided. Old people, too, very often suffer severe burns because of their easy contact with unguarded fires. It may be said that we should all guard our fires, but throughout the years there have been long fights before we could get adequate protection against the danger of other appliances. Therefore, I hope that the House will be sympathetic towards this Bill. Many people who have been burned go through life with a severe inferiority complex because it is not always possible to repair people who have been burned so that their injuries are not noticeable to other people.
Mention has also been made of the very lengthy stay of these cases in hospital, which is a very costly business. The cost of the initial stay in hospital has risen from £600 in 1947, when Dr. Colebrook began to keep statistics, to £800 today. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is much better to try to avoid these cases than that people should suffer in mind and body, and there should be this colossal expense. I sincerely hope, therefore, that the House will approve this Measure.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
When I found that I was fortunate in the Ballot, my thoughts immediately turned to the 6 danger of burns and scalds, and I rang up Dr. Colebrook, whose valuable research work in this connection has been mentioned more than once this morning. But I found that I had been forestalled, and I was not a hit jealous, because the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) had secured a much better place in the Ballot than I had, and I hope his Bill will have a Second Reading today.
I turned my attention to another matter of equal importance to health, but mental rather than physical health. The Bill relating to that also comes up for Second Reading today, and I hope it may be reached.
Very early in my life as a doctor, my attention was turned to burns and scalds. One of my first patients when I was a very raw house surgeon in hospital was such a case. I should like to relate to the House the tragic circumstances.
1819 It was Christmas Eve, two children, a little boy of six and his younger sister, had been put to bed in a room in which a fire was just going out. The small boy could not sleep; he was, no doubt, thinking of the Christmas presents he hoped to receive on the morrow and remembering all the stories he had heard of Father Christmas. He heard a noise, but it ceased, and he suspected that Father Christmas might have got stuck on his way down the chimney, so he bent down to look up the chimney, and his flannelette nightshirt caught alight and he was very extensively burned. We had him in hospital for several months, and he had to be skin grafted several times. When he finally left hospital, the poor little fellow had his right arm more or less fixed in a partially bent position and he could not fully straighten it.
That sad case taught me three things about burns. First, how horribly painful they can be. The daily dressing was an agony for this small boy. It also taught me, as the hon. Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) has mentioned, what a long time these cases spend in hospital. It taught me also how very incomplete may be the recovery from such burns as those.
Fortunately, doctors are able to do much more today than used to be the case. They are able to a very large extent to control infections such as streptococci and staphylococci in burns, but burns are still very painful and very serious. Patients must remain a long time in hospital, and for that reason burns are a great expense to the nation.
The Bill deals with gas, electric and oil fires, and not with ordinary coal fires. The reason is that it is infinitely more difficult to fix to a coal fire an efficient guard which cannot easily be removed. We ought to be thankful that more and more gas and electric fires are being used, because they are so much easier to protect. They are also more efficient in heating. They can be turned on and off much more readily and should be more economical.
§ Mr. Nabarro
While electric fires may be very convenient in many respects, I am sure that the hon. Member will recognise that for continuous space heating they are the most wasteful possible means 1820 of using coal. I should not like him to imagine that the electric fire is more efficient for continuous space heating than the modern solid fuel fire.
§ Mr. Hastings
My point is that gas and electric fires are more convenient. People like the hon. Member and myself, when we get home after an all-night Sitting, do not expect an ordinary coal fire to be burning, but we can quickly turn on a gas or an electric fire and get a little warmth before going to bed. I agree that such fires are not economical in the ordinary sense, but they are certainly more convenient.
I have some gas fires on which I had put guards when my children were young, and I have noticed that the guards have preserved the elements because they are not injured during the course of the brushing and cleaning of the room. The money saved on elements has paid for the guards again and again.
I regard the electric panel fire, which is higher than the ordinary electric fire and has no chimney, as the most dangerous type, and it is most important that it should always be fitted with a guard. Children soon learn to associate a fire with a chimney and a chimney piece with danger, but they are much less likely thus to associate an electric panel fire. Some of the worst cases of burns among children and adults have been caused by electric panel fires.
We must also bear in mind the old people. The dresses of old ladies may get blown into a fire if there is not a guard. The danger of burns from electric and gas fires is great not only in the case of children, as one would expect, but also in the case of old people.
The objection has been raised that wire fireguards detract from the efficiency of a fire by absorbing heat. Presuming that the guards are of metal, which readily conducts heat, it is difficult to understand that. It may be that a small quantity of heat from an electric or gas fire may be changed from one type of radiation to another, but it seems to me that all the heat of the fire must in one way or another warm the house whether a guard is used or not. In any case, a fireguard has a very small surface to absorb heat.
This is a very desirable Bill, and I hope that all hon. Members will unite in giving it a Second Reading.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
My hon. Friends who have brought forward the Bill this morning are inspired by excellent motives, and I know that their great endeavour is to save the lives of children and old people and to prevent damage to buildings. I support them in all that they wish to do to bring about this extra safety, but I wonder if we are doing it in the right way.
By all means let fireguards be available and let us encourage people to use them in nurseries and in places where elderly people and others might be in danger, but could we not do it by means of a big publicity campaign? No doubt the debate will have a marked effect in that direction.
I have a large wood fire at home in cold weather. It is desirable to have a fire screen in front of it in case the sparks fly over the floor. If I leave the room, I take the precaution of putting the screen in front of the fire, but when I sit in front of the fire to get warm I take the screen away, and I do not want to be compelled to have a screen there all the time. I know that is not in the Bill, but many hon. Members must have used electric fires without guards for years and have never endangered themselves.
§ Mr. Williams
I think hon. Members are able to look after themselves in that matter. Naturally, one has guards on fires when children are present, and I am all for encouraging them, but surely we do not wish to compel everybody to have a guard on every fire.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) told us a ghastly story about a child who put her hand on a fire and suffered very severe harm. Surely all parents know the dangers of open electric fires. We may not understand electric wiring, which may very well be dangerous, and legislation to ensure safe electric installations is desirable; but we must credit the public with a certain amount of sense and responsibility in looking after their own children. If a child puts its hand upon an open fire, surely the parent is to blame.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Will my hon. Friend tell me whether it is easy or difficult to fit a 1822 guard to a gas or electric fire to protect the children? My own experience is that it is an extremely difficult thing to do with the majority of the gas and electric fires that are on the market today.
§ Mr. Williams
Some progress has been made in that direction recently. The Government started making inquiries three or four years ago, and the British Standards Institution, together with the Government, have found guards which are suitable for all these fires. They will be needed if this Bill passes, and at the present time a great deal of improvement has been made.
Many of us hold the same view that it is very desirable to have guards on fires where necessary to avoid accidents, but we do not want to compel people to have them unnecessarily. It is very desirable when we are doing a bit of painting to the outside of our houses that we should have a safe ladder. We are not going to suggest, however, that legislation should be brought in to see that all ladders are safe. Surely it is our own responsibility to do that. It is also our responsibility to see that our staircases are well lighted so that we do not fall down and break our legs. We do not want legislation for that. It may be unwise to ride a horse which is not safe or to put one's children on a pony which is not safe, but Parliament cannot legislate for all these eventualities and, I believe, it is unnecessary to do so.
It is quite a different thing in a factory where men are employed and where the employer is responsible for their safety. Certain rules and standards must be laid down for the safety of those who are employed.
§ Mr. Williams
That is what I am saying. Leave it to them and their own common sense to protect their children.
§ Mr. Williams
No, that is my argument again. In the factory the employer is responsible for the safety of other people, and therefore the Regulations are necessary. In the home we can surely leave it to the common sense of the parents 1823 to see that their own children are protected. It may be desirable in public buildings to see that the fires used there are properly guarded, but of course for that purpose Regulations can be laid down by the authorities concerned.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Member lays a great deal of stress on the parents. What is to happen to the children where the parents have no common sense or do not understand these things or are careless? Have the community no right to try and safeguard these children?
§ Mr. Williams
I am coming to that in a minute if the right hon. Gentleman will permit me. I have my own ideas about publicity of these matters, to which I will come in one moment.
This is a Bill with a very good motive, but we do not want to lose our heads at this time owing to terrible stories about accidents which are happening. Disasters happen everywhere and we cannot legislate against them all. Hon. Members may not be aware that in 1947 the Home Office appointed a standing departmental committee to go into the question of the prevention of accidents in the home. They have done a great deal of very excellent work, but having done that they have not felt justified in recommending to the Government that legislation should be brought in on this subject. I hope my hon. Friend the Joint under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will tell us if the opinion of the authorities has now been altered.
A great deal has been done to inform the public of the dangers of this matter, and, in conjunction with the British Standards Institution, the Government have produced a specification for a suitable guard not only for existing fires but also for fires when they are made. They have encouraged this production and have done exactly the same for gas fires as they have done for electric fires. This is all to the good. Surely it would be better to press on with this and speed it up.
Now I come to the intervention of the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). Surely the Women's Institutes could do a great deal in this matter—there are branches throughout the length and breadth of the land—by 1824 drawing attention to the dangers that arise from these fires. The Town Women's Guild can also help, and the publicity that this debate will give to the subject will be of a great advantage. Surely with all these aids we can try and educate the people to realise the dangers that are lurking behind unguarded fires.
§ Mr. Bullard
My hon. Friend has mentioned the Women's Institutes. I am sure they will do exactly what he is saying, but I hope he is also aware that the Women's Institutes are also extremely keen on this Bill. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with me that they have had quite a considerable number of letters from the Women's Institutes who, having considered this matter, are supporting the Bill wholeheartedly.
§ Mr. Williams
I am sure the Women's Institutes will do all that they can, but I am suggesting we can achieve the objectives of this Bill in a better way.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing
My hon. Friend is laying great stress on the value of publicity with the object of reducing the number of accidents. Would he agree with me that an immense amount of publicity has been undertaken in connection with road accidents—there has been a vast campaign over many years—and has it really had the desired results in reducing the number of accidents? Surely the evidence is all the other way.
§ Mr. Williams
I hope it is having the desired effect. The number of accidents is very grave and very great, but I believe that had it not been for the publicity campaign the number would have been even greater.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough) rose—
§ Mr. Williams
I have already given way six or seven times. I must get on with what I want to say.
Clause 2 empowers local authority officers to inspect. It is quite true it does not authorise them to go into the homes of the people but only into shops. Surely my Tory friends do not want any more snoopers, and if there is compulsion there must be supervision. Supervision costs money and also means what are now termed "snoopers." It seems to me 1825 against all Tory principles to make such heavy weather of this admirable motive by bringing in compulsory legislation to deal with it.
Clause 5 might, in my opinion, require that all old fires should be fitted with these guards. I do not think that that is the intention of the sponsor of this Bill, but reading it through it looks to me as if it might be possible to insist that all old fires at present in people's houses should be fitted.
§ Mr. Williams
I will look at it as soon as I sit down.
I have a great deal of sympathy with this Bill and will do all in my power to encourage people to be more careful. Having done that, I think it would be a more British attitude and a more broadminded outlook to trust the people and give them some credit for a sense of responsibility in their own homes.
There is just one other side to this Bill, and that is a more material one. It has already been mentioned by several hon. Members, and it is that more fuel may be used by fitting these fireguards. I think that is so. I know when I sit at home and put the fireguard in front of my own wood fire it probably reduces the heat by 25 per cent. Hon. Members will say that it forces the heat up the chimney. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said that with an electric fire the heat must go somewhere. Experts will tell us that heat is lost to the extent of at least 5 per cent.
To carry the matter to an absurdity, if we put a box over the whole fire we should undoubtedly lose a great deal of heat. Experts tell me that with guards it would be only a small amount of heat; but it is at least 5 per cent. If we are to lose 5 per cent. from all electric fires it will work out at a very great deal of coal being converted into electricity at this critical period in the country's history.
§ Mr. Hastings
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the box of which he speaks would be a non-conductor while the wires of the fireguard are conductors of heat and distribute in a different form the heat they receive?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman admitted in his speech that there was some loss of heat. I have put it at 5 per cent., but he may put it at 4 per cent.
