HC Deb 28 June 1957 vol 572 cc583-6 (1) The Minister may by regulations direct that a local authority shall reject for the purposes of this Act plans of a proposed industrial building deposited with them if the plans show that conformity, in the case of that building, to the prescribed standard will depend (wholly or to a substantial extent) upon the use, in the construction thereof, of materials of a kind specified in the regulations which do not conform to such standard of resistance to the spread of flame as may be specified or described in the regulations, unless the plans also show that the materials will be used in such a way as not to enhance the risk of fire's breaking out or spreading in the building. (2) Materials of a kind specified in regulations under this section which do not conform to the standard specified or described in the regulations are in this Act referred to as "restricted materials".—[Mr. Nabarro.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.8 a.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This new Clause has resulted from a good deal of further consideration and consultation upon all the implications of Clause 3 as printed in the Bill. Clause 3 gave the Minister power to make regulations excluding the use of certain materials for thermal insulation purposes in industrial buildings which might be considered unsuitable on the ground that they might, in certain circumstances and in certain applications, enhance the risk of spreading fire. These materials were to be specified in the regulations.

Under the original Clause as drafted the Minister would be enabled to prohibit the use of many, if not most, of the materials commonly used at present for insulating purposes. It was thought that, perhaps, such a wide power might not be necessary, and that certain materials in an appropriately treated condition would not enhance the risk of fire as much as they might have done in their untreated state.

Strong representations reached me and those associated with me in the promo- tion of the Bill—and, I believe, the interested Ministries. Those Ministries are threefold—not only the Ministry of Power but also the Home Office, which is, of course, concerned with the prevention of industrial fires and the investigation of its causes, and the Ministry of Labour and National Service, which is concerned with escape if and when fire breaks out in industrial premises. All those Ministries have been interested, as well as those associated with me, and powerful representations on this point were received from the Structural Insulation Association.

Accordingly, the new Clause, as it is now drafted, empowers the Minister to make regulations to exclude the use of materials if they do not conform with a standard of resistance to the spread of flame. Those regulations would specify particular materials and particular standards of resistance. Thus the matter becomes highly technical in character. The regulations envisaged would, for example, permit the use of material such as fibre board only if it had been treated in such a fashion as to prevent any danger arising of a spread of fire in a factory once any fire had commenced.

Plans deposited with local authorities which showed that restricted materials were to be used in a building would be rejected by the local authority under the terms of this and associated provisions in other Clauses, unless it could also be shown that the materials were to be used in such a fashion as not to increase the risk of fire breaking out or spreading in the building. For example, even where inflammable materials were used in a building for the purpose of insulation, they would not increase the fire risk if used in such a way as, for instance, as not to be exposed to the air—for example, if they were sandwiched between layers of non-inflammable material.

In that case, the local authority would pass the plans, and the regulations referred to in this and associated Clauses have full regard to all these factors. The matter is not entirely new. There is guidance for the interested Government Departments in this matter, in that standards of resistance to the spread of flame could be based upon the classification in British Standard Specifications 476 of 1953, which are all very well known to architects and builders.

This matter is of substantial topical interest in view of the disastrous fire which occurred at the principal factory of the Jaguar Company, at Coventry, a few months ago. It will be recalled that production in that factory was almost entirely interrupted for a period of several weeks. Fire broke out, and its spread was assisted and enhanced by bitumenised board which had been erected as a roof liner in the latter war days and had remained there ever since. The Home Office investigation established beyond any doubt whatever, that the spread of the fire was assisted by the character of that roof lining.

Moreover, similar roof linings may be found in other factories, and it is important, in the context of this Measure—which will require that all new factory buildings erected after next year are thermally insulated to prevent heat losses—that we do nothing inadvertently to cause a recurrence or repetition of the circumstances which led to the spread of that disastrous fire at Coventry.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

I beg to second the Motion.

I think that this new Clause is essential to the Bill. In point of fact, this Measure could have been attacked, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has pointed out, on the ground that it could conceivably increase the risk of fire; because it is possible to have very effective thermal insulation and yet to be using materials which are very inflammable. This new Clause prevents that happening and, therefore, to that extent, the Bill is improved by it.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

It may be of help if I say that our advice to the House is to accept this new Clause, which provides a satisfactory solution to a very difficult practical problem, and also to a difficult problem of drafting. This is, I think, the draftsmen's fourth attempt to overcome the difficulties inherent in drafting a Clause of this kind for which, incidentally, I understand that there is no precedent.

Further, the House may wish to know what would be my noble Friend's attitude towards the power to make regulations which this new Clause grants. On his behalf, I undertake that appropriate regulations will, in due course, be laid.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.