HL Deb 10 February 1964 vol 255 cc433-68

6.8 p.m.

LORD AUCKLAND rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the large numbers of accidents to children and adults caused by the wearing of inflammable nightwear, and whether they will take urgent steps to expedite discussions with all concerned with the production and sale of the garments, with a view to an early embargo on their sale and manufacture. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Unstarred Question which stands in my name. In raising as an Unstarred Question this very tragic matter of deaths and injuries caused by inflammable nightwear, my purpose has been to enable some discussion to take place on this problem, and I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, the Chairman of the Consumer Council, for making a special journey from Scotland to take part. Already she has shown her tremendous talents in the capacity of Chairman of this Council and I am sure that her contribution to this debate will be very valuable. May I, in advance, thank all the Members of your Lordships' House who have signified their intention of taking part?

I suppose I have two qualifications for putting down this Question: I am a member of the Parliamentary All-Party Home Safety Committee and I am also the father of three small children, the eldest of whom is eight years of age, and it is around that age when many of these terrible accidents occur. Your Lordships may recall that three years ago I introduced a debate in your Lordships' House on home safety. It was nearly four years ago when the Molony Committee's Interim Report was issued. Paragraph 28 of that Report says: Deaths from clothing burns annually reach a disturbing figure. To these must be added a certain number of serious but nonfatal injuries. Action to reduce this hazard is therefore much to be desired. At that juncture the Committee did not advocate compulsory flame-proofing, but said that the situation must be watched closely and if these accidents tended to increase or keep to their level the Government of the day should take swift action.

At this moment I believe that the Home Secretary is in the process of meeting representatives from the clothing industry and others concerned in this matter. That is certainly a step in the right direction. I have given my noble friend the Minister of State notice of one or two questions. When will this organisation be meeting? How long are the meetings likely to take? And, very important, what will be the terms of reference? The present Home Secretary is a man of humane feeling and, as a family man himself, is as anxious as anyone to see this dreadful toll of death and injury cut down.

I would pay particular tribute to the Daily Mail for the widespread campaign it has recently been carrying on to bring the attention of the general public to these accidents. As I have said before in your Lordships' House, accidents on the road, in factories and in coal mines, are usually witnessed by a number of people and inquiries usually follow; but accidents in the home are not subjected to this process, and any figures quoted cannot possibly include, for example, people who go to outpatients' departments for treatment. The number of fatal accidents to children between the ages of 5 and 14 between 1958 and 1962, caused by burning clothing, was 152. I do not have the exact figures of the number injured, but, of course, they run into far higher figures.

A number of disturbing features have come out of the investigations. It would seem that winceyette and flannelette-type materials are being imported from the Far East and sold at cheap prices particularly in markets. I would ask my noble friend to ask his right honourable friend to look into this point carefully, because it is a very disturbing situation. There is also the disquieting news that, out of the fourteen authorities which the Daily Mail research group visited, only four insist on the provision of fireproof pyjamas and nightdresses in their homes. And these do not include the London County Council, which has very many children under its care. I am informed that one authority that does is the Devon County Council, and they should be congratulated.

I know that there are difficulties here. Mothers buy these lengths of material and make them up into garments, and if one says that they cannot do this, there is the hoary old cry of, "The liberty of the subject". Nobody believes more than I in the liberty of the individual. But cars of five years and over must have an annual brake test. It may well be that crash helmets for motor cyclists will become compulsory. It is surely not beyond the wit of the Government to sidetrack these terrible accidents by some form of compulsion in this sphere of nightwear. There is a possible solution in the matter of purchase tax. I suggest that there could be a substantial reduction in purchase tax on treated and non-inflammable nightwear. The alternative is to put an extremely high tax on flammable material. Of the two ideas, I think that the former is probably the best.

Another newspaper which has gone carefully into this matter, as well as into other aspects of home safety, is the Daily Mirror. Last year they came forward with some shocking reports of burning accidents. I have myself visited the Proban centre in Knightsbridge, where many of these garments are treated, and the material is attractive and satisfactory. Two or three years ago my wife and I obtained one of these nightdresses for our younger daughter. The other day we washed out the remains of the nightdress, which is now used as a duster. We tested it for flammability by putting petrol on it and setting it alight, and still the material did not flare up. So this is a perfectly satisfactory method of dealing with this risk.

In the Daily Mail there have been some really heart-rending stories and pictures. There was one of a five-year-old girl who was burned and was crying because her mother could not accompany her in the helicopter taking her from Romford to the Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood, where she was treated for burns. There was another one of a coloured girl from Leeds who was burned and her mother did not know that non-inflammable material could be obtained. This is the disturbing feature. Time after time it has been represented to me and to others by people that they do not know that this material is available. I would ask my noble friend to try persuade the Home Secretary somehow to advertise, if necessary through Government medium, that these things can be obtained.

This is a matter of tremendous concern. The cotton and fabric industry of this country has a great reputation, but it is a disturbing fact that in the eyes of some it is becoming a killer. I have visited Mount Vernon Hospital, and three ears ago I saw there a girl ten months old who had been burned by these means. I will not go into details at this stage, but sufficient to say that 50 per cent. of her limbs had either been burned off or otherwise rendered useless; she had lost one ear, and her scalp had been burned. I think any noble Lord or anybody else who had seen this child would have immediately reacted by asking Parliament to bring in some kind of legislation of this nature. I think this can be done.

One leading toy firm in this country is in future selling, so far as its soft toys are concerned, such as teddy bears, only those made out of non-flammable material. This is a step in the right direction. I feel that the same thing could be done as regards clothing. And this applies not only to children—being a father of young children, naturally I am more concerned about them—but elderly people, too, are burned in this way, and many of them live alone and have no help. The figures for deaths and injuries caused in this way to elderly people are, in fact, substantially higher. I hope that as a result of this Question the Government will see to it that action is taken. Indeed, I think there is great reason for using the quotation: "Action this day!"

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I was not a Member of your Lordships' House in 1961 when the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, initiated his debate on accidents in the home. I should like at this stage to convey to the noble Lord the appreciation of the whole House that he has raised this matter a second time and given us the opportunity of discussing it again to-day. Reverting to 1961, although I was not then, as I say, a Member of this House, it is probably hardly necessary to say that I followed with interest what was said in the debate. From that debate I should like to mention just two facts which emerged and which I think have particular reference to to-day's discussion. The first was that over 80 per cent. of all accidents in the home concerned either children under 4 or adults over 65. Secondly, falls were shown to be the main cause of injury, followed next by burns. As the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has said to-day, at that time he did not see that legislation with regard to children's nightwear was practicable.

