HC Deb 27 May 1960 vol 624 cc935-53

Amendments made: In page 5, line 16, at end insert:

"Act of 1932" means the Hire Purchase and Small Debt (Scotland) Act, 1932, as amended by the Hire-Purchase Act, 1954; "credit-sale agreement" means an agreement for the sale of goods under which the whole or part of the purchase price is payable by instalments, except that, as respects Scotland, it does not include an agreement to sell under a contract to which the Act of 1932 applies.

In line 20, leave out from "the" to end of line 21 and insert "Act of 1932".—[Mr. Nabarro.]

3.6 p.m.

Mr. Nabarro

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has so far had a relatively rapid passage in this House, having been read the First time on 15th March, given a Second Reading on 1st April, considered in Committee on 13th May when substantial Amendments were made, and the few Amendments today on Report, culminating with the Third Reading. It is fair to say that it is an all-party Measure evidently warmly supported by Her Majesty's Government.

The Bill is perhaps a reflection upon our arrangements in this country in that so often we await catastrophe to overtake us, in one sphere or another, before legislative action is taken by this House and in another place. For example, it will be recalled that it was not until 4,000 Londoners had lost their lives during and after the dreadful "smog" in the winter of 1952 that the Beaver Committee was set up and was followed by the clean air legislation of 1955–56.

It is an exact analogy to say in the context of this Bill that had it not been for the penetrating inquiries of the coroner following the disaster at Ware in Hertfordshire on 13th November, 1959, and the widespread technical inquiries concerning domestic portable oil heaters which followed, by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and similar bodies, we would not have had presented to the House by the Home Secretary, on 7th March last, such a graphic account of the dangers and hazards inherent in these heaters. And, of course, it was that statement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 7th March last which caused me on the following day to set down a Motion on the Order Paper seeking leave to bring in this Bill.

The Bill gives the Home Secretary full statutory powers to make regulations requiring minimum standards of safety and efficiency for domestic portable oil burners. Another way of defining appliances of that kind is to say that they are un-Rued—a hyphenated expression connoting that they are portable in character and not attached to a flue being part of the fabric of a building. The Bill covers portable domestic heaters only and excludes fixed appliances such as oil boilers, oil radiators, and equipment of that kind.

I hope that this Measures will be a precursor to comprehensive legislation for safety in the home. The number of accidents arising in the home today from hazards of one kind and another in the use of oil, electrical and gas appliances is mounting steadily. In the aggregate they have now reached huge proportions, the subject is closely affiliated to the work of the Committee on Consumer Protection, now called the Molony Committee, which issued its Interim Report (Cmnd. 1011) last April, shortly after the Second Reading of the Bill. The Report contained a number of paragraphs drawing particular attention to the dangers of the oil-burning portable domestic appliances referred to in the Bill.

If the House consents to the Third Reading of the Bill today we shall be implementing precisely the recommendations contained in the Interim Report of the Molony Committee. When the final report of that Committee is available I hope that the Government will proceed with more comprehensive legislation, using the Bill as a model of what is required in a wider field.

I need hardly add that the Bill will cover new appliances of a kind of which there are now more than 12 million in use. It can apply only to new appliances, manufactured and marketed after the date when the Regulations referred to in Clause 1, become operative. It cannot touch in any way the 12 million appliances already in the hands of the consumers. It is a powerful Measure. Not only does it require the making of Regulations by the Home Secretary to prescribe standards of efficiency and safety but it couples with that, in Clause 2, a total prohibition upon the marketing of sub-standard appliances, which have so largely been the cause of the accidents to which I have referred.

Clause 3 is a penetrating Clause, dealing with the inspection and testing of heaters by the enforcing authorities, which are the local authorities. Full opportunities exist for such local authorities to obtain specimens of suspicious heaters—using the term "suspicious" metaphorically—and to send them to a number of appointed laboratories, municipal or private, such as those of the British Standards Institution or the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, for testing and certification.

