HC Deb 10 March 1971 vol 813 cc522-39

Amendment made: No. 14, in page 40, line 20, at end insert: 'furniture' includes furnishings (including wall-coverings and ceiling-coverings of all sorts, as well as floor-coverings).—[Mr. Sharples.]

Mr. John

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 40, line 20, at end insert: '" ground floor" means a storey the floor of which is situated at such a level or levels that any given part on its perimeter is at or about, or not more than four feet below the level of the finished surface of the ground adjoining the building in the vicinity of that point, or, if there are two or more such storeys, means the higher or highest of these'. It is said that a Welshman can speak on anything and a lawyer can speak on anything. Therefore, a Welsh lawyer must be doubly blessed. But I hasten to add that the Amendment is beyond my capacity to make a speech about—a concession which hon. Members who sat through the Committee stage could not always realise.

The Amendment is moved really for the sake of tidiness. In this legislation we want as far as possible to conform to existing Building Regulations. I know that this is not a Bill which is comprehensive in its definition. Nevertheless, we want the two sets of regulations to marry as nearly as possible.

The definition of "ground floor" in the Amendment is that which is given in the Sixth Amendment to the 1965 Building Regulations which also reproduced a definition which was in the London Building Act, 1930. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland disavows precedent. I quoted these two especially to disarm the Front Bench opposite, because hon. Gentlemen, in Committee at any rate, seemed to pay the greatest attention to the doctrine of precedent. If this definition is accepted it will at least avoid any conflict of interpretation between the two Measures. This is a matter which the Committee on Legislation has commended and suggested ought to be incorporated. Therefore, for clarity and consistency, I hope that the Amendment commends itself to the House.

Mr. Sharples

I wish I could recommend the House to accept the Amendment so ably and technically moved by the hon. Gentleman.

The definition proposed in the Amendment is that contained in Part E, Structural Fire Precautions, of the Sixth Amendment to the Building Regulations 1970, not 1965.

Mr. John

The Building Regulations are 1965.

Mr. Sharples

We are getting into technical waters. The Building Regulations apply to buildings under construction. Therefore, there is reason for a very precise definition in the Building Regulations. It is not necessary to have such precise definitions in the Bill. Which floor is the ground floor is a matter which can be left to the judgment of the fire authority and the local authority acting in consultation. In the unlikely event of there being a dispute, it can go to appeal.

The Bill is in many respects similar to the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, 1963. The term "ground floor" is used in that Act and there has been no difficulty about that, so far as I know.

There is a further difficulty, however, in the way of accepting the Amendment. The definition proposed is quite different from that given in the Scottish Building Standard Regulations and it would be necessary to include a separate definition for Scotland. It is also different from the definition in paragraph 2(a) of the England and Wales Building Regulations, 1965. Those regulations were undoubtedly framed for special reasons which it is not necessary to go into in this connection. In practice, no difficulty is likely to arise over the definition of the ground floor.

Mr. John

I understand this argument, but the Minister said—I think that it was rather wider than he intended—that if either the fire authority or the local authority were to disagree with the other there would be a right of appeal. As I said in Committee, there is a right of appeal to the local authority if it is aggrieved, under one Clause, by a decision of the fire authority, but there is no matching right for the fire authority to appeal. It was for that reason—the Minister is digging a pit into which he is rapidly descending—that we moved to provide some form of formal consultation. The Minister might look at this again.

Mr. Sharples

Let me extricate myself as quickly as possible from the pit which I have dug. Perhaps I have not made myself entirely clear. There is consultation between the fire authority and the local authority. It is of course the occupier, if he disagrees with the decision of the two acting jointly—the fire authority is the final authority in this: we had a long debate on this in Committee—who has the right of appeal.

The Amendment is not necessary for the purpose of clarity and for the reasons which I have given, particularly the Scottish complication, would make the Bill more complex than necessary. I hope that, with what I have said, the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I realise that this is a difficult administrative point. The Minister told us in Committee, as I knew, that, when the Bill was first being considered, many moons ago, various interests made representations, and this happened particularly on the Clause concerning the churches. Among those organisations were the Joint Committee on Building Legislation which consisted of about a dozen organisations, including the Architectural Association, the District Surveyors Association, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of British Architects. This was one point among all their representations on which we felt that they were justified.

