HC Deb 29 March 1956 vol 550 cc2333-6
22 Mr. Hobson

asked the Minister of Labour (1) if he will hold a public inquiry into the fire on 25th February, 1956, at Messrs. Franklin, Lorne Street, Keighley, in which eight lives were lost;

(2) on what date the last inspection of Messrs. Franklin, Lorne Street, Keighley, was made by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories; and if he will make the report available to the hon. Member for Keighley;

(3) what action he is taking to prevent a repetition of the disaster arising out of the fire at Messrs. Franklin's, Keighley, and other mills, in view of the number of old mills in the district in which machinery is installed on wooden floors, and what new regulations he intends to introduce.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)

I would like first of all to take this opportunity to express our sympathy with the relatives of all those who lost their lives in this tragic disaster.

The causes of the fire at this mill were fully considered at the recent inquest, and a detailed report has also been submitted by Her Majesty's Inspector of Factories for the district. I do not think a public inquiry would throw further light on the circumstances. The facts are being closely studied by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories with a view to deciding what steps might be taken to prevent a repetition.

The last inspection of the mill before the fire was on 19th April, 1955, when questions concerning machinery not relevant to the fire were dealt with. Inspectors' reports are confidential documents, and I am not able to make a copy available to the hon. Member.

Mr. Hobson

Is the hon. Member aware that his reply will give great disappointment to thousands of my constituents who are employed in these ancient woollen mills, of which there are many in the West Riding of Yorkshire? Is he further aware that it has already been revealed at the inquest that there have been breaches of Sections 34, 35, 36 and 37 of the Factories Act, which deal with the provision of fire alarms, and that there was no fire alarm available in this mill and no system of warning? Is he aware that the coroner has already stated categorically that the primary cause of these eight deaths was the failure to have adequate warning? In view of these violations, can he inform the House whether there are to be prosecutions?

Mr. Carr

Prosecution is being considered, particularly in relation to Section 36 (7) of the Act, which deals with fire alarms. On the wider point, in the first part of the supplementary question, I feel that there should be no cause for disappointment or alarm among the hon. Member's constituents. I said that the facts are being closely studied by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories with a view to avoiding a repetition. I can assure the hon. Member that that is being done, and my right hon. Friend and myself will be in close consultation with the chief inspector when he has finished his investigation.

Mr. Hobson

I appreciate that, but I say this quite frankly: I do not want to be thought offensive, but sympathy is not enough in a disaster of this sort, which is the greatest mill disaster in Britain for many years. I have asked whether the hon. Member would make available the factory inspector's report to myself, as Member for that constituency. Is the hon. Member aware that Her Majesty's factory inspector visited this factory in 1951 and that reports were made by her that no fire alarm system was available? How is it that no action was taken on the subsequent visit in 1955?

Mr. Carr

The firm was informed and instructed after the visit to which the hon. Member refers; there can be no doubt about it having been made fully aware and instructed about the requirements of the Act in that connection. The only object of a public inquiry would be to find further facts. In the light of the inquest and the inspector's report, we believe that all the facts are known. I again assure the hon. Member that this matter is being investigated most closely and will have the personal attention of my right hon. Friend and myself. These reports are confidential documents—that is a practice of long standing—but if the hon. Member would like to come and discuss the matter in more detail we shall be very glad to talk to him about it.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I gather from the reply that there was an inspection by the factory inspector in 1951. Do I gather that there was not another until 1955? Since the hon. Gentleman will not make available to my hon. Friend a copy of the inspector's report of 1955, may I ask whether he would make it available to the trade union concerned if the union asked for it? In view of the fact that it is very important that people who work in mills of this kind should be fully satisfied about the steps taken, is it not essential in these circumstances to hold a public inquiry? My experience is not in factories but elsewhere, and in the event of an accident in a mine the normal practice is to hold a full public inquiry, because it is essential to satisfy public opinion about what happened and what steps have been taken to prevent a repetition.

Mr. Carr

I will certainly take into account what the right hon. Gentleman says about that. I can assure him that the only desire of my right hon. Friend and myself is to treat this matter with the utmost seriousness and to take what action is possible to avoid a repetition of a tragic disaster of this kind. We will also consider his question about making available the report to the trade union, but I am advised that it is longstanding practice that these reports are confidential documents. We will certainly go into the matter further.