The other point is that fireguards use up steel. We have been told that it will require about half a pound of steel for each stove, but my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said that it would mean probably 120 tons in a year. I am not going to suggest that we should risk the lives of children by being stingy over steel, but it is a fact that we want steel more than anything else in the whole world at the present time. For this reason, surely, we are being foolish in insisting that hon. Members and everyone else shall be compelled to have guards over their fires. Surely they can look after themselves, as they have always done in the past. It would be wiser to encourage people to use guards when necessary, rather than to make the thing compulsory.
This is a good Bill, and I am behind all its objects, but is this the right time to pass it, when we are short of material and when it will use up more fuel, even though the amount of fuel will be only small? Let us save lives and prevent damage; but do it by proproganda. If we can achieve the object of the Bill in other ways than by making it compulsory, for goodness' sake let us do so. I hope hon. Gentlemen will consider that there are other ways of doing it than by passing the Bill.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I join those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) upon introducing what must be his first Bill. I have introduced several Bills myself, and they have all found their way to the Statute Book. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be even more successful than I, since one or two of my Bills are now in process of being undermined. My successor at the Ministry of Health is proposing to amend one of them, and the new President of the Board of Trade is trying to undermine another. My Bills reached the Statute Book because they had the support of a majority party.
The present Bill will reach the Statute Book because it has the support of hon. Members on all sides of the House. Its fate is secure. It will go on to the Statute 1827 Book and will remain there, and that is why I intend to say little about what was said by the hon. Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. G. Williams).
I do not attempt to controvert his argument at every point because I think the answers will come more effectively from his own colleagues on that side of the House. When I was Minister of Health, Dr. Colebrook, who used to be the director of the Medical Research Council's burns unit at the Birmingham Accident Hospital, came to see me, with his wife, and explained to me the necessity for a Bill such as this. They discussed at some length the injury which is being done daily by accidents in burning and scalding. I promised then to help, if they were successful in finding an hon. Member to introduce a Private Member's Bill on the subject. My colleagues in the last Government had no opportunity of considering a Bill of this kind, but if I had had an opportunity of submitting one to them I am sure that they would have given it their entire support.
It was suggested by the hon. Member for Tonbridge that because the Home Office must have been aware for many years of the dangers of home accidents of this kind, and because a committee associated with that Department had been considering certain matters, they would have promoted a Bill like this if they had thought the subject was serious enough, and some Home Secretary would have introduced the Bill. As we know, that argument is not really valid. We cannot deduce from the fact that no Home Secretary has introduced a Bill of this kind that the Bill is not necessary. There are far too many things which Ministers would like to do in every Government which they never get a chance to do because the Government time-table is filled up with more important, more significant and wider-reaching Measures.
§ Mr. G. Williams
I did not suggest that the Government were doing wrong by not bringing in legislation. I know that they cannot find the time. I said that the committee of inquiry had never recommended that legislation should be brought in, which is a very different matter.
§ Mr. Marquand
I hope that I am not misrepresenting the hon. Gentleman. I 1828 still assert that a Bill of this type is ideal as a Private Member's Bill. I am glad that my name appears on the back of it, in company with the names of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I am particularly interested in the Bill because I was for a time Minister of Health. If Ministers have mottoes, then the motto for the Minister of Health should be, in large letters, "Prevention is better than cure." That is the burden of the annual reports of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministers of Health and Education. Prevention of disease is a difficult and complicated matter; the prevention of accidents is far easier. There are too many beds in our hospitals occupied by victims of unavoidable and preventible accident. Those beds could be made available for the victims of diseases for which we have no methods of prevention.
Burns especially take a very long time to be treated. All who have seen anything of the treatment of victims of burning accidents—even if we have not visited hospitals we may have seen the appalling photographs which have recently been on exhibition in another part of the House—must feel that we ought to do everything in our power to ensure that fewer such accidents take place. We can comfort ourselves with the thought that in so far as we are successful there will be more room in the hospitals for the victims of tuberculosis, cancer, and other diseases which require hospital treatment and for which there are still long waiting-lists.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said, there have been great advances in the treatment of burns, but far too often, even if the victim's life is saved, the results endure throughout life and affect the victim's daily life in a great variety of ways. True, the Bill is only one of many ways of attempting to prevent the increase of accidents by burning.
Doctor and Mrs. Colebrook have not spent their time entirely in advocating compulsory legislation for the safeguarding of electric, gas and other fires. They have been doing most valuable research into the other aspects of the prevention of burning; for example, research into the types of clothing most liable to be affected and into methods of fireproofing clothing which I am sure will be valuable as time goes on.
1829 We do not claim that this Bill is infallible and that it is the only means of preventing accidents by burning. We do not claim that it will prevent all accidents by burning. We recognise the value of education. Of course there should be publicity campaigns. Let Women's Institutes, Women's Co-operative Guilds or any other organisations of citizens join in them. Let wider publicity be given to all the findings of Dr. and Mrs. Colebrook about the types of material which are most liable to be in-flammable. By all means have this education, but at this time I feel convinced that this Bill, which provides legislation for the compulsory safeguarding of the most dangerous fires, is essential.
Similar reforms to those proposed by this Bill have been opposed again and again in the past in the name of freedom of contract. When the original legislation for protecting children in factories from working long hours was introduced it was opposed on those very grounds, namely, that it was an unwarrantable interference with the right of the parents to protect their children from exploitation by greedy employers. It was also opposed on the grounds that it was not the opportune time to do it, that we ought to wait until competition from some foreign country grew less severe. Fortunately the British people listened to the voices of Lord Shaftesbury and other reformers and not to the voices of timid people, who always seem to feel that it is not the time to make a great and important social advance.
The chief victims of burning are not people who are able to protect themselves. They are not people whom we can blame when the accident is over for not having had sufficient common sense to take reasonable precautions. They are children and old people. I have been looking at some of the examples collected by Dr. Colebrook during his investigations. I picked up some of them entirely at random.
I shall not take long in letting the House consider the type of victim who suffers from the kind of accident which we now seek to prevent if possible. I shall not read surnames, I shall only read the Christian names on the papers before me, which represent the report of investigations into the cause of various accidents coming into the hospitals: 1830Janet, aged four. Sleeve of nightdress caught fire on paraffin stove used to heat baby's food.One hon. Member said he had three children. So, as it happens, have I, and it seems to be a favourite number with other hon. Members here this morning. Anyone who has had children with a difference of a few years in their ages must know very well how difficult it is for the mother, when attending to one small child, to keep control over the other small child. He is off and into everything. He has pulled over the coal bucket before she knows what is happening because she is attending to the other child. That is a typical accident from which no amount of common sense or caution or prudence on the part of the mother could protect the child.
I continue my quotations.Anne, aged four… Electric fire caught nightdress. Attached is the piece of nightdress which has been investigated to consider why it caught fire.Janet, aged eight. Nightdress caught fire from unguarded electric fire. Area of body burned approximately 47 per cent. Winceyette cotton.Frances, aged 11. Nightdress touched un-guarded electric fire. Eight per cent. superficial and 2 per cent. deep. Cotton print nightdress.Pamela, aged two. Can only assume child stood too near gas stove while dressed only in nightdress made of enclosed material. Area of body burned 75 per cent. Fatal.Rita, aged two. Lighted paper at gas stove. Seven per cent. burned, fortunately non-fatal. Viscose rayon.From this random selection there came one example of a person who was not a child:Mrs. W. aged 46. Gas fire ignited garment, probably nightdress. Because the burning was so severe the accident was fatal. It is hardly known what exactly did happen.After all these children had died or been severely injured, perhaps maimed for life, did their parents turn to one another and say, "Well, thank God no snooper had come in to restrict our freedom in protecting our child. Thank heaven the responsibility was entirely ours and that she died in our castle, our home, into which nobody had been allowed to penetrate and to interfere with our liberty of judgment"?
One only has to look at examples of that kind and to consider what has really 1831 happened, to consider how well-nigh impossible it often is for parents with the best will in the world to protect their children from these dreadful accidents, to hope that this House this afternoon will give the Bill its unqualified and unanimous support. If there are some defects in it, they can be corrected during the Committee stage, but I hope there will be no doubt whatever about this Bill going through.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) began his remarks on a rather rougher note than has been prevailing in the House. He spoke of his own legislation being undermined, but I want to remind him of an occasion when he was at this Box and I was opposite—indeed, it was the first time I appeared at that Box—when he had my support from a similar threat coming from behind him. However, this afternoon we are unanimous in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) on introducing this Bill. I take some personal pleasure in this matter because, in a previous incarnation in this House, my hon. Friend was one of my constituents.
There are precedents for a Measure such as this, to which various hon. Members have referred, in particular the factory and entertainments legislation dealing with similar problems in slightly different circumstances. I think the House would wish me to say something generally about the figures regarding accidents in this connection. It has been estimated that more people die from accidents in their own homes in this country than are killed on the roads. That is a somewhat astonishing state of affairs.
Altogether 62 per cent. of domestic accidents concern young children and old people. More children under 15 years of age die from domestic accidents than from any single infectious disease. I have referred to domestic accidents generally. Death from burning causes only a fraction of those. I cannot give the House detailed figures of burning accidents, but it is right to say something of the steps which have been taken to reduce this 1832 serious toll. They are steps which concern all domestic accidents, including those particularly aimed at by this Measure.
First, there is the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said, that Act inflicts a penalty only after the accidents have occurred.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The Act of 1933. That does not appear to be the best way to prevent these accidents. We want to prevent them occurring at all. But the House must remember that that Act still remains in force and will still cover, to some extent at all events, accidents which may occur through open coal fires.
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when he was Home Secretary, set up the Standing Inter-Departmental Committee on Accidents in the Home. That was in 1947. That Committee has done a great deal of work. Its aim has been twofold. First, it has aimed at encouraging the development of safety design. Secondly, it has aimed at calling the attention of people who use this apparatus in their homes to the simple precautions which are necessary, but unfortunately frequently neglected, if accidents are to be avoided.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. G. Williams) made the point that the Standing Inter-Departmental Committee had not taken the initiative in recommending this Measure. In fact, they were engaged in collecting accident statistics and in examining specifications recently issued by the British Standards Institution. The matter was fairly far advanced. When this Bill was introduced they were the first to welcome it and to make a number of suggestions which, I think, were communicated to the promoters and incorporated in the Bill. It is not in any way correct to suggest that the Inter-Departmental Committee is otherwise than whole-heartedly in support of this Bill.
The next step taken with a view to reducing the toll of accidents has been the application of the British Standards Institution specifications, which have been referred to so warmly on both sides of 1833 the House. It is true that those specifications have no statutory sanction, but I think that it will be agreed that it is much better not to try to give them statutory sanction, if only because there would be grave difficulty in doing so, as that would either limit their effect to what was provided for at any particular moment by the regulations concerned or enable a body outside Parliament, in effect, to amend the law of the country.
I should mention that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents have also done a great deal of work to improve the position, especially through the Home Safety Committees set up under their aegis.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Does that mean that the Home Office would issue its own regulations independently? In order to implement this Bill, some regulations must be isued from somewhere.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
As a result of the various measures, the yearly rate of fatal domestic accidents has moved in this way: whereas in 1943 there were 6,000 fatal accidents a year, by 1947, when the right hon. Gentleman set up the Committee, the number had increased to 6,800. But in 1949, which is the last year for which statistics are available, the number had fallen to 5,500. It appears that there has been a definite improvement. I think that that provides some answer to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster that no action has been taken. The Home Office are continually concerned with this problem. We shall do all we can to reduce these accidents.
There is one point which should be mentioned. As legislation exists under which the Minister of Labour is responsible for safety and welfare in factories, it appears right that the standards which are eventually prescribed should not apply to fires or heaters, designed for or used in factories, which might eventually be covered by factory legislation. Therefore, I welcome the provision in Clause 5 (3) to authorise the sale or letting of any 1834 appliances for such purposes as may be specified by the Regulations though generally it should be possible to frame the Regulations so that they do not apply to any but the domestic type of fire.