If, in the discussions with those bodies before the Bill goes to another place and comes back here, another look could be taken at this, that would be sensible. But we leave it like that: it is not proper to push this small point any further now.

Mr. Sharples

In view of what the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has said, I am prepared to look at this again. I do not think that there is any substance in the point, but if there were representations, we will consider the matter to see whether there was substance in it. It is only a technical point.

Mr. John

In view of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent and Prince of Wales's Consent signified]

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Sharples

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

I have been very grateful during the proceedings on the Bill to hon. Members on both sides. This is a Bill without any party politics in it. In fact, it has been lying around for a long time. We have made some valuable improvements to it in Committee and as a result of undertakings which I gave in Committee and on Report.

We have tested, examined and improved the controls. One very important thing we did, with general agreement in Committee, was substantially to increase the penalties. We also cleared up a point on which there might have been considerable difficulty—the definition of churches. We had a long debate on that and the definition is now much better. There are many other points in the Bill which are not technical but about which I gave assurances which can be carried out administratively, which is probably the right way of dealing with them.

I have been very grateful also—as, I think, has every hon. Member who took part in discussions on the Bill—for the carefully considered representations which we have received from outside bodies. It is difficult to single out any particular one, but one body which I know has taken a great deal of trouble in assisting us to get the Bill right is the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association. We paid careful attention to their points, and I hope that I have been able in the Amendments and my assurances to meet the majority of the points which the association properly put forward on behalf of its members.

The Bill will make a positive contribution to the prevention of loss of life by fire. It is a valuable Bill and I hope that the House will decide to give it a Third Reading.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

In the context of earlier debates this week, I might say that, until 18th June last, I was a citizen of the Home Office. The fact that I am now only a patrial enables me to take a personal interest in the Bill. As the Minister rightly said, if it has a paternity, it is not only the last Government but the Government before that—so it is probably only common justice that the present Government should introduce the Bill.

The Bill is one step forward in the fight against loss of human life by fire. The figures in that respect and for material loss are staggering and we hope that this will help the fight against that. I am grateful for the co-operation and courtesy shown by hon. Members opposite, particularly those who were leading, who were extremely helpful with information to help us prepare our case and also for the helpful letter which the Minister wrote me after the Committee stage giving information and dealing with various administrative matters on which he has given undertakings. I know that I can speak for my hon. Friends who were on the Committee.

When I had responsibility for this, as a non-professional I constantly found that I had to bear in mind that there were so many Acts of Parliament which bore on fire prevention. There were the Local Acts, the Building Regulations which have been mentioned tonight, the Public Health Act of 1936, the Factories Act of 1961, the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act of 1963, the various Housing Acts—not just one or two—Acts dealing with explosives, and even going back to the Fire Services Act of 1947. That is a lot of legislation.

There was often misunderstanding, not by the professionals but by people in local government who were not dealing with these matters daily. I hope that, with regard to those Acts which still will apply and also this new legislation, there will be a great deal of publicity in the proper quarter. That will matter a good deal.

It will be interesting to see the side effects of the Bill in two fields. The first is safety in football grounds. I understand from information gathered from, among other sources, a Parliamentary Answer given to me by the Home Secretary, that various Measures already on the Statute Book are relevant to football grounds. For example, there are various Building Regulations, the Public Health Act, 1936, the Licensing Act, 1964, and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, 1963. There is similar legislation applying to Scotland. This Bill will also apply in part to football grounds because it is relevant to buildings and structures.

I am grateful to the Home Office for information it has supplied to me. It will be for the local fire authority to decide under this Measure in each case, and its decision will be based on factors including, for example, the adequacy of the means of escape in the event of fire and arrangements for securing that those means of escape can be safely and effectively used at all material times. It will also have to examine the extent to which other precautions are taken.

If this measure is properly applied at football grounds, it will affect the safety of access and egress. In other words, although the Bill is designed to apply to fire precautions, it will apply to football grounds as well because although it will be concerned with people getting out of these grounds in the event of fire, escape and the means of escape for other reasons is also an important factor. I hope, therefore, that the complicated legislation which has been passed in this sphere over the years, of which this Bill will be a part, will be brought firmly to the notice of football authorities, including the F.A. and Football League.