The regulations made under Clause 1 must necessarily be of a strong and meticulous character. They will require to include detailed instructions for the use of these heaters when the heaters are marketed. They will include particular requirements, in the form of markings on the heater, drawing attention to the manufacturer's name or trade mark, the manufacturer's type number, the British Standard with which the appliance is associated, a warning against the use of the wrong fuel, such as petrol instead of kerosene—which can be extremely hazardous—against carrying the appliance when it is lit—which has led to the death of many small children—upon the need for adequate ventilation, for protection against draughts, and a special warning against placing the appliance in a position in a room where it can easily be knocked over, and other suitable warnings.

All those matters come within the purview of marking. The specification of the heater itself would form the subject of separate paragraphs in the Regulations, and I hope that they will be comprehensive in character, covering all the technical considerations of construction, notably fixing devices to prevent the heaters being knocked over, requirements as to the use of metals and associated substances for the prevention of corrosion—which has been the cause of so many accidents—the dangers of spillage of fuel, the construction of the wick, the burner and the winder, manufacturing tolerances, the interchangeability and the assembly of removable components, guards, the question of lighting the heater, and a number of other technical matters. All those points should form the subject matter of the Statutory Instrument to be laid before the House before 31st December, next, in accordance with the requirements of the Bill.

There are only two other matters to which I wish to allude. The first concerns the enforcement authority. It will be seen that a definition of a local authority in Clause 8 of the Bill follows the precedents of many earlier Bills. It has been represented to me in the last few days by the County Councils Association that it should be predominantly associated with this work of enforcement. As I did not have the Association's representations until yesterday, that is, after the Bill had passed through its Committee stage, it has hardly been possible for me to deal fully with the points that the Association has made.

Of course, if the power of the county councils in the matter of enforcement were considered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government it might well be to the detriment of other local authorities. I cannot imagine that it would be easy to obtain a high common factor of consent among the conflicting interests of different classes of local authorities as to which should be predominant in this field.

I have therefore felt bound to tell the County Councils Association that, at this late stage, I am afraid that we must have an open mind on the matter as to which kind of local authority can most suitably undertake duties of this kind. Other local authority associations, that is, local authority associations other than the County Councils Association, might take a different view.

I think that all these representative bodies ought to be given adequate opportunity to express their views before any decision is taken to alter the provisions of the Bill. I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and, of course, to my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, to see whether, if we secure a Third Reading for the Bill, between this date and the time that it is considered in another place the voices of the local representative bodies might be collected in order to find out whether there is any measure of agreement. Otherwise, I am afraid, the wording in the Bill at present would have to remain.

Finally, the reason for the Bill is twofold. It is an endeavour to cut down the hideous toll of fatal accidents in the home arising from fires caused through oil-burning appliances, many of a substandard character. These deaths have been large in number. I have been careful to collect statistics, very recent statistics not yet published in any official document, and I quote them on the authority of the Fire Officers' Committee of the Fire Protection Association.

Between January and March, 1960—three months only—eleven people lost their lives through oil burner fires in the home. In the last quarter of last year, between October and December, 1959, again eleven people lost their lives. Between January and March, 1959, sixteen people lost their lives. In the period October to December, 1958, four people lost their lives. Between January and March, 1958, twelve people lost their lives, and so on.

There is a very large death roll resulting from these dangerous appliances. There is an even larger loss in terms of property and money, though that is a materialistic and not a human consideration, resulting from the huge number of fires. The House might note that in 1956 there were 1,202 fires caused by oil burning appliances, that is, fires in the home. In 1958, two years later, the figure had risen to 4,464 in a year. It had been multiplied more than four times.

The Molony Committee brings out graphically, by another means certainly, the significance of the figures that I have given. Their alternative method is to compare the question of paraffin heater fires per 1,000 tons of paraffin delivered to the home market. In paragraph 23 on page 8 of its Report, the Committee said: …the incidence of paraffin heater fires per thousand tons of paraffin delivered to the home market rose from 2.2 in 1947 to 3.2 in 1949, and again from 3.3 in 1952 to 4.1 in 1956, thereby roughly doubling in a period of nine years.

