HC Deb 02 July 1958 vol 590 cc1325-7
42 Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Labour (1) whether he is satisfied that the City of Coventry Council carry out its duties under Section 34 of the Factories Act, 1937, in a satisfactory manner; whether the City Council in the course of issuing upwards of 400 fire escape certificates has issued certificates protecting the workers in the former shadow factories; for how many years his Department has accepted such certificates as valid; and at what date and for what reason it has now declared them invalid;

(2) approximately how many people protected by the Factories Acts are employed within the City of Coventry in the former shadow factories; at what date since the passing of the Factories Act, 1937, his Department informed the City Council that the responsibility for surveying the fire exits and issuing the statutory certificates lay not with it but with Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories; and how many certificates, protecting how many workers, Her Majesty's Inspectors have in fact issued;

(3) how many Inspectors of Factories have been taken off other duties in order to undertake the detailed surveys formerly carried out by the City of Coventry Council since his Department informed the City Council that fire escape certificates issued by them for the former shadow factories, and accepted by his Department for many years, were invalid.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I am fully satisfied with the work of the Coventry City Council in issuing fire escape certificates. The Council has issued certificates for former shadow factories. These were accepted as valid until September, 1956, when on legal advice the City Council was informed that these shadow factories were Crown factories and that the Factory Inspectorate was accordingly responsible for issuing certificates because of the provisions of Section 150 of the Factories Act, 1937. The factories concerned employ about 10,000. Three certificates have been issued by the Inspectorate for factories employing 450. Two factories employing 5,000 have been surveyed by the Inspectorate and certificates are being prepared. One factory undergoing structural alterations, and another which has just been re-built, which together employ over 3,000, will be surveyed by the Inspectorate at an appropriate time. Three factories employing small numbers will be surveyed as soon as possible. No inspectors have been taken off other duties to do this work.

Mr. Edelman

While thanking the Minister for his reply, may I ask whether it is not the case that the Coventry shadow factories are, as experience has shown, highly vulnerable to fire? Is it not the case that thanks to the operations of management and workers and the successful operation of the certificate system by the experienced inspectors of the Coventry City Council, there has not been a single fatality in a factory fire in Coventry within memory?

Is it not now the fact that, unfortunately, despite the wording of the Act, the lack of inspectors available to his Department may reduce the efficiency of the formerly effective inspection of those factories? In those circumstances, will not the right hon. Gentleman consider some form of amendment in order to restore factory fire inspection to the experienced staff of the Coventry City Council?

Mr. Macleod

I cannot promise an amendment. I should have to amend the 1937 Act to do so. The Coventry standard is very high indeed, and I pay tribute to that. It is purely because of this legal point which came to light as a result of the drive and initiative after the Keighley fire fatality that this matter was discovered. I hope to push on as quickly as possible, and I also hope to see that the standard set by the Coventry City Council is fully maintained by the inspector.

Mr. Lee

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that at the time of the Keighley fire we suggested that greater co-operation between the fire officers of the local authorities and the factory department would yield good results. Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is a closer liaison between the two bodies now?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, I think there is. In this case, for example, there have been consultations between the City Council and the Inspectorate, and we are anxious to maintain the high standard which already exists.