I know from experience in my part of the world, in Leeds, that the Football Club is extremely interested in these matters. I hope that publicity will be given to this aspect of the Bill and that it will be particularly beamed to football authorities. While I hope that the attention of football clubs and others concerned with sport will have their attention drawn to these provisions, the second point to which I draw attention is that of education because the Bill will affect schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) raised this issue in Committee. I understand that if the Bill is properly applied, it could result in a school having to be closed—that is, if a fire certificate is not given. I appreciate that a certain amount of time would elapse before that would occur. However, since it could happen, I trust that the attention of local education authorities will be drawn to these provisions.

Some weeks ago I watched a television programe in which the headmistress of a primary school which I knew well many years ago said that the fire safety aspect of the school had not been properly dealt with because extra accommodation which should have been provided for the school was not being provided. I trust that education authorities will consult closely with fire authorities to ensure that their fire precaution facilities are adequate.

Consultation is all important under Clause 15, and if I brought one thing with me from the Ministry as a result of the office I held under the Labour Government, it was the need for consultation. This applies especially in the matter we are discussing. Indeed, if consultation with the appropriate fire authorities occurred all along the line, many of the fires which now happen would not occur. Legislation in any sphere is only part of the story. My hon. Friends and I welcome the Bill and we trust that it will be effective. However, the fire service is of primary importance. I wish it well and we must accept that, certainly to some degree, the fire services have been the Cinderellas of the public services. The Bill and the Holroyd Report could be the turning point, and for this reason, if for none other, the Bill is to be welcomed.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish this Measure, which contains many wise provisions, a long life. However, some features of it are, I believe, unsatisfactory, and while I would not be in order in suggesting changes, I will allude to some of the consequences that will flow from this legislation.

When we last debated the Bill an Amendment was made to the provision relating in Clause 2 to churches. It dealt with some of the difficulties which we had raised, about the covering of churches by the Clause, but unfortunately other difficulties were introduced. The result is that a building which is used mainly for worship but partly for other purposes will not be certifiable because the premises will not be designatable under the Bill, however much of a fire risk the building may be.

It is unfortunate that a provision of this kind should remain in what is largely an enabling Bill. It means that we are not enabling the Government of the day to take measures to deal with a fire risk, even when it becomes apparent. I am not thinking solely of church halls, about which we had a long discussion in Committee. There may be a room or hall which is mainly used for religious worship but is also used, though less than mainly, for other purposes. Those premises will not be designatable under the Bill and a fire certificate cannot be required in respect of them.

In Committee some hon. Members expressed the view that the exclusion of churches was unfortunate. The Bill seeks to provide one comprehensive method for all buildings to which the public has access, excluding dwellings as a general class and excluding those buildings which are listed in Clause 2(a), (b) and (c) which are already covered by adequate legislation. The only exception is places of worship.

At some time during the next 50 or 100 years a church will go up in flames. It is in the nature of accidents that their results cannot be predicted. Only one accident happens every now and then to any category of buildings. We are putting on to the Statute Book legislation which we shall have little chance of amending for a long time and which does not cover one category of high fire risk buildings. I use those words advisedly, because the justification given for this exception is that churches are not high risk buildings. Churches are not a fire risk category at all. Some churches could not go on fire if they tried—for example, Westminster Abbey. Other churches could easily go on fire, more easily than other buildings which are covered by the Bill.

Use has not been made of a device in the Bill which would have allowed us to cover high fire risk churches whilst not covering low fire risk churches. This is a serious defect. I hope that the House of Lords, particularly its episcopal Members, will do something about this defect. It is not my understanding that the representatives of the churches expressed strong representations against any change from the position now obtaining. My discussions with these representatives suggest that they are happy with the present position if the Minister is happy, but it would take much to persuade them that what I have said should carry the day, and I do not think they feel strongly about it.

The other respect in which this is an unsatisfactory Bill is Clauses 15 to 17 dealing with consultation between the local authority and the fire authority. At one stage I thought that I would not refer to this matter again, particularly because I am a London Member and in London the local authority is the fire authority.

However, I came across a case in my constituency in the last few weeks from which it appears if my information, which I have not been able to check, is correct, that one half of the authority responsible for such things as parking meters had not consulted the other half of the authority responsible for relations with the fire brigade about the placing of parking meters. Meters had had to be removed because the fire half of the authority objected to their position.

