HC Deb 12 November 1968 vol 773 cc209-10

Mr. Hooley (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will order an inquiry into the collapse of a five-storey block of flats under construction in Sheffield, which resulted in the death of two workers.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)

I understand that Sheffield Corporation and the builders are making an immediate investigation of the causes of this regrettable accident. There is also to be an inquest. I shall await reports of their outcome before deciding whether any further inquiry is needed.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my sympathy with those who were injured and with the families of those who lost their lives.

Mr. Hooley

The House will be shocked to hear of another accident involving system building and will, I am sure, endorse the Minister's expression of sympathy. Is my right hon. Friend completely satisfied that there is sufficient expertise in his Ministry, and at local level, and also among construction companies, in the safety aspects of system building?

Mr. Greenwood

We should be very careful not to link the accident to the building in Sheffield with that a Ronan Point. The building in Sheffield was a five-storey, low-rise building. It was built by a system which is that of the Yorkshire Development Group, which has proved perfectly satisfactory in the past. We ought to deplore any remarks which might imply that system building as a whole is unsafe. Plenty of expert advice is available to us, and we shall act as and when necessary in the light of the inquiries which are taking place.

Mr. Heffer

As a former building trade operative myself, may I be associated with the condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured as a result of the tragic accident?

May I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that, as he rightly said, not all system building is dangerous and not all high-rise flats which are built on system principles are necessarily bad; in fact, they have been proved successful in this country and throughout the world.

But I make this point to my right hon. Friend: in investigating this question of safety, would he take into consideration that there is far too high a rate of accidents in the building industry? Can we not have a fuller inquiry into the whole question of safety for operatives in the building and civil engineering industries?

Mr. Greenwood

I very much appreciate what my right hon. Friend said, with his deep experience and knowledge of the building industry. The point here is that this was what one might call a structural accident of the kind which, unfortunately, happens from time to time in the building industry. There is no question of the design being defective or of danger in any other buildings built under the same system. It was an accident of the kind which occurs in the industry. I take the point which my hon. Friend made. I will certainly discuss it with my right hon. Friends who are also concerned with the building industry.