In this House we cannot legislate for the utterly stupid. We cannot seek to make laws to protect the totally improvident. All we can do, surely, and this is the purpose of the Bill, is to assure that in future these oil-burning portable appliances for the home are clearly marked with the requirements for assuring good standards of safety in their use; that instructions accompany the heaters showing exactly how they should be used and that the heaters conform to the requirements of a very high technical standard. Then, I hope that by propaganda—notably the reports of the dreadful accidents which have appeared in so many newspapers and on the radio and television programmes associated with the topic—the public will become more alive to the dangers of leaving these heaters unfixed in rooms where small children may be playing; where they may stand in dangerous positions, and where a door may suddenly be opened, causing a draught which in turn may cause the heater to flare which may possibly result in a fire leading to loss of life or a serious accident.

I hope that I will have the unanimous support of the House in moving the Third Reading of the Bill.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I think I shall carry the House with me in saying that we owe a debt to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) over his activity in the promotion of this Bill and his perseverence. I sometimes think that perhaps his ebullient demeanour in this House causes some eyebrows to be raised speculatively, but no one would deny that the hon. Gentleman has great courage and imagination. This Bill is one which will be well thought of in due course and, as I say, we owe a debt to the hon. Gentleman.

I should like to underline one or two things which he has already said, first about the advice or part to be played by various forms of local authorities. I am not at all sure that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the county councils. I represent a constituency which is largely rural and in respect of that and similar constituencies a major rôle is played by county councils in connection with the fire department. Since the fire department is intimately concerned with this problem, I think it may be that the rôle of county councils ought to be considered afresh in another place.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that between 1947 and 1956 there had been a substantial increase in the number of oil burners used in this country. I make no apology for reminding the House about what was said in the Interim Report of the Molony Committee about these figures. As the House will be aware, the Committee drew attention to the undue delay which it seemed to think had occurred in coming to conclusions about the figures, and providing an analysis and interpretation of the significance of this tremendous increase in the number of oil burners and fires. I cannot help feeling that since the end of the war there has been a general increase in the number of technical associations advisory councils and all sorts of organisations which seem to find jobs for people, yet do not appear to exercise sufficient imagination. I do not blame the particular organisations here, although I think all of us, especially those who have an immediate direct responsibility for analysing fire risks, should have been more alive to this problem.

In empowering the Secretary of State to provide regulations, I hope the Minister will consider that section of the Report on the effect of draughts on the burning of portable oil heaters, published by the D.S.I.R. and the Joint Fire Research Organisation, which deals with possible remedial measures in so far as it affects oil burners now in use in homes. I think most of us will agree that certain pieces of legislation—I am thinking at the moment particularly about clean air legislation and river pollution legislation—which have gone on to the Statute Book since the end of the war have taken a very long time to become understood by the public or to be enforced by responsible authorities.

With this Bill to which we are now giving the Third Reading, I hope that the Secretary of State will see what he can do in designing and drafting regulations to ensure that account is taken of the possible remedial measures and that they will be enforced on manufacturers and brought to the attention of the public. Especially in rural areas, less so in these days when television and other agencies are available to everybody, but nevertheless in rural areas, it is not so easy to bring to the attention of people changes in the law, dangers, remedial measures and so forth.

I do not think that we are dealing with the subject as a whole unless we take account of the fact, for instance, that the number of drip-feed type heaters already in use is 3 million. It is a fair assumption that there is one in each of 3 million homes and there is the risk that householders or parents might not appreciate what is attempted under this Bill. That is one of the points the Secretary of State should take into account when drafting regulations.

There are secondary effects about oil heaters which, strictly speaking, so far as I read the Bill, do not get covered by the empowering authority given under the Bill. I refer to the effect of the burning up of oxygen in homes where these burners are used. I understand that the French Academy of Medicine is at present investigating the particular danger of reduction of the normal air content. It is a substantial danger which, in my judgment, people have not as yet begun to realise fully.