Following that debate in 1961 I tried to build up the background against which I felt this whole problem should be considered. The first thing I want to say is that, although it is easy to forget the fact, most clothes, and especially those worn by women, are flammable, obviously to a greater or lesser degree. I see that the noble Lord agrees with me. As we all know, and as probably the public know, the leaders in the field of treating textiles at that time were Proban; and Proban were, and are, owned by two firms—namely, Albright and Wilson and the Bradford Dyers Association. I think we should pay tribute to the fact that by the end of 1961 these two firms had invested nearly £500,000 in this venture; and to-day's figure is much greater.

In 1961 it seemed to me that there were three main consumer objections. First, the finish gave a harsh feel to the fabric, and it was this actual "handle" that the public did not like. Secondly, the treatment tended to reduce the wear-and-tear strength of the fabric. Thirdly, prices remained high: treated material cost 2s. to 4s. a yard more than the untreated; and this, for some garments, added 30 per cent. to the cost. As for the trade, they told me that the consumer would not buy. I thought that they were wrong. But it was I who was wrong, and not the trade. I remember an example they gave me at the time, to the effect that about 40 million yards of cloth that might be treated is sold each year. Yet finishers and retailers thought they would be doing well if they sold half a million yards of treated cloth that season. I need hardly point out to your Lordships that that is a very small proportion. That was the end of 1961—the year that saw 234 deaths due to burns by clothing. What of 1962? Well my Lords, 1962 saw this figure increased to 312. The figures for 1963 are still to come, and perhaps the Minister will be able to give them to us to-night.

As this House, and certainly the Minister, will remember, July, 1962, brought us the Molony Report. The Molony Committee told us in their Report that they had had a number of suggestions to stimulate the availability of flame-resistant materials. At page 74, paragraph 133, of the Report they gave us three suggestions that had been made to them: that the Government should subsidise research on the problem … that the Government should subsidise production so as to eliminate price differential … that the Government should finance a publicity campaign.… These proposals were all turned down by the Molony Committee. I would agree with them on the first two points, but I should like to return later to the last suggestion. In paragraph 235 the Molony Report told us that the Committee were hopeful that the public conscience has been stirred in a way which will render it"— that is, statutory intervention— unnecessary in the future". I do not know the views of your Lordships, or those of the Minister, but as matters stand at the moment I am afraid that this will not be so unless we have many terrible accidents, such as we had with oil heaters.

None of us in this House believes that, some few years ago, we got action on oil heaters because oil heaters had suddenly become more dangerous. It was simply because there had been many terrible accidents to which the Press gave great publicity, and for which we all thank them. This roused public opinion; and public opinion roused the Government or the Molony Committee, or both of them together, and we had some action. We might well ask here: Are the figures that have been mentioned not terrible enough—312 deaths in 1962? I do not know. I only know that, in spite of these figures—and the number of deaths has been increasing steadily since 1961; and I believe that when we get the most recent figures they will show a still-increasing trend—retailers and manufacturers of fire resistant fabrics and fabric processes feel that their efforts to sell safety have been a failure. In other words, they say to me, "It looks as though we are up against both consumer apathy"—which we know—"and consumer resistance." Is this true, my Lords? Yes, I think it is.

To find out just how true it is, I have been to two firms. I have been to Marks and Spencer and to Lewis's, Limited, which includes Selfridge's—and I add that appendage, so that people will not get muddled up with the John Lewis Partnership, as so often happens. Why did I choose these two firms? I took Marks and Spencer because I think they stand for real value for money and because, even more important for what I wanted to find out, the shopping public shares this opinion. I took Lewis's because I remembered having a note in my files as long ago as 1960, to the effect that in their group they had undertaken, in December of that year, to reduce their mark-on in made-up children's nightdresses made from Proban-treated winceyette materials, in order to bring the price within easier reach of the general public. What happened in each case?

Marks and Spencer told me that they had for a long time been conscious of the problems of fire hazard in children's nightdresses. They had eliminated children's winceyette nightdresses many years ago, probably soon after the end of the war. The only children's nightdresses they sell now are of brushed nylon, sold under the British Nylon Spinners' "flare-free" ticket. In 1961 and 1962, they had trials in stores of children's nightdresses and pyjamas in Proban-treated winceyette. These trials were unsuccessful, first, because the public did not seem willing to pay approximately 5s. per garment more, and, secondly, because the fabric was harsh and uncomfortable. On both occasions it was necessary to reduce prices to clear. I would stress that, in addition to having the merchandise for sale, Marks and Spencer briefed sales assistants to tell customers—and not only those customers who were interested in the Proban-treated garments, but those interested in any type of nightwear at all—of the advantages.

As a result of this experience, did Marks and Spencer throw in their hand? No, my Lords, they did not. They tell me that they are now looking at further samples of Proban-treated winceyette with an improved finish. Experiments are being made with an alternative fabric to winceyette, vincel-cotton, which may take a Proban finish more successfully. A trial quantity of children's nightdresses in knitted Teklan will be available and will be sent out to stores within the next two or three weeks. I would say to the House, in passing, that this fabric has a "handle" comparable with that of brushed nylon, but is flame-proof, and most shoppers like the feel of it.

What about Lewis's Limited? What happened to their experiment? They told me that in 1960 the resistance by customers was almost 100 per cent. because of the feel of the fabric and the high prices. In the autumn of 1962, several manufacturers produced a softer Proban winceyette and in early 1963 Lewis's reduced their prices to approximately 2s. to 3s. per garment above the price of that non-treated. In August, 1963, the sale of all non-treated winceyette nightdresses for children was discontinued. Yet the firm told me that they feel there is still a lack of interest by the public in flame-proofed materials sold either by the yard or in made-up garments. In an effort to bring this to the attention of shoppers, Lewis's exhibit a notice on untreated winceyette saying: This cloth should not be used either for children's nightdresses, or old people's nightdresses as it is inflammable. The last point I would make here is that in most of their stores there is a recorded message on tape which customers can listen to by lifting a telephone receiver. The message explains to them the reasons why they should buy flame-resistant nightdresses, and encourages them to do so.

That, my Lords, is the retailing end. What about research? As the House is aware, I am a consultant to Courtauld's, and in this capacity I have the opportunity of learning much that otherwise might not come my way. I should like to stress that I also enjoy complete independence and freedom to express my views anywhere. Having declared that interest, may I go on to say that a great deal of expensive research and development has been done both by man-made-fibre producers and by the dyeing and finishing trade in order to produce low flammability and flameproof textiles. It is interesting to note that flameproof and low-flammability garments passing the British Standards Institution standard of testing can be produced by three methods. The first is by using fabrics comprising a fibre that is completely non-flammable, and which will consequently withstand repeated launderings without losing any of its flameproof properties. This fibre, called Teklan, was discovered by Courtauld's as a result of considerable long-term research efforts, and is at present in the commercial development stage.