This general power will make it possible to ensure that the Bill does not overlap factory legislation. I think I should now tell the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) that if this Bill should become law the Home Secretary will be most willing to undertake the making of regulations as contemplated by it. I go further and answer the point which has been made by saying that he would have consultations with the British Electricity Authority and the Gas Council before any such regulations were made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster suggested that the regulations might go further than proposed by the Bill and deal with other matters. I think it is generally agreed that there would be very great difficulty about attempting to deal in Regulations with such matters as stability and questions of that kind. The Bill, as has been generally acknowledged, is not intended to be entirely comprehensive. It deals with only one aspect of the matter, and I think it would be unfortunate if we were perhaps seriously to delay dealing with that aspect whilst trying to make it a completely perfect Measure, something which would require much deeper consideration and involve a certain amount of controversy.
The right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) put forward some interesting suggestions in the course of his speech, in particular that apparatus could perhaps be sold with a certificate of safety. I think that is outside the purview of this Bill, but I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to that matter. The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that tuition should be given in the schools on electrical appliances. I suppose he had in mind that it would be convenient if those who were going to use electrical cooking apparatus and such like could, if necessary, change a plug. My own feeling on that matter is that a little learning can be a dangerous thing, and I am not certain that the suggestion would necessarily lead to a diminution of accidents. However, I will undertake to draw 1835 that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
May I assure the hon. Gentleman on that point? Schools already not only give elementary but really careful instruction in the use of electrical appliances.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and I am certain that if education is given in this connection it must be very thorough, because, as I have said, a little knowledge might be dangerous.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge said that he objected, not to the motives behind the Bill, but to the principle incorporated in it because he thought that people should look after their own children. I think he has rather missed the point of the Bill itself. The Bill does not seek to put pressure on parents, or, indeed, on householders. What it seeks to ensure is that things of this nature which people buy in future will be of a kind that are not dangerous. I note that my hon. Friend has not sought anywhere in the Bill to compel householders to alter the apparatus they already have or to give power to any official to enter their houses in order to see the nature of the apparatus they are using.
The purpose of the Bill, as I understand it, is merely to ensure that a proper standard of apparatus is made available for sale, and is in no sense of the word an attempt to interfere with the lives of people in their own homes. The Bill appears to us to be a sensible and proper Measure. We will certainly do what we can to facilitate its passage through this House, and, should it become law, to see that it is made as effective as possible. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
This Bill marks, I hope, the end of one part of a great campaign in which years of devoted research and propaganda have been carried out by Dr. Colebrook and his wife. I think it fitting that a tribute should be paid to this lady and gentleman for the tremendous patience, energy and enthusiasm they have shown in this campaign. That is, of course, only part 1836 of a much bigger question in which the factories of the country have a key part to play—their part being the making fireproof of clothing.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) on presenting this Bill and on the temperate and reasoned way in which he moved its Second Reading. I wish briefly to support it. A Private Member's Bill, even if the Member is fortunate enough to win the Ballot and to bring it before the House, is a very delicate plant. Its passage through the complicated stages of legislation is a very difficult one, but I am certain that a unanimous Second Reading, together with the assurances we have had from the Government and the Opposition Front Bench this afternoon, ought to make it possible for this Bill to become law fairly quickly.
I want to deal quite briefly with some of the objections raised by the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams). I was rather sorry to see him taking the line he did about this Bill, especially as he and I are interested in another Private Member's Bill by which some day, we hope, to make it easier for surgeons to restore sight to those blinded by cornea disease. I am sure that either of us would be deeply distressed if when that Bill came before the House its general principles were commended, while speeches, though praising it, made it impossible for it to be passed.
I hope that in spite of the observations which the hon. Gentleman has made this afternoon he will find it possible, with all the reservations he makes about the need for good family life, to give his support to the Bill as well as to its sentiments. All of us share the views of the hon. Gentleman about the importance of a good home. No Act of Parliament can make one. Never was there a time when we needed more good parents, more good training in the home and more protection of children by their parents. But we cannot wait until all parents are perfect; for the children's sake we cannot wait for that.
We still read of shocking cases of cruelty by parents to their own children, and no amount of propaganda has managed to solve that problem. I am certain that many of us are very glad to see from the sentences recently passed in such 1837 cases that judges are stiffening the punishment inflicted. We still have to take away, under the Children and Young Persons Act, children from parents who are not fit to have them, children whose lives would be endangered if they were left in the care of such parents. Therefore, this Bill, like all good Bills dealing with children, is concerned with the child rather than with the parents.
By all means let us educate parents to their responsibilities, and by all means let us look after old people. One of the tragedies of old age is that there are hundreds of old folk who in the last years of their lives are living entirely lonely lives. One of the things we as good citizens ought to strive to do is to see that no old person in the last years of life is left so utterly alone as to run the risk of being burned to death through accidents of this kind. While we continue our propaganda and education against accidents and in favour of the need for care and looking after the weak, we must not neglect any measure which may save the life of a child or an old person.
The best of parents and anyone in this House may be careless at some time. Nobody would accuse the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who seconded the Motion to give this Bill a Second Reading, of being indiscreet or careless. Yet in the past two weeks he has made two grave blunders. In what was supposed to be a non-political broadcast on the wireless recently he made a party political speech and some days after that he—very justly—burned his trousers.
This Bill will protect the hon. Member for Kidderminster in some of his more indiscreet and careless moments. As every by-election brings nearer the end of this Government, the Government themselves would be wise to support this Bill merely to protect Conservative Members from burning themselves to death and so shortening the life of the Government. But seriously, none of us is accident-proof—not even the hon. Member for Tonbridge, who opposed this Bill.
I think Dr. Colebrook, in his recent article in "The Times," under-estimated the good effects of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1908, in the prevention of fire accidents to children. There are more fireguards about than we think, although they are not obligatory by 1838 law, as a result of the passing of that Act. Distressing as are the figures of accidents from fires given by speakers in this debate, they would be much worse if it were not for the legislation already on the Statute Book which punishes parents if the fire accident is due to lack of reasonable precautions on their part.
But the Acts on the Statute Book do not go far enough, and if this Bill saves the life of a single child it will be a worth-while Bill. When I support this Bill I know that all my constituents of all political parties are behind me. I hope it will have a unanimous Second Reading today and have a safe and easy passage on its hazardous way through the House. I am delighted to know that the Government's spokesman welcomed the Bill, and I hope its Second Reading will have the support of all hon. and right hon. Members.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
Despite the fact that we have the blessing of the Government for this Bill, I think it is right that as soon as possible someone on these benches should reply briefly on behalf of the Tory Party to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams), because he quoted in aid of his views Tory principles. I think the best answer to that was given by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), who cited the work of Lord Shaftesbury, perhaps the best of all Tories in the 19th century.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge was talking about Tory principles, what in fact he was doing was uttering the last lingering echo of laissez faire, and it would seem that the Manchester School has now shifted its habitat to Tonbridge. At the same time I think I appreciate the motive behind his remarks.
My hon. Friend quite obviously was sincere, as we all are, in wishing to prevent in the future the ghastly and dire accidents to children that have happened. What I feel he was protesting against—and here we might have support from the other side of the House—was against lax and badly drafted legislation which, with the best will in the world, may not really achieve its object. And although I entirely support everything in this Bill, I believe there is room 1839 for a great deal of improvement on Committee stage. Before the Bill finally goes on the Statute Book, it would be a very good thing if we had some idea in advance of the nature of the provisions to be made in the Regulations. I am not entirely happy about whether they will achieve some of the objects we desire.
I also agree very strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge that we have to remember that in the long run, however many Acts we may pass, we must still do everything we can to inculcate responsibility into parents in the use of appliances, however elaborate the guards may be. There will always be loopholes. One will never make the perfect electric fire or paraffin heater. There will always be opportunities for accidents to happen. Hon. Members have discussed today making the base of the oil heater solid enough to prevent its being knocked over. It would cause another steel shortage to make it absolutely impossible to knock a fire appliance over.
I should like to cite a case where other precautions can be taken. I have three young children and we have always taken the greatest care about the electric fires used in our house. We take the obvious precaution of mounting the ordinary single-bar electric heater on a wall where a child cannot reach it and where it can only be turned on by the use of a cord, which prevents any possibility of accident. In another room we have the closed type of convector heater which gives the same heat as an open fire but with which it is very nearly impossible to burn oneself. Those are types of cases where common sense and education can do good even when, as I hope, this Bill reaches the Statute Book.
As other hon. Members have said, this Bill is a triumph for Dr. and Mrs. Colebrook. It is the culminating day of a long campaign. We in this House are subject to a great deal of, lobbying. We receive propaganda from all quarters, sometimes from interested parties and sometimes from disinterested parties. But the lobbying that has taken place on this Bill has been of the most sensible and most tactful kind.
One has had letters from Women's Institutes, and I think they are the most 1840 appropriate body to have brought influence to bear on this Bill; but in every letter that I have received from individuals, there has not been a case of the mass-produced type of communication. It has always been reasoned support for the Bill. If any member of the public tries to campaign in favour of a Bill in the future, I hope he will always apply the methods of Mr. Colebrook. I think that both sides of the House can give a welcome to this Bill, and I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge will give it an equally warm welcome.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
I wish to speak for a few minutes in support of this Bill. The Bill itself tells us—and the previous speeches, to which I have listened with close attention and interest have made it clear—that its purpose is to reduce the number of fire accidents. Its one aim is to lessen the number of cases of burning caused by gas and electric fires and oil stoves.
The motive is one of which I approve and which, I feel sure, will receive the approval of all hon. Members. We cannot hope to eliminate all accidents of this type, because it is probably beyond the wit of man to invent electric and gas heating appliances which are absolutely foolproof in the hands of old people and young children. But if an Act of Parliament will lessen the incidence of that type of injury, I suggest that the time we are devoting today in considering the matter is being well spent.
I was particularly interested in the statement made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that, as a result of his investigations, he had found that the greater amount of support for this Bill came from women. I suggest that that is really what we might have expected. In the first place, women are more liable to suffer this type of injury, because their garments catch fire more readily than do the trousers of men. Secondly, men go out to work and women stay at home to look after the children, so women have the greater responsibility in the welfare of the young. They feel that responsibility keenly and they wish to protect their children against injury. The statement of the hon. Member for Kidderminster also shows the very good sense of women.
1841 Apart from the minor injuries of this type which are treated at home, in the doctor's surgery, or in the out-patient department of the hospital, I understand that there are every year, in England and Wales, approximately 1,000 cases of burning by gas and electric fires. Roughly half of those accidents occur to young children, and about one in ten are fatal. In the course of my professional work I have seen cases of this kind and I am familiar with this type of injury. To my mind, the most striking feature of this injury, in its early stages, is the amount of pain suffered by the patient.
We have all suffered the comparatively trivial misfortune of a slight burn from a cigarette end or a match, and we remember how painful is that slight injury. How intense, therefore, must be the pain suffered by a patient who has had the misfortune to be burnt over a large area of the body as a result of his clothes catching fire. It is really worse than any nightmare to hear the screams of a young child who has been badly burned.
Digressing for a moment, I am reminded that one of the most callous and barbarous methods of putting people to death in bygone years was burning at the stake. When I read of the deaths of Joan of Arc, the Oxford Martyrs and others who suffered a similar fate, I shudder to think of the amount of pain they suffered before unconsciousness and death descended to obliterate their agony.
To return from the days when such acts of barbarism were practised to the present day, when gas and electric fires are in common use, we have been told—and I refer particularly to the speech of my professional colleague the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings)—of the results of burns caused by these appliances. He has drawn the attention of the House to the serious consequences. There has been mention of the high death rate, particularly in old people, young children and invalids. Mention has been made of the thousands of working days lost each year; the many hospital beds which are often occupied for months. We have heard of the disfiguring scars and the disabling contractions, causing crippling.
But there is another serious effect that can occur—the mental effect. Let us think, for a moment, of the terrifying experience of having one's clothes in a blaze of fire and of being severely burnt. Let 1842 us think of the acute pain and fear, to be followed by weeks and probably months of suffering and, finally, the disfigurement and the disablement. The sequence of these painful experiences must harm the minds of some victims.
After these terrible experiences some unfortunate people suffer from phobias. They may have an unnatural fear of fire, or of pain, or of hospitals, or of electric or gas appliances, and a number develop an inferiority complex, possibly with dire consequences. These mental effects, as will readily be understood, are more prone to occur in young children, when a young mind has been hurt by such an appalling experience as being severely burnt.