This only points to the need to ensure that consultation works. We are not doing that in the Bill. The Bill contains an unsatisfactory provision to the effect that one authority should consult another authority, but there is no guidance as to what "consultation" means or on how to test whether it has happened. This is obnoxious in law. There should be a way of telling whether the law has been complied with. After all, consultation is a vague concept. It can mean no more than that somebody speaks to someone at the other end of a telephone.

We should at the least require that consultation should result at some stage in something being put into writing so that the views of the consulted authority are on the record in case of difficulty arising or in case of fire resulting from inadequate views being available from the consulted authority.

However, the Government have chosen not to make this Amendment. I believe that we are making difficulties for ourselves in the future. The Joint Committee on Building Legislation, while going further on the matter of consultation than the views I have expressed, took the view that greater formality would have been desirable in the process of consultation.

The passage of this Bill has been amicable, and on one occasion a little lighthearted. I must now introduce a slightly less amicable note. When these two points in which I am particularly interested were raised in Committee the Minister replied to them, in the sense that he said something on the subject, but I do not believe that he took on board our replies to his original defence, and he did not met our points. On these matters hon. Members were not convinced.

However, that apart, I am sure that the Bill will be widely welcomed. It ought certainly to make the loss of life due to fire a great deal less likely and I add my welcome to it.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Moate

I welcome the Third Reading of the Bill, and I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill so early in the life of this Parliament after it has been hidden away for many years. We all welcome that as a recognition of the great importance of this subject.

I thank the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary for the courteous and helpful way in which they have responded to the many suggestions put to them. However, they have constantly resisted—and we understand this—any attempt to extend the Bill to the prevention of damage to property for its own sake. The Bill is concerned with the safety of life, but I hope that at some time we shall discuss legislation to prevent damage to property, first, because the two subjects are largely inseparable, and, secondly, because the enormous cost to the nation—I estimate nearly £300 million a year—is of such an order that there must come a point when the Government have to take an interest in the subject.

We shall delude ourselves if we believe that the Bill will go very far towards solving a major problem. About 1,000 people a year die as a result of fire, but only a small proportion might be saved by these provisions, for probably some 700 deaths occur in private homes. I like to think that the Government will continue to study means, by new legislation or by extending the Bill when the time comes, for greater efforts to be made to emphasise the danger of fire to ordinary households. I am sure that there are means by which that can be achieved. Clearly, we cannot have fire officers going to every house in the country, but fire authorities could do much to give greater publicity to the dangers and to explain the fire precautions which may be taken in the home, to encourage the possession of domestic extinguishers and the standardisation of extinguishers and instructions.

The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) mentioned churches. Although there are 1,000 deaths a year from fires, none has occurred in a church. It would be against the advice of the fire brigades to apply these provisions to churches, and we depend en the fire brigades to ensure that the Bill is workable. One respects the hon. Member's point of view, and there is always a possibility of fire and death on church premises, but the fact of the matter is that it has not happened yet. When there is so large an area where fatalities occur, it is better to look at the real problem than to cater for unlikely contingencies.

Mr. George Cunningham

By making churches designatable, one would not be using the time of the fire officers, but simply saying that when the time came for churches to be the next priority on the list, it would be legally possible to designate them. That is all I ask.

Mr. Moate

I take the point. I hope that the premises to be designated under the Bill will be designated very soon, but we shall reduce the value of the Bill if we include premises which we do not intend to designate. In the circumstances, I feel that we should take the advice of the fire brigades and not include church premises in this Measure.

The task of making the Bill work lies on the fire services. It imposes an additional burden on them, and I hope that the Government will give them the necessary backing and the necessary extra staff, for without regular supervision and inspection the Bill will not be effective in reducing the loss of life, which we all want to do.

I gladly welcome the Bill, however, and support its Third Reading.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. John

Like other hon. Members, I welcome any Measure which may have the effect of minimising the tragedies of which we read all too often in our newspapers. The statistics over the past few years make depressing and tragic reading because they tell us of needless waste of life. It is one of the primary functions of Parliament to estabish the legislative climate in which these tragedies can be eliminated. However, to do that we must keep several points carefully in mind.

I understand the Minister's practical difficulties in relation to implementing a Measure of this sort. Nevertheless, unless the Bill is put into effect, apart from just being put on the Statute Book, we cannot hope to effect any permanent improvement in the situation, still less a cure. I urge him, therefore, and all hon. Members not to regard our job as finished once the Bill becomes law. The implementation of it in practice is what matters, and that should be our aim.