The second method is by using manmade fibres which are flame-resistant or of low flammability by incorporating flame-proof chemicals in their composition before extrusion into fibre form. I went to see this done. I thought that some of your Lordships might be as ignorant as I was before I saw it, and that somebody might get up and ask me, "What on earth do you mean by extrusion into fibre form?'". Even if it is technical, may I, in case it should be helpful to some noble Lords, explain what I mean? A spinning solution which is a viscous fluid is forced through minute holes in a jet. Fine filaments are formed by evaporation of the solvent, and the textile fibres thus contain the flame-proof chemicals thoroughly dispersed and fixed. I have underlined the word "fixed" on my notes which is the most important part, as I see the Minister knows. There are two such fibres available—namely, British Celanese's "Dicel" and James Nelson's "F.R. acetate". These two fibres retain their flame-resistant properties undiminished after repeated washing or dry-cleaning.

The third method is by using chemical flame-resistant finishes which can be put either on to the fabric or on to the garment. These are of two types, temporary and durable. The temporary finishes, such as sulphate of ammonia, borax and boracic acid mixtures, are removed on washing and tend to powder off during use; the durable finishes will withstand many washing treatments but ultimately become less effective. Obviously, these finishes again add to the cost of the garments and, of course, all such applied finishes, whether temporary or durable, affect the handle or feel of the cloth; and, as I said earlier, this has been a contributory factor to the lack of public demand.

I am taking up a lot of your Lordships' time but I am doing so because I think those of us here to-day, and many others, have a deep personal concern with this problem and I do not think we should just skim the surface. If I may say so, I do not believe that this House itself believes in skimming the surface of something which really matters. We must have some idea of what we are tackling. Indeed, if the Home Office, as I read on Friday last, is really going to sift inflammable clothing facts it will have to look at the points I am now raising.

This durable type of finish that I have been talking about is adversely affected by chlorine bleaching, which not only vitiates the flame-proofing effect, but also deteriorates the fabric. Another factor to contend with is that washing the chemically flame-proofed garments in hard water with soap negatives the flameproof effect, since the layer of lime soaps deposited on the garment is itself flammable. This also applies to starching; but washing in hard water with non-soap detergents is permissible. Because of all this I want to stress to the House, and particularly to the Government, that if it is proposed to introduce legislation, or to act by Orders in Council, it is essential, as I hope I have proved, that garments made up from chemically flame-proofed fabrics should bear a sew-on label clearly indicating (and these words are mine) "No chlorine bleach: wash with detergents". These limitations do not apply to Teklan, or to the flame-resistant acetates that I mentioned previously.

The House may know, and I hope that the Minister may know, that there is a strong body of opinion which considers that an applied flame-proof finish that can be rendered ineffective as indicated a moment ago is more dangerous than no finish at all, because it can lead to a false sense of security. I share that point of view very strongly, and I am quite sure that every Member of your Lordships' House will share it equally. The launderers also share it. In the current issue of the publication, Calling All Supervisors, issued by the British Launderers' Research Association, clear instructions are given on how to minimise the risk of removing the finish—and I quote: The durability of the proofing depends very much on the washing treatment and there are certain essentials. 1. Unless you are dead certain the water is 100 per cent. soft, don't use soap. Better play safe and always use synthetic detergents for anything you think may have a flame resistant finish. 2. Do not bleach. 3. Do not boil. 4. Do not starch. I hope that the House will agree that manufacturers and retailers are trying to help. I have given two examples of retailing, and one of research. Obviously, these are examples only, and everyone else in this House could add others. In view of this contribution by the manufacturers and retailers I think the Government itself should co-operate, and I am back here to the point I raised at the beginning, whether or not the Government should finance a publicity campaign.

My Lords, on November 14, 1962, we had a debate in this House on the Molony Report, and I asked the House [OFFICIAL REPORT., Vol. 244, col. 615] to look at what I called "the defeatist attitude" of Molony which kept appearing from time to time. Perhaps I might make a very short quotation, which I think is relevant: Obviously, the spending of the taxpayers' money is something to be considered most carefully, but in certain instances (and I will quote some of them) I should have thought that the gains would far outstrip the cost; and I should greatly welcome the opinion of the House, and of course the Minister"— and it happened to be the same Minister, which I should not have thought would be the case— on this particular point. In so far as mass media are concerned, on page 283 (paragraph 860) the Report says, speaking of the Council"— that is, of course, the Consumer Council— 'We would not permanently deny it the right to use other methods of disseminating consumer information, e.g. Press advertisements, television; but the initial grant we recommend is not intended to cover such expensive forms of publicity'. My Lords, this is an example of where I think the gain would far outstrip the cost. I think this job should be done by the Consumer Council. It is a piece of work so important to the nation that if the Government really mean business they will give the Council the money to do it. Let us make no mistake here. It is no use giving ourselves a false sense of security. I do not believe that the present risks will strike home to the general public short of a major catastrophe or time, repeated time, on television. And, personally, I prefer the time on television to the catastrophe.

After detaining the House to this extent it is a fair question to ask me what I suggest should be done. My first answer is that this is primarily a matter for education. It can be bolstered up by other action, but I believe that education is by far the most important—education, for example, that pyjamas are far safer than nightdresses. Second, there should be recognition by the Government that if they ban nightwear considered flammable then, by implication, what is left will be non-flammable. Third, any nightwear sold as non-flammable must have a sew-on label with washing instructions; and I would say to the Government, quite definitely, that if they take action without legislating that this sew-on label must be there, their action will be criminal neglect. I feel as strongly as that on that particular matter.

Then, fourth, the British Standards Institution should decide, as a matter of urgency, which nightwear can carry such a label guaranteeing that washing will not impair the flame-proof finish. After all, it is hardly necessary to stress the danger if parents, or others, buy more expensive nightwear because they accept that it is non-flammable, only to find out, perhaps by bitter experience, that the finish has been impaired. Fifth, I would then, and only then, ban nightwear not meriting this label. Sixth, I would define "nightwear". Seventh, I would stress the need to remember that more people over 65 suffer from this flammability than children, and that surely children alone cannot be catered for. Eighth, we should consider the problem of piece goods—after all, how much nightwear is made up at home? Are we going to ban flammable piece goods? To put it negatively, are we going to sell this material and mark it "Flammable"?—which I think is not a proposition—or, to put it positively, are we going to ban it and put permanent washing instructions on the rest: because I can assure the House, if it is necessary (I do not think it is), that labels given away with purchases would be of little use. They always get lost, so the instructions must be marked on the selvedge.

