HC Deb 04 March 1964 vol 690 cc1314-7

3.46 p.m.

Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the sale and manufacture of flammable materials for certain purposes. My proposed Bill is very important and would make provision for the greater safety of women and children throughout the country. The short title would be "Flammable Materials" and the Long Title would be: Bill to Prohibit the sale and manufacture of flammable materials for certain purposes. My proposed Bill seeks to do two things—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Gentlemen be so courteous as to allow the hon. Lady to be heard?

Mrs. McLaughlin

The Bill would seek to prohibit the manufacture and sale of certain materials and garments after a specified period and would also make provision for the marking or labelling of garments which are already dangerous.

The Bill would be very short. It follows on the Home Secretary's statement yesterday that he intends to introduce regulations to prohibit the sale of children's nightwear which does not measure up to the B.S.I. standards of low flammability. My right hon. Friend is to let these regulations be seen by the various interested parties. It is important that this should be done as soon as possible so that next autumn we need not look forward to a further repetition of accidents to children by burning. They may not be ready by next autumn if the manufacturers have not agreed.

The Bill will also do something for older people—old ladies, in particular. Already this year a number have died from accidents resulting from their nightwear catching fire or from accidents resulting from them coming into contact with a naked flame or an exposed electric fire. Some have not died, but have suffered very severe and long-lasting injury.

I am told by various medical specialists that it is not sufficient merely to ban children's nightdresses. Pyjamas made from highly flammable material can be deadly. Children play with matches. They play with lighters of all kinds—for instance, petrol lighters. Anything they can get hold of which lights up is relevant here. Specialists have told me that pyjamas which catch light, and are of the dangerous type of material which I am discussing and hope to prohibit, can produce a much nastier burn and more serious and long-lasting injury, if not death, than a nightdress which perhaps blows away from the body. The latter type of accident is serious enough, but it is not quite so deadly in some cases.

The regulations will not cover party wear or girls' party dresses, many of which are made from highly dangerous materials, or party wear for teen-agers. How does a regulation decide what is a child's nightdress and what is not? I am thinking of the size. There are some very large childen today. Sometimes a child aged 10 wears junior adult garments. Where will the line be drawn? Therefore, my proposed Bill, for which I have the support of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, intends to try to widen the scope and in the meantime to prevent, as far as possible, a recurrence of the sort of terrible accidents that we have had for many years, particularly those which occurred last winter and which led to the present outcry and demand for effective action with a view to securing greater safety.

I shall not weary the House with the long and tragic list of accidents, and their various causes. There are many reasons for the accidents; human nature and human weaknesses come into it, and so does carelessness, but we still have the responsibility to see that, as far as possible, Parliament does its part in protecting the consumer. The person who is able to buy and use any textile that is highly unsafe is not being sufficiently protected.

Clause 1 seeks to prohibit the sale of clothing fabrics and garments made from materials that do not measure up to the B.S.I. Standard 3121, which is the standard of low flammability, and this prohibition would take effect 12 months from the date of the Bill becoming law. It would be 12 months before manufacturers could come to satisfactory arrangements within their industries, deal with their own particular problems, and either make their material safe, alter it, or make some other type of material. This interval would prevent the hiatus that would occur in the textile industry if an earlier date were suggested.

Only certain materials fall into this category—the range is not as wide and sweeping as might be thought. Anyone reading the B.S.I. report on flammable material, and who turns to this subject of low-flammability materials, will realise that, generally speaking, the manmade fibres are safe, as are all the heavier materials. Generally speaking, it is only those materials made from brushed cotton, brushed rayon, or blends—it is a minority of the different types of materials that are on the danger list, and these have been exploited for far too long without being brought within the safety limits.

For years this flammability standard was sought, and it is still not as high as it should be but, at the same time, it is the one criterion we have on which to work and, as such, it does provide a very fair measure of safety. We therefore propose to eliminate all those materials that fall within the dangerous categories outlined in the B.S.I. standard, 12 months from the date of the Bill becoming law unless, in the meantime, manufacturers take steps, by some treatment or another, to make their materials safe enough to reach the flammability standard.

It is argued that this requirement will make these textiles more expensive, but some of them will still be much less expensive than the man-made fibres and, in any case, the difference in the price of children's garments is less than the cost of a packet of cigarettes, and I am sure that any family would be satisfied, in this day, and this supposedly enlightened age, to pay the difference.

Clause 2 would provide, as an interim safety measure, that within three months of the passing of the Bill into law all garments manufactured from materials that do not measure up to the safety standard, and all dress and clothing material on sale, must be marked either, in the case of material, right along the selvedge, or in the case ing "Flammable: keep away from fire of garments with a sewn-in label, read or heat". I would like to make it very much tougher, with the label saying, "Highly dangerous", but one can hardly expect manufacturers to put such a label on a garment.

The use of the words "Flammable: keep away from fire or heat", clearly stated on a label on every garment or on the selvedge of every piece of material, could be followed up by voluntary organisations doing their utmost to make sure that people understood that they were taking their own child's life, or their own life, into their hands by deliberately using this material. It would also mean that in the textile industry there would be a slow rundown in these types of materials, without a complete loss. I am told that within a few months it will be possible for flame-resistant treatment to be available in large quantities to all manufacturers wishing to use it. In this case, sales and safety would go hand in hand.

In asking the House for leave to bring in the Bill, it is always difficult to explain in a short time just how important the Measure is, but I feel sure that, in this case, the House has studied the problem, and knows the danger of allowing people to buy something that is inherently unsafe. If I am given permission to bring in the Bill, I think that it will do a great deal to be fair to the manufacturers, to be honest with the public—which is very important—and to give to those who might otherwise very easily suffer accidents in the future the possibility of escaping them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. McLaughlin, Mrs. Braddock, Wing Commander Bullus, Mr. E. Johnson, Mr. Dance, Lord Balniel, Sir J. Duncan, Mrs. Hill, Commander Courtney, Mr. Turton, Mr. Allason, and Dr. Dickson Mabon.