I conclude by saying that we can legislate happily here, we can see that copies of the Act are published and that all local authorities are informed, but the real effectiveness of this sort of Measure will be when every home which has to use an oil burner knows what its basic provisions are. I suggest that the Government might well consider some form of publicity, such as has been used over road accidents, health and so forth, in bringing to the attention of the public what the dangers are and how they can be avoided, bearing in mind that in this matter a substantial number of sufferers are children who do not come within the ambit of the hon. Member's phrase of "the improvident or stupid", but who are the somewhat helpless.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Once more the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is to be congratulated on having succeeded in getting through the House, if the Bill succeeds, another Measure designed to make the home a safer place than it was before. It is and has been the most dangerous place in the country, judging by the number of accidents, and it will continue to be somewhat dangerous if these 3 million drip-feed, radiant heaters continue to be used unmodified.

I have with me the Report of the Fire Officers' Committee of the Fire Protection Association which deals with a number of these accidents which have taken place. I will not weary the House by going through many of them, particularly in view of the very short time left, but I will mention a few. In Bristol, in February, a small girl lost her life through a faulty heater. In London, in November last year, a heater was mishandled and a woman and young boy, although rescued, nearly lost their lives. Faulty, mishandled and misused heaters have resulted in loss of life, and not long ago a faulty heater caused three people in London to lose their lives. This long history of accidents can continue through the faultiness or mishandling of this dangerous type of heater.

I have looked very carefully at the power which the Secretary of State has. He has power to make regulations dealing with heaters already in use. I shall look to see whether he uses that power to enable enforcement of the changing of heaters and the conversion of heaters to make them safe when they are now being used. The Bill clearly says: The Secretary of State may by regulations provide— for requiring oil heaters of such class or description as may be specified in the regulations, or any component part of an oil heater, being a pant of such class or description as may be so specified, to comply☠ with the regulations. He will be able to include those already in use. Whether he will do so, I do not know and we shall have to wait until he publishes the regulations.

I hope that the regulations will be stringent and clearly and definitely set out. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster detailed some but not all of the requirements which should be set out in the regulations. We can be fairly certain that from now on the heaters which come on to the market will be of the safest possible kind. I think that we should say a word about the manufacturers who have made the heaters which have turned out to be dangerous. They did not know that they were dangerous. They do not have the testing facilities and they did not have the experience which would have come from their use. They designed something which worked efficiently and only time enabled them to see that they had made an unfortunate mistake. I understand that they have been the first to co-operate in the design of new and safe heaters and in the withdrawing of old heaters from the market. I hope that they will cooperate in future to see that heaters put on the market are of the safest possible kind, complying with all the regulations.

I hope that the Secretary of State will draft the regulations and lay them before the House at the earliest possible opportunity, because, until he does, there will be no regulations and the old heaters could continue to be supplied, which would be most unfortunate.

I commend the Bill to the House and ask it to give it a Third Reading.

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I, too, tender my congratulations to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on his initiative and energy and on the speed with which the Bill was introduced and brought to this its final stage. In Islington we have suffered seriously from tragedies resulting from the use in the home of a drip-feed, portable oil heater. I very much hope that, as soon as the Bill is passed, the Home Office will make the fullest possible use of its powers and will promulgate strong and efficient regulations with rapidity and despatch and, having done that, will take the necessary steps to see that the public is made aware of them, because it is essential, if the Bill is to succeed, that there should be the full force of enlightened public opinion behind it.

It is all very well for us to make laws. As the hon. Member for Kidderminster said, we recently passed the Clean Air Act, 1956. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) said. There often seems to be a considerable delay between the passing of legislation dealing with protective measures in the home and its being carried into operation and full application in the home.

These two Measures are closely related, because at present local authorities throughout the land are engaged in implementing the Clean Air Act and producing various areas designated as smokeless. Therefore, not only in London, but in other congested areas, large sections of the community are now giving thought to what steps they should take in future far heating their homes. An increasing number of houses in different parts of London and elsewhere are coming under the operation of the Clean Air Act, with the result that, in those areas designated as smokeless, householders are being compelled to apply their minds to what alternative forms of heating in their homes is best suitable for them.