My Lords, I do not wish to be unkind, but I am sceptical about this Government concern for the consumer, and if the Minister thinks I am being a little harsh I would only say to him that I wish this concern had come during my ten years in another place. If the Government intend, apparently—and I have put the word "apparently" in quotes, too—to deal with this problem, it would not only mislead the public but cause fatal accidents. I say this because the sudden haste with which the Government have decided to look at this matter has greatly (shall I say?) surprised organisations who really have had no time to deal with anything before being called to the Home Office last week to look at this. Why have we got this sudden urgency? Is it really concern, or is it the General Election? I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to take part in this short debate in support of the Question the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has put down, because not only did I speak in the debate which he initiated on home safety some two years ago, but I piloted through your Lordships' House a Bill which became an Act of Parliment in 1951 or 1952 and which required gas fires and electric fires to be given proper fireguards. One of the troubles about that Bill which I think may occur in bringing in legislation or regulations now is: what are we to do with the stocks which existed before such a Bill or such regulations came in? With regard to the fires there are quite a number of fires which were in people's houses before the Act came into force. There were large stocks in the shops which had to be sold. So I do not think the full effect of that piece of legislation has come into being yet. But there is one thing one can say which I think encouraging. Although the number of people dying from burns from these fires has remained fairly constant over the last few years, that has no relation at all to the number of fires which have been sold, so one cannot help feeling that supposing the fires sold had been as lethal as the ones sold before, the amount of deaths would have gone up quite considerably.

It is a rather frightening thing that even now such a large proportion of people admitted to hospital with burns suffer from burns caused by inflammable clothes. The figure, I think, is that about 60 per cent. of all burns admitted to hospital are caused by burning clothing. It accounts for about 75 per cent. of the deaths from burns. That really does seem a very large figure and is one which I think has all sorts of implications. The people who come to hospital suffering from clothing burns tend to stay about twice as long as people with other burns; and, furthermore, they tend to go back from time to time on many occasions because they are treated by plastic surgery to repair scars and make them into more or less normal looking people once again. The high mortality, as the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, pointed out, occurs in children under 15, and the number of children who come out of hospital badly scarred is about twice as many as the number who die. That means that they have to go back for many plastic operations, which is expensive in time and manpower and hospital beds, and at the same time has a very bad effect on the psychology of the children if they feel they are being treated in that sort of way.

One of the troubles about burns caused by clothing is that if a garment catches fire it burns a very big extent of the body. Not only do burning garments burn deep so that the skin can be completely destroyed, but the burns might well cover about 50 per cent. of the patient's body. Supposing that people have burns covering about 50 per cent. of the body, it means that about 50 per cent. of them, if they are children and young adults, will die. If older people are being dealt with, about 50 per cent. will die if they are burned on up to about 10 per cent. of the total body surface. That gives one some idea of the extent of the danger from these burns.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, dealt with some of the factors to be taken into consideration, supposing some safe material can be put on the market which is non-inflammable. I think there are one or two points she did not mention that I should like to bring out. The material must be nontoxic, because one of the things children particularly do is to suck their clothing. And not only must the fireproofing be durable, it has to be as durable as the garment itself, because the garment will go to the laundry or be washed many times and the durability of the fireproofing must be just as strong when the garment is finally worn out as before.

What can one do to stop this terrible story? The first thing is that we can encourage the sale of these noninflammable garments. They have to be cheap and pleasant to handle; they have to be easily available. One thing which leads to burns is overcrowding, and here I think one comes back to the housing situation more and more. More people are liable to be burned if they are living in overcrowded conditions than if they are living in more reasonable conditions. There are two minor points. With children you have to be very careful at parties. You also have to be very careful not to put your looking glass over the fireplace, because a large number of burns are caused by people wanting to look at themselves in the mirror: they lean over the fire, whether it is coal or wood, gas or electric, and part of a garment comes almost into contact with the fire, and if it is there too long even the strongest and best guard will not stop it from igniting.

The other point is that one has to try to encourage the parents of young children not to let them wear nightdresses, but pyjamas. It is very difficult to give a real comparison between nightdresses and pyjamas, but so far as I can discover from the figures I have seen, about ten times as many burns occur with nightdresses as with pyjamas. Of course, one can say against that that one does not know what number of people wear pyjamas and what number of people wear nightdresses, so one cannot be completely accurate on that point; but, so far as one can see, that plays a big part in the matter. I was pleased to read in the papers, I think on Friday last, that the Home Office are thinking of making regulations banning these inflammable nightdresses.

I should like to support the noble Baroness on one point she made. What is going to happen in regard to people who make up their garments at home? Suppose we are going to control nightdresses sold "off the peg"; we must get the material for making nightdresses at home protected in the same way. Finally, supposing regulations are to be made, should they be made to apply to children's garments only, or should they be made to apply to adults' garments? My own feeling at present is that one should make them apply to children's garments only. For the grown-ups one has to rely on education by any means which are available. I should therefore like to support the noble Baroness in what she said about a Government campaign of education. I am extremely pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has again brought up this particularly important matter.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, for putting on the Order Paper this Unstarred Question and for giving us the opportunity to have this discussion. My only regret is that it has come so late in the evening that many noble Lords are not here, because I think this subject is vitally important. I should also like to pay great tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, whose knowledge on this subject never ceases to amaze me. There is nobody who has made such a study as she has of the interests of the consumer in every field, and I think that what she has said to-day, which obviously has been studied with the greatest care, is something which the Home Office and the Government will look at carefully. Nobody could have brought forward more important points than she did in her speech. I think I would go even further than she has done. She said that she thought that a number of things should be done before banning the use of inflammable materials. I think I would go so far as to say that inflammable materials for children's clothing should be banned. I agree that there are many things that could be done as well, but I really think that this is something we should look at as seriously as we look at accidents on the road or danger from any other serious accident.

The figures that have been given I will not repeat. There is a 33 per cent. increase in fatalities. Just before he sat down, the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, said that he had no figures for the dangers from clothing burns other than from nightdresses. Well, I have a few figures here. Out of 99 incidents of clothing burns from nightdresses there are, in comparison, only 8 involving pyjama-wearers, with only one fatality, 8 involving dressing gowns with no fatalities, and 72 involving dresses. So that nightdresses are much the most dangerous kind of garment to catch fire. I agree also that publicity is of the greatest importance. But it is not the only thing. I do not think that publicity alone is going to cure this problem. But I would accept with alacrity the suggestion of the noble Baroness that if money were made available for the Consumer Council we should carry on a tremendous campaign on this subject. We certainly would; but it would cost quite a lot of money.

Just to show one or two of the things we have done, in a quite modest way I am afraid—but I think we did start the ball rolling on this matter before Christmas—I should like to tell the House that before Christmas I wrote letters to a number of big firms in the retail trade selling children's clothing. I wrote a further series after Christmas. I have written about 180 or 190 personal letters to firms throughout the country, asking them to do something drastic about the sale of children's nightwear made of inflammable or, as it is technically known, flammable materials. About one-third, or a little more, have answered and have said they are anxious to help, and I am hoping still to get answers from the remainder to give their views. Many stores have refused to sell inflammable garments, and many more are saying that they are going to look at the matter again and will do what they can to deal with this most important problem.

We also organised a simple shopping expedition of three or four young women from our Council offices, who went out into the stores to see whether or not they could buy non-inflammable nightdresses, or what sort of reception they would have if they asked for these garments. They returned saying that no shop assistant gave them any information at all about the flammability or non-flammability of the garments that they were buying. When they asked for non-inflammable materials they were offered some, but in some stores there were none at all. There was no labelling on any of the garments to show whether or not they were inflammable.