I suppose that this Fire Precautions Bill is a pioneer Measure of its kind, and, as with any pioneering step, faults will be found which will have to be remedied. We owe it to the people who will live or work in the classes of premises designatable under the Bill to ensure that our fire precautions legislation is the best which we can prepare within the state of knowledge at any given time. I hope, therefore, that the Home Office will keep this legislation under constant review, seeking ways to improve it if weaknesses are revealed.

All premises are vulnerable, but there are certain classes of premises about which particular concern is felt, and I hope that the Minister will bear these in mind when reviewing the working of the Bill. I refer, first, to hotels. Hardly a Bank Holiday goes by without our reading of some tragedy which exposes to us, if we needed reminding, the vulner-ability of hotels to fire. The last Christmas holiday, unhappily, brought the tragedy of the hotel in Yorkshire, which again underlined this point.

Next—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) touched on this—there is the question of football grounds. Articles by the distinguished sports writer Mr. J. L. Manning, of the Daily Mail, and others show, unfortunately, that all is not completely well at the moment in football grounds. The disquiet which we feel about accidents of trampling and suffocation could equally well apply to accidents arising from the fire hazard at football grounds.

Third, there is the question of schools. This touches the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) about churches. I refer to the use for school purposes of premises designated primarily for religious purposes. Such is the unfortunate lack of premises for education in this country that, as the Minister knows—I have cited many examples in my county—church halls, vestries and chapel premises are being used for education purposes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West said, chapels and churches, although they may not so far have experienced a major fire, are by their very nature high fire risks, with their varnished pews, hymnals, bibles and so forth, and a vast quantity of paper as well.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

And the sermons.

Mr. John

Sermons are a dampening rather than inflammatory factor unless they come from a Welsh preacher who has the "Hwyl". If those premises are to be used to provide further education facilities because of our failure to provide adequate premises they must be informed, and the Minister must keep them under review to make sure that children being educated in them do not run unnecessary risks.

The final category of premises about which I want to speak are old people's homes and hostels in which mentally retarded people are housed. There are problems with the individuals there which makes their rescue in case of fire very difficult. It is therefore imperative that there is a strict adherence to the regulations in that category of premises. Like the hon. Member for Islington, South-West, I believe that there are some provisions in the Bill which do not meet with our wholehearted approval. The hon. Member and I fought a valiant battle on the principle of consultation in Committee. Despite all that the Minister said then and has said now, I still remain unrepentantly of the view that the sort of consultation envisaged by this Bill is so open to misinterpretation and so vague as to lead to a very real chance of misunderstanding between the two types of authority, with a consequent disadvantage in securing adequate fire precaution measures. I hope that the Minister will look at this again soon.

I come now to the rules governing the serving of notices upon owners, occupiers or persons managing premises. Under Clause 3 they have to be served with a notice, and under Clause 4 there is a right of appeal if the person claims that he does not come within the particular category specified in the notice—not that he does not come within any of the categories. This seems to be potentially a charter for bad owners or occupiers to evade responsibilities. I have already quoted the precedent afforded by the Road Traffic Act, somewhat brushed aside by the Minister. Under that Act notice of intended prosecution is served upon the person. If the person in the notice when he is prosecuted as the owner is specified as being the driver but was not driving at all, nevertheless the misdescription does not invalidate the notice. That sort of provision ought to be incorporated in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will review the position. If he finds that people are seeking to evade their responsibility by relying on this technicality I hope he will not hesitate to review the legislation. We have taken a great step forward tonight, and I trust that pride, departmental or otherwise, will not prevent him from taking whatever steps are necessary in the light of experience.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I would like to take this opportunity of replying to the very real points which have been raised. I also reiterate my thanks to the members of the Committee, not only for their constructive attitude but, having been brought up in the hard school of Scottish Standing Committees, for introducing me to the calmer and cooler waters of a United Kingdom Bill. Not only were hon. Members most courteous but they tabled very constructive Amendments. I add my thanks to those expressed already.

A number of points have been raised in the debate. I took note of all of them, and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I now pick out what I think are the main ones. The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) feels very strongly about the position of churches. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) answered him to some extent on the question of the risk and the priorities relating to this type of premises, saying that there are others where the risk is greater. Obviously, these are cases which must stand high in our priorities.