If the number of these cases can be diminished by insisting that all new gas and electric fires sold after a certain date should have fireguards, this Bill will be of considerable value. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr Bullard). I hope that he will pilot it successfully through all its stages and that eventually he will enjoy the thrill, whilst standing at the Bar in another place, of hearing that the Royal Assent has been given to his Private Member's Bill.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard). If the Bill reaches the Statute Book, it will alleviate considerably the dangers which fire appliances and fires in general possess for the children of the country and also, I am afraid, for quite a number of grown-ups.
We have, however, to be careful about one or two aspects. First of all, who is to decide what the standards for these various appliances shall be? I appreciate that under the Bill the Secretary of State is to make Regulations, but the Secretary of State is not a fireman by trade and does not know all about the safety precautions which are necessary in such cases, and he must turn to somebody else for advice.
I hope that when my right hon. and learned Friend seeks this advice, he will not seek it simply from the nationalised industries, such as the electricity and gas boards, because I am afraid we are reaching a stage in this country where, if there is a need for economy in the use of coal 1843 or electricity or gas—any medium of heating—then all sorts of things can be done to see that economy is enforced. I should not like to see a Bill of this sort used to restrict the use of various forms of heating, nor, I am sure, would my hon. Friend. We must keep in mind the freedom of the British people to buy the sort of heating they want.
For example, let us suppose that a Government wanted to restrict the sale of heating appliances. If they got together a committee friendly towards them, which agreed that, because of the shortage of coal for generating electricity, or because of the shortage of generators, the sale of these appliances was a bad thing, then it is possible that the committee might introduce safeguards for fire appliances of such a costly nature that the effect would be to restrict the sale of the appliances. It will be necessary, therefore, when this Bill is considered further, that a body of people who know about these matters should carefully consider what shall be the standard of the safety precautions required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) said he had children of his own and that he made sure that his children could not get at the appliances. I also have children, and I remember what happened when my children were young. My hon. Friend's method was to hang the appliances on the wall with a piece of string, but the antics which children can get up to are incredible.
§ Mr. Fell
It is a dangerous theory that because fireguards have been put around these appliances children can be left alone and nothing will happen. Children's fingers can get almost anywhere, and if there is not a ladder available they will soon find some chairs to put on top of the table.
In considering this eminently good Bill, we must be careful that we do not reach a time when we say to ourselves that we cannot be hurt by a fire appliance. There is a parallel today, and if I may talk about it it will strengthen my case. The parallel is the case of the "zebra" crossings. There is a danger at the moment that "zebra" crossings are becoming islands of absolute safety in the 1844 mind of the pedestrian and that, in my view, is a very dangerous thing, because no pedestrian will ever be able to place utter and complete reliance upon the driver of any vehicle upon the road just because he himself is on a "zebra" crossing.
The same thing applies to this Bill. We must be reasonable in this, as in all things, and make sure that we do not try to go to extremes. We cannot ensure that every fire appliance will be completely safe from the fingers of children, and sometimes from the stupidity of grown-ups. To achieve that perfection we should need flex which could not be bitten through by a dog or gnawed at by a cat. We should need electric heating appliances which were not portable, because if they are portable, then somehow, if he wants to get inside it and see what it is made of, a child will manage to get inside it—unless it is so completely encased that it gives forth no glimmer of heat.
I emphasise that this is a very important Bill for the safety of our children, but I hope we shall consider it in a sane light and not try to achieve the impossible. If we go to extremes and attempt to put guards of great complexity round gas and electric fires and every heating appliance, we shall put up the cost of living. The greater the complexity of the safeguards, the greater will be the cost. That reinforces my argument for temperance in this matter so long as the main purpose of safety is achieved.
I was most interested to hear from the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) of those stirring—and, indeed, on occasion painful and burning—times when people used to be burnt at the stake. He said what great progress there has been since those days in the use of fires. It is encouraging to hear such great wisdom from the benches opposite, that during the decades since that time—many of them, if we are to believe hon. Gentlemen opposite, under the rule of the wicked Tories—we have at least made some progress in one sphere of our life. I hope that this recognition of the great advances that have been made for mankind in general, and for our own people in particular, during the later centuries, largely as a result of Conservative thought and action, will be taken up at 1845 any rate by that section of the party opposite to which the hon. Member belongs.
We all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West, on bringing in the Bill. He has my wholehearted admiration for coming to the House at the same time as I did and getting in so much more quickly with this very creditable Bill. Although few in pages, it has a great heart and will do much to alleviate the possibility of suffering to many children and grownups from the risk of being burnt in all sorts of ways. I hope that the House will give every possible support to the Bill.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has drawn a fairly grim picture of what may happen if precautions against accidents are taken too far. It was a pity that in a debate of this sort he should introduce a certain amount of utterly irrelevant political argument.
All those who have spoken and have given their support to the Bill—I certainly add my word of support for it—have recognised that the Bill by itself does not pretend in any way to answer the problem of accidents in the home. Just as we cannot, unhappily, rely on the intelligence and care of ourselves and our children in the problems that arise in the home, in the same way we cannot rely wholly upon provisions of the kind that the Bill makes.
It is obviously necessary that we should provide legislative measures of this kind and should back them up by the most vigorous educational work throughout the country to try to avoid the disasters that have been referred to by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Like many other hon. Members, I thank those who have been associated with the promotion of the Bill—the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) and others—and those who stand behind it and have helped in making it possible.
I should like to bring to the notice of the House a note which I had only yesterday from the surgeon in charge of the plastic unit at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He has obviously a great deal of knowledge of, and contact with, this problem, as indeed we all have. He mentions three 1846 cases that came under his care during the last few days:The first case, a small child…aged 4, was standing in front of a gas fire, unguarded, when her nightdress touched the element. Her nightdress immediately caught fire and she sustained very very severe burns, from which she subsequently died. There is another child in at the moment whose nightdress caught fire from an electric heater. Already she has been in hospital for nearly two months, although she is healed now. Nevertheless, it is a very severe burn from which this very pretty girl will have permanent scarring of the hands, face, chest and neck. Another instance, a small boy, John Boyd, at the toddler stage, grasped the element of an electric fire. This, as you know, may cause death, although the majority of cases it does not seem to, but it gives rise to very severe injury of the hand and forearm and may, even with the utmost skill and care, lead to the necessity for repeated operations over a period of years, even if the hand is successfully saved.Those are cases that have arisen during the last few days. They re-emphasise the importance of a Measure of this kind and they stress, I hope, the call that will go out from the House today, and in the publicity which, I hope, will be given to the debate, to families all over the country not to regard this Bill as something to take the place of the care that they need to give, but as something which may later on it—will take some time to be effective—add to the efforts that all parents will naturally want to take for the protection of their children.
I emphasise particularly the importance of propaganda and education. I should like to feel that it is possible for some account of the dangers, and of the simple ways in which some of them may be averted, to be hung up in every home to enable people to remind themselves of what we can so easily forget of the dangers that occur.
I want also to emphasise—it has been mentioned, but not stressed very much today—the disproportionate amount of time taken in hospital in trying to deal with the treatment of this kind of case. The amount of time so spent is out of all proportion to the number of cases treated, because nearly every case requires very long and skilled treatment. The number of highly expert surgeons is very limited. We cannot afford to waste their skill or to do anything that means their working on problems and cases that need never have risen had proper precautions been taken, and had, indeed, the Bill been in force.
1847 I hope that there will be no unnecessary delay in bringing forward the Regulations that are needed under the Bill. The Home Office will be as anxious as we all are to see this Measure made effective. I know that there must be an inevitable delay until the guards are made available to manufacturers and before they can be used as an integral part of fires which are put on the market. I hope that we shall do our best to cut down that waiting period as far as possible.
We may have to wait a year and a half or two years before getting an effective date for the commencement of the operation of these proposals, but I hope we shall do our utmost to overcome the real problems of materials, and so on, involved. I am sure it is not beyond our ability to overcome them, because the amount of materials involved is really very small. I hope, too, that it may be possible at a later stage to consider some of the other problems which are not dealt with immediately in this Bill, and that as the years go on we shall get at any rate some reduction in the number of solid fuel burning appliances. But that is for the future, and it certainly should not deter us in any way from taking this more limited action at the present time.
While giving my very real and sincere blessing to this Bill, and knowing a good deal personally about the type of accidents that occur, I hope that from the House today there will go a message to householders throughout the country urging upon them the greater and not lesser need for care in their own homes in the use of these very dangerous yet most valuable appliances.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
This debate proves beyond doubt the value of Private Members' time for drawing attention to the need for and obtaining legislation dealing with matters affecting the health and welfare of the community. This Bill is a good Bill, and so far as we can see there is not much doubt that it will at least get a Second Reading. It is right that it should, because it follows upon other legislation dealing with poisons and other matters affecting safety in the home. There is nothing unique or very novel about this type of Measure. The only thing to be 1848 proud of is that it has been introduced in Private Members' time and has the benefit of the full support of the Government.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) that this sort of thing could be dealt with adequately by publicity. Sweet as are the uses of publicity, they are sometimes limited in their effect. What I do think, though, is that once the House has given a lead to the country by requiring these appliances to be guarded adequately in future, that will form a proper basis of publicity for safety in the home. I do not think that we could get the safety in the home at which we are aiming this afternoon from publicity alone—and I speak with some knowledge of the subject.
I am exercised especially by the fact that the Bill deals only with new appliances being sold in the shops. I conjure up the picture of the many hundreds of thousands of appliances, such as I have in my own home, which are not worn out and will be in use for some years yet, which are not guarded and will not come within the provisions of the Bill. From publicity in the OFFICIAL REPORT and elsewhere, I hope that the lead which is being given in this debate today will bring to the attention of parents the value of guarding those appliances they have already in their homes, which will not be difficult.
Last night I was looking at some of the new appliances which in the course of construction will be fitted with a guard. In addition, there were other guards that could be fitted quite easily, which it would be almost impossible for a child to detach. Although the appliances with guards attached cost a matter of a few shillings more, they are not beyond the purse of most people, especially as they are likely to last for a number of years. I was assured by one of the leading makers that the extra cost of constructing appliances with guards attached is very small.
Dealing for a moment with guards which must be affixed, I hope that our people, having the lead which Parliament will in due course give by law, will play their part in attaching these affixable guard to appliances already in their homes, because it is possible that the number of appliances sold in the future 1849 may be fewer in the next few years, and we may find thatWe have scotch'd the snake, not killed it.We are here dealing only with the small proporton of fires and appliances which will be in use for the next few years, and, apart from what we may do today, I hope that this debate will bring home to parents the necessity to take adequate precautions with the fires they have.
Reference has been made to the loss of heat consequent upon using these guards. The statistics I have show that there is a loss of two degrees of temperature at a distance of two feet from the fire after 20 minutes use if there is a light fireguard in front of the appliance. Speaking as a man with three children, I am certain that most parents would be prepared to sacrifice two degrees of comfort in temperature in order to make certain that the fire was adequately guarded.
Many years ago I had a similar experience to that recounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I know not whether he is wiser than me or vice versa, but on the occasion to which I refer I was wearing a dressing gown, and there was no doubt about the end of it reaching the fire. The dressing gown went up in a sheet of flame, and being an adult I was able to deal with the situation; but had it been a child there is no doubt that there would have been severe burning. From those two examples, and many others of which no doubt hon. Members have knowledge, it is obvious that the number of accidents, fatal and otherwise, which occur from this cause are far too frequent to be ignored, and for that reason alone this Bill is to be welcomed.
There is one rather sad feature when considering the sort of things which become inflamed by these fires. It is a known and perhaps rather dangerous fact that usually the prettier the clothes the more inflammable they are. There are no statistics about the inflammability of the clothing we wear, but it is in winter when women and girls (especially young children) are likely to be wearing party frocks, and that is just the time when these appliances are in use in order to provide adequate heating in the home. So there are the concomitants of the tragedies which very often take place: the light, 1850 airy frocks worn by the children, the temperature at such a degree that the fire must be put on, a concourse of children in the room and the fire gets touched and knocked over, or somebody's frock goes up in flames.