Lady Burton of Coventry has told us about the difficulties in regard to inflammable materials, and also their properties. It is true that if a garment is made of an inflammable material it may be cheaper than one that is made of a non-inflammable material. These young women who went round reported that although they were offered, let us say, material at 5s. 11d. a yard and then offered material at 3s. 11d. a yard—I am giving now invented figures, but these are the sort of ranges—they were not told that the 5s. 11d. material would not go on fire and therefore was safe and that the 3s. 11d. material would go on fire and was not safe. So any ignorant person who was not able to find out these things would naturally probably take the 3s. 11d. material, because she might want something cheaper.

Another point is that many materials that are inflammable carry attractive designs, such as of toys, teddy bears, golliwogs and so on, showing that they are meant for children's clothing. Some of those designs are not on materials that are flame-proof or fireproof. I think it would be well to transfer some of the attractive nursery patterns to materials which are safe. That might well be an incentive to buy them. Then, people have said that sometimes it is difficult to define what are children's nightdresses. But that is not in fact so, because there are exemptions from purchase tax on children's nightdresses. The British Standards Institution have standard clothing sizes for children's nightwear, so it would be quite possible to see that material sold for children's nightdresses was certified as non-inflammable. Then, as the noble Baroness told us, there are materials certified as flameproof, more particularly the man-made fibres which have a nylon content. Those fibres make very attractive nightdresses. The noble Lady referred to one of the great stores which used these fibres, and used them very successfully indeed.

We come back—as we always do in nearly all the problems of the consumer—to accurate labelling. There, again, the noble Baroness mentioned the great importance of having accurate labelling, not on a little card or something which can be torn off, but sewn on to the garment. I am certain she is right that on this extremely important subject it is essential that one should know what are the properties of the material, how to treat it, and various other details about washing, ironing and so on. Therefore I would follow the noble Baroness in what she has said this evening, except that I should hope that we could ban the sale of flammable material for children's nightdresses. I hope that the success of the manufacturers with non-flammable materials will be such that they will soon make as attractive materials for children's clothes of the non-flammable variety as are made to-day of the flammable variety. I would ask that the attractive drawings and pictures of nursery subjects should be used on the non-flammable materials just as to-day they are used on flammable materials.

I would wholeheartedly support the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, on the question of labelling. It is essential, and is the only way in which one will get people to realise what they are buying and what the properties of the materials are. I hope, too, that there will be more education—there is at the moment a good deal of education in the training of shop assistants—to train people to tell the customer what he is paying for, and, if it is more expensive, that he is paying for safety. One cannot pay too much for safety. I am sure all mothers would willingly pay more for safety if it were explained to them. If you go into a shop and you are not told, "This one is safe", "That one is unsafe", you will probably be attracted towards the cheaper material; whereas for an extra 1s. or 2s. you would be buying a safe garment.

I would support the proposal made by Lady Burton of Coventry in regard to a publicity campaign. In addition to writing letters we have had one or two programmes on television which have been put on by the Consumer Council at the request of the television companies. These have been quite a success, but the thing should be multiplied one hundredfold if it is to be of any real value. This would cost money, but it might save a great deal of money in the end. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has told us of the long period it takes in a hospital to heal the burns which come from these dangerous materials. If it saved that cost alone, it would help to repay any expenditure one might incur in a publicity campaign—and that is putting it at the lowest. From a moral point of view or from the point of view of happiness, publicity which would get across to the public the dangers that arise from this particular kind of material would be money saved and happiness and safety gained.

This is an urgent matter. I hope the Minister when he replies will tell us that it is not a matter involving just talk. Of course, we know that he must talk to the manufacturers, but there are different ways in which one can talk. One can say, "Will you go back and think about it, and perhaps we shall have a meeting in a month or two?"—that is one way of approaching it. But I hope that a far more urgent message will be put across at these meetings: that this is something which must be done quickly—just as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, talked about the urgency of dealing with the motor accidents; and how right she was! This is an urgent matter from the point of view of the child, and no doubt in time it will be extended to old people. It is as urgent as anything we are facing at this moment. I would urge the Minister to tell us that the Ministry are not engaged merely in talking but are going to take some action soon. I can assure him that in so far as I and the Consumer Council are able we will back him up to the hilt.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I join with other speakers in congratulating the noble Lord in putting down this Un-starred Question. Speaking for myself, I believe that we have had a most interesting debate, a debate to which I tremble in adding my contribution, for I feel I am not as thoroughly qualified as some other of the speakers who have taken part. I was particularly interested by Lady Burton of Coventry's most informed words on the subject. I am a grandfather with four grown-up children and my house sometimes echoes to the patter of little feet again, and in that respect I have some expertise.

I am sure the noble Lady will agree that the little "dig" at the end of her speech was not intended to indicate that this anxiety did not affect all sides of the House. I feel, with others, that it is a good thing that this matter is being considered now, and being considered urgently. I happened to pick up the Medical News of February 7 which has devoted a whole leader to this subject and which ends with the words: As the requisite non-inflammable material is now available in ample supply, and at reasonable price, the time has clearly come for Parliament to take action. I feel that this debate must have impressed on all of your Lordships the great difficulties which present themselves. The tenor of my speech will be that I am appreciative of the difficulties of legislating in this matter. It will be difficult for legislation to be so widespread as to be effective. So many mothers, as has been mentioned by a number of speakers, prefer to make up their own clothes from purchased piece goods. Also involved is the question of children's party dresses. While I agree with all that has been said about the branding and labelling of non-inflammable made-up garments, I feel inclined to deal with the problem of piece goods. I feel that what the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said about purchase tax might be applicable here. Children's garments are free of purchase tax in certain sizes, but it might be a way of encouraging the purchase of non-flammable piece goods and, indeed, of advertising the fact that such exist, if the Government would relieve such goods of purchase tax only if they were non-flammable.

One point has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, that of course it is not only the young who suffer from burns; the old suffer terribly. I am tempted to mention that, because yesterday I took the trouble to visit a daughter who works in London to ask her about this. She is 20 years old and lives with three other girls, and she astonished me by saying, "Yes, we have had two girls on fire in this house in six months." I said, "Were they hurt?" and the answer was, "No". My point in mentioning this is that it is the very young who are terrified and run; and it is the old who are too infirm and slow, and they suffer dreadfully. Therefore I suggest that there are many accidents caused by garments catching fire which are never heard of, because they occur to young people who can "jump to it" and put themselves out without rushing about and setting things ablaze.