They have the advantage of obtaining a grant from the local authority of seven-tenths of the cost of the conversion or adaptation from an open hearth burning coal to another form of heating for the home, whether it be electricity, gas, oil, or a solid smokeless fuel. Owing to that Measure, there is now a unique opportunity for local authorities to educate the public in the most convenient, hygienic and cleanest method of heating the home.

In that connection, it would not be difficult also to bring home to those who are not already alive to them the dangers of portable oil heaters. To some extent those dangers will continue to exist whatever regulations are made under the Bill. My experience is that in Islington, and I imagine in other localities where, unfortunately, people have suffered from tragic accidents, there has been a very noticeable falling off in the sale of portable oil heaters and in the demand for them. That may or may not continue. This is an opportunity to educate the public about the risks inherent in this form of heating.

I very much hope that we shall not only pass the Bill today, but do all that we can to ensure that full effect is given to its provisions by the Home Office, local authorities and the public.

3.38 p.m.

Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is in what is for him the unusual situation of being in receipt of bouquets from both sides of the House this afternoon. As that experience may never happen to him again, I hope that I may be permitted to add my quota.

I rise to support my hon. Friend's Bill and to congratulate him on the efficiency and promptitude of his action. While we often think other things of him in the House, we must admit that he livens us up. On this occasion, he has livened us up to considerable effect and with great benefit. This is a special instance in the field of home safety in which it has been felt desirable to promote legislation on standards of heating goods.

I welcome it, not only personally, but also in my capacity as the Joint Chairman of the Parliamentary Home Safety Committee. I can speak with confidence on behalf of the other officers of the Committee in welcoming the Bill and expressing their regret at not being present this afternoon.

As my hon. Friend himself said, with this Bill we are winding up a story which started with the disastrous fire at Ware back in the autumn. We owe a great deal, as he said, to the coroner who investigated this accident very thoroughly for the manner in which he investigated it and the way in which he drew a number of features, hitherto unfamiliar features, to our attention in regard to the operation of these heaters and the kind of disasters that might occur from them.

A number of us spent our time in investigating the deleterious effect of draught, tipping and other things. I can truly say that we were indeed very shocked when we found that comparatively small draughts and a comparatively minor degree of tipping of the heater could cause these very disastrous fires. It is unfortunate that it needs melodramatic incidents of this character before we get on the move in these matters. The energy of hon. Members on both sides of the House, not only that of my hon. Friend, and on the part of the Press, the Department, and the British Standards Institution has been rather in contrast with previous dilatory behaviour in the face of similar dangers which were reported from time to time.

This is a sort of situation which has aspects of unfairness, quite apart from the actual accidents concerned which might have been prevented. The people who have suffered most are the reputable oil heater manufacturers who have suddenly been faced with this scare, because of the effect that it has had on their production arrangements and their general business. They have had a very trying time indeed. They have acted extremely well. They have been most helpful throughout it all, and I think that they should have our sympathy.

They were anxious, and certain anxieties were expressed to a number of us, about the effect of regulations introduced as a result of a Bill of this type. I hope that they have been reassured by what was said in Committee. One of the things they asked, quite naturally, was, "Why pick on us?" The story of this Bill and its precedents is a lesson in other respects. There are similar dangers about which, as my hon. Friend said, we have to think, sooner or later, in terms of legislation. However, we also have to face the fact that this is a problem that cannot be controlled entirely by legislation. I think that I can best illustrate that by quoting a short sentence from the Molony Report which states that in investigating other instances of accidents due to electrical appliances in the home we learn that the great majority of such accidents have been due first and foremost to gross misuse, carelessness, or inexpert tinkering. No legislation that we can pass in this House can protect people against foolishness of their own devising. It is, of course, principally a matter of education and propaganda. In regard to the 3 million heaters which are already in the homes of this country, it makes one despair a little when one hears from the manufacturers, who are perfectly willing to alter these heaters if they are returned to them, that up to date very few of these heaters have been returned to them for alteration. People have not taken the steps necessary for their own safety. So, as well as legislation, those of us who are in this House who are interested in this matter have a great job of propaganda in front of us.