Again I stress the importance of this Bill in helping, in the future, to show what people can do in their own homes at a very small cost. I am sure it is only a question of knowledge because parents would not begrudge a few shillings in ensuring the safety of their children. In this, as in so many other aspects of life, it is only a question of bringing to the attention of parents the necessity of safeguarding the health and welfare of their children.
I hope that the House will give this Bill all support, but I trust this will not be the end of this type of legislation. I hope that in future we shall see further progress from the developments and research being conducted into the use of coal and other solid fuel fires. But at least at this stage I think that those who have spent some hours in this House in listening to and taking part in this debate will feel that they have made some contribution to the happiness and safety of the children.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
I am sure that everybody will agree that we have had a most interesting debate. One of the outstanding features which, I think, has been very profitable is the contribution that we have had from members of the medical profession. It is one of the outstanding values of this assembly that it contains a corn-mixture of persons of wide and varied experience, and when we have debates of this kind, very often on specialised subjects, we get good and sure guidance from them.
There is one thing upon which we all agree. That is in congratulating the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) on introducing this Bill. It is not a complete picture, in my submission, of what it ought to be to make it a really good Measure, but as an instalment, containing the principles which it does, I think it will have the unanimous support of both sides of the House.
I do not think—although we have heard something about it—that anyone 1851 seriously thinks that in a discussion of this kind, in a case of this nature, we ought to be influenced by any question of loss of heat or saving of cost in any way. The only thing which I think we ought to be guided by is the question of the loss of life and how we can save people, especially the children, from that and from bodily injury and pain.
That brings me to a consideration of this Measure which is my only excuse for intervening in the debate, as to whether it goes far enough, or, to put it in another way, whether in fact it is not contradictory in the sense that while it sets out to avoid certain injuries and certain fatal consequences, it nevertheless leaves a large field which will have these very consequences because it is not dealt with.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said that his Department, if this Bill were passed—and the Home Office support it—would issue Regulations. Of course, we know—and he said so—that these Regulations will be based upon a prior consultation with and investigation by those technical, practical and experienced people who deal with these matters. I am prepared to assume that so far as the Bill is concerned and so far as any appliance under the Bill is concerned, these Regulations will be efficient and sufficient to cover the requirements of the provisions of the Bill. I am very much concerned when I look at two consequences of the Measure, however. Let me take first the one that comes second. That is the one that is contained in Clause 5 (3). There power is conferred upon the Home Office in producing the Regulations to enable appliances to be sold which were manufactured before the coming into operation of the Regulations, and it further goes on to say:or for such purposes as may be specified in the regulations.That seems to me to confront this House at once, not only with a contradiction, which is bad enough, but with a danger.
If it is true that this House desires, as it should, to prevent injury and to save life, it is difficult to see why that should operate on articles that come after the date of the Bill, and still leave a large number of previously existing articles that 1852 are not safe and which will still be used, and which will have the very injurious and fatal effects which this Bill purports to avoid. I ask the House—and I am not trying to make a debating point—to consider that. If it is to go out to the public, as I think it is right that it should, that Parliament desires to legislate for the saving of life and the prevention of injury, what is to be the view expressed upon this Bill when in fact it can be said of it that to an important degree it does just the opposite?
It is with regard to appliances acquired in the future that these Regulations are intended to operate, but most homes are already equipped with appliances of this kind. I will come to the open fire in a moment, but if we take the electric fire or the gas fire—oil stoves may be a little more recent—I think it can be said with accuracy that by far the largest majority of homes in this country are already equipped with them. If that is right, and I am assuming that it is right because of the accidents there have already been, there is absolutely no provision being made in the body of the Bill which seeks to eliminate accident or death for which these articles are or may become responsible.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I referred in some detail to this point when I seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. It is estimated that there are between 4 million and 5 million gas and electric fires already in houses. The hon. and learned Gentleman may not be aware that those 4 million or 5 million cover no fewer than 1,000 different types, and clearly it is impossible to legislate for guards for 1,000 different types of fires of varying ages up to 20 years.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I know that is what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not accept his figures, and I certainly do not accept his inferences. There are many more homes than that, and most homes nowadays have gas or electric fires. It is true that they may have open fires, but, at the same time, they have gas or electric fires. In any case, if it is true, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that these fires which he is now talking about as already existing have been a cause of danger to life and to limb, and if something is to be substituted now to 1853 eliminate that danger, then the sooner these articles are got rid of or made safe the better. It is a lamentable observation to make, that these dangerous fires are being allowed by this Bill to remain when we are saying that something safer and better should be put in their place.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Even if the hon. and learned Gentleman is not impressed by the figures which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has given him, does he agree with the general principle? However perfect we try to make the Bill, we know that it cannot completely eliminate all the dangers, but surely we can go some way towards eliminating some of them. If we make the Bill all-embracing, as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, the introduction of the Regulations and the commencement of what we hope to bring about will be delayed, and in any case it would not have any real effect.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I cannot compromise on the continuation of something which will inflict the very injuries which the Bill seeks to eliminate. I would remind the House that in any case this provision does not stop merely at the existence of some appliance in the home. It gives permission to a business to put these very appliances into circulation. Surely the House cannot commit itself—
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)
I wonder if I might interrupt—?
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
May I finish my sentence? Surely the House cannot commit itself to a contradictory principle of that kind which will enable tradesmen or others to put into circulation appliances of this kind which carry with them the very dangers—sometimes terrible dangers—that the Bill seeks to remedy.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I was very interested in the point that he was making about the appliances which are now in people's homes, and I was hoping that he would develop it a little further and tell us exactly what are his proposals for dealing with that aspect, for it is of the greatest interest to all of us. He has obviously thought about it 1854 deeply and would no doubt be able to advise the House.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Yes, certainly. I had been interrupted and I had partly given the answer, which is that the fact that they are dangerous is sufficient reason for them to be done away with. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that even elementary ingenuity is incapable of dealing with a problem of this kind? Take an electric fire, for instance. It is quite easy if one has—[interruption.] The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me to explain this, did he not?
Yes. I am anxious to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am most interested in what he has to say.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
The hon. and gallant Gentleman ought not contemptuously to anticipate the answer.
I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that there was nothing of that sort in my mind. I cannot think how he could have arrived at that conclusion.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I am pleased to think that I was wrong about that.
This is a perfectly simple matter. The ordinary electric fire has bars in front of it, and there are plenty of fireguards to which one can attach a piece of wire with a hook on it and it is perfectly simple—I have done it—so to affix that as to make the fire reasonably safe, or at all events much safer than it is in its present exposed condition. As a rule a gas fire is fixed against a fireplace and in that case it is not so simple, but even then it is surely possible to have a fireguard.
Really, to suggest to the House—and from the Front Bench too, where one really does expect to find some intelligence—that one cannot put a guard in front of such a gas fire is unacceptable.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom) rose—
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Please let me develop my argument. To make a suggestion like that is trying to evade, and is not dealing with, the main point that I was making, which was that Clause 5 (3) seeks to put into circulation—this is what amazes me—the very appliances which the Bill is designed to condemn.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I really wanted to challenge the assertion that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench on either side are more intelligent than the others.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I was not referring to an excess of intelligence but to the very opposite, and I was not referring to hon. Members below the Gangway either.
That brings me to another defect of a contradictory nature. Clause 1 deals with the prohibition of sale unless the fire is guarded in the way that the Regulations will prescribe. However, the Clause proceeds to exempt two important classes. It says that a person shall be guilty of an offence unless he sells the article:as the agent of a person who is not acting in the course of a business or as the servant of such an agent…Why there should be a refinement, an exception, of that kind I really cannot understand. What does it matter who puts the article into circulation? Whether it is done through the medium of a business or a person or in any other form, how can one arrive at any distinction of that nature and how can that in any way affect the objectives that we have in view? I find it most difficult to understand why that exemption should be there.
The second exception gives complete freedom to export this danger we are debating. We are providing for our own safety at home, subject to the limitations which I have just pointed out, and at the same time saying that safety in connection with exports of the same article does not matter. If we are to deal with this matter at all we ought to deal with it also as regards exports. The same point applies in the case of stocks. How can we approve the putting into circulation of stocks which do not meet the requirement which the Bill stipulates?
The Joint Under-Secretary said that this is not a comprehensive Bill. These contradictions have nothing to do with comprehensiveness. It is no excuse to say that the Bill is not comprehensive and at the same time to say that that is the reason why there are contradictions in it. The Bill is not comprehensive in the sense 1856 that it does not include matters that many of us would like to see included, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster said.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. and learned Gentleman must not misquote me. I did not say that at all. What I did say was that I hoped this modest Measure would serve as a precursor for widening the scope of home safety arrangements. That is not what the hon. and learned Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
That is the Kidderminster way of saying what I have just said.
Of course, it is not comprehensive, and I agree that one is very pleased that the Measure goes as far as it does. We must remember however that an attempt was made 43 years ago to do something about this, and that aspect is being absolutely ignored by this Measure. Let me tell the House about it.
The Children and Young Persons Act, 1908, laid down in one of its provisions that parents would be liable if children were fatally or seriously injured because of an exposed open fire. It was done at that time because of the accidents which were happening, and it was absolutely essential that something should be done. Of course, as happens with much of that type of legislation concerning the liability of parents and guardians—and one can understand it—it did not become effective at all, because it did nothing and could do nothing until the accident had occurred. Then there was such an upsurge of sympathy for the poor and distressed parents that the court was reluctant to do anything about it. There was a £10 fine, but that was by the way and did not matter one way or the other. That Act has become a dead letter.
We have heard encomiums paid to Dr. Colebrook, and quite rightly, by many Members who have spoken, but it was Dr. Colebrook who said recently that it was the open fire which was "the outstanding hazard of the English home." Yet this Bill, which purports to deal with this particular matter, is actually leaving out altogether this question of this outstanding hazard of the English home.
§ Mr. Harold Watkinson (Woking) rose—
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Let me finish my argument. In logic, in sense, in caution, 1857 and in legislative provision how on earth can that be justified?
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
No, I will not give way. I have given way already.
Why is this left out? There is no difficulty in putting a guard over an open fire. A query was raised a moment ago by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland as to how a guard was to be put on certain appliances. There is no difficulty about putting such a guard in front of an open fire, and if that is the outstanding hazard of the English home, as we are told, and it is the lives of children that this Bill seeks to protect, how is it that no provision is being made in respect of it? The Home Office is apparently displaying no active interest in the matter in trying to get some provision of that nature incorporated in this Bill.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
No, I will not give way. I wish to develop my argument.
The commonsense of this matter suggests—and hon. Members may not like this—that there is no use pretending that children can be safeguarded by half measures. If the question of safeguarding children is to be tackled in this way, they must not be left exposed to the most outstanding hazard of their homes. That is exactly what is to happen here.
I am not suggesting that we should take all these precautions for grown-ups, though the statistics suggest that they are exposed to danger from electric fires, as an appalling number of accidents do occur, particularly to women. That, of course, may have something to do with the garments which they wear, made as they are of cotton, rayon and other inflammable material, which can become lighted as they pass an electric fire in the middle of a room and a skirt happens to touch it. Before one knows what has happened this inflammable material is afire, and either death or very severe injuries result. To provide safeguards in such cases as those this Bill will be of advantage, and if we can prevent such materials as I have mentioned catching fire in that way then we will be going a long way towards eliminating this danger.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I apologise for not being here when the hon. and learned Gentleman began his speech, but I understand that he is complaining of the attitude of the Home Office in not being more anxious to deal with open coal fires and generally to extend the purpose of this Bill. He has no doubt given the matter a good deal of thought. Is he in favour of officials making inspections in private homes, or how otherwise is he going to try to deal with this problem?
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
The hon. Gentleman must not try to answer my question by making me answer a question of his. I said nothing of the sort. What I said was that it was a contradiction for the Home Office to manifest solicitude in this matter and an anxiety to cut down accidents which had been happening, and at the same time leave as it was before the outstanding hazard of the English home. That is all I was suggesting.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
No, I will not give way.
If the Home Office is genuine about this matter, there will be ample opportunities to explore it further, and see whether it is not possible to close that serious gap at the same time as they are going to close the other gaps to which I have referred.