My Lords, in addressing you I am sorry that I also involve your Lordships in what I regard as a little bit of self-imposed penance. I do not mind telling you that at Christmas time I thought I would go and look at rooms which had been unoccupied, for grandchildren who have started to walk. To my astonishment I found that two of my electric fires were insufficiently guarded. This point was covered by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, but his Bill of 1952 did not apply to those fires as they were purchased before that. However I was able to put that matter right. Therefore I feel that I must impose upon myself the task of addressing your Lordships on this subject, if only to urge upon the Government that propaganda can provide an inspiration to people like myself just to go and see whether their equipment is safe. I thought mine was safe, but I looked and saw that it was not.

Talking of propaganda, I believe that, with the exceptions which the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, mentioned, the national Press could do more. I believe that all the Press could do more, and that the radio and television channels could also apply themselves to this matter right away, if only by starting in on reporting this debate and the fascinating information which has been put before your Lordships' House. There is "Family Doctor", there is "Panorama", there is "Tonight", and so on. Indeed, I have a feeling that I have seen something of this nature in "Panorama" or "Tonight", but, all right; let us have it again and again. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, made the point that if propaganda is to be effective—and I believe it can be—then this is the time to begin it, and this is the time to go on with it and bring home to the people the ease with which the personal care of parents and others can affect this dreadful situation.

My Lords, discussions are proceeding and they must of course take place. I suggest that it is obvious, from what has been said here to-night, that those discussions will range very far. No one will be happier than I if the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, can tell us that there will be legislation. But the only remedy ready to our hand now is intense propaganda and intense publicity, and I look forward with the greatest interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is going to say.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for a few moments in this important debate? I do so because for ten years immediately after the war I spent my time selling textiles, and studying many of the problems of bringing forward new qualities and new cloths. I was particularly struck by the speech of my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry, when she was dealing with the problem of cost. Cost in textiles depends mainly on the extent of production. At one time nylon, Terylene and the other acetate qualities that followed were very expensive cloths; but with the spread of popularity and the growth of production the cost of these materials has been considerably reduced. A nylon shirt to-day is no longer in the highest of the price brackets; it is one of the cheaper articles. In time we have been able to alter the feel, the handle, of the material. I well remember the first nylon shirts that came out. Their only value. I suppose, was that they were really "non-iron", but they were very hot to the body. But now, as a result of various advances in the industry, we have been able to produce many types of nylon quality suitable for shirts and many other garments. How ever, I think the extent to which the textile industry can sell an article depends upon its price, and the extent of production also depends upon the price.

I gathered from my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry that there is still a long way to go before the right sort of cloth is available. May I say that I agree with her 100 per cent., that we should look very carefully at any of these fabrics which have a non-inflammable quality through having been dipped in a substance. I think my noble friend is utterly right; the only yarns that will stand up to the possibility of fire are those into which an ingredient has been introduced at a very early stage—the noble Lady mentioned a viscous quality. But to produce this type of yarn involves very considerable sums of money. There may be an advance which is not quite acceptable to the public and which may require twice the original sum in order to make the next advance.

It may well be within the capacity of Courtauld's, Nelson or I.C.I. to put money into research, but they may feel that they are not getting sufficient support from the retail trade and the general public to spend more money in this way. There are firms other than those three which I have mentioned, who are in this business, and I should have thought the first thing the Government could do was to get hold of these big organisations, which, as I say, are already interested, to see whether they could co-operate with, say, some of our leading universities, with the Government sponsoring the university side to see whether there could be greater speed in developing this new cloth. If I.C.I. and Courtauld's and any of the other big people were to get together, instead of working in isolation. I believe there would be infinitely greater speed in obtaining the right quality.

I hope that the Government will try to bring these big organisations together to pool their present knowledge, because previous experience has shown that the big organisations go their separate ways. They trade under a different name, and spend considerable sums of money in the individual organisations, only to produce a yarn or filament that is basically the same. I should have thought, therefore, in the interests of safety above all else, that these organisations would respond— I hope they would respond—to a plea from the Government, and particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and try to pool their existing knowledge in order that we might see a considerable advance in the manufacture of this type of yarn.

In regard to propaganda, I have seen a good deal of this propaganda on the B.B.C. and I.T.A. Some of it is extremely good; but I cannot help remembering the tremendous campaign that the Ministry of Transport embarked upon just before Christmas in regard to safe driving and drink, and we saw the consequences of that. It seems to me, therefore, that if we are going to carry out a propaganda campaign it cannot be confined to just two or three weeks at a time. It would have to be a long, sustained programme, bringing before the public the story in its different aspects.

Might I say to the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., that much of their propaganda is very good, but why bring it on at five minutes to six in the evening? For the housewife, five minutes to six is the time when she is trying to get her young children to bed, or she may be trying to make a meal for her husband. This is certainly not the time in the evening when any person, except perhaps a teenager or a schoolchild, will have the opportunity of appreciating the propaganda that this important medium can put out. I hope, therefore, that both these organisations will try to put this type of propaganda material across at a time when they know that their own type of programme, their entertainment, has the maximum impact. If they know that 20 million people are viewing at 9 o'clock in the evening, then I should hope that, for the matter of half a minute or so, they would put on this type of propaganda so that it might have the maximum impact.

In regard to labels on garments, if it is possible to have non-inflammable material—and, of course, it is—it is obvious that we must support the manufacturer and also the retailer by ensuring that a proper label is affixed to the garment. This would require very careful wording because, from my experience in textiles and the manufacture of the made-up articles, gross misrepresentation might be found which however could not be classed as misrepresentation in law. The mere twisting of a few words can give the impression desired, but the article does not match up to what is described.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend, with the permission of the House? I should like to make it quite clear, if I did not, that I believe that garments which are sold as non-inflammable should have a sewn-in label attached to them, but this is to deal purely with the washing properties of the material, not with content; purely with how to take care of it.


I take the point. I myself had rather rejected the so-called non-inflammable material that is dipped into a salt. To my way of thinking, the only non-inflammable material we are likely to obtain which is really non-inflammable is the viscous quality which the noble Lady was referring to—I think it was Teklan. But the label is very important, and the authorities will have to ensure that the labels are affixed only to garments and to qualities which come up to their specifications.

When we come to piece goods I think we run into very considerable difficulties. I would agree with the noble Baroness opposite that there is a lot to be said for banning all inflammable material. Winceyette is the most common quality used to make nightdresses and pyjamas. I think the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, from his experience at the Board of Trade, will agree with me that a very considerable quantity of winceyette that is sold in this country, if not well over 50 per cent., either as piece goods or as made-up garments, originates either in Holland or in Hong Kong. I know, in fact, that winceyette is by far the largest of the imports into this country from Hong Kong. If you ban inflammable materials for pyjamas and nightdresses, I do not know how you will get over the problems of regulating imports, because winceyette is used not only for pyjamas and nightdresses, but also in the manufacture of shirts and other children's garments, which perhaps do not run the risk of fire in the evening. I think this will be an insuperable problem unless you can pass on to the Hong Kong and other manufacturers the information that you have garnered in this country.