We are particularly glad that my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary is with us today, and we hope that he and his Department will take note of the most important recommendation of this interim Report of the Molony Committee, which is that all home-safety arrangements should come under the control of a single Department. Those of us who are interested in this subject hope that it will be my right hon. Friend's Department. It has been one of our principal difficulties in asking Parliamentary Questions that we have not quite known to which Department to address them. Not only legislation, but popular education in the subject should be concentrated into a single drive.

3.46 p.m.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I should like to congratulate the indefatigable Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I am sure that he will not misunderstand but will rather agree with a slight qualification of my congratulations. I hope that this necessary and desirable Bill will not, so to speak, encourage the Government to delay the introduction of an enabling Bill to bring in regulations as they are needed to deal with all aspects of safety.

This Bill deals with one class of appliance but, as the Molony Report has said, there are other appliances. As the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) said, we must know which Ministry is to be responsible for the enabling Bill, and the regulations made under this Bill to make domestic appliances of one kind and another safer in use. I think that it is a job for the Board of Trade—and I do not want to pursue this further—rather than for the Home Office. When that wider Measure is being considered, this Bill will, so to speak, have to be brought into it.

The oil-heater manufacturers have certainly had a tough time of it. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) rather suggested that the manufacturers themselves did not do any testing and did not know what sort of appliances they were making. If I may say so, the hon. and learned Gentleman was not quite correct. To some extent, the manufacturers were misled by the fact that the earlier British Standard was not adequate, and only when these disastrous fires occurred was that earlier British Standard examined.

Some tribute should be paid to the manufacturers for the way in which they have faced up to the problem and, in particular, for their offer—which should have the widest possible publicity—to alter oil stoves already in shops and in the home to conform to the terms of the new British Standard. As we are rushing this Bill through—and that is desirable—I will say no more, except to tell the hon. Member for Kidderminster that we are all grateful to him for this Measure.

3.49 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)

I, too, should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on his energy and initiative, and on the swiftness with which this Measure has gone through. With so much attention now being focussed on accidents on the road, not many people realise what a very high accident rate there is in the home. Last year no fewer than 7,900 people were killed by various types of accident in the home—though not all, of course, as a result of the use of oil heaters. On the other hand, only 6,500 people were killed on our roads. I admit that is a high figure, but it is only 65 for every 79 killed in the home. I want to emphasise that difference. The other matter to which I wish to direct attention is the necessity to increase the widespread propaganda in this matter. My hon. Friend pointed out that this Measure deals with oil burners which have not already been sold, and regulations will have to be drawn up and presented to deal with oil burners already in use. Nevertheless, those who are in the oil trade and who dispense paraffin to consumers should take note and when they are selling their small quantities of paraffin, particularly to elderly customers, they should draw the attention of those people to the possible inherent dangers of the apparatus and ask them, when convenient, to bring it in for examination. The retailers can do a great service and probably save several lives if they will only do this. I know it imposes a further responsibility upon them, but I am sure that many of them will undertake it willingly.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and assure him that he has my full support in this most useful Measure.

Mr. Nabarro

I am very much obliged.

3.52 p.m.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)

I commend this Measure, which I believe has been immeasurably improved during the Committee and Report stages. My only regret is that the provisions of the Bill were not implemented two or three years ago. If they had been, many lives would have been spared.

What is apparent to me from a perusal of the D.S.I.R. Report and the Molony Report is that the latest figures available indicated that 90 per cent. of the fires were being caused by these portable heaters. It would have been advantageous if the prescription had come before, and not after the event. The drafting of this Bill has been cast extremely widely as it is easier to narrow a Bill than to extend it. It would also allow representations received from interested parties to be examined and suitable Amendments drafted into the Bill.