Whilst we have this exclusion for places of religious worship, we recognise —and this is a point which the hon. Gentleman had in mind more than any other—that a church may be used, although perhaps only occasionally, for purposes other than religious worship. It may, for example, be used for an orchestral concert or a play. That is when the risk might tend to be greater, and it is certainly the type of risk which would be covered in other types of premises catering for such activities. I accept that the use of churches for such purposes could attract the need for certain basic safeguards to be imposed in the light of particular circumstances—for example, in relation to the locking of doors. I hope I meet to some extent in practice the reservations which the hon. Gentleman has about this when I say that these are matters which, without difficulty, can be included in the regulations. Whilst I accept that there is bound to be a difference between us, and that he feels that we should have gone much further on this matter, we feel that where there are particular fire risks in relation to particular functions, the situation can be met by the power which the Secretary of State has to make regulations.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) raised a question about churches which he has raised before. It is that of education in places of worship. But if a church were regularly used as a school it would not attract the exemption for churches. In any case, if a church is used as extra accommodation for a school then, regardless of this Bill, the Department of Education and Science regulations on fire precautions in schools apply. While I accept that this is a matter which we need to watch, I hope that, in practice, the fear which I know hon. Members have genuinely expressed will not be realised.

I assure the hon. Gentleman also that we regard the question of safety in hotels as of high priority. I emphasise that, when the Bill comes into force, this is a matter to which we shall attach considerable importance.

The hon. Member for Islington, South-West, the hon. Member for Pontypridd and the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) raised the question of consultations. I think that this is important. But at the end of the day one must designate one authority to be the final judge of these consultations, and that, of course, is the fire authority. We rely on its good sense in co-ordination. It must be the ultimate judge on the whole question of making sure that the different bodies involved within the local authorities, and so on, are effectively consulted. I hope and believe that some of the importance we attach to this matter, as demonstrated not only in Committee but tonight, will be realised by those whose responsibility it will be to put the provisions of the Bill into effect. The local education authority is normally also the fire authority. We shall draw to the attention of the Department of Education and Science and the fire authorities the point raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, South.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of publicity. We shall do everything we can to make sure that there is adequate publicity. What is the use of our passing legislation unless people's obligations and rights under it are thoroughly and properly understood? We lay great stress on this.

Football grounds have been particularly close to my responsibility. I think that hon. Members know that I was involved at very close quarters with the tragic disaster in Glasgow shortly after it happened. Probably more than any other hon. Member, I appreciate just how serious the situation is. We take to heart what hon. Members have said about it, but the Bill will apply to football grounds only when a designating order is made applying it to them. Even when that order is made it will apply only to the buildings and structures, and not to the open terraces, perimeter fencing and exits.

Nevertheless, with the developing tendency to have proper stands, which means that there are likely to be more and more structures of the kind we all want to see in the interests of crowd comfort as well as crowd safety and control, exits will be directly related to these structures. In so far as the safety of exits is related to fire precautions, this will increase safety Precautions against overcrowding and other hazards. The hon. Gentleman raised a very fair and genuine point on this matter. Having read the report of the fatal accidents inquiry on the Ibrox disaster, I realise, as will anyone who has read the Press reports, how vital is safety at points of exit.

We have invited Lord Wheatley, an eminent Scottish judge, assisted by Mr. Walter Winterbottom, of the Sports Council, to conduct an examination of safety at football grounds and make recommendations where necessary. I shall draw the attention of Lord Wheatley to this point. The Bill will come into operation during the examination by him and Mr. Winterbottom, and it should be helpful to them to take this into account.

I have referred to consultation with the local authorities in a particular sense. It is absolutely vital to have close consultation between ordinary members of the public, the fire authorities and those in charge of premises. I should like to pay a personal tribute to the tremendously good work of the fire services in maintaining an atmosphere of cooperation and consultation within their own areas. We all appreciate the tremendously good and unstinting service of members of the fire service. Their good image and the excellent relations which they have with the public will ease tremendously questions of consultation.

What matters is not simply that people comply with the letter of the regulations or law in vital matters affecting safety but the spirit of the legislation. I hope that all those to whom the Bill will apply will not only comply with the letter of the legislation but will carry out its spirit so that we may reduce the heavy toll of life caused by fires.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.