My Lords, I myself feel that the only way to deal with this problem is to get our British manufacturers together, to pool their existing knowledge in the interests of the general public, and then to approach the leading manufacturers of garments, those firms which have a first-class trade mark. Here I agree with my noble friend Baroness Burton of Coventry who mentioned Marks and Spencers. We should approach firms of that type, whose trade mark stands for quality and is recognised as indicating quality. I will not quote any more instances, but there are a number of trade marks which, by the very mention of the name, clearly establish a certain quality. If these people could be persuaded to work with the producers of the yarns, then I think we could obtain an entry into the retail market; and then, with propaganda from the companies themselves, from both the retailer and the manufacturer, and with the use of Government machinery and the use of television and, perhaps, the Press, I think it might be possible to persuade people that it is far better to pay perhaps a few pence more in the initial stages for this material.

I do not believe that at this stage it is possible to ban inflammable material. I do not think it is possible without upsetting a very considerable part of the textile trade; but if the leading companies—Courtauld's, I.C.I. and those others who are well known, not only for the cloth they produce but for the garments they make—could get together, and if you could obtain the support of the leading retail organisations (Marks and Spencer, the Co-operative Wholesale Societies, Littlewoods and many others), I believe that it would be possible to make an impact on the public mind and the public conscience. But I think that this is not something that one can lay straight at the door of the Government—although the Government, because they are the elected heads of the country, have a very large part to play. I think they could bring the organisations together; but what is needed is mainly a co-operative effort, not only by Parliament itself, but by television and sound radio, and by the suppliers, the weavers, the spinners and the like. What is needed is a co-operative effort by all to bring this dreadful story before the public, and to offer them an alternative.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, it is not for me to say "Thank you" to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate—that has already been done by my noble friend Lord Auckland, whose job it is—but perhaps I may be allowed to say "Thank you" to him, at any rate, for putting down this Question, because it gives me a chance to say a few things I should like to say. I am grateful also to the other speakers for the suggestions they have put forward; perhaps I am allowed to say that. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, for one of the most interesting and informative speeches I have listened to for a long time. May I also say that, fortunately for all your Lordships, she has cut down my speech by half because she has already said some of the things I had been going to say.

I think that the best way of dealing with a lot of the questions is for me to give a very brief general outline of the present position. Then perhaps I will get down to answering the individual questions, and I hope to answer most of them. Her Majesty's Government have for some time past been deeply concerned about the tragic loss of life due to burns by flammable clothing and the immense amount of human suffering caused by the thousands of non-fatal burns. The majority of these accidents are avoidable. More than half of them arise from contact with unguarded fires, and the failure of parents to take adequate precautions, despite the considerable and sustained publicity given to the hazards of flammable clothing and unguarded heating appliances, must largely be blamed for the accidents involving children.

The Molony Committee (and I seem to remember that the noble Baroness and I have mentioned this Committee before) gave this whole question full and careful consideration, and in their final Report reached the conclusion that statutory intervention was not justified at that time. Their view was that the real safeguard lies in a proper sense of parental responsibility towards this particular hazard in the home". These were their words that I quoted. I will not quote many figures, but I think one might mention that, prior to 1960, the total number of deaths in England and Wales due to burns by clothing exceeded 300 a year. In each of the three years 1954 to 1956, for example, the total reached 340. In 1960 and again in 1961 there was an encouraging drop in the number of deaths in this category, which suggested that the very extensive publicity from many sources, including the Home Office and the Ministry of Health, was having an effect. But unfortunately that trend has not continued. The number of deaths in England and Wales rose from 234 in 1961 to 312 in 1962. That was almost certainly due to the prolonged spell of cold weather in the spring of that year; and the figures for 1963, which are not yet available, are likely to show a further substantial increase because of the cold winter.

These increases do not necessarily invalidate the Molony Committee's conclusions. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary recently announced in another place, however, the Government have decided, in view of the increasing number of tragic fatalities and injuries caused by clothing, particularly nightwear, catching fire, to have urgent—and I repeat, urgent—consultations with the trade and other interested parties on the possibilities of taking effective action by means of regulations made under the Consumer Protection Act, 1961. My noble friend Lord Ferrier thought that we could not move very quickly. I can assure him that when we are ready to move we can move very quickly by regulations under the Consumer Protection Act.

As the noble Baroness has already told noble Lords, a meeting with representatives of the trade associations and other interested bodies took place on February 6, at the Home Office. There are questions of some complexity which require further study. That is clear, I think, from what has been said this afternoon. But, for instance, the standard of non-flammability to be required must be laid down; and the range of garments to be covered, having regard—and this is very important—to the availability of material complying with this standard and to other factors. And when my noble friend Lord Ferrier said there is an adequate supply, then I must join issue with him on that. There are adequate supplies of some garments which may be considered by some people as non-flammable; but there must be adequate supplies, in our view, of garments that are non-flammable in accordance with the standards we have to agree.


My Lords, forgive this interruption. I was quoting from a leader in the Medical News and I was as surprised to see those words as was the noble Lord.


They were not completely correct. I say this to my noble friend Lady Elliot of Hardwood: it is hoped to resolve these questions quickly. As soon as that is done, the drafting of regulations can be put in hand at once. In the meantime publicity drawing attention to the dangers of flammable clothing and the need for adequate precautions will be continued. That is the present position and what we intend to do.


My Lords, might I ask the noble Lord a question? If he is proposing to deal with this I will sit down. Arising out of the matter of making regulations, would he feel able to say what importance he attaches to the fact that it is not only a matter of regulations and of deciding what materials measure up to non-flammable standards; it is a question also of what non-flammability is destroyed by washing?


My Lords, I am coming to that point. I shall try to deal with most of the questions raised, and that was one of the most important of them. It was raised also by my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood. May I start by saying that there has been some suggestion (it came mostly from my noble friend Lord Auckland, I think) that there has been some delay by the Government in dealing with this matter. As I have already indicated, we were originally of the opinion, as were the Molony Committee, that this could be dealt with better by education than by legislation; and there is still something to be said for that. But as I have indicated, we have started to alter our views on that.

The next point about any delay is that prior to the passing of the Consumer Protection Act of 1961—and the Act did not come into force until August of that year—there was no power to make regulations. The third point is that it is extremely doubtful whether the production capacity of safe materials has, until possibly recently—and I repeat "possibly recently"—been adequate to meet the total demand, even for children's nightwear, apart from other dresses. It is only recently that an improved method of curing fabric by the existing Proban process has been developed. Only within the last twelve months has the fabric been generally regarded as acceptable. Before that, it had a harsh "handle", as the noble Baroness has said, and it was alleged that the treatment reduced the strength of the materials. That was certainly the case up to twelve months ago. And, still recently, the price differential between treated and untreated cotton fabric has been very wide. Only recently it has been reduced to the more acceptable amount of 2s. a yard, instead of 4s. a yard. Considering all those factors I do not think there has been much delay.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend on what basis he makes the allegation about the "harsh" fabric? I know many people who have used the Proban-treated fabrics; and they have been perfectly comfortable to the skin.