There is an appalling toll of accidents: 20,000 cases treated in the hospitals and 50,000 out-patient cases. The demand they make upon the medical service in the country must be very large, at a time when it can be ill-afforded. I profoundly agree that it is important to diminish those totals.
I do not think we can, by means of legislation, guard against all the accidents to which human life is exposed, however good the legislation is. That is essentially a matter for the exercise of the greatest commonsense and caution in the home, as was eloquently demonstrated by the unfortunate experience of the hon. Member for Kidderminster who was not only prepared to take the risk he did but also lifted his jacket to make certain of the consequences. We shall not get rid of all the chances of accident, no matter what precautions we take, but common 1859 sense and caution, which are most essential, can be and will be assisted by enforced precaution, which is what the Bill seeks to apply.
Another necessary method to protect children is to give them instruction. We must teach them about the risk of fire. It is too late to do that after a child is seriously injured. In schools and homes children must have instruction.
One of the difficulties is that many children are left alone because their mothers go out to work, and the problem of domestic help is not simple. It is not possible, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) pointed out, for a mother, especially if she has several children, to keep her eye on all of them in such a way as to protect them all the time from the dangers which arise in a house. These risks have led to unnecessary and serious suffering and are a very urgent problem. It is the duty of Parliament to deal with it. I hope we shall be able to improve the Bill in Committee. In the meantime, I wish it a good passage.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but I am lured into it by the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), who frequently speaks in our Private Members' debates. At the beginning of his remarks I understood that he was in favour of this excellent little Bill, but before he finished I came to the conclusion that he was doing his best to kill it.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
The right hon. Gentleman is not doing me, himself or his case justice when he says I am trying to kill the Bill. I am doing nothing of the sort. I started by approving the principle of the Bill. I accept the Bill, but I said it did not go far enough and pointed out some grave contradictions in it.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. and learned Gentleman reinforces what I have suggested, that his object is to see that the Bill does not go forward. There is more than one method of destroying a Bill. The obvious method is to oppose it outright, but another and equally effective method is to pile so many things into it that it becomes impracticable. We have to deal with Measures which are 1860 practicable. If what the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested were put into the Measure, about guarding not only all the present electric and gas appliances but all the open fires in the country, we should need such a staff of inspectors to see that this was carried out that the position would become intolerable.
This is a modest Measure which we hope will accomplish a very great deal to preserve the life and limb of our young people. It is no good strangling it at birth or suffocating it with a whole heap of impracticable suggestions, desirable though they might be.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The good wishes of the hon. and learned Member for the Bill are cancelled out by the amount of paraphernalia with which he wishes to load it and which would make it unseaworthy for the voyage which we hope it will take.
I wish to make some remarks about what was said by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in the last Government. I thought he made an excellent speech about matters of great importance. He produced three cases which had been brought to his notice very recently of children who suffered from burns in this way. It is interesting to note that in two of those cases the children's clothes caught on fire. In one case it was the child's nightdress and in the other a party dress.
Guarding the fire is only half the battle. If the textile trades could produce something which would make their products less inflammable, that would be an even greater step forward than passing the Bill. I know this point has been made, and I reinforce it: a call should go out from this House to the textile research associations that they should go into this matter once more.
Enormous sums of money have been spent by textile manufacturers to get over shrinkage. It was assumed not a long time ago that it was impossible to stop textiles from shrinking in washing, but shrinkage is now almost entirely overcome. Inflammable clothing is a problem much more important to the life and limb of our young people than shrinkage. A 1861 certain amount of work has been done on it, and with the arrival of modern plastics a new field is opening out. I trust that the textile research associations will re-double their efforts to make the material used for party frocks, nightgowns, and other little clothes that our young people wear, less inflammable.
§ Mr. J. Rodgers
If my right hon. Friend will allow me, I can inform him that the textile firms in Yorkshire have already discovered a method of making certain fabrics fireproof but, unfortunately, it is not yet a commercial proposition. It is so very expensive that no one will buy the materials. However, they are working on it and it is hoped that in a few years it will be possible to produce them commercially.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I am glad to have that information from my hon. Friend.
It reinforces what I have said, and I hope those people will be encouraged. Incidentally, not long ago a new artificial thread was produced in America and made up into jerseys for ladies and children and it actually exploded when brought near a fire. That material had to be forbidden by law in America. We ought to tackle this in the opposite direction, because burns from clothes set on fire are amongst the most grievous from which children can suffer.
Another point I want to reinforce is that sometimes when we discuss costs we are apt to do so in watertight compartments. Costs are expenses, and economies are much in our minds this week because of our Budget debates. However, I wonder if people really have concentrated upon the saving of expenses in the right way? Enormous extravagance is caused in the hospital service by the excessive amount of time during which hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from accidents of this kind. If we could cut down that expenditure rate by the suggestions made by the promoters of this Bill, even by 25 per cent., it would save nearly £1 million in our hospital expenditure. What an admirable saving that would be. There could be no one who would not approve of the economy.
I do not know the figure, but I am sure it could easily be worked out, showing the cost to the State medical services of road accidents. We hear about the 1862 number of accidents on our roads, but we are never told what expenditure to the State medical services they represent and, therefore, to the pockets of every one of us. In the same way, burns are amongst the most difficult cases with which the medical profession has to deal. Wonderful strides were made in the war with plastic surgery for burns. Yet anybody interested in that problem knows how terribly slow is the re-growth of skin tissues, especially where grafting has to take place. Burns throw a great expense on our hospitals apart from all the other miseries, so that anything we can do to cut down these accidents would be a marked economy.
We have heard hon. Members talking today about the cost of these appliances. I want to set against that the cost to the hospital services resulting from accidents due to no guards being used. Therefore, it will be not only a great blessing, but an actual saving in expense to the State if this Bill becomes law and manages to reduce the number of accidents.
In conclusion, I want to emphasise two points. The first is the enormous drain on the resources of our hospitals by means of these distressing and preventable accidents. Secondly, which is perhaps even more important, urge the textile trade forward in their work of endeavouring to find a non-inflammable treatment for clothing.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
This discussion is a refreshing change from the discussions we have had here earlier this week. In a sense this Bill helps to restore the balance because, whereas the Budget did much to make the task of the housewife more difficult, this Bill, if it gets on to the Statute Book, will improve the protection to which every mother is entitled in the conduct of her household affairs.
Figures have been produced today showing that the home is still the most dangerous place of all, although it may sound fantastic to say so in view of the accidents on the roads and all the other risks to which we are subject, but, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State pointed out, it is the case. In making that statement, I do not want to encourage that section of the community which adopts the principle that there is 1863 no place like home when there is nowhere else to go.
We have a duty to see what we can do to improve the prevailing situation. As a matter of fact, last June I raised in the House a case where a child was electrocuted by a television set. The then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), pointed out that he had no power under the law to deal with the matter. It may be that the accident in question represented an unusual case, but the fact remains that at the moment the Home Office has no power to require all the manufacturers of wireless or television sets to provide a simple but inexpensive appliance which would make the sets completely foolproof.
At the time, my right hon. Friend said he was consulting the trade associations to see whether the present safety precautions ought to be revised. I do not know what was the result of those further consultations, but perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State will look through the files at the Home Office when he deals with the further stages of this Bill to see whether or not some improvement in the Bill can be effected.
It is true, of course, that this Bill claims to deal only with heating appliances, but all kinds of electrical apparatus are now in use which need some kind of supervision, or at least some action on the part of the British Standards Institution or some other body to make sure that even the most lackadaisical person does not run undue risk in the use of those articles.
I am sure that much more would have been done to make the homes of this country safer if wives had insisted on additional housekeeping money by way of danger money so long as these dangerous things are sold and these dangerous possibilities are present in every home. As the figures given to us have shown, the occupation of a housewife is indeed hazardous with all the possibilities of death or serious injury which are present in almost every home in the land.
Something would have been done long ago if the housewives had organised themselves and demanded the payment of additional danger money until the 1864 problem with which this Bill seeks to deal in some small part had been tackled. Burns, scalds, cuts, bruises and falls which take place in so many homes from day to day have called for much stronger action long before now.
This danger is not merely confined to heating appliances. The difficulty with which most people have to deal in merely trying to switch off water, gas and electricity at the mains is in itself a fruitful cause of accidents. The controls are usually placed in the most, inaccessible places where the lighting is not at all satisfactory. This adds to the hazards of daily life in the home.
I cordially agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) and other hon. Members that further research ought to be carried out into the problem of making various dress materials less inflammable. Further research is most necessary in this connection. Fabrics like winceyette, tulle, and flannelette are far more combustible than they ought to be. I am sure that, if necessary, housewives would be willing to pay a small additional cost for both clothing and curtain fabrics so that they could feel easier in their minds that in case of accidents these fabrics would not ignite at the slightest possible provocation.
With the advance of modern science it is ironical to think that the risks in the home have been increased. I have been spellbound by those gentlemen at home exhibitions who demonstrate with surprising skill various gadgets which, of course, the mere male buys immediately. As soon as he gets home and tries to work the gadget, he finds that it will not work at all. Housewives must have suffered considerably from men who have gone to these exhibitions and come home with what purport to be labour-saving gadgets which, once they are in one's house, do not work with anything like the same efficiency as when demonstrated by the salesman.
§ Sir H. Williams
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman describe one of these gadgets? I have never seen one.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
I do not want to be led into the trap of advertising one or other of these articles. I shall give the hon. Member further information afterwards which will enable him to go 1865 to one of these exhibitions and spend a little money in order to experiment for himself, because that is the best way of testing these gadgets.
I commend this Bill as a first instalment towards an objective which everybody must have at heart, namely the effort to make the homes of this country safer, especially for women and children. Let us remember that the home is the housewife's workshop. She works there. She spends by far the greater part of her life in dealing with the mechanics of running the home. The men go out and make all kinds of marvellous speeches and parade themselves on various occasions, but the housewife has to stay behind and run the home with these inefficient appliances which have flooded the market for so long. I am glad to see that this Bill will make a start towards remedying this situation.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting this Bill. I do not intend to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) in his talk about gadgets. That seems to me rather a technical subject of which, apparently, he has great knowledge but on which I feel I cannot usefully follow him at the moment.
I was surprised at the attitude adopted by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) towards this Bill. Possibly, it was because he had seen the opposition to it from this side and merely wanted to square matters up. I tried to follow his speech very carefully, but it seemed to me to lack logic to a rather great extent. I could never quite tell at what point he was supporting the Bill and at what point he was condemning it.
The hon. and learned Member's main argument against it seemed to be that the Bill did not go far enough. That might very well be, but surely it is better to start with a small beginning and with something that is practicable. At any rate, everyone can see that this Bill is something which can be carried into effect without too much difficulty. With the various matters that the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to introduce, it would have been well nigh impossible to do anything about the Bill.
1866 Only yesterday I had the opportunity of going with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk. South-West (Mr. Bullard), to the "Daily Mail" Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia, and I looked at the houses there which the Ministry of Housing are sponsoring. I took particular note of the type of fire installed in those houses because it seemed a matter relevant to this Bill. I consider that the type of coal fire installed is the very type that is required if we are to prevent the danger of accidents from open fires, such as the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester talked about. I would recommend him to look at them. They are of the semi-enclosed type and seem to me to be just the right sort for carrying out the provisions of this Bill. I noticed, however, that some of the electric fires installed were put half way up the wall with no protection at all, and were a good reason, again, for bringing this Bill into force.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams), who spoke against the Bill, has been adequately answered by a number of people, but there is just one point of his that I wish to take up. He raised the question of these fires and said that parents would in any case provide some form of protection for their children. Of course, there are many parents who do provide that form of protection, but there are undoubtedly a large number who do not.
I say to my hon. Friend quite definitely that the parents who would themselves provide the protection would be just as ready, and perhaps even more willing, to buy a fire with a guard already fixed to it in order to save themselves the trouble of providing a separate method of protection. Therefore, I suggest that his argument on that basis falls to the ground. Those who would not are the very ones we want to make sure will have to do so. Therefore, it seems to me that his logic on the subject was not quite sound.
§ Mr. G. Williams
All I said was that I am very glad that fires should have guards in order to protect children in nurseries, but why compel all of us who can look after ourselves to have these fireguards?