As it was originally envisaged, the Bill included factories, other commercial institutions as well as dwelling houses, and it also included hydrocarbon oils and not simply kerosene. In addition, it included both fixtures and portable heaters. Quite rightly, this Bill had to be brought down to the dimensions of the present controversy. That has been done and as a result it has been improved.

I should indicate, on the question of heavy appliances—such installations as we find in the House of Commons and elsewhere—that they are already covered by British Standards specifications, and in some cases, such as in the Manchester Corporation Act, 1958 and in a number of other contemporary Measures, there are special provisions for ensuring that the public is safeguarded in the case of heavy installations.

As the time is rapidly drawing to a close and the Secretary of State for the Home Department will have to have an opportunity to speak, I should like to add to the plaudits which have been extended to my hon. Friend for having introduced the Bill and for having manoeuvred it, as we hope, to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Nabarro

I am obliged.

3.54 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) for the promotion which he has bestowed upon me.

I cannot follow my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) and others into the Molony Report in general; nor can I add to the fact, as I have already said, that my right hon. Friend has that matter under consideration in conjunction with his colleagues.

I wish to join in the congratulations extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on his initiative in sponsoring this most important Measure. Quite apart from the urgency of the matter, the Government must be grateful to him for the fact that he has enabled Government time to be saved in this respect.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) referred to the history of this unfortunate train of events. In 1956, some analysis of the figures was undertaken, but at that time, unfortunately, the information available did not provide a basis for determining

whether a particular type of heater or a particular defect of design was responsible.

It was not until the accident at Ware that we were able to understand fully the extent of the problem. Here I should like to associate myself with the tributes paid to the coroner, to the fire services and to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for their prompt investigations. As a result of the investigations, which, fortunately, coincided with the completion of the wind tunnel by the D.S.I.R., immediate action was taken. The action took four forms: the report to which reference has been made, the introduction of this Bill, the publication of the British Standards Institution standard, and the declaration by the Oil Appliance Manufacturers' Association that all appliances made in future would comply with the B.S.I. standard. Therefore, the Measure to which I hope the House will give a Third Reading sets the seal on the arrangements which have been made during the past few weeks.

I have three comments on the Bill. Clause 1, which has been remodelled from my hon. Friend's original Clause 5, has an important addition empowering my right hon. Friend to prescribe labels giving instructions about the working and use of oil heaters. This is a most important Molony Committee recommendation. No improvement in design by itself can possibly eliminate all risks, and we must try to ensure that owners are warned about such things as using the right kind of fuel, the right form of maintenance and the right way to use the heaters. That will be the purpose of the instructions on the labels.

As regards the regulations to which several hon. Members have referred, we have already entered into discussions with the appliance manufacturers and, as soon as the Bill becomes an Act, these negotiations will be advanced. The regulations, of course, will be based upon the B.S.I. standard, although, as I said in Committee, there must be certain points of difference. They will accord as nearly as possible—this is important for next season's models—and they will be prepared as soon as possible. They will cover the three points to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidder-minister referred in introducing the Bill —stability, draught protection and erosion —and they will be as comprehensive as possible.

The question of enforcement has given my hon. Friend and myself some concern, but I believe that the wording of the Bill now is probably the best possible. We have received replies from all the local authority associations. In many ways, they think that some certification by the manufacturers would be preferable, but on that I have already said that I believe that the enforcement and testing by local authorities will be a reserve power, the main testing being done voluntarily by the manufacturers in conjunction with the laboratories.

I regret to say that one of my hon. Friends who thought that the Bill covered existing models is mistaken. That cannot be so under the regulations. The manufacturers said that they will modify all existing models, and, by August, fourteen of them, which is practically all the big manufacturers, will be ready to undertake this work. My right hon. Friend is in consultation with them about the best way to give publicity to the arrangements made, and, here again. I hope that the public, the really important people, will co-operate. I am happy to support my hon. Friend's Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.