As the noble Baroness has said, they were until the last twelve months considered to have a harsh "handle". There was consumer resistance to them; that was one of the reasons. I am glad that my noble friend found no resistance to them. The next question he asked was, I think, how long would these consultations take. I think he may have suggested that we could short-circuit them. These consultations are necessary under the Consumer Protection Act; because the Act provides that It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State before making any regulations … to consult with such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him requisite". The bodies we are consulting we consider to be requisite.

The next point my noble friend raised was in regard to street traders. Any regulations we make will cover street trading, in the same way as any other form of selling; but we are not prepared to make regulations that will apply only to street traders and not to other forms of trading. The next question was about cheap imports. If regulations are made they will apply to the sale of all nightwear coming within their scope, irrespective of the source of supply. Imported made-up garments and garments made up with imported material will be caught by regulation. There will be no difference in that respect.

My noble friend asked about local authority homes, and said that, especially in the L.C.C. area, such homes have no regulations about flammable nightdresses. This is a matter within the discretion of local authorities and voluntary organisations. While my right honourable friend has no detailed information about the present practice, he understands that the L.C.C. and other local authorities do not insist on the provision of flame-resistant nightwear. The fires in children's homes are normally extremely well guarded: that is their way of trying to stop accidents. But my right honourable friend is considering the issuing of advice to local authorities and voluntary organisations.


My Lords, may I make a point here of some value? Under many local authorities, children are boarded out, and the difficulty is to persuade foster-parents to buy flameproof nightdresses and pyjamas for the younger children. There are three ways in which we approach this problem; first, by circular. In my authority, we send to every foster-parent a circular about the importance of flameproof clothing. The second is by asking our visitors, those who visit foster-homes, to impress this upon the foster-parents in a tactful manner. The third is by offering to pay the extra cost of flameproof nightdresses, where that is required.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his suggestions. As he says, local authorities are still responsible for the safety of children, even when boarded out. And we are considering drawing their attention to all these various aspects.

My noble friend and other noble Lords ask about Government research. This was considered by the Molony Commit tee, who, in their final Report, used these words: We do not think that any promising lines of research have been or are being neglected through lack of funds. Other companies besides the two already mentioned (Proban, Ltd. and British Nylon Spinners, Ltd.) have been engaged in this field, and if necessary in appropriate circumstances, a grant from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research could be obtained without undue difficulty. I am told that this is still the case. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, raised two questions which I should like particularly to answer. She spoke of the effect of bleach in washing. The present relevant British Standards prescribing tests for non-flammability recognise that flame-resistant textile finishes may be impaired, if treated material is washed and bleached, and provide that in such cases the article should bear a warning on the lines of "Do not bleach". The Molony Committee, in their Interim Report, recommended that this should be a statutory requirement. It could be included in any regulations made under the Consumer Protection Act, the regulations which we are considering, possibly not only in relation to the made-up garments to which they may relate but also to flame-resistant garments and materials generally for which the quality of flame resistance is claimed. This is being considered. I think that we can deal with this adequately under the regulations, and I am very grateful for the additional suggestions made by the noble Baroness in this connection to-day. I will not go into the argument that is going on at the moment about how many times one should wash a garment, because manufacturers are being very cross with each other about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, raised the question of what to do about appliances which were in the shops when the regulations were made. The Heating Appliances (Fireguards) Regulations require that all gas, electric and oil fires must be fitted, when sold, with a guard attached. I think that I should add, for the benefit of the public, that the guard required is a dress guard and not a childproof guard. This is a matter which parents should consider.

My Lords, I think that I have dealt with most of the questions that have been asked me, with the possible exception of the question of publicity raised by my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood and by other noble Lords. It has been suggested that we have not up to now done enough in publicity. I am not sure that that is correct. Both the Home Office and the Ministry of Health have provided considerable publicity over recent years. One might think perhaps, in view of the rising figures, that it has not had very much effect; and it has been suggested—not by noble Lords to-day but in the Press—that the Government should finance a massive publicity campaign to persuade the public to buy flame resistant material and garments. The Molony Committee were not in favour of this and considered that … the necessary publicity can be obtained without calling on the National Exchequer. I would point out that although we have spent the money of the National Exchequer, the manufacturers of non-flammable and flame-resistant materials have themselves undertaken substantial publicity campaigns, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents at present receives a grant of £7,000 a year solely for its work in connection with home safety. It has been accepted that the initiation of publicity and propaganda aimed at the prevention of accidents in the home can best be undertaken through the Society, although the Ministry of Health have done a great deal in publicising in various ways the dangers of flammable clothing, and they will continue to do so. Perhaps I should add here that a "filler" film for showing on television is now being prepared on behalf of the Home Office to supplement this publicity. We are continuing to support R.S.P.A.

I am sorry to keep your Lordships so lone, but I was asked so many interesting questions. I think that the only outstanding question is the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about the standard of non-flammability. A possible standard of non-flammability, on which the proposed regulations might be based, is that prescribed in British Standard 3121 (Performance Requirements of Fabrics Described of low Flammability). The Fabrics (Misdescription) Regulations, 1959, made by the Board of Trade under the Fabrics (Misdescription) Act 1913, require textiles to comply with this Standard if any claim of low flammability is made for them by the manufacturers. But, of course, the 1913 Act deals only with the case of the manufacturer who elects to make a claim that his material is of low flammability. The standard of non-flammability to be imposed by any regulations made under the Consumer Protection Act, which is what we are discussing, in respect of nightwear, is one of the subjects which I think may prove most difficult, and it is one which we are discussing with the trade associations, whom we have been seeing, and with the British Standards Institution. We must get this right before we can make regulations. We will do it, but it may take a little time.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that matter I should like to ask this question. If we have a regulation—and I think we should all like to see a regulation in this matter—should we reach the situation when perhaps British Nylon Spinners, who are a subsidiary of Courtauld's and I.C.I., are the only producers (I am sure the noble Lord will recognise that both those companies have entered into the making-up sphere of textiles) will the Government ensure that these yarns will be available for the rest of the textile industry at rates which make it possible for them to sell their garments competitively? If we are making a regulation of this sort and the production is in one hand, I think we shall have to ensure that the raw material for manufacturing the cloth is available to the weavers and makers-up in the rest of the country.


I do not think I can give any undertaking of that kind. The only undertaking I will give is that the point raised by the noble Lord will be considered and discussions will take place on it. I do not think I can go so far as to say that if somebody discovers something quite new we will give it to the market at a competitive price. But these points will be discussed with the interested parties.

I hope I have answered all your Lordships' questions. I would repeat that these consultations will take a little time; but not only the Government, but also the manufacturers, are in somewhat of a hurry to get this matter settled.