§ Mr. Godber
That seems a valid point, but even that can be shown to be not 1867 quite sound when, as has been pointed out, even my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has himself been involved in a fire in this way. It shows we all need some protection in some form or another, whether we realise it or not.
On the rather more technical point of the type of guard to be provided, I saw yesterday some specimens which used a number of rather thick metal bars. It would be very much better to have a mesh of thinner metal to form a guard because that would not become so hot. It is no use putting on a fire a guard which of itself would become so hot that a child would be burned if he came up against it. A mesh would also enable more heat to be obtained from the fire.
We have heard arguments today about the economic value of these provisions in saving hospital beds, but I look upon this subject from the humanitarian side—the avoidance of death and mutilation to so many children and aged people. It is on those grounds that we should commend the Bill, and I think it has every right to the support of both sides of the House on those grounds alone.
There is another problem which could not be covered by this Bill, but which is relevant to it. That is the danger not so much from burns but from scalds which occur in so many ways. There is room, if not for legislation, for publicity on that subject. There should be better designing of many types of receptacles for hot and boiling water. I think we ought to consider at some stage whether it would be possible to do anything to deal with that problem. I give my full support to the Bill and I am very glad that my hon. Friend had the opportunity of introducing it. He could not have thought of a better Bill.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Every hon. Member will welcome this Bill, and the speeches today, with one regrettable exception, have treated its subject as a non-party matter. I refer to the regrettable speech of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell); but no doubt he will conclude in due course that a Bill that seeks to prevent children from being burnt should not be a matter for party controversy.
1868 I agree with the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) when he says it would be a pity if this Bill became endangered through putting too much into it. I suggest that in Committee we might consider, under Clause 5, a technique of cooking which has resulted from post-war development, namely, the solid fuel burning hot-plate system. One can now buy fairly cheap ranges which use a hot-plate for cooking. The flame is not open, but nevertheless it has exactly the same effect as an electric element hot-plate. These appliances are built in such a size and are usually installed in such a position that toddlers can quite easily get up to them and put their hands on the hotplate. I suggest that in Committee we might consider that danger when we deal with Regulations under Clause 5.
I welcome the Bill. I was very impressed with the letters I received from women in all parts of my constituency in addition to letters from branches of the Women's Institute. I should like to congratulate those who have brought this Bill forward.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)
The departure of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) means that much of the ferocity has gone out of the debate.
§ Mr. Bell
That is the hon. Member's comment, not mine. I thought the Bill was so non-controversial that we should all be repeating ourselves in commending it. The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester managed to start an inflamed controversy with himself, and at the end of his speech I was not sure which side of that controversy he was on.
What commends itself to me about this Bill is the fact that it is practical and unobjectionable. There is some force in the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams); but I think his argument is overborne by the fact that under this Bill we do not propose to go into people's houses to see how their appliances are protected. We go, as we should do, to the commercial point to see that the appliances are sold in a proper condition.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I have read the Bill and I find that Clause 2 (1) says:A local authority may authorise in writing any of its officers to inspect…
§ Mr. Bell
I still say it, and I will say why in just a minute. I should like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend, the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in putting forward this eminently reasonable and practical Bill.
I should also like to join in congratulating Dr. Colebrook, who did such great work in this direction before retiring. He showed good judgment in retiring to South Buckinghamshire. The magnitude of the problem is shown very clearly in the statistics which have been given to us today. I am sure the whole House feels that we should try to forge an instrument, through this Bill, which is as effective as possible without being impracticable.
For that reason alone I entirely disagree with almost everything that was said by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester. If we adopted his argument, we should be trying to equip about 5 million old electric radiators with fireguards. We could never get the metal for it; the expense would be extremely heavy, and the whole thing would be impossible of execution, even with an army of inspectors going into people's homes. It would be equally impracticable to prevent the sale of electric appliances from the time we passed this Bill until the Regulations came into effect. Quite obviously there must be a gap, because the guards are not ready, and the Regulations must not come into effect until the guards are ready. We cannot suspend the sale of electric heating appliances until the Regulations come into effect.
For this reason I am sorry that the Bill does not contain a Clause repealing the Section of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1908, now re-enacted as Section 11 of the Act of 1933, which is a bad provision in that it tries to deal 1870 with this problem in the wrong way. It is entirely ineffective. It is a dead letter and it has not been put into effect. It is objectionable in principle and I think it would be a good idea if a Clause could be added to this Bill in the Committee stage repealing that Section and making it clear that from now on that we intend to proceed along the lines that this Bill lays down.
I was a little concerned at the procedure for making Regulations which is embodied in this Bill; but the more I examined the problem the more I was satisfied that that was the only way we could carry out the effect of the Bill.
The word "sales" occurs in Clause 1. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State whether that will be cleared up, Sales to whom? If it means sales to the public, I entirely agree; but if it includes the case of one man selling to another, when the job is perhaps not completed, that is a different matter. The Bill should not strike at the man who sells a partly-finished article. That point should be cleared up in Committee.
The Bill gives my hon. Friend power, in the Regulations which he can make under Clause 1 (1), to provide that where the fire is so situated that it is safe by reason of its position, then no fireguard need be attached to it even at the time of sale. There is a provision of that kind in the factory legislation and it should find a place here, probably in the Regulations but possibly in the Bill before it leaves Committee.
A small point arises on Clause 1 (2), which I think should be dealt with in the Bill. The hiring of domestic appliances is not covered. Hire-purchase, which is a kind of sale, is covered, but no restrictions are imposed on the ordinary hiring of domestic appliances for use in the home. That point ought to be covered.
I would point out that Clause 2 does not confer any right of entry at all but merely a right of inspection. No right of entry is to be implied merely because a right of inspection is granted. Not only is the local authority inspector not in a position to go into people's homes, but under the Bill he cannot even go into the shop or factory.
§ Mr. Nabarro
This is a most interesting legal dissertation. What would be 1871 the position in the case of an inset electric wall fire which could not be inspected unless the local authority officer entered the house?
§ Mr. Bell
I can only tell my hon. Friend what I believe to be the meaning of the Clause as drafted. I think I am correct, and the Minister might correct me if I am wrong; but my impression is that no power of entry is conferred by this Bill at all—certainly not into homes and I do not think elsewhere.
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. Friend agrees. The enforcement of the Bill at the moment, therefore, is to some extent based on consent. That may be quite all right, because I understand there is a general desire on the part of the trade that effect should be given to these provisions. I am not criticising the Bill because it does not contain a right of entry: I merely make the comment, because it has not been made before, that no right of entry is conferred in the Bill.
I am glad to see, in Clause 3, a Clause relating to directors of companies which leaves the burden of proof where it properly ought to be. Clause 5 contains the important words "resulting from accidental contact," which I suggest partly answer the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge. No one would suggest that by legislation we should try to force foolproof heating appliances upon people. What the Bill seeks to do is to give the Minister power to make Regulations specifically confined to preventing accidental contact. The Minister has no power to require by his Regulations that the appliances shall be foolproof.
I think that that is right, because we cannot reasonably subject domestic appliances to precautions so rigid that no child by ingenuity in conscious action can get round them somehow. We are, in fact, confining the provision to accidental contact, and that in part answers the point put forward by my hon. Friend.
That is another consideration which answers his point. In a time of allocations of metal, it is unfair that the manufacturer who wants to make fires with 1872 the proper protection on them is thereby prevented from making as many fires as his competitor who does not use any metal for fireguards. The present control and allocation of metals means that even the normal demand by parents for protective fires would not, perhaps, find expression in the general extension of the provision of adequate fireguards for these appliances.
I turn very briefly to a point I raised in an intervention when my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster was speaking. I am sorry that the Bill contains no reference to the stability of heating appliances. In addition to the danger of brushing against exposed filaments or flames, there is a very real risk involved through the knocking over of appliances. I do not think that the wordsaccidental contact with, or proximity to, flames or heating elements.in Clause 5 (1) would empower my hon. Friend to make Regulations governing the stability of heating appliances. I hope that that deficiency may be remedied in the Committee stage.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said in his speech that he proposed in the Regulations to exempt from the requirements heating appliances designed or destined for industrial premises. There is a great difference in whether an appliance is designed or destined for a certain place. How will my hon. Friend be able to enforce at the selling point Regulations which have regard both to design and to destination? I do not put the point any more strongly at the moment, but I ask him to see that no important leak develops by the exemption of heating appliances which are thought to be destined for industrial premises.
Those are the principal points to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. At this late stage of the debate, with other hon. Members also wishing to commend the Bill, I ought not to detain the House further. I therefore merely ask the House to give this extremely deserving Bill the Second Reading which it merits.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I have listened to most of the debate and have found it very interesting. I do not think, however, that there is a sufficient 1873 realisation of the improvement that has already taken place. The latest figures which I can get from the Library are contained in the 1949 Annual Abstract of Statistics and go no later than 1948. The highest figures I can find for deaths from accidental burns relate to the year 1940, when there were 1,766 deaths. By 1948 the number had dropped to 759, and the drop has been progressive, as the statistics reveal. That is very remarkable, having regard to the fact that the number of new electrical and gas appliances which must have gone into homes in the eight years to which I have referred must have been enormous. It indicates, therefore, that the present designs must be very much better than the old designs.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I think that partly the reason for that improvement is the great advances in the technique of treating burns and shock. It is rather a medical improvement.
§ Sir H. Williams
That may well be the case, because during the war great progress was made. There are no adequate statistics about accidents. The only accidents that are known are of people who go to hospital. The only definite statistics are the statistics of deaths. One of the great advantages of this debate has been to draw the attention of the public to the fact that accidents in the home are, in magnitude, more serious than the number of deaths on the roads. I do not want to go too far beyond the scope of the debate, but in a year the number of injuries by falling, crushing, etc., was 4,649, as compared with 4,093 on the roads. There are the great many other causes of accidents to be looked into in addition to those on the roads, which quite properly attract so much attention.
I have a personal interest in this matter because of an accident to a young lady who is remotely related to me through marriage. She was displaying a new frock to a girl friend in her bedroom; the frock reached to the ground, it blew out a little and struck the element, catching fire; she rushed into the adjoining room where there is a shower-bath and drenched the fire, but the mere process of running instead of wrapping herself up in something led to a month in hospital. I am glad to say that her burns are not normally visible; she is a pretty girl, and her looks remain unimpaired.
1874 This accident happened only last January, and it shows how easily these things happen, and how unprepared people are to deal with such an emergency. These were a couple of girls of 18, who had had no previous experience of that sort of thing, and if instead of her running to the next room, her friend had picked up a rug and put it around her, she might have escaped. Perhaps those who sell the apparatus might in future attach a little leaflet about taking precautions against burning. It is important, not only to take steps to prevent accidents happening, but to be able to apply the appropriate treatment if they do happen.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) was rather innocent in his speech, but we had a deplorable speech from the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), who said it was quite absurd to deal only with new apparatus, and that we ought to deal with all existing apparatus. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said there were 5 million of these appliances, but I am certain that is a gross underestimate. There are in this country about 12 million inhabited houses, in most of which there are one or more gas or electric heaters.
I live in a flat in Westminster in which we have only one fireplace; in all the other rooms there are built-in electric fires, so I have quite a lot. Most offices have gas or electric fires nowadays, and I think that there must be two or three times as many as my hon. Friend suggested. That illustrates how deplorable was the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester, because the job would be incapable of achievement.
There is under consideration by Standing Committee A a Bill called the Electric Supply (Meters) Bill, which proposes to extend to 20 years the period of exemption in respect of certain meters. I am interested in that Bill, because it is a Government Bill amending an Act which I originally induced Parliament to pass in 1936. That was because a Socialist municipality tried to cheat one of its consumers, who took legal action and showed that he ought not to have had an electricity bill. My Act dealt with the inspection of meters, and provided a 1875 period of 10 years; it did not involve the inspection of fittings, but only the inspection of meters to make sure that they read correctly. The last Government extended the period from 10 to 15 years; this Government is adding another five years. The number of meters to be inspected is far less than the number of fires that must be dealt with, so it would be impossible to put them all in order, and that ought to be put on record.
