HC Deb 29 January 1992 vol 202 cc955-7 3.44 pm
Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Plugs and Sockets Etc. (Safety) Regulations 1987 to require pre-wired plugs to be fitted to all domestic appliances by the manufacturer. On Friday, the House gave a Second Reading to a Bill which will save lives on the roads. Today, I beg leave to introduce a Bill which will save lives in the home and at work, a Bill which will make it necessary for a plug to be attached to an electrical appliance before it is sold to the general public.

I am grateful to the Consumers Association, the National Association of Women's Clubs and other organisations and to the many people who have written to me in support of the Bill. I am especially grateful to LBC Radio, to my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) and for York (Mr. Gregory) and to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) for their help. Above all, I am grateful to the BBC's "Watchdog" programme, to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and to The Mail on Sunday for campaigning over a long period to ensure that this necessary safety measure is introduced.

The campaign has been necessary for two reasons. First, every year there are approximately 2,000 non-fatal accidents involving plugs which necessitate medical treatment. Sadly, there are also fatal accidents. Earlier this year, Mrs. Julie O'Toole, a 26-year-old mother from Walsall, was electrocuted when a wire came loose in a plug, making her washing machine live. That is just one of the tragedies which might have been avoided if the Bill had been law. Last year, 28 people lost their lives in similar accidents. That is a sad and horrific waste of life, which could so easily be avoided by adopting these proposals.

Research by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents shows that every household has at least one potentially lethal plug. A survey of 20,000 homes discovered wrong fuses fitted, live and neutral wires reversed, earth conductors unconnected, terminal screws loose and damaged insulation. A survey of 1,000 homes by the BBC's "Watchdog" programme revealed that as many as seven plugs in each house may be faulty, often because people do not know how to fit them. The Consumers Association's home inspection survey found that one in 23 plugs are dangerous, one in nine had to be replaced because of a fault, and one in four were inadequately wired internally.

When those findings are weighed against the minor cost of pre-fitted plugs—the consumer would have to buy a plug in any case—and consideration is given to the savings in time and frustration to the elderly, the infirm, the poorly sighted and the plain clumsy, like me, who find wiring plugs a difficult exercise, the case for the Bill is overwhelming.

The Government sought to improve safety by introducing the Plugs and Sockets Etc. (Safety) Regulations in 1987, which required all 13 amp plugs supplied in Britain to be approved by an authorised body. That was a major advance. Despite those regulations, a survey by the Consumers Association some time after their introduction showed that 65 of 153 plugs bought were non-approved and should not have been on sale.

The regulations do nothing to cover the problem of faulty wiring of a plug by the customer. The Government have sought to ensure that all plugs sold are safe, but that is no help if a plug is wired incorrectly. We need safe wiring of plugs as well as safe plugs. That can be achieved by compelling manufacturers to fit moulded-on plugs to all domestic electrical appliances. That simple method would make it certain that plugs were fitted correctly and safely and were equipped with the correct fuse.

I said earlier that The Mail on Sunday campaign was necessary for two reasons: first, because of safety, and, secondly, because the Government were not minded to improve the Plugs and Sockets Etc. (Safety) Regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South raised this important subject in an Adjournment debate in 1989 to voice his concern about it. He was told by the then Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs: Any proposal of the sort he has made would result in the introduction of new legislative burdens on industry and would fly in the face of one of the Government's prime vehicles for the creation of wealth…deregulation."—[Official Report, 23 February 1989; Vol. 147, c. 1273.] The Minister went on to list the improvements that had already been made and he said that any further legislation would therefore be unnecessary. He reaffirmed that the Government's objective was to stimulate enterprise through individual initiatives to meet the demands of the market by removing unnecessary controls on the trading environment. He conceded that, in exceptional circumstances, one could depart from that stance, for example, because of safety considerations.

Since that Adjournment debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South and many others have sought to convince the Government that safety is paramount. There have been many discussions and meetings with those concerned in the past two years. The Bill is designed to bring this country into line with all the other countries in the western world.

From those discussions it has become clear that the current Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), is sympathetic to the need to introduce changes to make electrical appliances safer. He has accepted the arguments put forward, and I welcome that and thank him for the work that he has done. The Minister could short-circuit the system if he sought to introduce proposals to amend the present plugs and sockets regulations. I would encourage him to do so because even if leave is given to introduce the Bill it could fall if an early general election were called.

I was encouraged when I read the latest edition of The Mail on Sunday—I do not believe everything that I read in that newspaper, apart from the opinion polls—which said that the Minister might even implement changes to the regulations this week. It reported that the change would mean that, in future, all electrical goods sold in Britain would have to have pre-fitted plugs. I would welcome such a change.

The thought that my Bill may have influenced the Minister is a satisfying one. It might even tempt me to introduce another ten-minute Bill, perhaps to reduce the pension age for men from 65 to 60 in the hope that that met with similar success. However, the measures referred to by The Mail on Sunday have not been revealed by the Minister, so I have decided to introduce my Bill.

My hon. Friend the Minister may move to higher office between now and the timing of any announcement. He may well be replaced by a Minister who is less sympathetic to my proposals. Therefore, the House should have the opportunity to enact this important legislation that would save lives and reduce injuries.

Question put and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. David Alton, Mr. David Amess, Mr. John Bowis, Mr. Alistair Burt, Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe, Sir Patrick Duffy, Mr. David Evennett, Mr. Conal Gregory, Mr. David Sumberg and Mr. Andrew Welsh.