HC Deb 11 December 1996 vol 287 cc282-6 3.31 pm
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the protection of persons from fire risks; and for purposes connected therewith.

The Bill is far-reaching. I recognise that, in the time available, I shall not be able to cover all its points. I shall try to give a decent summary.

The Keighley mill fire in February 1956 resulted in the death of eight people and led to the Factories Act 1961. The Hendersons department store fire in June 1960 resulted in the death of 11 people and led to the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. The Top Storey club fire in Bolton resulted in 19 deaths and led to greater powers for fire authorities under the Licensing Act 1964. The Rose and Crown fire in Saffron Walden on Boxing day 1969 resulted in 11 deaths and led to hotels and boarding houses being designated under the Fire Precautions Act 1971. The Woolworths store fire in Manchester in 1979 resulted in 12 deaths and led to the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations 1980. The Bradford football stadium fire in May 1985, in which 58 people died, resulted in the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987. Finally, the King's Cross rail fire of 1987 resulted in 31 deaths and led to the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989.

Those pieces of legislation had one thing in common: they were what is known in the trade as tombstone legislation. People have had to die before action has been taken. I should love to be able to say that I am proposing legislation that will stop tragedies happening rather than legislation as a result of tragedies. Unfortunately, I cannot, because on 6 September 1993, two firemen were killed at Sun Valley Poultry Ltd. in Hereford.

That happened in a former factory that had been turned into a poultry processing plant. Panels had been built round the inside of the building, creating a building within a building. Fire broke through one of those panels. Firefighters who went to fight the fire did not know what was happening in between those panels. The roof burned and collapsed and two firefighters, who were doing the work that they did every day for all the people of this country, were killed. That is one of the reasons why I present the Bill, but there are other reasons.

There was much speculation in 1994 about the weakening of fire safety regulations under the deregulation initiative. I am anxious to ensure that I have cross-party support for the Bill, but it seemed to me, at a time when most people realised the need for greater fire safety, that we were taking forward measures that could cost people's lives. Since then, there seems to have been literally review after review, recommendation after recommendation and report after report. Some the Government have accepted and some they have not, some rightly so. One thing that has become clear as a result of that constant review is that there is a need after more than 25 years to review fire safety legislation.

The Fire Precautions Act 1971 served its purpose well. Most people agree that it was a good piece of legislation, but it did not do what it set out to do. It set out to be an all-embracing Act that would take in every fire safety measure. My Bill would do that. It would consolidate all fire safety legislation. It would replace in part or in total more than 54 pieces of legislation on the statute book and put fire legislation into one single Bill. So it is both simplifying and, in some respects, deregulatory. I hope that it will receive the support of the House.

My Bill is also progressive and forward-looking. It incorporates many new recommendations that were made as a result of the 1993 Home Office review of the Fire Precautions Act 1971. My Bill supports the Government's view announced in May 1996 that fire safety should in general be treated separately in legislation and that its enforcement should rest principally with fire authorities. Indeed, one of the main intentions of the Bill is to create a one-stop shop for fire safety. The one-stop shop would be the fire authority and the Department responsible would be the Home Office.

The Bill is also designed to complement the Government's proposals on the EC framework workplaces directive. It is designed to be compatible with the directive and to use the same general duty principle and risk assessment approach as do the Government's proposals. The Bill will use risk assessment to determine fire standards, so that the measures taken are appropriate but not excessive. It will be flexible enough to incorporate all future European legislation.

Even more important, for the first time ever in fire safety legislation, the Bill will take into account not just the safety of the public—most fire legislation has taken that into account—but the safety of firefighters and give them some protection. We are currently building in England and Wales—not in Scotland; they seem to have more sense there—gigantic buildings with no compartmentalisation. It seems to be the view of many people that it is acceptable for such places to burn down; that if there is a fire, the fire services should get the people out and let the building burn. That is not acceptable when it results in the death of firefighters. Nor is it acceptable in terms of insurance, because insurance companies have to meet the cost of fires. That means that all of us suffer as we have to pay extra insurance. Furthermore, it is not acceptable in terms of the effect on the environment. Some fires can be devastating to the environment in general. For the first time, the Bill imposes a duty to think not only of the safety of people, but of the safety of premises. It is a genuine fire safety Bill.

I suspect that, if there is any criticism of the Bill, it will be that it has been designed for firefighters. I make no apology for that—firefighters are the people who, year by year, week by week and day by day, put their lives on the line for the rest of us. As far as I am concerned, they are the experts on fire safety, because they are the ones who tackle fires and who know what needs to be done to put fires out.

I make no apology for the fact that the Bill is drafted by firefighters and I hope that hon. Members will accept that firefighters are the best people to talk about fire safety. The Bill enjoys the support of all the fire service organisations represented by the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council for England and Wales, which advises the Home Office on all matters relating to the fire service.

Finally, I repeat that firefighters are the experts on fire safety. Let us put responsibility with the fire service, which is where the majority of the general public already think it lies. Let us make sure that the people who go into fires when we are coming out of them are protected. Let us make sure that we have decent fire safety legislation for the 21st century.