The only proper way to tackle a problem like this is to deal with all the new fires and advise people what to do about the existing ones. Some are reasonably well protected, but the trouble is that we do not know quite what is reasonable protection. I was looking at the electric fires in my own flat yesterday and they seemed to me to be reasonably protected. But I could visualise circumstances in which people accidently touched the elements and suffered burns. Those who sell these things do so with the best intentions, and they want to sell something safe. Although many on the market are perfectly safe, they would all become illegal if the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester had his own way, and all sorts of incredible difficulties would arise which would serve no useful purpose whatever.
I think that this Bill is a useful little Bill. It will be some years before it becomes fully operative. In the meantime, I hope that the campaign for safety in the home will be much advanced by today's debate, which has shown, virtually speaking, unanimity in this great cause, of saving people from these accidents. I believe that burns are the worst of all accidents. They are the most difficult injuries to treat. The methods of treatment at the outbreak of war were found to be completely wrong and had to be changed, and we are now just beginning to learn about these things. I believe that this debate will turn out to be one of the most useful Friday debates that this House has ever had.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I should like to say something on this very valuable Bill. It attempts to deal with a very grievous happening which is all too familiar in all our homes. I do not know personally whether we should tackle it through the medium of 1876 this Bill. I am inclined to believe that a debate of this kind has incalculably more value than the presentation of a Bill of this character. I know something of the electrical industry and their continual passion and energy for trying to improve their methods of supply, and I feel sure that what we have said today will have a profound effect upon design in the future.
I should have thought that a direct approach by the Home Office and the Secretary of State for Scotland to the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers' Association, drawing attention to the abundant evidence of the horrors and dangers of burning accidents, supported by Parliamentary opinion, would result in their producing suitable methods which would give the public confidence and go far to remedy this particular evil.
My memory goes back to an earlier alarm, in essence of a not dissimilar character. Something like 30 years ago, there was a fabric which was worn by women and children called flannelette. It was a cotton fabric with a light fluffy and highly inflammable surface. I am speaking now about the years 1908 to 1910, and the papers then were full of reports of deplorable burning accidents, long before the electric fire had become established. This highly-inflammable substance was worn as nightgowns by men, and by women for a similar purpose, and particularly by children. It was a cotton fabric which washed well and was extremely cheap to buy, but it had this high degree of inflammability.
§ Sir W. Darling
I see the former Home Secretary nodding approval. He probably has similar recollections.
§ Sir W. Darling
The right hon. Gentleman might have had a warmer heart if he had been dressed in flannelette. Any way, the day of his opportunity has passed. I cannot now see him successfully procuring a length of this material—and he would want four and a half yards if he wanted to tuck it over his feet—for a nightgown. I cannot see him resorting this afternoon to making such a 1877 purchase, but a friend of mine tells me that he still prefers the old-fashioned nightgown to the modern pyjamas.
This highly-inflammable fabric produced a campaign for all sorts of guards and protections Ultimately, public opinion fixed on the manufacturers, and they treated this substance with a chemical of some sort which made it non-inflammable. While it made it non-inflammable, it almost made it intolerable to wear because of its stiffness, and that material has now largely been driven out of the market. The well-intentioned agitation to make a highly dangerous material safer produced a change which eliminated the material altogether, and now people wear mixed cotton and wool or rayon instead. The lesson we can draw from that is that good intentions often produce entirely different results from those that we expect. Those good intentions are clearly behind the Bill.
I look at the Bill critically because it is a maiden effort. Clause 1 refers to a guard. I am not unsympathetic towards the Bill, but what is a "guard"? The word has the widest possible interpretation. The other day an hon. Member opposite was talking about Guards. I should find it very difficult to describe a "guard" in this connection. No doubt that is possible, but some further elucidation seems to be required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) drew my attention to Clause 2, which says:A local authority may authorise in writing any of its officers to inspect and test appliances…I take it that that is in shops and factories; but if an improperly fitted device were improperly sold, the local authority would have no recourse to the home of the person to whom it was sold. The only action local authorities can take is against those engaged in offering these appliances for sale. I deplore the increase in the numbers of inspectors under local authorities and I should deplore an extension of their field of action.
The provision for a fine not exceeding £50, contained in Clause 3, seems a little heavy, particularly when I see that it may apply to:…any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or any person purporting to act in any such capacity …1878 That is a heavy penalty to fall upon a wide range of individuals who could not all, by any stretch of imagination, be definitely, personally and individually, associated with an unsatisfactory appliance.
Looking at Clause 4, I see that Scotland is excluded. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this. It says:A local authority in England or Wales may institute proceedings…Apparently a local authority in Scotland cannot do so. Or did my hon. Friend leave it to the good sense of Scottish local authorities? Some mention ought to be made of the position in Scotland.
§ Mr. Bullard
I am not fully aware of the procedure in Scotland, but I gather that Scottish local authorities cannot undertake proceedings on their own and must receive authority from higher level. Consequently the requirement is unnecessary in Scotland.
§ Sir W. Darling
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend has satisfied himself about this, and I accept his explanation.
Let us now look at some of the manufacturing difficulties. There is the cost of metal—an important matter these days—and of fabrication and the amount of labour required for such fabrication, and we must also remember the multiplicity of devices and the sizes of fitments which would be necessary to convert the devices into safe devices. There has been no attempt at standardisation of fires; there is the widest possible variety, somewhat stimulated—I do not seek to make a party point—by the fact that these appliances were put on the market after the war free of Purchase Tax and were bought in considerable numbers.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), pointed out, a protective metal guard would entail an immense amount of labour, covering 10, 15 or 20 years. I beg my hon. Friend to bear in mind that very important consideration. How effective is such a guard like to be? When some of these appliances are fitted with a guard, the guard becomes very hot, if not actually red-hot. The proper fitting of the device is not an unimportant matter. I should be inclined to leave the matter with the manufacturers. As I said before, it will stimulate their attitude towards these things.
1879 There are other possible devices, but the fundamental one is the one which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster has made his own. I speak with some interest in the electricity business, and perhaps it is not in my interest to say this, but the stove he mentions is the most suitable for domestic purposes. It is convenient, it is handy and it is the most economical. The slow combustion stove is the most desirable of all internal space heaters, and those who are concerned with the prevention of these accidents should turn to the ideas expounded by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster-and see the advantages of the enclosed internal combustion stove.
I am not going to oppose this Bill. I am going to give it my support. I am familar with too many tragic accidents to do other than give this Bill my heartiest good wishes. I would add that it is desirable to instruct the public as to the danger of burns as compared with cuts and bruises and other wounds. They are the most difficult to heal, and I should like to see in every household—there is one in mine—a box labled "burns" which contains the necessary antidotes for them. There is a dispute in medical circles on this subject, but every house should provide itself with something to deal with the many accidents which can come so surprisingly and so devastatingly from fires. I repeat that this is a valuable Bill and that we have had a valuable, profitable and, I hope, fruitful discussion.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) wrapping his flannelette shirt around the proposals contained in this Bill, and I thought he did it successfully and neatly. Then he raised little doubts, and went on to mention one rather dangerous point. He, in fact, suggested that the publicity from this debate would be enough. In spite of the fact that he said he would not oppose the Bill, I think we should not allow that statement to go uncontradicted.
I cannot help referring once again to the question of road accidents and road deaths. If one compares the amount of publicity with the tragic lists which we 1880 see week by week and month by month, it will be observed what little effect the publicity is producing on the public, for the figures are still alarming. It shows that it takes a good deal more publicity to encourage people to use common sense and to teach common sense to their children. Therefore, I would write off completely the value of publicity by itself in dealing with this sort of very dangerous problem.
I felt very sorry for the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams). He, most unhappily for himself, criticised this Bill. He is apparently one of those unfortunate individuals who never has a child or an aged person in his house. He misses a great deal through the absence of both children and aged persons. He could learn from the one and could teach the other. I am sure their presence would keep him much busier and happier than he appears to be at the present time.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
My hon. Friend informs me that he has three children. I am well aware of it, but apparently these children are not of the age when they are likely to bump into electric or gas fires unprotected.
§ Mr. Williams
My hon. Friend misses my entire point. I have got children and I feel responsible for looking after them, and I say that people should be responsible for looking after their children without it being necessary to compel them to have guards for their fires.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Exactly the same argument can be used about all road safety measures. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is deplorable that the advance of science and the invention of the electric fire and the gas fire have driven us to take all sorts of physical precautions against accidents from them.
It is also horrible to see hundreds of yards of railings on the footwalks, and thousands of miles of white paint spread along the roads and on the kerbs, and so on; but do they not all prove that invention has marched beyond the power of absorption of the average person living today? We have to try to protect those 1881 whose imagination and common sense have not kept pace with modern developments.
My hon. Friend raises the whole fundamental question whether we can or should use only common sense or should use compulsion. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South, said that the majority of manufacturers of these appliances would probably be willing to give an undertaking not to manufacture appliances without sufficient guards, but the manufacturers who would not give the undertaking would not be the best type of manufacturer and it is unlikely that any local authority visitor would be able to make contact with them to prevent them thrusting on the market many of these appliances in the most dangerous state. We cannot leave this matter to the hope that common sense will grow and keep pace with the added dangers of life on the roads and in the home.
For that reason I think the Bill performs a useful function. The moment I heard that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), had been fortunate enough to be able to introduce it, I told him that I would give it any support I could, which is not much. I hope the House will make it clear that we realise our responsibility for trying to remove the danger where it lies and where we think it will increase unless we take the steps proposed in the Bill.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am not trying to talk out this small but very useful Bill. I am, however, a little perturbed by one or two points that arise. I cannot help feeling that when the Minister comes to draw up Regulations, he will have a very difficult task.
I wonder whether he will be able to give sufficient time by way of notice to the designers and manufacturers of appliances so that the pipe-line which will be full of fires designed without guards may first be emptied. He must presumably give two years' or three years' notice. Many of the fires of present design are on the shelves of stores or in warehouses. If we are to send round people from the local authority, how are they to know the date of manufacture of these types of fire and whether or not the Regulations have been broken? Existing stocks must take 1882 some time to work themselves out, even after the Regulations are introduced.
I am a little worried about the actual radiation efficiency of fires fitted with guards. The very principle of the Davy lamp is to put a grid between the flame and the inflammable air outside in order to avoid the dangers of conflagration and explosion. Therefore, if a grid is placed between the fire and the outside it must draw away some of the radiated heat, although I realise that the convection current will go on over the top of the fire. I hope that the Secretary of State will take expert advice before he draws up his Regulations.
I cannot help wondering also whether this is the best moment for finding another reason for using metals in home products when we are so woefully short of materials of all kinds. We must take into consideration, too, the regulations about the guarding of electric fires in those countries to which we export our products. It is quite clear that if we are to go on with our export drive we must have here Regulations which are similar to those abroad. There is no point in the manufacturer having one design of guard for the home product and another design of guard for export.
We have done something worth while this afternoon in drawing attention to this matter. I certainly was not aware of the large number of accidents which occur in homes as a result of conflagrations until this Measure came before us and we received the usual spate of literature on the subject.
I should like to know if we are to see a period of two or three years elapse while the Secretary of State consults the various designing authorities, because I imagine that nothing less will enable all the fires which are distributed throughout the trade and country to be passed into homes. Thereafter we shall need a date of manufacture on each fire and perhaps a statement that after 1955, for instance, all fires must be guarded. Unless that is done, the local authority inspector will not be given a chance of carrying out his work with justice and efficiency.
Lastly, in supporting this Measure we may possibly be able to forget the little rhyme which I believe runs as follows:Little Tommy, dressed in sashesFell in the fire, was burned to ashes.1883 May we, as a result of this Bill, see that that does not occur again or, if it does, on the least possible number of occasions.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)
I want to assure the promoter of this Bill that I also have not the slightest intention of talking it out, and I only rise briefly in support of it.
I want to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G Williams) because I have some sympathy with what he said when he was arguing from the point of view of the careful and good parent who, to the best of his ability, looks after the safety of his children. Unfortunately we in this House cannot legislate entirely for the good parent; we must legislate for the entire country. Therefore, we must be quite certain that this Bill, which my hon. Friend for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) has had the great privilege to introduce, will fulfil the needs of all the people, whether they be good, bad or indifferent parents. I give my fullest support to this Measure, which I am sure will have an unopposed Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.