3.40 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I oppose leave being given to bring in the Bill, and I shall explain why.

Fire is a most dreadful, destructive and terrifying force and, in our complex and modern society, we must do all that we can to reduce the prospects of fire. To that end, we have a plethora of fire regulations—25 measures in the past nine years, including an Act of Parliament. There are teams of fire inspectors, spending a total of 1.8 million hours a year enforcing existing regulations. We have smoke detectors, fire alarms and fire stations around nearly every corner. Firemen are poised to respond within seconds to any call. The cost to the taxpayer of that fire operation is £1.38 billion per year and that is a price worth paying.

Yet, in spite of all that and in spite of high public awareness, the number of fires continues to rise. It has risen from 392,000 in 1989 to 411,000 in 1994. None the less, the number of house fires is dropping, because people are taking action to reduce risk, without the need for lengthy, costly, bureaucratic and over-prescriptive regulations. Already European directives in the 1980s have cost industry £10 billion—that is equivalent to 500 new hospitals and no end of lost job opportunities.

The hon. Gentleman's proposal illustrates well the difference between the Labour party's approach and ours. He believes that fire can be outlawed by passing legislation. Legislation, like some elixir, cures all. The Labour party claims that more regulations create more safety, but that does not follow. Take road safety: in spite of the ever increasing number of regulations, nearly 10 people a day are killed on the roads and some 300,000 are injured. Regulations pour in from Europe, on safety in the home, yet in 1994 4,140 adults and children were tragically killed in household accidents. Although no one doubts that the hon. Gentleman has been prompted to seek the leave of the House to bring in his Bill by the highest motives, he is mistaken if he believes that legislation can cure the ills that he describes.

It is worse than that. I suspect that the Bill would create an additional bill in knock-on costs for small businesses. That is the problem with the Labour party. Labour Members do not understand that not only does legislation not solve problems, but additional rules and regulations imposed on industry make us less competitive and cost people jobs. That is why I oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 40.

Division No. 29] [3.45 pm
Ainger, Nick Beggs, Roy
Alexander, Richard Beith, A J
Ashdown, Paddy Benn, Tony
Ashton, Joseph Bennett, Andrew F
Barnes, Harry Bermingham, Gerald
Betts, Clive McAvoy, Thomas
Bray, Dr Jeremy Macdonald, Calum
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) McFall, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Mackinlay, Andrew
Byers, Stephen MacShane, Denis
Callaghan, Jim McWilliam, John
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Madden, Max
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Marek, Dr John
Canavan, Dennis Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cousins, Jim Meale, Alan
Cox, Tom Michael, Alun
Cummings, John Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE) Milburn, Alan
Dafis, Cynog Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Dalyell, Tam Morgan, Rhodri
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Morris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Morris, John (Aberavon)
Donohoe, Brian H Mudie, George
Eastham, Ken Mullin, Chris
Etherington, Bill Murphy, Paul
Evans, John (St Helens N) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Pike, Peter L
Faulds, Andrew Pope, Greg
Foster, Derek Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)
Foster, Don (Bath) Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Gapes, Mike Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Garrett, John Radice, Giles
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Randall, Stuart
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Rendel, David
Grocott, Bruce Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Gunnell, John Rooker, Jeff
Hain, Peter Rowlands, Ted
Henderson, Doug Sedgemore, Brian
Heppell, John Sheerman, Barry
Hood, Jimmy Sheldon, Robert
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Shore, Peter
Hoyle, Doug Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Soley, Clive
Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Spellar, John
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Squire, Ms R (Dunfermline W)
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jamieson, David Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs) Timms, Stephen
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Trimble, David
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Tyler, Paul
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW) Wareing, Robert N
Kaufman, Gerald Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S) Winnick, David
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Khabra, Piara S Wray, Jimmy
Kilfoyle, Peter
Lewis, Terry
Litherland, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Lynne, Ms Liz Mr. Keith Hill and
McAllion, John Mr. Graham Allen.
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Nicholls, Patrick
Ashby, David Onslow, Sir Cranley
Bowden, Sir Andrew Pawsey, James
Butcher, John Redwood, John
Cash, William Riddick, Graham
Chapman, Sir Sydney Shaw, David (Dover)
Cope, Sir John Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Durant, Sir Anthony Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)
Emery, Sir Peter Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld) Steen, Anthony
Gardiner, Sir George Sweeney, Walter
Gill, Christopher Tapsell, Sir Peter
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Grylls, Sir Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hannam, Sir John Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Viggers, Peter
Leigh, Edward Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Marlow, Tony
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Tellers for the Noes:
Mills, Iain Mr. Tim Devlin and
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Mr. Rupert Allason.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Heppell, Sir David Knox, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mrs. Diana Maddock, Mr. Jim Marshall, Mr. Gordon Prentice, Mr. Stanley Orme, Mr. John Austin-Walker, Mr. Joseph Ashton, Mr. Greg Pope, Mr. David Hanson and Mr. Ian Pearson.

  1. FIRE SAFETY 154 words
Forward to